Hello all and welcome to This Month in Retro! This time, we’re going a bit further beyond than we have been so far and see what the year 2004 had to offer for the month March. And if I just look at all the industry happenings this month, we may be in for a lot of games. Though not all happenings were equally interesting, as in terms of acquisitions we had Ubisoft buy up Wolfpack Studios just to close them down two years later without really having done anything in that time. The classic EA move before EA did it. Apparently they’re still active, but there’s a dozen Wolfpack Studios on this world so my answer to that question is yesn’t. Zushi Games Ltd., a major British publisher, meanwhile acquired Hothouse Creations, most known for releasing some strategy games on Windows during the late 90s, such as Gangsters: Organized Crime. Spoilers, both have also been defunct for a long while. Scion Studios, who helped with the development of two Unreal Tournament games, merged with Epic Games, while Gamespy finished their merger with IGN. IO interactive, responsible for the Hitman series, goes in a conditional agreement to be acquired by Eidos Interactive. D4Enterprise was also a new company birthed this month, which would become well-known for porting a lot of MSX and NeoGeo titles to modern platforms on their digital storefronts, such as the Nintendo Wii. That… sure is a lot of happenings this month. I don’t remember the last time I wrote an introduction this long!
And… we are not done yet either! This month also birthed two new franchises that we unfortunately won’t be talking about due to them not seeing the light of day in the west until a few months later. The first one is the Katamari series with their first game, Katamari Damacy. This um, very Japanese franchise, tasks the player to assist the King of all Cosmos to roll around a ball and increasing it in size by absorbing all kinds of objects. This franchise is still active to this day, with a remaster to the second game coming out this summer. The other franchise this month… doesn’t really require an introduction: it’s Monster Hunter. Who doesn’t know Monster Hunter? It is a series of action-RPG games that has seen a new entry almost on a yearly basis, and is currently one of Capcom’s most prolific franchises. And the very first one was released this very month! Both franchises are very much beloved by fans, making this yet again another month worth remembering. But what else happened this month in terms of game releases?
As usual, I will be taking you through March 2004 with all of the Western- and Japanese-exclusive game releases, talking about them with a short description, an achievement set if applicable, and also discussing the legacy they left behind. Since this era is better documented, all scores will be taken exclusively from Metacritic. Due to 2004 having some consoles we don’t support yet on RetroAchievements, I won’t be discussing Gamecube and Xbox games released this month. The most interesting games for both these consoles this month were Pokémon Colosseum and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for the Nintendo Gamecube. I’ve been talking for a very long while though, so time to move on to this month’s games!
The first game of the month I’ll be talking about is from a very beloved franchise on the Game Boy Advance. I actually didn’t even know about this game existing until I came to RetroAchievements despite being a franchise I myself hold dear as well.
|Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge (Game Boy Advance)|
|Release dates||JP: August 8, 2003
NA: March 2, 2004
PAL: March 19, 2004
|Average score||54% (Critics)
Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge is a spin-off game of the Mega Man Battle Network series, released after the fourth game. Being a spin-off, it features a different gameplay system than we are used to from real-time tactical role-playing battle system, instead opting for a system where a random selection of chips appears for the player where they decide which ones to chain together. So no more dodging, no more lemon shooting, but instead strategically thinking what chips will bring you victory. After the selection has been made, sit back and see the outcome of battle as it is mostly an automated battle system with little input required from the player aside from occasionally chipping in. That’s also why this game ended up being received quite negatively, as player participation wasn’t really too high, with IGN even citing it as one of the worst Mega Man games ever made. But will you believe the critics, or the players? They were more positive on the other hand, praising the battle system as refreshing and fun. Both sides do agree that the presentation could have used a bit more work though, with a confusing interface and rehashed graphics. All in all, an interesting experiment in this series that is unlikely to be revisited again, with the upcoming Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection only featuring the numbered entries.
Given that this game allows you to choose which operator and NetNavi you want to play with, this set included several achievements where you are tasked to play with any of them and progress through the ranked classes. Furthermore, battles can be won as quickly as just two turns… but also take longer than ten, so all of these are covered as well. And of course, the classic chip collecting is here too!
The PlayStation 2 saw a lot of games this month, with varying degrees of interesting premises. Personally speaking, the most stand-out and perhaps hidden gem of this month would be…
|Crimson Sea 2 (PlayStation 2)|
|Release dates||NA: March 30, 2004
JP: April 15, 2004
PAL: September 3, 2004
|Sales||70.000 (No Japanese sales recorded)|
|Average score||75% (Critics)
The sequel to Crimson Sea was released a bit over two years after the original. While the former is an Xbox exclusive, the sequel funnily enough ended up being exclusive to its biggest rival, the PlayStation 2. This duology features a third-person hack-and-slash/shooter style of gameplay with some RPG elements incorporated. Crimson Sea 2 takes place two years after the original game, with Sho being sent out once more to defend the Theophilus star system from a force called the Menace. Sho has access to a variety of weapons that all have different ranges, that each consist of three customizable parts. The sequel adds upon the first game by introducing a non-linear mission structure, as well as two new combo moves to make battles more engaging. The game ended up being positively received by both critics- and fans, with many praises going towards the gameplay and great, fluid controls accompanying it. The main criticisms towards it is the repetition, which… may be an understandable claim given that this was developed by Koei and features some elements from the Warriors franchise. In some regards, it is even cited as being the spiritual successor to the Dynasty Warriors: Gundam subseries! The series hasn’t seen a new game since these two, with the latter only being re-released on PlayStation Network as a PS2 classic game. It also currently does not have an achievement set so if you are interested and got some requests open, consider placing it there!
Back to the Game Boy Advance we go with another sequel! I have actually played the first game too this time so hey, got a bit of background information to go on! …But I also have the memory span of a goldfish so I’m not sure how much that is going to help me.
|Shining Soul II (Game Boy Advance)|
|Release dates||JP: July 24, 2003
PAL: March 26, 2004
NA: April 20, 2004
|Sales||80.000 (no Japanese sales recorded)|
|Average score||74% (Critics)
It is not uncommon for the Shining series to take on a variety of different genres within the RPG spectrum, like strategy, turn-based, and the one of this duology, action. Both games have a top down hack-and-slash dungeon crawling structure not unlike titles such as Diablo. And this game is certainly an improvement over the original, which ended up with a bit of a mixed reception due to being a bit basic and bland. Whereas that game had four classes to choose from, the sequel doubles that amount and are far more customizable when it comes to weapons, abilities, spells, and attributes. Despite being a sequel, it has little connection to the original game aside from some little references and can therefore be easily played without the feeling of missing out. Which is definitely a good thing, as the reception for Shining Soul II has been much better. Unsurprisingly, the varied progression system I mentioned earlier is the main point of praise, but the combat system as a whole does see many positive aspects like having a total of three weapons equipped at all times to choose between. Unsurprisingly the story is the game’s weak point when comparing it to the games that came before this sub-series of games, but stories also aren’t really that important in these kinds of games.
Without spoiling myself too much, most of the set is looking to be story-related with playing the game both on normal- and on advanced mode. I was surprised to find out there wasn’t an achievement for beating the game with every class, though maybe that would also be too long?
For the final game of the western side, we have a game that finally left Japan after a bit over 8 years. One that I’m still unsure about why it never left Japan to begin with, but that’s the case with more Disney games than just this one. Of course, I’m talking about…
|Magical Quest 3 starring Mickey & Donald (Game Boy Advance)|
|Release dates||JP: November 21, 2003
NA: March 19, 2004
NA: June 14, 2005
|Sales||20.000 (No Japanese sales recorded)|
|Average score||58% (Critics)|
The Magical Quest series of Disney games started on the SNES, with the first two being localized no problem yet the third one missing out, which I’m going to assume is due to it being released later in the SNES’ lifetime while the next generation was already going strong. With the trilogy being re-released on the GBA, it was finally time for the game to be localized. Replacing Minnie from the last game, this game features Donald on a quest to save his nephews who are transported and later captured in Storybook land. The game is overall similar to what the game before offered, with the costumes returning that provide our heroes with different abilities–even more differentiated by a costume having different strengths and weaknesses depending on who has it on. Surprisingly though, despite critics saying they like the game, scores do not really reflect it. Totally normal to call a game “downright fantastic” and then give it a 6 out of 10 right? But it was frowned upon for being too short and easy so I guess that answers that. There is also surprisingly barely any player opinions to be found about this game, which shocks me even more. I guess they made the right call not localizing it earlier?
The set will put you in both heroes’ positions to beat the game, and complete it on hard mode as well–with an extra added challenge to do so without any of the heart containers found in the levels. There are also no-damage achievements for the bosses, but it looks like the game has a generous save system so that is something you will be able to practice well!
Other interesting western releases this month
Games with achievement sets
No games released this month have achievement sets other than the above mentioned.
Games without achievement sets
|Wade Hixton’s Counter Punch (Game Boy Advance)|
|Rascal Racers (PlayStation)|
|Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (Game Boy Advance)|
|Sabre Wulf (Game Boy Advance)|
|MTX Mototrax (PlayStation 2)|
|Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3 (PlayStation 2)|
The further ahead we jump into modern years, the tougher it becomes to find Japanese-exclusive titles that also have translations available. After all, while earlier platforms usually had a few platformers here and there, during these eras when a game wasn’t localized, it was usually because they were Anime-related games or visual novels. Like no kidding, that’s more than half of the list I have gathered. The first one I’ll be talking about today is an Anime-related game, but it actually got a fan-made translation. And this also finally gives me the opportunity to talk about my favourite Anime of all time!
|Fullmetal Alchemist: Stray Rondo (Game Boy Advance)|
|Release dates||JP: March 25, 2004|
Hell yeah that’s right, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is (like many people) my favourite Anime of all time. The series as a whole actually got a bunch of games, of which several did make it to the west. That didn’t happen to this game, Fullmetal Alchemist: Stray Rondo, known under its Japanese name as Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Meisou no Rinbukyoku, which is the first game in a duology made for the Game Boy Advance. Both of these games are turn-based RPGs, where both Edward and Alphonse can do the usual melee combat to defeat their enemies, but more interestingly is that they have access to materials for alchemy to use as weapons, like Edward’s favourite oversized cannon. Some other characters like fan-favourites Roy and Armstrong are also playable, in a story that starts similarly to what we are familiar with in the source material which becomes its own tale over the course of the game, with several unique characters not seen elsewhere in the franchise. As mentioned before, this game as well as the sequel both have translations available and would therefore definitely be potential candidates to receive an achievement set in the future. Once I have another spot open, I definitely know where I’m going to put my request!
And… that’s where the fan translations end. As unfortunate as it is, none of the other games of this month had a translation. So are there games out there that you can easily play without a translation? Not many, but let’s see what we have with… another Anime-related game!
|One Piece: Going Baseball (Game Boy Advance)|
|Release dates||JP: March 11, 2004|
So full disclosure first: I am not a One Piece fan and haven’t really watched much of it either, so I’m probably going to butcher some things. But given how popular the Anime is in the RetroAchievements community, it would be a disservice not to mention this game. Though do keep in mind that while baseball itself is not too tough to understand and play with, the game does feature a story mode taking place during the Skypiea arc, so you will miss out on some story–or an explanation as to why these pirates are playing baseball of all things. But yeah, aside from that the baseball is what you would expect from… well, a baseball game. The player can choose between eight teams starring several well-known characters in the One Piece universe, with Luffy and the Straw Hat crew obviously making up for the default team to choose. All characters also have a bunch of unique special moves to spice up the baseball gameplay. So yeah, if you’re a fan of the One Piece series and don’t mind that there isn’t a translation yet, this may certainly be up your alley.
And that’s it for the Japanese side since all other games? Yeah, good luck playing them without knowledge of the language. Still, I do want to mention them with a short summary because I don’t want to cop out every week, so here’s a lightning round!
- PoPoLoCrois: Tsuki no Okite no Bouken - I’ve actually played the PoPoLoCrois game which came out on PSP (which, by the way, does not have a set yet). What I didn’t realize is that this franchise is actually bigger than just that game, which already is a compilation of multiple PlayStation 1 games. This game is the sequel to another Japanese-only PlayStation 2 RPG, both forming a duology set 15 years after the original games with the son of main protagonist Pietro taking the helm this time. I wasn’t too big a fan of the originals due to a low difficulty and slow pace, but that is a slightly unpopular opinion as it is a beloved RPG by many, and seeing the PlayStation 2 titles translated surely would be a dream come true for them.
- Sakura Taisen Monogatari: Mysterious Paris - The Sakura Taisen series also saw a release this month with a spin-off featuring the characters and setting from Sakura Taisen 3. As a spin-off, the battles are omitted for a pure Japanese-style adventure, with a more mystery text-based adventure taking the forefront. I obviously didn’t cover this game in full detail because, as you can imagine, it’s hard to really recommend a very text-heavy game that has no translation. Still, is is a bigger well-known franchise and should be covered as a result.
- PukuPuku Tennen Kairanban: Koi no Cupid Daisakusen - I don’t really know a lot about this game but it looks cute, and veteran readers of This Month in Retro know I have a weakness for cute stuff. Tried looking on the internet to see if there was more information beyond a dog walking around a town talking to other dogs but no luck. It’s an adventure game at least, so for all I know it turns into a Zelda game later where we need to defeat Ganon at the end, I don’t know.
Imagine jumping into the far future to talk about PlayStation 2 games, literally to just cover one. Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot to talk about or the game in question was multi-platform and released elsewhere earlier. So much for me being optimistic to talk about a lot of PlayStation 2 games… oh well! There were still a bunch of interesting releases this month, though relatively tame compared to most other months with no real Game of the Year contenders. Mega Man: Battle Chip Challenge was probably the most successful in terms of sales, although critics certainly weren’t too kind on it. That honour would probably go to Crimson Sea 2, at least of the games I’ve talked about since Metal Gear: The Twin Snakes is the obvious champion of this month. As for Japan, no idea since the majority ended up being text-heavy titles with no translations, but even then it’s probably safe to assume either of the two new franchises birthed this month did the best. Though there was also the PlayStation 2 version of Dragon Quest V! And if I had to be super technical I guess I could have talked about it due to the PlayStation 2 version never leaving Japan but yeah, that’s really pushing the limits.
Jumping to the future didn’t work, abort mission. Back to 1992 we go for next month! I’m hoping that month will be a banger since I felt like the two months I’ve done back-to-back were a bit lacking in true hits. But hey, it’s just me throwing darts at some years so I have no idea; RNG baby! Anyway, Nepiki out, see you next time!
Unless stated otherwise, the following sites have been used to create this article: