Back on Saturday we took a look at two excellent games that didn’t quite make the cut. Today, we examine another three, all of them the superb 16-bit RPGs.
You know the drill by now about the “Table of Honor” and whatnot, so let’s just get down to the clue and game:
This first game I want to examine jumps out at you from the world of platforming. You might doubt his ability to manage, but once he jumps, you’re filled with utmost confidence. Yeah, it’s Mario’s RPG debut, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
Runner-up: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
For some crazy reason, nobody in the Mushroom Kingdom will believe that you are Mario. You’re probably the most famous savior of the land, but it’s not your dashing mustache or your red overalls that will prove your identity, it’s your trademark jump. This running gag is probably my absolute favorite part about SMRPG. No matter what part of the world you’re in, someone will inevitably ask if you are really the plumber. The dialog will pause, you will be unable to do anything else until you finally push the jump button and prove your identity.
The rest of the game is full of comparable humor and character that exude from every pore. Dialog makes sense and is pretty slick, the story is actually not that bad for what you’d expect it to be, and, most importantly, that trademark tight gameplay that Squaresoft has always been known for makes for a great battle system and actually meshes pretty well with Mario’s more typical platforming roots. Battle returned to the more traditional turn-based type affair, but now your special attacks were powered up by timed button presses or other similar tests of button-pressing acumen. This system was so slick and exciting that every subsequent Mario RPG (sadly none of them Squaresoft created) and even the new Penny Arcade Adventures has got timed button presses for defense and interesting special attacks.
I’m sure that many were skeptical about SMRPG’s ability to be a valid, entertaining game when it was announced. Just adding a big-name RPG developer to a franchise character does not make everyone believe it will rock (just look at Sonic Chronicles, no one thinks it will succeed). That SMRPG is able to succeed on all fronts and still be one of the better RPGs on the console is a testament to the talent of old-school Squaresoft. What a great game…
I just can’t resist throwing in yet another video game commercial for this game. This one’s quite bizarre…
This next game was published in America by a company whose motto is “Serious Fun,” but it’s not the farming sim/RPG that you might be thinking of. The main character fights very sinister beings in order to save the world in this one. This one’s a bit tougher, but it’s Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals.
Runner-up Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
This one might fall a bit outside of most of your game radars. It’s not A-list like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, not even B-list like Breath of Fire or the Secret of series (you can bitch and moan all you want about this, but you’ll never convince me that the Seiken Densetsu series is anything more than B-list). Lufia is a pretty firm C-list series, with regards to RPG popularity. There were two SNES games games and one gbc game in the series canon, with another gbc gaiden. That’s it, that’s the entire series. To be fair, it was mostly concluded with the GBC game, but I feel that they did leave it slightly open-ended.
Gameplay isn’t that special, it’s your typical RPG with turn-based battles. There was one notable battle mechanic in the capsule monsters that you could capture and have fight on your team. These monsters were computer controlled and could be leveled up and evolved by feeding them weapons and armor. The interesting thing is that this idea came about a full year before Pokémon was released. Pretty cool if you ask me.
What does make this game stand out and what earns it a spot on this list was its story. As a prequel in a time before prequels were cool (this was way back in Japan in 1995), Lufia II picked up the story before the events of Lufia & the Fortress of Doom (a game I never played). You were Maxim and, like most RPGs, you are told by a mysterious figure (a woman named Iris in this case) that you are destined to save the world. You head out to solve a monster problem for your village with your childhood friend Tia (you reluctantly bring her along) and from there you bounce from town to town solving problems and adding the brutally strong Guy to your party. Iris saves your life after you learn about the Sinistrals and you go on to add another party member, the female soldier Selan, before you finally learn the identity of the first Sinistral, Gades, after he brutally destroys an entire town.
Excited yet? Your party certainly is. They set off to confront Gades and make him pay for what he’s done. He responds by soundly kicking your ass. In yet another video game “oh shit, I hope I was supposed to die” moments, you are revived by Iris who revives the party and tells everyone but Tia that they are meant to confront this evil light with Maxim. Another dude, Dekar, joins the party and Maxim, Guy, and Dekar head out to kill Gades after learning from a lieutenant of the Sinistrals, Idura, that Gades plans on sinking an entire island. This time Maxim manages to kill Gades, but he still manages to activate the machine after all. Maxim heroically gets to the machine on his own, but deactivating it mostly kills him in the process. Iris teleports in, decides to be useful, and saves Maxim.
In the aftermath of this event, we are treated to a touching cutscene where Ti– no, wait, Selan (?) confesses her love for Maxim. I still remember this plot point coming straight from left field. You mean to tell me that Tia, who’s been hitting on you this whole game, isn’t gonna end up with Maxim? As a player, I didn’t mind, since Tia was annoying and Selan was arguably hotter (in that 16-bit way), but still, it really messed with me to see the developers not take the easy road, and I respect them for it. Tia honorably realizes she’s not gonna win Maxim’s love, tells Dekar that she loves Maxim the man, not Maxim the warrior, and sets off to find a man as good as Maxim to marry. That’s seriously the last you see of a character you’ve spent hours developing. The game sort of “ends” here as Maxim and Selan are married, buy a little house, and have a kid.
If you couldn’t guess by now, I’m a fan of these drastic world- or game-changing events in a video game. Be it the loss of Naked Snake’s right eye in MGS3 and how it affects first-person view from then on or something like the World of Ruin, these huge, irreversible events never cease to amaze me (I guess, if Iabsolutely have to I’ll admit that Aeris’ death is kind of cool in that way, but it never really had the same emotional impact on me as any of these other ones). Here I am, yet again thinking that I beat the game, and then Idura kidnaps your son and you’re forced to take up arms again. Iris comes in and claims that it was Maxim’s fate to die after the battle with Gades, but her actions have changed the future. As the gamer, you don’t yet know that these are lies. Heck, you don’t even know the huge twist yet at all (maybe you might if you had played the first game, but I certainly didn’t).
You do more quest-y stuff, Dekar dies after you kill Idura, and eventually you get to the final confrontation with the Sinistrals which is, not coincidentally, precisely the way that Lufia & the Fortress of Doom opens, which means that you fight the Sinistrals and kill three of the four. While trying to escape, only Guy and the elf Artea (he joined you in the second half) make it out alive. Maxim and Selan die, but are forever remembered as the heroes who vanquished the Sinistrals. It also turns out that this whole time your “helper” Iris was the Sinistral Erim. Erim is unique in that so long as she lives, the Sinistrals can be continually reincarnated. Also unique about her is her ability to take on human form, which some fans speculate is a result of the Sinistral Daos testing humanity. The real twist here is that Iris/Erim is later reincarnated as one of the main characters in the first Lufia game. By the way, you’re probably wondering why this game is even called Lufia if there are no characters named Lufia anywhere in the game. I can see your brains connecting the dots. Lufia is Erim and she is a character who fits a similar role to Tia in the first Lufia game to one of Maxim’s descendants. She didn’t change history by allowing Maxim to continue his bloodline, for Maxim and his descendants were always meant to counter and eventually defeat the Sinistrals. Erim makes one final appearance as a party member in the third Lufia game, as she gathers up yet another of the bloodline of Maxim and a crew of strong warriors. She builds them up this final time to destroy the Sinistral menace forever. Erim had tired of life as the Sinistral of Death and wanted her life to finally end.
I should also mention that Lufia II had a pretty solid puzzle and monster mechanic. Monsters appeared on the field and got to move every time you moved. There were also some pretty neat and difficult puzzles for the player to solve as he made his way through the many dungeons. I distinctly remember some of these being so tough (this is good!) that I had to consult old issues of Nintendo Power to figure out how to progress.
There you have it, a fairly convoluted plot and a game that’s ultimately average in its battle execution. Still, I can’t help but love Lufia II for it’s creative puzzles and that zany story. Prequels were still a pretty new concept to me back then when I played it and knowing what was to happen to Maxim and Selan made for some interesting, if fatalistic gameplay as I watched the drama unfold. There’s something cool about playing a game that fits into a pre-determined timeline. It’s both futile and awesome to fill in the details of a future you know will one day occur. I’d like to see more games try this with their storylines. Have a sage/oracle-type character tell you that completing the game will lead to your death. It could be fourth-wall or even within the game itself. Watching the main character grapple with what he knows to be the greater good at the expense of the personal good leads to good drama. They did it in FF VI with Terra, but the devs didn’t have what it took to let her die and not have a happy ending. That may be a good thing anyway, since I’m one of the few people who can be satisfied with an unhappy or unfair ending.
The Japanese commercial for this game is pretty lame, so here’s something that a fan put together for the 11-year anniversary of the game:
Yeah, the video’s not that cool, but it gives you a taste of what the game looked and played like. If you ever get a chance to play this game, I do recommend it. It’s well worth your time.
Our last game of the day had a mother of a time even getting released in America. To this day, the first and third game of this series have still never seen the light of American day. If you’re a fan of the Runaway Five, you also already know that I’m talking about EarthBound.
The brilliance of EarthBound lies not in its genre, but more in the originality and character that it brings to an already tired formula. How many sword and sorcery-themed RPGs does the video game market really need? (Answer: Don’t be stupid, sword and sorcery-themed RPGs rock!) Still, it’s refreshing to see an RPG take place in a modern setting like the country of Eagleland (a not-so-veiled reference to the USA). It’s hilarious to see that your weapons consist of baseball bats, yo-yos, and bottle rockets.
The story centers around Ness, a boy of tremendous psychic power who is tasked by a bee from the future named Buzz Buzz to destroy the evil force known as Giygas. Ness sets out from his hometown, Onett, and encounters and recruits Paula, Jeff, and Poo to save the planet. Along the way, they fight cultists, zombies, dogs, ninjas, bails out the Runaway Five twice, and eventually have their souls transferred into a robotic body to enable them to travel in time to fight Giygas. It’s strange, but in a quirky way. Even the final boss isn’t your typical encounter. You defeat the mighty Giygas by repeatedly praying, eventually getting the entire planet to unite and defeat Giygas in a Dragon Ball spirit bomb-type fashion.
EarthBound makes this list (just barely) because of the character that it exudes from every pore. Destroying the Happy-Happy cult is still one of my favorite situations in a video game mainly because of how bizarre it really is. Another plus for EarthBound is that it’s really hard. The game definitely doesn’t pull any punches with its difficulty.
Unfortunately for us US EarthBound fans, the series didn’t sell all to well when it first came out for the SNES. As a result, Nintendo decided not to release the sequel, Mother 3 (EarthBound = Mother 2), stateside citing poor sales of EarthBound. No matter how many fan campaigns Starman.net tries to put together to bring Mother 3 to North America, Nintendo continuously refuses to release. Interestingly enough, the Nintendo of America guys actually love the Starman dudes, which I think is what has allowed the Starmen to still have a Mother 3 fansub in production without a cease-and-desist order being issued.
Many fans speculate that EarthBound’s upcoming release on the Virtual Console (it was rated by the ESRB => it will be coming out) will be a barometer to test the validity of releasing Mother 3 in Eagleland. You can bet that the day this game comes out anyone, and I do literally mean anyone, who is on my Wii friends list will receive a gift of EarthBound for the SNES unless they tell me they’re planning on buying it already. I just want to drum up sales because I’d love to see Mother 3 hit our shores.
Yet another Japanese commercial that doesn’t make too much sense. Enjoy!
With that, we’re almost done with our 16-bit all-stars. Just one more entry on Thursday to finish these guys off.