Hello all and welcome to This Month in Retro! Today, I’ll be taking you back to October of 1997, where history could have changed forever if a particular merger went through. As seen more often in history, when one- or two big companies are facing financial issues, they merge with each other to continue on living–Square-enix perhaps being the most recognized one. Announced in January 1997, Sega planned to acquire Bandai which would be finalized during this month… but it ended up being called off by Bandai in May of the same year due to cultural differences. We all know what happened to Bandai afterwards, but it is interesting to think how different the gaming landscape would look if the merger did go through.
That was most of what happened this month in terms of events, but don’t worry: we have an absolutely amazing line-up to cover this month. This may very well be one of the best months This Month in Retro has seen thus far, and an October 1997 v2.0 could very easily happen. Ask me again in 20 years when I’ve tackled all other years and I’ll consider it. Not really much horror to be seen this month though, but I remember that being the case last year as well so I’m not too surprised by that.
(Hi, Nepiki from the future here! I wrote the above paragraph assuming that Nightmare Creatures and Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back also released this month, but Wikipedia lied to me. Still a fantastic month though, just not as amazing as I made it out to be.)
So let’s talk about them games! As usual, I will be covering the game releases of this month in 1997, looking at games that saw the light of day in the west for the first time, as well as games that never crossed the ocean. I will talk about the sales numbers if applicable, the reception by both critics and players, as well as the achievement set if there is one. I’m sticking exclusively to MobyGames for reviews now before the sixth generation of video games simply because GameRankings is too unreliable to use, but that shouldn’t make too much of a difference.
We don’t have any horror games to talk about, but we at least got a gothic-themed game! And wouldn’t you know it, we have another Nepiki Bias Alarm™ here! Although when you see what game I’m going to be talking about, you’ll notice quickly that I am far from the only one looking through rose-tinted glasses on this one.
|Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation)|
|Release dates||JP: March 20, 1997
NA: October 3, 1997
PAL: November 1, 1997
|Average score||91% (Mobygames, 40 reviews)|
I love this game so much. While certainly not the first of its kind, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of the most influential games ever created, leading to what is now known as the Metroidvania genre, a sub-genre of (mostly) platformers that have a bigger focus on exploration-based action-adventure gameplay. It’s an unnecessarily confusing name for a genre that nowadays gets applied to every platformer that isn’t just left-to-right, and I’ve certainly had some heated discussions about that, but that’s because this sub-genre is so special to me. And while I love myself some good Metroids, this game is where my love for the sub-genre truly started. In this game, you play as Alucard, the son of Dracula, who ventures through Dracula’s Castle after its sudden reappearance. It is a direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, where Richter Belmont should have put Dracula to sleep for another 100 years but that obviously didn’t happen. The entire game takes place in the castle, which can be freely explored given that Alucard has the means to do so, with a lot of secret rooms, paths, and treasures to be found. Where this game mostly differs from its famous counterpart Super Metroid is that it has some more RPG elements, like gear to equip and levels to gain, adding a completely different approach to boss battles given how many alternative weapons there are. They may be slightly unbalanced at times but I don’t really care about that; it’s a great reward for exploration for me. It had a tough time near release though, selling way less copies than anticipated. But due to an overwhelmingly positive reception by both the critics- and players, it became the success we know about today. It has been re-released multiple times, although I would say Konami could probably re-release it a few times more. Multiple games in the same sub-genre would follow from Castlevania on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night being the spiritual successor by the original creator because Konami nowadays is poopoo. Suffice to say, this is one of the games that has changed the gaming landscape forever, and I’m all the more happy for it.
The achievement set has a really solid basis for the base game, tasking you with exploring every crook and nanny of the castle, collecting as many items as you can, and getting those sweet RPG levels for both you and your familiars. Every boss also has unique challenges that limit you in what level you can be and what gear to use, so multiple playthroughs are definitely recommended!
Meanwhile on Nintendo 64, we would see a game by one of the 90s most prolific developers, Treasure. What treasure (heh) do you they waiting for us this time?
|Mischief Makers (Nintendo 64)|
|Release dates||JP: June 27, 1997
NA: October 1, 1997
PAL: December 12, 1997
|Average score||78% (Mobygames, 27 reviews)|
Despite us being in the generation where 3D games were all the rage, Mischief Makers shows us that there is certainly still a place of 2D (or technically 2.5D) Platformers–in fact, it was the first 2D Platformer on the Nintendo 64. The player takes control of a robotic maid called Marina on a quest to save her creator from the emperor of Planet Clancer. To do this, she must make it through five worlds, having twelve levels each with the goal being to make it to the end. And she does so with the power of… grabbing! Yeah I know, doesn’t really sound that enticing but trust me, it’s better than it sounds. Almost everything in a level can be grabbed and then shaked, leading to each having different functions such as solving a puzzle or becoming a weapon of mass destruction. The levels themselves offer a good amount of variety to make this shaking gameplay shine, with solid platforming to boot. At release though, that was not enough to convince critics. The harsh introductory learning curve was not appreciated by them, and neither were the short length and low difficulty. Then again, 90s critics (or arguably critics as a whole) didn’t really know what they were talking about as they kept comparing the game to Super Mario 64 for literally no reason. Players fortunately had less of an issue with the game, and have caused its reputation to grow over time as one of the more unique games for the system, filled with personality and fun. Unfortunately for Marina however, aside from a cameo in another Treasure game called Rakugaki Showtime, this would be the only- and last game we would see her in, also never having a re-release.
Fortunately, RetroAchievements has us covered. Aside from regular progression, Mischief Makers has a bunch of unique challenges, like getting A of S ranks in levels, collecting every gem or avoiding them altogether, and of course the classic no-damage bosses. A complete set that will ensure you will be spending a bit more time on what critics called a “short game”.
This month would also see the birth of a new franchise (at least, in the west) by a very popular developer that got a new game only a few months ago!
|Armored Core (PlayStation)|
|Release dates||JP: July 10, 1997
NA: October 22, 1997
PAL: June 1, 1998
|Average score||78% (Mobygames, 11 reviews)|
The first game in FromSoftware’s Armored Core series would be released in Japan a few months earlier, with an official western debut happening in this month. The player controls the titular Armored Cores in a third-person shooter game, taking place in the distant future where earth has been wiped out by a cataclysmic war that forced the remainder of humanity underground. Of course you would think the surviving humans would work together to make the Earth an inhabitable place again but noo, humans seek power and therefore there are two opposing corporations duking it out with each other through these big mecha. The game taken a mission-based structure with branching paths, where the player navigates open levels on the hunt for enemies. Clearing a mission rewards the player with credits that can be used for the extensive customization options for your mecha. Some of these options are the variety of weapon types, both for long distance and close combat. This high amount of customization is also what received the most praise from critics, which has persisted with players over time if not more positive than ever given how popular FromSoftware games have become over time. After all, it was their flagship series for a while with a total of 16 games under its hood, with the latest one, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, coming out only a few months ago in August. Releases started slowing down after a particular other popular series started taking of, but the latest release proves this series isn’t going anywhere.
Given its short length yet satisfying loop of the branching paths for missions, set developer Falcus made sure to embrace that part of the game and hasn’t only included the clearing of missions, but also additional challenges for most of them such as destroying a particular amount of enemies or finding secret parts for the mecha. The set has been well received by fans of the franchise looking at the wall and forum, and fortunately for them, the other two Armored Core games on PlayStation 1 also come with a set!
Let’s move on to the final game. I was very, extremely, highly tempted to talk about Moto Racer for the final game since I like that game a lot… but I did already write a Play This Set for it a few months back so I would just be repeating myself. We were definitely not short on racing games this month though, so I’ve decided to instead choose what may be considered a hidden gem!
|Turbo Prop Racing | Rapid Racer (PlayStation)|
|Release dates||PAL: October ??, 1997
NA: July 15, 1998
|Average score||70% (Mobygames, 11 reviews)|
If there’s one side of the racing genre I would like to see more of, it’s the racing-on-water games, be it through jetski or speedboats. The fifth generation actually has a surprisingly good amount, with one that may have gone under the radar of many being Rapid Racer, known in North America as Turbo Prop Racing. Developed by one of Sony’s own development teams in London, this game lets players take control over a motorboat to race around six different tracks. These tracks all have collectables on them like turbo symbols for a boost to get you ahead, and yellow icons that unlock a bonus round. Win the championships and more modes for the tracks get unlocked such as mirrored mode, as well as the ability to upgrade to a higher-powered boat. Given that is was developer by a subsidiary of Sony themselves, the game was able to take full advantage of the new DualShock controller, having full support for the analog sticks and the vibration of the controller depending on the intensity of the waves. It was a game that received above average reviews, but most critics saw it more as a technological showcase with an average game underneath, criticizing the controls and unoriginal gameplay. As a whole, the game was definitely received well but has not managed to make much of an impact, leaving it as a pretty overlooked game.
The same somewhat applies to RetroAchievements, with the set not having a lot of players yet at the time of writing. You can easily still make it in top top 10 in fact, with a set that covers each track and championship on every difficulty and setting. There’s not much to say here as it’s a “what you see is what you get” set but hey, what works works!
Other interesting western releases this month
Games with achievement sets
|Bushido Blade (PlayStation)|
|Command & Conquer: Red Alert (PlayStation)|
|Donkey Kong Land III (Game Boy)|
|Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (PlayStation)|
|Moto Racer (PlayStation)|
Games without achievement sets
|Hard Boiled (PlayStation)|
|Jet Moto 2: Championship Edition (PlayStation)|
|Note, The (PlayStation)|
|Pandemonium 2 (PlayStation)|
|Shipwreckers! | Overboard! (PlayStation)*|
* Set is claimed
And just like the western releases having a stellar line-up, the Japanese-exclusive side also did not take it easy this month. Two of them even have a set! Unfortunately they are also pretty much the only ones with a translation but that’s fine, I like gushing about yet unknown games in the hopes that they catch the eye of someone interested. There are some cool games I couldn’t talk about today like Lagnacure and Zill O’ll for the PlayStation 1, but there’s enough left to talk about. Anyway, let’s move on to the first game!
|Community Pom (PlayStation)|
|Release dates||JP: October 30, 1997|
Do not misread that title, because I can assure you everyone else already does that. Trust me, just check the wall for this game… and the GameFAQs board… and everywhere else probably. Anyway, I’m getting distracted. Community Pom! Grab an action RPG like the Mana series or the gameplay of the 2D Zelda games, turn up the cuteness by a million, and you’ll have this game! I mean, the game literally starts with a farmer entering the village who says he got attacked by a large watermelon and he gets laughed at for it, you know what you are getting into. Still, that doesn’t stop our main heroine Luru from being the only person in the entire world to save the world from imminent destruction and stuff because of course. She explores a whole bunch of dungeons, solves puzzles, and get the treasures inside, all while leveling up just like you would in an RPG. Our main protagonist attacks with a yo-yo, and wants to be friends with everyone including these small charming elemental creatures called Poms, who will fight at her side and become stronger depending on how deep their bond is. It’s also where the “Community” part of the title comes in, as there is also a simulation aspect where a community is built for these Poms that will lead to all sorts of benefits. It’s a charming game that comes with a good translation as well. Unfortunately it still went somewhat under people their radar, but there is a fix for that issue!
Introducing the RetroAchievements set with a whopping 207 (!) achievements! As someone who wants to play this set really badly himself (and then ends up not playing anything), I haven’t done a thorough look of the set to prevent me from spoiling myself, but it’s safe to say this set covers everything there is to see. Do be sure to check out the forum page for a list of missables!
Somewhat cheating with the next entry though, as the game technically released on Arcade and Saturn first and also technically released in the west as a downgraded port on the Sega Genesis Mini 2. It’s just really farfetched so I’ll give this a pass, and it has 64 in the name so that means that specific version never got officially translated!
|Puyo Puyo Sun 64 (Nintendo 64)|
|Release dates||JP: October 31, 1997|
Puyo Puyo Sun is the third installment in the franchise by the same name, with sun not being based on the actual sun but a pun on the word san, which means… three. Wow, it’s all coming together! Don’t worry, the game definitely still involves the sun in some way, as Satan wants to have a tan and grows the sun, while Arle hates the heat so wants him to cut that out. She’s just like me! The sun itself also transformed into a Puyo, introducing a new mechanic where it falls down a random column to potentially create more Nuisance Puyo to bother the opponent. The game has three campaigns to go through on separate difficulties, with Draco taking the easy mode as she actually doesn’t care for the heat and wants to take this time to get a tan too. Aside from that well, it’s Puyo Puyo alright! The regular competitive mode is here, with the console ports also having a tournament move and competitive Nazo Puyo mode. Not many opinions are to be found about this specific port, but Puyo Puyo Sun in general is well appreciated, so if you are a fan of the series it’s certainly worth giving a shot!
Which is convenient since we have another fan-translated Japanese game available as a set on RetroAchievements. The set has achievement for playing the campaign as all three characters under various conditions, be it within a specified amount of time, with a good score, and doing it without continuing. Puzzle Puyo and Mission Puyo modes also have their dedicated achievements, so more than enough content to dive into!
You know, we haven’t really talked about that other console that was relevant during this era. It’s time to fix that right away with a game that… I don’t have that much to say about because it’s pretty unknown. Regardless, footage always does the job for this genre!
|Release dates||JP: October 16, 1997|
If any companies’ consoles were known for their rail shooters, SEGA is almost always the king. The Sega Saturn had a ton of them as well, with one of the more unknown ones probably being G-Vector. This one in theme is closer to another prolific franchise in the genre, Star Fox, using a battleship to destroy all enemies in sights with a lock-on feature. It looks really fast paced and full of action at all time. That said, it is relatively short so as you might expect, it can be fairly punishing, with only one life that can take three hits with no recovery items in sight, as well as three continues. Fortunately, score attack can be used to practice each stage as you are invincible there. There is not much more to be found about the game so relatively short paragraph but hey, with such a short game it’s at least worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre!
For the final game, we are sticking to the Saturn. Specifically because this is actually an entry in a well-beloved RPG series! …But I don’t know if this one is as beloved as most games.
|Release dates||JP: October 30, 1997|
So what series is Ronde part of? Well, it’s part of the Majin Tensei series which, as you can imagine, is a spin-off of Megami Tensei. This series consists of three games and two further spin-offs, with the first two games being Japanese-exclusive on the Super Famicom. The game follows protagonist Asuka in the near future Japan, where his little brother is captures by a demon statue when they are visiting the demon museum. I don’t really know why anyone would think it’s a good idea to set up a demon museum in this series of all things but hey, you do you. What makes this series separate from the main series is that the gameplay takes a turn to the SRPG subgenre. This game doesn’t have the series’ name in the title for whatever reason though, with it stricly being Ronde, which refers to the theme of reincarnation the series does follow. It could also be that they excluded the title because Ronde is the only game in the series that was heavily criticized by the critics that would even go as far as to call it Kusoge, especially for the visuals. It practically ended the series, with the two spin-off games that came after being mobile games during the 2000s. Is it really that bad though? I would like to say yes, but some people unironically say the story is good so… either they are genuine or I’m being set up by trolls. Please don’t tell me I’m set up by trolls. Aaaanyway, it does not have a translation but a full translated script is available in case you do want to give it a try!
What a great month! Even though I took some opportunities to show hidden gems or well… something downright bad apparently, there were a ton of games this month that are absolutely worth playing as shown by the other releases this month. The same goes for the Japanese side as well. I do think it’s fair to say that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is undoubtedly the winner of this month though. I mean, it created one of those super confusing subgenres, that means you’re special! I would like to say Community Pom wins the Japanese side, but I am heavily biased towards cuteness so… yay!
Almost every genre was covered too, aside from horror unfortunately. One month I’ll find a complete horror month for Halloween, trust me. But as for what we’ll be seeing in November… good question! I have no idea either! No hint this time, but I hope to see you again next month for another edition of This Month in Retro!
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