Hello all and welcome to This Month in Retro! Today, I am taking you back to May 1996: a month celebrated by achievers all across the world! Why, you ask? Because it was the birth of GameFAQs of course! And Gamespot too I suppose but GameFAQs! Where would we be without this site where users could write extensive guides on how to get through games, find the many secrets games have to offer, and much more?
This month also saw a new company in the form of MTO, most known for the GT series of racing games as well as the gamez that end with the epic letter z: Catz, Dogz, Hamsterz, and Horsez. Domark, Simis, and Big Red Software fused together to become Eidos Interactive, now more commonly known as Square Enix Europe and perhaps even more commonly known as “that one branch Square rather doesn’t talk about so they sold most of the IPs to Embracer Group to invest in blockchain”. The 3DO Company also acquired Archetype Interactive this month, known for making one of the first MMOs ever called Meridian 59. But uh, nothing much came out of that so… congratulations on your purchase? Sure was an interesting month huh?
But I know what you came here for: you wanted to hear about the games released this month, didn’t you? The west saw a few high profile releases this month, but most were on the smaller side. Japan, on the other hand, saw many releases this month–of which the majority has never seen the light of day in the west (not even with fan translations). And as it goes with This Month in Retro, I want to show you the good, the bad, and the hidden gems from this month from both the western- and eastern side of the world, as well as cover the RetroAchievements part about them. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the games released this month!
Note: due to the retro years being less well documented on the internet, some average scores and sales numbers might be off. I tried my best to be as accurate as possible, but I hope you understand. The average scores are all taken from the now-archived aggregator GameRankings, because I wanted to avoid modern-day reviews of retro games as well as only cover the bigger publications. In case I couldn't find an average score on GameRankings, I looked at other sites and made my own average.
While every month will have the argument of what the best release was that month, there is little room for discussion when it comes to the most successful game of this month. That game is none other than Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
|Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)|
|Release dates||JP: March 9, 1996
NA: May 13, 1996
Two months after its release in Japan, North America got to enjoy Mario’s first endeavor into the RPG genre. PAL regions unfortunately never got this game, which is still a mind boggling decision given it is arguably one of the best games to get younger people into the RPG genre from its time. But hey, at least PAL regions got Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest to do that job! Super Mario RPG is a very important game to the Mario series as a whole, marking it as one of the first (successful) Mario games not developed by Nintendo themselves but instead by Square, the company that was arguably the master of RPGs on the SNES with their frequent high-quality releases. They used their expertise from their beloved Final Fantasy franchise and mixed it together with the world of Super Mario, combining it into one beautiful package that was critically acclaimed by fans- and critics alike. Due to the success, it also inspired many of Mario’s other successful endeavors into the RPG genre, with both the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series being spiritual successors to it. The game even exceeded expected sales numbers in North America, where the RPG genre still only attracted a very niche audience. To this day, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is still very much beloved by fans all across the world, seeing frequent re-releases on modern platforms and still occasionally ranking near the top when it comes to Mario spin-off games. A beloved character from the game, Geno, has even been one of the most requested characters for the Super Smash Bros. games ever. Unfortunately for Geno and all other characters exclusive to this game, they never saw the light of day ever again outside of minor cameos- and easter eggs.
The achievement set is also one of the more popular games played on the platform, having at least 6000 achievers at the time of writing this article! Fans have overall been positive about this set, as it covers almost every corner of the game. The minigame achievements (specifically the “Where’s My Super Suit?” and “Everything I Touch” achievements) are often considered to be the hardest of the set (specifically due to hardware input lag), but with enough practice, you should definitely be able to master this set.
So what was SEGA’s answer to this massive success? Simple: release a sequel to the beloved rail shooter video game Panzer Dragoon.
|Panzer Dragoon II Zwei (Saturn)|
|Release dates||JP: March 22, 1996
WW: May 10, 1996
|Sales||Unknown. 310,000 in Japan only|
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei, similarly to Super Mario RPG, would also see a western release less than two months later, but this time for both North America and PAL regions. It has a really dumb subtitle that just means two two and to make matters worse, it is actually designed to be a prequel to the first Panzer Dragoon. Totally not confusing at all. But that fortunately did not stop it from becoming a succesful game overall, commonly being ranked somewhere in the top 10 Saturn games of all time. That’s because this game did exactly what a follow-up game should do: address the criticisms the first game got, like lowering the overall difficulty as well as expanding the story elements, to make it a more approachable game. It also incorporated some RPG elements of Panzer Dragoon Saga, the game that was in development at the same time which is also easily the most acclaimed Saturn game ever. But that’s a story for another day. Regardless, it goes without saying that this was one of the most beloved franchises SEGA had at the time. But like quite a lot of SEGA IPs, Panzer Dragoon would never make it beyond the PlayStation 2. That is, until a recent announcement of both the original Panzer Dragoon as well as II Zwei getting modern remakes. The first game of this duology has already been released, while the second game is still in production.
While you are (probably) waiting for II Zwei to get its modern remake, picking it up on RetroAchievements is not a bad idea either! It is a set that will test you skills, asking you to play the game on the harder difficulties, testing your aim with 100% Shot Down Ratios, and wanting you to be really good at the Zero Space segments. The set still has a relatively low amount of masteries, so maybe you can show up and take the place on the leaderboard?
Both Nintendo and SEGA had two of the most successful games of the year in just May alone, but the Sony PlayStation would not be as lucky. To make matters worse, they even had two of the lowest scoring- and lowest selling games of this month in Alone in the Dark: One-Eyed Jack’s Revenge (310,000 sales) and especially Skeleton Warriors (80,000 sales). Neither of them were absolutely canned mind you, but Alone in the Dark was appreciated far more on PC 2 years before, while Skeleton Warriors… exists. It’s not an understatement to say that game has been lost to time. Because both of them had multi-platform releases way earlier on other platforms, I won’t be talking about them today and instead save them for another This Month In Retro. Which leaves us with the only notable release of this month for the Sony PlayStation, Battle Arena Toshinden 2.
|Battle Arena Toshinden 2 (PlayStation)|
|Release dates||JP: December 29, 1995
WW: May 23, 1996
While the original Battle Arena Toshinden was quite critically acclaimed, Battle Arena Toshinden 2 released to a more… alright reception. It definitely did improve on several aspects the first game was lacking in, but the main criticism was that it did not improve enough to make it a worthwhile new experience. The core gameplay was mostly untouched after all, with only a simple combo system being a new addition. But unfortunately, the 90s was also a time where critics always had to compare one game to another very successful one, and Battle Arena Toshinden 2 simply couldn’t hold a candle to the other big names in town: Tekken 2 and Virtua Fighter 2. This is the main defining reason why the average score for this game is as it is, because fans do hold it in a slightly higher regard. Fortunately, the series did go on for two more games on the PlayStation as well, after which it was never seen again. Battle Arena Toshinden 2 ended up releasing on the Saturn a few months later as well in the form of Battle Arena Toshinden URA, but that version received an overwhelmingly negative review so if you’re planning on playing this game, you’re probably best off just sticking to the PlayStation version.
Ignoring the ports of Alone in the Dark: One-Eyed Jack’s Revenge and Skeleton Warriors for now, Battle Arena Toshinden 2 is so far the least successful game of the month–which definitely speak to the overall quality we’ve got this month. Will it stay that way though for the remainder of this article? Who knows, but Nintendo sure wasn’t planning on taking that spot. Not only Mario was getting a game this month, but Kirby also got the honours with Kirby’s Block Ball!
|Kirby’s Block Ball (Game Boy)|
|Release dates||JP: December 14, 1995
NA: May 13, 1996
PAL: August 29, 1996
|Sales||Unknown. 320,000 in Japan only|
Kirby is known for having a lot of spin-offs, and one of the more interesting ones is Kirby’s Block Ball. It takes the formula of the famous arcade game Breakout, but with many unique additions to truly make it a game belonging to the Kirby franchise. This is because the peddle is not just on the bottom of the screen, but also on the two sides. The fun part here is that initially, HAL Laboratory decided that the game did not feel like a Kirby game in the slightest, and worked for a total of six months to revise the entire game to make this happen. In classic Kirby fashion, there are now also minigames, well-known power-ups like stone and needle, and boss fights. Critics were very positive about this change in formula, citing that it went far beyond where other Breakout clones stopped. Definitely one of the more interesting games in the Breakout formula to check out, with it still being enjoyed by players nowadays.
The achievement set made for this game has done a great job at wanting the player to get everything out of each level. Not only are you going to beat a stage, but you will have to beat the Borderline Score, a perfect clear in bonus mode, getting a 1-up, losing no lives and much, much more. Players so far have been very positive about the set, so if you like what you’ve read so far, this is a high recommendation.
And that’s it for most of the big releases from this month! But before we move on to the eastern side of the world, I wanted to take a quick look at two games you might have never heard about. Both of these games have no sets either, but there are pages available so if these games interest you, be sure to leave a set request!
|Power Piggs of the Dark Age (SNES)|
|Release dates||NA: May ??, 1996
EU: September 29, 1997
First up is Power Piggs of the Dark Age, published by everyone’s favourite company Titus Software. Their line-up of games have always been… mixed to say the least, but this game overall falls into the “decent” category. This game takes place during the Dark Ages with humanoid pigs in a platforming adventure with quite a unique graphical artstyle. The graphics, alongside the character’s move sets and humour have all been received positively. It is by no means a game that will blow you away, but for a 2D Platformer on the SNES, you can definitely get much worse.
|DragonHeart (Game Boy)|
|Release dates||NA: May ??, 1996
EU: October ??, 1996
And finally we have DragonHeart, a video game loosely based on the fantasy adventure film with the same name. The reason I specifically chose to talk about this game is because it looks very interesting for a Game Boy game. It features a first-party adventure mode with a lot of dialogue between characters, while the actual combat takes place on a 2D plane akin to a simple fighting game. This is easily one of those games that has been lost to time and is barely ever brought up, making it tough to find more information about it as a result. That is probably also because the movie itself didn’t really gain much traction at release. That said, this has surprisingly become a franchise with 5 films in total, three of which have even been pretty recent. So if you are one of the people who ended up watching it then hey, maybe check it out!
Japan had a few more notable releases this month–especially in the JRPG scene. Fortunately for me though, none of these have a RetroAchievements set so far which makes it a lot of fun for me to talk about games you’ve probably never heard of! Well, with one exception, that being Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu.
|Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War (SNES)|
|Release date||JP: May 14, 1996|
Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu, or more commonly known by its English name Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, released as the fourth title in the Fire Emblem series. This is one of many Fire Emblem titles that has never made it to the west officially, which is definitely a shame given how highly influential it is to the rest of the series. Many mainstays would be introduced here, such as the weapons triangle and support systems. Unbeknownst to many is that this would also end up being the final game produced by Gunpei Yokoi, the creator of the Game & Watch. It did well for the series, with many of the songs originating in this game also being re-used in the Game Boy Advance games. To this day we still cannot officially play this game in English, but through the dedication of fans, a popular fan translation was put together that does work for the RetroAchievements set as well. Many western fans have been able to play the game this way, and has also seen many praises from these fans, highly wishing for Nintendo to officially bring this game over to the west.
As mentioned, this game can be played on RetroAchievements with an English patch. This patch can be found on the forum for the game, and will get you up and running in no time. The set itself is going to test your strategical prowess to the max, ensuring that all villagers will be rescues, every stage within a set amount of turns, and that no unit dies. Ever. Good luck!
And with Fire Emblem out of the way, that brings us to the games without achievement sets yet. Out of these games, there are two very strong games decently well known in the west by RPG fans, that accompanied Super Mario RPG on the Super Famicom as some of the last RPG games to be released on the system. And who else but both Square and Enix would be eligible for such an honour?
|Treasure Hunter G (SNES)|
|Release date||JP: May 24, 1996|
Another contender for best game of the month is arguably Treasure Hunter G, a strategy role-playing game published by Square, and also the last game they have published for the Super Famicom. A villain called the Dark King, which is totally the most original name I’ve ever seen for an antagonist, was sealed away until an unsuspecting treasure hunter released him upon the world. This game being released so late in the Super Famicom’s lifespan definitely does it a lot of favours, as the game is praised for its beautiful graphics that make it look like an early PlayStation game. Fans have praised it as one of the most beautiful SNES games out there as a result, and it’s hard to deny why. But if that wasn’t enough, the gameplay is arguably even better, seeing the adventuring being done more akin to other Square RPGs like Chrono Trigger and the Mana games, while the actual combat itself takes place on a grid where all movement and fighting consumes varying amounts of action points. This game has never seen a release in the west, but has a popular fan translation that resulted in this game receiving a cult following–and with it currently being on the second page of the “Most Requested Sets” page, I feel our community also has a lot of fans. And hey, with Square-Enix currently reviving a lot of their IPs like Live-a-Live, maybe there is hope?
|Dark Half (SNES)|
|Release date||JP: May 31, 1996|
And on the other side of the RPG-of-the-month boxing ring, we have Dark Half published by Enix. Dark Half is a tactical RPG that has two campaigns take place concurrently: one with a demonic overlord razing villages to the ground, while the other is a paladin who goes to the same villages afterwards to have the souls find peace. Not only are the stories of the campaign different from each other, but so is the gameplay overall. This game features a tactical grid-based combat system for both characters, with both gaining companions and power in different ways that relate to their story. And just like Treasure Hunter G, this game’s release date being late into the system has also worked wonders for the graphical artstyle. It does also have a cult following, but is slightly less known over here in the west. Maybe we on RetroAchievements can give it the recognition it deserves in the current day and age with an achievement set? A fan translation has been available since 2015 by the popular translation group Aeon Genesis, which has been regarded as a very polished translation.
Oh, what’s that? You already knew about all of these games existing? It looks like I’ll have to dig even deeper then. Unfortunately for all of the coming games, they are so obscure that none have seen a fan translation yet. I did my best to pick a few titles of which most don’t really need a fan translation to be played, with the exception of the final two. So strap in and get ready for some more unknown Japanese-only games!
|Supapoon DX (SNES)|
|Release date||JP: May 31, 1996|
A remake of the original Supapoon released a year prior, Supapoon DX is another Breakout clone with a very cutesy artstyle. The changes this game brought to the formula mostly revolve around the paddle, making it elastic for more powerful shots as well as prone to damage from enemy attacks that results in a timer that will tick down faster. Fortunately for the player, not the entire screen needs to be cleared but only those evil yellow balls with sunglasses. They apparently started invading the solar system for some reason. That’s the story really, so as I said, no fan translation is really needed. Supapoon DX and the game before are the only games in this franchise, as it has never been seen again afterwards.
|Block Kuzushi: Deden no Gyakushuu (PlayStation)|
|Release date||JP: May 31, 1996|
You thought I was done with Breakout clones? You’re wrong. You’re very, very wrong. I’m going to brainwash you soon and the only thing you’ll be able to think of is more Breakout. Oh uh, what was I saying again? Block Kuzushi: Deden no Gyakushuu is yet again another Breakout clone, but for the PlayStation this time. This one admittedly isn’t too special compared to the other Breakout clones, as it doesn’t really do anything new with the formula. It’s just a cutesy anime-like Breakout clone that I figured I would tell you about for the sake of an ongoing joke about me showing Breakout clones down your throat. It does have a bit more story though, but if you only care for block-busting action, you’ll be fine here.
|Dezaemon Plus (PlayStation)|
|Release date||JP: May 24, 1996|
Alright, enough Breakout for this edition of This Month In Retro. What I wanted to bring up next is actually a pretty interesting piece of software, being the release of Dezaemon Plus. What makes this game so special is that it allows the player to create their own vertical shooters through the use of an icon-driven tool set. Everything from enemy placement, behaviour, weapons, powerups and more can be controlled this way, and there is even a music editor similar to Mario Paint. The latter probably makes sense, given it’s an updated version of the Super Famciom release. This version does also have some submissions from editing contests fully playable. I have no idea how this game would work for a RetroAchievements set aside from the submissions, but you got to admit: this sounds really cool.
|Release date||JP: May 31, 1996|
And for the final game of the no-fan-translation-needed group, what else could I talk about but Kyuin? This is yet again another beautiful example of a game you would really only find in Japan, as it is a bizarre vertical shooter with a boy riding on a vacuum cleaner, sucking up enemies and shooting them down with… something coming out of that vacuum clear. Yeah, I couldn’t make this up either, just accept it. Regardless, it does look like a cute game with many fairy tail inspirations, and a pretty short adventure as well.
We are almost done with this month’s edition, but there are two more games that I wanted to let you know about. The only issue with those two games in particular is that no fan translation exist, while they come with a lot more text. But hey, raising awareness for untranslated games always sounds like a good thing!
|Gokinjo Boukentai (SNES)|
|Release date||JP: May 24, 1996|
You can say that I went really deep with my research, because this game? Even in Japan it has only a very small cult following. Gokinjo Boukentai is an RPG featuring a party of young children in a modern-day setting, coming across strange happenings like Youkai. This game is unsurprisingly compared very often to the Mother series, but is still strong enough to stand on its own. It’s also a very beginner-friendly RPG, offering no penalty upon losing a battle and instead making them stronger on a retry if they so wish. There was a translation in the work for this, but I think it’s fair to say that project is currently either on-hold or cancelled altogether. Definitely a shame because it looks like a cute JRPG, with a branching storyline and new game+ function for 100% completion. It also has a really, really catchy normal battle theme that you really need to listen to. Man, it’s so good.
|Dungeon Creator (PlayStation)|
|Release date||JP: May 31, 1996|
As implied by the name, we have another “maker” game here like Dezaemon Plus, but this time for dungeon crawling. It offers a ton of utility to the player, from map- and monster creation, to even items- and traps. And for the people who don’t really like creating their own dungeons, there is also a story mode with pre-designed dungeons. Like Dezaemon Plus, this would be a bit tougher to think an achievement set for, but it is really interesting regardless. And hey, low-poly PS1 dungeons. I love them, I hope you love them too. But yeah, this game is yet again so obscure that a fan translation is highly unlikely to happen in the near future. Unless I sparked some interest! In which case, please honour me as that one guy who got people interested in a super obscure PlayStation game, thank you.
And that’s it for This Month In Retro May 2022! While the list of releases wasn’t too long, the titles that did come out are overall really interesting with no real bad ones. Even a Titus game isn’t bad and I don’t know what to even say about that.
As mentioned during the article itself, the absolute winner in terms of success is definitely Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Not only was it a best-seller in Japan for the month, but even in North America did it crush the competition. It’s hard to say which game performed the worst so I’ll leave that as an open question to the reader. Japan has seen a lot of interesting releases, and especially the RPG area was filled with many highs. If I could pick one of the games for an achievement set, it’s predictably going to be Treasure Hunter G, but that’s simply because it is just that good. All other games I’ve talked about are certainly interesting as well.
Thank you for joining me on this trip through history! Next time, we will be jumping a few years ahead to the year 2001 with games such as Sonic Adventure 2!
- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
- Panzer Dragoon II Zwei
- Battle Arena Toshinden 2
- Kirby’s Block Ball
- Power Piggs of the Dark Age
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
- Treasure Hunter G
- Dark Half
- Supapoon DX
- Dezaemon Plus
- Gokinjo Boukentai
- Dungeon Creator