Archive for the ‘Playstation’ Category
Starting today the reboot of Strider hits home consoles and PCs as developer Double Helix attempts to capture the charm that came with the original’s dedicated cult following. When I try to look back at Strider - and yes I grew up playing every version from the arcade at my local bowling alley that was ported to the Genesis along with the completely different NES version – it’s hard to see what exactly needs to be in the new game. Still, there’s no denying the hardcore appeal of this unique and odd addition to classic gaming that justifies looking back for those that didn’t grow up with it.
If you haven’t played it, the original arcade version of Strider is all over the place. There are multiple languages, settings across the globe, massive mechanical ape bosses, and even lead protagonist Hiryu riding on a whale at the end. As one of the pioneer titles of Capcom’s new CP arcade platform – think of it as a cartridge-based cabinet that allowed quick swapping of games with only a few ROM changes – the graphics are indicative of the cartoon style all CP titles shared (ie: Ghouls’n Ghosts, Willow, and of course Final Fight). Graphics aside, the game is also noted for its crazy gameplay that features hanging from walls and ceilings, fighting massive enemies, and reversed gravity. To accompany this eclectic melting pot was an equally frantic soundtrack that covered all the bases from electronic progressive music to ambient classical style. While the soundtrack is uncredited to original composer Junko Tamiya (she also did the solid NES version of Bionic Commando as well as my personal favorite Sweet Home), the original versions of the arcade game didn’t feature the Aerial Battleship or Third Moon stages (replaced instead by the first stage music on a loop) so it can be deduced that someone went back and composed those additional tunes. While the game itself covers a scant five stages that will take the average person probably 60-90 minutes in total (pros can do it in half that time) the high difficulty and game design that was more indicative of home consoles was fresh. Instead of trying to rack up a high score or conquer a single mechanic over and over you were progressing through brutally difficult levels with the carrot on the stick being that provided you could afford to continue as many times as it took, you could see the ending. This is why most people who play it today will either set it to free play on the cabinet or emulator and also explains why the PS1 port flat-out gave you unlimited continues.
I remember playing it when I was about 10 years old and being blown away by the neo future envisioned in the story’s 2048 Soviet dictatorship, indicative of the continuing fear of Cold War oppression and Socialist/Communist popularity. Each sound effect, especially the signature slash sound each time Hiryu swings his sword, had a crisp edge and realism I had not heard before. It was even more impressive that some of these sounds made it into the NES port, which was a technical feat in its own regard. While the plot is very hard to follow, even today, only playing for a few minutes proved that Hiryu, the youngest ever high-tech ninjas known as “Striders”, was a force to be reckoned with. This is counter to the gameplay in that the extreme difficulty and new mechanics meant you would die quite a bit through even the most basic levels of the game. Few titles I’ve ever played master the art of both empowering the player and kicking their butt at the same time, which Strider did in spades. Each stage and even area of a stage was drastically different from the last and I will never forget the large-scale of each boss. Not only that but beating the boss did not always mean the end of the level, especially with regards to the massive gravity sphere that destructed the ship you are on when it was defeated, resulting in a frantic escape run before completing the level. Oh yeah, and there were massive cyborg interpretations of King Kong (large gorilla) and Godzilla (large T-Rex) as well. Sweet.
Unfortunately I have to admit that I think a title like Strider is a perfect example of a game you most appreciate if you grew up with it. In a wild development cycle that included three independent companies working on an arcade version, an NES version (who also happened to develop the simliar but different Ghosts’n Goblins port), and a manga in Japan, Strider was unlike most projects in video games at the time. Ironically enough the Metroid-style open world NES version of the game that directly connected to the manga were completely severed by the business decisions of worldwide business. A Famicom version of the game was never manufactured or released in Japan and the manga never saw its way to our shores (not to mention the language barrier that separated each medium), so in retrospect it’s one disconnected mess of a story. One thing all regions had in common was that the teens of the time were enticed by the arcade port and many of them picked up and loved the later Genesis/Mega Drive version that came as close to the arcades as we saw in the late 80s. Even more odd are the random sequels that share the franchise such as the horrid US Gold/Tiertex sequel Strider II (known as Journey From Darkness: Strider Returns in the US) that probably isn’t worth emulating. Capcom later fixed the issue by ignoring the licensed sequel and releasing Strider 2 to arcades and later in a near-perfect port to the original Playstation. While I wouldn’t say it changed the world, it was a cool take on the mechanics of Strider and the odd 3D graphics of the time. If you play any version, I highly recommend the Genesis port because it really comes with no caveat. With Grin’s 2009 project being scrapped and Double Helix’s recent success with Killer Instinct 3, here’s hoping that the reboot doesn’t disappoint. Look back near the end of the week for that review. Either way, what other game can you say ends with you riding the back of a freaking whale for no reason?
This week Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) and Andy Urquhart (@damien14273) from the Agents of Shieldcast join Fred to discuss retro titles featuring Marvel Characters. They learn that the distinction of titles early in gaming were almost nonexistent and perhaps Marvel having Disney behind it may actually be a good thing. Listen on true believers!
This week Fred and Eli (@Sodoom) discuss what many believe to be the best 16-bit RPG of all time: Final Fantasy VI (better known as Final Fantasy III on the SNES in the US). We discuss the combat system, characters, plot, and most memorable moment on this truly timeless RPG.
This week Fred goes solo to celebrate Doom‘s 20th Anniversary and the Mega Man series. Keji Inafune’s legacy may live on through Mighty Number 9, but when he was a young new college grad Capcom employed him to create one of the most beloved and long running franchises of the company’s history.
Also if you want more Doom coverage, feel free to check out our podcast on Doom clones.
This week we are joined by Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) to discuss listener William’s topic: What makes a successful console launch? It all ends up being more stories of console launches and discussions on killer apps, but we do manage to cover most mainstream consoles.
This week Fred is joined by listeners Allen and Jamalais to discuss the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises. They do not get as far as planned, but the initial iterations of each series is thoroughly covered and a sequel is promised.
If you are going to talk significant JRPGs in America, one of the most influential series is Final Fantasy. Whether you believe that it was the last game Square may have ever made or that it was simply the last game designer Sakaguchi would be a part of, the massive success of this digital Dungeons & Dragons title started a strong fan base that continues today. In part one of our coverage, Fred and Eli “Sodoom” team up to discuss Final Fantasy I-VI including development, design, gameplay, and of course Cid.
Console: SNES (as Final Fantasy II in the United States – title changed in later releases)
Released: November 1991
Price: $24.67 (used, cart only), $70.57 (used, complete), $300.00 (new)
Additional Releases:Wonderswan Color (Japan only, updated graphics), Playstation (Final Fantasy Chronicles, new translation), Gameboy Advance (Final Fantasy IV Advanced, upgraded visuals, new translation/conversion to more closely resemble Japanese version), DS (full 3D remodeling, new dungeon), PSP (Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, updated 2D visuals instead of 3D, includes The After Years and a new campaign Interlude to bridge gap between the events of IV and The After Years)
Digital Release? Wii Virtual Console (SNES version, $8), PSOne PSN (Playstation version, $10), PSN (PSP version, $30), iOS/Android (GBA version, $16)
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest (Warrior) franchise, Phantasy Star franchise, Vay, Ys I & II
Please note: This was originally released as Final Fantasy II in the United States and later re-named to the appropriate numbering system. The actual Final Fantasy II Japan-only Famicom (NES)release review will be live shortly.
Despite the numbering of this game (and Final Fantasy VI) to be completely messed up in the US, Final Fantasy IV is a must play for fans of the series and JRPG genre. As George Lucas would put it, this is the “definitive version” of the game director (and series creator) Hironobu Sakaguchi originally wanted to make. It learns from its three predecessors and weaves in a powerful story almost unheard of at this point in gaming. Originally intended to be a final NES title in the series, budgetary and scheduling issues forced the 80 percent complete title to be scrapped and re-made on the new Super Nintendo (SNES) console with some of the original ideas integrated. The elemental concepts of the original, heavy story elements of the sequel, and job system of the third (it would be better utilized in Final Fantasy V however) were all mashed together with a new active time battle (ATB) system to create the most compelling game yet. ATB ditched traditional turn-based combat for a timer that allowed characters to attack at their own pace based on the type of warrior they were. This continues to be a staple of the series today and even snuck into other RPGs like Chrono Trigger. Final Fantasy IV hit early in the SNES and celebrated mass critical and financial success worldwide and is considered a favorite by many series fans.
As you probably have noticed, the game was originally titled Final Fantasy II in North America because it was the second game to be released here – Square released the original in late 1989, about a month before the third game released in Japan. It was decided that instead of localizing the previous games, which were met with mixed feelings, the next game would simply be released worldwide with different numbering. It’s not simply blind porting that is responsible for the game’s massive re-releases, Square seems very scared of introducing the original rather brutally difficult title to North America. The US version on SNES is shortened significantly, probably 12-15 hours, due to storylines and dungeons being removed as well as a significant drop in the game’s difficulty. An even easier version, Final Fantasy IV Easy Type, was released in Japan after countless complaints of the game’s punishing difficulty in its original form. Religious spells and symbols were also changed or removed based on Nintendo’s censorship policies in the US as well, which led to confusion when comparing both versions for walkthroughs. Subsequent re-releases of the title in America re-named to the proper numbering, which also gave way for releases of the previously unreleased titles as well, and adjustments for the appropriate spell names, symbols, and entire plot made for a beefier 30-40 hour game. Square also updated to the original difficulty, which required a much heftier amount of grinding and replaying of long dungeons with brutal boss battles, resulting in an understandable popularity of the original shorter and easier SNES release. If you give it the time and patience it deserves, Final Fantasy IV is a magical fairytale that stands strong even today, and if you get highly invested the additional side stories/games of Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection on PSP creates one of the most expanded worlds of the Final Fantasy universe aside from FFVII. Personally I have a hard time thinking this is of the best because the dated grinding and steep difficulty is just something fewer and fewer gamers, even retro ones playing on portables, have time for.
Final Score: 4 out of 5
Price: $13.49 (used, cart only), $48.50 (used, complete), $288.00 (new)
Additional Releases: MSX2 (Japan only), Wonderswan Color (Japan only), Playstation (Final Fantasy Origins, updated graphics), Gameboy Advance (Dawn of Souls, upgraded with additional dungeons, new translation), PSP (original title, includes Dawn of Souls content with updated visuals and soundtrack)
Digital Release? Wii Virtual Console (NES version, $5), PSOne PSN (Playstation version, $10), PSN (PSP version, $10), iOS/Android/Windows Phone (PSP version, $7)
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest (Warrior) franchise, Phantasy Star franchise, Vay, Ys I & II
If you ask most Americans what the first true console RPG was probably one of the most common responses would be Final Fantasy. Not only is Square’s epic tale of four warriors taking on a timeless being that plans to destroy the world memorable, but it stood well above the competition of the time. The Legend of Zelda may have taken around 10 hours to complete, a size and scope only possible with the ability to save that was unheard of prior, but it was nothing compared to the massive world and 30-50 hours you may spend conquering Final Fantasy. Aside from that, the 1986 Famicom title Dragon Quest (changed to Dragon Warrior in the US for its earlier iterations) had just received a slight upgrade and released to North America in 1989, less than a year before Final Fantasy. It was great but couldn’t compete with a game that was made three years later with the lack of classes, a party system, and various other differences. It should be noted that in Japan Dragon Quest II had already released and Dragon Quest III came out in February 1988, a mere two months after Final Fantasy, which had slowly built up most of the game’s staples such as a party system, exploration, turn based battle system, and both games had similar class systems. That doesn’t mean that Final Fantasy doesn’t have its own identity, it’s far superior in terms of graphics, nothing like the airship showed in the first three Dragon Quest games, and instead of sending you back to town when you die like Dragon Quest you would instead get a game over and go back to where you last saved. Final Fantasy also shipped with a map and huge manual that got players more invested in exploring and completing the campaign, not to mention a cheap and huge Nintendo Power strategy guide that released shortly after. For me, it was the near perfect conversion of the Dungeons & Dragons universe – some of the characters are literally stripped from the Monstrous Manual - and converted it into a single player experience.
Final Fantasy drops you into a vast world with multiple continents and terrain to explore with four warriors. Each of these warriors are named and given a class from the start. This allows a single player to control the party and do their favorite balance of brute force, tactical strategy and magic. You could have any combination you like, including having all four characters being one class. It really rings significant to me with heavy hitters like Borderlands and Diablo still being based on a class system. The game is riddled with random encounters that are invisible, so the key is to be prepared for everything because at any time you can die. Saving is possible anywhere on the overworld map but once you enter a dungeon, the true challenge of the game, you cannot save and must complete it before getting back to the surface to save. That’s why two taxing activities are a must: grinding and losing progress. You will die in the middle of a crazy ramped difficulty boss battle at some point and be forced to reload a save that you made (hopefully) just before entering and re-do an entire 1-2 hour dungeon only to try again to beat it. If you want to prevent a game of chance, you can opt to grind – beating countless random enemies to get to a high enough level that you no longer have a challenge in said dungeon or against said boss – which may waste hours of mindless gameplay but is often your only hope at progressing. This staple of Final Fantasy titles, and JRPGs as a whole, is why some players never even attempt to pick up the genre. If you can stomach it, the reward is significant. Not only do you progress on an epic journey that is a mixture of a decent story but also your personal achievements on the battlefield, all to feel like you truly saved the world. It took me 40 hours to complete this title with nothing more than a map and free time, but conquering Chaos at the end is still one of my favorite and proudest moments in gaming.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (GH101 review policy and definitions can be found here)
In the 8-bit era the game was available to Americans only on the NES, but in Japan it was on the MSX2 microcomputer with some glitches, the Wonderswan Color (Gameboy Color competitor) with mild graphical upgrades, and a re-release on the Famicom with the sequel updated with re-drawn sprites.
A Playstation port of the first two games, entitled Final Fantasy Origins, would update the graphics to high detail and some re-drawn looks, a remixed soundtrack, animated sequences, and an art gallery. This same collection would move to the Gameboy Advance as Dawn of Souls: Final Fantasy I & II with four new dungeons, an updated bestiary, and new script. The somewhat recognized definitive version of the game was released first on the PSP that retained the original title, contained all content of Dawn of Souls and updated the visuals again to high resolution 2D graphics as well as updated cutscenes and soundtrack.
An in-between port that was similar to a 16-bit look, but with none of the tweaks beyond the NES version, released on mobile phones in 2004 in Japan and eventually in 2010 in the United States. Shortly after that the PSP version was ported first to iOS and eventually to Android and Windows phone.
There are two stories that are traded off as the reason for the game’s title. The first is that Square was nearing bankruptcy and most of the staff went into the project thinking it would be a swan song for the developer. This was widely regarded as unsubstantiated rumor given the large amount of successful titles developed by Square on the Famicom/NES in addition to no one substantiating the claim. In July 2009, Wired’s Chris Kohler – a well known gaming historian and co-host on the widely popular retro gaming podcast Retronauts – interviewed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and he claimed that this story is, in fact, true.
On the other hand, director Hironobu Sakaguchi has consistently claimed in interviews that the game title is due to the fact that he was set to return to university in the event it was a commercial failure. Obviously the game’s initial 400,000 unit sales (huge at the time) and eventual more than 2 million units sold worldwide by 2003 prevented such events and started a long lasting franchise that still remains today.
While Uematsu stated in the interview that these claims are true, he remains firm that the title’s origins are with the potential Square bankruptcy. Sakaguchi has never claimed the title to mean anything more than his fear of leaving the game industry if Final Fantasy was a failure. The truth will most likely never be known for no better reason than the memories of the individuals involved have already been clouded by the passage of time.
This week Fred is joined by Chip Cella of the B-Team and Derrick H of All Games and Dead Pixel Live fame to discuss how games used to come packaged. This includes the box, instructions, and a bunch of freebies we pay good money for today.
Opening Song – Joe Esposito You’re The Best
Closing Song – Iron Maiden Run to the Hills