The Sega Master System

Remember when you had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)? Oh, come on, we all know you did. A good ninety percent of gamers had them, so don’t try to weasel yourself out claiming you just had a Master System. I did back in the very late eighties and early nineties and one out of three American households did. Even so, the Master System featured some awesome games such as the first Phantasy Star game, the Alex Kidd series, and awesome arcade ports. Now, let’s move on to the brainchild of Sega.

The Master System or, in Japan, SG-1000 Mark III was the last of the SG-1000 product series, and the only devoted video game console out of the three systems. While the SG-1000 and SC-3000 enjoyed a moderate success, the Master System was set out to combat Nintendo‘s ultimate weapon. 1985 marked the release of the Mark III in Japan and was visually identical to the Mark II. However, this system held hardware enhancements. The processor was speedy in its time with a Zilog Z80 3.6 MHz CPU. Graphics were also improved with a meager, but slightly significant upgrade in on screen sprites; now 64 instead of 32. Perhaps the most noteworthy addition is was a PCM sound synthesizer chip, creating six audio channels. This eradicated the beeps of previous consoles with something that could be considered music.

This console also marked two “firsts”. First off, it toyed with virtual reality. Using supped up 3D movie glasses, each lens would briskly toggle among opaque and clear. While this was happening, on-screen graphics would have to be consistent with the glasses, thus creating a nearly seamless semi-virtual environment. Crude, but still effective to this day. Secondly, it was the first system to use two formats for gaming. The eight bit standard cartridges were used, but a cheaper, market friendly four bit “game card” was created. These games tended to be smaller due to obvious size and memory limitations, but subsequently, much cheaper. This provided a great way for us gamers with almost no cash buy games for their beloved system.

When the NES hit (or literally tackled) the market, Sega found itself in a steep declining of sales. With great games and a cheap price no one could hate, the NES fiercely ripped the gaming market from Sega, and any other competitor for that matter, and took it as its own. Sega had to alter their game plan, and so they gave life to the Master System, aka Mark III (Read above) using some of the most advanced hardware available in the current 8-bit technology. This marked the first of any console to be widely distributed in the US, but that didn’t stop Nintendo’s reign over the gaming market. On launch, an approximate of 175,000 consoles were sold on its first market quarter (Three months) with each system costing 200 dollars.

CEO of Sega, Hayao Nakayama, had a distaste of a 16 to 1 ratio of system sales when compared to Nintendo’s. Figuring he better hand out the marketing and such to Tonka, an American toy company, official preparations were made and carried out in 1988. This turned out to be the idiot’s move as Tonka had no idea on marketing of video games. While everyone knew about the cool, awesome, super-duper NES, most people would scratch their heads at the mention of the Master System. Why? Tonka had no initiative. Due partly with their lack of any know-how, but also what I believe: a little with laziness. After all, they had millions. Why take the time to take video game marketing 101 when they could blindly stumble and hope to succeed? At any rate, Tonka managed to snag two third party developers, the now well know Activision, and Parker Brothers, the board game company. It was probably not too much their fault on that blunder as Nintendo was a pre-Microsoft. That’s right, monopolizing any third party developer they could into an agreement basically saying they were developing for the NES, and only the NES. This severely damaged the system status and chance of succeeding. Sega, Activision, and Parker Brothers couldn’t possibly keep up with the sheer games coming out for the NES, and ultimately had a smaller library of games in the end… or at least in the US. Let’s take a trip down to Europe.

Amazingly, there was some areas where the NES and its power didn’t penetrate. One of the main one locales was Europe. Never had been introduced to a gaming system, or even the NES, Europeans jumped on the Master System when it was released in the fall of 1987. Also, instead of two developers, Europe received fourteen. These are Absolute, Activision, Acclaim, Codemasters, Core, Domark, Flying Edge, Image Works, Sony Imagesoft, TecMagik, Tengen, U.S. Gold, and Virgin. Nintendo was never able to retrieve the Europe market for Sega, one Master System victory. This particular victory lasted until 1996 despite the fact better consoles were out there.

Tec Toy, a small company, released their version of the Master System, the Master System Three in the late eighty’s. With minor aesthetic changes, the revised console only featured built-in games as a new incentive. However, some games were re-created with more familiar Brazilian characters, and translated into Portuguese. Later on Game Gear game ports were created for the Master System, such as the notable Sonic games. Perhaps most unique of all is the only licensed 8-bit port of Capcom’s popular Street Fighter 2.

Despite wooing Europe over, Sega still had loss the 8 bit race, and wasn’t quite sure what to do. Tonka had screwed up any chance for the US Master System to succeed, the smaller, sleek Master System II released in 1988 died quickly, but suddenly Sega had a revelation. They thought with the utter success of the black and white color portable Game Boy system from Nintendo, they could make use with the Master System. Sega’s plan? Cram a Master System (With a few improvements) into likewise portable package, except much bigger length wise with a wide area for your hands. Released in 1990, it sported an awesome color screen, and graphics far surpassing the Game Boy’s, it also drained batteries like crazy. This turned off most casual gamers, and most went with the Game Boy’s and Nintendo’s recognition by name. After all, Little Billy didn’t want to spend money on six more double A batteries for every six or so hours of game play on the Game Gear when he could squeeze 10 to 12 hours of gaming with only four batteries on the Game Boy.

If Nintendo owning 90% the gaming market shocked you, it should of. It was plainly illegal. Binding third party developers to an exclusive contract with just Nintendo was wrong, and by the time of 1992, the Japanese and American governments were starting to get angry, and Nintendo toned down. All ready too late for the Master System for it was gone except in Brazil and Europe.

Now that we’ve gone over the system that should’ve of started it all, but didn’t, we can come to appreciate really good business tactics: Who knows, what if Sega won the 8 bit war? We’d probably see the same cunning tactics on future systems (Sega CD, Sega 32X, etc.) and maybe a future filled with Sega consoles. But, for now, pick up a Master System just for the heck of it, and live in Sega’s past.

Processors
– Zilog Z80 CPU running at 3.58 MHz
– Texas Instruments SN-76596 PCM audio processor (6 channel sound)
– Yamaha YM-2413 OPL-3 FM synthesizer (FM module for Sega Mark III only)

Graphics
– Texas Instruments TMS9929A VDP
– 64K VRAM
– 16-color palette with 16 intensities each (64 colors from a 256-color palette)
– Support for 256×192 (SC-3000) and 240×226 (native) graphics display modes
– 32×28 character text display mode

Memory
– 1 MB system ROM
– 64 K system RAM

Connection
– 1 expansion slot (unused)
– 1 cartridge port
– 1 Game Card slot
– 2 joystick ports
– Commodore-style A/V port and internal RF adapter

Storage
– SG-1000 style videogame cartridges (supports ROM sizes from 128K to 4 MB)
– Sega Game Cards (supports ROM sizes from 32K to 256K)

CREDIT… Anthony and (now defunct) “Sega Base”, web site.

North American Lost Ark alternatives?

As you all are aware, or maybe not? Lost Ark was just released October 7th at 2pm (KST) in Korea. For the uninformed, Lost Ark is a very appealing action (think diablo-esque) oriented MMORPG. There are already numerous ways for North American and Global players to play this game in its native language, but I myself am not willing to spend the money and time to tackle the huge language barrier. So with this all in mind, it has me curious what does the North American gamer have to satiate their hunger for a new MMO that promises entertainment on the scale of a game like Lost Ark. So I’ve included here, my top contenders.

FRACTURED

Fractured is the first open-world sandbox MMORPG mixing action combat with fully interactable environments, appealing equally to lovers of competitive and cooperative gameplay. Jump right into the fray from day one. Defeat your enemies through your own skill and cleverness, not equipment or level. Gather resources, craft, trade and venture into legendary travels as a solitary hero, or start a settlement with your guild and grow it into the next empire. -via official web page

That sounds very appealing, particularly defeating your enemies through your own skill and cleverness. The screen shots and video also have some impressive visuals. Fractured is going into Alpha 1 testing come December 2018. Players that get to test this game exclusive to Kickstarter backers. That being said you can expect a couple months for an official release.

 

LEGENDS OF ARIA

Inspired by the original sandbox MMORPGs like Ultima Online, discover a non-instanced persistent world driven by you. Build your character your way, be you a crafter, adventurer, or humble fisherman. The first full-scale MMORPG to support community servers and modding.-Via official steam page

This is arguably the most unique MMO to be released. And to be excited I am sure you can all expect this game to be released Officially on December 2018.

 

MAD WORLD

Mad World is an MMORPG. It stays true to classic MMORPGs but has unique setting, characters, and choatic and yet addictive combat system combining targeting and non-targeting combat.

Farming, Hunting, PVP, PVE, Quests, Giant Bosses, Item Trading, and other enjoyable features often found in traditional MMORPGs plus something original that we are thinking of adding. -VIA Official FAQ

Looking at the style and direction of this game it has me really excited. It will be ran through HTML-5 so it will not be a stand alone client you have to download. They also mention that because of it’s HTML-5 structure, you can expect to this to be released cross platforms. No release has been listed.

That concludes my list. I did omit some other promising titles particularly Project TL (The Lineage). But I think this list gives some realistic expectations, and not just pie in the sky details.

 

 

 

 

Tengai Makyou: Daiyon no Mokushiroku (Far East of Eden: The Apocalypse IV)

Tengai Makyo: The Apocalypse IV is the latest installment of the extremely popular Far East of Eden series (also known as Tengai Makyo) which spans from the Super Famicom (TM Zero), to the PC engine (TM Ziria, TM Manjimaru and TM Gaiden ~ Kabuki Klash) and the Sega Saturn (TM The Apocalypse IV). The Tengai Makyo series has a tradition of stunning cinematic, solid game-play and its own original style of humor. The Apocalypse IV continues the tradition.

The Apocalypse IV is actually based on the writings of a fictional author called “P.H. Chada” who chronicles an over-the-top, bizarre and downright crazy version of 19th century America. This game is as historically and politically incorrect as you can get and it makes for an original and entertaining setting for an RPG. The Apocalypse IV is also one of the darker RPGs ever made, dealing with topics such as The Book of Revelations and Satanism. That, combined with the insane setting gave this title little chance of making it stateside (sadly).

The story of Apocalypse IV follows the story of a young Demon Hunter named Rizing and his quest to rid America of the plague of demonic evil that infects it more and more each day. Along the way Rizing will encounter memorable allies, insane, ominous villains and other characters that seem to be the product of smoking reefer and paint-chips. The Apocalypse IV’s cast is incredible, from the colorful and deep main characters to the villains who range from hilarious to satanic. I enjoyed TA IV’s story from start to end and it had some very memorable moments that I won’t mention to risk spoiling the surprise for people who haven’t played it yet. The story is also pretty easy to follow even if you don’t understand Japanese (I know about 3 words of Japanese, heh) and combined with a game guide found at gamefaqs.com you’ll be all set.

The battle system in The Apocalypse IV is pretty traditional and basic in its scope, mirroring the battle system found in the Phantasy Star series with a few alterations. For instance, the time of day affects your enemies’ strength and your whole party uses one MP pool. You are also able to pull off combination attacks ala PS 4 and Chrono Trigger. As you progress in the story you receive more techniques and you earn new magic spells from various Indian chiefs spread throughout America. The game-play offers nothing groundbreaking, but it provides a solid and fun experience.

The Apocalypse IV is a 2D lover’s dream, from the incredible anime to the colorful towns/battles, this is definitely one of the finer looking 2D RPGs on the market. The anime FMV in this game is amazing and pushes the Saturn to the limit. There is little to no pixilation to be found. Not only is the quality of the anime compression amazing but the art is great as well. Once you see the opening sequence with Rizing ice surfing through the Alaskan tundra you will know that you’re in for an anime experience that few games can compare with. The battle scenes are played out in interactive first-person anime scenes, think Phantasy Star with 100 times the animation and effects. The town and dungeon graphics are your basic 2D style but the attention to detail is very impressive, it may not be in the same league as some of the newer 2D RPGs detail-wise but it gets the job done.

The Apocalypse IV’s soundtrack is solid and has some of the best Saturn PCM I have ever heard. In fact the music played during the anime scenes is incredible. Toshiyuki Sasagawa’s score combines techno, rock and atmospheric tracks for a unique and above average soundtrack that fits the game perfectly.

The voice acting in this game is high quality and there are over 20 different voice actors used. This is usually a given in RED co. games since they take pride in top of the line voice acting.

If you are looking for an original and fun RPG to eat up your time look no further. Tengai Makyo: TA IV’s original story, memorable characters, colorful graphics, great music, low language barrier and solid game-play make it a good buy for Saturn importers. Lets hope we see Tengai Makyo on the Dreamcast in the near future.

Albert Odyssey – Sega Saturn

Albert Odyssey: LoE was released in 1997 to hungry US Saturn owners who would take any RPG that was thrown there way. Even though Albert Odyssey LoE wasn’t what you would call an “epic” or “classic” RPG, it did have enough substance and Working Designs humor to make it a worthwhile purchase to Saturn owners who were desperately starving for an RPG that they didn’t have to import.

The story of Albert Odyssey: LoE is not what you would call “developed” or “original” but it still is a somewhat enjoyable quest even if it goes through a library of cliches along the way. AO:LoE stars the a generic hero named Pike who sets out on a quest to eventually save the world. Sure the plot is basically generic and cliche but Working Designs’ translation makes the plot much more enjoyable thanks to the added humor and well written dialogue. Some may say that the humor goes to far at some points and at times it does but it is still a lot better than the horribly translated RPGs that some US publishers crap out nowadays.

AO:LoE has one big fault, the battles. There is nothing wrong with the actual turn-based battle system but it’s the loading times in the battles that make them so horribly boring and slow-paced. Each command takes an eternity to pull off and it completely took all of the fun out of the battles. I still cant believe that the loading times in the battles were actually worse in the Japanese version of this game. I’m not one that usually complains about loading times but this is ridiculous. AO: LoE is also not that difficult and you wont spend much time planning strategy against most bosses. If you can stand the horrendous load times then you should enjoy the 25 – 35 hours of game-play in AO:LoE.

I really liked the graphics in AO:LoE, the graphics were in the traditional 2D style but they were vividly colorful and very detailed. However, the over-world was done in full 3D and reminds looks exactly like the over-world in Tales of Destiny. Albert Odyessy LoE is one of the best looking 2D rpgs, even to this day.

Albert Odyssey: LoE has a solid soundtrack with its fair share of great tracks. The quality of the music is very high since most of the tracks were done in red-book audio that is playable via a CD player. The soundtrack may not be as well composed as Xenogears or Lunar 2 but it is still a solid soundtrack nonetheless.

Overall, Albert Odyssey: LoE would be just an average RPG if it wasnt for the great translation by Working Designs. Sadly the horrible loading times in the battles brings this game down a lot and the cliched plot may bore some people. Its a solid RPG to add to your collection but I wouldn’t suggest going nuts to track it down.