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Robotrek was a 1994 Enix game.  It was a translated version of a game called Slapstick from the same year.  Unfortunately, the game seems to suffer a lot due to the translation.  Now, at this time, Enix translations tended to be low budget and hurridly done, so the quality of the translation can easily be explained by the timeframe and budget.  One of the translators mentioned having only a weekend to translate something like Terranigma.  Another problem with the game is the fact that the original was a comedy.  Comedy is always a pain to translate, but it’s worse when you are limited by text space and time.

Robotrek's cover is on the left, and Slapstick's cover is on the right.

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By “the gut punch,” I’m talking about a plot where there’s a sudden climax that’s supposed to be shocking to the player.  In a movie, this might be the revelation that you’ve been working for the villians, or the cliche “you fought the war, but killed a little girl” style scene.

Here, Firia's grandmother reveals that Firia is really a member of the community.

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Personally, a game with romantic subplots isn’t a selling point for me.  However, I do find the presence of romantic subplots or romantic subtext to be fascinating in games.  I think you can break down many of these romantic subplots into a couple of categories.  One would be “sexy” games which are frequently a JRPG and a dating sim combined.  Another would be games with canon pairings.  A final would be games with romantic subtext.

A “sexy” game is one where you tend to have a harem of girls that you can date, and the game tends to be packed with innuendo.  A good example of this is Ar Tonelico. This game plays around with some of the common elements in a dating game, and is advertised in ways that focus on the sexualized aspects of the game.  In the first game in the series, the plot specifically plays around with conventions.  For example, a common dating game plot is a man entering a room to find a girl wearing only a towel.  In the case of Ar Tonelico, a girl in a towel handcuffs the main character to a bed and says that she has to imprison him to keep him in her life.  The scene may have “sexy” imagery, but it’s intended (and is) creepy in the game.  At another point in the game, a cutscene involves a crystal being inserted into a female character with dialogue that makes the metaphor obvious.

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When you’re talking about RPGs, there tends to be stories about reaching a specific point in the game.  Etrian Odyssey II has an early floor where you can see many game concepts in action.  While the graphics are identical to the previous area, the game is teaching you about game play and providing a fairly satisfying challenge.  In Chrono Trigger, the assault on Magus’ Fortress showcases attention to sound as a way of setting the mood.

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Each section here, I’m linking to a more detailed description of the game, if I have written one.

Dragon Quest, as a series, feels to me a bit like a game where the journey is the point of the game.  I think the main reason why I say that is that the series tends to spend a lot of time on sub-plots in various areas as you’re advancing the main plot. Final Fantasy, in comparison, tends to have the main plot be what you’re chasing for most of the game.  In Dragon Quest games, you might be searching for a missing kid, which eventually has some relation to the bigger picture.  I suppose a good description of what’s afoot is that the scope of each individual area is on a more personal level.  While the plot may be dark in some of the games, the “canon” name for most of the later heroes and heroines is the number of the game, which shows a certain lack of interest in a deep commitment to immersion in the story.

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Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger’s team was called the “Dream Team” during the production of the game.  It was a once in a lifetime mix of people that have mostly left Square since then.  It was my third major SNES RPG that I got new as a kid, so it’s really hard to look at with a non-opinionated eye.  I mean, I still remember most of the hidden item locations in FFIII / FFVI, and I still remember the opening moves in Chrono Trigger.  The game came out from Square in 1995.

This early area to explore in the game shows the attractive sprite work in the game. People tend to use Chrono Trigger's cliffs as an example of how to tile sprites.

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Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is a curious game.  To really discuss it, you’ve got to decide how you want to talk about it.  Back in 1992, Square wanted to make an easier and more action packed Final Fantasy game.  The theory was that an easy cheap game would catch a younger audience, and make for more sales.  The game itself is largely considered to be a spinoff rather than a main series game.

This early cutscene in the game is pretty typical example of how the game works.

Why is this?  Well, let’s look at it like this.  A game in a series can be examined in the context of the series and the common elements of the series.  When examining it that way, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest uses different battle mechanics, different exploration mechanics, and focus on a much more linear progression.  This means that if you started the game, expecting typical Final Fantasy gameplay, you’d likely be surprised.  If you started the game expecting a typical RPG, you’d also be surprised.  As the image above shows, the game defaults to showing no hit points for the hero.   The vague old  man tasking you with saving the world is meant to be goofy and humorous, but the amount of dialogue is very small. Read the rest of this entry »

Dream Maze (a.k.a. Yume Meikyuu: Kigurumi Daibouken) is a 3D maze exploration game which has an unique concept.  It was published by Hector in 1994.  Unfortunately, much like the early Wizardry games, exploring the maze does get tedious, and the game’s charm doesn’t necessarily make the  game pleasant to play.  The concept of the game is a dreaming kid who wears various animal costumes to fight toys.  Traveling through various towers, the hero finds presents and gathers partners.

The hero with an octopus costume.

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Final Fantasy IV for a lot of people was their first SNES rpg.  For them, the game really isn’t something you analyze critically, since the game is tied up in a sea of memories.  This actually makes it hard for me.  The game came out for the SNES from Square in 1991.  My first RPG on the SNES was Secret of Mana in 1993.  For me, Final Fantasy II was a game that I played after I played Chrono Trigger.  So even then, I could see that the game was a far simpler game in comparison to the larger sprites and glitzy effects of Final Fantasy III or the other games I had played.  I still appreciated the game, as I remember, but found the amount of damage floors in the dungeon to be tedious.  I never got the same nostalgia for the experience of playing the game.

The Japanese version of the game has an adorable cover.

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In the classic reviewing standpoint, it’s almost impossible to imagine what the game would be like after several hours of leisurely gameplay.  Between deadlines and boredom, you can’t really replicate playing 60 hours of a game over several months in the space of weeks or even days.  One aspect of games that stands out to me is how games design efficiency into repetitive actions. Mostly in RPGs there’s four really common activities.  One would be shopping, two would be talking, three would be searching, four would be fighting.

Shopping in RPGs is something that tends to be hampered by technology. I remember in the SNES era that people would specifically cite “this equipment is better” arrows as being an amazing feature.  Another handy feature is something showing that your characters can, or can’t, equip something.  On NES and Gameboy systems, space was sometimes saved with little icons showing if your “silver” was a sword or a boot.  Usually, however, there was not enough room to show in the icons if the equipment was male or female.  In even earlier games, you shopped by price points.

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