A Look Back at Flashback (Super NES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Flashback: The Quest for Identity and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

We live in an age in which software exclusivity defines not only the relevance of game consoles but also nature of the entire video game industry right down to the many varied communities of very avid fans (and fanboys).

While the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) and Sega Genesis each had their own exclusive games back in the 1990s, there was one particular game that was made for and released on not just one, not two but rather on more than fifteen different platforms – both consoles and computers – starting with Amiga way back in 1992. That game is none other than Flashback: The Quest for Identity which I first played on our Super NES back in 1994.

The cover of the game box.

For the newcomers reading this, Flashback was a 2D side-scrolling adventure game in the form of a cinematic platformer (note: similar to Prince of Persia and Out of This World) with a strong flavor of science fiction. It was cinematic in the sense that all the in-game animation were rotoscoped resulting unique smoothness combined with hand-drawn backgrounds and the computer-generated cutscenes were used in key parts of the game as the story progressed. Flashback on SNES in America even came with a Marvel Comics-published Flashback comic book and on the rear of the SNES game box were the words “The first CD-ROM game in a cartridge!”

A Flashback remake was released in 2013, followed by a port of the original game released on Sega Dreamcast in 2017, and a remastered version got released for varied platforms in 2018.

I got to play that game at a time when I have not even started playing Final Fantasy II (AKA Final Fantasy IV), Final Fantasy III (AKA Final Fantasy VI) and other great role-playing games (RPGs) of the Super NES. I also remember that Flashback was a nice change of pace for me after playing Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

With those details laid down, here is a look back at Flashback: The Quest for Identity, released on Super NES in 1993 by U.S. Gold and developed by Delphine Software International.

The start and options screen.

Early story

The story begins with Conrad running away from two armed persons chasing him. He flies away riding a solo vehicle but those chasing him (riding a huge vehicle) managed to get close and blast his vehicle causing to crash into the forest.

Sometime later, he wakes up and accidentally pushes a mechanical cube to fall down. He climbs down to reach it and activates it. The cube displays a holographic video of himself telling him that he recorded it without remembering it. As Conrad watches, he learns that he must contact a friend named Ian who can explain important things to him.

After viewing the message, Conrad sets off to find his way out of the jungle and somehow get to Ian in New Washington…

Game design and quality

You have to pay close attention to what’s going on, what items do you have and what the in-game prompts tell you.

This game is not your typical fast-paced, action-oriented 2D side-scrolling adventure in which you move from left to right to progress. As it is a cinematic platform game by design complete with very specific controls, players will have to be patient, adaptive and strategic in order to learn how exactly you can control your character, what moves will be executed (and when to execute). For one thing, the very fluid 24 frames-per-second animation on your character limits you in terms of control as timing is required.

To do things properly, you have to execute specific controls. To ascend on a lift, you press Up and the Y button. To do a small jump, have your character stand still and then press Up and Y button. To go down on level (on foot, no lift), stand by the edge of a level then press Down and Y button. To run and hang on to a higher floor automatically, have your character stand still, press Right and Y button, press Y button (once your character moves) and watch him pull it off. With controls like these, the usual 2D platforming approach is out of the question. In my experience, these controls are indeed challenging but never impossible to learn and eventually I got proficient with the controls as I played more.

The in-game animation for the characters are very good and there is also a sensation of weight with your character. Falling straight down from a very high place is a big no-no.

Apart from character controls, you don’t just move Conrad from one screen to the next…you also should do key objectives along the way apart from engaging in action scenes (read: shooting). That being said, you must watch out for icons that appear on screen when your character steps on a particular spot that requires interaction. For example, if you stop by a terminal, an icon will appear serving as a prompt to start the interaction. Another example is when your character steps on the same spot as an item located at which you can pick up once prompted.

More on the action on the screen, you will encounter armed enemies as well as high-tech machines (including floating drones). To overcome them, doing straightforward shooting is not recommended as you have to be strategic before firing a shot. You have to learn how each enemy or machine moves, how much physical space is available right there and how you can maximize your limited time and space to overcome them. In fact, you will also be compelled to take advantage of whatever seconds you have while the enemies’ animation (between moves) take place. There will also be times when you need to have your character armed with the gun before jumping to a lower level where an armed enemy is located and on the lookout. Coming down armed gives you an advantage to shoot first at the enemy who

Considering the 24 frames-per-second animation, you will have to time your moves carefully, especially during moments when you face an armed enemy.

Apart from shooting, you can also use grenades which requires opening your inventory to select a grenade and then do your timing and calculation of the distance in order to pull of a successful throw and explosion. You can also throw stones to distract enemies or to apply weight on key platforms in order to open mechanical doors.

With regards to the quality of gameplay, Flashback is enjoyable but only if you get over its rather high learning curve with regards to the controls which themselves serve as the game’s advantage and even as a disadvantage. In addition to being patient and strategic, you will really have to pace yourself, think more and get used to the rather slow pace of the game in relation to its cinematic platformer design. I should state that as you keep progressing, there will be places, or new obstacles or new enemies that will compel you to change your tactics in order to overcome them. Anyone who is used to playing 2D side-scrolling games the fast and easy way might find the high learning curve and pacing of Flashback a turnoff but if they are willing to learn, adjust and pace themselves, only then can this game’s gameplay be really enjoyed.

Cut scenes like this move at a sluggish pace which shows the limitations of the SNES and cartridge technology.

As for the visuals, the obvious highlight here is the 24 FPS animation which is the result of rotoscoping and careful visualizing (note: observe those alien humanoids who morph into moving blobs). The rotoscoped animation, however, would not have been that effective had the quality of the art used for the backgrounds been made of lower quality. I can say that the background artworks here look pretty good even by today’s standards. The standout among them were the background artworks of Morph’s home planet which really looked very alien and creepy at the same time. What hurts this particular version of Flashback is the lackluster (read: choppy) frame rate whenever the computer-generated cinematic cutscenes (obviously they were meant for more powerful PCs) play which, in my experience, took me out of the story. There were also bouts of slowdown during the gameplay, especially when you encounter enough enemies that were animated sophistically.

With regards to narrative, Conrad is literally your avatar to learn, discover and interact with the many elements of the universe he is part of. There is obvious influence that the game makers took from the movie Total Recall as they crafted Conrad to be someone who lost his memory, moves on to regain it and do a lot of things as he realizes his true purpose and what is really at stake. Unlike Total Recall’s protagonist, Conrad himself is not too interesting mainly due to the way the in-game story was structured. Just play as Conrad and do what needs to be done to complete the game.

When it comes to understanding the narrative, you will have to do lots of reading. You will spot and read the short description of the prompts that appear. You’ll also have to read the on-screen text whenever your character talks with someone during the levels of the game. And there are the captions shown during the slow animated cutscenes.

Conclusion

The background artworks during the late stage of the game are great and truly creative with science fiction in mind.

I can clearly say that Flashback: The Quest for Identity on Super NESis fun and engaging mainly to those who are willing to adjust themselves to it. If you don’t have patience, if you are not willing to think while playing, if you cannot pace yourself and if you are not willing to learn all the specific controls of the game, then you should not be playing Flashback. It is a cinematic platformer and that should tell you that you will need to adjust to enjoy it.

Overall, Flashback: The Quest for Identity on SNES is recommended.

+++++

Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Secret of the Stars (SNES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Secret of the Stars and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Welcome back, video game enthusiasts, fans of Japanese role-playing games (RPGs), 1990s arts and culture enthusiasts, fellow geeks and video game collectors!

If you were already a gamer who enjoyed playing games at home with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) back in 1995, chances are you heard about the buzz about the hot RPGs that were released for the console at the time. Square released Chrono Trigger (which is now a classic) and Secret of Evermore while Capcom released Breath of Fire II.

That same year, Tecmo (the company best known for Dead or Alive video games) tried to score well with RPG enthusiasts and other SNES-owning gamers of North America by releasing Secret of the Stars which itself turned out to be the English-language version of the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) Aqutallion.

This RPG caught my attention when I read about it in gaming magazines. After completing Final Fantasy II (actual title Final Fantasy IV) and Final Fantasy III (AKA Final Fantasy VI) on the SNES in 1994, there was a period several months when I was not able to play another RPG and had to settle with other types of games (note: I had a lot of fun with Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi). In the 4th quarter of 1995, I finally obtained a copy of the Tecmo-published RPG.

With those details laid down, here is a look back at Secret of the Stars (or Tecmo Secret of the Stars as presented on the game cover).

The cover of the game.

Early story

The story begins with a young lad named Ray who gets oriented with some people at the house of Mrs. Sonya. By merely asking a question, she reminds him about his personal search for a crest which once belonged to his father. Sonya also revealed that their island has been hit by several earthquakes which caused many wild animals to arrive.

Ray travels to the nearby town talking with the locals who gradually update him about what has been happening. Someone reveals to him that a journeyman arrived and talks about something called Kustera and Aquatallion.

Ray meets with the journeyman named David who is a native of Kustera. After reminding Ray that his father was the great Aqutallion, he emphasized that an evil being called Homncruse is a major threat to everyone and must be stopped. He tells Ray that he must seek out the crest of the stars to become an Aqutallion warrior and be able to defeat Homncruse.

Ray gets urged to go to the mountain to find the crest…

Quality

Imagine yourself arriving in this town for the first time. Which place should you visit?

To put things straight, Secret of the Stars has the basic elements of turn-based role-playing that involves the heavy use of menus for item management, fighting, defense, item use and others. The most unique game design feature here is the ability to switch between parties as the game goes on but what is clear is that the party involving Ray is the default party.

On the creative side of things, the concept about Ray being the chosen one to protect his people, lead a group composed of individuals to not only fight evil beings or monsters and achieve goals on quests (read: this includes going through personal trials at different sites in order to receive additional powers) and take on Homncruse and his evil agents has always been generic and the overall game design reflects that as well. Being the protagonist, Ray is clearly the most developed character but the same cannot be said about Tina, Cody, Leona and Dan who are all uninteresting.

Red slime? More like purple!

The production values of this game are clearly sub-par and the weak Japanese-to-English translation is only the tip of the iceberg. With the exception of the monster and enemy designs, Secret of the Stars looks like an 8-bit game and really stood out among 16-bit RPGs of its time when it comes to field of inferiority and primitiveness. The level designs lack creativity and the location background art lacked variety. When it comes to the story, its concept was interesting at first but there really is not much depth to it nor are the characters worth caring about.

What really defined this game is its slow-pacing in terms of interactivity. Adding even more to the sluggishness of the game are the slow movements of your character (representing your party) on-screen and the rather high rate of random battles. There is also a lot of grinding (defeat enemies in lots of repetitive battles to gain experience points to level up) required and the sad thing is the level-up is not very rewarding especially when you take into consideration the many enemies or monsters who are often strong with high hit points each.

The sluggishness and tedium are so bad, Secret of the Stars really turned out to be more of a chore than an actual fun game to play. It is so bad, the game’s unique feature of allowing players to control the 2nd party (Kusterans) became even more tedious and pointless to do. It is so bad, you will care less about the story of Ray, and you will prefer to ignore the other characters even more. It’s so bad, you won’t care anymore about Ray’s quest and the danger Homncruse has on the people.

Conclusion

Do you know someone named or codenamed Badbad?

Secret of the Stars was a bad RPG for its time and clearly it was a waste of money. On my experience, I ended up being very disappointed not only because of the game’s quality but also because of an absence of fun and the fact that my time playing it became a big waste. For me personally, this JRPG was definitely the worse SNES experience of 1995. It seems like the game developers made this game to literally torture gamers.

Overall, Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars should be avoided!

+++++

Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

In this age of photo-realistic 3D graphics in video gaming, I sure miss the days when 2D gaming and highly detailed pixel art were the standard. I’m referring to the so-called 16-bit era of the Super NES/SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) back in the 1990s.

In 1991, Super Star Wars was released on the Super NES and it became a big hit with the gamers, the critics and fans. That game was heralded as one of the best video game adaptations of movies.

Naturally, a follow-up to that game was released in 1993 – Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

That being said, here is my retro gaming review of Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

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The experience of using a Rebel speeder to bring down an AT-AT walker with the cable remains awesome.

Developed by Sculptured Software and LucasArts and published in America by JVC, this game is based on The Empire Strikes Back which today has been considered to be the greatest Star Wars movie ever. Of course, in order to make a cohesive video game adaptation out of the classic movie, a lot of liberties were taken when it comes to following the story. This was inevitable as the game developers needed a lot of creative freedom to make a cohesive video game.

Early story (and some notable differences from the movie)

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back begins with Luke Skywalker riding a Tauntaun. Unlike the movie, Luke (controlled by players) visits some places of the wasteland of Hoth, notably caverns and hills fighting several forms of wild life (including wampa beasts), and even some probe droids.

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Luke jumping on to a wampa beast.

Unlike the movie, Luke does not get rescued by Han Solo in the wilderness. Instead he defeats a giant-sized probe droid and a giant-sized wampa beast (as in-game bosses) and make his way back to Echo Base to rejoin the rebels. Upon returning at the base, he finds it filled with Imperial troopers and their machines (where are Luke’s fellow rebels?) and fights his way through to fly a rebel speeder (note: without the movie co-pilot Dak) and proceed in the Battle of Hoth.

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This never happened in the movie.

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Luke jumping into a snow speeder without a co-pilot.

Back at Echo Base, Han Solo (player-controlled) has to make his way through a wave of Imperial enemies and machines to meet Princess Leia, secure her and ride away on the Millenium Falcon. The Falcon (player-controlled) enters the asteroid field being attacked gradually by over twenty TIE Fighters. Once all of them have been eliminated, the Falcon jumps into light speed (which contradicts the movie).

Gameplay

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is composed mostly of 2D, side-scrolling action sequences in which players control their characters moving from left to right in order to make the game progress. The sequences are filled with lots of action-packed moments mainly due to the MANY enemies challenging the players plus sequences of shooting, jumping and using special weapons (note: the thermal detonator was awesome to use). When it comes to filling up the health meter of your character, defeating enemies result random releases of hearts (symbolizing health) which you need to pick up. Key side-scrolling segments of the game will have players facing off with in-game bosses or enemies that are large, intimidating and have their own health meters for players to reduce to zero.

As typical with most 2D side-scrolling games of the era, this game is really tough and will take gamers some patience and perseverance to complete.

What really stood out in this game are the makeshift 3D segments (made possible by Mode 7) which were pretty extensive and really interactive. The Battle of Hoth in Mode 7 was pretty engaging as players get to fly a rebel speeder over a snowy field complete with lots of Imperial enemies (including the AT-ST walkers and the AT-AT walkers) and each of them is composed of multiple 2D sprites making them look 3D as the speeder moves around. Apart from simply shooting, the interactive sequence of tagging an AT-AT walker with a cable, flying around it and wrapping it with the cable, and then watching it fall to the ground really is an awesome gaming experience which really showed how hard the game developers pushed 2D visuals and pixel art.

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A Mode 7 sequence late in the game had players using an X-Wing fighter.

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The Battle of Hoth was a great and lengthy use of Mode 7.

Apart from the Battle of Hoth, there was also another Mode 7 sequence involving the X-Wing Fighter approaching Cloud City. That particular sequence was noticeably shorter and did not have a standout action sequence as it was limited to the X-Wing Fighter simply shooting Bespin fighters. Another non-2D segment was the Millenium Falcon’s flight through the asteroid field which was done with the cockpit view (first-person view exactly) in which you move a cursor for targeting and moving the ship to. This segment was pretty tough because players were not only required to eliminate more than 20 TIE Fighters but also avoid incoming asteroids and maintaining the Falcon’s energy shields (which serves as a health meter)

Going back to the 2D side-scrolling segments, the use of the lightsaber by Luke remains a lot of fun to do. Not only could he slash bad guys, he could use the lightsaber defensively protecting himself from incoming energy blasts (which get deflected by the lightsaber). On the offense, Luke can jump into the air and spin with the lightsaber turned on making him an aerial slasher over the bad guys.

In keeping with the theme of the movie showing Luke Skywalker learning to be a Jedi, the Dagobah segment in the game has Luke gaining varied Force powers and he also has a separate Force energy meter. The Force powers can be used in subsequent segments of the game and they are quite useful when Luke encounters Darth Vader as the final boss in Cloud City.

The fights with Darth Vader were nicely designed. With creative freedom, the game developers expanded on Darth Vader’s use of the Force to move several pieces of debris and machines towards Luke who has to defend himself from all sides. Fighting Darth Vader with the lightsaber was tricky and for the most part, I had Luke slashing on villain with just enough space between them and many times I had Luke use the lightsaber on him while jumping and spinning in the air. Defeating Vader was a requirement to complete the game.

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Very nice artwork made for the storytelling cut scenes.

Finally, like in Super Star Wars, players can also play as Han Solo (special attack: grenade throw) and Chewbacca (special attack: offensive spin) but only in specific segments of the game supposedly to keep in line with its story.

Conclusion

Even by today’s standards, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is still a high-quality video game that is a lot of fun to play with even though it is tough (a password system is used for in-game progress so that gamers can come back to continue) all throughout. Gameplay aside, the presentation of visuals and audio is also very solid. The sprites for the in-game characters, enemies, machines and animal were detailed to look at while the background art were immersive (like in the movies, Cloud City, Hoth and Dagobah had their distinctive visuals). The Super NES audio chip was greatly used on recreating 16-bit sound from the movies, especially John Williams’ movie scores and lightsaber sound effects.

Take note that this game was released in 1993 which is significant in the sense that people had moved on since the release of the movie Return of the Jedi (1983) and the Star Wars prequel trilogy did not begin until 1999 with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This game was released at a time when 2D gaming was still in strong demand and most gamers did not expect that 3D polygonal graphics would reshape video gaming eventually. In retrospect, the polygon-focused gaming consoles Sega Saturn and the original Sony PlayStation launched in late 1994 or more than a year after Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

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The inevitable battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

I myself had lots of fond memories playing this game back in the mid-1990s. I simply endured the many challenges of it and ultimately had a lot of enjoyment completing it. I even replayed the game from the start even though I knew how the game presented the ending and key story elements of the movie. I also got to replay The Empire Strikes Back on home video around the time I played this game.

Believe it or not, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was the first of the Super Star Wars trilogy on the Super NES that I actually played. After completing it, I borrowed the Super Star Wars cartridge from a friend and later bought a copy of Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I completed those two other games and I can clearly say that Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back remains the best in game design, the best in terms of fun factor and the most memorable of them all.

If you love Star Wars and you want the best 16-bit era video game (note: you’ll need a working Super NES console or Nintendo’s Virtual Console for any Super Star Wars game) experience of it, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is highly recommended.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com