Category Archives: Column: Game Collectors Melancholy

June 22, 2007

COLUMN: Game Collector’s Melancholy – Genesis

[‘A Game Collector’s Melancholy’ is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we dig through old boxes in the corner of the garage and empty out the hall closet, searching for old Sega Genesis hardware.]

High Grade Multi Purpose Intelligent Terminal

sega_logo.jpgI developed my enthusiasm for video games a little bit later than most. Although the arcade and microcomputer scene fired my imagination in the late seventies and early eighties, most of my young adult-hood was concerned with other things. I have no sugary nostalgia for Nintendo and Saturday morning cereal bowls. The Atari 2600 was something that other kids got for Christmas and were already bored with by the time I came to visit.

Instead, my first console was the Sega Genesis and it colored all of my perceptions of video games since. I was reading Count Zero (along with Mondo 2000 and every RE/Search book I could get my hands on) at the time and in my mind the Genesis’ black surface, studded with vents and ports, seemed to be the embodiment of Gibson’s Ono-Sendai deck. The Genesis hardware pointed the way toward a looming digital landscape, wild and dark in potential and made all the more dangerous by its affordability. Over time, this exhilarating rush of possibility wore off, muted by endlessly replicating cute mascot characters. As the game industry grew and Sega struggled to find its place in it, my initial feelings of hope and wonderment were underscored by a melancholy strain of defeat.

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May 25, 2007

COLUMN: Game Collector’s Melancholy – Zone of the Enders

[‘A Game Collector’s Melancholy’ is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we look at the often-dismissed Zone of the Enders series.]

Giant robots have been a staple of Japanese pop culture for decades. As Roboto Chan! shows, the robot in manga and anime has been rich source of inspiration for game designers. So when Konami’s Hideo Kojima decided to bring his post-modern touch to the giant robot genre, expectations were high.

Zone of the Enders

zoe.jpgReleased in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, Zone of the Enders was a remarkable demonstration of what the new hardware was capable of. Abandoning the lumbering tank movements of other giant robot games, the robots of Zone of the Enders moved with a pole-dancing, acrobatic style that would become the hallmark of modern action games like Devil May Cry or Dynasty Warriors. Called Orbital Frames, the game’s mecha were designed by Yoji Shinkawa as lithe, airborne seraphim. As if to emphasize their aerial nature, they did not even have feet. Instead, their legs terminated in elegant spikes. In close combat the Frames whipped out flashing energy blades. From a distance they launched bolts of plasma from their hands like a 50 meter Sailor Moon gone berserk.

Despite the slick presentation, Zone of the Enders was unable to get by on its looks. Initially the game invoked a wide-eyed thrill, but after a few hours of play, Zone of the Enders had revealed most of its impressive tricks, leaving the remainder of the game feeling only half-formed.

Zone of the Enders is an easy game to find, so don’t pay more than $15. However, make sure that it includes the Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Demo disc which allows you to play the Tanker chapter up to the Olga Boss fight with the original Japanese voice acting.

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May 10, 2007

COLUMN: Game Collector’s Melancholy – Kenji Eno

[‘A Game Collector’s Melancholy’ is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we take a look at the iconoclastic game designer Kenji Eno.]

tripd.jpgKenji Eno founded Warp, his small, independent game studio in 1994. Coming from a background in music, Eno wanted to bring the same energy and spirit of the electronic music scene to the rapidly expanding world of video games. With long hair and black clothes, Eno would pose for publicity photos with his Roland Jupiter-8 synthesizer (analog of course), cultivating a rock and roll image at a time when game designers were still considered members of the pocket-protector set. He also made it clear that Warp was not part of some corporate hive.

The company’s first games were for the 3DO system. Its straightforward licensing structure dispensed with the cumbersome and arbitrary approvals process that other hardware manufactures required and the machine’s CD-ROM format made it easy to publish for, lowering the barrier to entry for the start-up developer.

Warp’s initial efforts were basic puzzlers and mini-game collections. Although somewhat primitive, they were done with an absurdist graffiti style that made them distinctive. One of these early games, a Tetris clone called Trip’D made it to America in 1995, but it was the horror adventure D that would make Warp famous.

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April 26, 2007

COLUMN: Game Collector's Melancholy - Clock Tower

[‘A Game Collector’s Melancholy’ is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we take a look at the Clock Tower series. Games loved by some, hated by a few, and ignored by most.]

I’ve always had special fondness for horror themed video games. Perhaps because horror game designers show a greater cultural awareness and are more willing to incorporate influences from other media into their work. Most video games seem to be influenced by other video games but horror is a genre with a distinct literary and cinematic heritage that is quite separate from the world of Mario.

The First Fear

clocktower0.jpgMost people know of the Clock Tower games on the PlayStation, but the series actually began on the Super Famicom. Created in 1995 by Human Entertainment, Clock Tower told the story of a teenage girl named Jennifer who was orphaned under mysterious circumstances. She and her friends from the orphanage are sent to live with a wealthy family whose gothic mansion lies isolated in the mountains of Norway. Upon arriving at the mansion things quickly turn sinister and Jennifer’s friends are murdered one by one in a variety of cruel ways.

Clock Tower resembled a point and click adventure but undermined the measured puzzle solving with a wicked twist. Periodically, a maniacal killer called the Scissorman burst into the scene and began chasing Jennifer. With no means of fighting back, she could only flee from Scissorman and hopefully find a safe place to conceal herself until the pursuer moved on. It was a unique style of play that called to mind frantic games of hide and seek or the desperate flights of nightmare.

Visually, the designers of Clock Tower had a particular love for the films of Dario Argento with Suspiria and Phenomena being major points of reference. One of the first murder scenes that Jennifer witnesses is a recreation of the brutal first ten minutes of Suspiria, including an earnest attempt at imitating Goblin’s crazed soundtrack on the Famicom’s sound chip. The game also gave a nod to William Peter Blatty’s Legion (filmed as Exorcist III) as Scissorman wielded an enormous pair of autopsy shears.

Clock Tower was later ported to the PlayStation under the title Clock Tower ~The First Fear~ and versions were also made for Windows 95, and the Wonderswan. However, none of these made it the United States.

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April 12, 2007

COLUMN: Game Collector's Melancholy - NIS America

[‘A Game Collector’s Melancholy’ is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting.]


Mary.jpgRecently Nippon Ichi Software America announced their line-up of new releases as well as some big developments for their online store. To find out more, I posted a few questions by email to Jack Niida, marketing manager of NIS America and Mitsu Hiraoka, vice president of NIS America Online Business Development.

NIS America announced a slew of new titles including GrimGrimoire and Soul Nomad & the World Eaters for the PS2 as well as Disgaea and Dragoneer’s Aria for the PSP. Those, along with the upcoming Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm and Aedis Eclipse: Generation of Chaos represent a fairly busy release schedule. Do you expect to continue to move at that pace and are Sony’s PS2 and PSP the target platforms for the foreseeable future?

Jack Niida: We’re setting a good pace for now. It’s a busier release schedule than our norm, but the localization process is going well. Unless something drastically goes wrong, we won’t make any adjustments to our release schedule. That being said, the 2nd half of the year will be quieter than the first half, with fewer releases scheduled.

For a long time, NIS America has been releasing titles for the PS2 and PSP, so some people might think we are solely dedicated to Sony, but that is not true. Our goal is to provide quality games and services to all game fans, and looking ahead, there are several platforms that can help us reach out to a broader audience and gamers can expect surprises from us. Of course, we will also continue to work closely with Sony, providing great games for PS2/PS3/PSP users as well.

Tell me a bit about the new face of your online store at www.RosenQueen.com.

Mitsu Hiraoka: 2 years have passed since the opening of the NISA online store. During these past 2 years, we have been connecting with the media at press events, and also through our daily PR work, and we have communicated with our fans, receiving encouraging voices. However, at the same time our fans have voiced their concerns as well. Every year, in the month of July we hold a booth at Anime Expo to have an opportunity to meet with our fans. We also hold various contests that prove to be an important opportunity for fan interaction. Through these various activities, we have always contemplated on the “value” that we can provide for our customers. We came to realize that it is always important to increase game quality, but it is also equally important to provide a value that can offer a truly rich gaming environment. NISA is not the only company that is thinking about value. If we can provide fine products from these companies to our customers for their satisfaction, it will be very meaningful.

RQ_logo.jpgThe RosenQueen Company is taken from an item shop within a video game series by Nippon Ichi Software called Marl’s Kingdom. Etoile Rosenqueen, the rival of Marl’s Kingdom’s main character, is the representative of the RosenQueen Company.
As I mentioned in the previous section, it became necessary to create a vendor that isn’t specifically named after NISA, in order to provide non-NISA related products. However, at the same time, it is necessary to carry on the spirit of NISA. And RosenQueen fulfills both requirements.

People enjoy the fictional part of video games, so we’re hoping people will enjoy the fictional setting of the vendor as well. Initially we will provide game related products that NISA is good at dealing with. But, eventually we would like to move forward with various other products and services, since even Disgaea is turning into an anime.

Now, even the cocky Etoile cannot live without the help of our customers. Therefore, like the NISA online store, we would like to provide products and services that the customers will enjoy.

I notice that you are making certain titles from XSEED Games and Atlus USA available through RosenQueen. What is the relationship between NIS America and those publishers?

Mitsu Hiraoka: From a business sense, our relationship will be as “publisher” and “vendor”. You might suspect that we, as a publisher, are in competition, but as I mentioned before, providing high quality products and services will benefit the customer the most. As a publisher, we acknowledge each other and increase our quality through competition. However, as a retailer we have a mutual relationship with those publishers to provide true value to our customers.

I was extremely pleased with the deluxe packaging that you gave Ar Tonelico – Melody of Elemia. Can we look forward to more premium editions? What are the economics of special boxed editions? Do you see less profit because of the printing costs? Are they more difficult to get on the shelves of retailers?

artonelico.jpgJack Niida: Judging cost effectiveness on a bonus item for video games is always a difficult task. What it comes down to is cost-benefit, customer interest, affordability, and future impact. If we believe that the added bonus would not gather enough numbers to cover the total cost we would pull the plug. However, if there are additional positive impacts by releasing a similar, yet smaller bonus feature that costs less for customer satisfaction, we may do so. There is no single specific recipe for a successful bonus campaign, but through our past campaign data and experience we have a fairly good picture of the outcome.

Placing special edition packages could be a challenge in itself, depending on the retailer. Few are flexible enough to work with these large size displays. However, there are retailers that are very cooperative and we really appreciate it. For our future titles, we would like to provide similar special editions packages.

On the subject of Ar Tonelico, one of the unique aspects of that title was its incorporation of Visual Novel elements. Although a popular genre in Japan, American game reviewers seemed to have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea. Is the U.S. ready for Visual Novels?

Jack Niida: There is no denying that visual novels are still a foreign game style. However, feedback from players was positive, so we believe there is at least an increase in interest. In general, we found that those with positive feedback are fans of anime or manga, so their understandings of the Japanese gaming culture perhaps helped embrace the new style. With all the increased interest though, we have yet to determine whether or not a full visual novel game will succeed in the states. Perhaps we should test the waters with some of our Japanese titles.

With the upcoming Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm you are making the soundtrack available separately through RosenQueen. Is it imported from Japan or are you establishing a US music publishing division?

ai3.jpgJack Niida: We are not importing the soundtrack, but not necessarily establishing a music publishing division either. The music source is provided from the Japanese developer, so we would re-master, create new package, and manufacture them on a small scale. Nothing extraordinary is done, but like I mentioned earlier, our goal is to provide quality games and services to our game fans, so we try to do our best to bring what they wish for.

Finally, I am very intrigued by Hayarigami. With the popularity of Japanese horror films and games is there a possibility that Hayarigami or its sequel may see a US release?

Jack Niida: With the increased popularity in Japanese horror films, there is certainly a chance. Our only concern is the game play style. Hayarigami is a full visual novel style game and unlike Ar tonelico it does not have any traditional RPG features, like combat and adventure. So, we are still a bit hesitant to release this game. However, if there is enough demand we will definitely try to bring the game over.

Many thanks to NIS America.


Images: © 2007 NIS America. All Rights Reserved


[Jeffrey Fleming is an East Bay writer. To read more, please visit Tales of the Future.]

March 29, 2007

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Shadowrun

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week let’s datajack the Matrix and see what we can find on Shadowrun.]

srcover4th.jpgVideo games and role playing have always been close allies. Just as Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson attempted to extend Tolkien’s world into pencil and paper games, programmers have labored to model the ritual theater of tabletop role playing sessions in software. Personal computer RPGs have seen a steady path of development over the years, from the early days of Richard Garriott’s Akalabeth to the latest visual dream in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. However, in the West, console RPG efforts have been largely abandoned, surrendered to the Japanese, whose role playing aesthetics follow distinctly divergent lines. For an early snapshot of this evolution consider the three video games based on the Shadowrun license.

Shadowrun began life in 1989 as a set of tabletop role playing rules published by the FASA Corporation. The world of Shadowrun was weird mix of fantasy and sci-fi in which Tolkien-esque characters such as elves, orks, and dragons were given a serrated edge by dropping them into a near future, tech noir landscape. Magic existed alongside neural implants as “deckers” and shamanists hacked into computer networks to battle sinister transnational corporations. Life was cheap in Shadowrun and death often came quickly, whether it was by tempered steel, a 9mm Hydra-Shok, or a bolt of summoned lightning. Avoiding a potentially goofy and derivative premise, the Shadowrun game was elevated by the fevered intensity of its vicious world.

FASA was always adept at licensing its properties (in fact, the original company currently exists only as licensing rights manager, leaving the publishing and distribution of its properties to other companies) and soon enhanced the Shadowrun brand with tie-in novels and a series of unique video games, each produced by a different developer.

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March 15, 2007

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Shenmue

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we take a look at the epic, and lamentably unfinished Shenmue series.]

shenmue.jpgWe had been hearing about Shenmue for years before it was released. First there were rumors that Yu Suzuki was working on a Virtua Fighter RPG for the Saturn. As the director of Sega’s AM2 division, Suzuki had been responsible for some of the company’s most exciting arcade titles. Space Harrier, Hang-On, Out Run, Virtua Cop, and the epochal Virtua Fighter series were all the work of Suzuki and his AM2 team, so the idea of a new title for home consoles was very intriguing.

As more information trickled out of Japan, VF RPG became known as Project Berkley and development moved to Sega’s new generation of hardware. No one knew what Project Berkley was except that it would big, different, and amazing. As Katana became Dreamcast, Project Berkley was given the official title of Shenmue. Suzuki called the game a F.R.E.E. RPG, which stood for Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment and it would feature Q.T.E. or Quick Timer Events. No one could figure out what he meant by that either. After years of development and a budget estimated at 20 million, possibly as high as 70 million, the first chapter of Shenmue was released for the Dreamcast in 2000 to critical acclaim and consumer indifference.

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March 1, 2007

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Treasure's Shooters

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we dig up Treasure’s shooters.]

treasure.jpgTreasure is a game developer whose name is written on collector’s hearts. Formed in 1992 by ex-Konami staff, the company is well known for creating anarchic games that gleefully undermine genre expectations. Often filled with bizarre characters, discordant music, and lots of explosions, Treasure’s games move at a frenetic pace, seemingly fueled by Lucky Charms and DMT.

However, on occasion the studio dials back some of its eccentricities and focuses on creating rigorously formal shooters. Within the narrow confines of the shooter Treasure approaches its craft with a seriousness that elevates their pop trash (I mean that in a good way) into nuanced works that are as beautiful to look at as they are to play.

No Refuge

silvergun.jpgRadiant Silvergun was Treasure’s first effort at pure shooter design and probably its most famous despite not ever being released in America. Initially created for the arcades in 1998 and then quickly ported to the Sega Saturn, Radiant Silvergun was a vertically scrolling masterwork.

Players were given a generous selection of weaponry with which to clean the field and face down a succession of elaborate boss fights. Not content with simply satisfying twitch and reflex, Radiant Silvergun was also a thinking person’s shooter. Utilizing a combo scoring system and complex pattern memorization, the game rewarded thoughtful play. Radiant Silvergun was further enhanced by a Hitoshi Sakamoto score and animated cut-scenes from GONZO (Blue Submarine No. 6, Last Exile).

Radiant Silvergun enjoyed a generous print run and healthy sales in Japan making it easy to find online. However, its elevated reputation among Western importers has insured that the game’s price remains in the $175 to $200 range.

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February 15, 2007

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Carnage Heart

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we take a look at Carnage Heart, a high point for strategy games and a key title for Playstation collectors.]

artdink_logo.jpgArtdink has a reputation as an unusual game developer with an aggressively creative streak. Most famous here in America for creating the bewildering “non-games” Aquanaut’s Holiday and Tail of the Sun, Artdink is also responsible for the No One Can Stop Mr. Domino puzzler, and the A-Train urban development sim. Less well known is Carnage Heart, one of the most unique strategy games ever offered for a home console.

Over Kill

tsuki_kage.jpgCarnage Heart was designed by Masaki Iizuka with mecha designs by artist and kit modeler Kow Yokoyama. It was firmly rooted in the ‘realistic robots’ tradition of Japanese sci-fi and featured mechs fighting corporate battles across the moons of Jupiter. Packaged with two dense manuals and a separate tutorial disc, Carnage Heart was not a game that one could just pick up and start playing.

You begin by designing your combat units called Over Kill Engines, choosing their body type, engine size, armaments, and other accessories. This part is fairly generic and familiar to anyone who has spent time with Armored Core. Once a design is settled on, you also have to put it into mass production which involves managing factory assembly lines while making sure income levels stay in the black. There are also opportunities to do business with various trans-national corporations, buying technology, funding research, and engaging in a bit of industrial espionage.

If... Then...

europa.jpgSo far, all of this sounds interesting but not radically different from many other strategy/economic sim games. What really makes Carnage Heart distinctive is that you have no direct control over your Over Kill Engines when they enter combat. Instead, during the design phase you must preprogram the combat behavior of your Over Kill Engine. This is done by laying out modules of set commands on a grid and linking them together in a flow chart of “IF... THEN...” statements. A simple example would be IF enemy detected within 100 meters THEN fire main weapon.

Of course, success in the game requires much more subtle strategies. There is a wide variety of modules to work with, including the ability for OKEs to communicate with each other, enabling complex, coordinated attacks. Once you become familiar with Carnage Heart’s programming language much of the pleasure of the game comes from working out clever OKE programs. It is a remarkable and creative experience to able to “play” the game while sitting at a table with pencil and paper, writing new programs to try out.

Black Coffee

ch_cover.jpgFirst published for Japan in 1995, Carnage Heart was brought to the U.S. in 1997 by Sony Computer Entertainment in an ambitious attempt to push the boundaries of console video games. Unfortunately, the game’s indirect and rigorously intellectual style of play was a hard sell to an audience more accustomed to fast action and glossy visuals. Spare, complex, and difficult, Carnage Heart was like a cup of hot, black coffee that few had the taste for.

Although Carnage Heart quickly vanished without a trace in America, the game enjoyed an extended life in Japan. In 1997 Artdink brought out a revised version of Carnage Heart called Carnage Heart EZ (Easy Zapping). A full sequel followed in 1998 titled Zeus Carnage Heart Second for both Playstation and Windows. In 1999, Artdink brought out Zeus II Carnage Heart and sponsored national Carnage Heart competitions in Japan to promote the game. The series lay dormant for several years until Carnage Heart Portable for the Sony PSP was recently published in Japan by Genki in the fall of 2006.

Resources for English speaking Carnage Heart enthusiasts are scarce. In the spring of ‘97 Sony began publishing its Playstation Underground CD magazine. Included in Volume 1, Issue 1 was a Carnage Heart demo along with a set of OKE designs from Artdink that could be downloaded on to a memory card. Issues of Playstation Underground show up from time to time for auction but generally do not sell for much.

Sometimes the most interesting games in a collection are not necessarily the most expensive ones. Carnage Heart can be found with relative ease for around $20, making it a painless acquisition for those wanting to add some depth to their collection.

[Jeffrey Fleming is an East Bay writer. To read more, please visit Tales of the Future.]

Images: (C) Artdink/SCEI/Kow Yokoyama All Rights Reserved

February 1, 2007

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Shadow Hearts

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we take a look at the work of Sacnoth/Nautilus, creators of the Shadow Hearts series.]

Koudelka

koudelka.jpgShadow Heart’s developer Sacnoth got its start in 1997 when a group of Squaresoft employees split off to form their own studio. Headed by Hiroki Kikuta, the music composer for the Secret of Mana series, Sacnoth had an ambitious goal of reinventing RPGs and moving them beyond stale genre conventions. Their first effort was Koudelka for the Playstation, published by SNK for America in 1999.

The game opens with a movie of a lonely rider crossing a darkened moor. A haunting viola strain plays as the empty landscape is scoured by wind and rain. The cloaked rider eventually arrives at the crumbling ruins of an abandoned monastery that is right out of Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho. The opening FMV sets a tone so perfect, so drenched in atmosphere and mystery, that the ensuing game play comes as an abrupt shock, falling far short of one’s initial expectations.

On the surface, Koudelka looked like an ornately rendered survival horror game, a sort of gothic Resident Evil, except with turn-based combat and lots of RPG style stat management. Set in 19th century Wales, Koudelka’s narrative was literate, with mature characters voiced by some excellent acting talent. Unfortunately, two steps into the game you were faced with a combat system that was so wrong that it completely undermined everything else that the developer got right. A typical engagement could take up to ten minutes to complete, with probably half of that time just maneuvering your character into a position to fight. Once combat was done, the encounter rate was so high that after taking two more steps you were in it again. A full description of how not fun Koudelka was could take up an entire essay so let me just emphasize that the game was tedious in the extreme.

And yet, there was something about Koudelka that made it difficult to dismiss as just another crap game. Yes it was bad, but it was tragically bad in way that hinted at the possibility of greatness. Masochists may want to seek it out, but please don’t pay more than $25.

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January 18, 2007

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Shin Megami Tensei

persona.jpg['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. Recently IGN’s Best of 2006 feature listed Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army as a runner-up in the “Best Game Nobody Played” category. As collectors know, the games “Nobody Played” typically become the games “Everybody Wishes They Could Find”.]

Shin Megami Tensei

The Shin Megami Tensei series got its start back in 1987 with a Japanese RPG called Digital Devil Monogatari: Megami Tensei, which could be translated as “Digital Devil Story: Goddess Reincarnation”. Based on a series of novels by Aya Nishitani, the game was first published by NAMCO for the MSX computer and later that year for Nintendo’s Famicom. A sequel followed and then Atlus took over publishing the series. Subsequent games added the word Shin to the title, which is read in Japanese as “true/genuine” but is also homonymous with “new”. In the years since, Atlus has made Shin Megami Tensei a cornerstone of their business, releasing a bewildering assortment of remakes, sequels, side stories and spin-offs. However, only a handful of these games have received English language releases.

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January 4, 2007

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Package Fetishism

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. Now that the holidays are over and all the gift paper is recycled, let’s take a moment to consider the box.]

Tsumi Ge-mu or “Stacked Game” is a wonderful Japanese term for a game that is initially purchased with enthusiasm but once home is left unplayed, added to an ever-increasing stack of games that the obsessive collector will never have time to actually play. It is frequently associated with vague feelings of dissatisfaction and guilt. A useful method for counteracting these feelings is to take pleasure in video games as objects and enjoy the artistry of their packaging. Don’t be ashamed of package fetishism, embrace it.

Infocom

suspended.jpgInteractive Fiction was, at one time, a very popular computer game genre. In the early 80’s, as the personal computer revolution was taking off, IF represented the cutting edge of game design. Although free of graphics and sound, Interactive Fiction stirred people’s imagination in a way that was completely new, unlike any entertainment media before.

One of the innovators in IF was company called Infocom. Founded in 1979, its first product was the famous Zork adventure game. It was a hit and over the next six years Infocom produced more than thirty successful text adventures. As the decade wore on, the company’s fortunes took a downturn as consumers became increasingly drawn to games featuring colorful visuals and action. Activision purchased Infocom in 1986 and unsuccessfully tried to redirect it toward producing graphic adventures. By 1989 the market had moved on and Activision shut Infocom down.

However, in those early years Infocom did some amazing work and their stories were satisfyingly complex, challenging, and irreverent. In addition to the Zork titles, other outstanding games included A Mind Forever Voyaging, Trinity, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and The Lurking Horror, along with many others. Infocom games were unique in that they were packaged in elaborate boxes that included a multitude of supplemental material. Called “feelies”, the supplements ranged from maps, journals, newspapers, cards, stickers, and buttons, to glow-in-the-dark rocks and scratch-n-sniff cards. The feelies also served as copy-protection by requiring players to look up information that could only be found in the supplements.

Diskette Dreams

The era of the 3.5 inch diskette was a Renaissance age for extravagantly wasteful software packaging. In the 90's, Big Box retail had not yet become the primary distribution channel for computer games. Most were sold by small specialty shops and publishers scrambled for customer’s attention by packaging their games inside increasingly creative and bizarre box configurations.

marathon2.jpgSpectre VR by Velocity and Comanche by Nova Logic came in strange, origami fold boxes that were as mysterious to look at as they were to figure out how to open. The Macintosh versions of Bungie’s Marathon series were also packaged in complex, non-euclidean boxes. The Marathon Trilogy Box that was released in 1997 was cleverly designed so that the two halves of the box slid open like an airlock to reveal the disks and art book inside.

Wargames were usually packaged behind somber covers but came loaded with dense manuals. Atomic Games’ V for Victory series, published by Three-Sixty Pacific included thick books, filled with carefully researched military history. I don’t think I ever really got around to playing Harpoon (also published by Three-Sixty Pacific) but I spent many hours studying the manuals.

ultima.jpgPerhaps inspired by Infocom, fantasy games often included extra materials to enhance verisimilitude. Richard Garriott’s first games were sold in zip-lock bags but he soon moved up to a premium presentation and even remade older games to meet his high standards. Garriott understood more than most the relationship that develops between a player and an RPG and he served his audience with deluxe packaging that included detailed manuals, cloth maps, metal coins, and talismans.

Working Designs

Console games have always had very standardized packaging but there have been a few exceptions over the years. Nintendo’s gold cartridge Zelda for the NES let consumers know that they were buying something special. When Nintendo published Earthbound for the SNES in 1995, they included a strategy guide and packaged it in a large book case box.

One company that truly understood the game collector’s package fetishism was Working Designs. Founded by Victor Ireland in 1986, Working Designs was an independent publisher that focused solely on localizing Japanese games for the American console market. Over the years they published games for the TurboGrafx-16, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, and Playstation 2. The titles they picked for localization were usually quirky, anime-flavored RPGs that were colorful and distinctive. Working Designs became known for a translation style that often took liberties with the source material, imbuing the dry, Japanese text with a goofy sense of humor and American pop culture references.

growlanser.jpgNever prolific, Working Designs took its time with each release, often producing enhanced versions of games whose American packaging exceeded the original Japanese. Much effort went into creating color manuals that were printed on heavy card stock with foil stamped covers and several games came with fold out maps and stickers. Their Playstation releases of Lunar, Lunar 2, and Arc the Lad came in boxes with hardcover manuals, maps, soundtrack CDs, and making-of movies, and a variety of other curios. Working Designs’ final release was Growlanser Generations for the Playstation 2. Published in 2003, the game came in two versions. One priced at regular retail, and the other a deluxe boxed edition that included a soundtrack CD, playing cards, jewelry, and a watch.

Fetish

Games are like books. I know I’ll never be able to read them all. Sometimes it’s enough to just take them down from the shelf and run my finger along the spine or feel the embossed texture of the title. Smell the gloss on the jacket. Maybe read a page or two. Sometimes. That’s enough.

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]

December 21, 2006

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Military Madness

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. Nintendo’s Wii has been on the shelves for a several weeks and interest in its Virtual Console feature is growing. Now that Military Madness has just been released for the Virtual Console, let’s take a look at Hudsonsoft’s strategy gem.]

Lunacy

military_madness_boxart.jpgNEC’s TurboGrafx-16 (known as PC Engine in Japan) has a special place in the hearts of collectors. Brought to America in late 1989, the TurboGrafx-16 was the underdog of the fourth generation consoles and struggled for life against the much more popular Genesis and Super Nintendo systems. Saddled with a complex variety of models, formats, and peripherals and a limited catalog of primarily Japanese games that most Americans were unfamiliar with, the console limped along for a few years before being consigned to the dustbin of history. Sad, but not too many tears were shed. However, all of the qualities that worked against TurboGrafx-16 in the marketplace make it irresistible to collectors and one of the key titles for TG-16 enthusiasts would have to be Military Madness.

Developed by Hudsonsoft and released in 1989, the game carries the somewhat more dignified title of Nectaris in Japan. Its narrative set up is good guys versus bad guys, slugging it out in a science fiction war on the surface of the moon.

At its core, Military Madness’ turn-based strategy is very basic. Each unit on the play field has an attack strength, defense strength and a movement allowance. In combat these factors are modified by terrain and encirclement. Over time, attack and defense erode as the unit suffers losses, although this is offset somewhat by the hardening of experience. Also, some unit types are weaker or stronger against other unit types to keep things interesting.

The game can be seen as a refinement of a wargame formula first articulated in 1986 by System Soft’s Daisenryaku and later employed by games such as Panzer General and Iron Storm. But it is the elegance and simplicity of Military Madness that sets it apart from other similar titles. While the game’s mechanics are easy to understand, better put a pot of coffee on because mastery will take some time.

Military Madness is also blessed with an excellent AI opponent. Aggressive but good at playing defense when necessary, the AI is flexible and surprisingly life-like. As the game’s minor-key soundtrack turns quietly in the background, it is easy to imagine yourself facing off against a devious cybernetic mind, cool and subtle. Death comes quickly in the hard vacuum of Mare Nectaris.

Monomania

military_madness01.jpgSearch for Military Madness online and expect to pay about $35 for a complete copy. Games for the PC Engine/TG-16 came on a format called a HuCard which was also called a TurboChip in America. It was a chip embedded in a thick, plastic card about the size of a credit card. The cards were stored in custom CD jewel cases with booklet inserts and then packaged in cardboard boxes about half the size of the old CD long boxes. Although the cards are mostly indestructible, all the extra packaging has a tendency to go missing, so pay a lot less if you are buying just the card by itself.

Over the years there have been a number of versions of the the original Nectaris. In 1992 it was ported to the NEC-98 and Sharp X68000, two popular Japanese micro computers.

A sequel called Neo Nectaris was released on CD-ROM for the PC Engine DUO in 1994. In Neo Nectaris battles were fought across a martian landscape with a variety of new units. The game was further enhanced with detailed animations and a CD audio soundtrack. Unfortunately, the TG-16 was pretty much dead at that point so it never received an American release.

A PC DOS version was created by a German developer in 1995. It was unusual in that it was complete remake done under license from Hudsonsoft. A Windows 95 port of the PC Engine version was released for Japan in 1997.

Japan also got a Gameboy version in 1998. Nectaris GB included a map editor and a feature called GB KISS that enabled data to be swapped between games via infrared ports built into the cartridges. It also took advantage of Hudson’s GB KISS LINK peripheral, an infrared modem that plugged into a personal computer, allowing game data to be shared from the cartridge and a hard drive.

In 1998 Jaleco published a Playstation remake of Military Madness for America called Nectaris: Military Madness. It was largely the same game as the original, padded out with an abundance of extra maps and a map editor. The graphics were upgraded in places and polygon battle scenes were added. Visually, the end result was not entirely successful. The maps had a blurry, smoothed over look and the battle scenes dragged an already time consuming game down to a snail’s pace. However, the moody music was intact and the underlying game play was tuned to perfection.

Jaleco packaged Nectaris: Military Madness behind the most generic cover art that I have ever seen and it is unlikely that anyone who wasn’t already familiar with game even bothered to pick it up. As a result, online auctions are probably the best place to find it for around $20.

In addition to the Wii version, Military Madness can also be found on mobile phones. A neat idea, but completing a single map can sometimes take hours of concentration, making the game seem ill-suited for quick, on-the-go play.

Involutional Melancholia

military_madness07.jpgYears ago I had an opportunity to buy a TurboDuo system, still in the box, along with Military Madness, Vasteel, and Dracula X. The owner was going to let the whole thing go for fifty dollars. I passed.

I don’t know why. I probably wanted to spend my money on Descent for the Playstation, thinking that it looked “cool” or something. Oh well. I am beginning to realize that collecting is really about the empty spaces on a shelf, the things that are lost and gone.

My collection can never be complete. I can only attempt to fill varying degrees of absence. It makes me a bit sad when I think about it, but then I remember games are fun to play! So, with Military Madness now available for only 600 Wii points, I won’t be letting this one slip away again.

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]

Images: (C) 2006 Hudsonsoft, Inc. All Rights Reserved

December 7, 2006

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - M.U.S.H.A. - Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we slot M.U.S.H.A. into the Ono-Sendai deck.]

2.07.jpgTexas Radio

Washed out of school, kicking around the Sprawl, trying to live some teenage daydream of drop-tuned guitars and burned out amps. Reading Gibson’s Neuromancer and studying Survival Research Lab videos for secret strategies. Side one of SY’s Sister playing over and over. Smoke the color of rust and smelling of kerosene. A hit of Vasopressin to clear the haze.

Kid Afrika drops by the apartment to show off his new Sega Genesis. These are high grade chips, straight from Chiba City, he says. The vented black plastic, with its ports and expansion slots, looks like pre-war surplus. Here, boot this up, he says handing me a cart. It’s called M.U.S.H.A. - Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor.

Phantasmal Noh

3.10.jpgWelcome to the Retinal Circus. Gekiga sim-stim sets the scene with techno-shred-trash in stereo. M.U.S.H.A. comes on fast, swarming with metal demons and bio-mechanical ghosts. The pace is hard-edged and demanding. You versus the universe and it’s raining shit. Embedded symbols from Noh drama cross-band with sci-fi mecha as the hand-crafted, parallax-scrolling landscape erupts in a frenzy of destruction.

Shooter Heaven

5.11.jpgM.U.S.H.A. was developed in Japan by Compile and published for America in 1990 by Seismic Software. Look for it online and expect to pay around $35 for a complete copy with its box and manual. Pay a lot less if it’s just the loose cartridge.

In its nineteen year history Compile developed a wide variety of software. It was perhaps most famous for creating the puzzle game Puyo Puyo (better known as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine in America) but the company was also behind some fantastic shoot’em ups as well. Titles like Zanac, Aleste, Blazing Lazers, and M.U.S.H.A. helped define the vertical scrolling shooter genre of the late eighties and early nineties.

Unfortunately, when the 32-bit generation came along, the shooter began to fall into disfavor. While developers stayed true to the formalized patterns of shooter design, critics lost patience with a genre that appeared played out and irrelevant. The games were pushed to the margins, little discussed and indifferently marketed to an increasingly niche audience. In recent years Treasure’s Ikaruga received a lot of notice and new shooter games continue to pop up every now and then, but most people pass them by. Compile itself closed shop in 2002. Fans dream of a revival but shooters remain a ritualized form, difficult to get into and all but closed to casual gamers. And maybe that’s the way it should be.

Slot M.U.S.H.A. into the deck. If the A.I.’s on Straylight dream, it probably looks like this. Shooter Heaven.

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]

November 23, 2006

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Yasumi Matsuno

[In its twenty years of publication the Weekly Famitsu has given out only six perfect review scores. It should be noted that two of the six, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII, are the work of Yasumi Matsuno, an under recognized master of game design This week's 'Game Collector's Melancholy' column looks at Matsuno's history in the game biz, highlighting each of his major games.]

The Final Fantasy?

plain6.jpgFinal Fantasy XII was a long time coming. Five grueling years of production had left the development team fractured and depleted. Halfway through, Yasumi Matsuno, the game’s director and writer was forced to step down from his duties because of alleged poor health. There were rumors of internal strife at SquareEnix and in 2005 Matsuno left the company for good. Things did not look promising for Final Fantasy XII...

The March of the Black Queen

Matsuno’s first major work was Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, developed for the Quest Corporation. Joining Matsuno on Ogre Battle were music composer Hitoshi Sakamoto and character designer Akihiko Yoshida, who would remain constant partners with Matsuno throughout his career. Released in Japan on the Super Famicom in 1993, Ogre Battle was a hybrid of turn-based and real-time strategy that was unusual for the complexity of its game play and story. Set in a high fantasy world of wizards and dragons the game followed the rise of a young knight who becomes an emperor. Along the way he must make a great number of practical and moral choices while micromanaging a growing army and ruling over a conquered population. All of these choices have consequences down the line and it is this aspect of the game’s design that seems to most define Matsuno’s aesthetic.

Enix brought the game to America in 1995 but in limited quantities, making it quite difficult to find. Expect to pay at least $50. In 1997 Atlus re-released the game as Ogre Battle: Limited Edition for the Playstation. The conversion was handled by Artdink who put some extra effort into upgrading the graphics although not so much that it could considered a remake. This version sells for as much as $60 and comes with memory card stickers and a fold-out chart.

[Click through for more of Matsuno's major titles.]

Continue reading "COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Yasumi Matsuno" »

November 9, 2006

COLUMN: 'Game Collector's Melancholy' - Rez

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. In the last column we discussed the Panzer Dragoon series so it seems appropriate to stay with the theme for a bit and take a look at Panzer’s Zen tripping spiritual sister Rez.]

Drop the diamond in a groove and let it ride awhile...

In the 90’s Tetsuya Mizuguchi was one of Sega’s rock star designers. Heading up the internal group AM Annex which later became AM 9, Mizuguchi oversaw a series of very successful high velocity racers including Sega Rally Championship, Manx TT Superbike, and Sega Touring Car Championship. As the century closed out, Mizuguchi wanted to move in a new direction and formed United Game Artists in 2000. Drawn to the electric pulse of club music booming out of London and Tokyo, he gathered a diverse group of artists and musicians (including ex-Team Andromeda member, Katsumi Yokota) to create games whose quirky design aesthetics would be informed by Electronica and Turntabilism.

Hyperaesthesia

stg1_02b.jpgOne of the most unique games to emerge from Mizuguchi’s experiment was Rez, an esoteric mix of rhythm and color. Characterized (unfairly I think) as a shooter, Rez can seem a little austere to the uninitiated. At first glance, it seems to be an artifact from an alternate future in which the Vectrex became the dominant home console. You see a simple figure traveling along a fixed path, riding a current of metronomic dance music while shooting at abstract objects that rise up from a geometric landscape. The sound of laser fire is replaced by the ticking of a snare drum and explosions are sublimated into synthesizer blips. Interesting, but nothing that is going to change your life.

However, spend some time with Rez, focus your attention and be amazed as it reveals itself to you. Iterating wire frame, laser light show images grow in complexity as you progress through the game, over saturating your retinas. The music’s relentless beat rises in intensity as overlapping synth lines stitch tighter and tighter. The targets spinning around propagate exponentially until the screen is a crazed riot of boiling color. It is at this point that your senses open and you are shot through the forehead by a diamond bullet.

Everything in its right place

stg2_16b.jpgAfter playing Rez late one evening, I went to sleep and had a strange dream in which everything that passed before my eyes was highlighted and selected. Cars, people, trees, dishes on a table, all marked and arranged by a ghostly cursor. When I woke up I had a new insight into Rez’s appeal. I realized that the game was not really about shooting things. Rather, it presents a chaotic loom of information and requires players to rapidly identify and organize the rush of sensory data pouring into their cortex, separating meaning from noise. It is a uniquely computer age experience.

Score Attack

Rez has a complicated publishing history. Arriving in Japan late 2001, Rez was released for both the Dreamcast and Playstation 2. At the time Sega of America was so busy pulling out of the Dreamcast market that they did not even bother publishing it for the aborted console, instead waiting until early 2002 to bring Rez to the Playstation 2. However, Europe received a simultaneous release for both the Dreamcast and Playstation 2 in 2002.

If you are looking for Rez on the Dreamcast, Europe is your best bet. In Japan, Rez had an initial print run that included a large number of defective discs so good copies are hard to find. Instead, search online auctions for the European version and expect to pay around $65. PAL discs will work fine in your NTSC Dreamcast although you will need a mod chip or boot disc to bypass the territorial lockout. You will also want the Jump Pack for your controller and the game features undocumented support for the Dreamcast Mouse. While you are kitting out your Dreamcast you might as well locate a VGA adapter so you can output Rez to a high quality monitor.

stg3_02b.jpgThe Playstation 2 version of Rez is more readily available. In addition to the regular game, a special package was sold in Japan which included a vibrator that plugged into the PS2’s USB port. Called the Trance Vibrator, the device throbbed and pulsed in sync with Rez’s thumping music. No one was quite sure what its official purpose was, so users were left to er... tickle their fancy in whatever manner they saw fit. Manufactured by ASCII, the Trance Vibrator was also sold separately and could be used with Disaster Report and another UGA game Space Channel 5: Part 2. The Special Package of Rez auctions for around $65. The Trance Vibrator by itself is no longer made and will fetch about $35. In 2003, Rez was reissued in Japan as a budget priced “Playstation 2 the Best” game.

A Japanese CD of remixed selections from the Rez soundtrack was published as part of the “Gamer’s Guide to...” series and can be imported for around $25. Analog loyalists may want to search for the Rez OST on vinyl.

Here in America, Rez had a small print run and made little impression on buyers. As a result, finding used copies in stores was difficult and Rez’s auction price had become very inflated. Fortunately, Game Quest Direct stepped in and arranged with Sega to reprint the game, making brand new copies available online for $44.99. A used copy of Rez can now be acquired for a very reasonable $25.

Go to synaesthesia

stg4_04b.jpgUnited Game Artists’ life span was a short one. By 2003 they were merged with Sonic Team and Mizuguchi left to form Q Entertainment, his first company independent of Sega. Since then he has been busy producing hit games for portables like Lumines and Meteos as well as the recent Ninety-Nine Nights for the Xbox 360. A sequel to Rez is supposed to be in the works for one of the new generation consoles. I can only hope that the lightning bolt of enlightenment will strike twice.

Further Reading: Go To Synesthesia... Jake Kazdal’s Journey Through The Heart Of Rez interview by Matthew Hawkins, Gamasutra, May 6, 2005

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]

Images: (C) SONIC TEAM/SEGA, 2001

October 26, 2006

A Game Collector's Melancholy: The Panzer Dragoon Franchise

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week's column looks at the eminent Panzer Dragoon series.]

Panzer Dragoon

pd.jpg The year is 1995 and you are walking through a department store looking for the VCRs. Strolling past a Sega Saturn demo kiosk, you spot Panzer Dragoon out of the corner of your eye. Transfixed for a moment, you watch as a dragon swoops under a strange airship, spitting bolts of energy, tearing off huge chunks of metal which tumble and collide overhead just like that dream of a plane crash you had once. Even though you left all that video game stuff in the past, you couldn’t help but be fascinated. Panzer Dragoon was very different, hinting that games, instead of being relegated to the back closet of childhood, were about to become something really important.

Created by Team Andromeda, one of Sega’s newly-formed internal development groups, Panzer Dragoon was an early release for the Saturn console. A showcase for new 32-bit technology, the game featured gorgeously rendered cinemas, a lush, orchestrated soundtrack, and sweeping, dramatic camera moves afforded by the power of real-time polygon rendering. Although a short and relatively simplistic shooter, Panzer Dragoon seemed to inhabit a living environment that existed beyond the confines of the the TV screen.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the planet has been rendered unrecognizable by genetically-engineered super technologies, Panzer Dragoon was a sophisticated mix of 60’s and 70’s science fiction filtered through the visual sensibilities of the French comic magazine Metal Hurlant. The world of Panzer Dragoon was dense, alien, and endlessly compelling. Acknowledging their creative debt to European illustrators, Team Andromeda commissioned Jean Giraud (Moebius) to provide image art for the Japanese release.

Panzer Dragoon II Zwei

pdzwei.jpg Panzer Dragoon was a commercial success and Team Andromeda followed with Panzer Dragoon II Zwei in 1996. Expanding on the promise of the first game, Zwei was a refinement in every sense. The game engine was enhanced to provide a smoother frame rate. The graphics were an explosion of retina sizzling color and the somber narrative was as memorable as the game play. As a shooter, Zwei was regarded as one of the finest. With elegant control and visual drama, it fully satisfied the pleasures of reflex and spectacle.

At the same time that Zwei was being developed, a smaller group within Team Andromeda began work on different game that would expand the franchise into new territory. As Zwei finished up, the entire team came together to create an unusual RPG called Panzer Dragoon Saga. It seemed strange for an action game to transition into cerebral role playing but the complex setting of Panzer Dragoon provided a rich background around which designers wove an epic tale.

Panzer Dragoon Saga

pdsagacover.jpg Panzer Dragoon Saga was a role playing game unlike any other. A work of true creativity, Saga dispensed with most of the standard fantasy tropes that defined RPGs over the years and instead dug deep into its own mythology to create an experience that was challenging and literate. Its game play was amazingly fun, eliminating much of the tedium that is associated with RPGs. The visuals were opalescent, almost fevered in their intensity, redolent of hashish and black light. A pulsing, electronic soundtrack underscored Saga’s oneiric vibe.

Unfortunately, circumstances were not kind to Panzer Dragoon Saga. By the time of its release in 1998, the market had shifted overwhelmingly in favor of Sony’s Playstation and retailers had all but abandoned the Saturn. As a result, Sega of America made little investment in the game’s release and with only 30,000 copies printed, Panzer Dragoon Saga quickly fell by the wayside. As Sega restructured in preparation for the Dreamcast, Team Andromeda dissolved and many of its staff joined new Sega groups including Smilebit, United Game Artists, and Artoon.

Panzer Dragoon Orta

pdorta.jpg Over the next few years, the torch for Panzer Dragoon was kept burning by fans and Panzer Dragoon Saga achieved cult status as the Greatest Game You’ve Never Played. Responding to the undiminished affection for Panzer Dragoon, Smilebit created a new game in 2003 called Panzer Dragoon Orta for Microsoft’s Xbox. Orta returned to the series roots as a shooter and utilized the new console’s graphic horsepower to push Panzer Dragoon’s hallucinatory imagery to its limits. As a bonus, Orta included a port of the Windows version of the first Panzer Dragoon game.

An Ancient Recording Device

Collecting the Panzer Dragoon series is relatively easy, with the exception of Saga. Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon II Zwei were both heavily marketed and sold well so copies should not be difficult to find. Panzer Dragoon is worth $20 and Zwei a bit more at $30. On the other hand, Panzer Dragoon Saga is extraordinarily difficult to acquire at a reasonable price. With its limited numbers and lofty reputation, expect to pay around $150 for Saga if you buy online. Be aware that Panzer Dragoon Saga contains four discs in a standard case, one on the spindle and three in cardboard sleeves.

With all Saturn games, the condition of the jewel case is very important as they are not replaceable. Panzer Dragoon Orta is still easily found at any place that sells used games so don’t pay more than $15. A soundtrack CD for Orta was released by Tokyo Pop although it is now out of print so search through used music outlets and expect to pay about $10. Completionists may want to seek out Panzer Dragoon for Windows PCs published by Expert Software, Inc. in 1997. This version is considered inferior and probably not worth more than $6.

I found my copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga at a used game store for $15. I tell you this not to gloat but to encourage everyone to put the legwork in and dig through the shops. Online auctions are not the only answer. Although the chains have long ceased buying used Saturn games, independent game stores can still be a good place to look.

pdjpn.jpg Across the Pacific, a wide range of Panzer Dragoon merchandise was sold including books, soundtrack CDs, and other assorted collectables. A Panzer Dragoon OAV was produced in 1996 which was brought to America by AD Vision. Sega created a children’s Panzer game for the Game Gear called Panzer Dragoon Mini in 1996. For the hardcore, Microsoft produced a limited run of 999 white Xboxes to coincide with Orta’s release in Japan. In a promising development earlier this year, Sega of Japan re-released the original Panzer Dragoon as Vol. 27 of its Sega Ages 2500 Compilation Catalog for the Sony Playstation 2. One can only hope that some day Sega will recognize the importance of the entire Panzer Dragoon series, and give this essential piece of game history the wide exposure that it deserves.

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]



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