Happy birthday Dreamcast!

I don’t tend to do er, “relevant”, blog posts these days but I couldn’t let the Dreamcast’s birthday go by without saying something, could I?

Seventeen years ago today (please adjust for your local timezone) Sega’s last-ditch attempt to win the hearts and minds of gamers launched in Japan, wowing stalwart Sega fans and curious Playstation owners with… let’s see… Godzilla Generations, July, Pen Pen TriIcelon and a really bad port of Virtua Fighter 3tb. Oh dear.

Still, as we all know things soon picked up on the software front and the console ended up being home to some of the best and brightest games of its generation – it even had some third party support, which is pretty remarkable considering the balls-up they’d made of just about everything post-Mega Drive.

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But having things pick up wasn’t what made the Dreamcast special, it was the way Sega threw the creative kitchen sink at the console – a real “can do” attitude that made it feel like Sega were up for funding any good idea their development teams came up with, and they didn’t care if it was “sensible” in the traditional gaming sense or not. Thanks to this combination of classic Sega fizz and more than a dash of desperation we ended up with games that explored the birth of digital life via the medium of trance music, retro-space dance battling reporters, and time travelling dolphin adventures in outer space superbly narrated by The Doctor (#4). You just don’t get headline first party releases like that any more… probably because the last company that tried that hit the floor so hard they bowed out of console production forever, but let’s not dwell on that point.

Sega also gave the world the VMU, which about a day after gave way to the dreaded VMU <beeeeeeeep!> – your friendly reminder to replace the batteries in the damned thing just so you could name your Sonic Adventure Chao and turn on your console without waking up everyone in a five mile radius. VMUs can be safely filed under “Nice idea, terrible execution”, with the added humiliation of being soundly beaten in all respects by Sony’s PocketStation.

*cheering and party poppers*Sorry I know this one's from PSOBB :S

The important thing to remember is that the Dreamcast itself wasn’t a failure – in fact, it sold so well that Nintendo’s Wii U has only recently managed to overtake it (took Nintendo about twice as long to get there too) – it was just the console shouldered with the impossible task of turning around the Saturn’s (and Mega CD’s, and 32X’s) EU/US failure and magically healing all the internal conflicts the company had been tearing itself apart with since the 16-bit era. A lot of the system’s best games may now available elsewhere but when you return to the system – and you really should if you haven’t do so recently – the library as a whole still shines and feels unmistakeably “Dreamcast”, from the clean low-poly look of a lot of the 3D games to the nutty selection of arcade ports that will have you happily fishing, dancing and typing until the sun comes up. Happy seventeenth birthday Dreamcast – your GD-ROM unit may be the noisiest drive in the house, and your controller wire in a really stupid place, but I love you anyway.

A little look at… Just Breed

Enix RPGs and me seem to keep missing each other, with my current experience extending only as far as Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest X and, um… oh! Dragon Quest Monsters 2. So while that’s not exactly the most varied gaming diet out there I am trying to correct that, and as it turns out Just Breed is the perfect place to start.

This Famicom exclusive came out in December 1992 - to give you some idea of just how late that is in the console’s lifespan I’ll point out that this was the same year Streets of Rage 2 and Super Mario Kart came out in Japan. Yes, really.

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The good news for those of us getting to play the game for the first time all these years later is that although this lateness was bad for sales it does mean the game looks pretty damned good for a title running on hardware from 1983 and the relatively huge 6Mb cart is home to a lot of neat animation, monster portraits, the odd bit of proper kanji (thank the heavens!) and other fripperies that you wouldn’t normally expect to see in this sort of thing. Oh and if the cover art looks familiar it means you’re a wonderful person who remembers 3x3 Eyes, as the character and monster design work for this game was done by Yuzo Takada.

Shame about that strange title though.

In any case, Just Breed will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever played a simpler console-style SRPG (to give a reasonably mainstream example, think Shining Force), and broadly speaking the usual rules apply - you and the enemy take turns to move your soldiers and spellcasters around a grid-based battlefield and do your best to knock seven bells out of each other.

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The plot – as far as I’ve played – is pretty standard stuff: Go and rescue your freshly-kidnapped childhood sweetheart from the bad people who happened to show up at your local Sapphire Festival. After a short while you find out that this wasn’t an isolated incident and these mysterious chaps are rounding up the festival maidens from the other towns too! It doesn’t sound like the most unique fantasy RPG plot ever but it is done well; villagers are helpful or pleasantly chatty and so far it’s moving along at a fair clip.

When you do reach a battle the first thing you’ll notice is how worryingly large the maps are - the implication being that there’s a long and very tedious slog in your near future - but you soon find out how surprisingly large your party’s movement and attack ranges are and those worries soon disappear.

One-on-one skirmishes resolve themselves quickly as it is, and if you do find dishing out individual orders just too much trouble there’s an auto command that will take over control any team members within your currently active unit for that turn and have them either attack whatever’s nearby or move close to their leader (rather like Langrisser). As the game progresses your evil-bashing forces expands to up to four separate units of six party members (a leader plus five others), so this can save you from a lot of donkey-work like moving people across the map and mopping up mostly harmless bees. The other main conveniences are the lack of permadeath, sparing you from the wrath of the RNG gods, and a spell called “Strim” learned early on that can warp you to any town you’ve already visited - even if you’re in the middle of battle. This means that no matter how bad things get you’ve always got a fair chance of running off with the XP you earned already and can come back better prepared and a little tougher next time.

It’s not all about whizzing through fights as mindlessly as possible though as even the very early stages display some neat little quirks and clever design – holes that must be shut to prevent further monster spawns, enemies that can attack and then retreat to a safe distance in the same turn, and a sleep spell (for you and the enemy) that just for once actually works and can be used to create a real tactical advantage. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough – an SRPG with some actual strategy.

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While I may only be a few battles in at this point Just Breed looks like a lavish and well designed SRPG that’ll be worth sitting down and spending some serious time with, a game that retains all the natural charms that come from the Famicom’s technical limitations while simultaneously rising above (most of) them.

If you’d like to try out the game for yourself but aren’t keen on wading through in Japanese you’ll find a complete English translation over here - http://www.romhacking.net/translations/566/

Fighting and flying with Psychic Force Complete!

Before we get onto the game itself there’s something we need to look at first – the fantastic figures included with the limited edition version of the game! In an effort to sabotage sales of their own game and make things as difficult as possible for everyone, Psychic Force Complete ditched the relatively standard game/limited edition release setup and instead put out five different variants – the game alone, the game bundled with a single Wendy/Emilio/Wong figure, and finally a set with all three. Thanks to a stroke of luck I was able to get the complete Complete set for a very reasonable price, so let’s have a quick gawp at these lovely toys imported collectables before getting stuck into the game proper:

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The figures come in identical packaging and they’re all around 4 1/2 inches high without their generic circular base – Wong’s a little taller and Emilio’s about a mile wide with his wings on but together they do make a nice set. Wendy and Emilio have a dubious and possibly lethal powdery white substance on them which doesn’t seem to want to come off, although as they were all sealed before I started fiddling I assume this is just something that occasionally happens to decade-old plastic. There’s no articulation to them so if Wong and Emilio happens to be your OTP you’re going to have trouble doing anything about that, but for the rest of us they’re detailed enough to feel like a worthy tribute to the series and they make for good bookcase decoration if you’ve got a bit of space free.

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If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of Taito’s psychiccer-battling series this is probably a good place to dish out a bit of history – Psychic Force was first released in 1996 on Taito’s FX-1A arcade hardware (most famous for… um, Psychic Force), with a revised arcade release (titled Psychic Force EX), and the Playstation port (called plain old Psychic Force, but based on Psychic Force EX) all coming pretty much one after the other to reasonable but not overly enthusiastic reception, as a reasonable but not overly amazing game should. Two years after that came Psychic Force 2012 on their PC-based “Taito Wolf” arcade board, a superb refinement of the ideas present in the original that raised Psychic Force from “neat but only really OK” to “fantastic but generally overlooked fighting game” – if it helps at all it’s rather like the difference between the original Guilty Gear and Guilty Gear X, although Taito’s series wasn’t fortunate enough to take off the way Arc’s did.

This hopefully brings us on to 2005’s Psychic Force Complete, containing the original Playstation port of Psychic Force, the previously Dreamcast and PC only Psychic Force 2012, and the all-new Psychic Force 2012 EX, which is exactly the same as the original but with the added bonus of reinstating Brad, Sonia, and Genma from the original, making it the definitive game.

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Eagle-eyed Psychic Force fans might notice that Complete is actually missing the two Playstation-exclusive Psychic Force games, Psychic Force 2 and Psychic Force Puzzle Taisen. The former is essentially “2012 with a few exclusive extra modes and downgraded graphics” and the latter “Puzzle Bobble with Psychic Force characters” - it’s a bit of a shame they’re not included but in all honesty they’re more curious side projects for series fans rather than central pillars of the series, so the chances are if you’re interested you’ve already got them or won’t mind tracking them down. The good news is Complete has a relatively comprehensive gallery mode that’s got a nice selection of rough draft sketches, finished art and the opening movies to choose from with nothing hidden away or needing to be unlocked.

Psychic Force Complete contains what is inarguably the best version of the best Psychic Force game and yet it’s still a little hard to recommend as the three reinstated characters were already playable in Psychic Force 2 and the Dreamcast release is available worldwide with little difficulty or expense. So Complete isn’t the ultimate unmissable collection is perhaps should have been, but if you’d like a one-stop-shop for your flying anime fighting game needs then this set’s readily available on one of the most popular consoles of all time and highly recommended for anyone psychiccer-curious who hasn’t yet dived in to Taito’s series.

A quick flip through 3DO Magazine

I do love a bit of overseas weirdness, so you can imagine how pleased I was to find a Japanese 3DO magazine with a CGI duck-thing for a mascot! This particular issue is from 1995 - a damned good year for gaming with releases like Ristar, Time Crisis, Tekken 2, Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star IV showcasing some of the finest games from the 16-bit generation as well as exciting glimpses of the 3D future. As it turns out that glorious future didn’t include the 3DO, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth looking at here!

The reason why I splashed out on this particular issue over any of the other equally expensive alternatives wasn’t because of the mascot’s fetching beachwear but the promise of hot D2-on-the-M2 video on the included CD. Thankfully, the issue delivers in the most 90’s ropey-CGI-played-via-no-quality-FMV style possible, as you’ll see at the bottom of this post.

This post’s pretty image-heavy, but I promise it’ll be worth the bandwidth… or at the very least a mildly interesting collection of adverts and a bit of a giggle about what “the future of gaming” meant back in 199X.

The beginning’s always a good place to start, so let’s have a look at the conte… good grief look at that background! I seem to remember Amiga magazines of the era using similarly offensive colour schemes, probably because at this point we were all gripped by the idea that anything created by a computer must look good.

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Then there’s a few adverts, but the one I want to draw your attention to is this one for WARP’s Flupon World – a two page spread that’d be weird enough on its own but is elevated to a whole new level when you notice the included sticker sheet that seems to be a window into Kenji Eno’s mind – a 3DO pad sticker, WARP logo, D2M2 sticker (bless…), and, um, a pair (!!) of nipple stickers. No, I’m not exaggerating for comic effect there either.

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Then we’re on to a look at some upcoming “big” games. Although as you can see, “big game” means something quite different when your chosen format’s a little… lacking… on the software front. Other items of potential interest include the FZ-10 VCD adapter and a rather nice if boxy flight stick.

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Then it’s on to the features proper, with a look at one Sword & Sorcery (released in the US as Lucienne’s Quest, and ported to the Saturn in Japan too). There’s a playable demo of this on the CD, and it did a fantastic job of killing any interest I ever had in this game. Never mind eh?

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Then there’s a look at some game by that Metal Gear bloke.

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In the interests of not wasting your time, let’s just call this “more new stuffs” – some you’ll recognise, some you might not.

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Towards the back of the magazine there’s the “For ladies and kids” section – as we all know these are two totally interchangeable demographics and this is not at all condescending or insulting to anybody at all.

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But let’s not forget the adults that apparently fall into neither the “lady” or “men the magazine was already made for” categories! They get a page on Virtual Cameraman Part5, the photograph of which I’ve deliberately cropped like this as the majority of the images show bad-quality jpgs of Japanese ladies with their norks out. I have been told that such images are not difficult to come by on the information superhighway, so I imagine this software’s a little redundant. It’s not all seedy business though, as the “adult” section also includes po-faced board game compilations and golf games. Yay.

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As if the 3DO wasn’t “future” enough this issue also took a look at the M2, their mythical follow-up console that never was. There’s a bit about D2 and some talk on the sort of exciting tech stuff we used to see in 90’s gaming magazines – mip mapping, in this instance. It’s unfortunately my duty to tell you that the image of the woman in violently pink camo squaring up to a dinosaur is just a mock up shot and not a screen of an actual game.

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I thought this might be worth a quick look – here are the Japanese 3DO charts for that month! D’s in the top spot, followed by Policenauts Pilot Disc and then the rest are variants of the ladies-showing-their-funbags “game” mentioned earlier and a few board games. So as you can see, it didn’t take much to reach the 3DO’s top ten sellers. 

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It’s not all doom and gloom though! The magazine definitely finishes on a high with this compilation of high quality images taken from the D2 on M2 teaser trailer. We can only hope that one day whatever’s left of this version of the game surfaces for us all to see.

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But wait, we’re not quite done yet! As I hopefully remembered to mention at the start of this post the magazine also came with a demo CD stuffed with playable demos, movies, and a few other bits too! The two videos below are definitely the most important parts, capturing the E3 M2 presentation (looks a little “home made” in comparison to today’s slick events, don’t you think?) and a teaser for D2 that shows no in-game footage whatsoever, and promises it’ll be out in 1996, bless.


There’s not much else to say other than I hope you enjoyed this casual flip through a very old magazine, and please let me know if you’d like to see more like this in the future!