My friend and I play/translate MADARA (part7 thru 9)

So, if Madara has a reputation at all, it would be for either its music or its difficulty. We get back to town and discover (spoilers) the healing shop vendor. It's not entirely clear to me what event triggers this shop to show up, but there are a couple things to note:

  • This implies that towns can change/unlock vendors as the game progresses.
  • The death penalty in this game is absolutely brutal. As I understand it, if your character dies before fighting Kujara, you have no hope of reviving him/her until after the Kujara fight is complete.
  • Even if you revive a fallen character, they don't immediately return to the party. Again, as I understand it, you have to proceed through the game or fight enemies before you can "find your friends" at the friendly inn. It's hard enough game that you're withholding the ability to revive characters, but to then put them in "time out" seems excessive!

In Part 8, another incredible discovery about this game is made. Townsfolk change their text-dialog based on the presence of fixed, defeatable enemy encounters. This isn't entirely unprecedented: in Final Fantasy I for instance, there was a pirate captain boss early on in the game. Speaking to him would trigger a fight, and defeating him would give you the boat. If I recall correctly, the sprite disappears after the fight. Fundamentally, they're the same, but the way Madara handles this is fairly eloquent in comparison.

In Part 9, the difficulty curve seriously ramps up to some F-you levels. Normal random encounters are able to take us out unless we're at full-health/mana. In this video, we encounter a small cave and rescue some guy. There are also items that we investigate but still haven't figured out a use for.

We'll definitely have to grind some levels off-recording before having a go at another session. It's a total vertical wall.

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My friend and I play/translate MADARA (part6)

So, after we lost Grandpa we (eventually) piece together how to use the "Battle Gimmick" he gave us. The game also does some brilliant misdirection in this episode. In spoilers:

  • Previously, bosses (or what I thought was a boss) like Bosho-Clove were CLEARLY foreshadowed because you saw the sprite in the "overworld" first. This time, the boss we encountered was treated as a random encounter, but it had a little "cutscene" beforehand and a different (rad) music track. I wouldn't say that boss-as-random-encounter is a "first" because there were some bosses and optional bosses in Final Fantasy 1 that were random encounter. What IS kinda new is the misdirection where you expect all boss fights to be a certain way, and the game really pulled the carpet out from under my feet.

Anyways, this game is great. By far the most exciting part yet.

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My friend and I play/translate MADARA (part5)

We started part 5 with a new party member, Tataro aka "grandpa". We made a couple of really important discoveries in this episode. I will spoiler-tag them because they spoil the plot a little and spoil the contents of the video.

We discovered:

  • This game "teases" content. Grandpa is our first magic user and has a large list of (what I can only assume) late-game spells. We make it to the next plot point, literally only a minute later he leaves our party. We barely had a chance to even figure out what his magic spells did.
    This concept of showing the player a high-level playable character early on in a JRPG has been done before but this game might be the first to do it. I can think of Final Fantasy 4, (FF2 in USA) where you unlock Tellah's hidden magic as the closest example, but that game came out more than a full year later in July 1991.
  • Grandpa has a spell that changes the seasons. If there's a spell that changes the season, the implication is that the weather has some sort of gameplay effect. Perhaps the season determines what kind of monsters will spawn in encounters. At any rate, I can't really think of another game that does something like this.

Really exciting stuff. The game is actually pretty funny in its own way.

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Closing Thoughts: Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti is a really interesting game. It came out in 1989 by Namco for the Nintendo Famicom. The original Splatterhouse is a well-known violent videogame franchise of the late 80's to early 90's. Its claim to fame was the edgygorefest best described as a cross between Hellraiser and Friday the 13th. Putting it bluntly; pop culture in the 80's/early 90's was weird. H.R. Giger threw the industrial-goth scene wide open. We had the aforementioned Hellraiser movies but also other mind-f*cks like Jacob's Ladder, Nightmare on Elm St series, Xtro, and Home Alone. Bands like Ministryand My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult were around. Even marketing producers had lost their minds: just look up Max Headroom. It was a creepy time. Splatterhouse was a reflection of that.

So coming from that headspace, you could understand my surprise when I found out there was a famicom version of Splatterhouse. A Splatterhouse for the kiddies. How in the Hell House was that going to translate? Splatterhouse had already been ported to the TG-16, which is what most of us knew in the US although sequels later came out on the Genesis, (which btw were equally if not more gruesome). Arcade games were ported to the NES all the time, and unless it was a Capcom game you could probably count on it being a watered-down facsimile of the original Arcade.

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku grafitti is like a Capcom NES arcade game. The design team knew from the get-go that trying to recreate the arcade port was a fool's errand and instead created a halloween-themed action platformer. The game has movie and pop culture references that most children probably wouldn't understand. Like a reference to the chilling sci-fi horror movie The Fly or a nod to Micheal Jackson's Thriller music video. It's all under this cutesy, super-deformed art design that reminds you a little of Sesame Street. A nightmarish version of Sesame Street where zombies are hacked to bits.

That's all great, but there are some specific design elements in this game I really want to point out that I didn't get a chance to on camera.

HERE BE SPOILERS. STOP READING IF YOU INTEND TO PLAY THE GAME.

1. Side-Scroller with a rudimentary Experience Point system.

The original Splatterhouse had a basic life system where you had 5 hits before dying, similar to Battletoads. This would've been par for the course for most side-scrollers, although there were standouts like Double Dragon and River City Ransom that at least offered some sort of expansion of power over time. In this game, you increase your maximum hp--restorable by finding candy or hamburgers, or in 1 case soda--by killing a certain number of enemies. Once you kill your first 30 enemies, for example, you increase your maximum hp by 1 point, and then your next goal increases to 40.

2. The game is constantly experimenting.

There are a bunch of one-off scenarios in the game that never get repeated. For example, bats that have simply flown towards you for the entire game, will abruptly change their behavior in one of the game's final rooms so that they harmlessly pick you up and mischievously try to drop you down a bottomless pit. There is a bathroom where boogers come out of a toilet, and a plunger jumps at you. After dispatching those enemies, that's it; there's nothing else to the room, and you exit the same way you entered. Inside just one of the game's several cabins, buckets can fall down on you. As a player, your instinct is to dodge them, but if one of them manages to fall on you then the player sprite changes to account for having a bucket on your head. There are a bunch of these throughout this game. You can really feel the team's eagerness to try out new things and then just as rapidly discard them. These moments have a sense of magical brevity; something that you've never seen before or will see again.

3. The game actively misdirects you.

This is the mind-blowing part. While the two other points I made have been done before to some extent in other games, I can't think of a single game this old that does stuff like this. There is a point late in the game where you jump into a pit to proceed to the next stage. When that scene loads, you briefly have full control of your character before he is caught by a boss you thought was dead. He then has you restrained with your arms behind your back whereupon he kicks you into the mouth of a giant T-Rex skull. The skull chomps you, and the game plays the "you died" special effects, implying that not only the obviousness of your death, but that it was directly at the hands of a boss you thought you had already bested!

4. This game has a secret ending.

We never discovered it during our playthrough but according to this helpful resource the game has a secret, 2-part ending. The ending is based on whether or not you collected either of 2 crystal balls. The crystal balls are each behind a hidden stage, reportedly with new enemy types. They are bestowed upon you by a priestess character that has dialog! All of this is pretty insane. Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest had different endings depending on how many days had passed in-game. The endings of both Bubble Bobble and Ghoul's and Ghosts relied on whether or not you collected a certain item a 2nd time through. Again, when considering how straightforward the source material is, it's insane that the designers would even think "Hey, you know what else this game needs? Secret endings!"

Anyways, if you have access to this game, check it out. And if you want to learn about more Japanese famicom games, you should check out the linked videos above and check out my show videobento. We hope you'll like it.

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