The Mega-CD was a great system and home of a lot of great games. Some are well-known and some not so much. It is a system that's still worth owning and playing. I will be presenting you with the highlights of the system. The best that it has to offer.
Due to the high amount of quality games as well as limited blog post space. It will take several volumes to feature all the great games the Mega-CD had.
So with that said, on we go with the first volume!
Alshark - Sand Storm 1993
A cult game in Japan. Alshark is a 1991 PC RPG developed by Right Stuff originally for the Japanese PC-98 and Sharp X68000. The game was ported by Sand Storm to the Mega-CD in 1993. and re-made by Right Stuff themselves on the PC-Engine CD in 1994, which version was the one that popularized it among Japanese console gamers.
Alshark is a traditional Japanese-s/tyle RPG. And when I say "traditional" I meant it in every sense of the world. The game has a random battle encounter rate like you've never seen before. The interface doesn't have the user friendliness of even some late 80's/early 90's Japanese RPGs, nevermind what gamers are used to nowadays.
Alshark is a game of serious contrasts. On one hand it has a rustic, archaic even game design. And on the other hand it has some of the most unique and influential design features of it's time. In fact, Alshark could be very well considered the Japanese Mass Effect of it's time.
As a Sci-Fi based RPG, you have command of your own spaceship: the Atlia. Which you can customize and equip it with various weapons, frames and engines. You can use the Atlia to travel throughout space to several Solar Systems, each one with their own sets of planets and space stations. In space, you can engage in dogfights against enemy spacecraft,and even scramble a fighter ship to assist you. On land you can travel on foot, or in various vehicles like tanks, buggies and hovercrafts.
Your party comprises of 5 members out of a colourful and well designed cast of characters. You can equip your characters with the likes of ray swords or all kinds of fire weapons like hand guns, machine guns and bazookas. You can only control your main character "Shion" in battle. The rest of your party controlled by the A.I. that for the most part does an excellent work. You can also talk to your party members to see what they're thinking, or in case you forgot what were you doing.
Sand Storm was the developer in charge of porting Alshark to the Mega-CD, and unfortunately, they didn't do a good job. The game slowdowns when too many sprites are on screen. And slowdown on a 2 year old game that looked as ancient as this in 1993 is just plain unforgivable. And it's nothing else than the sign of bad and lazy programming. The Mega-CD version seems to be a port of the PC-98 version, only it looks less colourful because of the Mega Drive's limited colour palette.
On the plus side, some new cut-scenes were added. and of course, the amazing Red Audio CD soundtrack, which is the best of all of the game's versions.
I have to say that very few games have surprised me in the way that Alshark did. If I remember correctly, I bought Alshark in 1995, though knowing beforehand that it was a revered cult game in Japan, I was put down initially by it's archaic design and mind-boggling amount of random battles. Only to be totally overwhelmed after the first few hours of play. And I remained glued to it all throughout it's great and lengthy quest to a point that I ended up not caring at all about it's flaws.
I've little doubt that had this game came down overseas in a system like the NES/Master System. It would nowadays be regarded as one of the best c/lassic RPGS in history by gamers everywhere.
Alshark is certainly one of the best JRPGs ever. A true JRPG gem actually deserving of it's cult status.
Alas, for most of nowadays RPG gamers, enjoying a game like Alshark is almost an impossibility. Probably only the most dedicated of gamers will give the game a chance, which is unfortunate for a great praised game such as this.
Dark Wizard - SEGA 1993
The best Strategy/RPG game of the system. Dark Wizard is a deep and engaging game as every Strategy game should aim to be. And once you get into it, you won't be out for quite some time. I can't begin to count the amount of hours I spent with this game when I was younger.
At first glance, Dark Wizard looks not even worth of being a Mega Drive game. But what it lacks in graphics it doubles it in the gameplay department. The game does have attacking animations, but after you see them all, you'll end up disabling them, since they take too much time. I personally only enabled them for boss battles for that extra drama!
Some gamers actually used to praise the game's long anime cut-scenes more than the actual gameplay, which is a terrible mistake. Since the gameplay is simply diamond. Dark Wizard it's actually the predecessor of the Dragon Force games for the SEGA Saturn.
Dark Wizard has a very deep learning curve however, and it's very time demanding. Add to that the dated graphical feel and you have again a game that sadly only a certain fans of the genre that didn't played the game when it first released will play it now, which is a terrible shame.
Dark Wizard is certainly one of the best Strategy/RPG games of the 16-bit era.
Dennin ALESTE "Robo ALESTE" - Compile 1992
The successor of the amazing Musha ALESTE. Dennin continued the ALESTE gaiden entries based on an alternative mechanized feudal Japan. How this fictional era came to be is actually explained in the detail in the game. Unfortunately like many localized Mega-CD games of the time, the English versions feature boring and lifeless voice acting.
Dennin is not really the tour-de-force that Musha was. The game has a slower pace, however the gameplay was tweaked to match it, as power-ups no longer shield you. The weapon system also has been tweaked, though if that was for the best could be argued. There's one more power up (shurikens) and they are all much cooler looking but your positionable options are gone. They now can be launched at the enemy, I guess to cover up for the fault in Musha that if you get destroyed you end up severily underpowered without any power-ups. The bad thing is that this ends up being useless unless you do get destroyed. Because if you launch your options you can't shoot your sub-weapon leaving you overly exposed which translates in you certainly getting destroyed. On the good side, your options can now destroy some bullets and damage the enemy by touching them which encourages a more aggresive gameplay s/tyle.
The game has the same amazing shoot 'em up quality gameplay that Compile is renown for. The graphics and attention to detail is unparallelled in any Compile SHMUP, with only the soundtrack perhaps being a little to soft comprared to Musha's.
The real thing that amazes me about Dennin ALESTE more than the game itself is how it has remained so cheap all this time. Had this game been on the PC-Engine CD you can bet your life the game would have been on the $100 range and no less. of that I'm sure without any doubt in my mind.But honestly, Dennin is much better than any Compile SHMUP for the PC-Engine CD.
You can get this game easily within the $30 range. And for a game of this quality that only means "must-have". Dennin ALESTE is the best SHMUP of the Mega-CD. By all means recommended for anybody's collection.
Final Fight CD - SEGA 1993
Anybody unfortunately enough to have played the atrocity that was Final Fight on the SNES probably got on their knees, lifted their hands towards the sky and thanked the heavens for the Mega-CD version. Unless of course you didn't had a Mega-CD and you were left out stuck with that beyond-crap SNES version and it's laughable "Guy" update.
If that's the case, well, though luck...
But those fortunate enough to have a Mega-CD were in for a treat when SEGA saw it to themselves to do justice to this c/lassic of the Arcades.
Ported to the Mega CD specially by SEGA. Gamers finally got the true Final Final experience in all of it's glory as it was meant to be. All 3 selectable characters, 2-Player simultaneous play and all of the original Arcade stages. Plus if that wasn't enough, extended opening and ending cut-scenes, an arranged CD quality soundtrack and an all-new Time Attack mode with new stages were added to this version as the cherry of the cake.
The ever-mentioned limited palette of the Mega Drive shows it's ugly head again this time. The game does look less colourful and vivid compared to the Arcade original. But I doubt many gamers would care about that, when the most important aspects of the game, more specifically the gameplay and fun-factor are spot on.
Although there are far better beat 'em ups than Final Fight, even by Capcom. This is an oldie that just won't die. It's an historical game in the genre, and a must-play for any gamer.
Lunar: The Silver Star - Game Arts 1992
Released in 1992 in Japan and localized a year later by Working Designs. I feel the year-late western release demerited a little how great this game was for it's time.
From a technical point of view, this is your quintessential Japanese RPG. With your teenage boy & friends who must save world, clueless magical gir with hidden powers, swords, dragons etc. and gameplay-wise it was no different.
What made this game so special however, is the whole charm that Game Arts bought not only to this game, but to the genre itself. No Japanese RPG before Lunar had such level of character interaction, and no Japanese RPG after it was ever looked the same. Game Arts raised the standards of what gamers expected their Japanese RPG characters to be.
Characters would talk among themselves, and they would even reply to many of your casual townspeople comments. Townspeople themselves had 3 times the amount of lines than any other RPG. And while the game was strictly linear as it could be, the whole charm of the characters and the adventure made Lunar: The Silver Star one of the most memorable Japanese RPGs. And one for which I personally have very fond memories.
The game was remade for the next-generation 32-bit systems, but it lost something in transition. Especially for the Playstation English version, since it's the one that concerns the most people.
For the sake of longer FMV cut-scenes, half of the original game text was cut. And while the cut-scenes did looked a lot better visually, they are not necessarily better than the originals. The story as well as the soundtrack were greatly altered, and this was also not for the better.
The Silver Star is not quite the same game than The Silver Star Story Complete. And so, the Mega-CD original remains unique and arguably the best version of Lunar.
Popful Mail - SEGA 1994
An original IP from Falcom for the PC-88 and PC-Engine CD. SEGA transformed the game into a Monster World inspired Platformer/RPG for the Mega-CD. And indeed, the game fits the role of the Monster World game for the system perfectly.
You take the role of Mail, a frustrated bounty hunter elf girl. And Tatt, a young wizard with a pointy hat. Both of them are after the rogue wizard Muttonhead, each one for their own personal reasons. Mail wants the reward money on his head and Tatt as former Muttonhead's apprentice wants to know what happened to his master. You also take control of a small purple winged creature called Gaw.
Like Monster World, the game plays like a side-scroller with some good RPG elements added to the mix. You can buy items and weapons and you can change between any of your three characters at any time. The areas are very long and offer plenty of action.
Certainly one of the funniest games on the system. Popful Mail is a great platformer/RPG game worth of being along the lines of the Monster World series. If you're looking for a game that will undoubtedly please you no matter your gaming tastes. This is your game. You just can't go wrong with Popful Mail.
Shining Force CD - SEGA 1994
Actually remakes of the GameGear games: Shining Force Gaiden I&II. Shining Force CD brings them to the Mega-CD featuring superior graphics and sound that they deserved. It also features a brand new chapter that mixes both game stories together for a great closure.
Released before Shining Force II. The game offers more of the same gameplay and wonderful character design goodness that made the original famous. as well as carrying on from the original storyline and characters.
Many gamers seem to be stuck being overly negative with the lack of town exploration that was featured in the original Shining Force. But I see that as a trivial complaint as the games being original Game Gear games are quite remarkable as they are. And the whole adventure is one of the best you can play in a Strategy/RPG.
Many gamers were (and some still are I bet) unaware of the fact that to play the final chapter of the game (Book 3) you forcefully require a Mega-CD back-up RAM cartridge. As the internal RAM memory of the Mega-CD isn't enough to save all of the 3 chapters data.
This angried a lot of gamers, most specially late Mega-CD adopters than by the time they got their system and the game, back-up RAM carts were already very rare to find. This of course left a lot of people without the chance to finish the game.
Camelot sorted this issue on Shining Force III. As you can load and erase any previous scenario data from within another scenario and then just save over.
Shining Force CD is an excellent game. as charming and colourful as only the Shining series can be. Not to mention the amazing soundtrack it has. Needless to say, the game is a must-have for the system. But if you do plan to get it, be sure to track a back-up RAM cart as well if you're planning on finishing it.
Continued to next post...