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    Recently, I’ve decided to dive into the Ganbare Goemon games.

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  1. DeDeDe


    I love the art direction, but after seeing the trailer... What would you say is exactly "chill" about the game? In some ways, I wish that they'd made a Zelda game but without the combat--like a mix of Monument Valley and Zelda.
  2. I've been ignoring this thread for too long... Or that is to say, I should have been posting here more often than I am. As I've mentioned before, this project became a little bigger than I'd envisioned, and so I made the decision to launch a Patreon. I am writing 4 short-ish articles a month about each game in the series, including interview translations and various paraphernalia produced by Konami to promote the games. Yeah. It's a Patreon now. But I'll keep posting my thoughts in this thread, though. If you're interested, please check it out: https://www.patreon.com/projectgoemon
  3. An interview with Etsunobu Ebisu, who would join Konami a few years after and would become the director for the Ganbare Goemon series, posits some speculative points that shed light on some other factors I had been vaguely aware of, but had not considered seriously. Karakuri Dochu is very much also a response to other action and platform games from that time—most notably Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. There was certainly an element of competition shared between Famicom developers at the time, and Karakuri Dochuwas probably propped up as an example of what others could do, Konami could do better. if Super Mario Bros.had side-scrolling levels, Goemon would have pseudo-3D levels. If other games had sections where the player could go to underground areas, Goemon would have those, too—and they would be secret areas as well! It’s debatable whether this act of one-up-man-ship vis-a-vis Nintendo’s output was deliberate, or just a product of a very fertile time for Famicom development, of course, but whatever the reasoning might have been, one can surmise that at the very least Hashimoto and his team looked at all the concepts and ideas that had been shown in the recent past and decided to make a game of their own that incorporated those ideas, including those from Mr. Goemon. They just needed a good concept to tie it all together. It is is a deceptively difficult game, and perhaps this is the alternative meaning behind “Karakuri” in the title: in the end, it’s a tricky journey for players who choose to take the challenge. This game takes Goemon across a long journey across Japan—from the Kyushu island, on the far west, to Edo, what is now Tokyo—to take justice against the corrupt daimyo in each region. Gameplay-wise, each level takes place in the space between the various gates in the road that you need to get through to the next section of your trip. You start at a town, and then proceed to a town in the country, next, a trip through the mountains, followed by a detour through the seaside, back into a town, another seaside sojourn, another village, another trek through the mountains, then you cut a path through rice paddies, a large samurai residence, and finally the castle—first through the outer wall and then inside the castle. That is thirteen levels, each of which becomes increasingly more difficult the more you make progress. In many ways, it’s a strange journey. Goemon’s journey could be seen as a sort of tourism through ancient video game-Japan; in contrast to the mainly kabuki-influenced Mr. Goemon, Karakuri Dochu takes most of its inspiration from the ukiyo-e work of Hokusai and Hiroshige, with beautiful background pixel art, and the game more or less lets you play freely around in the areas. There is not a lot of variety during the trip, to be honest. You will mainly go to shops or inns, and sometimes visit a house or a gambling shack. (One stop in particular is worthy of note: the RPG dungeon-esque “3D mazes” that you are able to go inside (for a fee, of course) at some houses. These would become a fixture in future games, despite the frustrating nature of traversing them.) And all the while, you are being attacked by almost everyone on the street. Unlike future titles, you get the feeling that Goemon is always in constant danger, and from the very start. The guards at the towns are chasing after you (shouting “Goyou!”—“Arrest him!”, which has been synthesized as an actual voice sample—an expensive rarity in those days), but so are pick-pockets, bandits, and samurai. And then you get to the village, and you have to contend with fishermen, bandits, birds... It never stops. In terms of just the concepts in the game, I am impressed that Goemon even has to contend with tengu (demons with long noses and magical abilities) and wild boars in the latter mountain levels. Everything comes to a climax in the final castle stage, as you invade the castle to face the daimyo. Up to this stage, the game has been quietly ramping up the difficulty at every stage, but the castle level is a considerable step up. You go against a much larger variety of enemies, most of which are unique to the castle, and the castle layout is enormous. The background music also shifts in tone accordingly—gone are the jaunty tunes of earlier levels, replaced with something much more menacing. Goemon only needs to traverse the maze-like castle and get to the daimyo, but this becomes a hectic, desperate struggle against waves and waves of enemies. Although seemingly non-existent, exploring the various rooms in the castle reveals that there are still shops, etc in the level, but the game very effectively creates the feeling of being on your own against near-insurmountable odds. For a Goemon game, Karakuri Dochu has an odd flow. The game is not without humor: the incessantly bowing shopkeepers never fail to raise a smile, and the sheer ridiculousness of everything that is trying to get you is quite entertaining. However, this is all enveloped in a relatively tense environment with a cynical outlook on Edo-era Japan. Goemon being an outlaw that is being actively chased by the government, perhaps it’s to be expected, but the facts that shopkeepers will raise their prices after you buy an item, or that people in houses will give you very little information, or that the 3D mazes are in many ways traps—it feels like the world is against you. After meeting the daimyo and forcing him to let go of his corrupt ways, Goemon climbs to the top of the castle to celebrate his victory against all odds. It’s very tempting to think that the player probably feels the same as Goemon. It turns out to be a practical joke, however: after the ending, you find yourself standing in the street of a town in Izumo, the next region in Goemon’s journey—just with the difficulty level pegged one step higher. Karakuri Dochu is truly an enormous game, albeit in an unimaginative way. There are eight regions in total (Higo, Izumo, Bizen, Settsu, Omi, Owari, Shinano, and finally Edo—which correspond, roughly, to Nagasaki, Shimane, Hiroshima, Osaka, Nagaoka, Nagano, and Tokyo nowadays), each with the same number of stages, except for Edo. And even then, if you complete the Edo stage, the game is not over. Konami held a contest when the game was released, which required players to complete Goemon’s journey ten times over (for a total of 1300 levels). At the end of the Settsu area on the 100th round (funnily enough, the Osaka area) the game displays a secret code for a contest held at the time of the game’s release. Karakuri Dochu provides absolutely no help to complete the game: there is no save function or any password feature, which, thinking also about the difficulty level of the game, makes me very grateful for ports on recent systems.
  4. Well, look at the sky. Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Dochu (1986, Famicom) Unlike Mr. Goemon, which hinted at something more ominous in the attract screen, as Goemon faced the bosses from that game, Karakuri Douchu starts with a more conventional premise. We see Goemon being chased around the streets of an Edo-era Japanese town (somewhat leisurely, it must be said—although that might be to emphasize Goemon’s slippery evasion skills). Goemon escapes by jumping on the rooftop of a house, and then the game begins as you find Goemon standing in the middle of (the same?) Japanese town. If you have the experience of playing later games in the series, Karakuri Douchu feels a bit more anxious as you realize that Goemon is not so much on a silly quest around Japan with his friends, but on a mission by himself—against the very government of each province. The setting gives the game a different flavor, but I wonder what audiences at the time—for whom Goemon was an entirely new character—thought about it. The actual plot of the game is simple: you control Goemon as he travels through various regions through western Japan, through the major or significant castle centers of various regions, starting at Kumomoto, in southwestern Japan, going along the coast, traversing through central Japan, and finally arriving at Edo (Tokyo). Given the problematic gameplay style of Mr. Goemon, which saw the player only move left-to-right through various stages, designer Kazuhisa Hashimoto’s main design axiom was to let the player move freely within huge game regions, which means that in the game itself Goemon travels through various levels (presented in a Zelda-esque overhead perspective) as he tries to get three passes to get through the gates to the next section. As he does so, Goemon also takes the opportunity to steal as much as he can and spread the money to the people in the region. (In a charming touch, Karakuri Dochu also recreates Mr. Goemon’s sequences after completing a level, which show Goemon dancing through the town, spreading around the stolen koban gold goins.) What’s interesting about this game is that, while your main quest is simply to collect those three passes to proceed to the next stage, the team filled the maps with houses, shops, inns, mazes, hidden areas, and many other places where you can spend the money you’ve collected to buy protective gear and useful items—or simply to while away the time. (Literally, in this case: future Goemon games would de-emphasize this aspect of the game, but Karakuri Douchu features a strict timer, presumably to dissuade you from spending too much time in the level.) It feels more like a cross between an action game and an RPG, and the comparison is not a coincidence. Dragon Quest had made a big impact in the game world in 1986, and developers were not immune to it. Hashimoto grasped the possibilities of what RPG elements could bring to games, and he wanted to let players have the freedom not to complete every task in order to proceed to the next level: it is possible to complete the game without spending any money, but money gives players the freedom to simply buy the passes if they prefer. In fact, the sense of freedom does not extend just to the passes: You get the feeling that the developers wanted the player to have a sense of somewhat fantastical freedom with its ancient Japan setting. Goemon begins his journey in a town, but after that he travels to mountains, beaches, forests, rice paddies, and castles, encounters a wide variety of foes. You never know what to expect. In one level, you might be throwing gold coins at the police guards in the town; in the next, you are attacking crabs and demons; in the mountains, the locals could be mountain hermits and tengu. And Goemon himself creates some of that fantasy: jump around the levels, and special items and underground stairs to special levels will emerge out of the blue. Indeed, the game encourages you to jump around the levels so much that you realize a little too late that there is platforming in the game: Aside from buildings and forests, there are no barriers in the game, and it’s very easy to jump and fall into the water or down a mountain, as the game does not make it very clear which areas you are supposed to avoid. Even the barriers themselves are buggy as well, and there were times when I was playing the game, and found myself stuck in the scenery beyond some barrier or wall, and had no choice but either reset to my last-saved point, or run the timer out.
  5. Yeah, there are a lot of people who seemed to think that it was just that: a direct translation of politically incorrect speech. As someone who does translation for a living, I would disagree though, and there was more nuance to it. It doesn't help that the Goemon series in general has a slightly problematic history with gender issues as well. I agree that the amount of aggression that the team (and in particular the translator) received was uncalled for--but not the criticism. I really appreciate the effort they've done, but there were better ways of translating that line. I won't be able to play the translated versions until December or so, but I'm looking forward to it.
  6. Well, one other issue that cropped up is that some people have found a couple of issues with the translation patches (I think they’re on v3 right now). But, yeah, I can imagine they’re a bit wary after that controversy. (Which I thought was justified, to some degree.)
  7. In a welcome surprise, the same team also released a translation of the Ebisumaru puzzle game: And a re-translation of the original Legend of the Mystical Ninja:
  8. I ran into a similar problem trying to play the Famicom Mini / NES Classics GBA re-releases, where the games wouldn’t even load. An anti-piracy/anti-emulation solution from Nintendo, which worked in this case, I suppose. No patches or solutions are available because no-one cared enough.
  9. Arguably, it translates more as "Investigative Action," but even then it's debatable whether the term is as widespread as Metroidvania. Metroid games are described as "side-scrolling action games” and SOTN and subsequent games, "action RPGs”.
  10. According to the Game Catalog Wiki (in Japanese), there are actually four places that had serious bugs where you could get stuck. To be fair, two of them are apparently ones where you need to know what you're doing, and the other two were fixed in later pressings/re-releases. As far as to how it could be possible to have a situation where a retail game could have these game-ending bugs? Well, as far as I have been able to piece together, the Ganbare Goemon series sold really well, but it seems that Konami either didn't have faith in the team (which had to borrow time to make SFC Goemon 2 and 4) or placed too much pressure on them (as it happened with SFC Goemon 3). In fact, a lot of Goemon games are full of bugs. Goemon Gaiden 1 in particular has a critical cart save bug, and that's a 25-hour RPG.
  11. Yeah, you're right, and I was aware of that. Arguably, there was nothing subtle about Konami arcade games in the eighties and early nineties: they were designed to steal your money. The thing about Mr. Goemon, however, is that the general consensus of people who played the game when it was released is that it was relatively easy even back in the day--which is why it turned out to be a commercial failure. All of the Famicom and MSX Goemon games have been fully fan-translated--including two translations for 1 & 2 released last month. I can't vouch for the translations, but I would really recommend playing Ganbare Goemon 2, at the very least. It has a unique character and a fantastic Michiru Yamane soundtrack.
  12. Ultimately, the fact that Mr. Goemon is an arcade game is the game’s weakness and strength. It is one of those arcade games that was nice to play, but a breezy, lighthearted experience that didn’t last very long, and also an experience that didn’t linger very much in your memory. Playing the game in 2020, Mr. Goemon feels like it should be one of the progenitors of the endless runner genre that really developed into its own genre with the rise of smartphone games. There is a time limit in the game, but it’s fairly forgiving, and the game rewards you for patient play... up to a point. There are points in every level that become bottlenecks, where you have to get rid of enemies quickly and efficiently, but I am never good enough for the challenge. For me, it proved to be a very difficult game—although it’s frustrating to read that Mr. Goemon is not known as a difficult game, and Goemon fans in general don’t hold this title in high esteem because it doesn’t have a lot of content and it can be completed quickly. This runs completely against my experience, but either that is because of my fading reflexes, and/or the ROM of the game is set at a harder difficulty, or not quite emulated correctly. (I don’t own a Switch or a PS4, so I’m playing this via MAME. It’s not the best way to start this project, I’ll admit.). No matter how long I play, I can’t quite get a grasp of what should be a relatively simple game, and it doesn’t help that, like a lot of early Konami games, this is one of those games where you have to press up on the controller to jump. In any case, after repeatedly failing to get past the third stage (Nagoya?), I gave up. But I will return to the game as I play other titles in the series. Next up: Ganbare Goemon: Karakuri Dochu on the Famicom. (On a side-note: This has become a bigger project than I'd intended, actually--but in a good way. There is a surprising amount of things tied to the Goemon games, and I'm not sure what to do with all of it, but in the meantime I'll keep posting regularly about my gameplay experiences.)
  13. I can't believe I've let this thread remain dormant for such a long time. I'll be posting more regularly now that I have a better grasp of what the series is about, and what the creators wanted to make. Yes, absolutely. The game would lose most of its appeal if you were to take away those details, and at least for me those first few bars of the first period are what kept me replaying the game, despite some demoralizing deaths in the third stage. Being able to jump on top of the mountain in the second level, the weaponized wigs, the various characters waiting inside doorways... Of all the Goemon games, this strikes me as the most well-researched--although I suppose it helps that Mr. Goemon is smaller in scale than what you'd get on consoles. I'm not sure about the enemies having a wank after they get you, though... Most enemies will launch into an exaggerated kyogen-like laughter if you die. This is the shortest video I was able to find about the technique: Are you sure you're not talking about the bootleg copy that was released about a month later titled "Mr. Spank-e-mon(key)?
  14. IIRC you have to collect scrolls to use special abilities, and you learn those abilities at the dojos found somewhere in the town stages. The manual is very 90s, but it’s worth a look. Edit: Please tell me that you’re playing the game with a keyboard.
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