If you like 16-bit RPGs from Japan it’s generally accepted that you’ll need a SNES
and a Japanese Windows 95 compatible PC. That’s it, you’re done! Your pathway to role-playing nirvana is open, and you’ve got all you’ll ever need right at your fingertips.
...or perhaps not.
Now I want to make it clear that I really don’t have a problem with the SNES or its huge selection of quality RPGs – it’s the genre king of the era and it holds that position for a reason - but there’s a wealth of quality RPGs in less likely places if you cast your net just a bit further than usual.
So in this blog post I’m going to take you on a whirlwind tour of a few Mega CD RPGS like Genei Toshi, Shadowrun and 3x3 Eyes, just so people can see some of the fantastic art and cool ideas these games had. “But Kimimi, a lot of the RPGs in this post are Japan only!” you might possible say (say it anyway if you didn’t – work with me here!). Do you know what other RPGs are Japan only? Seiken Densetsu 3. Bahamut Lagoon. Shin Megami Tensei 2 (and If… and Majin Tensei). Mystic Ark. Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. Der Langrisser. FEDA (Wow, I really need to get some of these covered on the blog ASAP!). Yet there’s no shortage of gamers online going on about how good those games are.
OK, OK: so all of those have fan translations available and that naturally makes them far more accessible to the import-curious than their Mega CD (and Mega Drive, and PC Engine) equivalents; but – and I’m trying (and failing) to find a way to phrase this in a kind manner – good games don’t stop existing just because you can’t personally play or understand them. I do see why people would only judge a console’s library based on the games they can actually play themselves, but (I think?) all I’m really after here is an acknowledgement of the possibility that there are RPGs of merit available on consoles that didn’t come with the Nintendo Seal of Quality™.
Anyway! Here’s A Very Quick Look At A Few Mega CD RPGs Wot I Dun Own*
(Dun Ownded, in Shadowrun’s case)
Oh dear, opening with a licensed anime game? Not a good sign – or so you’d think. For some reason the 3x3 Eyes series has done well in the Russian roulette that is the anime-to-game porting business (just look at the PC Engine adventure game!), and this Mega CD exclusive RPG is no exception.
Do you own a Mega CD? Do you yearn for a hex-based strategy title? Then you’re definitely a minority; but luckily Sega don’t care because they made this for you anyway. This game even had a US release, although not an EU one – we were still firmly in the grip of PAL-people-don’t-like-RPGs woes at the time, which is a pity because Dark Wizard’s a damn good game.
So this first person dungeon crawler is in no danger of knocking Dungeon Master II off it’s imaginary I’m-the-best-Mega CD-dungeon-crawler-in-town pedestal, but alternatives are always a good thing; especially when they’re dirt cheap and have cool 90’s anime intros.
Heroic Legend of Arslan
It doesn’t really matter if you remember the adventures of the impossibly pretty Prince Arslan from the manga or anime, because as with the other licensed games I’ve touched upon in this post this is somehow still a very good game in its own right, so long as you’re not allergic to SRPGs or something.
Genei Toshi: Illusion City
The Mega CD’s other cyberpunk RPG, this time a remake of the MSX/PC-98/FM-Towns classic. I still need to sit down and play this one properly, but all signs (as well as general internet opinion) points to it being as brilliant as the opening makes it out to be.
Falcom’s action-platformer-RPG hybrid was apparently at one point going to be rebranded as a Sonic the Hedgehog RPG, but thankfully angry fan letters saw to it that the Mega CD received this excellent remake of their classic computer RPG instead. Visually stunning in every regard and a hell of a lot of fun – just try to avoid Working Design’s US localisation if at all possible, please?
Record of Lodoss War
There’s a depressingly large amount of proper FMV in this one, which may have impressed a few people at the time but now looks so bad it’s like a full-scale assault on your eyeballs. You’ll notice that I’ve left out any screenshots of these scenes, partly for your own sanity but also to keep this post looking great. Other than that this is another early 90’s anime SRPG, which suits me just fine.
Now with this one I do hope that you enjoy Shadowrun for its super-cool cyberpunk setting rather than the classic tabletop games battle system, because… the battle system here is really quite tedious. The good news is that everything else makes up for it; the atmosphere is absolutely stellar and in my opinion the best example of digital Shadowrun until the release of the incredible Shadowrun Returns in the space year 2013.
Shin Megami Tensei
Yeah, you’ve probably played this one before - there’s even an English-language iOS port these days! But this Mega CD port still remains more than worthwhile thanks to the use of proper scaling, new artwork, some brilliant redbook audio tracks (Hall of the Four Devas is my favourite) and improved battle scenes. Until the PS1 remake came along and gave the game a complete overhaul in 2001, seven years after the Mega CD port, this was the best version of the game available.
Shining Force CD
Another port, although as this covers the first two Game Gear Shining Force titles you really wouldn’t know it unless… well, unless you knew that already, I suppose. In any case more Shining Force is never a bad thing, especially when it looks and plays this good. Has the added bonus of being a title PAL gamers could buy without importing too – yay!
So there you have it – a few pictures and quick scribbles about some of the RPGs in the Mega CDs library. There’s really no chance that this small and quirky collection of games will rival legends like Final Fantasy VI or Secret of Mana, but there’s still a lot to love and a lot of fun to be had if you do decide to go adventuring off to formats new.