Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Game 334: Bokosuka Wars (1983)

          
Bokosuka Wars
Japan
ASCII (developer and publisher)
Released in 1983 for Sharp X1; 1984 for MSX and PC-88; 1985 for FM-7, PC-6001, PC-98, and NES 
Date Started: 25 June 2019
Date Finished: 28 June 2019
Total Hours: 6
Difficulty: Hard (4/5), but would probably go down to 3/5 with more experience
Final Rating: 15
Ranking at time of posting: 39/343 (11%)

Well, I did it. I downloaded a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) emulator--Nestopia--and I gave it a shot. It was easier than I expected. I was thinking that the NES had a directional pad and an analog stick, but I guess that came with later consoles. The original NES controller is little more than a joystick (albeit one that made it harder to move diagonally) with two buttons. Easy to emulate, easy to remember.

Bokosuka Wars was on no one's list of "must play" console RPGs, but I figured I'd give it a try anyway. It's the earliest Japanese game on my list that had a western release and the earliest Japanese console game, beating several 1986 titles by a month or so. [Edit: I was wrong about the game having a western release. But it is still the earliest Japanese console game playable by someone who doesn't speak Japanese, by virtue of it being in English.] That it's not actually an RPG by my definitions (no inventory) shouldn't bother us too much. It was an easy step into this sub-genre.
            
A common screen, probably responsible for a lot of the hate the game receives.
         
The game is an "afternoon RPG," as any console must be until saving was possible. The setup is simple. You are King Suren, and your country has been overthrown by the evil King Ogreth of the Basam Empire (Ogreth is called "Dragonet" in the original Japanese versions). Ogreth has used his magic to turn all your knights and soldiers into rocks and trees and cacti. You embark on a mission to reclaim your throne. You start 600 meters to the east of King Ogreth's throne room and slowly make your way left down the battlefield, fighting his forces as you go.
          
The king starts alone, with 595 steps to his evil counterpart.
           
You're not alone in this endeavor. Along the way, you can rescue many of your knights and soldiers. (In the Japanese PC versions, Suren starts with many of his warriors already activated, but in the NES version, he starts alone.) Some are inanimate objects, but they're revived if you touch them. Others are kept in stockades and must be rescued. Either way, you slowly build (and, just as fast, lose) an army. Eventually, if you survive, you reach Ogreth's throne room and throw your remaining forces at him, including King Suren if necessary. If any of your units defeat Ogreth, you win the game.
         
King Suren turns a tree into a knight.
          
The problem is that you can revive and rescue only 50 warriors (about 15 knights and 35 soldiers), and opposing you are 180 enemies: guards, mages, warriors, and pages. Some of them can be avoided, but most must be fought. Characters move around the battlefield in real-time, but this is in no way an "action RPG." As frenzied as the game looks, no part of your success depends on your speed with the controller, particularly since enemies cannot attack you and combats are resolved statistically.

The game's strategy lies in who fights what enemies, and in what circumstances. Your one huge advantage is that enemies can never initiate combat. They can block your way, but combat only begins when you decide to move Suren or one of his warriors to the enemy's square. Thus, you can almost always choose who fights.

Combat is a probability test that pits your character's power against the enemy's, but with a heavy random component. If the die rolls go in your favor, you win; if not, you die. If the character fighting on your side was King Suren, and he dies, the game is over. Winning and losing is completely binary; there are no hit points in the game, so one character can't "weaken" an enemy for the next character.
           
My king battles a "summoner" in the middle of his spirits. Since my king has 320 power and the summoner only has 50, I'm relatively confident. During battle , the tile flashes between crossed swords and "B." I'm not sure what the "B" means, but it doesn't have anything to do with the "B" button on the controller. Maybe it means "Bokosuka."
       
If you win, the winning unit gets an increase in power--sometimes substantial. For instance, soldiers start at a power of 30 and rise to 40 and 50 with their first two victories. But if they achieve a third victory, they change color and rise to 140. Knights do the same thing, with the progression going 150, 160, 170 and then jumping to 260 on the third victory.
          
Note that one of my knights and one soldier have "gone gold," making them more powerful than their counterparts. A knight is needed to bust through the shield around the stockade.
         
King Suren himself starts at 220 and maxes at 320; soldiers and knights max at 310. Throughout the game, you have to keep making the decision about whether to throw your more powerful figures into combat, thus risking them, or try to build up weaker units. There's no easy answer. And occasionally even the most disproportionate combats can go wrong. I saw plenty of knights at 310 power killed by enemies at 10 power.
        
Enemy and ally unit powers. This is from the Sharp X1 version. NES players had to read the manual.
                     
There are a few other tactical considerations. Regular soldiers (for some reason) knock enemy guards from 100 power to 10 power when they engage in combat. Knights are the only units that can break the walls of stockades, so you want to keep at least one around. You need soldiers to disarm traps (which don't appear until after your first victory). Only the king can trigger special squares that remove the walls blocking "summoners," who then summon a bunch of spirits (which don't count against the enemy's total) until you kill the summoners.
           
Every once in a while, the king runs out of soldiers and stands alone.
          
I suspect the game would be "easy" for those with a lot of patience. One key problem is the movement of your forces. By default everyone moves together when you press the directional pad; if they're up against an obstacle, they just stay in place. You can toggle so that you're only selecting one type of unit at a time (i.e., the king, all soldiers, or all knights), but it's still tough to move them in unison, and I probably left more allies stuck on obstacles behind me than I lost in combat. This problem is the source of a lot of modern complaints about the game, I later found, but I think it added somewhat to the game's strategy. When you have a lot of units in your army, you have to be careful about every move, noting who is going to end up in what square, and thus what units will find themselves in combat. A player who develops a huge army is handicapped by having to more carefully manage its movement. I can't claim that I exactly "enjoyed" such a gameplay element, but that doesn't make it inherently bad.
          
Moving through terrain like this is easier when you only control one unit "type" at a time.
          
You don't have to fight every battle. In fact, there's a good argument to be made in fighting as few as possible, thus reaching the end of the game with as many forces as possible. On the other hand, it helps if those forces have gained a lot of experience along the way, so you don't want to eschew every combat. It's a tough call.
           
Having broken a bunch of soldiers out of a stockade, now approaching a phalanx of guards. To get the soldiers out of their building, I'm going to have to move everybody back and up a few spaces.
         
You eventually reach a point where you have to thread a narrow hallway to get to the throne room, which features a number of unavoidable battles with "killers" with 250 power. Even though you might have more than 300 power at this point, the killers seem to win more than half the time. The same is true for King Ogreth himself, who only has 250 power but seems to beat 300+-power allies at least three-quarters of the time. So whether you win or lose upon reaching the end is largely a matter of whether you have enough allies to overwhelm the probabilities of losing individual combats. You definitely don't want it to come down to King Ogreth vs. King Suren.

Reaching the final throne room. Looks like I'll have to take out a summoner before engaging the king. I only have three (promoted) units with me, but there are 10 more somewhere behind me if I didn't want to risk Suren in the final battle.

A good opening strategy is to have Suren fight all the combats until he gets to his maximum power of 320. If he's going to die, better it happens in the opening few minutes than hundreds of meters down the battlefield. After that, I tended to prioritize building weaker units than risking more experienced ones. That had the effect of keeping my numbers small but my individual units powerful. However, I'm sure there are several strategies that would work. I'm sure it's possible to have King Suren charge down the battlefield alone, fighting only the necessary combats (i.e., when an enemy is blocking you and there's nowhere to go), and make it all the way to the end. I tried it and made it to about the 300-yard line--halfway through the game--before I was overwhelmed by a group of knights and ultimately killed. Some other player makes that strategy work in this video, winning the game in just under 5 minutes, but there's a note that the session somehow "manipulates luck," so I'm not sure if it's an honest win.

A winning game takes about an hour, taking modest care, and perhaps two hours being extra careful. If you win you get a nice screen and then an invitation to try again. Small squares in the upper-right corner keep track of your victories. The only thing different about subsequent loops is that they feature traps that kill you instantly unless a soldier walks over them. Apparently, you face more traps the more previous victories you have under your belt.
          
An angry King Suren chases his enemies off screen.
            
The game scores poorly as an RPG, getting only 15 points on the GIMLET, nothing rating higher than a 2, with 0s in economy and equipment. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable for a few hours as I tried to figure out the right strategies, watched the odometer count down my distance to Ogreth, and held my breath every time Suren entered combat. I lost 8 times--twice in the last 100 meters--and I suppose I would feel differently about the game if that had continued much longer.
           
The box captures the somewhat linear nature of the game.
           
Given my generally positive feelings, I was surprised when I started doing my post-game research and saw Bokosuka Wars repeatedly referred to as the worst game ever made for the NES, with multiple sites calling it completely impossible. Granted, PC games were significantly ahead of the experience that Bokosuka Wars could provide, but even console-only players seem to love to trash this title. I suspect what's happening here is that RPG-oriented players want their success determined by statistics that they can manage, and arcade-oriented players want their fate decided by their own dexterity. A game that's so heavily based on random probability serves neither group. Nonetheless, I had fun with it. It showed me an approach to gameplay I haven't experienced before. I wouldn't want every game to take its mechanics from Bokosuka Wars, but as a one time experience, it was fine.

(Believe me, I appreciate the irony of me, who never heard of this game two weeks ago, who resisted the console sub-genre for a decade, suddenly mounting an impassioned defense of the first console RPG that I played.)
                
The Sharp XI version starts the king with a large army.
           
As poorly as the game was apparently received, it is credited in many sources in laying the foundations for the tactical RPG genre in Japan. I'll reserve judgement on that until I actual play more tactical RPGs. In a funny footnote, Bokosuka Wars II was released for the PlayStation 4 in 2017. (There's a so-called sequel called New Bokosuka Wars for the Sharp X1 alone in 1984, but I really think it's just another version of the original game.) That gap of 33 years must be one of the longest between an original game and its sequel in gaming history, although Bethesda seems determined to beat it.

I'm disappointed that the game didn't explain what bokosuka meant. Does anyone know? Googling provides mostly this game and a VR game called Bokosuka Girls. I'm trying to think what adjective could apply to both wars and buxom women and I'm coming up short.

112 comments:

  1. Don't speak Japanese myself, but googling revealed "bokosuka being onomatopoeia for the sound of something being beaten up".
    Great to see you delving into console RPG waters, btw!

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    1. Well, that makes sense, but it also makes the game's name seem sillier than when I imagined it was taking place in the ancient Kingdom of Bokosuka.

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    2. Looks like the term "bokosuka" was used to name a couple of enemy abilities in one of the Mario spinoffs as well, where it basically describes summoning a bunch of mooks (i.e., Goombas) to beat someone up. That appears to be the main source for that definition; I can't find it on any Japanese reference sites. Googling the Japanese spelling ボコスカ in any variant I can think of just brings up references to this game.

      It's not entirely impossible that this game itself invented the word, and later games are just referencing it.

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    4. "googling revealed "bokosuka being onomatopoeia for the sound of something being beaten up"
      This is deeply funny to me. It makes the title something like "*Fight Noises* Wars".

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    5. Kickpuncher II: The Kickening

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    6. I don't claim to be an expert but I'm almost entirely sure it's "boxcar" written in katakana. Because you move on a track, like a racecar. Since the u is elided it's pronounced basically identical to boxcar.

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    7. I don't think so. Box would be bokkusu, ボックス.

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    8. I think Cedric may be on the money.

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    9. Zardas is right though in the sense that, officially, boxcar is rendered ボックスカー and not ボクスカ.
      I still think that's it, and the creator just spelled it wrong, but only because I like the boxcar narrative.

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    10. Zardas is right though in the sense that, officially, boxcar is rendered ボックスカー and not ボクスカ.

      The boxcar thought is fun, but it seems like a long shot since Bokosuka is ボスカ -- so that's three spelling differences to account for.

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    11. That was a typo on my part! I'm on the phone. Yes, of course you're right in that. It's really just folk etymology on my part.

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    12. If there's still confusion about this, I can confirm that trudodyr is right on the money.
      Here's an old Japanese bulletin board post where someone asks about what the title means, and another poster explains that "It comes from the fact that the sound of battle can be rendered as 'boko-suka-boko-suka'"
      http://msx.jpn.org/tagoo/k_check.cgi?PATH=/review/319/9/1&LINE=319

      So the title more or less translates as "Smack-Wham Wars" or something like that.

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  2. This was a game that stuck with me when I watched through the Chrontendo series way back. I would remember it later, but I could never remember the name, and I found it hard to look up, so it's nice to see it covered here.

    But yeah, out of all the obscure NES games I learned about this seemed particularly innovative and interesting, even if it isn't the most polished experience. There are games much more deserving of hate than this.

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  3. Nestopia is super outdated, just so you know. A better choice would be FCEUX, since it's being constantly updated, and games work better on it. As a person who knows Japanese to an extent, I can tell you that there is, indeed, an ungodly number of JRPGs for all the consoles, starting with FC. Same goes to MSX and PC-88/98 in particular; there were over 6000 PC-98 games, and a good chunk of them are likely RPGs. Either way, nice to see you make a foray into this genre for once! :)

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    1. FCEUX is actually outdated as well by now. There's a current fork of Nestopia, Nestopia Undead Edition, which is quite good, but most people will point towards Mesen or puNES as their emulators of choice.

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    2. What makes it "outdated"? It works with no effort and has all the features I need. I'm not rocking this boat.

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    3. There's no need to worry about it here. NEStopia is is compatible with the vast majority of the library, and has the feature set that's actually needed for most purposes.

      Other emulators have extra features and compatibility with more games, but most of those features are irrelevant to your use case and the NES/Famicom is old enough for any incompatibilities to be with really obscure games that can be dealt with if they're ever encountered.

      There are a few bugs fixed by newer emulators, but these are almost invariable things that only uptight nitpickers like me would even notice, let alone care about.

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    4. Only worry about looking into other emulators if you get weird glitches. I know of at least one game, which you'll never play because it's not anything close to an RPG, that glitches out heavily in nestopia.

      Alternatively, you could look into something like Bizhawk, which contains a collection of different emulators in the same interface. The downside to that is it's more complicated to set up.

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    5. Heck, I'm still using Nester and it's over 15 years old. My only issue with it is the application has no volume control and it's LOUD on baseline Windows.

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    6. I only ever used Jnes, most emulators are pretty good except for obscure titles for nes anyway.

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    7. The only major issue I know of in Nestopia that could conceivably impact the Addict is if he decided to play the Koei simulation games, some of which don't save properly in certain versions of Nestopia.

      However, savestates are an easy and (given the nature of the games) non-cheaty workaround, and I can't see the Koei games getting played anyway.

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    8. What's outdated about a platform that stopped in the 80s? NESticle did a stellar job emulating and it's from the DOS era.

      I think this is just "if it's old, that means it sucks" thinking. Novelty-seeking.

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    9. I thinklike Harland, what happend to NESticle nes-games should be played on it mostly for the bestnameofanemulator-reason and also that you probably need another emulator to get the first one to work properly.

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    10. NESticle had enormous compatibility issues and glitches. Not so much with the most popular games (emulators are generally designed to run those best), but with anything slightly outside of the mainstream you ran into major problems.

      NES emulation has advanced far enough now that you're only going to run into noticeable problems with shoddy work outside of really obscure titles, and those problems are going to be of a "the sky isn't quite the right shade of blue" or "the animation on this one sprite has garbage data in one frame" nature rather than (as was common with NESticle or LoopyNES) "the final boss doesn't spawn because it is a non-standard spritesheet" or "the game crashes halfway through because we didn't program this memory mapper correctly".

      Unless you're running a massively more powerful system that what you're emulating, you have to make tradeoffs between accuracy and speed. This causes problems with consoles, because those often use direct hardware tricks and always used assembly language. The NES/Famicom is old enough now that the tradeoffs are less.

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    11. Yeah, Nestopia should be just fine. Don't use Nesticle, though. It was fine back in the early days of emulation, but has real issues with many, many games.

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    12. For SNES emulation, my strongly preferred emulator is 'higan', which is cycle-exact and fairly hard to distinguish from real hardware. It is far better than SNES9X ever was.

      I don't emulate NES games, as I don't find them much fun anymore, but higan claims to do regular Famicom as well. Considering the extraordinary quality of its SNES engine, I'd definitely be giving it a very hard look for NES emulation as well.

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    13. As far as I'm aware, the main advantage FCEUX has is that it has Famicom Disk Drive support, but as that was never released outside of Japan, that's not going to be very useful for the Addict. As for Higan, while it does emulate a bunch of different systems, it has the problem of requiring a surprisingly beefy computer for what it is, while also being extremely picky about what ROMs it'll accept. For the Addict's purposes, SNES9X is more than good enough

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    14. Yeah, Higan offers the best quality by a long shot, but it's rather resource-demanding for now. SNES9X is a good emulator still, definitely enough for the general purposes. When it comes to NEStopia, I mostly meant some issues with saving I remember experiencing that I never had on Mesen and FCEUX. That could be less important in this case though, maybe it's just an issue with KOEI games for the most part, and some Japan-exclusive titles which are of no concern here.

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  4. "Believe me, I appreciate the irony of me, who never heard of this game two weeks ago, who resisted the console sub-genre for a decade, suddenly mounting an impassioned defense of the first console RPG that I played."

    Haha no kidding. What a weird game. Really interesting that it was so derided - I can imagine much worse games than this, indeed, I am sure I'd enjoy bokosuka wars more than urban champion, which I played.

    https://youtu.be/Kt-Zg93aWEo?t=32

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    1. I have found that many games rated "most hated worst game ever" are the victim of bandwagoning. For example, ET, Superman and Haunted House get a lot of hate on the Atari 2600 but they're not bad if you read the instructions. This game seems to bring some ideas to the gaming scene that people just weren't expecting so they got frustrated quickly and quit.
      It's too bad. A lot of those worst ever games really aren't that bad.

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    2. My theory is that you can only hate a game if you wanted it to be good, if you waited for it, if you hyped yourself to it. It's the difference between expectations and reality - and when there are no real expectations, the gulf cannot be that wide.

      That's why no badly coded awfully amateurish Spectrum games (and there were thousands) appear on these lists. But if and ET game that was marketed everywhere (when you loved the movie) is bad, it stays in your memory when you write lists like that 30 years later.

      Of course these are not the worst games. But these caused the most disappointment.

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    3. And if you want hit closer to home, remember that "Disciples of Steel" is also on lists for worst rpgs of all time.

      Sometimes these "awards" are deserved. But other times it's a case of unmet expectations, a bad port, lack of understanding of a game's mechanics due to various factors, or simple dogpiling as Mr. Pavone says.

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    4. This problem is the source of a lot of modern complaints about the game, I later found, but I think it added somewhat to the game's strategy.

      When people express things like this, it is *frustration*. I have discovered that a lot of gamers don't play games so that they can achieve the objectives set by the game. They play games in order to experience a sense of control. If this control is lacking, they will rage and call the game shit, even though it might not be.

      It's not about the game, whatever its virtues might be. It's about *feelings*. And you'll never tell one of these types of control gamers that her feelings aren't real.

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    5. Personally, I consider Oblivion to be the worst RPG ever released because of how it ruined the Elder Scrolls series for me. I absolutely lives Morrowind, one of my favorite RPGs in my teenage years, then Oblivion came out and I was really hyped for it. But the province of Cyrodiil, originally intended to be a jungle with the Imperial City being something like Venice, was turned into the most generic fantasy land ever. I loved dressing up my character's 16 (!) equipment slots in Morrowind, but Oblivion removed most of them and streamlined the inventory. Finally, the quest compass and the hard level scaling completely ruined exploration for me, as you never found anything unexpected (everything, even unique items, was scaled to your level!) and the compass always showed you where the nearest dungeons were located, taking away the surprise of discovery and the feeling of being lost in a vast world.

      It is far from the worst RPG ever, and I played far worse games myself. But the disappointment was immense and the game destroyed everything I loved about my up to then favorite franchise.

      That makes it worse to me than any trashy Russian shovelware Diablo clone.

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    6. I agree with all those things about Oblivion. Plus, the main quest was annoyingly in your face compared to typical Elder Scrolls. And magic such as Levitation was dropped - that made Morrowind more of an RPG I felt. But I thought the dungeons in Oblivion were well designed and the side quests were good.

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    7. The above reminds me of conversations we've had about Ultima 8 on this blog - how the expectations vs the reality contributes so much to the experience of something.

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    8. My brother returned from the mall one day with a Russian shovelware Diablo clone called Spells of Gold.

      Had it been a shareware game released in 1990, it probably would have passed muster, and Chet would have found it found it interesting for an hour or two but ultimately underwhelming and repetitive.

      As a boxed 2002 game sold in stores...It's contemptibly bad :)

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    9. @Erik, YES! Expectations can lead to serious gaming disappointment. People get ideas of what a game should be instead of how it actually is.

      @Harland I bet a lot of those pro gamers aren't only looking for control and power fantasy fulfillment but they also engage in a lot of meta gaming, AKA munchkin behavior, while playing.

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  5. Are you sure this game got a western release? I couldn't find any trace of that on any platform. It's almost entirely in English, as it was the case with many early Japanese games.

    Dragonet is the name of the new enemy boss (a dragon, as implied) in the New Bokosuka Wars version, which was at the same time both a sequel (it takes place after the original, and you have to conquer another castle with the same protagonist) and an enhanced edition (apart from the story, the main enemy's sprite, some renamed units and two new traps that could kill or teleport you, it was exactly the same game).

    I think in Japan the Famicom version was so hated because of memory limitations they had to change the entire game. You didn't start with any units because they literally couldn't use that many sprites at the same time on the platform. This change then transformed the whole game into a luck-based venture as you said too, when the PC-versions had at least some semblance of tactics involved.

    And one small correction: it wasn't developed by ASCII, it was only published by them. Bokosuka Wars was the winning entry in the first ASCII Software Contest Grand Prix. It was made by Kouji Sumii, who later went by the nickname Rasho. These software contests were the rage in Japan at that time, basically they were the organized version of "sending my game to a publisher" of the western hemisphere. Two guys who later made Dragon Quest joined Enix the same way. The later versions were ported by freelancer programmers mostly, but the Famicom version was ported by Workss.

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    1. Bokosuka Wars had no Western release as far as I'm aware -- certainly not on the NES, at least.

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    2. well, this is weird. I could have sworn that MobyGames showed a U.S. release for this one, but it's not there even if I use the Wayback Machine, so I must have hallucinated it. I'll have to make corrections above.

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    3. This never had a Western release. I tried long ago to get a US NES cartridge burned with a copy of Bokosuka Wars just for the novelty of the thing, but it turns out this game is one of the Famicom-only games that can't be transferred over. Lum No Wedding Bell is another, not that I'm speaking from personal experience...

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    4. Weird, I don't know of any technical impediment to running Bokosuka Wars on a NES (or Lum no Wedding Bell). I should try it with my flash cart. Does it crash or something?

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    5. I agree with Lazslo, the bashing was probably due to the NES version being a poor port.

      Ultima 7 for PC is probably my favorite RPG, while Ultima 7 for SNES is an abomination that needs to be dealt with fire and holy water.

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    6. @Vince, A few years ago, I saw a light-gun remake of a famous action-adventure game (I forgot the title). I made peace with the SNES Ultima 7 by thinking of it as an "action-adventure remake" of the original role-playing game.

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    7. Bokosuka Wars didn't get a western release, but it did get a *sequel* in 2016, of all things, which did get released here as far as I know.

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  6. One minor quibble that probably doesn't affect this game, but might matter in the future.


    The NES has four buttons, not two. "Start" and "Select" are used quite a bit as pause and menu buttons, and sometimes have greater functions (In Zelda II, for example, SELECT casts the currently selected spell).

    If you're playing this on a keyboard (as opposed to connecting an Xbox One controller via USB), finding a comfortable mapping for these buttons is a good idea.

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  7. Never heard of this! What a fascinating game. That game over screen might be one of my favorites.

    I'm really interested in seeing your takes on Console RPGS, Chet.

    (This is Alex from The Adventure Gamer, by the way. We have a lot of Alex's commenting here . . .)

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  8. According to Wikipedia, there were lyrics written to part of the game's soundtrack. So, of course, I have to translate them.

    My source for the original lyrics: http://www.kget.jp/lyric/74446/%E3%81%99%E3%81%99%E3%82%81%E3%83%9C%E3%82%B3%E3%82%B9%E3%82%AB_momo-i

    Note that there's a fair amount of archaic grammar in here, so it's very possible I'm misinterpreting something.

    進め進め者共
    邪魔な敵を蹴散らせ
    進め敵の城へ
    オゴレス倒すのだ

    susume susume monodomo
    jama na teki o kechirase
    susume teki no shiro e
    OGORESU taosu no da

    Advance, advance, my people!
    Scatter the obstructing foes!
    Advance to the enemy castle
    And defeat Ogreth!

    囚われの友助け
    嬉しさも気を抜くな
    無常の戦場よ
    別れすぐあるやもだ

    toraware no tomo tasuke
    ureshisa mo ki o nuku na
    mujou no senjou yo
    wakare sugu aru ya mo da

    Save our imprisoned friends!
    Don't lose your focus, even in happiness!
    O uncertain battlefield,
    Our departure is impending!

    魔法響く荒野よ
    切りかかる幻に
    迷うな見定めろ
    影を操る者

    mahou hibiku kouya yo
    kirikakaru maboroshi ni
    mayou na misadameru
    kage o ayatsuru mono

    The wilderness echoes with magic!
    Though we slash at phantoms,
    Do not waver! Be resolute!
    There is one who controls the shadows.

    あらわれし敵将軍
    我ら後ろ見せぬぞ
    黄金に輝いて
    育った勇者たち

    arawareshi tekishougun
    warera ushiro misenu zo
    ougon ni kagayaite
    sodatta yuushatachi

    The enemy shogun who appears
    Shall not see our backs!
    We shine golden
    And are heroes full-grown!

    進め進め者共
    邪魔な敵を蹴散らせ
    進め敵の城へ
    オゴレス倒すのだ

    susume susume monodomo
    jama na teki o kechirase
    susume teki no shiro e
    OGORESU taosu no da

    Advance, advance, my people!
    Scatter the obstructing foes!
    Advance to the enemy castle
    And defeat Ogreth!

    ついにまみえた宿敵よ
    愛しい程の我が宿敵
    果し合いの時だ
    つまりは五分五分だ!

    tsui ni mamieru shukuteki yo
    itoshii hodo no waga shukuteki
    hatashiai no toki da
    tsumari wa gobugobu da

    Old foe who I at last confront!
    Old foe, almost dear to me!
    This is the appointed time.
    Ultimately, we are evenly matched.

    進め進め者共
    邪魔な敵を蹴散らせ
    進め敵の城へ
    オゴレス倒すのだ

    susume susume monodomo
    jama na teki o kechirase
    susume teki no shiro e
    OGORESU taosu no da

    Advance, advance, my people!
    Scatter the obstructing foes!
    Advance to the enemy castle
    And defeat Ogreth!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, THAT's something I wouldn't have done. Thank you for supplementing my entry with this bit of trivia. The lyrics aren't even that bad.

      When I was a kid, I wrote lyrics to the Ultima IV songs, so I guess maybe there was a time I didn't prefer to turn off game music.

      Delete
    2. Nice translation, thank you!

      One minor point: in the last verse, "mamieru" should be "mamieta" (assuming the Japanese text is correct), so then the line would read more like this: "Old friend, confronted at last."

      Delete
  9. Great entry. I've played and beaten Bokosuka Wars too and agree that it's not remotely as bad as people claim. It's frustrating at times, sure, and the game mechanics are obscure to people who don't have a manual and are used to conventional RPGs. But I like short games that involve running a difficult gauntlet of opposition, and still retain some challenge once you've figured out optimal strategies. Beating Bokosuka Wars is genuinely satisfying and takes both tactical skill and good luck -- a bit like a roguelike that way.

    Some other player makes that strategy work in this video, winning the game in just under 5 minutes, but there's a note that the session somehow "manipulates luck," so I'm not sure if it's an honest win.

    That language almost always connotes a tool-assisted speedrun (TAS), which is something you'll see more and more often as you probe the console RPG libraries (though people have done TASes on recent CRPGs too). Essentially, people use modified emulators to generate a list of inputs that will complete a game in the minimum possible time. Sometimes it's manipulating the game's RNG by timing an input on just the right frame; sometimes it's writing a computer program to test every possible input over a window of time until you find the one that gives you what you want; sometimes it's even resetting the machine when it's in the middle of saving your game, so that the corrupted file gives you whatever it is you want.

    It's definitely not trying to build what most people would call an "honest win", rather, it's attempting to create an ideal playthrough of a game (in which ideal = quickest completion). So the Bokosuka Wars TAS you linked is essentially the output of save-scumming to the extreme -- where literally every moment has been fine-tuned to manipulate the RNG, to make every combat a win and every enemy as compliant as possible (including moving out of the way).

    The funny thing is that those tool-assisted speedruns sometimes feed back techniques to the community of human players, making it possible for people to get unheard-of completion times. There's a guy who can beat Dragon Warrior in less than 30 minutes because he knows how to "read" the game's RNG perfectly and times his inputs accordingly. That's a borderline-superhuman beat, though, and definitely doesn't reflect a human player's typical completion time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Discovering TAS's for the first time was a fun few hours. It's like watching God play video games.

      Delete
  10. The NES doesn't have a joystick. The NES controller had a directional pad, and most console RPGs of the era didn't allow diagonal movement anyway (hence your difficulty.)

    I don't know if you played with a USB controller or keyboard, but keyboard would almost certainly be easier for most console RPGs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clarifying that the keyboard would be easier for NES RPGs, not all console RPGs. As controllers get more buttons and console RPGs start including real-time elements, you will definitely want a controller of some kind.

      Delete
    2. Hi other Alex.

      Having played a number of NES RPGs on emulators, I highly recommend getting a cheap USB controller. Using the keypad has resulted in a LOT of botched inputs, or my characters stepping where I did NOT intend for them go to (like that square with the recurring, un-flee-able fight).

      Or maybe it's just me.

      - Alex from TAG

      Delete
    3. You can pick up decent controllers for the PC that emulate pretty much any modern console and back. These days, I find I prefer playing NES games in emulation because there I can save state for the games that declined to offer the ability to save or use complicated passcode systems. (I'm still trying to figure out how the heck I won Bionic Commando when I was a kid. That game is BRUTAL.)

      Delete
    4. When I said the controller was "little more than a joystick," I just meant that all it can do is move you in two dimensions and execute a couple other commands, not that it was literally a stick.

      I've never had any luck connecting a game controller to my computer. I don't know what I do wrong, but it simply never works. I stopped trying after Harland gave me a condescending lecture about a master knowing how to use all his tools. I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me continue to try. I don't know, maybe I should let go of those sorts of things.

      Delete
    5. That sucks about the comment. You definitely shouldn't let commenters decide how you run your blog; in the end it's your show.

      My experience with using controllers on PC games is that it's hit and miss. Very rarely it's plug and play, more often it takes some tweaking, most often it doesn't work at all without a number of stupid hacks and third-party programs.

      Most emulators will have an option menu where you can map keyboards or connected joysticks to button prompts. Some emulators (JNES and ZSNESW are two I know of) even have an "automatic" mode where it asks you "What button will you use for A," you hit a controller or keyboard button, and so on.

      Delete
    6. Any wired Xbox 360 is plug and play on PC, as is the Xbox One controller in wired mode. Support is built into Windows.

      Delete
    7. Xbox controllers tend to do well on Windows machines, FWIW...

      Delete
    8. I've had a lot of luck with my wired XBox controller as well, for what it's worth. No idea how well it'd work with an NES emulator though.

      Delete
    9. It's not getting it to work with Windows that's the problem; it's getting it to work with an emulator. I know from experience that everyone will dismiss all the pain and aggravation I've experienced by telling me it's "easy," but I can only report on my own experience, where it was not easy.

      Delete
    10. Aw, come on man, you have to learn this emulator stuff backwards and forwards. Hardware compatibility, trackballs, paddles...it's all there.

      These days anything you plug into USB generally configures itself. You use the emulator software to assign buttons, etc. It's kind of a pain but it's worth it to get a gamepad set up for the kind of game that benefits from a gamepad. I'm a solid numpad man, but still NES games are best with a game controller.

      Besides, who even remembers comments from how many years ago? Not me, certainly.

      Delete
    11. As a guy who plays Dark Souls with mouse and keyboard, I'd say keyboard controls are good enough for emulators, but your mileage may vary :p

      But especially for early consoles there's no problem using the keyboard exclusively since emulators usually let you define which keys correspond to which controller buttons. Controlling NES and SNES RPGs with the keyboard isn't that different from controlling early DOS RPGs with keyboard only,except you have no shortcuts.

      Delete
    12. I personally use an iBuffalo USB controller that has the look and feel of an original NES controller. I just checked and there are several other brands offering similar products for a few bucks today. For the iBuffalo, I just plug it in and configure its buttons in Nestopia/FCEUX.

      Delete
    13. You would have been trying to configure a computer emulator before, and most of those are really finicky. Console emulators (until the PS1/N64 era) are much more user friendly.


      Configuring a controller in Nestopia follows these steps:

      1 Connect Controller to PC
      2 Run NEStopia
      3 Go to Options>Input in the top meny
      4 Select input to map
      5 Press button on controller
      6 Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all 8 inputs are mapped.

      Delete
    14. I think people are exaggerating the utility of playing on a controller for what in the end are mostly turn-based games.

      I played quite a few JRPGs in the 90s with early day NES and SNES emulators and never had any trouble with a keyboard; if you were to play more action-based games as the Zeldas, with a controller your experience will improve... marginally. After all, they are still digital inputs.

      I'm not mistaken,the first modern analog thumbstick was introduced by the N64.

      Delete
    15. Solution for using a controller (approved by myself):
      - Buy a Playstation Dual Shock controller (PS2 version or later)
      - If necessary, buy a Playstation to USB adapter
      - Connect both and connect the cable to the USB port
      - After drivers are automatically installed, go to "Devices and Printers", right click on the "USB Joystick" and go to the controller settings
      - Calibrate your gamepad (don't forget to switch to analog once)
      - Play any console game

      Delete
    16. Damn, I should have read further. If it's configuring the controller for the emulator...I don't have NEStopia installed now, just FCEUx. Let's see...

      http://i65.tinypic.com/309hmxi.png

      This here is the input configuration. Remember to plug the controller in before starting NEStopia. Then go to that settings and change the Joysticks dropdown to your USB controller. The mapping list should already be correctly configured then (I think).

      Delete
    17. I think people are exaggerating the utility of playing on a controller for what in the end are mostly turn-based games.

      Agreed, there's no need whatsoever for a controller to play turn-based console RPGs via emulation. If anything they may play better with keyboard controls, since you can customize for whatever key bindings you prefer, hitting diagonals is a non-issue, and you can map important buttons like freeze/defrost and turbo in ways that guarantee you won't hit them by accident.

      I used to use a Gravis GamePad for action games, but don't remember doing so at all for turn-based RPGs. It had a very slippery D-pad anyway, so long series of precision menu inputs weren't its forte...

      Delete
    18. I don't recommend PSX controllers on PC, as the adapter I bought was extremely flaky. It also didn't support XInput, which meant having to run an additional tool to make it work with software expecting a modern controller.

      My recommendation is to buy a PC-flavored Xbox controller, although their directional pads are garbage. I've also had good luck with a cheap generic Bluetooth controller from Amazon (Beboncool or something).

      These days I use RetroArch and search Google for core recommendations. Its UI sucks, but it has good out of box controller support and saves me from having to download and configure separate emulators for every system.

      Delete
  11. There were a LOT of bad NES games. Odd that this one gets derided as the worst; although holey cow that looping sound track gets old approximately 10 seconds in.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Well now you've opened a Pandora's box. Looking forward to seeing where your further adventures on the dark side take you.

    A think it's fair to say a number of Japanese strategy RPGs reference Bokosuka one way or another. Some - like Phantom Brave, where you literally turn trees and rocks into units - do so a little more overtly than others. I played an Indie roguelike called One Way Heroics semi-recently that kinda had that same "horizontal progress at all costs" vibe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn’t “Pandora’s Box” the story where Pandora was given a magic box, warned not to open it, opened it anyway, and released a terrible tide of evil into the world?

      Seems apt to me.

      Delete
    2. But ThirtyNine - at the bottom of the box was *hope*.

      :-D

      Delete
    3. Wouldn’t have needed hope so badly if some yutz hadn’t released a tide of evil into the world.

      Delete
  13. 1) What does that comment "That gap of 33 years must be one of the longest between an original game and its sequel in gaming history, although Bethesda seems determined to beat it." refer to?

    2) I'll admit I'm surprised you actually went through with this. You said you would, and I believed you, but it was still a surprise to see it. And, in a selfish way, I'm also disappointed. This is your blog and this shouldn't be interpreted as me asking you to change that, but as someone uninterested in JRPGs, this change personally makes the blog less interesting/relevant for me. That's my two cents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm also not very interested in JRPGs, but Chet isn't suddenly turning this blog into JRPG Addict. He's going to look at a select few of them in the broader context of American and European RPG history - where did the JRPGs come from, what western games did they influence, etc. And that is definitely interesting to read in between the regular posts about CRPGs.

      Delete
    2. Yes, JarlFrank has it right.

      As for your first question, I was making fun of the length of time since Skyrim. I don't understand why it's taking a decade or longer to come up with the next edition.

      Skyrim cost Bethesda $100 million and made $1.5 billion. If you know you're working with those kind of profit margins, why are you not putting enough resources into the franchise to field at least one game every 3 years? It would be like Marvel Studios deciding to release an Avengers movie only once every decade no matter how many fans would happily buy tickets. It's frankly irresponsible financially. If Bethesda (or its parent company, ZeniMax, was publicly traded company, its shareholders would be at the gate with torches and pitchforks.

      Delete
    3. I know it's not JRPG Addict, but these are definitely the posts I'll skim through most. Not a huge deal, but there it is.

      Your comment on Bethesda is just confusing because I interpreted "original" as "first entry in the series" but I guess you just meant between any game and its direct sequel (I say direct because ESO is a thing - it's also great but I know you stay away from MMORPGs). I'm sure we can all agree BGS is irresponsible in so many ways, but that BS publishes such great games yet lets BGS produce Fallout 76 is beyond me. Whether Skyrim was "overrated" or not, that profit margin should not be ignored. But maybe ESO is doing massively well enough to keep BS off BGS. Or maybe they lived under a rock and thought Fallout 76 would be a cash-cow to rival Skyrim. Probably that.

      Either way, I'm sure you have enough CRPGs to play that you're not hurting for yet another BGS games ;) But I digress.

      Delete
    4. Chet - Bethesda is probably looking at an exceptionally strong "tail" for Skyrim - meaning that it continues to sell units long after its release and is still being ported to new platforms profitably.

      They're looking at the experience of EA and Ubisoft with profitable franchises like Mass Effect, Dead Space, and Assassin's Creed being ruined or nearly ruined by huge flops resulting from a push to yearly releases.

      And they'll be looking at their own experience with Fallout '76 and making some hard re-evaluations of their own priorities.

      They're not starved for money - their publishing arm is doing well off a strong stable of first and second tier franchises like Dishonored, The Evil Within, Wolfenstein, Doom and Rage.

      I would expect a new Elder Scrolls announcement soon - basically as soon as Blades has gone through its current media cycle for its console releases - but sometimes it's better to leave a franchise suspended in terms of new games and exploit it as a profitable IP in spin-offs and merchandise, than to release a new iteration that's disappointing and erode its brand value.

      Delete
    5. Actually, now that I think about it, Bethesda has almost certainly done a deal with either Sony or Microsoft for the next Elder Scrolls to have a console release on the new Playstation or XBox within a year of its launch - they have that experience with Morrowind and the original XBox, after all, and we know that Microsoft have been hungry to acquire RPG IPs lately - so we should probably expect to hear about it when those consoles are officially revealed and launch titles start getting announced.

      Delete
    6. They announced Elder Scrolls VI quite some time ago < https://www.pcgamer.com/elder-scrolls-6-what-we-know/ >, but it is a few years down the line.

      Delete
    7. Without any kind of information or date, it was a meaningless announcement. Everyone knew there would be another game eventually.

      Delete
    8. My guess is that they thought Fallout 76 was going to be more profitable on an ongoing basis and therefore invested their effort there. Now that that doesn't seem to be the case they'll probably move more development on ES6 and their sci-fi game (Starfield IIRC).

      Delete
  14. I enjoyed this entry even if it doesn't greatly add to your knowledge - thanks for playing. (I suppose it provides some nice context if you move on into the field of tactical RPGs, which are disproportionately common in the intersection of Japan and consoles.)

    I'm not sure about its *contemporary* reception, but in the larger scheme of things it's worth noting that the NES had an *exceptionally* strong library of games, particularly in the RPG space, and even a mediocre-to-decent game is unlikely to feature in anyone's list of the top 50 NES games.

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    Replies
    1. My bias forces me to mentally append "for a console" after your statement that NES had an "exceptionally strong library of games, particularly in the RPG space."

      Delete
    2. In terms of the numbers underlying that bias:

      Dragon Quest 1 sold 3 million units for a non-inflated profit of $345 million USD.

      Dragon Quest 2 did similar numbers.

      Dragon Quest 3 did 4 million units for $310 million profit.

      That's original releases, NES/Famicon only, not counting collections, ports and remakes.

      If you're thinking that's just the Japanese market, note that those DQ 1 figures include 500,000 sales in the US *on top of* a cool million copies that were given out with Nintendo Power magazine.

      Looking at what we might call the intersection of "good" and "successful" on PC:

      * Ultima IV sold about 400,000 copies.
      * Ultima Underworld sold about 500,000 copies.
      * Pool of Radiance sold about 250,000 copies.
      (I'm picking releases I can find sales figures for here.)

      The top bestselling videogames 1980 to 1990 are *all* NES releases.

      Which, you know, doesn't make anything on the NES objectively *better*, and to a large extent those figures represent the comparative install base of the NES, which dwarfs the home PC in this era, but if you're looking at what was influential on people, it's worth remembering that an *order of magnitude* more people played these NES titles than even the best-received PC RPGs.

      Delete
    3. I guess this is why still today some people think "Final Fantasy" and "linear adventure with pre determined characters and cutscene like static dialogues" when you mention RPGs, rather than Fallout, Arcanum, Baldur's Gate, Ultima, Might and Magic, etc. :p

      It might not be like this during the NES era yet, but by the mid 90s the JRPGs have really skewed the image console players have of "RPGs", because by that time the JRPG has little in common with the western RPG anymore.

      Delete
    4. Amusingly, the best-selling game Chet has played so far, is probably Hydlide.

      Delete
    5. I think the next RPG that moved a million PC units is Diablo, 12 years later.

      Delete
    6. I will definitely enjoy some entries on Dragon Quest. Those were my first RPGs, not having access to a PC for quite some time. Dragon Quest/Warrior III and IV in particular are some of the best RPGs of all time, CRPG or otherwise.

      Delete
    7. I don't know exact sales numbers of Dungeon Master, there's the quote from Doug Bell that every second Atari ST owner bought DM. That was in 1988, where 1 mio Ataris have been sold altogether. It also broke sales records when it was released in Japan in 1990.
      So quite safe to assume that DM sold in the 7 digits.

      Delete
    8. I've seen that quote but I honestly find it pretty dubious. A 50% attach rate is crazy numbers of anything that's not a pack-in with a console, when the bestselling PC games of any genre on a PC install base of 20 million were selling maybe a million copies (with Carmen Sandiego being the lone standout at 4 million).

      Delete
  15. Not an adjective, but one similarity between wars and buxom women is that both can turn boys into men.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Analog sticks won't really be an issue until the late 90s. It was only really required on the N64, but the system's somewhat infamous for having a single digit amount of RPGs, with only a couple being good. While the PS1 did have an analog controller and a lot of RPGs, from my experience analog sticks were generally treated as optional, typically just having one mirror the D-pad and the other doing nothing

    ReplyDelete
  17. Welcome to console-land!

    ReplyDelete
  18. While you played it on console, this could still be considered a PC game. Something as simple as this probably doesn't lose a whole lot when moving to console.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Happy 4th Addict! And to all the other 'Merican readers!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I can tell you why people deride this game so much. Since it wasn't released outside of Japan, nobody in the Anglophone world really knew about it before the advent of emulation in the late nineties-early oughts. One of the main things about emulation is that since people haven't paid for games, giving them less "weight," they tend not to give them much of a chance before just giving up on them. And you add to that the fact that here we have a crude-looking game that's incomprehensible without documentation (I'm willing to bet that nobody who ever gave this the "worst game ever" title really understood it) with funny Engrish "wow! you lose!" and...it's no wonder it got an unfair rep.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "The game is an "afternoon RPG," as any console must be until saving was possible."


    The first password save game was released the same year as this, but those quickly got to the point of insanity with things like the 104 character passwords the 1988 Famicom version of Maniac Mansion used

    ReplyDelete
  22. Man, your comment about analog sticks made me flash back to playing on a friend's PSX many, many years ago. The Playstation was still brand new back then and his only had those weird early controllers without any sticks. Of course, coming from my SNES back home, I never thought this was weird until many years later.

    Also, the JRPG discussion made me remember Lagrange Point, the probably best RPG made for the NES. When you get to that year, you simply HAVE to try it out!

    Lagrange Point is somewhat of an oddity, as it is one of the few pure SF-RPGs (no magic, it's set in artificial habitats in deep space, etc.) and has oddly Genesis-like music, completely at odds with most of the NES' library. Also weird, it was never released outside Japan (there's a fan translation patch though). Maybe localizing it would have been too expensive? Another issue could have been the added memory chip the cartridge had, which could have made additional production runs a hassle. Who knows? At least the internet allows us today to experience it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lagrange Point was released in 1991. Translation delay in those days was often 2-3 years and was quite expensive. By the time a US version was ready, they'd be trying to recoup a huge investment on a dead or dying console while competing against more modern (and shinier) SNES and Genesis titles.

      Delete
  23. Heads up to everyone: this blog does NOT get along with the Brave browser. I tried posting this before and my comment just kept evaporating. I have to switch back to Chrome to participate here.

    For those talking earlier about getting gamepads to work with emulators: there's a free utility called JoyToKey that maps gamepad input to the keyboard and mouse. I find it pretty useful as many games that are meant to be played with gamepads don't seem to support the one I use and I see no reason it wouldn't help with emulators as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I mean, it's not my blog specifically that doesn't "get along"; it's Blogger in general.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I probably could have worded that better. I wasn't blaming you personally.

      Delete
    3. I assume you're the same person who sent me a direct e-mail about JoyToKey. I apologize I haven't responded yet. I'll check it out the next time I have a game that would be suited for it.

      Delete
    4. Yes, that was me, but no worries about not replying right away. I imagine you're a busy person.

      In any event, I hope J2K helps.

      Delete
    5. I used to have the same problem when trying to post via Firefox on Android. Had to keep a copy of Chrome around too. Seems to work fine now though.

      Delete

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