Autumn reminds me of Secret of Mana

Back in 1996, my younger brother and I pooled our money together and bagged ourselves a great little SNES combo – coming to the end of the 16-bit era meant that there were good opportunities to see the other side of the fence for a small outlay (our household was a staunch Sega proponent) and enough time had passed to bury the proverbial hatchet. If memory serves, we put together around $200, which bought us a SNES Killer Instinct pack – SNES console with RF lead/AC adapter, controller, as well as a boxed copy of Killer Instinct (don’t laugh :P) and an extra controller as a bonus. We’d been thinking about it for a while at that point, as one of my brother’s mates had a SNES and had brought it over a few times and I’d been able to play some Zelda here and there, and one of my mates, McAdam, had snapped up a SNES the X-Mas prior to ’96 and had introduced me to the awesomeness of a rented copy of Secret of Mana one weekend. To complete the peer pressure, another mate from school got me hooked on Killer Instinct (again, stop laughing!). So, we took the plunge. Or rather, my little brother went away on camp for a weekend, so Mum and I went out to the mall and grabbed a SNES pack, and I picked up a copy of Secret of Mana for myself. The only catch was that I wasn’t allowed to play the SNES or even open it until he came back from his trip. It did make for an awesome Sunday evening of gaming though, and 3:30pm couldn’t come fast enough the next day at school ๐Ÿ™‚

The time of year we got the SNES was when it starts to get a bit of a cold snap in the evening (well, “cold” by Australian standards anyway), so whenever we get a burst of cold like we’re getting at the moment, it reminds me of cranking out the SNES for the first time, and just as importantly, playing Secret of Mana with my brothers.

There was so much about the game that made it special – despite the nonsensical plot thanks to the game’s initial development as a Super CD title, there was so much to love about it. The graphics were pure 16-bit era Japanese development – colourful, charming and packed to the rafters with great animation and flourishes. The music was absolutely amazing – the SPC700 was able to do some amazing stuff, but the quality of the compositions for Secret of Mana were enchanting, especially since my other 16-bit adventures were dominated by the Mega Drive’s synth which didn’t have anywhere near the range of features of the SNES’ audio system (that being said, there’s a particular charm to what some of the better developers were able to pull off with the Mega Drive’s audio setup). But more than all of that, the game was so much fun to play and accessible. While the AI was a bit stupid, playing the game with someone else made it so much more fun and broke down a lot of barriers that surrounded the RPG systems in the 16-bit era. While I was already a JRPG convert thanks to the sublime Phantasy Star 2 (thanks to my brother Miguel on that one, and for starting me on the RPG path with the SSI-developed D&D games on the C64 and PC before that), it was great to see those concepts presented in such a different format. The only bummer is that I never got to play through the game on 3-player mode – my younger brother managed to do this with some of his mates when they rented a multitap from one of the neighbourhood video stores, and he assures me that it was awesome.

As much as I adore this game, there are two things about it that saddens me – first of all, the direct sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, never got an official English release by Squaresoft (instead we got Secret of Evermore, which while not as polished, actually isn’t too shabby if you can psychologically separate it from the former when playing it). Secondly, all the games since the SNES games have arguably been rubbish. I remember downloading trailers for Legend of Mana on the PSX off Gaming Age on my old dial-up connection and being absolutely gobsmacked by some amazing hand-drawn visuals and sublime audio. Sadly, the final game featured a terrible translation and didn’t carry anywhere near the charm and persistent game world that the SNES games had. Fast forward to the PS2, and we get Dawn of Mana, yet another terrible interpretation of the franchise. Thankfully, the 3-party action-RPG spirit lived on in the excellent Kingdom Hearts games, but even that’s bittersweet – the natural extension of the engine that powered Kingdom Hearts would have made a natural base to build up a living, breathing and colourful world to set a new Mana game that echoed the successes of old. Such a wasted opportunity.

If I could make one last-ditched and naive request to SquareEnix, it would be this – create a HD remake of Secret of Mana with glorious 2D artwork, and tell the story that you originally wanted to tell before the game got chopped apart to fit the limited space of a cartridge. I’m not asking for voice work or anything like that (because in all likelihood it means they won’t make it a bilingual release) or animated cut scenes – 3 players online or offline simultaneously, great music, beautiful spritework, the full story, digital distribution (to reduce costs, though I’d love a physical release). I have a feeling SquareEnix like money, and this kind of project would be a virtual printer of cash. At least in my naive view of the current state of video gaming.

Seasonal gaming habits and associations

This one’s a little left-of-center, but I thought I’d post it anyhows.

I’ve found over the years that, just as musos will track periods of time in their lives or historical phases by the music associated therewith, I have begun over the years to do the same thing with video games. I see this happening on two levels, micro (annual seasons/events) and macro (periods of time).

The most recent/up-coming example of Micro Gaming Associations (let’s give it a fancy acronym – MiGA – yeah!) would be Easter. And it’s a completely irrational.

Back in March 1993, my brothers and I pooled our resources and sold off our Sega Master System, all our controllers (bar one or two we left behind, came in handy for 1-button games like Sonic or Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive) and all our games in order to pool the $300 for a Sega Mega Drive (original model, without the serial port though) pack that included Sonic 1 and vouchers to get Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (boo!) and Columns (uber). I’ll leave the full, drawn-out story for a later post, but suffice to say we picked one up and come Easter, we had a Mega Drive, and it was the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of the universe to my pre-pubescent brain.

So, I still remember clearly on the morning of Good Friday, after partaking in copius amounts of hot cross buns (yum), I jumped in front of the telly and played – of all things – Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. It was an awesome game in 1993, and while it’s probably a bit on the rubbish side, is still a lot of fun today. If you’re irrational like myself.

So, for the last couple of years I’ve gone to the habit of digging out Moonwalker and give the game a crack around Easter time because of the association with the season – in fact, if you check out my 10 April 2009 gaming session gallery, you’ll find a few pics from the first stage of Moonwalker ๐Ÿ™‚ The same thing may happen this weekend ๐Ÿ˜€

Thus, when Easter comes around, you can count on me firing up the old 16-bit beast and having a crack at Moonwalker. But what about other seasons? Let’s have a think…

MiGA list:

  • Seasons –
    • Summer: Shenmue (Dreamcast), Asuka 120% Limited (Saturn), Wonderboy in Monster World (Mega Drive), Sonic 2 (Master System)
    • Autumn: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Sega Mega Drive), Super Mario All-Stars (SNES), Donkey Kong Country (SNES), Secret of Mana (SNES), Sonic 2 (Sega Mega Drive), Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast), Ico (Playstation 2)
    • Winter: Phantasy Star 4 (Mega Drive), Rocket Knight Adventures (Mega Drive), Ghostbusters (Mega Drive), TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist (Mega Drive), Zelda: A Link To The Past (SNES), Super Metroid (SNES), Dragon Force (Saturn), Magic Knight Rayearth (Saturn), Vampire Savior (Saturn), Saturn Bomberman (Saturn), Sonic 1 (Master System)
    • Spring: Road Avenger (Mega CD), Sonic CD (Mega CD), Thuderhawk (Mega CD), Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (Sega Saturn), Panzer Dragoon (Saturn), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn), Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive), Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition (Mega Drive)
  • Holidays –
    • Christmas: Shenmue (Dreamcast), NiGHTS (Saturn), Virtua Fighter 2 (Saturn), Story of Thor (Mega Drive), Sonic 2 (Master System)
    • Easter: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Mega Drive), Golden Axe 2 (Mega Drive), Sonic 2 (Mega Drive)

It’s a bit illogical and extremely inconsistent, but I thought I’d share anyhows ๐Ÿ™‚

So what about Macro Gaming Associations (MaGA to keep things going) – for the purpose of my ranting and raving, I’ll use these to define where particular games emphasised or are representational of a period of years or within a particular generation of game systems. This one’s still a bit hazy/inconsistent compared to the former which I’ve spent more time thinking about, so bear with me for this more randomised list. Note that like the above, these are representational of my personal bias, hence why some systems/games aren’t represented and why some games that may have come out in other periods are represented out of date. Where games represent the period and were ported to numerous systems, I’ve placed them in favoured order of association. Thus, if a game came out on the C64 and arcade but I spent more time playing the C64 version, that gets preference, even if the arcade original was much better.

  • Decades –
    • 1980s: Asteroids (Atari 2600), Pitfall (Atari 2600), Enduro (Atari 2600), R-Type (Commodore 64, arcade), TMNT (Commodore 64 [platformer], arcade), International Karate (Commodore 64), The Last Ninja (Commodore 64), Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja (Commodore 64, Amiga 500, arcade), Wizball (Commodore 64), Combat School (Commodore 64), The Great Giana Sisters (Commodore 64), Bruce Lee (Commodore 64), Outrun (Commodore 64, arcade), Afterburner 2 (Commodore 64, deluxe hyrdraulic arcade cabinet), Wonderboy (Commodore 64), Space Invaders (cocktail arcade cabinet), China Gate (arcade)
    • 1990s: Wing Commander (DOS), Space Quest 3 (DOS), Warcraft 2 (DOS), Police Quest 2 (DOS), Double Dragon 2 (NES), Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES), The Flinstones (NES), Advanced D&D Collection series (Commodore 64, DOS), Sonic 1-2 (Master System, Mega Drive), Wonderboy 1-3 (Sega Master System), Alex Kidd in Miracle World/Shinobi World (Sega Master System), Sonic 3 + Knucles (Sega Mega Drive), Gunstar Heroes (Mega Drive), Story of Thor (Mega Drive), Phantasy Star 2/4 (Mega Drive), Super Mario World (SNES), The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES), Secret of Mana (SNES), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn), NiGHTS (Saturn), Guardian Heroes (Saturn), Saturn Bomberman (Saturn), Virtua Fighter 2 (Saturn), Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast), Soul Calibur (Dreamcast), Daytona 8-way linkup (arcade), Last Bronx (arcade, Saturn), Sega Rally 2 (arcade), X-Men vs Street Fighter (arcade, Saturn), Dead or Alive (arcade, Saturn), House of the Dead 2 (arcade, Dreamcast), Street Fighter 2/CE/HF/Super/Super Turbo (arcade), Metal Slug (arcade, Saturn), King of Fighters ’96 (arcade, Saturn), Crazy Taxi (arcade, Dreamcast)
    • 2000s: Shenmue 1-2 (Dreamcast), Dead or Alive 2 (Dreamcast, arcade, Playstation 2), Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast), Chu Chu Rocket (Dreamcast), Powerstone 2 (Dreamcast), Gauntlet Legends (Dreamcast), Ico (Playstation 2), Kingdom Hearts (Playstation), Viewtiful Joe (Gamecube), Tales of Phantasia (Gamecube), The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (Gamecube), Panzer Dragoon Orta (XBox)
  • Generations (in order of preference/emphasised experience) –
    • 8-bit: Atari 2600, Commodore 64, NES
    • 16-bit: Mega Drive, SNES, DOS
    • 32-bit: Saturn
    • 128-bit: Dreamcast, Gamecube, Playstation 2, XBox

Like I said, irrational, huh?

I think a special point needs to be made on the inclusion of the PS2 and the whole 128-bit gen note above – it’s actually all to Wifey’s credit that I had a big love of the PS2 in the last generation, as I was irrationally opposed to it on principle (being a bit of a Sega fanboy :P), but it garnered quite the soft spot in the end. It was also the first time I’d been in a financial position to actually get use of all the consoles in a single generation, so it’s quite interesting in that respect.

To be honest, I think I like the first list based on MiGA better than the second, as I feel like I’m making more of a randomised, generated list of games tied to extremely large swaths of time with the MaGA list, and the former seems more personal in its choices… but then again, when I think back on time periods, those are the games that stand out, at least at the moment I’m writing up this post.

I’ll have a thorough chuckle if either of these concepts get picked up anywhere else, or how many people throw on the rose-tinted glasses and look back on their classic games like this. I suspect I’m not the only one, but at the same time I don’t think I have my finger on the pulse in any way.

Anywho, I hope you enjoyed that long-winded return to retro gaming blogging. I promise I’ll start getting back into regular posting from now on!

US release of Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (Sakura Taisen 5) features Japanese language!!

Sakura Taisen 5 (PS2) cover art

Because I’m a bit of a random individual, I just had a thought – any word if the upcoming US release of Sakura Taisen 5 (Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love) on the Playstation 2 and Wii by NIS had confirmed the dubbing options? And lo and behold, a quick look on one of my fave video gaming blogs Siliconera had all the info (see: Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love Sold As A Two Disc Box Set; and Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love Slips Into Next Year), as well as an updated release date for the Playstation 2 release (Wii, too) – early 2010.

This is a startling moment of clarity, and a wonderful surprise for fans of the series and the world in general (I exaggerate not). I’ve been playing Sakura Taisen since the Saturn days and absolutely love the games (the anime releases, with the possible exception of the TV series, are also extremely good), but was always frustrated that I had to use my rubbish understanding of the Japanese language when playing through any of the games ๐Ÿ˜‰ Well, I normally had a FAQ sitting next to me, but still, translated text would have been super-awesome ๐Ÿ™‚ I blame Bernie Stolar for not bringing it over to the West in the mid-90s, even though it would have arguably been financial suicide (though it’s not like the Saturn was a particularly successful business venture in the West tbh – great machine though, still my favourite system).

Anywho, the news of there finally being an English translation of this game being brought into the West was pretty huge in and of itself, but the fact that they’re doing a 2-disc release in order to preserve the original Japanese voices and please the ignorant masses with a dubbed release (seriously – it’s a foreign language, it’s just like watching a movie subtitled, because English dubs for movies should also be banned – deal with it), which ultimately creates a harmonious solution. I know there are additional costs going down this path for developers, I just wish it happened more often where there isn’t enough space to make a release bilingual on a single disc.

Considering the quality of the Japanese cast, this is such an awesome thumbs-up from NIS (and Sony and Nintendo for letting it pass through their gates). To release this in English only would be like taking a classic movie where the cast really shines (let’s restrict it to animation – so Shrek or Monsters Inc?), and replace all the awesome cast members with underpaid actors and comparatively inexperienced directors without anywhere near the kind of experience/talent/qualities/budget the original had, and you’d lose a great deal of charm that made the original movie so awesome. It’s kinda like taking Bruce Lee out of Enter The Dragon, Roberto Benigni from La Vita รจ Bella or Samuel L. Jackson out of Pulp Fiction – remove the actors that add charm/awesomeness/etc, and you remove part of the soul of the experience. And yes, I know that’s an odd set of movies to use as an example, but I thought that since Sakura Taisen fans are generally very eccentric, I’d write appropriately ๐Ÿ™‚

… erm, I got sidetracked. So, to re-cap – Sakura Taisen 5 is getting an English language, is preserving the original Japanese dialogue on its own, separate disc, and will be released in early 2010 by NIS. Oh, and anything Sakura Taisen is awesome. The end.