No doubt a veritable jeopardy (the appropriate collective noun) of questions is flooding your mind right now. Allow me to employ my heretofore concealed telepathic powers and publicly reveal a few of them:
Why is Mento talking about that old Windows game that's on every PC?
Wait, why did Minesweeper get a Turbo-CD release?
Why is it Japan only?
Why that boxart?
Oh god I just woke up and I'm covered in blood. Nothing makes sense any more! Why did I kill them?!
I can help with the first four, a little. Minesweeper is an adaptation of the famous built-in PC game with a few, let's say, "fun" additions. Despite the inherent weirdness in this package, I've seen this happen enough times to a somewhat similarly-themed game by the name of Battleship. Many video game adaptations (and one movie adaptation, but let's not dwell on that) have tried over and over to glam up and intensify the Battleship format, presenting the armed naval conflict game in as many varied realistic and dramatic ways as possible. Sometimes the original board game ceases to be recognizable after the changes, becoming interchangeable with any number of submarine torpedo sims. With that frame of reference, a slightly more elaborate take on Minesweeper is explicable enough.
Then again, we are talking about a Japan-only CD-based adaptation here. I'm convinced that some of the more interesting games in the TGCD library were the odd PC game conversions (@arbitrarywater and the weird Dungeon Master remix I recently Octurbo'd helped sell me on that), but it's possible I might've just skipped ahead to the weirdest case of them all with this one.
I Was Saving This One For Sweeps, But
Well, I can't say they didn't try to do something interesting with this ubiquitous little puzzle game. Oh right! I forgot to say who developed this game. It was Arc System Works, the developers behind Persona 4 Arena and Guilty Gear. Yeah, those guys. We all had to start somewhere, I guess (though this is like their tenth game). The Japan-only version that was released on Game Boy was made by the same team too, though it had fewer modes.
It's all pretty weird, but I guess the addictiveness of Minesweeper explains why it's been added to every version of Windows, and I suppose it's natural people would want to play it on other systems. Hell, you can get Tetris and Solitaire on almost everything with a microchip in it. At least the Cook's Quest mode made a Tobal 2 RPG-type stab at an alternate way to play the game.
Did I really just write an Octurbo entry for Minesweeper?
Remember how Assassin's Creed had a fairly controversial premise? Setting up a protagonist that was a Middle Ages Muslim assassin fighting the encroaching western Crusaders and the Knights Templar who were in some way tied to ancient deities and a modern day conspiracy? Well, it turns out that Telenet Japan beat them to the punch by almost twenty years.
Exile is actually ZXR II, the sequel to a Japan-only computer game about a Middle Eastern assassin named Sadler who confronts a corrupt Caliph, takes down a bunch of Buddhist/Hindu deities and then travels through time to murder the present-day Russian and US presidents for some reason. The story doesn't get any less weird in this sequel, either. This game has so much religion, politics, drugs and violence that Nintendo of America would've had a conniption fit, which is probably why it was only localized for the Genesis and TurboGrafx-CD. The latter version was translated by Working Designs, one of the better localization teams of the 16/32-bit era, and given the excellent redbook audio and voiced cutscenes would appear to be the version to play if you don't understand Japanese. Apparently, the original home computer version for MSX/PC-88/PC-98 is a little longer, including a whole sequence where Sadler travels through modern NYC's subway fighting skateboarders and zombies.
It's certainly a game that piqued my interest. Fortunately, it's one of the better games I've covered this Octurbo too, employing a system not unlike ActRaiser or Ys III with side-scrolling action stages and more sedate overhead RPG areas where the player can restock on supplies and talk to NPCs to progress the story. But there's no need to take my word for it, because I've got a whole bunch of pictures for you all.
In a Grocery Store and Want Omelette Ingredients? Try the Exile
I continue being intrigued by this game, after playing it a little. The action stage controlled well and gave me a run for my money with that tricky boss. I don't doubt I'd have died several times in there without that starting money (and the save state button, if I'm being honest). Everything else about the presentation is impressive too, especially given that this game came out in 1991. The localized script is competent (which counts for a lot in this era) and the music's catchy. The boss fight music in particular reminded me of the boss music from Plok, though maybe that's a stretch. I do like Plok's music a whole lot.
Honestly, though, if I were to keep playing it would be to see where the story's going. I've already gotten the Cliff Notes version from the HardcoreGaming101 article on the series, but it sounds wild enough that I'd like to see it for myself. Exile saw a TGCD sequel that was also localized and released in the US, so maybe we aren't quite done with this series just yet.
If Bonk is the mascot for the HuCard era TurboGrafx-16, then Yuko of the Valis series may well be the CD equivalent. Developed by Telenet Japan, which would become one of the more prolific developers working on the TurboGrafx-CD via their CD-focused subsidiary LaserSoft, the first Valis game was originally released in 1986 for various Japanese home computers. It took a genre of anime that was known as "magical girl", established largely by mega-popular animes like Sailor Moon, and adapted the format into an action game, presenting the tale of an everyday student named Yuko who is forced to take up the titular magical Sword of Valis and fight supernatural monsters before whisked to a dreamlike world named Vecanti to combat the King commanding the beasts, Rogles (pronounced "rogueless"). Though the game itself was fairly basic (and, well, bad) the focus on scantily-clad heroines fighting monsters with a narrative told via anime-style cutscenes was fairly novel for 1986 and helped endear Valis to a generation of Japanese gamers. Valis was eventually ported to the PC Engine, and its sequels would all find a home on the PC Engine CD-ROM2. Two of them even eventually make their way over to the American TurboGrafx-CD: Valis II and Valis III. I'll be playing the former today.
Valis II is one of the earliest CD-ROM games and, unlike Fighting Street (which was a mediocre port of an already mediocre Arcade game) or No.Ri.Ko (which was barely a video game), is a fully-fledged action game specifically created for the PC Engine CD-ROM2 console. It continues right where the first game ended, dropping Yuko into another conflict on Vecanti brought about due to the power vacuum left after slaying Rogles, instigated by Rogles' older brother Megas. What's odd is that Valis II is actually one of two games with that name: The other was released shortly afterwards on the many Japanese home computers that carried the original. It's hard to say which one is "canonical", as Telenet sourced out both games to separate subsidiaries, but most tend to go with the TurboGrafx-CD version because it came first.
Man, that's one heck of a history lesson. Really, Valis II is a game where you're a schoolgirl in a Wonder Woman outfit hitting giant monsters and weird cybernetic Dragon Ball Z rejects with a sword until they explode. I didn't mean to make it sound any more high-brow than that.
Is the Plural of Valis, Valii? Would That Make Valis' Numerous Heroines "Valii Girls"?
That'll be all from Valis II for today. While of historical note, it's not a particularly riveting gameplay experience, though I suppose there's still a lot more going on here than there was in my No.Ri.Ko playthrough (though it did also include a trip to a bizarre alternate dimension). I hear the two TGCD sequels get a lot better as the series evolved, though it's still mostly the same sort of affair. Not quite Castlevania, or even Ghouls N' Ghosts, but a fairly competent and acceptable horror-themed action game.
Though I recognize "competent and acceptable" doesn't make for good LPs. I'll have to dig deep for something a little more compelling next time. Or just more anime nonsense. Either's fine with me.
From Dungeon Exploring to Dungeon Mastering in just four days! We're making great progress on Octurbo this year. Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest is one of a number of adaptations of FTL Games's seminal CRPG classic, but this particular 1992 release really flies off the rails in comparison with the more faithful SNES adaptation released the year prior. Many aspects of this game confound me, though at the same time it's kind of neat to see a game I'm very familiar with get chopped and screwed like this.
The handful of folk who read these things might recall that I covered Dungeon Master some time ago in a multi-part Brief Jaunt. I stopped short of a full LP only because I was running out of ways to say "and then you press this hidden button for the next key", though mostly it was because I couldn't bear dealing with the terrifying purple worms of the fourth floor. That's when the gloves come off and shit gets real, as it were, and the game demands you put together a stronger team for the travails to come. Which essentially means "keep repeating actions over and over to go up levels for the necessary HP and stat boosts", since Dungeon Master was one of the first games to introduce a system of progression where skills increase the more you do them. Anyway, I'm getting off track. I'd suggest reading that Brief Jaunt LP first, because I'm going to be focusing on the changes made to that original version with this bizarre remix.
I Always Thought Dungeon Master Could've Used More Anime Cutscenes
I do kinda want to keep playing though, just to see what else has been changed. There's no denying that it's going to be easy street if all I'm fighting is low-level goons with a party that could trounce the final boss of the original game though, so there's little point in screen-capping all that. I'd have to assume that later dungeons give you weaker champions and stronger monsters to contend with, especially if it's going to be drawing from the extremely challenging Chaos Strikes Back, so maybe Theron's Quest just has a particularly weird difficulty curve.
All the same, I'm definitely intrigued by what FTL Games did here. I'm not sure the TGCD had a mouse peripheral like the Super Nintendo did (or if it did, they didn't sell too many), so maybe they figured it'd be better to make the game simpler because of how much slower and more detrimental using a controller would be. That they invented this whole story about Theron and finding armor pieces and multiple dungeons is interesting too, as if they wanted Dungeon Master veterans to give this new take a whirl. Curious stuff.
Theron's Quest intro (it really is almost five minutes long. That seems nuts for a cutscene made in 1992)
I actually had no idea this game existed before this week. This was a suggestion from @gunstarred who I figured, given that his recent blogging has been focused on the risible Simple 2000 series, was leading me up the ninja garden path. As it turns out, Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action is a pretty neat game, albeit not a particularly complex one. It reminds me of one of the games I covered last year, Ninja Spirit, and how I ended up enjoying that a lot more than I thought I would. Maybe I just like ninjas a whole lot.
Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action is a 2D side-scrolling Ninja Action game (their words, not mine) that starts fairly basic with its enemies running in and getting slashed by the protagoninja. As you get further into the game, the enemy's behavior starts getting harder to cope with, as they become far better at blocking your projectiles and adopt strategies like hitting you from a range with spears or swarming you from multiple directions. It feels like the game took the template of that old beat 'em up classic Kung-Fu Master (a.k.a. Spartan X) and built on it, taking the linear, flat stages and recurring enemies running in from either direction and adding a whole bunch of options for your protagonist. It'll be easier to describe it in the screenshots, though, so let's have at it.
"I Wanna Make a Game!" "Great, What's It About?" "Ninja Action!" "Great, What's it Called?" "Ninja Action!" "Here Is 60 Million Dollars."
I don't think what Kaze Kiri does is particularly new or impressive, but it's certainly made with a lot of attention to detail. The gameplay is both repetitive and demanding of the player's attention. The way stronger enemies will block many of the more obvious, basic attacks means you have to improvise often to kill them, and the different enemy types all have their own tactics. The bosses, too, can get pretty darn serious. It's one of those cases where you're unable to rely on boring straightforward attacks and end up flipping and jumping all over the place, distracting enemies with kunais while you close the distance or finding a way to get past their guard, all the while looking really cool while doing so. It makes you feel like you're having more fun, even if you're just plowing through the same group of bad guy ninjas over and over.
It might not be a stand-out forgotten gem from the PC Engine CD-ROM library, but if all it is is some great audio and well-animated (well, in short bursts) cutscenes layered over a competent 16-bit brawler, I'm content with that package.
Now, you might be asking yourself, "Why would a self-respecting (ehhh...) videogamesman like Mento LP what appears to be a dating sim written and voiced entirely in Japanese starring what is clearly an underage Japanese idol?" And that would be a good question. A very good question. As it happens, Alfa System's No.Ri.Ko has a rather special historical distinction.
When the PC Engine CD-ROM² debuted in Japan in late 1988, two games were produced as launch titles for the peripheral. The first was Fighting Street; what is actually a port of the first Street Fighter, the mediocre fighting game from Capcom which would become vastly overshadowed by its far superior sequel, and the second was No.Ri.Ko. No.Ri.Ko is therefore the first video game made specifically for the CD-ROM format. Like, ever. The first PC CD-ROM games wouldn't appear until the following year, and other CD-ROM consoles would follow a few years after that. Given the proliferation of CD games in the fourth and fifth generation of consoles, it's quite a feat. And NEC pulled this off two months after the Japanese release of the Sega Mega Drive, and two years before the Super Famicom (SNES).
As for the game itself, it's largely an experimental "see what works with this new format" collection of mini-games and redbook audio sound clips (including three whole single tracks) linked together by a story. That story is that the player is a teenage fan of the titular celebrity heroine Noriko Ogawa and they find her train pass lying on the ground while on the way to a concert she's hosting. In gratitude, her manager sets up a date between the two of you. You spend the day walking around Tokyo doing date stuff. I think. I got the gist, but obviously I had to piece together most of what was going on by the screenshots, as my fluency in Japanese lies somewhere between non-existent and "'arigatou' either means 'thank you' or 'where are the bathrooms?'". If you've seen the type of early CD-ROM games covered by Giant Bomb on their CD-i or 3DO streams, you know they tend to be big on multimedia and small on anything approaching actual interactivity.
For Some Fun Added Context, Noriko was Fifteen in 1988. I Am Now a Criminal, and Will Be Going to Jail Presently
I don't know what else to tell you. I mean, this is essentially a proof-of-concept "Interactivity Center" more than anything else, giving players (and other developers) a sense of what's possible with the CD medium with all its high quality sound clips and digitized photos. We've seen (and will see) many better examples of early CD-ROM gaming, but it's worth taking a look back at what those first few awkward steps with the format were like. It's telling that the CD-ROM consoles that would hit the States in the following years were producing very similar experiments (even with the same crappy 80s clip-art!), such as those Make My Video games and whatever the hell Plumbers Don't Wear Ties was about.
But man, I gotta wonder how many people were buying a ¥60,000 peripheral at launch to go on a virtual date with a teenage pop star (or play a so-so Arcade fighter game port). A distressingly large amount, probably.
Couldn't find the music, but here's a NicoNico LP of No.Ri.Ko. With Japanese subtitles, for those of you unable to understand the Japanese audio.
Well, it's come to this. I figured I ought to cover Cho Aniki eventually, what with the TurboGrafx-CD being the very system where this whole sorry affair of beefcake shoot 'em ups originated. For the uninitiated, Cho Aniki ("Super Big Brother") is a side-scrolling shoot 'em up that borrows a page from Parodius' book in bewildering the player with its visuals as a means to trip them up and cause them to prematurely game over. Prematurely do something, anyway. I talked about how random stuff appearing out of nowhere would occasionally be your downfall in Lords of Thunder, and Cho Aniki is that concept multipled by infinity. It's the game Shadow Kanji Tatsumi would make, if he had his druthers.
Then again, I hear it's the PS1/Saturn game where this series really starts to go off the rails. In comparison, the first Cho Aniki is practically a somber documentary on the perils of obsessive bodybuilding and steampunk gone awry. At any rate, I wasn't about to pass up something as historically significant as the first Cho Aniki game. For a system that didn't seem to get too far in the US, it sure was the origin point for a lot of interesting franchises.
This Octurbo is Rated PG-13 for Posing Pouches
That's Cho Aniki. I think. I'm still confused, but I suppose the vaguely "H.G. Wells by way of John-Paul Gaultier" visual stylings of this game start to seem normal after a while. Like I said earlier, the weirdness of the PS1 sequel easily supersedes this one. As a pure shoot 'em up it's not too bad, though very limited at the same time. Especially in comparison with its peers, given that the TurboGrafx was rife with superlative examples of the genre (like Blazing Lazers). The player can only upgrade their one weapon (I assume the other playable character, Idaten, has his own upgrade path) and Samson and Adon only seem to help out every now and again. They're mostly just there as bullet buffers.
For a game made famous by its idiosyncrasies, it's still a fairly solid if unremarkable shoot 'em up underneath. There's certainly nothing wrong with grounding the gameplay with some rudimentary fundamentals and then layering on the insanity with the visuals and presentation. I think making both sides of the equation as equally chaotic (say, with a byzantine power-up system) would just lead to a lot of confusion and annoyance. I may just be talking out of the hole on the top of my head, but I think Cho Aniki's appeal is that the game is easy enough to pick up and play, and you can enjoy the campy weirdness without worrying too much about what you're meant to be doing. Protip: Shoot everything.
Cho Aniki full soundtrack (listening to each track one after the other with all the weird tonal shifts gives you a pretty decent sense of what it's like when actually playing the game)
This first week of Octurbo-CD has involved a lot of revisiting the TG-16 franchises of last year's Octurbo and getting some obvious choices out of the way. While that'll persist into week two somewhat, it has less to do with a lack of imagination but rather ensuring that we start with a sure and steady first footstep before wildly sprinting off into the terrifying unknown. In that vein, Dungeon Explorer II is one of those games I left as a "stay tuned" while penning the original Octurbo, and was one of the few items I had on a list of potential TurboGrafx-CD games to cover a year in advance. (Yeah, I actually plan out this stuff ahead of time. I feel like I might be killing the magic, here.)
Dungeon Explorer II is the sequel to Dungeon Explorer (well, doy), which was a game I found more enjoyable the more of it I played and the better acquainted I got with its systems. A then-modern take on a multiplayer console version of Gauntlet (the timing of this blog with the recent release of an even more modern take on Gauntlet is entirely coincidental), Dungeon Explorer merged that top-down frenetic Arcade action with standard RPG trappings such as leveling up and talkative NPCs and an overworld and an overarching narrative. Those trappings were largely superficial in some respects -- leveling up simply entailed finding gems after each boss fight, or collecting the occasional permanent stat boost through exploration -- but it enhanced the standard "shoot at monster spawners and move on" gameplay beyond a repetitive slog. I don't mind spelunking a few floors of beasties to shoot at, but knowing it would eventually culminate in a cool boss fight, a boost in stats and some additional story made it all the more enticing.
Dungeon Explorer II appears to be more of the same from what little I played, even graphically, though the addition of redbook audio music and overdramatic voiceovers has certainly improved my affection for the format. I'll save the rest for the screenshots themselves.
Dungeon Explorer 2: The Explorening
Well, that's Dungeon Explorer II. If you've gone back to check the first game's LP, you might've noticed how closely the two games resemble each other. I guess Atlus didn't feel like fixing what wasn't broke, but at least this one seems a lot more forgiving. Not that you could expect the first dungeon to be brutally unfair. I've also spent less time wandering around lost, so that's a plus too.
And, again, there's the music. It's a lot of fun, switching from schmaltzy town muzak to rockin' dungeon/boss themes, and it all sounds pretty good for 1993 (I say that, but 1993's Mega Man X and Secret of Mana have awesome soundtracks too). Have a listen, and I'll see you all next time:
Beyond Shadowgate is one of a few TurboGrafx-CD games I selected for this year's Octurbo because it builds on an old game I have a lot of fondness for. In this case, that would be the 1987 ICOM MacVenture game Shadowgate. Shadowgate has a reputation for killing its players over and over with something close to a sadistic reverie; a design decision I don't think was entirely a simple hold-over from the far less forgiving text adventures that ICOM's employees cut their teeth with. It may sound cynical, but if you're building an adventure game that dials up the unnecessary and random deaths some several magnitudes more than ought to be acceptable, it's more likely to create a lasting impression on the player. It also starts to come back around to funny again, like Sideshow Bob and his thousand rakes to the face, though maybe that's just the Battered Person Syndrome talking. Sierra would become the masters of the cheap and funny death in due time, but there's something about how easily the Grim Reaper finds you in Shadowgate that almost seems farcical.
Beyond Shadowgate may change a few things -- the game is now a third-person affair, letting you move around the screen and fight -- it still feels like the same old brutally unfair Shadowgate. The presentation's a little spotty in places (if you saw Ghost Manor from last year's Octurbo, Beyond Shadowgate feels graphically similar, which is to say fairly ugly with melon-domed characters) but it definitely gets the feel and personality right. Hoo boy, does it ever.
Shadowgate Doesn't Have Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis System. The Game Itself is Your Nemesis
Beyond Shadowgate doesn't give you a whole lot of information about its surroundings, and I think adding combat to the game is ultimately detrimental because it's never quite clear if you're meant to avoid fights, meant to puzzle your way around them or meant to take out certain creatures because they need to go away before you can do something else in the area (that item on the ground near the caterpillar thing, for instance, won't allow itself to be picked up while the creature still lives). I'm also not clear what repercussions I'll be suffering by letting that she-beast wild, or letting that guy in the torture chair die. If it turns out to be one of those cases where I've made the game permanently unwinnable, that's not going to be fun for me. Especially if all the save slots get recorded over after such a stalemate event has already occurred.
Still, the game doesn't look too bad and it definitely keeps within the spirit of the original. It's interesting to note that the most recent Shadowgate remake, the ones the GB guys just checked out, already has a sequel in the works which it teased after the end credits: a sequel named "Beyond Shadowgate". It seems like an entirely original game, but you never know...
It's been a Metal Gear sort of day around here, what with the new bonus edition of Metal Gear Scanlon and my impulse purchase of the MGS HD Collection (I gotta stay one step ahead of those guys, it's important for some reason). As such, for today's Octurbo I'm playing what I can only describe as elaborate Metal Gear fan-fiction. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest there was some back and forth going on here with this game and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, which was released the following year.
Last Alert (Red Alert in Japan) is a military-themed multi-directional top-down shooter from Japan Telenet (specifically Shin-Nihon Laser Soft, a subsidiary of theirs that focused on anime games for the TG-CD), like Commando or Ikari Warriors. It's actually not too bad in that capacity, either; the stages are fair, have plenty of power-ups and health refills, the bosses are diverse and it's even an RPG of sorts, letting your protagonist go up in rank after performing so many kills and mission objectives. The music's good too. From a purely mechanical perspective alone, I could easily recommend this game to fans of this genre.
Of course, Last Alert's claim to fame, or infamy at least, is its story and presentation. A commando unit gets wiped out by the mysterious Force Project: a group of mercenaries and terrorists bent on world domination. A shadowy government organization employs Guy Kazama, the bereaved brother of the leader of the commando unit, to go after them. What follows are a bunch of Rambo-esque missions into enemy territory that get wilder and more nonsensical as the game progresses. These cutscenes are all presented in the customary TG-CD anime style and the voiceovers are... well. Beyond mere words to describe. Suffice it to say, there's a reason Last Alert appears on a lot of "worst dubs" lists.
Nobody Can Screencap My Feelings!
That's Last Alert for you. You really do need the voiceovers to get the most out of it, which is why I'll include a link to a commentary on the full game by those Retsupurae rascals Diabeetus and Slowbeef. It's a fun watch, and the game's a bit longer than you might expect. Also, if Hideo Kojima didn't borrow a few elements from this game's story for his famous series, I'll eat my green beret. Or maybe a raspberry beret. Or maybe just some raspberries (they're in season now!).
Last Alert, remember when I said I'd LP you last? I... may have been a little economical with the truth. A thousand pardons for the falsehood.