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Chasing the 16-Bit Dragon

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By Nelson Schneider - 06/25/17 at 03:48 PM CT

I have a LOT of “RPG Maker” games and other retro RPG titles in my Steam library. I also have a lot of Kemco’s retro RPGs in my Google Play library. Yet I find myself rarely playing these, as, after an initial taste of these titles that aim to replicate the classics of the Golden Age, I have been bitterly disappointed.

Yes, I got solid enjoyment out of “Skyborn,” and, yes, the spoofy parody games by Zeboyd have been enjoyable in a very “Earthbound” sort of way, but all of the other neo-16-bit RPGs I’ve played in the last few years just haven’t done anything for me. I feel like a Chinese addict who finds themselves constantly “chasing the dragon” in my attempts to find a new RPG that will instill in me the same feelings of awe that “Final Fantasy 6,” “Dragon Quest 5,” “Suikoden 2,” or “Chrono Trigger” did, yet always failing because the metaphorical ‘dragon’ is an unreachable target.

However, the ‘dragon’ actually gave me some insight on the situation: “Dragon Quest 5” was one of those 16-bit RPGs from the Golden Age that I wasn’t able to play until many years later… I think somewhere around 2002, simply because Enix failed to localize it outside of Japan. Just recently, I played another unlocalized 16-bit classic (again, by Enix), “Terranigma,” which made it partway to the West, but stopped short of North American in Europe, so it was officially available in English.

“Dragon Quest 5,” though, was my first experience with a phenomenon known as ‘fanslation,’ via which bi-lingual fans of unlocalized games create translation patches that leave the gameplay untouched, but replace the game’s script with a fan-created version in a new language. While these translations are entirely unofficial, sometimes a fan’s interpretation of the original material is better and more faithful than the Bowdlerized version that North America would officially receive (see: “Yu-Gi-Oh!” card translations under the tyranny of 4Kids and Upper Deck).

Because of the incredible work being put in by the Libretro team, I was able to experience “Terranigma” on my Steambox in an all-in-one emulator known as Retroarch, and I was able to acquire the original ROM image thanks to the archival efforts of the No-Intro group. While picking through the No-Intro SNES collection, I came across a number of titles that I have longed to see localized, yet Squaresoft and Enix never did, and the horrible union of the two, Square Enix, seems more than happy to ruin the ‘Final Fantasy’ brand and peddle Eidos products instead of putting in the minimal effort required to translate a 20-year-old game into English. The same site where I acquired my fanslation of “Dragon Quest 5” so long ago – ROMhacking.net – is still up and running, and lo and behold, features fully-playable translation patches for nearly every game I’ve been longing to experience since the ‘90s, plus a few I’d never heard of… and, of course, the lion’s share are Squaresoft and Enix games, since, as I have long believed, without those two companies cranking out quality products in the ‘90s, the Golden Age would have been far less shiny.

With fanslations in hand, I have decided to take an oath to myself: Before I spend any more time on copycat, wannabe, pale imitations of the games of the Golden Age, I will finish experiencing the actual Golden Age for myself. Look for reviews of these forgotten classics on MeltedJoystick in the coming months.

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