Greg Wilcox' "Did YOU Know?" will be your ticket to all that has been hidden from you in the vast universe of video gaming. Whether it be titles released in distant lands, gems that were snubbed by attempts to bring it to the public eye, or simply games your mother told you you couldn't play, Greg is on the case to shine a big bright spotlight on all of the dark corners of gaming.
Dungeon Keepers and Other Buried Treasures: US PC to Console Ports In Japan
One common misconception among a certain segment of US gamers is that PC games make poor console ports. Complaints about console memory, graphics, and controller limitations particularly for RPG and adventure games are unfounded when one looks at some of the titles Japanese gamers were fortunate enough to receive. What’s even more interesting is that the majority of the games you’ll read about here were initially developed in the US, but somehow game publishers here decided that these games were either too expensive to produce or just wouldn’t appeal to the mass market. Of course, ANY game can be a success if it’s marketed properly and it’s almost a certainty that a moderate percentage of the fan base for some of these PC titles would be curious enough to try out the console versions if they knew how good most of them were. Let me step off my soapbox (it’s extra gentle this month- soft bubbles, fresh spring scent), and get on with the games.
Text-based adventure games and “sound novels” are common and quite popular among Japanese gamers, so it came as no surprise that the granddaddy of PC parser-pushers, Zork, would be released there (albeit after the visual-filled sequel). Return to Zork was released just over a month ahead of the original Zork I on the Sega Saturn in 1996 (and later as a set called Zork Collection) and Sony PlayStation with the subtitle The Underground Empire in Japan. At one point, Return to Zork was scheduled for a US release but it never shipped, leaving a potential legion of new fans was left wondering what the big deal was about a sequel to a game with no graphics. The game also made an appearance on the NEC PC-FX, if you’re lucky enough to own one of these and are looking for something besides the usual slew of hentai games to play. There were a couple of interesting graphic adventure games that were ported to consoles in Japan like Prisoner of Ice (PS One, Saturn), a so-so point and click horror adventure set in 1937 that was based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and Discworld (PS One, Saturn), which actually was released stateside (and commands a small fortune these days for the US version). One PC port that did well in Japan was Klaymen Klaymen (US title The Neverhood), a claymation adventure/comedy that introduced Klayman to the world. The platformer Skullmonkeys followed (Japanese gamers got it as Klaymen, Klaymen 2), and there was a third Klayman game created just for Japanese gamers called Klaymen Gun-Hockey. It’s worth a purchase just because it’s exactly what its title suggests: air hockey with guns instead of sticks.
Back to horror for a minute, there were direct ports of Darkseed and Darkseed II (Saturn, PS One), two games that featured creature and environment designs based on the work of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (Alien, Species). The first game was supposed to be ported and released for the Sega CD in the US by Vic Tokai, and by all accounts the game was done and ads were placed in a number of game magazines. But for whatever reasons (probably the SCD sinking like a lead-lined Pinto) we never saw a retail version and neither did Japan. One of the more ambitious PC horror adventures from around this time was Roberta Williams’ Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, which was released in Japan for the Saturn as Phantasm. It’s an impressive boxed set with a whopping 8 discs and yes, all the voices and text are in Japanese if you’re thinking of importing it. Unfortunately, it’s not the best port in the world, with grainy FMV and even more pixel-laden resolution on a TV set even with AV cables. At least you won’t have to pay the 9800 Yen that the game cost when it debuted on the console back in 1997. Then again, compared to Japan-made releases like Tokyo Shadow, it may be seen as some sort of minor classic. First-person shooters like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Powerslave, and Hexen were released in Japan unchanged except for names in the case of Powerslave (A.D. 1999), and ratings that suggested that the games be purchased and played by those over 18. FPS games really don’t do anywhere as well in Japan as they do here, but add a sword, magic, a decent plot, and the ability to level up and/or form a party and things definitely change.
While US gamers got a couple of solid Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games for the NES, we missed out on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pools Of Radiance for the Famicom. The very busy Japanese developer Pony Canyon (who also did a number of Ultima ports for the Game Boy, Famicom, and Japanese PC) had the honors doing the port and translation, and the results were quite impressive. The game came in a special double box with the standard Famicom box set inside a larger gold box that made it about the size and shape of a boxed Super Famicom game. Pony Canyon also nabbed the rights to port a second title in The Bard’s Tale series, The Bard’s Tale 2: The Destiny Knight to Japan. Again, it’s really odd that US console audiences never got to see these two games as the NES was somewhat of a haven for RPGs based on PC originals.
New World Computing’s Might & Magic series has also gotten a few unseen gems as well. The original Might & Magic was remade in 1992 as a PC-Engine CD-ROM game (with new character art) and there was also excellent ports of Might & Magic II & III for the CD system that were unreleased in the US. A few years later, Imagineer ported over 3DO’s Might & Magic IX: Day of the Destroyer to the PS2 in Japan, which seems like some sort of revenge by the late 3DO on those reviewers and fans who trashed their Army Men and less than spectacular action based games for the PS One and PS2. This version of the game supported Sony’s PopEgg printer peripheral which enabled players to print out maps for the huge dungeons in the game. 1987’s PC classic Dungeon Master got reworked for Japanese RPG fans on 3 different consoles (Super Famicom, FM-Towns Marty and PC-Engine CD) and thankfully, we at least got two out of the three versions here. DM creators FTL and Japanese developer Software Heaven also produced a sequel called Dungeon Master Nexus for the Sega Saturn, an ambitious effort that suffered from really slow movement and a few incredibly blocky 3D characters. Still, the good parts here (great level design, combat, and music score) balance out the bad and it comes recommended if you’re a fan of the series. Some of the menus are in English and last time I checked, there was a walkthrough in progress online.
Possibly the most popular PC role-playing series that’s made it big in Japan has to be the Wizardry series. The initial 1981game and its later sequels has inspired more than 30 ports and side stories on 10 different game consoles. Whether you’ve got a Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Wonderswan Color, MSX, PC-Engine CD, Saturn, PS One, PS2, Famicom or Super Famicom, you’ll find a game or two that’ll keep you busy for weeks on end. 6 of the 8 PC Wizardry games were ported by developer Locus’ Soliton arm for the PS One, and small and large developers like Starfish and Ascii made new games based on elements in the originals. Parts I through V were released with optional English menus as Wizardry: Lllygamyn Saga (1997) and Wizardry: New Age of Llylgamyn (1999). Each collection has great smooth-scrolling 3D graphics (which can be turned off completely if you’re a purist), and gallery bonuses that show off some beautiful artwork. Interestingly enough, the first Wizardry released for the PS One was Wizardry VII: Gadeia no Houshu (US title Crusaders of the Dark Savant) back in 1995. Soliton reworked the PC version with new textures, smoother scrolling 3D dungeons and the overall game was balanced slightly easier compared to the original version. Sony supported the release with two funny commercial-in-commercials in which a Japanese guy watching TV gets pulled into the game by characters (actors in bad costumes) that show up on his doorstep. The game did well enough to warrant a re-release and later, the redone collections of the earlier adventures. In fact, all the redone versions of Wizardry and its spinoffs have been reprinted at least once, which means that people were buying them and a new generation of fans was born.
As for those all-new Wizardry games made specifically for Japanese audiences, again, if properly marketed, they would have probably done very well here. Wizardry: Dimguil, Wizardry Empire: Princess of the Ancient and Wizardry: Empire II: Legacy of the Princess continued the story of adventurers in Llylgamyn on the PS One, and later the PS2 with Wizardry: Empire II and III. Atlus produced a great new game, Busin: Wizardry Alternative, (and the “remix”, Busin: Wizardry Alternative Zero), which streamlined the gameplay process somewhat and added some lovely 3D dungeons and 2D character art. Atlus released this in the US in 2002 to in small quantities to mixed reviews as Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land. Some longtime fans of the PC version thought the gameplay was downsized a bit too much for console RPG fans, while some console fans used to the usual Final Fantasy-style games that permeate the genre felt the game was either too hard or couldn’t deal with the fact that you don’t see your characters on screen except as 2D art in some dialogue scenes. Both groups missed the point entirely, but as no US publisher had bothered to re-localize the originals or newer games, it’s easy to see how the game failed to capture a wider following.
Sega Saturn owners got Llylgamyn Saga and New Age of Llylgamyn as well as the only decent console port of Wizardry VI, which was released along with VII as Wizardry VI & VII Complete. Also an exclusive was a fair conversion of Wizardry: Nemesis, the more action-intensive game in the series. The version of Wizardry VI and VII (by Data East) is a straightforward port of the both PC originals, and for some reason, the PS One never got its own version of VI, which means you’ll have to be a bit of a completist if you’re looking to see how each game turned out in Japanese. Then again, that means you’ll also have to suffer through the chopped down version of Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge for the Super Famicom, which goes to show that some games really are better in their original formats. It’s not that bad if you’re willing to let go of the memory of playing the original PC version, though. Fans of Sir-Tech’s games got a nicer deal with Druid: Yamie no Tsuisekisya (US title Druid: Daemons of the Mind), a port of an action/RPG with action and puzzles that may remind some folks of Diablo when they see it in action.
But the Wizardry games are common and pretty easy to track down, thanks to their being reissued in Best collections on the PS One. If you’re a collector looking to spend that tax return on something few will have, you’ll want to start with the Ultima series. One of the hardest to find US to Japanese PC ports is Electronic Arts Japan’s port of Origin’s Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss. The 3D dungeon game which would predate both Doom and Wolfenstein 3D and later inspire From Software’s King’s Field series and later Arkane Studios’ wonderful homage, Arx Fatalis, was ported to the Sony PlayStation in 1997. The PS One version is somewhat of a rare bird with good quality copies sometimes fetching upwards of 70 to100 dollars last time I checked. If you’ve got a few hundred bucks or more to spare, track down a FM Towns Marty console and the various Ultima games released in Japan for it. Marty owners got Ultima Underworld in 1993 in a boxed set with a metal ankh and penknife, which was probably good for killing off goblins, but lousy against spellcasters, flying enemies, and ranged weapons. Ultima Underworld II also appeared on the Marty a year later and there were also versions of Ultima IV through VI for the Marty, all quite tough to acquire. As rare as both Underworlds are, for US gamers, Ultima VI is the true gem of the lot. What makes this version of the game especially collectable is that it was Origin's first ever CD-based game. The game also had full English speech on the CD, which makes it even more import friendly. There are also a couple of Game Boy games, Ultima: Runes of Virtue and Ultima: Runes of Virtue II that never appeared here, as well as the first three Ultima games for the MSX2. Some other rarities, like the Super Famicom version of Ultima: Savage Empire, which was a Lost World-inspired affair with dinosaurs and guns that probably would have done well here has it been released on the SNES in English.
|Now that you’ve gone completely broke tracking down all those games, all you really need to do now is set aside time to play them. Tell you what: I’ll give you two months to cram as much playtime in as you can. That’s when I’ll be back with a few 2D shooters you may or may not have heard of…|
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