When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.
I don’t fully recall how I came to own Drill Dozer but I imagine I acquired it from Best Buy a year or so after its release. I remember reading about it in Nintendo Power at the time. It seemed interesting, especially because it was something different from Game Freak, and it was well received, but it wasn’t for me. This, more than likely, was because I didn’t have a job at the time. As best as I can remember, it played like a cross between Mr. Driller and a Treasure side-scroller akin to Gunstar Heroes. It looked fantastic, had a unique premise, and I don’t remember it being terrible, although I didn’t finish it. Thinking about it now, I ought to return to it.
Drill Dozer was developed by Game Freak (you know, the Pokémonstudio) and published in North America by Nintendo on February 6, 2006. This was a Game Boy Advance game, and as the Nintendo DS had been released about a year-and-a-half earlier, I imagine this would’ve been one of Nintendo’s final GBA games. It, along with WarioWare: Twisted, were the only GBA games that utilized a rumble feature.
Classically, the mainline Pokémon games come in threes. The first two launch together while the third, usually an enhanced amalgamation of the previous two, releases about a year later. Pokémon Emerald is the enhanced remake of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire – the first two Pokémon games on the Game Boy Advance. I adored Ruby when it released in my freshman year of high school. I clocked well over 200 hours with it before moving on. After retiring LeafGreenand Colosseum, I was interested in starting Emerald and returning to Hoenn as it had been ten years since I last saw it.
Returning to Hoenn brought back many memories. As I crisscrossed the expansive island, I remembered specific towns, routes, and completing specific objectives. Not everything was familiar though. I couldn’t remember some of the smaller story beats. The series is host to light and airy narratives though, so this wasn’t a surprise. Whereas players were confronted with Team Aqua or Team Magma in Ruby and Sapphire, players had to contend with both in Emerald. These groups aren’t necessarily evil like Team Rocket, but their goals of enacting massive changes to Hoenn’s ecosystem were potentially world ending.
The Battle Frontier was heavily marketed as the defining feature of Emerald when it released back in the middle of 2005. Personally, the battle facilities that have been introduced in the series haven’t appealed to me too much. This one hasn’t stolen too much of my time either. I appreciate being able to win harder to find evolutionary items and spotlighting the various battle styles is fantastic, but I’ve never put too much time into these. I’m more of a breeder than a fighter. The Battle Frontier is massive though and there is plenty there to entertain diehard fighters.
Really, those are the major differences between Ruby and Sapphire and Emerald. Perhaps the most notable of the minor alterations was Game Freak’s adjustments of wild Pokémon locations and the ability to capture both Groudon and Kyogre. Oh, and the Pokémon battles featured minor amounts of animation, like Crystal did prior. This generation was host to many new additions. Prime among them were double battles, contests, weather, the ability to dive, and many, many other novelties and mechanics.
This awesome building was one of the attractions at the Battle Frontier.
Pokémon Emerald is the first enhanced remake in the series that I’ve completed (discounting LeafGreen and HeartGold, I guess). All in all, the additions and alterations make this the most feature packed between Ruby, Sapphire, and it, but it doesn’t make those games obsolete. I would find it grueling to play this immediately after playing one of those, so if you’re attempting a series playthrough as I am, pick one. The major changes may seem minor, but a comprehensive changelog of all changes would be immense. An older Pokémon game like this isn’t for everybody though, so only Pokémaniacs need apply. I fit the bill too! It’d been forever since I journeyed across Hoenn and it was a pleasant return.
Pokémon LeafGreen, and its retail buddy Pokémon FireRed, are remakes of the original Pokémon games. Released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004, LeafGreen and FireRed are 3rd generation Pokémon titles and the first remakes in the series. As such, there are major improvements over their originators. However, the improvements are primarily relegated to updated graphics, which are much more detailed compared to their Game Boy brethren. There is a decent amount of new post-game content too, mostly introducing Pokémon from newer generations. It’s a solid title, with the toughest Elite Four in the series and a selection of Pokémon that isn’t completely overwhelming.
By the way, the theme for the 4th and 5th Sevii Islands totally rocks. It’s so hot, I have it on my iPod!
Okay, Final Fantasy V hasn’t been released as much as its predecessor. In fact, the first time it was officially released outside of Japan was with the American release of Final Fantasy Anthology for the PlayStation. That was in late 1999 – basically seven years after it was originally released on the Super Famicom in late 1992. It took another two and a half years for the game to eventually be released in Europe. Since then, it has been released on the Game Boy Advance and on iOS and Android platforms.
As they did for the Super Famicom release of Final Fantasy IV, Square opted for a cutesy cover over the traditional usage of Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork. Again, he was relegated to the logo design. This cover hones in on the wanderer Bartz, and easily conveys this fact. The logo chosen for this game includes a dragon intertwined with the font. This is also apt as dragons play a significant role in the narrative.
The game was subsequently released on the PlayStation in 1996. This is my favorite cover that’s been used for one of the game’s releases. The cutesy character design again reigns supreme and this time it’s highlighting the many job classes. With the exception of two as there were twenty-two job classes in the original.
So this is the version of the game that I possess. I really dig the box art, but it pertains to Final Fantasy VI, so it’s not really comparable in this article. I will mention that I had difficulty playing the disc on the PlayStation 3. There is a save screen glitch that the game freezes at. The glitch is still a factor when playing the disc on the PlayStation 2, but on that system, it’s only a graphical glitch. The menu can still be navigated and the game doesn’t freeze.
For the European release of Final Fantasy Anthology, this game received the honor of selling the game. If it’s successor was included in this package, I’m sure that wouldn’t have been the case. Still, this is prime Amano displaying the cast on one of the many ships.
For the Game Boy Advance release, a slew of extra content was added including extra job classes and an extra dungeon or two. I’d like to play these versions of the NES and SNES titles (excluding 3which never saw an Advance release). The Japanese release included a lot of negative space, yet still left room for Amano’s character designs.
The cover used for the American and European releases however did away with that negative space and really zoomed in on the characters. Plus the large GBA banner on the left-hand side takes up much space.
Just as the case was with Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, this game has been released on many digital platforms that don’t really have box art. As I mentioned above, I prefer the box art for the Japanese PlayStation release. It’s different enough from the rest to stand out, and the cutesy design works well when displaying the many job classes.
I learn something new everyday. Sometimes the information is useful, other times its video game trivia like the fact that Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars was originally released as Circle of Blood in America.
The first time the game was released at all, it was released as Circle of Blood in America. I don’t care much for the stained glass box art. It doesn’t hint at the mystery as well as the European box art does. One could ascertain the game takes place in Europe thanks to the stained glass visage and the gargoyle, but it just doesn’t do it for me. Although, I would like to win a trip to Paris…
This box art was used for the European releases of the original PC version and the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance ports. As I mentioned earlier, I feel the collage used and the menacing man on the cover hint at the mystery of the narrative quite well.
For the American release of the PlayStation port, THQ (R.I.P.) chose to utilize a crucial in-game item. The Templar manuscript that George and Nicole locate fuels their journeys for the latter half of the game and uncovering what each section symbolizes was a major narrative driver.
When BAM! (R.I.P.) published the GBA version in America, they opted for a cover that had more in common with the European cover. And yes, I’m only saying that because of the leering eyes. Although, this is the only box art that features a broken sword. Not that it’s important or anything; it didn’t really factor into the narrative until very late in the game, and even then, in a minor way.
The first director’s cut of the game appeared on the Nintendo Wii and DS. The American releases of the games shared the same box art and featured an ancient looking symbol of the Knights Templar. I’ve always had a soft spot for this box art; perhaps because it was a notable “exclusive” for the Wii back in the day.
Finally, the European release of the director’s cut for the Wii and DS ventured away from the traditional European box art. Like it’s American counterpart, it uses color tones that hint at age, but in general it hints at the mystery of the game as it’s European predecessor had.
And of course, the game has since been released on countless digital since the director’s cut was debuted on the Wii and DS. There’s not really a suitable image to show for these as they lack proper box art. The icons they use generally seem to include a head shot of Nicole since she is featured more prominently in the director’s cut release. I like all of the covers well enough with the exception of Circle of Blood. The original European cover is my favorite at this point.
As I browsed GameFAQs, searching for these images, a revelation occurred to me. Final Fantasy IV is probably the most re-released game in the long-running series. That’s a fitting fate for it too. It was perhaps the major title to usher in the “golden age” of Japanese role-playing games. At the very least, it was the first game in the series that hinted at the forward momentum Square would have over the next decade-and-a-half with the genre. So, why don’t you join me as I explore the covers Square used to sell the game over the years.
The first thing I noticed when looking at the original box art Square used for FFIV is the lack of emphasis placed on Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork. The previous three games featured his renderings of warriors and princesses prominently. This go around though, you’d think he was relegated to the logo only. This wasn’t the case though; Square simply chose to highlight a different aspect of the character designs – the super deformed! It’s cutesy for sure and plasters some common job classes upfront, and I guess I like that they took a different route with it. Oh, and there’s Kain Highwind in Amano’s logo.
When they released it in America for the SNES a year later though, the American branch didn’t even try. It’s simple and it always catches my eye when I scour local game shops for good deals. Maybe it’s not so bad; it does catch my eye after all. They really had to pitch it to us though, didn’t they? They’ve got bullet points on the front of the box! It was released over here as Final Fantasy II since the second and third titles weren’t. This prevented much confusion. And releasing a dumbed-down version prevented much difficulty.
The game was first rereleased for the PlayStation in 1997. The Japanese box art sees a return to the styling’s of Amano. Cecil Harvey and Golbez are prominently featured, although honestly, it’s hard for me to distinguish the rest of the imagery, and even if that really is Golbez and not Kain. Regardless, Kain takes his place in the logo. Cecil definitely fronted a hair metal band before being cast for FFIV. The PlayStation version was released in America too, circa 2001. It was bundled with Chrono Trigger and released as Final Fantasy Chronicles. There’s not much else to mention about the box art.
Little known to many Western gamers, Bandai had a fortuitous deal with Square to rerelease Final Fantasy titles for their WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color. FFIV was released for the WSC in 2002. A decadent airship is featured in the background that was no doubt crafted by the illustrious Cid Pollendina.
FFIV would next see release on a Nintendo platform again – the Game Boy Advance. It was released as Final Fantasy IV Advance in Japan and America in December 2005, and six months later in Europe. The Japanese box art is simple. Gray silhouettes of Cecil and Kain flank the logo. Meanwhile the American and European release is much more colorful. These versions feature Cecil and Kain, as well as Rosa Farrell for the first time. The box art used for these regions hints at the love triangle between the cast. This is definitely Amano refining the “wispy lines” he’s known for.
A few years later, the game saw a full-scale remake into 3D. Originally released for the Nintendo DS in Japan in December 2007, it was released in the back-half of 2008 in America and Europe. It has since been released for mobile devices running iOS and Android systems as well, but those platforms don’t really have boxed games… Japan received another Amano box art, featuring a larger portion of the cast, including the Lunar Whale. Here in America, we received an ominous black box, which formed a holographic Golbez. Europeans received the same essentially. The only difference was the color palette.
Finally, FFIV was bundled together with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and an interlude bridging the two titles as Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. This was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2011 and was the version I played. I think Japan and Europe got the better box art with this release. A large portion of the cast is done in emotive poses, painted in a watercolor style very reminiscent of Amano’s work on the original three games in the series. America on the other hand received gray silhouettes of Cecil and Kain against a white background. This version was very reminiscent of the Japanese release of Final Fantasy IV Advance.
With a brand as strong as Final Fantasy, the box art doesn’t have to sell the game. This might explain why Square has felt the liberty to rerelease Final Fantasy IV with a multitude of different covers. With much variety for this one game, it’s hard to pick a single favorite. I really like the Japanese and European release of Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. It’s probably the easy favorite. All of Amano’s artwork is awe-inspiring personally. Heck, the Super Famicom release is cool too, in a differentiated cutesy way. I’ll go with my easy favorite though – the Japanese and European releases of The Complete Collection.
Very much wanting to be a part of the zeitgeist surrounding the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening, I had the urge to play a Fire Emblem game around the game’s February 2013 release. This is despite having written off the tactical role-playing genre previously and already owning a few Fire Emblem titles that I never got more than halfway through. You see, it’s a genre I like in concept, but in practice I don’t have the patience for; I usually haphazardly rush into battles which only get me so far. At least, that used to be the case. When I decided to play Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones alongside a friend (as he was having the same urges as I), I approached it with more maturity and was able to adapt to its gameplay style. In short, I came, I saw, I conquered.
The Sacred Stones was only the second Fire Emblem game to see release in the United States when it hit the Game Boy Advance in 2005. Intelligent Systems had been pumping out the Fire Emblem jams since 1990, but I guess Nintendo didn’t think highly enough of its western audience to localize any of these games until the 2003 release of Fire Emblem, also on the GBA. Which is strange, as this series is one of the forerunners of the genre, especially on home consoles and handhelds.
As is tradition with Fire Emblem games, The Sacred Stones is set in a fantasy setting where magic and demonic creatures are prevalent. Taking place on the continent of Magvel, this game focuses on Eirika and Ephraim, the princess and prince of Renais. Their country has recently been invaded by Grado, a former ally and in their quest to uncover why, they discover the well-intentioned actions of the prince of Grado has brought about the potential resurrection of the Demon King. Their efforts to prevent such a catastrophe lead them to every nation in Magvel in search of the Sacred Stones – wards of such evil.
Players control Eirika for the first third of the game, about the time she reunites with Ephraim. At this point, players have the option of playing through the next third as either character. Eirika’s path takes her to western nations in search of support while Ephraim chooses to confront Grado head-on. My friend and I each chose different routes and we can say with certainty that Ephraim’s path is a little tougher. We had fun discussing the story beats in these chapters, but like most of the game, it was shallow.
My only major gripe with The Sacred Stones is the thin story. There was a lot of exposition before and after battles, but the script was cliché-ridden, in regards to both plot points and characterization. It wasn’t a very exciting story all in all. The plot focused on a handful of major characters, but to get any details on the other twenty or so (besides the most basic information) support conversations were needed. These were lengthy conversations mid-battle between two characters that parlayed back-story, and sometimes a faint amount of character growth.
Had I not had another person playing alongside me, I imagine the predictable story and flat characterization wouldn’t have been enough to entice me to complete the game. However, the meat and potatoes of the game if you will, is the gameplay. As a commander of a small military squad, players had to scout out the battlefield, figure out a suitable composition of unit classes, and ultimately outperform the opposition.
I think the biggest reason I was successful playing the game this time around, was thoroughness. I took everything into consideration. Before battles, I’d carefully plan out who I wanted to fight, aiming to keep everyone about the same level. In battles, I’d keep everyone together for the most part, having a squad with a strong perimeter. Some weapons and magic were more effective against others so I’d check the equipment of enemy units to make sure I was sending in someone who could handle the enemy and hopefully have an offensive or defensive advantage. I’d also pay very close attention to the enemies’ movement range, hoping to not push my units too far into enemy territory too quickly. Without this thoroughness, I wouldn’t have beaten the game.
There’s a lot of diversity in the battlegrounds and the enemy forces meaning that players can’t milk a strategy for too long – they have to continue adapting. Although we spoke about the game weekly and were going through mostly the same content, our squads were made up of different characters. Our different “all-stars” led to slightly different strategies for battles. This was especially true later in the game since we had spent a lot of effort leveling and classing up different characters. It provided us a great deal to talk about and opened my eyes to how the game could be tackled in a multitude of ways. My disdain for the genre was partially born of my opinion that these games were meant to be tackled in a very specific manner, with little room for variation or improvisation.
Thanks to the zeitgeist surrounding Fire Emblem: Awakening, I wanted to give the TRPG genre another chance. I’m glad I did as playing Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones alongside a friend was enjoyable. I found little to compel me forward with its narrative and characterization, but its gameplay was both challenging and rewarding. I can think of little else in a video game that is as rewarding as winning a 2½ hour battle, adapting to every gameplay system, mechanic, and enemy unit thrown at me, and to do so without losing a single character. I’m not necessarily brimming to jump into another TRPG, but I’m happy to look at the genre with new eyes.