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Moonspeak 1982-1987 - The Birth of Japanese RPGs, re-told in 15 Games

felipepepe

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So, was researching about the birth of JRPGs for the CRPG Book, and noticed a lack of "introductory articles", something that would briefly explain the whole scenario - hardware, early games, etc...

It's weird, seems like there's a massive gap - either you have kids on youtube talking about how Dragon Quest Final Fantasy invented gaming, or autistic insider-only debates about how an obscure shitty game had its logo changed from the PC88 version to the PC98 port...

I tried to bridge those, and here's the result: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/Feli...Birth_of_Japanese_RPGs_retold_in_15_Games.php

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Computer RPG History is poorly kept in the West.

The stories told rarely goes beyond "Richard Garriott made Akalabeth – and there was much rejoice".
And that's with everyone speaking English, developers still being around, many books on the subject, and impressive efforts like emulators, the Internet Archive and Cyber1.

In Japan is way, way worst.

Few care about ancient Japanese PC games, emulation is difficult, the language barrier is overwhelming, trusty sources rare and companies have little interest in the crude titles of their youth.

As such, the origins of JRPGs are told as "Enix made Dragon Quest – and there was much rejoice desu."
Since I'm currently: a) living in Japan, b) creating a book on CRPG History, and c) unemployed, this seems like a perfect opportunity to tackle the subject with a handy guide to the origins of JRPGs.


Part I - The Glorious Japanese Tech

Forget PS4 vs. Xbone, or Nvidia vs. ATI. Back in the 80's, choosing hardware was serious business.

The Apple II, IBM-compatibles, Spectrum ZX and C64 held entirely different software, graphics, games, resources, prices, friends, romantic opportunities, etc... There are dusty old gravestones along untraveled roads which simply read "Bought a Coleco Adam".

In glorious Nippon, an early 80's gamer would have to pick between the Famicom (aka NES) or three mythical 8-bit machines we only hear whispers about: the PC-8801, the Sharp X1 and the FM-7:

tCxtZBi.png


Now, I'm in no way qualified to talk about the technical aspects of Japanese 80's hardware – I advise you to check this page for more info – but the gist of it is that, since the Japanese language uses crazy moonrunes full of details like 綺麗薔薇, their computers needed a higher resolution to display them. It was not about having fancy graphics, but about allowing people to read & write their own names.

So, while they struggled to render moving sprites (just look at this poor PC-8801 trying to run Mario Bros.), they could display still graphics that were years ahead of the western PCs.

For comparison, here's the title screens of two RPGs from 1984: Questron running on the Apple II, andHeart of Fantasy / 夢幻の心臓 running on the PC-8801, :

IxvTYNZ.png


Humm.... the Questron dude looks really happy with his castle, but still...

Similarly, here's two early text adventure games with still images – The Dark Crystal, part of Sierra's Hi-Res Adventures, and Enix's ザース / Zarth – both from 1983:

xiJ9UjG.png


Looking at this, it's perfectly understandable why western developers like Infocom went "eh... let's keep doing text-only games", while Japan was like "THIS IS AWESOME! We should make a whole genre out of cute girls with text beneath them! We'll call them Visual Novels!"

(Curiously, Sierra's King's Quest games never made into Japan... a matter of taste, business or tech?)

Anyway, with this technological prelude out of the way, let's jump into zeh games!

Part II - 1982/1983 - The Early Years

Where does one begin when talking about the first Japanese RPGs?

Well, with some game from 1982/1983. Problem is, no one knows which.

Dragon and Princess / ドラゴンアンドプリンセス is often pointed as the first RPG made in Japan, and it's particularly interesting for being a party-based game with top-down tactical turn-based combat (before Ultima III popularized such combat system), but at its core it's a text-adventure game:

UiIUWF5.png


This excellent Japanese forum thread will tell you that Koei's Underground Exploration / 地底探検 predates all other games, but again, it's hard to call it an RPG:

wKgt8p8.png


King Khufu's Treasure / クフ王の秘密 claims to be a "Roll Playing Game" and looks like a Temple of Apshai clone, but I couldn't find any analysis, video or disk image of it anywhere:

FAZHEFY.png


There are others: Mission: Impossible / スパイ大作戦, a spy-themed Adventure game; Dragon Lair / ドラゴン・レア, a mysterious game that might not even be Japanese; Genma Taisen / 幻魔大戦, based on a manga of the same name, Arfgaldt / アルフガルド, another text-adventure, etc...

I cannot write about this subject without also mentioning Seduction of Condominium Wives / 団地妻の誘惑, Koei's erotic RPG about a condom salesman visiting an apartment block, where he must knock on doors trying to "sell his products", while battling Yakuza and ghosts who roam the halls:

jgHLS7r.png


It's interesting many of these games already call themselves "Role-Playing Games", even thought few of them have traditional features like stats, XP, level ups, classes, etc. I believe this quote by Tokihiro Naito (creator of Hydlide), found in The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Vol. 2, best represent the spirit that dominated Japanese game development at the time:

"Back then, Japanese people didn't have a well-defined sense of the RPG as a game genre. I suspect that because of this, the creators took the appearance and atmosphere of the RPG as a basic reference, and constructed new types of games according to their own individual sensibilities. In my case, I never had the opportunity to use an Apple II, so I was completely unaware of Wizardryand Ultima."
Even those who knew western games were doing experimental titles. Nihon Falcom began in 1981 as Apple importers in Japan, so they had access to the Apple II and its games. Later becoming developers, they jumped into the genre with Panorama Island / ぱのらま島, an exotic title that uses a hex-based overworld full of traps, plus wire-frame first-person dungeons (with auto-mapping!):

y12u9Uj.png


While it looks very RPG-ish (and pornographic?), and even sells itself as a "Fantasy Role-Playing Game", it lacks core elements like stats, XP, level ups... you only have to manage your food and money. Overall, it plays more like a crazy mix of platform and adventure game.

These are all interesting titles from a frontier age that ended when the genre's conventions were properly established, much like happened in the West in the early 80's. But how to classify them?

Some early games that are undeniably RPGs, such as Sword and Sorcery / 剣と魔法, Legend of the Holy Sword / 聖剣伝説 and Poibos / ポイボス, but they are very obscure, their release dates are uncertain, etc...

Bebbrun.png


The Japanese are also very confused and frustrated by this. As the writers of the excellent Old Gamers History series of books explain (and I badly translate):

"There has been exhaustive debate over which is Japans's first Computer RPG, but no clear answers. The reason is that we don't have clear release dates for some titles, and the RPG genre is difficult to properly classify."
Indeed, as a visit to the RPG Codex will quickly demonstrate, "define RPG" is no simple task.

But enough of this historical "chicken or the egg". Talking about the later, better known games that defined the genre seems like a more productive use of our time, so let's move on.

Part III - Where we finally get a list (which is what people came to see)

As a reminder, there are entire books on this subject and I only have one article, so I'll skip curiosities like コズミック・ソルジャー (Cosmic Soldier), ザ・スクリーマー (The Screamer), ロマンシア (Romancia), ファンタジアン (Fantasian), 闘人魔境伝 ヘラクレスの栄光 (Glory of Hercules), リグラス (Riglas) and クルーズチェイサーブラスティー (Cruise Chaser Blassty) – but curious readers should definitely google those later.

So, without further ado, here's a selection of 15 early JRPGs that shaped the genre:

Dungeon
ダンジョン (December 1983)

The Old Gamers History Vol. 3 book begins their timeline with Kei's Dungeon, claiming it has a known release date and among the early titles it's the one closest to "modern RPGs". It's easy to see why. Instantly familiar to anyone who played Ultima, Koei's Dungeon asks you to pick a class – Warrior, Thief, Cleric, Wizard or Ninja – and explore a large island in search of El Dorado.

JjOVQWB.png


While the towns are oddly text-only, the rest of the game is an impressive programming feat – the graphics are way ahead of their time (OMG, solid walls!), the overworld has a handy mini-map and the island's underground is a MASSIVE dungeon with multiple entry points that's over 250 x 250 squares!

The developers were probably all big D&D fans, as you’ll face Mind Flayers, Frost Giants, Flesh Golems and even the demon prince Demogorgon, awkwardly traced from the rule book:

4SHCDbA.png


Curiously, no beholders. I guess the Japanese also think that 1st ed. beholders look ridiculous.

The Black Onyx
ザ・ブラックオニキス (January 1984)

Henk Rogers (now best-known for his dealings with Tetris) was a Dutch/American RPG fan who moved to Japan and noticed a lack of games like Wizardry. So he decided to create his own.

OulXRKs.png


While not “Japan’s first Role-Playing Game ever!”, as it’s often claimed, The Black Onyx was the country's first popular RPG, selling over 150,000 units, spreading the genre and influencing many developers.

Rogers tells that people didn't understand what RPGs were, so he couldn't sell his game at first. In order to get the word out, he hired a translator and went present the game to computer magazines:

“I sat down with each editor and asked them for their name. I typed this in and then asked them to choose the head that looked most like them. In this way I taught them how to roll a D&D character. Then I left them to play.”
What's also noteworthy is that the game was a pioneer in allowing players to customize their character’s appearance, and even had character's equipment actually show on-screen in their avatars. It also used colored bars to indicate character's health – an idea that would be extremely common afterwards.

Heart of Fantasy
夢幻の心臓 (March 1984)

Mortally wounded in battle, you curse the gods. They listen, and banish you to a dark world of monsters, treasures and adventure. If you wish to return to your own world, you must find the eponymous "Heart of Fantasy". But there's a timer ticking – you have 30,000 days.

XtalSoft's Heart of Fantasy is another game inspired by Ultima, but while Dungeon was very simplistic, this one is a full-fledged adventure. It has a massive open world, several cities, many wire-frame dungeons (with auto-mapping!) fancy enemy graphics, NPCs, quests, spells, equipment and many character building options, as you can spend XP to level up individual stats.

8PBm8kd.png


However, the game is quite difficult and heavy on grinding (a trend we'll see a lot of), forcing players to repeatedly kill farmers and other weak enemies until they can safely taking quests and exploring the world.

Tower of Druaga
ドルアーガの塔 (July 1984)

Conceived as a “Fantasy Pac-Man”, this deceptively simple Namco arcade classic casts you as Gilgamesh, who must climb the 60 floors of the tower and save the princess from the evil Druaga.

In each floor you must grab a randomly placed key and unlock the door to the next floor, avoiding hazards and killing monsters in the way. Combat is done by simply “bumping” into enemies, but some require special items or strategies – ghosts can only be seen if you have a lit candle, for example.



The trick is that each level has a hidden chest, and if you truly want to beat the game, getting those is mandatory. Each item in each floor requires a specific action to be performed. Some are simple: killing three green slimes in Floor 1 wields a pickaxe, which can destroys walls. Cool.

But others are crazy: to reveal the hidden chest in Floor 18, you must avoid touching any walls for 10 seconds. However, the chest is locked and will only open if you have the Unlock Potion from Floor 17, which only appeared if you allowed a Ghost Mage to teleport five times. Inside the chest is the Dragon Slayer sword, but you can only equip it if you got the White Sword from Floor 5, which required you to...

Oh, did I mention there's a time limit? Yeah, no wonder this never made into the US.

(But really, just imagine the arcade strategy debates this generated – and how badass was the kid in school who knew how to get to Floor 42! Ahhh... fuck you GameFAQs, you ruined gaming.)

Widely popular in Japan, its magical items and real-time "bump" combat inspired Dragon Slayer, Hydlide, The Legend of Zelda and many others. Still inspire, if you think of the puzzles some Japanese games have.

Dragon Slayer
ドラゴンスレイヤー (November 1984)

If Tower of Druaga was about uncovering obscure secrets, Falcom’s Dragon Slayer is about grinding.

You’re locked inside a huge dungeon and tasked to slay a dragon, but you start too weak. Your only hope is to slowly explore, finding treasures and bringing them back to your home to increase your stats until you’re powerful enough to actually slay the dragon! And then a new dungeon appears...

9ZmHXrZ.png


Like in Druaga, the game is real-time and you fight by bumping into enemies. There are useful magical items as well, but you can only carry one at a time, so be prepared to backtrack or juggle items back to your house. Optionally, you can also push your house around the dungeon, because why not.

Dragon Slayer is often considered the first Action-RPG ever, since Tower of Druaga didn't actually have stats, level ups and other proper and respectful RPG elements such as grinding.

Falcom eventually created a extensive list of over 60 sequels, expansions and spin-offs of Dragon Slayer, some which we'll mention next, others which you probably know about, like Legacy of the Wizard (1987) and the excellent The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (2004).

Hydlide
ハイドライド (December 1984)

Dragon Slayer stayed inside dull dungeons, but T&E Soft’s Hydlide took the Tower of Duraga formula to a (rather tiny) colorful open world, in an epic adventure where players must explore the land in search of magic items to rescue the princess – after they slowly grind experience, of course.

GfpFlVc.png


A massive hit in Japan, it’s one of the most influential JRPGs of the early 80’s, credited for introducing quick saves and regenerating health (although 1982's Dungeons of Daggorath did it first!)

However, it only reached the West in 1989, two years after The Legend of Zelda had far surpassed it, and was bashed for its mandatory grinding and frustrating difficulty (because, really, fuck this game).

Xanadu
ザナドゥ (November 1985)

While a sequel to Dragon Slayer, Xanadu changes almost everything.

It adds a town where you can train individual stats or buy items from NPCs with gorgeous artwork. Beneath the town lies an expansive maze, which you explore in a platform-like side-scrolling view.

FcnRrdk.png


When you touch an enemy or enter a dungeon, the game changes to a top-down “arena” view, much like what The Legend of Zelda would later use. Combat is still “bump-based”, but the spells, items, equipment and diverse enemies make Xanadu much more engaging than its predecessors.

Zww9yn2.png


Finally, now there are several different boss enemies, which you fight in a unique "boss battle" room.

To this day Xanadu remains Falcom's greatest success: a PC exclusive that sold over 400,000 copies back when computers were expensive and inaccessible. From Zelda to Wonder Boy, it's impossible to look at these pictures and not see the influence the game had.

Heart of Fantasy 2
夢幻の心臓II (November 1985)

The second game improved just about every aspect of the original.

It changed the wire-frame first-person dungeons into scrolling top-down maps, added better graphics, a five-character party and a three large interconnected worlds you can explore – the land of humans, of elves and of demons. It even has a line-of-sight system, where walls and other obstacles block you view:

oS0o398.png


Searching this game online wields many claims that it influenced / was copied by Dragon Quest. Things like the "Ultima exploration + Wizardry combat" mix, the various status effects or the shape of the world map are mentioned, but what stands out is that, while Heart of Fantasy 2 is a PC-exclusive, it abandons hotkeys for an accessible two-button menu-based interface – one of Dragon Quest's defining features.

The Old Gamers History book merely says this is a useless discussion that has been going for too long between fans – both are 2D RPGs who descend from Ultima and took their battle systems from Wizardry.

Regardless, this was a game loved by many, and playing it you can see why. It's a Japanese Ultima – not a mere clone anymore, but a solid title on its own right. If this was released in English back then, it would probably as fondly remember by us as well.

PS: This game totally deserves a fan-translation. wink wink, nudge nudge.

The Legend of Zelda
ゼルダの伝説 (Februrary 1986)

Miyamoto and his team took Hydlide's and Xanadu's formula and showed how to do it right.

drXs6lm.png


They added an attack button, created a huge world full of secrets, designed clever dungeons, puzzles and boss battles, made magic items that actually impact gameplay and got rid of all the stats, XP, levels and grinding (so it's not an RPG, ok?).

In doing so, The Legend of Zelda created a new genre: the Action-Adventure, where the series still rules.

Dragon Quest
ドラゴンクエスト (May 1986)

Dragon Quest was the perfect game at the perfect time – and in the perfect platform.

Created by Yuji Horii, an RPG fan who wished to reach wider audiences, it blended Wizardry’s first-person battles with Ultima’s NPCs and open-world, wrapped in a friendly menu-based interface. Suddenly RPGs no longer required expensive PCs and a huge keyboard (with a "Quick Reference Card" nearby), anyone could play them using the Famicom/NES and its two-button controller!

IZA6Cp6.png


Amplified by Akira Toriyama’s colorful art style, a massive hit was born: Dragon Quest sold over 2 million copies in Japan, spawning a massive series and defining the JRPG genre.

In 1990 Enix published a manga re-telling the game's development, titled Road to Dragon Quest /ドラゴンクエストへの道. Among other things, it shows the developer’s passion for Wizardry and Ultima:

2WGj1rH.png


Ys
イース (June 1987)

A team at Falcom thought CRPGs were getting too demanding, directed only towards hardcore gamers,so they decided to created an Action RPG focused on fun and adventure.

The result is a light-hearted epic saga that’s accessible (it uses a slightly more complex "bump combat”), has some memorable moments and packs one of gaming's best soundtrack.

3kHkb9P.png


While overlooked in the West, in Japan it stands tall as one of the landmarks of the genre, alongside Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. And it's still going, with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana just being released.

Curious readers can read HG101's excellent analysis of the series for more information.

Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei
デジタル・デビル物語 ストーリー 女神転生 (November 1987)

Based on a novel of the same name, Atlus' Megami Tensei stars Akemi Nakajima, a teenage hacker who uses his 1337 h4x0r s|<1llz to summon demons. Shockingly, it backfires.

As the demons – including Lucifer – run out of control, it’s up to Akemi and his girlfriend Yumiko to stop them – fighting the demons, or simply talking to them and recruiting them to your party. A very cool feature is that you can also fuse demons into more powerful demons.

iq8Kya3.png


A cult classic, it receive a great sequels and spin-offs, including the amazing Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (which you SHOULD play) and the now-mainstream Persona series (pfff, posers).

Final Fantasy
ファイナルファンタジー (December 1987)

The story is well known: Square's business were bad and Hironobu Sakaguchi was frustrated with his job, so they bet everything on a massive, "final" adventure, that would either sink or swim.

Building upon the Dragon Quest’s formula, Final Fantasy is a huge game, where four “heroes of light” have to travel the world – by feet, boat and airship – to purify the four elemental orbs.

lImD3L9.png


Unlike its sequels, there isn't much of a story here, and heroes are chosen at the start of the game – you can pick any combination of Warrior, Fist Master, White Mage, Red Mage and Black Mage.

While it didn't sell as much as Dragon Quest, the following series made a lot more success overseas, and ended up becoming the world’s best-know JRPG series.

Sorcerian
ソーサリアン (December 1987)

The fifth title in Falcom’s huge Dragon Slayer series, it expanded the RPG elements, added complex magic, impressive boss battles and a party of four custom characters.

K5Xg5KV.png


It also had a weird job system, where your characters had day jobs – like Carpenter, Cheese Maker, Translator, Barber or even Clown – that would earn them money and different stats increases. So yeah, Sir Grömlash the Despoiler might be a shoe maker when not slaying dragons... gotta pay those bills, yo.

The game was module-based, divided into several quests, and in the following years many “Scenario Packs” were released, some including content made by fans in official design contests.

Phantasy Star
ファンタシースター (December 1987)

Developed by SEGA and often voted the best game for the Master System, Phantasy Star raised the bar for JRPGs with its excellent graphics, memorable cast and by having an evolving story.

RL1igGG.png


As the game starts, a cutscene shows your brother being killed by soldiers of Lord Lassic. And so you, Alis, venture forth to form a resistance and overthrown the tyrant! Along the way, Alis will find three companions – Odin, a brute warrior; Lutz, an arrogant sorcerer; and Myau, a magical cat-like creature.

The game really stands out for its presentation – cutscenes play throughout the story, the party follows the man character on-screen, the first-person dungeons scroll smoothly and are shown full-screen, without any UI to clutter it... I mean, just look at this:



That's not a fake CGI trailer dude, it's actual gameplay, running on a 8-bit console from 1985!

While the other games listed here look pretty simplistic today, with stale "defeat evil" plots and generic / custom characters, Phantasy Star feels like a transition piece, a template for many of the JRPGs that would come in the next decades.

But that's a story for another time...
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Hope you all enjoyed this not-so-quick retrospective, and if you have any doubts, criticism, suggestions or angry rants, feel free to leave them bellow in the comments.

As a disclaimer, information here was collected mostly from the excellent book OLD GAMERS HISTORY vol.3 ロールプレイングゲーム編 1979年~1991年 創, the less-impressive RPG伝説 80年代編, the great work done by folks at Hardcore Gaming 101, my research for the CRPG Book and blogs like The Tower of Retro Game andThe CRPG Addict, from where I stole info & pictures. ごめんなさい ┻┳|・ω・).
[/spoiler]
 

felipepepe

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Eh, I read his book and wasn't impressed. Too much fanboyism, with rants about how Japan is not (NO, IT'S NOT!!!1) creative bankrupt, or how people should stop criticizing Senran Kagura's art, or how he himself is a creative genius that "will not be oppressed by the crowds"... not to mention a good editor could cut those supposed three books into a single, actually readable volume - and hopefully hire a graphic designer.

Instead, from Vol 1 to Vol 2 his great "upgrade" was hiring a DeviantArt-tier artist to make comics on the "funny" stories people told.... like how a guy one day covered the office's air-vent because it was too hot... and that's it. You know, IMPORTANT stuff.

But, above all, I cannot respect an author who SELLS a book with this kind of footnote:

CuLfmLpVMAAM4QW.jpg


He has these introductions were he goes on and on about how important it's to spread information and get the word out, yet on his own book, made with crowd-fund money, he's withholding information to promote another book he didn't even released yet! Fuck him, that's bullshit.

Also, he's a drama lightning rod - fought with everyone from modders to translators to even Frank Cifaldi - and I'm trying to avoid those.

EDIT: Oh yeah, and I've heard from more than one person here in Japan that this guy fucked up some interviews so baldy & spilled his spaghetti over so many companies with his translator drama that now many Japanese devs don't want to talk to foreign "amateurs" anymore. Thanks a lot bro.
 
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AArmanFV

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Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire
A kind of unfair the comparison between Questron and the other game, knowing that Questron is an amateurish work.
 

felipepepe

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A kind of unfair the comparison between Questron and the other game, knowing that Questron is an amateurish work.
And you think Xtalsoft in 1983 was what? A bunch of industry veterans?

Also, here's Ultima III and Gemstone Warrior's title screen, from the same year:

u3pctitl.gif
Thumb_Gemstone_Warrior_-_1984_-_Strategic_Simulations.jpg
 

Gregz

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Mr. Pink

I'm a bit surprised you're going this route felipepepe. The only reason to laud jRPGs would be if they invented a new feature of gameplay that was adopted by subsequent important cRPGs, right?

Said another way, I would think the most interesting part of your exploration of the history of cRPGs (apart from identifying the best) would be to create an influence map, similar to maps like these below.

causal history of science fiction (note how the artist uses bigger fonts for the more influential titles, authors, and genres):

HistSciFi2.jpg
causal history of alt rock:

https://www.wired.com/2016/10/lets-obsess-intricate-map-alt-music-history/

AFAIK jRPGs simply emulated wizardry and other western games, and replaced the characters and settings to match their cultural icons and interests. So, why pursue this?

Dungeons & Dragons, and the subsequent simulation of pnp gaming on computers started in the west. The rest was imitation, in some cases very excellent imitation (Amberstar, Mound & Blade, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Stranger of Sword City, Dark Souls, etc.), but that's another discussion isn't it?
 
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felipepepe

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Said another way, I would think the most interesting part of your exploration of the history of cRPGs (apart from identifying the best) would be to create an influence map, similar to maps like those below.

AFAIK jRPGs simply emulated wizardry and other western games, and replaced the characters and settings to match their cultural icons and interests. So, why pursue this?

Dungeons & Dragons, and the subsequent simulation of pnp gaming on computers started in the west. The rest was imitation, in some cases very excellent imitation (Amberstar, Mound & Blade, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Stranger of Sword City, Dark Souls, etc.), but that's another discussion isn't it?
But then you have stuff like the "bump combat" games - Hydlide, Dragon Slayer, Xanadu, Ys, etc... - while the stats and setting came from D&D and western fantasy, the core gameplay is really derived from The Tower of Duraga, which is this bizarre, highly influential title that is rarely spoken of, even though it's the cornerstone that led to Zelda.

I would say more - Druaga defined Japan's puzzles. They never had classic LucasArt/Sierra-like games - its always barely interactive Visual Novels, or games crazy Druaga-like obscure puzzles.

Also, while Japan never had its "Ultima IV", I do think Phantasy Star focus on unique companions and "cinematic" storytelling paved the way for what w have today, much more than Iolo, Shamino and the other bros from Ultima.

Regardless, this all came out of me wanting to make a small article for the RPG Book on the origins of JRPGs. I spent 3 years asking for help, no one came. So I researched it myself and published it for everyone to read, so that the next person doesn't have to depend on people who are too busy circle-jerking to their own "amazing" knowledge of crappy games no one cares about.

Seriously, people call the Codex a den of scum and villainy, but we're one of the best places on the internet to arrive and ask questions / google old educative threads.
 

Gregz

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But then you have stuff like the "bump combat" games - Hydlide, Dragon Slayer, Xanadu, Ys, etc... - while the stats and setting came from D&D and western fantasy, the core gameplay is really derived from The Tower of Duraga, which is this bizarre, highly influential title that is rarely spoken of, even though it's the cornerstone that led to Zelda.

Interesting.

Also, while Japan never had its "Ultima IV", I do think Phantasy Star focus on unique companions and "cinematic" storytelling paved the way for what w have today, much more than Iolo, Shamino and the other bros from Ultima.

So you're saying that Japan is to blame for the Biowarian cinematic & romance decline. :argh:
 

Mr. Pink

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PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
Also, while Japan never had its "Ultima IV", I do think Phantasy Star focus on unique companions and "cinematic" storytelling paved the way for what w have today, much more than Iolo, Shamino and the other bros from Ultima.

So you're saying that Japan is to blame for the Biowarian cinematic & romance decline. :argh:

I am not an expert on ancient japanese history, but I feel like the emphasis on strong stories in role play games rather than choice comes from the whole "replay" genre of literature that used to be very popular in the 80s-90s where people would write down what happened in their pnp campaigns, and turn them into coherent stories. Record of Lodoss War is an example. These stories brought in a lot of new players who wanted to emulate the epic replays they read rather than make their own scenarios. They were usually written with no forth wall at all, so characters would casually talk about gameplay mechanics. I think newer fans of that created something like a cargo cult where they knew all the terminology of pnp rpgs but have never actually played one.
 

Hobo Elf

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Also, while Japan never had its "Ultima IV", I do think Phantasy Star focus on unique companions and "cinematic" storytelling paved the way for what w have today, much more than Iolo, Shamino and the other bros from Ultima.

So you're saying that Japan is to blame for the Biowarian cinematic & romance decline. :argh:

Nah, Hollywood is probably more to blame for that than anything else. Or maybe it's more fair to say that it is the fault of the boobs who where too incompetent for Hollywood but competent enough to be recruited into the video game industry, so they started infecting us with their desire to create "movies".
 

Zed Duke of Banville

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felipepe said:
So, while they struggled to render moving sprites (just look at this poor PC-8801 trying to run Mario Bros.), they could display still graphics that were years ahead of the western PCs.

For comparison, here's the title screens of two RPGs from 1984: Questron running on the Apple II, andHeart of Fantasy / 夢幻の心臓 running on the PC-8801, :
It's a rather low blow to select an Apple computer as your point of comparison for the West. :M And 1985 would see the release of both the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, with superior graphics.

Building upon the Dragon Quest’s formula, Final Fantasy is a huge game, where four “heroes of light” have to travel the world – by feet, boat and airship – to purify the four elemental orbs.

Unlike its sequels, there isn't much of a story here, and heroes are chosen at the start of the game – you can pick any combination of Warrior, Fist Master, White Mage, Red Mage and Black Mage.
Thief also, in addition to Fighter, Black Belt (monk), White Mage (cleric), Black Mage (magic-user), and Red Mage (fighter/mage/cleric) for 126 combinations. Final Fantasy borrowed so heavily from D&D, it's a wonder TSR didn't sue Squaresoft after the game crossed the Pacific in 1990.

I am not an expert on ancient japanese history, but I feel like the emphasis on strong stories in role play games rather than choice comes from the whole "replay" genre of literature that used to be very popular in the 80s-90s where people would write down what happened in their pnp campaigns, and turn them into coherent stories. Record of Lodoss War is an example. These stories brought in a lot of new players who wanted to emulate the epic replays they read rather than make their own scenarios. They were usually written with no forth wall at all, so characters would casually talk about gameplay mechanics. I think newer fans of that created something like a cargo cult where they knew all the terminology of pnp rpgs but have never actually played one.
Ravenloft_I6-236x300.jpg


Emphasis on storyline in RPGs started with the "Hickman revolution" introduced by module I6 Ravenloft in 1983 and the Dragonlance series of 12 adventure modules from 1984-1986. This in turn was partly the result of the conquest of fantasy literature by Tolkien derivatives that began in the '70s and snowballed in the '80s. CRPGs ultimately reflected a transition that had already occurred in RPGs.
 

Momock

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I would say more - Druaga defined Japan's puzzles. They never had classic LucasArt/Sierra-like games - its always barely interactive Visual Novels, or games crazy Druaga-like obscure puzzles.
You mean puzzles like in La-Mulana, for example? (that I guess is an "hommage" to these kind of old games)
 

Perkel

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"Computer RPG History is poorly kept in the West."

That is false.

1. Not every game is worth preserving same as every note you make or photo. Just because something is made it doesn't mean that humanity should preserve it. Chinese in their times made shitload of knockoffs to popular games (which i personally played btw) i you won't see anyone mentioning them on preserving history discussions.

2. Computer games are better kept than any medium before. You won't find almost any early films or books aside from famous ones from europe and US. On other hand you can find games from early game creation circulating today easily aside from very few.

Better question is: do shit games are worth preserving ? Does shit phone photos are too important. We live in era where every single day there are about 300+ games on iOS alone, milions of photos are made, bilions of texts are written and countless speaches are made.

Look at history as subject. No one teaches about life of a farmer that for his 40 years of life farmed his land in middle ages. Historians care only about events that were huge and changes something or shaped reality (wars, royal marriages and shitload of other stuff that falls into 0.000000000000000001% of things that happened in those times)
 

felipepepe

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You misunderstand me. Yes, it's amazing that I can play the PLATO RPGs at the exact instant if I want to, but that accessibility doesn't translate into the general public.

We are at the RPG Codex, so of course people are more knowledgeable, but the average gamer - and journo - is barely aware of anything pre-2000's, unless it's a JRPG. Hell, the mainstream websites print articles about how Diablo created Action-RPGs, and not a single question is asked. The comments are all retards jerking off to Blizzard for their geniality.

Imagine this in any other media - James Hetfield goes around talking about Metallica invented Heavy Metal, and everyone buys it! And I don't mean the average joe, I mean the metalheads who hang all day on metal websites like MetalStorm, Blabbermouth, etc... the supposed "qualified" audience.

That's how depressing gaming is. It's probably the entertainment industry with the most fanatical AND ignorant fans.
 
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vonAchdorf

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We are at the RPG Codex, so of course people are more knowledgeable, but the average gamer - and journo - is barely aware of anything pre-2000's, unless it's a JRPG. Hell, the mainstream websites print articles about how Diablo created Action-RPGs, and not a single question is asked. The comments are all retards jerking off to Blizzard for their geniality.

It's interesting, that mobile or handheld consoles (and now phones) were a main driver to revisit, republish and remake old games. In Japan, this happened before Smartphones, but now the in the West, they republish old titles as well. Only a few dating back to to 80s, but you can get a Lords of Midnight on Mobile.
 

felipepepe

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It seems like independent games got a lot of love on mobiles - Dink Smallwood, Lords of Midnight, even Sword of Fargoal and Oubliette.

Problem is, Wizardry is fucked with legal issues, D&D-based games probably need a new contract with WotC, and all the rest was purchased by EA or Ubisoft, and they instead do crap like "Ultima Forever".
 

getter77

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Yeah, this kind of profiling is important in the grand scheme of things---with (archival) awareness, critique becomes possible, then introspection as to what they were reaching for that exceeded their grasp, then perhaps even somebody will endeavor to roughly pick up from where they left off and tilt at the aged windmills anew with inspiration they'd have not garnered otherwise.

Gaming is a young enough endeavor, the RPG side of things especially, that there is still much from the 80's/90's well worth learning from as many of the barriers just aren't there anymore and actionable design is timeless.

Great article, Heart of Fantasy sounds like a very interesting series indeed---I'd agree with your hopes for fan translation there especially.
 

felipepepe

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BTW, I'll take this chance to ask: Any of you can think of a JRPG heavily inspired by post-83 CRPGs?

Ultima and Wizardry were super influential in Japan, but note that they abandoned after Ultima III. We never got something like Ultima IV, VII, VIII, IX.... Same for Wizardry - there aren't any Wizardry 7 or 8 clones out there.

It's odd, because classics like Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, Baldur's Gate, Deus Ex, Diablo, etc all made into Japan, but never got copied. And, sadly, games like Fallout 1 & 2 or The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall & Morrowind never made it. :/

It goes both sides really... not many JRPG-inspired CRPGs out there. We had Heroes of the Lance, which tried to copy Sorcerian, and stuff like Anachronox and Septerra Core going after Final Fantasy VII, but not much else I can think of...
 

Zed Duke of Banville

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BTW, I'll take this chance to ask: Any of you can think of a JRPG heavily inspired by post-83 CRPGs?
Wasn't From Software's King's Field series inspired by Ultima Underworld? If not, it would still represent a separate, parallel development from Dungeon Master-likes into 3D graphics. Also, Dragon's Dogma I'm sure was influenced by recent Western CRPGs, although its main influences were a diverse set of Japanese non-RPGs.

It goes both sides really... not many JRPG-inspired CRPGs out there. We had Heroes of the Lance, which tried to copy Sorcerian, and stuff like Anachronox and Septerra Core going after Final Fantasy VII, but not much else I can think of...
Planescape: Torment, the Codex's favorite game. :M
 

LESS T_T

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Lunatic Dawn games? Early games are mostly PC only and each game seemingly has different inspirations. Though a brief search doesn't bring up any interviews or articles about the (original) developers' inspirations, there's an old walkthrough book featuring developer interview.
 

Bruma Hobo

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BTW, I'll take this chance to ask: Any of you can think of a JRPG heavily inspired by post-83 CRPGs?
Well, Matt Barton wrote that some JRPGs like Final Fantasy were influenced by Phantasie, but I have my doubts.

And Questron (it barely qualifies, I know) had a huge influence on the Dragon Quest series, including some very specific details like the gambling mini-games, or even its entire ending sequence with barely any changes.

https://invidio.us/qP_WOcdHuSA;t=277

https://invidio.us/8l5oG8FF_5A;t=108
 
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Damned Registrations

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I was surprised at the PS1 gameplay, that's brilliant. Gives me nostalgia over Shining in the Darkness, kinda makes me want to give the game a shot.
 

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