Nintendo (translated as “Leave Luck to Heaven”) is widely regarded as being one of the oldest existing developers of hanafuda cards on the face of the planet. While the company’s interests may have diversified in recent years, they still continue to create new cards on a regular basis and can be purchased from the company’s online store. Despite being Japan’s third most valuable listed company with a market value of 85 billion dollars, the history of the company remains mysterious to people who cannot be bothered to visit the company’s Wikipedia article. Nevertheless, Nintendo has had a vibrant history with many phases that I will now attempt to chronicle.
Falcom’s works are largely unknown to the masses, despite influencing both Square and Enix into creating role-playing games, creating the first game with a fully developed soundtrack, almost single-handedly inventing the Action RPG genre (and JRPG’s to a lesser extent) and being one of the oldest role-playing game developers in history. While their flagship Ys series is by far their most famous series being only second behind Square Enix in terms of game releases, it never really gathered the same popularity that other similar JRPG series enjoyed, such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and even Shin Megami Tensei.
Normally with these retrospective articles my aim is to provide more information for video games that people may have heard of before. As an example, I doubt a lot of people have played Panzer Dragoon Saga mainly due to rarity. The quality of the game spread by word of mouth and is now considered a cult classic. The same applied to Vagrant Story and many other games that I’ve done. However, as a self processed “video game connoisseur” in the field of cult classics, even I would have NEVER have guessed that a game like Wachenröder existed, even less so that it would be without a doubt one of the most unusual experiences that I’ve ever had in a video game.
The PlayStation era was arguably when Square Enix were at their creative peak. After the release of Final Fantasy VII, Squaresoft received a large amount of profit from the game and decided to use the money to finance a series of innovative projects unlike any other video game released at the time. This involved the company dabbling in genres that they had never been a part of before, and in most cases, redefining the genre. To list a few example; Bushido Blade is one of the rare fighting games to change the Tekken/Virtua Fighter engine through limb targeted attacks that adds a layer of strategy that is not present in any other fighting game (other than it’s sequel, Bushido Blade 2), Einhander took the R-Type model and transformed it into one of only two SHmups that incorporate a well told story into in gameplay to give an added incentive to see how the plot unfolds (the other being Radiant Silvergun). Despite other experiments such as Brave Fencer Musashi, Tobal 1&2, Front Mission and so on, Squaresoft were still contributing to the RPG genre through continuations to their ongoing series like Final Fantasy VIII and IX, Legend of Mana and Chrono Cross, Square will also willing to release new IP’s that later went on to become cult classics (Xenogears anyone?). It is also during this period that Squaresoft provided the Final Fantasy Tactics director Yasumi Matsuno enough money to create his dream project: Vagrant Story: One of the greatest RPGs ever made.
To start this retrospective off, I pose a question: What video game companies are notable for creating some of the best games on the Super Nintendo? Nintendo, Konami, Capcom and Square/Enix will probably be the most common answers as a large portion of these companies 16-bit work are considered timeless classics by the gaming masses. While other companies are also known for creating great SNES games, these are usually one-off endeavors. Examples of this include Human Entertainment’s S.O.S: The Human Escape, Athena’s BioMetal, Beam Software’s Shadow, along many others. This makes Quintet’s achievements even more incredible as not only did they create a slew of great SNES games of consistently great quality, they created ActRaiser: A bastion of game design that merges a well told story with a fun dual gameplay system (just like Bastion!). In short: Quintet could be considered the Monolith Soft of the SNES era. Most of their games weren’t released in the United States, they were constantly finding new ways to innovate the medium even if no-one else cared and out of all the games Quintet ever made, ActRaiser would be their Xenoblade.
Some of you might remember that I did a paragraph on Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter during the PlayStation 2 Staff Picks. I feel one paragraph kind of does an injustice to the amount of innovation placed into such a tightly woven game as Dragon Quarter. Furthermore, some of you also might remember a game called S.O.S: The Human Escape released by Human Entertainment (The first games company that Suda51 worked for). S.O.S took place on a sinking cruise liner that would become engulfed in the ocean in one hour. While on the surface, your goal was to escape from the sinking ship with your own life, that was only scratching the surface of the game as it would result in one ending. The true goal of the game was to explore the ship to find trapped passengers that need you to rescue them. Escaping the ship causes different endings to occur with different combinations of passengers. This can be considered the first example of a New Game Plus in video games and Dragon Quarter would take this concept to an entirely new level.
Back before Blizzard created the PC gaming trifecta of World of Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft and revolutionized the industry as we know it, they were originally known as Silicon & Synapse. While most people are only familiar with Blizzards recent output (referring mainly to this decade), their time at S&S ended up producing some of the most notable games of that given era. While Rock n’ Roll Racing is widely considered to be a cult classic and Blackthorne is still noted to this day as an under-rated platformer, it was The Lost Vikings that make the studio notable for bring one of the most creative power houses of the 16-bit generation.
In my Panzer Dragoon Saga retrospective, I described the battle system as “cinematic”. This seems like a very vague term but its message is simple: to demonstrate exciting action in a way to excite the player. Video games have been trying to accomplish this for decades through general absurdity of the situation (Bionic Commando), interjecting huge exposition dumps to make the game more atmospheric (Metal Gear Solid) or even going as far as to creating levels which replicate those found in adventure movies (the Uncharted series). Even though this trend has been omnipresent ever since the original Donkey Kong, Squaresoft has long been considered the pioneers of this tend with Final Fantasy 7 being described as the first video game that make this type of narrative choice into a possible reality (whether this is true or not is debatable). The biggest advocate of this trend were Squaresoft themselves, who used the Playstation’s processing power to tell narratives ranging from love stories (FFVIII), light-hearted escapades (FFIX) to bizarre FanFiction! (Kingdom Hearts). While some claim that Squaresoft has sold out their company from making beloved heart warming games back in the SNES era to cut scene heavy boredom simulators (FFXIII), they shall forever be remembered as creating the most cinematic video game of all time: Einhander: Or how I learnt to stop worrying and have more tracking shots than an Antonioni film.
The run and gun genre has consistently remained one of the most well-remembered genres from the pre N64/PS1 era. Ever since Contra invented the notion that you shoot at bad guys and move AT THE SAME TIME there have been a large number of video games aiming to expand on this simple concept. And then some GENIUS from a small japanese video game company called NCS Corp decides that instead of playing as a human (Contra) or a human like robot (Mega Man X) that playing as a robot like robot could provide for an interesting video game. This game would best be known as Cyberbots (or Assault Suits Valken in Japan). The game was hardly a commercial success, although some companies realised that Masaya was onto something here. Cyberbots is often credited for starting the mecha genre, which is less of a genre and more of a collection of games with mechs in them (Popular examples include Zone of the Enders by Hideo Kojima, Border Break by SEGA-AM2, the creators of Shenmue and Outrun) and Oculin’s favourite game of all time: Metal Wolf Chaos) [Editing note from Oculin: No one will get this. Just proceed to the next paragraph.]
When defining the term “Japanese Role Playing Game” or JRPG for short, a number of different conventions are usually associated with this. There’s the “Classic JRPG” sub-genre, referring to games in the SNES/NES era such as Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest I-VI/ Final Fantasy I-VI, the original Phantasy Star games etc. that were known for their unique turn based battle systems, simple stories told in a complex way and a sense of charm and character that many people have expressed as being lost in modern JRPGs (it’s this reason why the Ys series is such a cult hit in this day and age). About a decade later came the sixth generation of gaming where the PS2/GameCube/Dreamcast were able to take designers ambitions and translate them into some truly fantastic JRPG’s such as Persona 3/4, Skies of Arcadia, Shadow Hearts, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter (stay tuned…) and so on. While people may decry the direction that most Japanese games are going in (Including Xenoblade Chronicles: A game so notoriously bad it was never released in America!), the era most fondly remembered by many people was the transition to the PS1 era.