Friday, 18 January 2013

Frequency 120.85

As I write this, I'm listening to an old jazz record spin on the turntable. I pause after a few lines to look at the candles burning in my living room. In my free hand I'm holding the ring my mother made for me out of the stones from the wedding band my father gave her. Tonight my friends, I need to put all of my faith in circles. I can’t stop trembling.

Like all circles, my story starts where it will stop. From time to time I like to take some time off from work and spend the week hunting for games in my city and its neighbouring towns. One such place is Elizabethtown KY. It’s about an hour’s drive (give or take) from where I live in Louisville KY. There I found a nice little game shop that sold a wide variety of games. We've all seen them before. This shop was owned and operated by the Skaggs family. They were a very down to earth and friendly people. Their daughter Kori is who I would like to share a few words about with you today.

I can remember opening the door to the shop and being greeted with a polite and warm “Hello”, then a bit of a pause. She looked at me and asked where I had come from as she had never seen my face before. I guess E’town is one of those places where everybody knows who you are. After telling her that I wasn't from around there and that I had driven in from Louisville to search for games, she quickly made a comment about how far of a drive it was just to look for games. She also made it clear that I should have called first so as to not waste gas if I was looking for anything in particular. I was then quickly handed a business card with the shop’s phone number to remedy that situation in the future. I felt somewhat at home within that store, I was amongst my people it seemed and Kori as a person felt good to me very suddenly and very quickly.

“What are you looking for?” she asked me. The truth of the matter was I wasn't looking for anything in particular. I told her I mainly collect NES games. It was then that I was directed over to the NES half of the store. Yes, I said half! The collection of NES games there was massive, mostly common ones. I began my long ritual of the old mental checklist, “got it, got it, don’t want it.” It was then that I came by a nearly complete copy of Metal Gear. I picked it up and began to examine it. Everything was there except for the box. Cartridge, Sleeve, Manual, and what’s this? A map! Metal Gear has always been one of my favourite games on the system but after all this time I never knew the game came with a map! I couldn't get over it. I've never seen a map to Metal Gear before. I looked at the price tag on the cartridge. At $9.99 that was a steal for the game alone. I had to have it! Even though I only wanted the Manual and the Map since I already owned a copy of the game itself.

I picked out four more games to make my total a nice and respectable five. I walked up to the cash register and Kori began to total out my purchase. The last game in the stack was Metal Gear. She

looked at it and smiled, “Big Collector like you and you don’t even have Metal Gear?” That made me chuckle a bit. I let her know the truth. I already owned a copy of the game but I was willing to pay the $9.99 for the manual and map alone. That garnered a funny look from her “You mean to tell me that you would spend 10 Dollars on a little book and a map?” I nodded my head in agreement with wallet in hand. She took the map and booklet out of the sleeve and put them on top of my stack of four. “Merry Christmas then, these are on the house.” It was the middle of summer. I was stunned, how cool, I just got a free book and map to Metal Gear plus a good deal on four new games for my collection. As I was driving home from the store I couldn't stop thinking about how kind and generous it was of her to give a complete stranger something so valuable. As it turns out I was also very blind.

Some months went by and I found myself off of work and heading back to the shop on the hunt again. During the whole drive there I thought about how awesome it was going to be to see my new friend Kori again. This time I had a pocket full of cash to support the store and sort of in my own little way show gratitude and thank her once again. When I arrived at the store the door was closed and on it there was a big graphic with white lettering that read “In loving memory, Kori Beth Skaggs 1984-2012.” It was a door I never wanted to open.

Heartbroken, I got back in my car to sit down and collect my thoughts. I couldn't believe it. I lost a friend as soon as I made one it seemed. Even though I couldn't show her my gratitude I resolved to go in there and spend the money anyway. I wanted the family to have it. It was just money which doesn't mean a whole lot in my book but I wanted to show some sort of support for the family. When I entered the mood in the store was very sombre it just didn't feel right. I didn't ask Mr. Skaggs what happened, I didn't need to know and I didn't want to know. All that mattered is that my friend was gone and I didn't get a chance to tell her how much I appreciated what she did for me. Mr. Skaggs mentioned at the cash register that he was selling the store and that it was time for a change. It was the last time I ever set foot in that store.

After returning home that night, I lit a few candles and said a few prayers. I pulled the map she had given me out of the dust sleeve that housed my copy of Metal Gear and began to stare at it. I replayed our conversation over and over in my head then that question came into my mind again. “What are you looking for?”, “What am I looking for?” I thought to myself. After some thought I came to the understanding of the real meaning of my first trip out there. Staring at that map long enough I began to see through it all. She gave me two maps that day. One was for Metal Gear and one was for life. Through that one simple act of kindness and generosity towards a stranger she proved to me that the person I always was is the person I needed to be. I simply just needed to amplify what was already inside. She already knew what life was all about and she was only 27 years old. To this day those of you that really know me know that I don’t hesitate to tell people how much I care about them because you never know when your time with that person is over.

It’s wild to think that you can spend years working next to people and not bond with them at all and then someone you've only spoken to once in your life can bless you with both a lesson and a lasting memory. Look, I've spent a small fortune on video games. We all have, but the most valuable things in my collection didn't cost me a dime.

Kori, I know these words don’t do you justice. I know they aren't worth anywhere near the maps you've given me but it’s the best of what I have to give and I promise you, This Solid Snake is going to continue the mission. God Bless!

Kori Beth Skaggs


Article by Will Sanders (@kyceltsfan)

30 Years old. I have been playing video games for 26 years. I started out playing the Atari 2600 with my uncle when he was 14 and I was 4. Throughout the years I have come to appreciate the way Video games have enhanced my life. They have accentuated the great times and helped me get through the rough times. It is my goal to share with everyone some of my personal stories of playing games and hopefully I will get to learn similar stories throughout my tenure here at future retro gamer. I am also an Avid Reader. I study Japanese Culture, Philosophy, Psychology, Shinto and Zen Buddhism.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

I'm Gonna Feed You to the Shivat!

I like arcade games.

Probably a bit too much.

It's all down to this one arcade I went to many years ago.

Back in the Space Year 1998, I was on holiday with my family in Majorca. For many nights during our stay, we went to a restaurant in Toranova for our meals, and next door was one of the local arcades- the whole of Majorca was littered with them, but this was the one we revisited the most.

Now, at this point in time, the family's Mega Drive and NES collections had been sold off (yeah, I know, I know) so there was little time for 2D gaming in the house. The Nintendo 64 and Playstation were the order of the day (even if I was hilariously late to the party on them, getting them three or so years after they'd come out- this is a pattern I've done my best to continue) so the idea of being blown away by a 2D game from the early 90s wasn't feasible. It was 3D or bust. It's also important to note that, back home, there wasn't really a 'local' arcade (the closest was a 45 minute drive) so for the most part my arcade gaming was done in motorway service stations, on boats, and on holiday. And that one time I went to Sega World in London and played the hell out of Critter Crusher. Every encounter with an arcade machine was potentially my last!

In this little arcade, there were two games that changed my mind about 2D games- one modern, one from the early 90s.

Let's start with the 'classic' one- Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. A scrolling brawler by the masters of the genre, Capcom, released in 1993 and based on the Xenozoic Tales comic book series, it lacks some of the complexities of their later entries in the genre like the fantastic Alien Vs. Predator or their Dungeons & Dragons arcade games- if anything, it's closer to the more basic feel of Final Fight with added techniques like running and team attacks... What it does have is a crazy plot which is surprisingly faithful to the comics it's based on (evil poachers are hunting down dinosaurs, beat 'em up as one of four characters, then stop a mad scientist's dino experiments, also you can totally punch a T-Rex in the face) and a very firm grasp on the term 'over-the-top'. This isn't just in the graphics- which are very good for its time, including comic book-style sound effects displayed on-screen and smooth animation- but the game mechanics too.

To start, in addition to the genre standard weapons like planks of wood and knives, you get to play with pistols, machine guns, grenades, and on one stage, a Cadillac car that you can use to just run everyone over in the stage. Hell, even your respawn animation is a weapon- rockets fall from the sky as you characters shouts "THEY'RE GONNA PAY FOR THIS!" and if you join in a game in progress, you'll spawn with a rocket launcher and ask your friend "NEED A HAND?". The enemies are similarly OTT, including fat poachers with a smoke permanently on the go, horrifying dino-human mutants, and actual dinosaurs that can be your friend and foe alike. The main strength of the game is its frantic pace- techniques like running keep the speed of the game at maximum at all times, and constant scene changes mean it keeps its momentum going until the last stage. While it isn't the most complex brawler around, it has this charm, a result of its over-the-top nature and fast pace, that means you can't hold much against it. Before playing this gem, most of my scrolling brawler experience was the Streets of Rage series on the Mega Drive, which I enjoyed,  so this was a graphical leap forward, and brought back memories of trashing phone booths and eating the roast chicken they left behind. Cadillacs & Dinosaurs helped rekindle my interest in the scrolling brawler- they're the genre I think of first when I think about video games- which lead to me finding similar arcade-only gems like Konami's Violent Storm and Winkysoft's Guardians/Denjin Makai II.

The other game at that arcade introduced me to what's one of my favourite developers these days, SNK- Metal Slug 2: Super Vehicle OO1/II. General Morden and his troops are eyeing up world conquest again, so you've got to stop them, one soldier/war machine at a time. Back then, I had never heard of the series, so I wouldn't have known that the first game was the work of Nazca, a bunch of ex-Irem employees whose collective credits included the likes of In the Hunt and Undercover Cops. Playing those games after Metal Slug is kinda weird because the graphical style is so similar! Metal Slug 2 takes the basics of its 1996 forefather- a run-and-gun influenced by Contra with a focus on vehicles (the eponymous Metal Slug, a jumping tank) found on each stage and a slightly odd sense of humour- and addsa few bells and whistles. For a start, you get to select from four characters- Marco and Tarma from the first game, and Fio and Eri- and this is worth mentioning because your choice of character makes absolutely no difference. It's just who you like the look of! (For the record, I always play as Fio). There's also new vehicles (including a camel and the Slugnoid, a bipedal suit of armour), new weapons (including the ultra-powerful Laser and Fire Bombs) and status ailments (eat too much and you'll get fat, and you can also turn into a mummy).

All the additions from the previous title are just garnish to the main event- the basic game itself. Everything feels inherently right in a Metal Slug game- the control is fluid, it rarely feels unfair when you die (you're not paying attention!) and the massive bosses are some of the best in the genre. Playing in this arcade, I only ever reached beyond the second boss- a gigantic 'tower eater' that forces you to clamber to safety while pumping it full of lead... And getting the hell out of the way when it fires up its screen-feeling laser blast. The game also has my favourite boss fight of any video game, where at the very end you must team up with Morden's goons to take out the Mars People and their gigantic mothership- as Morden's troops help you with shields, tanks and even a Metal Slug, you can see an aerial battle wage on in the background, and the bombastic music in the background gives this fight an odd sense of camaraderie with the people you've been shooting for most of the game. That's rare! The last thing to mention about the game is how gorgeous it looks- this a hallmark of the series, especially in the early titles. It's easy to get distracted by the amazing sprite work! Metal Slug 2 is full of all sorts of lovely details- the baby crawling around the first stage, the hidden genie in the temple, soldiers lazing around on deck chairs and sipping drinks, the aliens on the final level dissolving into green goo... MS2 was my proper introduction to SNK (let's not count the Mega Drive port of Fatal Fury), and beyond their fighting games, I can't think of a better series to use as an introduction to them. Well, except perhaps Iron Tank.

(Of course, you can't mention Metal Slug 2 without pointing out that the game is dogged by slowdown constantly, to the point where Metal Slug X was released, which fixes the slowdown and adds new weapons and enemies. Call it blind nostalgia, but I prefer 2- I'm used to the slowdown, most of the additional weapons in X aren't great, and I dislike the mummy dogs/reused bosses from MS1. Download MS2 for the PS3 and there's an option to disable the slowdown if you like!)

These weren't the only games in that arcade, mind you. Considering what year it was, this place was slightly behind the times, as its roster included the likes of Sega's version of Tetris, Mitchell's Super Pang, Namco's sideshow lightgun game Point Blank, Data East's cartoony yo-yo adventure Spin Master, and another Capcom brawler, The Punisher. One arcade we found on this holiday even had Konami's Track & Field, all the way from 1983! However, it's Metal Slug 2 and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs that had the most lasting effect- playing these games in that arcade kinda blew my mind, as sad as it sounds! I'd assumed that games like these- short, easy-to-pick up affairs- had seen their day, and the lengthier games emerging on the Playstation were going to be the standard of games from now on. The fact that Metal Slug 2 had been released that very year was what shocked me the most- there was still a place for games like this, and I needed to find more of them. Looking back at that time now, of course, it's obvious I hadn't done my homework, as games like this were still very much around, but this was in the pre-internet days (for me at least) where you couldn't look up games like DoDonPachi (released the previous year) and Armed Police Batrider (also 1998) in five minutes.

The main impact these two games- and, let's be fair, the other games in that arcade- had on me was that they really defined my taste in games- a preference to arcade-style overkill and basic-but-satisfying game 'feel'. I want over-the-top action! Ridiculous over-sized bosses! Fairly simple but meticulously well-honed game mechanics! (That last one's probably the important bit). These are the kinds of things I think of when video games are brought up! They got me right back into this kind of gaming, and as soon as we returned from that holiday I began looking into getting the Mega Drive and NES collections back up to snuff, finding all the games I'd missed along the way, and finding out about companies like SNK and others like them- this included another pretty influential game and developer, as my brother loaded up a Mega Drive emulator and asked "Hey, you heard of this game? It's called Gunstar Heroes. It's kinda nuts, you wanna see?" when we got home. It'd be foolish to say that games with this ludicrous arcade spirit aren't still around- the Earth Defence Force series and anything put out by Platinum Games fly in the face of that, as do many others- and it's not that I solely play arcade-style games. It's just that those arcade-like qualities are what I look for in my vid-cons, and the source of it is that little arcade in Toranova.

Or, I dunno, maybe I just really dig the sound chips on those arcade boards that you just don't get these days. Neo-Geo Sound Shock, am I right?

As a post-script, years later we went back to Toranova, and that arcade had disappeared. In its place was a bootleg 30-in-1 MAME cabinet. Kinda fitting, I guess.

Article by Ant Cooke

Writer for (it's about old games you remember fondly) and owner of (it's about old games you've probably never played). Fan of video games (usually SNK, Data East and SEGA, and any smaller developers), the Touhous, and knitting. I'm with Rowdy Yates block! Who you fighting with?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Gaming's greatest influences: Super Mario World

The Game That Started It All...

Adversity: the state, condition or instance of continued difficulty or bad fortune. This is the word that my mind conjures up when I think of Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. And this isn't a bad thing. In fact, this very aspect is what made this particular title the "game that made me". Super Mario World holds a magical quality, which, despite it not being my favourite game (or probably even in my top 10 for that matter), is the reason why I fell in love with gaming. Although a journey in itself, this is the game that set me on the path to video game adoration.

Put on those rose-tinted glasses and think back to the early 1990s. It was one fateful Christmas morning that my brother and I opened a rather large present containing a strange-looking device and a few now-classic titles. Among them was Super Mario World. For the first few weeks, my brother and I spent most of our time either battling the Foot Clan in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time or firing off red shells in Super Mario Kart. Super Mario World was never a game that immediately caught my attention, which is strange given that it is a quality title. Perhaps I was too young to realise this, but needless to say, when games were extortionately priced and pocket money couldn't feasibly cover the cost, Super Mario World found its way into my SNES console more out of necessity than through choice.

Jumping for Joy

There's a good possibility that said necessity was, in fact, fate or some other pre-determined force, because Super Mario World quickly grew on me. What starts as a relatively simple game turns into a fairly tricky platformer by the time you're facing King Bowser on the top of the castle.

There's no denying that Super Mario World isn't a revolutionary title - it is essentially Super Mario Bros. 3 Mk II with a lick of new paint and a dinosaur that Mario can ride. Sure, it introduced a lot of new features, and built upon previous ones, but to call it ground-breaking would be an overstatement. However, I had never really experienced video games before this time and so I had nothing to compare with Super Mario World.

I suppose Super Mario World was the first thing that truly highlighted the concept of failure for me. When you're a child, it's not really a term you're entirely familiar with, especially when life is free of the complications and stresses we now face in our adult lives. But Super Mario World taught me about life and death (albeit in a rather subtle, cartoonish way) and that life sometimes isn't fair (that, or I really needed to time my jumps better). Super Mario World was the first game that did what I love about games: it presented me with a challenge.

It was key in shaping my gaming tastes. Although there are plenty of games that I love to play for the story, I've always been the sort of gamer that much prefers a hefty amount of gameplay over subplots and cool characters. Super Mario World was the perfect gameplay cocktail - it wasn't an unfair mess like many of the games from the period, but it did require persistence and a bit of learning if you wanted to complete it. The tricky levels, such as the Sunken Ghost Ship, are what prepared me for the relentless hardship of Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary difficulty in years to come (a challenge which I relished). The drive to beat every single level was still there in my attempt (with the help of a good friend) to obtain all forty-four entry passes in Konami's Mystical Ninja 2 Starring Goemon.

We all play games for fun and enjoyment, but, ultimately, the purpose of playing most games is to win. Super Mario World was the first game that made me think, "I have to beat this game, I have to win". There are many games in my collection that sit on the shelf unfinished and collecting dust. But more often than not, this is down to the eventual boredom that rears its ugly head, insane or unfair difficulty, or another game coming along and stealing my attention. So while the challenge that Super Mario World presented is a key factor in the beginning of my love relationship with video games, there's more to it than that.

The Next Level

Super Mario World's varying stages of difficulty were accompanied by superb controls and fun gameplay that kept me playing level after level. Was my playthrough fuelled by the insatiable urge to rescue Princess Toadstool after she had been kidnapped at the beginning of Super Mario World's gripping storyline? Of course not, and it's very simple why even today I keep coming back to Super Mario World time and time again: it's fun.

Back in 1990, Nintendo delivered one of the most well-crafted pieces of software it has ever made. Super Mario World was proof of a near-perfect video game (even I'm baffled that it doesn't feature in my top 10) and proved to me how much depth and enjoyment could be had with something that was dismissed by most non-gamers as a complete waste of time. Travelling through the Donut Plains and avoiding dinosaur-inspired enemies on Chocolate Island were memorable gaming experiences not only because they were among my first, but because they evoked so much personality and character. Flawless level design, not to mention that rewarding feeling when stumbling upon a secret area, contributed a great deal towards hooking me on video games for life.

It was hard to imagine back then that video games would get much more sophisticated or fun, but amazingly enough, Super Mario World was only the beginning for me. It secured my trust in an area of interest that had long been vilified and stigmatised by those that cannot understand it. Essentially, it proved that video games were anything but a waste of time. With each game that followed, my skills were tested once more, and each time I successfully finished or won at a game I still had that great feeling of satisfaction in seeing a job well done. Were it not for the adversity that I faced in Nintendo's masterpiece from roughly twenty years ago, I doubt I'd be here writing about this right now. It crafted my tastes, earned my interest and gave me the basis for doing what I love doing best: rising to a challenge.

Super Mario World is the game that not only made me a gamer, but the game that also helped me to learn a little bit more about myself.

Article by Martin Watts (N64 Blog)

Based in Reading, UK, Martin Watts is an aspiring writer with a penchant for Nintendo 64 games. His love affair with the Nintendo 64 began way back in 1997, and he is still fascinated by the system to this day. He also writes for Nintendo Life.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Creation of Heaven and Earth

First published on Crystal Blue Dreams on  13.08.2011

...yours is the Earth, and everything that's in it

Anyone who is or ever has been serious about gaming will tell you that whilst there have been many fine titles knocking about through the years, every now and again, one comes along that is different...and it grabs you in such a way that it never lets go and you never forget it.

In my life, there have probably been five such gems:
  •  Street Fighter II Turbo
  •  Final Fantasy VI
  •  Super Mario 64
  •  Final Fantasy VII
And this one...Terranigma.

For many people, this game may be a touch obscure so let me lay some background down.

Terranigma (or Tenchi SoZo: The Creation of Heaven and Earth, in it's native Japan) is an action RPG for the Super Nintendo. Released in the UK in December 1996, it was the last Enix game to be developed by the mighty Quintet studio (of ActRaiser fame); it was also far and away the greatest. In fact, my adoration for this game is such, that for me it's not only the greatest RPG on the SNES (sorry Square), it's also the greatest RPG there has ever been. I will now try to quantify this seemingly outrageous statement...

A brief warning though, the following text will discuss the game's plot and be potentially ruinous for anyone yet to play through it. It will also probably get a bit mushy...but what can you do?

Ok, the formula for a successful role playing game is not a difficult one: charismatic lead character(s), involving story, interesting none player characters (NPCs), memorable music and many hours of game play...that's it, it doesn't even need to have particularly brilliant graphics (though obviously, it's beneficial). Think of Earthbound as the perfect example of this.

Action RPGs (or ARPGs) are even easier to strike gold with, because unlike their turn based, menu driven brethren, they don't even need to rely on burdensome and complex storylines, a fine example of this being the timeless Legend of Zelda III.

So, not too difficult then. Never the less, the ARPG genre has still managed to inflict upon us some of the most humdrum tripe in video game history. The likes of Lagoon, Lord of the Rings (every version of it) and The Warriors of Might and Magic are all timely reminders of just how wrong things can go if the formula is not adhered to.

Luckily, during the development of Terranigma, there was no chance Quintet and Enix would dare drop the ball.

This was due (in no small part) to the fact that Terranigma was the final instalment in the much celebrated 'Soul Blazer Trilogy', succeeding Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. Whilst these three games are not directly linked to one another, it is evident that they share a common bloodline and heritage. As with both Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia, the mantra adopted during the development of Terranigma was unique, the intricately woven story just as integral as the epic action, and in true Quintet style, both come together seamlessly to produce stunning results. The plot has such depth and intensity in fact that it comfortably surpassed many offerings from the established 'proper' RPG series, such as Capcom's Breath of Fire, Sega's Phantasy Star and even Square's Romancing Saga.

By the time Terranigma was released, the hallowed SNES was nearing the end of it's life span, and in order to give the trilogy the send off it deserved, the proverbial boat was pushed out...far. Boasting a 32mb cart (surpassed in size only by Namco's Tales of Phantasia) Terranigma pushed the system to it's limits, demonstrating just what that little grey box could do in the hands of genuine miracle workers. Showcasing some of the most impressive visuals and music the 16bit era had ever produced, Terranigma also managed to put many PSX, Saturn and indeed N64 games to shame.

Onto the game itself then, and sometimes it's clear within 30 seconds or so of just turning a game on that it's going to be a bit special...Terranigma certainly belongs in this category.

The introduction sequence tells of a foreboding tale, about how the two opposing wills of the planet (light and dark) were locked in a raging and never ending battle, and how they were eventually to become known as 'god' and 'devil'. And although, the will of the lightside enabled the evolution of life and rapid technological progress, the will of the darkside bred constant disharmony and fear. This cycle of rise and decline continued until the culmination of the age old battle, which subsequently wiped out all life on the surface and even sunk the continents. These scenes, accompanied by a glorious musical score, give the player a brief glimpse into the colossal tale that is about to begin.

Our epic saga actually begins, strangely enough, on the inside of the planet (and actually in a fairly standard way), in a small village called Crysta. You take control of Ark, an adolescent boy with a penchant for mischief (albeit the lovable kind). He sports the obligatory RPG spiky hair and outlandish threads and spends his days idly causing trouble for the village’s inhabitants. I must mention at this point that Crysta has, without doubt the most wonderful theme music of any RPG village...honestly, go have a listen. Anyways, Ark's mischief making and curiosity eventually leads him to open the village's archetypal forbidden door, freeing a strange pink blob like creature (called Yomi) and mysteriously freezing the entire population with the exception of Ark and the village Elder...Pandora's box is now open.

What happens from this point on propels Terranigma onto a level that most game designers don’t even know's honestly that good.

Armed with nothing more than a spear and a magic box, Ark must leave his home and embark on an epic quest that will not only restore life to his friends but eventually to whole world.

After moseying about the underworld for a bit (which has one of the most epic map themes ever by the way), Ark then journeys to the surface to begin the daunting task of resurrecting all life on earth.

It's worth me mentioning at this point, that Terranigma never received a release in North America. I think the official reason given was that Enix had shut it's offices there in 1995 due to dwindling sales and so there was no one to publish it...however, when it came to Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Nintendo actually published the game themselves. This brings us to the real reason for a lack of US release: the content of the story. Terranigma's plot covers issues such as religion, reincarnation and the resurrection of life, gods and demons. As we all know, this kind of subject matter never goes down well in the US, hence Nintendo's understandable reluctance to publish it in the territory.

Now far be it from me to preach to anyone about what they should believe in, but I find it a genuine travesty that so many gamers will have missed out this masterpiece, and mostly because of a stubborn and unwavering belief in something as archaic and broken as Christianity. Rant over.

Moving on...

When you arrive at the surface you're greeted by a barren, red wasteland (think Mars from Total Recall), and the scale of the task in hand is revealed. After resurrecting the Ra tree (the giver of life to plants, trees and all things horticultural), the world is once again carpeted in the glorious green of life (at this point it also gains what is the most epic of map themes), and it really exemplifies the contrast between the surface and the underworld...the lush greenery and vibrant life is certainly a far cry from the frozen tundra and rivers of magma that surround Crysta.

You then proceed with the resurrection of birds and animals, and Ark has the really neat ability to speak with all living creatures (even down to the plants!), along the way this capacity sparks some genuinely amazing scenes. For instance, because there are no humans about yet, Ark must make use of the birds to get from continent to continent. This means we are treated to a wonderfully sweeping mode 7 map complete with Ark being carried half way around the world by a seagull! You must also accompany the future king of beasts (Leim the Lion) while he attempts to pass a trial that will prove he is worthy of his soon to be inherited mantle...small touches like this actually make you care about the NPCs that you encounter during the game, and what happens to them later on.

The resurrection of humans is next on the agenda, and this is where the story really opens up. You have the ability to (literally) shape the course of human evolution...a bit like a god, no? Travelling around the world (to real countries and continents no less), and nudging the humans in the right direction by assisting the greatest minds and personalities (such as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henri Matisse and Sven Hedin), Ark's mission is to push the fledgling human society to achieve further growth and prosperity.

Once humanity is back on the map, there are so many ingenious ways to interact with it's populace and help them to progress the civilisation. Check out this unique little list for starters:
  • You can actually vote in the Loire elections, voting for the right candidate means the city will prosper, leading it grow and expand
  • Help to build a bridge across the Colorado River, thus encouraging foreign trade in America
  • Get directly involved in the development of ground breaking technologies such as the camera, the telephone and the aeroplane! 
  • Actually buy your own home...and furnish it (my personal favourite)
Obviously as the human race progresses, the effect it has on the world around it is profound (just as in reality), and this is shown in the game's strong sense of conscience. For example, if you assist the town of Sun Coast with it's quest for expansion and thus greater tourism, you will then find then find a zoo that has become home to all the wild animals that you once befriended (including a certain king of beasts). Because the growth of the city and the thirst for greater exposure has taken the animals' natural habitats away from them, they are now forced to live in captivity...a young child even remarks that they look "sad" (heartbreaking I know). You actually have to weigh up the consequences your actions will cause, do you aid human evolution (benefiting you also, in terms of supplies etc) and help them to achieve their goals, or do you ensure the freedom of the creatures that you once called friends and comrades? This plethora of moral decisions made Terranigma truly revolutionary amongst it's peers.

After all this has taken place, there are then some fairly shocking events and revelations which edge the world back toward disaster once again. The true identity of both Ark and the evil that threatens the earth once again is revealed...but I won't spoil that for anyone. It's something that has to be experienced first hand.

The issues raised and discussed in Terranigma always fascinated me, and are made all the more impressive when you consider that Final Fantasy VI, Square's 1994 flagship SNES title (from a series known for it's unrivalled story lines) was lauded at the time of it's release for broaching subject matter such as (amongst others) teenage pregnancy, genocide and slavery. If we take a look at some of the topics covered in Terranigma, a 'mere' ARPG, we find: life and death, ecology, love, grief, betrayal, politics, economics, sacrifice, religion, rebirth and insanity. To me, this was truly staggering, and the emotions that such content can produce are frankly remarkable, especially when you consider that it was all done back in 1995.

This kind of thinking was actually a common theme amongst Quintet/Enix offerings at the time (though usually to a lesser extent), and the often harrowing scenes depicting the eternal struggle between the light and the dark, won both companies an army of die-hard fans along the way. In fact it is a point of view not disimilar to that found in many films by Studio Ghibli, insofact that the characters are never just black and white (take note Disney). The protagonist will often also harbour a darker side to them and vice-versa for the antagonist, this is an attempt at paralleling real life, and one which struck a cord with many gamers.

I genuinely struggle to translate my love for this game into mere words, there are so many parts of it that leave me completely speechless. From the vibrancy of Evergreen with it's enchanting soundtrack (a place that I tend to stay in for hours) to that final day in Crysta, which has to be the most bitter-sweet moment in gaming that I can think of...with what is by far the sweetest music of the entire game (if not of any SNES RPG). I defy any gamer to play Terranigma and not be at least slightly moved by it's emotional majesty.

The afore mentioned final day in Crysta is one of those rare moments in gaming that you simply do not want to end. And for me it is up there with the death of Aerith (Final Fantasy VII) and the resurrection of  Gremio (Suikoden) as one of gaming's biggest 'lump in the throat' moments.

Because I don't wish to totally ruin the ending, I'll just say that the credits sequence beautifully caps off this momentous quest, and it is tinged with a sadness that you only get when you know you're at the end of a very special journey. What happens after the credits finish rolling is very much open to interpretation, but I know what I think...

And so, even after all this written meandering, I've only barely scratched the surface of what Terranigma really is...and it must surely go down as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. The biggest tragedy when I look back is that it was never experienced by more...but then I guess that makes the lucky ones (me included) even luckier.

Given it's lack of release Stateside, and that it performed poorly in the rest of the English speaking world, Terranigma is now considered to be very rare. I've seen complete examples push £150 on auction sites, so it is a pricey investment...however, once again, I implore those who can to go and get a copy. For everyone who can't drop that kind of money, I would advise turning to the emulation community for help, it may be a more nefarious way of experiencing this game, but trust me, it'll be totally worth it. It is no understatement to say that this game did for the action RPG what Final Fantasy VI and VII did for the traditional RPG...and you can't say fairer than that.

Good luck with the resurrection of the world.

The Prelude

Hello, friends (to be said in the voice of Taj from Diddy Kong Racing)!

I often find myself prattling on about that rare and elusive breed of video know, the one which has such a profound effect on you that you start saying stuff like "it's memories will never be lost"? The one that actually influences the way you look at other games and in some cases, certain aspects of your life? Yes, that one.

Hopefully you're still with me...

I've noticed recently that I'm not alone with these feelings, so I got to thinking that this would present a fantastic opportunity to collate and share the gaming experiences of as many people as possible...hence this blog.

The pieces posted here will be hopefully represent a diverse spectrum of people; from the avid video game nut to the most casual of players, from both males and females and with thoughts ranging from jargon-laden to tearfully emotional (that might be me!). Most importantly though everything will be unedited (except for spelling), and I hope this will offer an insight into just how much a "mere video game" can affect a person.

If you would like to add your own experiences to this collective then do get in touch or leave a comment. Please bear in mind though that the vast majority of people posting here (myself included) are not writers by profession, so don't go getting all angry because there is a comma out of place or you disagree with an opinion.

Anyways, a bit about me:

My name is Paul and I will be running the blog. I'm 31 years old and have been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64. In gaming terms I am happily stuck in the 90's, where I spend most of my time deep in obscure Super Famicom RPGs and bizarre 2D fighting games. Follow me on Twitter for ramblings about Hori controllers, an unhealthy love for SNK and general retro chit-chat.