Was America Ready?
by Steve Kilpatrick
by Steve Kilpatrick
Here in America one thing has always been a given. If a blockbuster game is on it's way to our shelves the folks in Japan already beat it and moved on to their next conquest. From the dawn of the NES to now, America's videogame market has played second fiddle to our Eastern counterparts. Today we get more games and we get better translations, but there are still games we don't see and may never see. Back in the early days it was almost certain that if Japan didn't have your game you would never see it. If Japan did have your game? You still probably wouldn't see it at least not in its original form. We missed out on many high profile Japanese games which we'll look at later. We had games substituted to "suit" us better, and two words could be used to describe many NES games that made it from Japan to America dumbed down. Why? To put it simply the industry thought of Americans as dumb, simple and shallow. If it went "bang" and didn't take too much thought it was sure to sell. Why didn't we fight back? Why didn't we shatter those false statements and demand better games? Because the companies were all correct. That's all it seemed to take and many people were satisfied with that. The few of us who resented getting watered down versions of would be classics were far outnumbered by the zombie hoards of consumers who just wanted a cheap "bang". A trend that continues still today. Sadly we can't change the past, but we can reflect on it. Let's take a look at a few games that were "Americanized" and a couple that didn't even make it that far.
As mentioned above, some companies felt that some games weren't suitable for the American consumer.
Some were canned thanks to high difficulty and others were simply replaced with watered down cash in games. Two of the greatest examples of this phenomenon are Konami's: Snakes Revenge, and the American version of Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. II. By now most people know the story behind these two games but in case you don't I'll go over them each for you.
Super Mario Bros. II:
Mario, the lovable Italian plumber from the Bronx, was Nintendo's cash cow before Pokemon so after the success of Super Mario Bros. for the NES a sequel was almost guaranteed. When we finally got one though we were very surprised. You see, in Japan Super Mario Bros. II was released in 1986 as a direct sequel to the first. It was the console equivalent of an add-on pack. It was basically the same game with new levels, tougher gameplay and a poisoned mushroom. Testers for Nintendo determined the game was, "Too difficult for the American community." It took until 1993(that is 7 years) until we saw the original Super Mario Bros. II in the Super Mario All Stars game pack for the SNES. That didn't mean thatn Nintendo could just let their cash cow go unmilked(so to speak). So in 1988, they gave us a different version of Super Mario Bros. II. This game had you controlling four characters, killing your enemies with turnips (that you yank from the ground and toss at your enemies) and it takes place on a different world known as Subcon. If it sounds a bit unlike any Mario Game you've ever played it's because it wasn't a Mario game. It was a Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic. All Nintendo did was change the four characters in that game into Mario, Luigi, the Princess, and Toad. While Super Mario II wasn't a bad game by any standards, it still wasn't the "Real" thing. But, most Americans didn't know this and Nintendo made their money. Everyone was happy.
Metal Gear was one of the Finest games that I ever played for the NES. It did a fine job of taking an overused action genre and spicing it up by adding a need for stealth and thought. The original Metal Gear was released for the MSX in 1987 and then the improved American version was released in 1988. This game was brilliant Hideo Kojima's first project with Konami. In July of 1990 he released another game in Japan. It was Metal Gear II: Solid Snake. Sadly by then Americans had already been given another title in the series called Snake's Revenge. Kojima had nothing to do with this sequel and it shows. It had a poor story, lacked the stealth of the previous title and was simply devoid of atmosphere. I could not find official documents as to why this wasn't released in America but the general speculation is that Konami didn't want to spend the money translating such a huge cart(MG2:SS was a hefty 4 megs back then) when they could make an American game that would still make money. I can only hope we get the original Metal Gear II as an add-on to one of the future Metal Gear Solid games.
"Hey maw! Lookie that two legged snake over thar!"
Not only was Snake's Revenge an example of games that were passed off as sequels that they were not, but it is also a prime example of cashing in on a title. Konami didn't care about quality they only considered money. The Amazing thing is that most American's didn't even question things like this for years.
"American's think RPG's are weapons used by the Military"
Which they actually are, but that's not the point. Back in the day of the NES to now, America has missed out on many Japanese games. The most notorious and consistent examples are the Japanese RPG monopoly. I am only going to go over the 3 biggest question marks in NES RPG vaporware. Final Fantasy IIj, Final Fantasy IIIj, and Mother(aka/ earthbound).
Today Final Fantasy is synonymous with the gaming industry. Square almost single handedly turned RPGs into a household, surefire, bandwagon commodity. The games that used to be for the die-hard gamer are now as mainstream and blockbuster as Mario, or Zelda have ever been. Amazingly this series did have titles before 7, yet many Americans have no idea about the roots of the Father of RPGs.
Back when Final Fantasy was released in Japan it was revolutionary and went on to spawn two NES sequels that would never make it to the U.S. Now they are affectionately known as Final Fantasy II and IIIj. We can't just say Final Fantasy II or III because Square released two American SNES titles that shouldered those titles. They didn't want the dumb Americans to realize that they had lost out on 3 Final Fantasy games (II, III, and V) so they just took whichever title they were going to give us and number it according to OUR current status.
When we got Final Fantasy IV they renamed it II, when we got VI they called it III. For most of the U.S. that was ok. Many Americans had no idea that they were missing out on RPGs. We Die-Hard gamers knew.
That left us with no Final Fantasy II or III for the NES and no Final Fantasy V for the SNES. So far all the Playstation titles are here and they don't show any signs of slipping another one past us, but that still leaves people like me wondering where my fix is.
The original Final Fantasy was released here after Final Fantasy II and III over in Japan that's right they already had both of those before we even got one. Then, guess what else the U.S. version of Final Fantasy I sole MORE than the Japanese version. This leads me to wonder what the motivation for not bringing over the other two NES Final Fantasy titles.
The answer is simple. They thought it was too hard for us. I've even seen people who get the ROMs online say, "Man the FFIIj game is too hard!" I know it's a simple quote, but I've heard it. It came down to the thought that the game was too hard for our simple little brains to handle.
We also lost Final Fantasy V on the SNES in favor of the more simple Mystic Quest, but that is a bit off topic for the era I'm covering.
I don't think anyone knows much about this title but I'll keep it short and simple. The game came out in Japan under the title "Mother." Nintendo decided to publish it here in the U.S. and translated the entire cart. They had a prototype ready to print and then the project was suddenly canceled. No one knows why but there has never even been a big statement made or a chance of re-release hinted at. Nintendo later used the Square trick when they released Mother II on the SNES under the title Earthbound. They didn't bother to mention that this was a sequel to a game that we had on the tip of our videogaming tongues. On a more contemporary note, as I'm writing this Nintendo just canceled the N64 Earthbound game that they promised us. I guess it's just one of those things.
So I ask you
Was America ready? You'll notice that back then most people walked around content with their games and with games like Tomb Raider 245 still breaking sales records I would have to say we don't look much smarter when it comes to our consumption. We still buy crappy games, we still fall into the "eye-candy" trap, we still settle for low quality and we handle it will a silly grin. Even now some people go pick up games like Final Fantasy because of the Cinemas they see on TV and are disappointed with the product they get. If we are ready now even with our hollow stares and foolish buying, were we even close to ready for these games back then? I'm not here to answer that question, but I'm here to ask you that question. Now that we're older we lament the titles that we may never see as long lost works of art but back in the early NES days we really could have cared less most of the time. I didn't even know about Earthbound until a couple of years ago.
On the bright side with the release of the Wonderswan there is a small chance that we'll see Final Fantasy II and IIIj. We already got Final Fantasy V and other titles are popping up all over the place. These days any title could be re-released for your Game Boy Color or the Wonderswan and sometimes even for the big systems. Were we ready for these titles back then or do we appreciate them now only because we resent not getting them before? Post your thoughts, get your games, and don't take getting less with a silly grin or that's what you'll always get.