Friday, January 7, 2022

Game 442: The Sword of Hope (1989)

The Sword of Hope
AKA Selection: Erabareshi Mono ("Selection: The Chosen One"), original Japanese title
Kemco (developer and original publisher); Seika Corporation (U.S. publisher)
Released 1989 for Game Boy (Japan); U.S. version released 1991
Date Started: 3 January 2022
Date Ended: 6 January 2022
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5) with modern emulation, probably at least moderate in the original
Final Rating: 22
Ranking at Time of Posting: 165/444 (37%)
As I mentioned in relation to The Final Fantasy Legend, I never owned a handheld gaming device, and there was never a time when I was interested in one. Even today, when I have something of a smartphone "problem," it doesn't extend to playing games on the device. I just find it too limiting.
But I can certainly understand the appeal of something that keeps you entertained when you can't be at your console or computer, and I was surprised to find both Legend and Wizardry: Suffering of the Queen to be more advanced mechanically than I thought would be possible with such a device. 
There's a power vacuum in the kingdom of Riccar.
The Sword of Hope, one of the earliest handheld RPGs (it was released the same year as Final Fantasy Legend, though later in it), is more what I expected from the platform: a highly-linear, single-character game with a lot of grinding and limited mechanics. It would have passed the time if I was in a situation where I needed time to pass, but I can't imagine picking it up if I had anything else to relieve the boredom. Having said that, I'm curious how readers who have owned handheld consoles used them. Did they occupy your attention on an average day at home, where they competed with (depending on the household) computers, regular consoles, televisions, and books? Or did you mostly use them "on the road" when other alternatives weren't available? 
The game is set in the land of Riccar, where an evil dragon was long held in check by a magic spell that involved the titular Sword of Hope thrust into a painting of the dragon. (Whatever created that situation sounds more interesting than the plot of the actual game.) But the dragon managed to get into the head of King Hennesy of Riccar and slowly corrupt him, eventually convincing him to remove the sword. Once freed, the dragon summoned an evil god named Mammon, who turned the people of the land into trees.
Cliff Huxtable has had enough.
The player character is the king's son, Prince Theo, born under a prophecy that he would put things right. The king tried to murder Theo when he was an infant, but a knight named Pascal rescued the baby, fled the castle, and raised the boy in the forest. Meanwhile, three wizards named Martel, Shabow, and Camu cast a spell to seal the king and his castle underground, limiting any further harm he could do. The child, now grown, sets out to find the Sword of Hope and deal with the dragon.
There is no character creation process. The character starts with copper armor and a "probite" sword, which sounds like something I should swallow for better digestive health. His attributes are dexterity, stamina, and agility. He begins with only one spell but gains more by finding scrolls and leveling up. He has some wheat, which restores hit points, and "herb," which restores magic points.
The Old Man (Pascal) has a few words of encouragement before he sends you out of his hut into a forest. A Shaman lives nearby and will heal the character's wounds for 5 + 1/L gold pieces. The Shaman also has a crystal ball that imparts advice, and the starting "Teleport" spell returns you to the shaman if you're in trouble. Finally, visiting the shaman is the only way to save the game, which is done through a code rather than an actual save.
The Game Boy let you type Greek letters?!
Screenshots of the game will look like it's three-dimensional, but it's not. You can't turn. Instead, you move from one fixed scene to another like an adventure game. The controls are simple: you use the arrows to move a selection cursor around the bottom half of the screen, which includes both movement options and other commands. "A" executes an option; "X" cancels. 
A typical screen. I can move in any direction, but there are enemies waiting in three of them. Although this looks like a first-person view, it's not. You can't rotate to face the other doors or behind you.
The three commands that you can execute in any area are "Look," "Open," and "Hit." Either because of bad game design or bad translation, none of them mean what they actually say. Instead, they serve as interchangeable "mess around with" commands, and you essentially have to try all of them with everything to be sure you don't miss anything. Throughout the game, you do such nonsensical things as "opening" a rose to find a hidden path, "hitting" a wall to uncover a painting, "opening" a dwarf to talk to it, "hitting" a chest to be healed, "opening" a vine to find a seed inside, "looking" at the same vine to climb it, and so forth. After putting you through all of that, the game has the gall to occasionally act affronted when you try to do something like "hit" or "open" a person.
You have to try everything in this game.
Combat comes along frequently. Sometimes you see enemies on your little directional map, represented as black dots. Other times, they just show up. They can appear up to three at a time and more can join in battle in subsequent rounds if there are fewer than three. Your only options in combat are to attack, use an item, cast a spell, or flee. After choosing the action, you and the enemies go in an at-least-partly-random order of initiative. Successful combat delivers experience and gold.
Combat options against two cyclopes and an ape.
I found the number of experience points needed for the next level to be completely unpredictable. The first 10 levels are hit at 10, 35, 85, 165, 265, 405, 585, 785, and 1035, which ranges from +11% to +150% of the previous level. At each new level, you get fixed upgrades in the three attributes, max hit points, and max spell points, plus one new (fixed) combat spell. Non-combat spells are typically used to solve puzzles and must be learned form found scrolls.
The shopkeeper. Prices go up as you level up.
The opening area only has 19 areas, including a shop where you can buy wheat, barley, herbs, and a suit of silver armor. You can carry a maximum of 255 gold in the game, so you want to visit this vendor when you get close to the maximum. But you can also carry only a maximum of 7 wheat, barley, and herbs, so ultimately you end up wasting a lot of money and the economy really might as well not exist.
The opening area is small. The other maps only get a little bigger.
On every forest square, you can "look" at the trees (which are actually citizens) to get a whispered hint. The major goal of the area is to find a tree in the town square and intuit that you want to "hit" it to get it to reveal itself as a treant. After a few rounds of combat, in which it's only susceptible to magic, it tearfully hands you the key to Martel's domain. Episodes like this are repeated in the other domains, and you ultimately acquire the two other keys. 
To get through here, I'll need to find Shabow's key.
Throughout the game, you progress by visiting locations in a precise order and doing things in a precise order. The Sword of Hope resembles a lot of Japanese RPGs of the era in that:
  1. The places you visit involve a lot of backtracking, mitigated here by the game world not being that large.
  2. The things you do are often nonsensical.
  3. There's a lot of grinding in between.
For #2, I'm not just talking about the nonsensical use of commands that I already mentioned. Even the plot developments don't make a lot of sense. When you first visit Martel, he insults you, and there's a suggestion that perhaps he doesn't believe that you're the prince. Maybe some players would think, "I must convince him!" but that wasn't my first thought. I didn't much care. But after I explored his domain and found no way to move forward, I began to wonder if Martel was supposed to give me something.
Martel lectures me on cultural norms.
There's a chapel in Martel's domain, and one of the tree hints is: "Haven't you heard of seeking inspiration at the worship site?" "Seeking inspiration" turns out to involve using the "Grace" spell that I learned from a scroll inside the chapel. I guess that was fair--cast "Grace" in a chapel--but what came next was a little unintuitive. Casting the spell got me a magic charm, which did nothing for me by itself. I had to turn it into a "ruby charm" by using it in the room with the chapel's pipe organ. How I was supposed to know this, and why it worked, is a mystery known only to the developer.
I'm surprised Nintendo didn't quash this.
I had heard about a "ruby charm" earlier. One of the tree hints is that the player's mother, Queen Remy, kept a ruby charm. So using the Ruby Charm somehow proves that I'm the son of the queen, which led Martel to upgrade my sword. He then asked that I help his pigeon, who seemed to be suffering from an ailment. The solution was to "hit" the poor creature, which caused it to lay an egg, called the "W egg" for some reason, which I took. In these situations, I always wonder whether the story elements and puzzle solutions make sense in the original Japanese, or if you know Japanese tropes, or whether they were just as bizarre in the Japanese release.
I also wonder about the language. The translation isn't laughable, but it occasionally leaves out an article, or mangles a plural, or uses a word or phrase that just doesn't work right. It's hard to believe that such issues were impossible to detect and fix; it would have required the input of only a couple of English-fluent playtesters. Part of me wonders whether the slightly-off language isn't in fact a strategy, a way to repeatedly emphasize the "Japaneseness" of the game and thus excite the imaginations of players who in the 1980s were increasingly demonstrating a philia for all things Japanese.
In this world, the quality of something goes from "probite" to "3 star" to "extra" and to, finally, "adage."
Whatever the case, the game proceeds in a linear fashion. In Martel's domain, you make your way through a graveyard and down to the bottom of a well (the well has about a dozen screens; it's a big well). You open a chest, which releases a giant slug, who has the key to Shabow's domain. Shabow's domain is a bit larger than the first two, and you have to inspect every stone and tree for secret passages. One of these gets you behind a waterfall to Shabow's house.
Shabow says that you're not strong enough to wield the Sword of Hope (at least he did at my level) but says he'll help if you bring him a moon fragment. You have to find your way through a cave maze with lots of one-room passages to find the chest that has the moon fragment. It is guarded by a happy-looking "shadow." 
I'm going to wipe that grin off your face.
Shabow takes the moon fragment and then tells you he doesn't actually know where the Sword of Hope is. He raises the quality of your existing sword to "extra" (this is apparently better than "3-star") and asks that you talk to his pigeon ("look"), who has apparently fallen in love with you and thus happily hands over her "B egg" while imploring, "Please don't forget about me, ever."
A giant lizard in Shabow's domain has the key to Camu's domain. You've got to free a fairy and answer a bunch of random questions from her in the correct order to learn that a vampire back in Martel's domain has a unicorn horn that's keeping Camu locked in a pagoda. (I am proud to designate Hope the only RPG in which you free an enchantress from a pagoda by retrieving a unicorn horn from a vampire.) Camu is grateful for her release, upgrades your sword to "adage," and suggests you "open" her pigeon to get its egg; the pigeon naturally objects and instead just hands you the "R egg."
There were about 8 questions like this. I just answered randomly and reloaded until I finally got what I needed.
Returning to the Old Man with the eggs brings forth some revelations. First, it turns out that the sword you've been carrying all along is the Sword of Hope (also, confusingly, called "Wish"), but it needed the three eggs--representing wisdom, courage, and love--to unlock it. The Old Man then reveals that the millstone in his house conceals the way to the underground castle.
This sentence hurts my brain a bit.
You have to navigate an underground maze to get to the castle, and here you find the most obnoxious enemies in the game, druids. There are a few dozen monsters in the game, and mostly they're just interchangeable meat sacks, albeit some with spellcasting powers. They include giant moths, skeletons, goblins, apes, lizards, orcs, centipedes, and hags. Druids are so annoying because they have spells that drain your health and magic and give them directly to the druid. I died far more at their hands than from any other monster. Dying just resurrects you in the old man's house, so it's not a huge deal.
Eventually you find your way through the caverns to the castle gates. They're locked, but if you plant a seed pod in front of the gates, it grows into a vine that lets you climb into the second floor. You can meet the spirit of your mother if you use the ruby charm in her room. She tells you to search (actually, "hit") the throne for a secret--literally a spell called "Secret." Casting this in the den causes a mirror to turn into a portal, and you can use it to enter a "mirror world" that has the same layout as the castle, only backwards. In a room in this mirror world, you find a room with a painting on the wall (which you expose by hitting the wall). This causes King Hennesy to appear and attack you. Hennesy's death transitions directly into a combat with the dragon. Both are tough, and immune to magic, so you have to beat them by basically alternating physical attacks with healing spells.
Squaring off against my father in the final combat.
There was a bit in the final battle with the dragon that I didn't quite understand. I guess the dragon wounded my left arm, causing me to contemplate the birthmark there and to realize it looks something like a sword. Switching the Sword of Hope to my left hand activated some latent power that ensured that every attack made against the dragon was a critical hit. He still wasn't easy. 
Casting "RECMAX" during the dragon battle.
Once you kill them, the denouement has Hennesy awaken from his stupor. You return to the surface in triumph, the land is freed from darkness, the wizards lift the castle from underground, and everyone is happy again.

I admire how hard they tried with the graphics in the end-game screens.
What I didn't cover in the above narrative is all the grinding that has to happen between key boss encounters in each of the areas. I ended the game at Level 25 out of a maximum of 31 levels. Playing through the actual plot took about half the total time; the rest was spent on grinding. Grinding is slightly facilitated by an "auto" combat option that makes your choices for you. It's relatively intelligent. It mixes physical attacks with a variety of spells, heals you if your hit points get too low, and uses your consumable items if you need them to restore health or spell points. It's not great about detecting enemy immunities, but you can otherwise use it safely for most of the game's battles. This coupled with my emulator's "warp" mode meant that grinding was a bit easier for me than it would have been for a 1989 player. I also happily used save states instead of restoring with a code at every loss.
In a GIMLET, I give the game:
  • 2 points for a silly game world.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. There's not much complexity to it, but you do feel notably stronger after each level-up. You hit harder--eventually getting to the point where your melee attack affects all enemies--and you get a new powerful spell at each level.
  • 2 points for NPCs. These are mostly the trees, which give you hints throughout the game.
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. The foes, as above, aren't generally anything special. Even bosses are just tougher versions of what you find on the map. (One element I like about good Japanese RPGs of this era is how boss fights usually change the rules in some way and require new tactics.)  I'd like to give more points for "encounters," and I would if there had been any logic to them.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. You get a decent variety of damage, mass-damage, draining, and buffing spells, and I probably over-relied on auto-combat instead of exploring all their advantages and disadvantages.
I look for the right spell against a skeleton and an elemental.
  • 2 point for equipment. Other than the usable items, you get sword and armor upgrades at fixed locations and events. I overlooked some of these.
  • 1 point for the economy. Your 255 gold fills up fast. Generally, you always have enough for healing and maxing out your supply of items, which means the economy might as well have been dropped.
  • 3 points for quests. There's a main quest with no choices, and I guess there are some side quests. I missed a few of them. I could have gotten some platinum armor if I'd solved a side quest involving a knight's ghost, and I could have gotten a fruit which would have fully refreshed my health and spell points in the final battles. There was also apparently a "spore" somewhere that would have had a chance of putting the king or dragon to sleep for a few rounds. I didn't strictly need any of this, but then again, I reloaded a lot in those final battles.
I forgot to recount this part, where you make the moon whole by climbing to the top of a tower and re-attaching a fragment.
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I'm really rating the platform in this category and not the specific game. I don't think the developers could have done any better with the graphic capabilities of the device (in fact, I think they tried pretty hard), and they created an interface that works well with the limited inputs, but I still didn't much like either. Sound effects are just some boops. Incessant music accompanies gameplay, so I muted the game for most of my time with it.
  • 2 points for gameplay. Linear, not replayable, and a bit too simple, it at least didn't last very long. 
That gives a final score of 22. If this had been my first Game Boy game, I would have been unsurprised by this total, assuming the platform wasn't capable of a better RPG. Having experienced The Final Fantasy Legend and The Suffering of the Queen already, I would instead guess that this one was probably rushed so it would hit the market when it had little competition.
Notice how the title really only works with "sword." You'd never title a game Morning Star of Hope or Bec-de-Corbin of Hope or Sniper Rifle of Hope. There's just something about swords.
This is one of those games for which I might as well have just linked to someone else's contemporary review, said "ditto," and offered the GIMLET. Of course, I never know that until after I finish and then start scouting. Zenic Reverie, the "RPG Consoler," covered the game in 2014, and he offers a more detailed recounting of the narrative. He played it more honestly than I did (I let myself look at a walkthrough when I was stuck for more than 10 minutes or so) and thus got frustrated in more places. His review is peppered with phrases like "how did that make sense?" and he called it the "worst grind to date." Joseph Shaffer offered a similarly negative review in 2013 on Honest Gamers in which he also mentioned the nonsensical plot and puzzles and the grinding and backtracking. So it's not just me.
This was Kemco's first year for RPGs, although I think Ghost Lion for the NES was likely released earlier than this one. The company has a few dozen later console RPGs to its credit. They're still going strong as of this year. 
The shaman's "magic word" is the publisher and developer's names backward.
Why did I play this? It just came up on a random roll of the dice. I know that when I dip into console RPGs, many of my readers want me to play particular console RPGs, but I rather think my random method helps me get a sense of what the average was.


  1. Thank God you were fortunate enough to have played Suffering of the Queen and The Final Fantasy Legend before this - had Sword of Hope been your introduction to the Game Boy, the entire experience would have only served as material for another reminder of your bias against non-computer RPGs.

    Kemco really isn't known for much aside from their Top Gear games. When people talk about grand journeys on the Game Boy, it's always a title like Final Fantasy Adventure, Link's Awakening, the Oracle duo, Metroid II, or even the Dragon Quest games, if it isn't Pokemon. Even the SaGa games receive more attention these days, if only because they had the Final Fantasy name attached to them when they were brought stateside. I realize over half of the titles I listed aren't actually RPGs, but my point is that of the lengthy, story-driven experiences on the handheld, Sword of Hope is far from representative of what was actually available, much less what is still remembered today.

    1. Kemco's ports of Icom's Macventure games are fairly noteworthy. The Sword of Hope is basically the result of them adding some simple RPG elements onto the framework of Shadowgate.

    2. Yeah, Kemco's RPGs often leave a lot to be desired but they're not bad at adventure games. I recently played a pretty decent visual novel from them called Raging Loop. That they've managed to stick around making games for over 35 years is impressive enough even if their track record isn't the best.

      If I recall they're also behind the SNES Drakkhen port and Dragon View, the Drakkhen sequel exclusive to the system. I'm not sure how eager Chet is to take on a merger of French and Japanese RPG design with console controls, but it's not terrible.

  2. To answer your question, I've only ever owned a Game Boy Color and a Game Boy Advance, but I mostly just kept them at home. True, they were nice to bring along on the odd road trip or lengthy drive, but because their screens had such poor visibility outdoors (and possibly because they would quickly be confiscated in classrooms), they really were just tiny home consoles for the most part. If you were a lucky kid that happened to own a Super Game Boy, Game Boy games might as well have been made for your Super Nintendo.

    For what it's worth, emulation of the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance were reasonably far along even as games were being sold for the console (I distinctly remember using VGB to play Pokemon Silver several months before it was localized), so the fact that I happened to experience the libraries of those handhelds on a PC alongside my actual devices might also be coloring the way I view their games.

    1. As a teen, I used to have a Gameboy just for on the road, because we had an actual computer at home and it just doesn't compare.

      But a decade later I got into emulation. I played a lot of NES/SNES/Genesis games; but I also noticed there are quite a few good Gameboy games out there (although admittedly more in the platformer genre).

      Because the earliest RPGs I finished were Ultima 6 and Eye of the Beholder, I've always felt the "menu style" combat interface shown in this game (among many others) is overly limiting and not much fun. There's a ton of console RPGs and RPG Maker games which (assumedly) decent plot, but this interface is an instant turnoff for me.

    2. I always found the screens on handheld consoles to be too small for me to see them comfortably, and so I never embraced them.

      That said, I do have a decent selection of games on my phone (both modern and retro) and I enjoy them during long trips. (Until a recent cross-country move, I had to endure several long flights per year.) I prefer a larger screen when I am not travelling.

    3. For me, outside of the time I had a GBC, the only time I ever seriously used a handheld was when I didn't have access to a computer, either because I was away from home for a while or because my computer was borked in some way.

    4. As a younger child, I played a lot of Game Boy games because my parents didn't want games on the family PC and my older brother refused to let me play his SNES games. I've met a number of other people with similar experiences.

    5. I usually just played handhelds at home, although that's mostly because I rarely went out when I didn't have to. I did like playing a Game Boy on the school bus, but that was also about 20 years after it came out and mostly just for the heck of it. For the most part though the big advantage of handhelds is that I'm not stuck in one place while I'm playing something and can pace around or use the bathroom or something while playing.

    6. I grew up with two older siblings. When I was a kid, we had an Amiga, but my eldest sister (eight years older than me) went to art school and spent a lot of time with the machine for homework and creating digital art. And whenever she didn't need it, I had to compete with my other older sibling for time on the computer - so hogging it for longer stretches was out of the question. So I was quite glad when I got a Game Boy when I was ten years old - my other siblings weren't interested in the handheld, so I finally could spend all the gaming time I wanted with that device, even though the number of games I had was limited. I swapped games with other friends who also had GBs a lot, and that way I got to play Final Fantasy Adventure and Mystic Quest Legend (while we did have a copy of The Bard's Tale for the Amiga, I never warmed up to the game, in part because I never had the time with the computer or the patience to properly learn how to play it). Later in my teens my sister moved out and we also got a PC that I got to spend more time with, but since I was more familiar with handheld RPGs the first RPGs I really warmed up to were games like Final Fantasy III/VI or Phantasy Star IV played with the help of emulators. It wasn't until Fallout and Baldur's Gate came along that I really got into CRPGs.

  3. There are some exceptions, but overall Japanese to English console translations are pretty bad until around 1994, and still not very accurate until 2000. Scripts like this are normal.

    1. Yeah and there's no way this was intentional to appeal to japanophiles. That market basically didn't even exist at the time (in North America that is - different story in France).

  4. I had an original Gameboy in the 80s. A lot of any of the gaming I did was on the Gameboy. It WAS the 80s, so we only had one big wooden frame TV in the house. If there was a game, the news, or some can't miss sitcom my parents would be using it. Sure, we had a nes, but it only got used right after school, Saturday morning after the cartoons, or on school breaks.

    We didn't have a computer. Sure I could hunt one down at a friend's house, but RPGs were kinda out of the question there without getting sleepovers involved. They just took too much time. We did get one eventually in the early 90s, but it was still a shared family machine. I'd play what I could, but it was limited.

    The gameboy though, that was mine. I could play no matter what football game was on. Murphy Brown couldn't block me either. I'd play it in the car on trips once I had bugged one of those light/screen magnifier attachments out of my parents. Small trips to soccer games or school too. It would go in some side pocket of my Mom's minivan until I got back. I went through a lot of batteries, but even that wasn't that bad. You could plug it into the wall when you weren't on the move so that at least stretched the AA's out. Thanks for the question, I hadn't thought about any of that n a long time. I did have a great time with that little handheld though!

    1. Yes! It's easy to forget how limited we were from a screen perspective. We had a single TV until about third grade for our Atari 2600 until we got a second TV and TI 99/4A. That was it for 5 more years until we received a Tandy 1000!

    2. I was beginning to think my experience was in the minority. Exchange early 90s PC with 2000 and soccer for football and I had eerily similar experiences lol

  5. Hah, so Kemco has been ever this! They are well known for shovelling out derivative (though not necessarily bad) mobile RPGs. I understand that they are what JRPGers play when they run out of quality titles but still need their itch scratched.

  6. LOL a JRPG. Waiting for people to come out of the woodwork to tell him he played *the wrong one*.

    It's hard to believe that such issues were impossible to detect and fix; it would have required the input of only a couple of English-fluent playtesters.

    Ah, I know this one. When you've got one man on the team who "speaks English", you hand it off to him and he does it all. Since nobody else speaks English, they can't detect any problems in the translation. Bringing in a native speaker to check quality would prove that someone else could do his job better, so why would they employ him in the first place?

    1. I think it's actually "right" that Chet played this one - since it's one of the rare occasions where we got a Japanese console dungeon crawler. I know "dungeon crawler" may be stretching it here, but it's definitely presented as such. Outside of this, all I can really think of in terms of original properties for Japanese dungeon crawlers we got was Arcana on the SNES.

    2. Japanese dungeon crawlers may be more common than you think. Megami Tensei, particularly, was built in that mold for a LONG time (the very first one on the Famicom is one enormous interconnected maze, really impressive stuff), and there are quite a few companies still making Wizardry-clones (Elminage and Stranger of Sword City for example). The Japanese console dungeon crawler is not to be underestimated!

  7. I had a 3DS that I used to work out with in the few years before tablets were ubiquitous.

  8. For me, the primary benefit of a handheld was that it could be played anywhere in the house. I could play it while my brother was using the only computer or the only TV that had our game systems hooked up to it. I could play it in my room if I felt like it.

    I did use a game boy on long car trips once or twice, but it was mainly for the portability within the house.

    Other people have remarked on the translation issue, but in general Japanese game makers simply did not care about the foreign market. English versions were usually rushed and the scripts translated by non-native speakers. The companies did not particularly care if the translations were good and there was little quality testing.

    1. I accidentally sent before I finished that thought -- in other words, nobody in these companies cared enough about the product to intentionally cultivate a "japaneseness" in the translation or anything like that. They were just trying to get it done as quickly and cheaply as possible.

  9. "Having said that, I'm curious how readers who have owned handheld consoles used them."

    I was gifted a Game Boy around the age of 10 and only used it at home where I could plug it in the power grid via accumulator, except for the occasional link-cable session, because batteries weren't cheap and ran out fast. I saved my allowance for weeks to purchase 'Final Fantasy Legend' back in the day as a 90 bucks import.

    My older brother already had an Amiga 500, which I regarded as the far superior machine, and luckily he'd let me play on it when he wasn't home. Sweet memories of beating the original 'Prince of Persia' in one sitting.

  10. I'm pretty impressed that they reduced the actual exploration window, NPC's and monster sprites to one sixth of the already small Game Boy resolution, but still managed to make everything recognizable and congruent.

    There's grace in creating something this palpable in grayscale at 26x24 pixels.

    1. Wrong math, had to split the original Game Boy resolution of 160x144 pixels in two columns with three rows, makes...

      80x48 pixels, which is still tiny.

  11. Also, it's obviously the game's fault, but some of those paragraphs read like absurd theater (the literary genre, mind you).

  12. Notice how the title really only works with "sword." You'd never title a game Morning Star of Hope or Bec-de-Corbin of Hope or Sniper Rifle of Hope. There's just something about swords.

    Maybe Dagger of Hope? Staff of Hope? Spear of Hope? Lance of Hope? Those might be okay, but I think you're right about most weapons.

    One of my main problems with the early GameBoys was that you really needed to play them in a well-lit place, since they weren't backlit and had lousy contrast. It's kind of the opposite of the more modern problem of not being able to see your phone well enough to use it in full sunlight.


    2. I was thinking along similar lines. Bec-de-Corbin and Sniper Rifle are too complicated or modern. But Dagger, Staff, Mace, Staff and Spear might not be 'of Hope' but they could be 'of Something'. I think Dagger and Staff could manage Hope. Mace could be Restoration or something, as could Staff.

      'Spear of Destiny' was in my head somehow and it turns out there's a game called that; named after the spear that pierced Jesus' side. Nazis are using it for occult magic, as you might expect.

    3. A Staff of Hope might actually work better than a Sword of Hope...

    4. Dagger of Treachery!

      Lance of Lore?

      Axe of ...Max.

    5. The Flammenschwert of Increased Heart Rate

    6. The spear of destiny wasn’t really used for doing occult magic but more that they believed the old legend that whichever army possessed it would lose. Of note is that the spear was taken from the Nazis before they were destroyed; however it’s obvious that to lose it, they must have been losing the war anyway

    7. I think swords just make for good important mystical weapons because they're all blade and that's the part that glows. You hold them up in the air, the whole thing shines bright, it's very impressive.

      Swords are also the best and most expensive weapon, with spears and the like being for common soldiers and thus unworthy of being special. Also something something phallic symbolism.

    8. The Lucerne Hammer of Seratonin Reuptake Inhibition

    9. @Iffy, you'll have to wield it for at least too months for the effects to become noticeable?

    10. A Hero suffering from panic attacks until obtaining this magic hammer, now that would be a story.

    11. @VK, yeah, and if you set it down too suddenly: mood swings! Best to just keep it in the bed with you... taking care to avoid the spiky bits.

  13. Ghost Lion is similarly regarded as strange, simple, and derivative. I think Kemco just embraced an ethos of churning out C-tier games from the start and has stuck to it ever since.

    The GB is a better platform than you'd think - it's more or less a black and white NES - but RPG developers apart from Square (Final Fantasy Legend and its sequels) and Gamefreak (Pokemon) never really showed much interest in it. The Game Boy Color has a much more robust library both in general and for RPGs specifically, but its release is many years away.

    As far as playing handhelds at home - I did, but only for Pokemon and a few other titles of obvious quality. Everything else was on-the-go only.

    1. Game Boy Color didn't have much good in the way of RPGs besides Pokemon - if I'm wrong I'd love to know since I'm on a gameboy binge with the Analogue Pocket right now. If you mean Game Boy Advance then yes... tons of great RPGs there.

    2. GBC got a number of enhanced Dragon Warrior ports, plus some original games in that franchise (Dragon Warrior Monsters). It also had Revelations: The Demon Slayer, aka Last Bible, which is Atlus' first attempt at "Shin Megami Tensei... for kids!" Very late in the GBC era (2000) they tried again with the Devil Children games ("Shin Megami Tensei... for Pokemon fans!"). But those weren't released in the US. There was a Lufia game, too, and a lot of smaller one-off games.

      Now, how good any of these games are is another question. The Dragon Warrior games are solid (even enhanced) ports. I don't think any RPG on the system was better than Pokemon, though.

    3. That's how I remembered it. Pokemon, Dragon Warrior ports and japan-only stuff. The Gameboy Color era was actually pretty short.

    4. I guess I should have said that it's robust compared to the original Gameboy - it's definitely not a library on the level of the SNES or GBA, no.

    5. The Game Boy Color had very few games released for it and almost all of them were terrible, so I'm not sure what you're thinking about. There were a couple of heavy hitters released for the Color (Pokemon, Shantae, Zelda) which gives people a good impression of it, but its library is really very shallow compared to the hundreds of monochrome Game Boy games (which were often very good, but it was hard to tell the good games from the shovelware back then.) As mentioned the GBC had a very short lifespan with the GBA released soon after leaving it little more than a transitional platform.

  14. So this is basically just Shadowgate with combat.

    1. My recollection is that the sequel has even more adventure-game mechanics, although I think the ultimate inspiration here is Japanese-style console adventures like Portopia Serial Murder Case and Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (the genre that eventually morphed into visual novels). Kemco borrowed that interface style when porting Shadowgate and the other MacVenture games.

    2. Exactly, it also reminds me of a typical Japanese adventure game of that era, which were common until visual novels became gradually more popular. Some of them have RPG elements and many of them porn.

      Chet already did encounter them with...uhmm, well, Rance.

      I wonder if they were inspired by the ICOMM adventures because of the similarities, or if they grew independently out of our western text adventures.

    3. >many of them porn.
      Those for home computers only of course, I should add.

    4. I even now remember an anime episode (was it Excel Saga?) parodying the tropes of the genre that Chet described, e.g. nonsensical use of commands. There was a sequence of scenes where the show suddenly changes into one of these early Japanese adventures complete with command verb interface, and now matter what location the "game" switches to, the fourth command shown is always "stick it in"...

    5. Yeah, Excel Saga. Episode 4.

  15. My experience with this game was about 10 minutes while I was trying to check out the Game Boy library, and was one of the games that helped me come to the conclusion most of the Game Boy's library was more good for the time than actually good. There's plenty of great games, but there's a ton that feel like they'd have only been good when there wasn't much in the way of competition.

    Plenty of people have touched on translation reasons for why the text in this game isn't the greatest, but there could also be technical limitations at play. You don't have the biggest screen to work with, so you're not going to want to have too much text so you aren't scrolling through 20 screens of dialogue, and considering they were too cheap to go for having battery saves there's a good chance that going for a bigger ROM to fit more text was out of the question, assuming those were even available at the time.

    On the note of battery saves, I've always hated portable games that use passwords instead. Half the point of a handheld game is that you're supposed to be able to play it in short bursts, and having to spend time writing down a password or trying to memorize it, and then having to both keep it on you and put it in is going to massively limit the portablility of the game.

    1. Regarding the limited screen size and ROM space: that was yet another incentive for Japanese developers to leave localization to whoever on staff had passable English skills (and access to a Japanese-to-English dictionary), as well as to eschew playtesting by native speakers. The kind of localization tooling we have today that allows non-programmers to translate and test a game on the fly was nonexistent back then, so the easiest way to be sure that your script worked correctly was to have the equipment necessary to make changes directly to the code and burn an EEPROM to test. So not only do you need a native English speaker, but you need someone with programming skills, you need them nearby or to ship them equipment, etc.

    2. Judging from most translation efforts at the time, they probably just changed the text in the code and the font rendering routine (to use English letters rather than hiragana/katakana), but that’s it. It would likely used the same number of screens and windows as changing the coding for these would take up more time that they probably weren’t willing to spend. So any translation is hampered not just by lack of native speakers but also fitting English words in the same space that the original hiragana uses (which is one syllable per character and thus pretty condensed). Which means truncated words or just nonsense.

  16. Anyone else constantly confuse Kemco with (Koei-)Tecmo? I swear I can never keep those straight.

    1. Today is the first time I ever heard of both Kemco and Tecmo, so no :p

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  18. "Having said that, I'm curious how readers who have owned handheld consoles used them."
    The advantage of a handheld is that you can play it anywhere.
    I didn't really see the advantage before I had kids but now it's great!
    Once the kids are in bed, my wife and I sit next to each other and I play RPGs on my son's Nintendo Switch while she watches her shows in the evenings.
    It gives us a chance to both decompress doing our things while we sit and chat about the day.
    It's like reading books next to each other - something you can do together and separately.
    The Switch has some pretty good RPGs and visual novels - I just finished AI Somnium Files (weird but interesting) and just started Octopath Traveller - so there's a lot.
    For example, if you like underrated indie gems (and I know you do!), Witcher 3 is on the Switch. Skyrim, another underrated indie game which was previously only on obscure platforms such as Amazon Alexa and Samsung smart fridges, is there also.

    1. The last 'graph here is very funny. If you liked Somnium Files, I assume you've played the Nonary Games trilogy and the Danganronpa games; if not, get on that.

  19. My first exposure to video games and RPGs was my friends Pokémon Blue. It made me go out and buy a Gameboy Advance with my own money at the age of 8. For a long time that was my only way to play games, as the computer and tv were for family use. I soon also discovered more traditional JRPGs mainly remakes and ports of SNES games (by this time they cared about translation quality much more). I enjoyed these games.

    I got a DS for Christmas 2006, and it became my main system. There were a lot of original RPGs released for it, including some that did interesting things with story, like Radiant Historia. I also discovered my first Rouge-like (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon) and enjoyed it. Eventually I got my own computer (a hand-me-down) and discovered Morrowind (around 2008). It blew my mind. I loved the freedom, the world building (it even had books!). I loved jumping with 100 acrobatics and hearing the Vivec Guards voices sound higher. I then discovered Bioware and learned to love making choices that affected the story.

    However, I did not suddenly dislike counsel or JRPGs. To me the two traditions scratch different itches. I like visiting open worlds and playing games with branching stories. I also like playing games with simpler systems that tell a liner story where you watch a prewritten arc for the protagonists. I don't know why the two traditions disparage each other. I love them both. And I still play DS Games on my 3DS, despite having a good PC, because many of those good games have never been ported.

  20. So from what I understand, in Japan surrealism is much more appreciated in entertainment (that's why you have premises like Katamari Damacy's where you just roll things into a giant ball) and the RPG genre is much more about giving one character a storyline rather than allowing you to make choices for a constructed party.

    So some of it probably is cultural differences, some of it probably is awful translation. I wouldn't let it knock you all down.

  21. I had a Sega Game Gear in high school. I don't remember playing any RPGs on it - most of the available games were sise-scrolling platformers or sports simulators, though if you were willing to shell out for it there was an attachment that let you play Master System cartridges. I tried to take it on road years but the battery life sucked, so I mostly used it at home when my father needed the PC for work.

  22. *trips, not 'years'. I hate auto correct.

  23. I got a Gameboy when I was 6 and went from Gameboy to Gameboy Color all the way to DS. I played them all the time, my NES or Genesis took the TV so if I wanted to watch a movie or something then had to play a handheld, plus spent a lot of time fishing, hunting or just generally at the cabin growing up so handhelds were great fun at night if I was just with my parents and they didn't want to play cards. If I didn't have a handheld in my hands I had a comic or novel. Never was very good at doing one thing at a time, still not.

    I know people complain about no backlight and I tried to play my old Gameboy Advance last year before selling it and yeah don't know how I saw it but when I was little I never noticed, U know playing in the car I was always turning the screen certain directions to see but I didn't care, I also got carsick so could only play it in short bursts while driving.

    My abundance of handheld gaming is probably why I didn't play much in the way of CRPGs growing up, did a few on console, but first open world other than Might and Magic was Oblivion so did miss out on a lot that I am trying to catch up on now.

    Somebody above mentioned Dragonview, it is so much better than Drakken IMO.

  24. "I also wonder about the language. The translation isn't laughable, but it occasionally leaves out an article, or mangles a plural, or uses a word or phrase that just doesn't work right. It's hard to believe that such issues were impossible to detect and fix; it would have required the input of only a couple of English-fluent playtesters. Part of me wonders whether the slightly-off language isn't in fact a strategy, a way to repeatedly emphasize the "Japaneseness" of the game and thus excite the imaginations of players who in the 1980s were increasingly demonstrating a philia for all things Japanese."

    This translation quality is pretty well representative of the average JRPG translation before around 2001 or so; the vast majority of RPG localization jobs were low/shoestring budget affairs where the text often had to be abridged, sometimes considerably, to fit within cartridge space constraints (and/or comply with Nintendo of America's censorship demands, since this was still an era where console games were considered to be exclusively a children's product). In Sword of Hope's case, the entire game had to be fit in 128KB, for instance.

    On top of that, video game translation still wasn't taken seriously as a career because video game writing wasn't taken seriously yet either; a lot of early Japanese games were translated by someone in the Japanese office who spoke English as a second language but who might not know that certain turns of phrase are archaic, resulting in sometimes infamously stilted dialogue (like Final Fantasy IV's "You spoony bard!"). In the earlier console era, the rare exceptions were the translations produced in-house by Nintendo themselves (the original Dragon Quest/Warrior and Final Fantasy) or those clearly patterned after them (the remaining NES Dragon Warrior translations); even Square didn't employ a professional Japanese-to-English translator for whom English was a primary language until 1993 (Ted Woolsey), and it was still several more years after that before translators got proper technical support from the development team. For example, Woolsey has attested in interviews before that the only materials he got from Square for Final Fantasy VI's translation was a printout of the Japanese script and access to the retail Japanese version of the game; the printed script was a straight dump from the game data, presented out of order, and so the only means he had to get the proper in-game context for lines was to play through the game himself in Japanese. On top of this, he had to abridge his translation multiple times to fit within space limits and also get it all done in like 3-4 weeks.

    1. Ted Woolsey is a freaking hero. He got a lot of abuse back in the early days of the internet for "butchering" the scripts of Squaresoft games but, in retrospect, knowing the conditions he was working under his work was nothing short of miraculous. He also used to get a lot of flak for censorship decisions that were passed down from the likes of Nintendo and well beyond his control. Games like Breath of Fire 2 show we could have gotten a lot worse than ol' Ted, and that's not even getting into Working Designs.

    2. For what it's worth, "spoony bard" was pure Ted Woolsey. I don't know how a native English speaker arrived at that translation; nevertheless, we're all richer for it.

    3. I've seen this pop up periodically, but I've never really understand the problem with "spoony bard." "Spoony" makes sense in that context in FF2 (or 6 or whatever). Is the Japanese so different?

    4. Woolsey wasn't at Square yet when FFIV was translated; his first project for them would be Secret of Mana about a year and a half later.

      FFIV was translated by Kaoru Moriyama (spelling?), IIRC. In an interview Ted Woolsey gave once, he claimed that Squaresoft USA's senior VP and "finance guy" gave Moriyama's script an editing pass, but that they'd done so without having actually played the game. In any case, syntactically speaking there's absolutely nothing wrong with "spoony"; it was just a word that was very much outside of the typical American vocabulary by 1991. Per Google its usage peaked in the mid-1860s, and fell out of fashion after that, leveling off around 1940.

      It's actually seen a small but notable resurgence starting around 2000, and I'd bet Moriyama's FF4 translation (and the future retranslations which have kept her line as a meme/in-joke, as well as the numerous other Square games which have referenced it) have a lot to do with it.

      The line itself, ironically, is a complete invention of either Moriyama or the Square USA editors in 1992, at least going by Clyde Mandelin's exhaustive analysis of the FF4 script over at Legends of Localization, likely as a result of the English text for the scene having to be very dramatically shortened to fit in the extremely limited text length afforded by the in-battle text boxes in English (17 characters per text box after allowing for the speaker's name). Per Mandelin, the Japanese text basically has Tellah accuse Edward/Gilbert (the name was changed for the translation due to length limits) of having killed his daughter Anna, and Edward ineffectually trying to stammer an explanation which Tellah refuses to hear out.

  25. I actually have only played The Sword of Hope II, the sequel, which I purchased as a kid when it came out. It's significantly better than the first game, but also quite messy and primitive in similar ways.

    Both games sort of struggle with the limitations of the Game Boy and are not well optimized for the system. Both games are extremely slow compared to the Wizardry series on the system.

    At the very least, it's more streamlined and feels more like a professional product. The puzzles are better, but still simplistic. The variety of locations is much greater, which is nice.

    It WAS, however, a lot of fun to play an RPG of any kind handheld. Hilariously, the options we have today are so numerous, it's amazing what we had to settle for back in the day. I've been playing the DOS version of Ultima VI on my phone, emulated, using a custom set of button overlays. If I could play Ultima VI on a handheld in 1991, I would have probably spontaneously combusted from amazement.

  26. The Nintendo handhelds DS and 3DS were surpringly decent on dungeon crawlers, with Etrian Odyssey being a straightforward example of the genre (which, whenever you play it, you will appreciate). One thing I adored about the DS at the time (which was the first handheld console I ever bought) is that it brought back many of the classic genres I was playing on the 90s but I was not finding on PC except for the indie scene at the time (which was not as big as nowadays).

    Between Etrian's Odyssey, the many, many games of the Megami Tensei franchise and other takes like Dark Spyre or Orcs&Elves, that handheld was certainly busy.

    I never finished any of them btw.

    1. God, Dark Spire was so brutal. I remember buying that game and never making it past the first floor. I would be interested to see how someone experienced with the likes of Wizardry would handle it. Probably a lot easier than I did all those years ago.

      I do wish the Addict was more open to bending his chronological rules for the sake of playing games that, let's face it, he'll never get to in his lifetime. Not for my own sake, but just because I know he'd really enjoy the Etrian Odyssey games. They're easily the best dungeon crawlers ever made, IMO, and make the kind of creaky old classics played on this site genuinely tough to go back to.

    2. The only thing about the EO games - something I find in some other Eastern takes on classic Western genres - is that it sticks so much to the tropes of the genre that sometimes it feels a bit unnecessarily conservative. In the specific case of EO I don't think it was necessary to make a loop of "advance a bit on the dungeon, kill some enemies, use as many spells as you can memorise, go back to town with the loot, sell, rest, repeat". That loop was born out of necessity mostly, out of a design that needed just a few bytes and that also was still taking shape. Anyway, just my take on this.

    3. Personally I feel like that's part of the appeal of the game. The whole point is that it's a throwback to old dungeon crawlers with that sort of gameplay loop, so why wouldn't it stick with it?

    4. Because that loop was improved as there was technology to do something else. I cannot believe people are nostalgic for that specific loop.

    5. They play like that because that's the structure of a dungeon crawler. If you deviate too far from that loop, it becomes something else entirely, like an open world game or a linear story quest. The later EO games introduce overworld maps and secondary dungeons anyway, so it's not always as simple as delving as deep as you can and then returning to town.

    6. While I definitely agree that Chet would probably deeply dig Etrian Odyssey's gameplay, I guarantee the *art style* would be a huge demerit for his tastes.

      Dark Spire would probably be more his jam artistically, but I don't remember him being particularly enamored with the Wizardry 1-5 gameplay loop, so I do think as a game he'd enjoy EO more.

  27. I had a Gameboy and a Lynx and, because battery life was terrible back then, I rarely played them outside the home. I recall the Lynx was a bit better in that regard, but the games weren't great.

    I have a bewildering number of Nintendo DS variants now, but because I am a grown up, I'm supposed to be paying attention to things when I go out, so I don't get to play them outdoors, even though I could!

  28. I don't think they had people going over even the best RPGs from the US, that long ago.

    There are plenty of grammatical or spelling errors in Wizardry or Ultima or Might and Magic or Gold Box or what-have-you, and those are mostly written by native English speakers who also often (e.g.) know some Latin.

    It wouldn't have taken that much editorial control to find and fix the writing there, either, but no one took RPGs quite that seriously back then ... even though you can point to Infocom as a developer who actually did take such care.

  29. "I also wonder about the language. The translation isn't laughable, but it occasionally leaves out an article, or mangles a plural, or uses a word or phrase that just doesn't work right. It's hard to believe that such issues were impossible to detect and fix; it would have required the input of only a couple of English-fluent playtesters. Part of me wonders whether the slightly-off language isn't in fact a strategy, a way to repeatedly emphasize the "Japaneseness" of the game and thus excite the imaginations of players who in the 1980s were increasingly demonstrating a philia for all things Japanese."

    When I was a kid in the 90s, most of the other kids I knew (along with myself) had no idea that most of our favorite TV shows and video games were from Japan. They were just after school/Saturday Morning cartoons and video games.

    The Japan fascination was much more common in Western-developed works - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 3 Ninjas, Robocop 3, etc.

    This was not least because Japan then was in much the same position that China is today - a burgeoning economic superpower that everybody thought would soon purchase the Earth. They were also (unlike China) a friendly economic superpower to the US and allies, so there was a lot of cultural exchange despite them being foreign and "exotic".

    From an adult perspective, there was a lot of "if you can't beat them, join them" stuff put out, with a ton of "the Japanese way of business" books and articles and seminars being made. From a kid's perspective, there were all these cool swords and funny armors and crazy kicks. So Western media started catering to that.

    Stuff made in Japan didn't really have that. It was, of course, steeped in Japanese culture as a background. But it wasn't deliberately cargo-culting the Japanese as a ploy or tactic. Quite the opposite - when localizers did try to tailor the text, it was quite common to "Americanize it", such as putting Jeopardy references in Secret Of Mana.

    The modern fetishization of Japan only really got huge in the early 00s. It seems much older, but I remember the transition vividly.

  30. Having said that, I'm curious how readers who have owned handheld consoles used them. Did they occupy your attention on an average day at home, where they competed with (depending on the household) computers, regular consoles, televisions, and books? Or did you mostly use them "on the road" when other alternatives weren't available?

    As a child I was very limited by my parents in terms of how long I could monopolize the TV with "real" console games, so for me the Game Boy was something that was my own that I could play as long as I wanted in my room. I didn't even use it portably because it was far too valuable to me to risk dropping or losing it or having it stolen. We didn't really have the money to replace it and its library.

    The Game Boy let you type Greek letters?!

    In case this is not just a goof, or just for the benefit of other readers, the Game Boy was extremely simple and did not have an OS or built-in font/text entry methods. Everything you see on the screen was created by hand. Text is essentially just a series of 8x8 pictures strung together. It is a mystery why the developers chose to include Greek letters in passwords, perhaps they just liked the look or the vibe they gave, but they could've easily used pictographic passwords as some games did at the time (sword/skull/orb/chalice etc.).

    As far as I know, this applies to all 8 and 16-bit consoles and devices. All text is just graphics like any other image on the screen, and you had to "reinvent the wheel" in making your own text display system and perhaps dictionary compression in every game.

  31. >Having said that, I'm curious how readers who have owned handheld consoles used them.
    Simply put, the Game Boy was my access to console gaming. Consoles were banned by my parents, they bought a C64 and later a PC and won't give me access to a device that could only play games. They wanted me to use a computer only because they hoped I would make something useful with it besides gaming. I could persuade them to buy a Game Boy however because many adults here were playing Tetris, too, when it came out, for most of them their first video game ever. I believe it's no exaggeration to say the Game Boy had success in introducing video games to Germany like no other device.

    I played it far more often at home then on the way, when I had the urge for console style games. Also because of that I have a very rose colored view of the GB game library. Most of them and especially the early games look very old to day, but remember I had no other device to play those funny platform games. I still think some of them were great, especially Mystic Quest (which was called Final Fantasy Adventure in the US), Super Mario Land 1-3, the excellent Duck Tales NES port and later on even Zelda IV.

    In the end, my parents' wish came true and I did use the computer for something useful. So I did use the computer not 100% of the time for gaming like many others in school but only maybe 98%. The rest of the time I looked into programming instead. However small this was the first step on a path that would take me to university and being a software developer today, so I really am very grateful to my parents insistence.

    As for consoles, I have a collection of every common console since Nintendo/SEGA entered the market but looking at my game collection the PC stuff is in the majority by far. Whenever a game is released for multiple platforms I will prefer the PC version if it isn't completely inferior. I'm glad that after some people in the industry told us again and again that the PC is dead (which I'm also told was more true in North America than here in Germany) I'm glad that so few games are console exclusive now. Wish this would've been so in my childhood.

  32. I never owned a handheld myself during the 90s, but I did frequently play games on my friend's Game Boy all night during sleepovers. I spent enough time riding in my parents' car during long trips that I could have used one if I'd had it, though.

    I suspect that mobile gaming got particularly popular in Japan because mass transit is so ubiquitous there, so people have a lot of free time sitting on the train that they can fill with mobile devices. (I've also noted recently that Japanese translations of novels seem like they tend to get broken up into smaller volumes, probably also for easy portability on trains.)

    I'm not totally sure, but I think Game Boy translations are probably more challenging in general because the platform is tighter on space, both in bytes in the ROM and in pixels on the screen. So I wouldn't be surprised if they had to trim down their text a lot even beyond normal translation weirdness.

    Kemco has an active page for the Japanese version of this game, and the screenshots show the three commands on the left as miru, akeru, and tataku, which I don't think are too far off from LOOK, OPEN and HIT. They may have a slightly different range of meanings in Japanese, though, or be used in metaphors or wordplay in ways that the translation wasn't able to capture. I haven't looked at the Japanese text beyond that one screenshot, so I couldn't really say.

    That sequence in the chapel sounds a lot like they were trying really hard to avoid using the word "pray" for Nintendo reasons. I wouldn't be surprised if the original had a "Pray" spell and a hint telling you to "pray" in the chapel, and the translations of the spell list and the dialog didn't match up.

  33. Curiously they localized Sword of Hope into German at the time and it might be one of the few cases where the German translation is actually better than the English one.

  34. There's a full, in-depth Let's Play of the game at that I did a few years ago, including manual scans and Nintendo Power excerpts, for folks who are interested.

  35. I thought I'd throw my two cents in here, since everyone is weighing in regarding their Game Boy use... I'm pretty sure I was peak GB demographic, sadly never endowed with one when it was relevant. During waits in dentist offices, while killing time waiting for my parents to get through bank lineups, in back seats during road trips or just in a back room during boring family visits, I would have been wearing my Game Boy buttons down to little nubbins. But for lack of a mobile gaming device, instead I carried around a backpack full of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, occupying the same role: this is not a great story or a great game, but it passes the time for a couple of hours and has some mild replay value. (Lighter on battery consumption also.)

  36. I've generally just used my handhelds as a console I can have in front of me while still having my computer/internet feed right there without having to mess with monitor inputs etc. I much prefer PC gaming overall, more so as PC and console have had increasingly overlapping libraries. But Japanese games have a different feel and it's taken a long time to have any serious access to a lot of them on PC. The last few generations, a lot of that's been happening on (mainly Nintendo) handhelds rather than the regular consoles, and so I followed suit.

  37. I played this game back in the day. It was a combination RPG and point and click adventure. When RPGs on the gameboy were rare this was a breath of fresh air.

  38. 2 points for a silly game world. [...] 2 points for NPCs. These are mostly the trees...

    I did read the GIMLET first, and these two lines are perfectly coherent with each other, and hilarious. It is aslways a pleasure to read your blog.

    1. I am persuaded that Sword of Hope drew inspiration from the French game Mandragore. The "scenic view" field graphics are similar, also you can interact with the surroundings using a series of commands (and we are glad they are just 3 instead of 28), plus there are plenty of names that sound French: Martel and Camus (pronounced "Camu") are French family names, Théo and Pascal are typical French given names, Ricard (pronounced "Riccar") and Hennessy are drinks produced in France.

      Hey, even the logic (or lack of it) to solve the puzzles is reminiscent of Mandragore!

  39. Until the GBA came along in '01 I wasn't too interested in handheld gaming. I think I would have been perfectly happy to game on a handheld (when I wasn't on a console or arcade machine) but I felt the overall experience was poor due to the extreme blur 80s-90s handhelds had. Still no backlight in 2001, but I worked on the assembly line at Ford and they just had the best overhead lighting to illuminate the GBA. In the seven years I worked I must have played through hundreds of GB, GBC, and GBA games that way, about sixty seconds every fifteen minutes of hard work at a time.

    These days I prefer handheld gaming (over console) due sleep and suspend functions, as they better fit my current lifestyle.

  40. I think the strange wording for the actions comes from the size of the text box. Since the original game was in Japanese maybe they had to use shorter words for the English. "Look" could refer to your senses. "Hit" could refer to touching something. Though I wonder what "open" would translate to. Maybe if the original Japanese was looked at then they would make more sense.

    1. The verbs in the Japanese version are:

      みる (Look in the english version)
      あける (Open in the english version)
      たたく (Hit in the english version)
      もちもの (Use in the english version)
      まほう (Magic in the english version)
      ちから (Power in the english version)

      The only difference I see is that もちもの means possessions rather than use.

    2. I guess sometimes nonsense is just nonsense.

  41. I got my Game Boy in 1989, when the system launched in the US. Having a portable video game system with an interchangeable library was, in my young mind, a scientific achievement on the level of the moon landing or the polio vaccine. Hey, I was young. The Game Boy got a lot of great RPGs and action-adventures as the years went on. At first its games tended to be "lite" versions of NES games or licensed games.

    One of the games I had for it was Ultima: Runes of Virtue, which was a Zelda-eque take on the Ultima mythos. It was inspired by Ultima VI in particular. And unlike a lot of other games on the system which were licensed out to Japanese companies, it was developed in-house by Origin Systems.

    Here's hoping for a speedy recovery from COVID.

  42. Man, I played this game recently by coincidence and dropped it upon finding out about the endgame grind. I'm surprised that the 1-2 guides/walkthroughs of this game on the internet don't mention anywhere how horrid the Druids are to fight. Worst part of the game bar none, cause they aren't even funny-badly designed enemies, they're just anti-player machines.

  43. Growing up, handheld consoles & JRPGs were my bread and butter. A dandelion yellow GBC was the first console I ever owned and I loved it, small screen notwithstanding. Pokemon Crystal was my first JRPG. Up until then, I had to be content with my brother's old Sega Genesis he'd left behind after moving out-of-state for college. Money was always tight in my household so i always wound up getting slim versions of regular consoles several years after they'd run their course. I got a lot of mileage out of my various Game Boys. They were small, portable, and had tons of JRPGs worth playing.


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