Before there was Square-Enix, there was Square and there was Enix, two Japanese publishing houses well known for their RPG output. During the heyday of the SNES, both companies had a US presence based out of Redmond, Washington, where they published some of the most beloved games of those eras. The inner workings of Enix USA during that time, however, have always been the subject of much rumor and fan speculation. What happened to localizations of Dragon Quest V and VI, Enix’s flagship franchise? Why did Nintendo publish Illusion of Gaia? And how did King Arthur and the Knights of Justice wind up the way it did? Is there really an Ark of the Covenant? Will we ever find Noah’s Ark? Where exactly is Atlantis and did Amelia Earhart land there? Are we alone in the Universe…
Ahem. I had the opportunity to talk to Robert Jerauld, producer during the first incarnation of Enix USA on all titles titles throughout the NES/SNES’s life. Robert’s early career trajectory took him from working as a Nintendo Game Counselor to working many roles on some of the most beloved games on the platform. Robert continues to work in the game industry to this day – he is currently an Executive Producer at Microsoft Game Studios, with credits on games like Zoo Tycoon, Gears of War, and Alan Wake. I am incredibly thankful and excited that Robert took the time to talk about his experience at Enix USA with us. Read on for a fascinating look of what Robert’s time at Enix USA was like!
An experience I think many have had is revisiting a game that we had memories of playing in our youth. While we all had those games that we had essentially memorized – I know stuff like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Sonic 2 so well that the ten-year-old me in my head gets actively angry when I see people not taking bonus-optimized paths through them – there are others where the memories are a little more vague. We enjoyed them at the time, but we’ve essentially forgotten the vast majority of the experience, to the point where replaying the games is like enjoying something completely new. Sometimes it’s a harsh lesson in reality, as you find out that game from your youth was utter garbage you liked because you were young, dumb and ate up anything with your favorite characters on the box. Other times, you find yourself rediscovering what you enjoyed so much, and perhaps even appreciating these titles in a brand new way through the eyes of experience.
So there’s a series of podcasts and media under the collective banner of Laser Time that I’m fond of. Most of the folks doing shows and articles there are previous or current employees of Future Publishing (whom I’ve done a fair bit of professional work for), who run the show as a way to talk about interesting pop-culture things and their own subjects of interest with friends they came to connect with through work. Laser Time manager Chris Antista recently did some stuff about Tiny Toon Adventures videogames, highlighting the many titles Konami (and others) published with the license. Among them is the Genesis/MegaDrive entry, Buster’s Hidden Treasure.
Buster’s Hidden Treasure was actually among the first games I got for the Genesis, and I remember spending way too much time defending it against my SNES-owning friends who insisted on the superiority of Buster Busts Loose as a game. It wasn’t uncommon in the 16-bit era for different platforms to get entirely different titles in a franchise or license, and Konami in particular made very, very different games for the SNES and the MegaDrive. So since you couldn’t argue over which had the better framerate or textures, you had to fight over what game was actually better, and boy did I fight tooth and nail for this one. But was I actually right, or was I just doing my duty as a pre-adolescent console warrior?
I wanted to find out. I played Buster’s Hidden Treasure again, and I’ve got a fair bit to say about it 20-some years later.
One of the best thing about the early-80s worldwide arcade boom was the sheer creativity exhibited in the concepts. The youth of the gaming medium meant that developers would try anything and everything looking for the next megahit. I mean, yeah, there were definitely a lot of alien-shooty spaceship games, but there was also stuff that you’d have a hell of a time trying to pitch to corporate higher-ups nowadays. (“I mean, yeah, the space marine FPS is a safe bet, but I’ve got something even cooler! Imagine a game where you’re fighting against another guy, with a lance, and you’re riding an ostrich, just kind of flapping around this weird space-time void! Wouldn’t that be awesome? It’ll sell MILLIONS!”)
Technical limitations also forced games to veer away from realism into realms of strangeness and abstraction. Even games that had a setting based in some matter of reality would have to rewrite “rules” in order to make them into something that would make a (theoretically) fun game. Clearly this was the problem facing the Japanese programmers at Konami when they decided they wanted to make a game about American high school life. Not only did these guys have zero actual experience in American high schools, but what the hell kind of game could you make out of that? After much deliberation, it was decided to focus on the major element of high school everyone remembers: terrible people in highly visible and obnoxiously dramatic teenage relationships.
So now, let’s take a look at this very early Konami arcade game, one that puts us in the shoes of Mikie, high school asshole extraordinaire.
While consoles were the dominant forms of at-home gaming in Japan, proprietary personal computers were also quite popular amongst the more tech-inclined and older players (in other words, people who could afford them). Before Windows and MacOS became the standard systems most folks across the globe used, Japan had a whole mess of fragmented PC platforms from manufacturers like Sharp, Fujitsu, and NEC. I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on old Japanese PCs – it’s an area of gaming I’m still actively learning about and researching, but when I find interesting things about the systems and the games they played host to, I definitely want to share.
One such thing involves the port of Bubble Bobble for the Sharp X68000, a platform that played host to both a lot of amazing arcade ports and original titles. Bubble Bobble is an example of the former, a practically arcade perfect transplant which had creator Fukio “MTJ” Mitsuji himself aiding in the port.
The porting team at DEMPA didn’t stop there, however. With MTJ’s aid, they added a hidden “expert mode” with 20 brand-new levels… and a facelift connected to one of MTJ’s other titles.
Thus, Syvalion and Bubble Bobble had a beautiful crossover baby, and they named it…
The first thing I said to myself when getting this site up and running was “oh boy, I can’t friggin’ WAIT to talk about old Japanese Taito games!” And the first of said Taito games I want to look at is one that is oft overlooked in the West: Syvalion.
Syvalion was another creation of the late Fukio “MTJ” Mitsuji, who is perhaps best known for Bubble Bobble but was responsible for numerous Taito masterpieces (though personally, I’ll confess to wanting to like Rainbow Islands a lot more than I actually do like it). Syvalion is the third game by the Taito “Bubble Team” and considered another one of MTJ’s great works.
You’ll be hard pressed to see any affection for it outside of Japan, though. Syvalion doesn’t seem to have received any international releases, though a prototype “world” set of ROMs for use with MAME is floating about online. This is the only English version available, though the localization is… rough, to say the least. (So about par for the course for Taito arcade titles of this era.) It’s a truly fascinating game, though, so a closer look is certainly in order! Continue reading
I must admit, when I first heard the news that the KEI-designed Sega Hard Girls were getting an anime, I was not terribly enthused. Not because I didn’t like the designs – hell, when I met KEI and was offered a sketch, I requested Saturn instead of the obvious Hatsune Miku – but more because the quality track records of game-themed anime and corporate-made material featuring moe anthropomorphics are pretty abysmal. Strangely, when I heard later that the show was being made in Miku Miku Dance – an inexpensive piece of CG animation software used primarily to create visuals for short music pieces – I became a bit more intrigued. After all, the delightfully absurd show gdgd Fairies had put MMD’s low-budget glory to utterly spectacular use. I said something on Twitter (which I can’t find – thanks, terrible Twitter search engine!) to the effect of “I would be perfectly okay with it if the Sega Hard Girls anime was just gdgd Fairies with old game jokes.”
Little did I know that that’s exactly what Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls seems to want to be.