Back when games were different…

February 16th, 2011 -

(Since the transition in sites, the format of this post has degraded immensely – videos are now gone, spacing is funky, and a lot more plagued this post, but I dealt with it. Hopefully future posts will be up to par in caliber with our last server. Bear with me here…)

Do you remember that time? Honestly, it wasn’t too long ago. Of course, give a young child today a game from back then, and they’d pass it off as garbage because it’s two-dimensional and not “realistic” looking… I could go on about many companies, all the gems that were created, but this iteration will focus on SquareSoft (SquareEnix as of April 1, 2003 – Enix was the other company I was contemplating for this piece, but most people didn’t play those games…).

Square started making games back in the mid 1980s, and nearly went out of business in ’87, so they put their efforts into one final game that would share the likeness of the ever popular Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in America). Obviously, the game was a huge success, spawning 30ish titles in the series of Final Fantasy. But I’m not here to rave about Final Fantasy (that’s Travis’ job, and sometimes Chris’); I want to remind everyone of the other games they made that gave them so much love in the video game community.

Rad Racer 2 image

Fun fact: the first Square game I ever played was a racing game. It was on the NES, and was titled Rad Racer II (Nobuo Uematsu did the soundtrack, if you were wondering). Released in 1990, after watching the video above, it isn’t much of a wonder why they left the genre… in any case, Square was kicking ass and taking names constantly for ten years (1991-2000). Starting in 1991 with the SNES, they released FFIV. Yeah, yeah, FF… cool story, everyone loved it. Okay, fast forward a couple years to ’93 and you get Secret of Mana.

Now, you may or may not have heard of the “Mana” series in some form of it’s existence (there are 9 games in the series, also known as Seiken Densetsu in Japan, meaning “Holy Sword Legend”), but the creator of this series (Koichi Ishii) is the reason you have Moogles and Chocobos, so maybe you’ll want to give them some attention now. It was originally a lot like Final Fantasy (ever play Final Fantasy Adventure? That’s the first game in this series), but dropped those elements for a more action based game, similar to Zelda.

Secret of Mana image

Between Secret of Mana and 1995 was another Final Fantasy (VI), Capcom’s original Breath of Fire (I’ll probably do a post dedicated to this series next week), the original Front Mission (that series is still being made too… this one never made it outside of Japan), the third Romancing Saga (JP only), a few other Japan only games, and Secret of Evermore.

Secret of Evermore image

The reason I stop on this is that it’s one of the few games that actually wasn’t created in Japan, or even released there. Developed at the North American division of Square, it was a sequel of sorts to Secret of Mana, carrying over many of the same elements of gameplay. The story follows a boy and his dog as they are thrown into a fantasy world due to an eccentric inventor – crazy action ensues. Easily one of the better spiritual successors in video game history.

The last behemoth from Square on the SNES was Super Mario RPG. If you’ve never played this, you owe it to yourself to do so now. You can find a port of it on the Wii Virutal Console, or probably emulators elsewhere. Or, if you want the real experience, feel free to buy it used (new is just ridiculously priced). Scored by one of the (if not THE) most well known female composers in the world (Yoko Shimomura), its music is awe inspiring.

Super Mario RPG image

But seriously… a company that knows Action RPGs (see: the aforementioned games) like nobodies business under direct guidance of Shigeru Miyamoto. Two huge names collaborating for one of the best genre mash-ups ever. I suppose the most apt way for me to describe it is this: think of Paper Mario, make it not paper, and make it better.

After releasing their last game for the SNES (until 2002, but we won’t count that one) on my birthday in the year of 1996, they released their first title on the Playstation August 2nd of the same year. Well, they published it… the first developed game didn’t come until 1997 (FFVII). But back to the first title: Tobal No.1.

Tobal No. 1 image

Sure, this was a fighting game, and that’s all well and good. What made it amazing was the quest mode that mixed a three dimensional questing game with the game’s fighting mechanics. The creators of this game also created Ehrgeiz (which is talked about a bit in this article), as well as (sadly) The Bouncer, and a few other games that never amounted to much.

The next fighting game was created by LightWeight, and titled Bushido Blade. Now this name is one that strikes a chord with pretty much anyone that ever played these titles – they were magical. There was no time limit, no life gauge… just pure butt whoopings to be had. A match could be finished in a matter of a split second. As Ryan will aptly note if you bring up Killzone 2, the final boss actually uses the same tactics as the last one in Bushido Blade.

Bushido Blade image

Unfortunately, LightWeight severed its ties with Square after the second game in 1998, and the last game like it (Kengo 3) was made in 2004. So any hopes of a new Bushido Blade are that of a dreamer… However, if you loved the Bushido Blade games, you may find some solace in the Kengo games that served as spiritual successors to the highly acclaimed series on the PS1. The first three can be found on the PS2, and Kengo: Legend of the 9 came out on the 360, though it wasn’t developed by LightWeight and received dismal scores.

Before I go into Xenogears (’98), it’s not fair to skip over Einhander (’97) without mentioning that if you’re a fan of side-scrolling shooters (think Gradius), you should play this. Anyway, Xenogears… I’ll try not to gush too much, as this is one of my favorite games of all time… It’s an RPG that brings strategic button combos to the traditional ATB (Active Time Battle, think Final Fantasy) style of turn-based battle systems. The game uses anime cut-scenes opposed to the 3D pre-rendered CGI that was popular at the time, as well as sprites for characters opposed to 3D models. The game’s story contains science fiction, philosophy, religion, and mechas known as “gears”. Remind me again why so many people didn’t play this?

Xenogears image

This is the fifth episode in a series of six, though the perfect works were never completed. You may have played Xenosaga, which was the first three (allegedly), but Xenogears only played a cameo to Xenosaga at best, being under the Namco name. In any case, if you haven’t played it, it’s supposedly getting released on the US PSN soon… buy it as soon as you can.

Like survival-horror games? How about… RPGs? If you’ve made it this far, I imagine you like RPGs to some extent. Parasite Eve was the next series to spawn from this company, serving as a sequel to the novel. This was also the first game from Square to be rated M by the ESRB. Great game, great series (hoping The 3rd Birthday for PSP is able to live up to the predecessors), go play it.

Parasite Eve image

Brave Fencer Musashi is the last game of ’98 I’m going to go in-depth about (sorry Chocobo’s Dungeon 2… you were fun, I just don’t want to talk about a dungeon crawler… yet) – it is an action RPG that puts you in the role of Musashi who wields two swords and is able to acquire new abilities through scrolls… OR, you can take an enemies ability. Yeah, you can do that. Also, you find people crystallized around the game and you can save them, each serving a purpose, having an ability or being a key role in the game. Beyond this, there is a fatigue system if your character has been out wandering the world without rest for too long. Honestly, one of the better action RPGs you can play.

Brave Fencer Musashi image

1999 came, as did some more Final Fantasies, Chocobo Racing, Saga Frontier 2, Front Mission 3, Legend of Mana, Chrono Cross (sequel to Chrono Trigger… did I mention Chrono Trigger earlier? Probably not, since it’s so damn popular. Anyway, play that, and this), and… Threads of Fate. Yet again a title most people don’t recognize, but something that really blew me away. Once again an action RPG, it contains two storylines that coexist, yet are very different from one another – and if you want the true ending, you must play both. The two characters both have unique styles of gameplay, one being able to use magic and is more of a long distance character, whereas the other is up close and personal… not to mention he can transform into creatures he kills and use their abilities. :O

Threads of Fate image

What’s that? This game sounds familiar? Why yes, a game like this did come out on the PS3 a couple years ago… Folklore stole many of the gameplay elements that Threads of Fate contained. To be quite honest, I prefer Threads of Fate. Oh, and if by chance you didn’t get to play it, it’s been announced to be released on the US PSN at some point in the future.

Finally, the last year to really care about Square (my views, not the blog’s)… The year 2000 only brought with it two games from SquareSoft, one being my favorite Final Fantasy (IX), the other being Vagrant Story. Taking place in Ivalice (WHAT? That’s where my FF: Tactics and FFXII take place! Yeah, it’s from the same director… the guy that made Tactics Ogre as well, which came out yesterday on the PSN), this is probably one of the best dungeon crawlers you can find (aside from my beloved Shin Megami Tensei games).

Vagrant Story image

While typically a third person game in a three-dimensional world, the ability to switch to first person is available to look around. The game is chalk-full of puzzles as well as strategic battles. There are many types of special battle actions, and fighting isn’t as simple as choose an enemy and attack – one must choose to fight the body or body parts, and this can mean life or death in some instances. A heavy emphasis is put upon “crafting,” taking the place of buying new weapons as you would in other JRPGs. In fact, there isn’t really any interaction with other characters (aside from battles), to be honest. I guess FFXIII thought it could do this, being that it worked so well in this, scoring a 40/40 from Famitsu. In any case, this game is also coming to the US PSN at some point. It’s not too long of a game, but it has a lot of replay value, as well as a new game plus with a secret dungeon.

So, it’s nice to see games that Square put out that aren’t Final Fantasy, isn’t it? They actually did a lot right 10 to 20 years ago – it’s sad to see the giant fall because of their desire to have pretty games. They need to take a step back and see what made their games in the past so great, so endearing. Is it just the fact that there is no more original ideas? Has all the talent left? I doubt it, but what do I know? Maybe they should stop spreading their projects and workers so thin, and just concentrate on one or two amazing games… you know, like they did in 2000. Reinvent themselves, if you will.

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