Mega Archive CD: Part I: From Heavy Nova to Lunar: The Silver Star

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Sega's war on Nintendo in the 16-bit era was largely won by persuasive marketing, at least outside of Japan, but there was always an undercurrent of technological one-up-manship. The Sega Genesis came roaring out of the gate with a "does what Nintendon't" promotional campaign, highlighting the difference in power between itself and the NES when it released. After Nintendo answered with the much beefier Super Nintendo Entertainment System in '90-'91, Sega looked to the fledgling CD-based peripheral of its other Japanese rival, the PC Engine/TurboGrafx, and determined that would be the next battlefield. In the holiday season of 1991, Sega of Japan released the Mega-CD: an accessory that would not only allow the Mega Drive to play CD games, but offered some much needed hardware boosts to even the playing field.

Unlike the Sega Mega Drive, the Sega CD (its North American name) is a totally unknown quantity to me barring the occasional Giant Bomb Make My Video sighting (and shoutouts to @brad, as I know he's been delving through this library of late). While I had friends with Mega Drives (I wouldn't buy my own until many years later) none of them seemed willing to shell out for this expensive peripheral, and I think by the time it was coming out over here in the spring of 1993 there was already a lot of skepticism surrounding it. Most, though not all, of the prominently featured games for it were sketchy FMV titles like Night Trap and Sewer Shark, and I want to say that Sega was already considering pulling the plug on new Mega-CD game development by the end of that same year. I may be speaking with the benefit of hindsight though: it's just as likely that everyone I knew was hyped for it and simply didn't have enough allowance saved up to grab it.

Well, hey, working on this feature and these wiki pages seems as good an excuse as any to finally try this thing out. For this inaugural feature on the Sega CD, we're covering the fourteen games released between December 12th 1991, when the Japanese Mega-CD launched, up until the middle of 1992 where the Mega Archive is at, presently. Something very notable here, and rare for a console launch even if said console is a peripheral, is that the majority of these games are third-party. Sega produced just three games for the Sega CD in these seven months, while most of the rest came to us courtesy of Wolf Team, Game Arts, and Telenet Japan: companies who had already found a home on the Mega Drive. There's a few highlights in this first batch, but overall it's some meager offerings for a device that cost 49,800Y (~$500) at launch.

The standard Mega Archive feature will return after a much longer break, but when it eventually resumes with the second half of 1992 I'll be tossing in the occasional Sega CD-focused entry like this to make sure it's keeping up with its brother.

I realized I've waxed poetic enough already but before we start, there's the small matter of three Mega-CD games that have already been covered on the Mega Archive, as all three later received cartridge versions:

  1. Heavy Nova, a mecha one-on-one fighter by Micronet covered in Mega Archive XV as entry #228.
  2. Earnest Evans, an Indiana Jones-style action-platformer by Wolf Team covered in Mega Archive XVI as entry #241.
  3. Sol-Feace, a sci-fi shoot 'em up by Wolf Team covered in Mega Archive XVII as entry #266 (as Sol-Deace).

(Heavy Nova and Sol-Feace were also Mega-CD launch games. Of these three, only Sol-Feace saw international releases. In the future, any game that debuts on Sega CD will be covered by this sub-series instead of the Mega Archive.)

Part I: (December '91 - June '92)

CD1: Nostalgia 1907

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  • Developer: Takeru
  • Publisher: Sur dé Wave
  • JP Release: 1991-12-14
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Sur dé Mystery Series
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Theme: Nautical
  • Premise: The good ship Nostalgia has been damaged by an explosive, and is no longer what it used to be. Can the protagonist get to the bottom of this terrorism mystery before the ship gets to the bottom of the ocean?
  • Availability: Nope. Various contemporary computer ports, all Japanese.
  • Preservation: Our first Sega CD exclusive game is... OK, not actually exclusive to the Sega CD. Nostalgia 1907 was originally a Sharp X68000 adventure game about an imperilled boat, not too subtly riffing on the Titanic disaster of 1912. However, instead of icebergs, the Nostalgia is threatened by a criminal bomber who is looking for a priceless artifact hidden somewhere on the ship. If it's not provided within a certain time limit, they intend to sink the ship and kill everyone on board. It's a bit wordy and interminable with its unskippable voiced lines, making the problem of a language barrier even more challenging, so I couldn't tell you much more than that. Seems to have garnered a cult following at least. Takeru (and their label Sur dé Wave) is also new to the Mega Archive: one of their few other games was the excellent (and incredibly rare) NES platformer Little Samson.

CD2: Wakusei Woodstock: Funky Horror Band

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  • Developer: Advance Communication Company (possibly)
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-12-20
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Play That Funky Music, Wakusei Boy
  • Premise: The Funky Horror Band has rolled (beamed?) into town, and someone needs to run around fetching them Danishes and hooking up their amps. Could that someone be you?
  • Availability: Nope. This was Sega published so it didn't turn up elsewhere and for several reasons nobody thought to localize it.
  • Preservation: This was a fun game to research. Funky Horror Band was a stop-motion puppet musical show created by Japanese music giants Victor Musical Industries (they sometimes published games too, but oddly enough not this one) that featured a band comprised of bizarre alien creatures: sort of a combination of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas and GWAR. Near as I can tell, this is a traditional turn-based JRPG with a generic anime protagonist where the Funky Horror Band inexplicably turn up as NPCs and ask you to complete quests for them, and has a musical theme throughout: instrument cases instead of chests, enemies named after American rock bands, and so on. It's apparently nothing to write home about as a RPG, but as a vehicle to show off the Sega CD's redbook audio chops you could do worse than getting a real band with real music involved. Well, "real" in a very tenuous sense.

I'm just going to post a music video of these guys, because this shit is kinda wild:

CD3: Tenka Fubu: Eiyuutachi no Houkou

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  • Developer: Game Arts
  • Publisher: Game Arts
  • JP Release: 1991-12-28
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Strategy Simulation
  • Theme: Sengoku
  • Premise: Those dastardly daimyo are at it again, taking over Japan while no-one's watching.
  • Availability: Nope. It did, however, see a 1995 SFC remake/remaster with a new title (Sengoku no Hasha).
  • Preservation: It didn't take long for the Sega CD to have its own Sengoku strategy sim. Created in the image of Koei's Nobunaga's Ambition series - "Tenka Fubu" was Oda Nobunaga's own credo, and translates to "rule through military force" - Eiyuutachi no Houkou ("Roar of the Heroes") is as impenetrable as the rest of its ilk. One notable trait of Tenka Fubu is that it was the first Sega CD game developed by Game Arts: one of the few developers who would find great commercial and critical success with the system, though not with this game in particular. We'll see them again in just a little bit.

CD4: WonderMega Collection

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  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1992-01-04
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Compilation
  • Theme: Desperation
  • Premise: The WonderMega is here, and with it is a bunch of crap Sega found in a desktop folder somewhere and threw together onto one disc.
  • Availability: Nope. It's a pack-in title for a semi-obscure console SKU that wasn't sold separately, so it might be hard to find.
  • Preservation: The WonderMega was the first hybrid Mega Drive and Mega-CD console unit released in Japan (it was called the X'Eye in the States), and for the pack-in Sega thought it might be an idea to toss a few of those Sega MegaNet Game Toshokan downloadable games together in a bundle. As opposed to, say, actually good Genesis games like those found in the later Mega Games compilations. Included here are Flicky (previously seen in Mega Archive Part VII, entry #102), Paddle Fighter (Mega Archive Part VII, entry #112), and Pyramid Magic (Mega Archive Part X, entry #146) as well as newcomer Quiz Scramble which would soon be sold separately as Quiz Scramble Special (see below). In addition to those, the disc also has four karaoke numbers on it which you access via the Sega CD's music player, once again taking advantage of the platform's redbook audio. Not much of a collection, but then the Mega-CD hadn't yet found a worthy enough killer app to be "pack-in material".

CD5: Seirei Shinseiki Fhey Area

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  • Developer: Wolf Team
  • Publisher: Wolf Team
  • JP Release: 1992-02-18
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: I honestly have no idea. Rescue the princess?
  • Availability: Nope. No localizations, no ports, no interest in either from what I can tell.
  • Preservation: Wolf Team were no strangers to RPGs, though they're still a few years from the one that launched them into the stratosphere (1995's Tales of Phantasia, which I seem to bring up every time we cover a Wolf Team game). "Fhey Area" is I think meant to be something like "Fayaria", as in a generic fantasy kingdom name, but the game case itself has "Fhey Area" written down the spine so who am I to argue. Notable for having voice over and animated cutscenes, like most CD games of this time, but only for the opening cinematic. I don't like to call any game half-assed, but Wolf Team did release this in the six month gap between two other games (Earnest Evans and Aisle Lord) so either they had the interns handle development or the alpha disc fell out of a truck and they decided to stick their names on it. (Thanks to @pepsiman for helping me figure out the weird title!)

CD6: Cosmic Fantasy Stories

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  • Developer: Riot
  • Publisher: Telenet Japan
  • JP Release: 1992-03-27
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Cosmic Fantasy
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: What if Phantasy Star but with boobs? That's more or less what Cosmic Fantasy promises, and Sega CD owners could get in on the ground floor of this franchise with this enhanced remake of the first two games.
  • Availability: Nope. The original TurboGrafx-CD version of Cosmic Fantasy 2 was localized by Working Designs, but none of the others were (at least officially).
  • Preservation: The Mega-CD is already shaping up to be a decent console for RPG fans, especially as the CD format could allow developers to tell stories as lengthy and as cinematically as they wanted, thanks to all that extra storage space. It is, after all, one of the major reasons why Square went to Sony's PlayStation with Final Fantasy VII. The raunchy and goofy Cosmic Fantasy games were fairly well liked on their native PC Engine platform, and getting both in the same package like this with much needed improvements to the combat engine probably struck its many fans as a good deal. It's also a cynical means of siphoning away the install base of the only other CD console racket in town, but Sega didn't get to where it was by playing nice. Too bad for all those Cosmic Fantasy fans who chose to jump ship: future sequels remained PC Engine exclusives.

CD7: Death Bringer: The Knight of Darkness

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  • Developer: Riot
  • Publisher: Telenet Japan
  • JP Release: 1992-04-17
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Death Bringer is the world's shittiest Santa Claus. Maybe don't open any of the presents he left under the tree.
  • Availability: Nope. Well, you could buy some untranslated, less feature-rich PC versions of the game through Project EGG if you wanted to go the trouble.
  • Preservation: All right, I love RPGs and all, but this might be too many all at once. Especially as they all seem to be coming from the same developers. Death Bringer is the first of two first-person dungeon crawlers released in a row, designed in the classic Wizardry/Might and Magic style, and is modern enough to include an auto-mapping feature for those of us who get lost easily. Unlike Telenet's other Sega CD games, this was a pre-existing title that had already graced the major Japanese PC platforms of the era, but it's not the same Death Bringer that came to Amiga and Atari ST. The Sega CD would not be a stranger to this typically western style of RPG: as well as Aisle Lord, next on the list, it'll also eventually see ports of Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra, Eye of the Beholder, and Dungeon Master II.

CD8: Aisle Lord

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  • Developer: Wolf Team
  • Publisher: Telenet Japan
  • JP Release: 1992-05-29
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: They're gonna need a clean up on aisle five once your band of rampaging heroes are done tearing up the place.
  • Availability: Nope. Contemporary review scores don't seem glowing, so I don't know if anyone's in a rush to restore this "lost classic".
  • Preservation: Oh Lord, they're teaming up now. Wolf Team and Telenet/Riot really putting the work in for the Sega CD's first few months, certainly more than the one joke game and half-hearted compilation Sega themselves put forward for the first six months of their new baby's existence. Aisle Lord's another first-person RPG as I mentioned above, but Wolf Team took a slightly different approach to the UI: your team is visible at all times while exploring and fighting, the latter using a real-time/turn-based hybrid system where you can pause and direct the action as often as you want or just let your characters handle things automatically (depending on, perhaps, the enemy's strength). It's all very like Drakkhen, oddly enough, which isn't the sort of accessible game that typically engenders imitators. It also features the rare combination of both anime and FMV cutscenes, so... get you an Aisle Lord who can do both.

CD9: Quiz Scramble Special

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  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1992-05-29
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Trivia
  • Theme: Questions
  • Premise: Relentless trivia! In Japanese! Probably based around the current events and pop culture of early '90s Japan! Good luck!
  • Availability: Nope. There's a lesser version included in the WonderMega Collection (above).
  • Preservation: It's odd, I really expected there to be more trivia games around after the success of HQ Trivia, but besides the occasional You Don't Know Jack there's not a whole lot coming out any more, at least in the major console/PC spaces. Japan's always loved this genre and there's plenty of quiz games to be found on any given platform; the Sega CD will see many more in the future. Quiz Scramble Special's story is... not easy to ascertain, and I imagine that would be the case even if I could understand the language. Suffice it to say, Japanese literacy is a requirement for this one.

CD10: Mahou no Shoujo: Silky Lip

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  • Developer: Riot
  • Publisher: Telenet Japan
  • JP Release: 1992-06-19
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Theme: Magical Girl Anime
  • Premise: Silky Lip must balance schoolwork with her double-life of being a powerful sorceress living in a magical alternate dimension. Man, relatable.
  • Availability: Nope. There's a 2008 remake of sorts, but... well, read below.
  • Preservation: Ah jeez. Look, there's nothing too salacious about this magical girl anime-inspired adventure game starring an elementary school student, but there are some visual choices with regards to shot angles - especially during the intro cutscenes - that perhaps should've been reviewed by a committee of social workers and cops from the sex crimes division. While it isn't an RPG, strictly speaking, it does have some aspirations towards hybrid status with what I believe are some rudimentary character building and combat mechanics. I think the goal is to increase your magical girl value to outperform your rivals in some big contest, but I couldn't get too far through it. Sadly, like her big sister Valis, Silky Lip was eventually sold off to unscrupulous pornographers after Telenet Japan folded. I sincerely hope they at least aged her up first. Ugh, moving on.

CD11: Lunar: The Silver Star

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  • Developer: Game Arts
  • Publisher: Game Arts (JP) / Working Designs (NA)
  • JP Release: 1992-06-26
  • NA Release: December 1993
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Lunar
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Young Alex dreams of being a legendary Dragonmaster like his hero Dyne, and gets his break when he wakes up one day as the protagonist of a beloved JRPG. Usually a good sign.
  • Availability: The Silver Star's been remastered and remade a few times, first as Silver Star Story Complete for PS1 and Saturn (the former was localized), and then more recently as Lunar Legend for GBA in 2002 and Lunar: Silver Star Harmony for PSP in 2009. Silver Star Harmony is probably the one to buy, unless they decide to remake it again.
  • Preservation: OK, so it's evident Lunar means a lot to many, though to my chagrin it's one of my biggest JRPG blindspots. Unfortunately, The Silver Star, Silver Star Story Complete, and Silver Star Harmony are all priced in excess of a bajillion dollars most places, so it doesn't look like I'm going to get my shot any time soon. While the rest of the above list of early Mega-CD RPGs were experiments creating narrative-driven games with the new capabilities of the CD format, The Silver Star was probably the first to truly take advantage of what the format could do, with a level of presentational craft and focus on storytelling that is still appreciated to this day. While I'm no Lunar-tic, I do have a fervent appreciation for Games Arts's follow-up of sorts, Grandia, and how that really delivered on an infectiously fun, swashbuckling atmosphere. It's clear the developers believed that RPGs should feel more like big escapist fantasies, and less like accountancy spreadsheets where numbers continually go back and forth. (Also, how wild is it that it took this long to find another Sega CD game that released in North America?)
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