1999: The year in review
Come the next millennium, 1999 will likely be remembered as the year before the year 2000 and "that irritating song by Prince that DJs kept playing on the radio." Closer examination by dedicated historians will reveal that in reality, 1999 was a lot more than 2000's predecessor. Important trends, tragic events, and scientific milestones litter the timeline of events from the last 12 months; events that are not only important in their own right but significant in the way they affected the world and its inhabitants.
Luckily, however, this article is about the gaming world. Sometimes everyone takes video games a bit too seriously, so let's step back a bit and take a light look at some events that in the grand scheme of things don't really matter -- Pokémons excluded, because we all know how important Pikachu is to the international economy.
The year opened with interesting news regarding the score to the highly anticipated video game title "Final Fantasy VIII -- Another Tale of a Man Named After A Meteorological Term." Word was out that Faye Wong, famed singer in the Far East, was going to contribute an original song to Final Fantasy VIII. Reaction was mostly positive at first, but before long residual worry grew and mutated into full-blown fret.
"What if Celine Dion performs the song for the American Final Fantasy VIII?!" screamed millions of concerned Americans.
Luckily, she was too busy cutting an album with Meat Loaf to make an appearance in the game, but for several months the gaming world was trapped underneath a dark cloud that only the warm winds of hope could lift.
Fortunately for the gaming world, hope came quickly with the announcements of two new titles: Unjammer Lami (hey, the translation was close) and Final Fantasy Collection. Spontaneous celebrations broke out as the title was clarified as Um Jammer Lammy and it was revealed that Lammy was a left-handed guitar playing sheep. Not only that, but Final Fantasy Collection was going to include Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI.
Not wanting to be outdone, Working Designs called forth the media to an important press conference. In the first big surprise of the year, they delayed Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete Alpha Edition Gold.
The gaming press, excited by the rare opportunity to report a game delay, got carried away and also reported that Climax Landers was delayed. In a strange turn of events, Climax Entertainment gathered the press to announce that the game was *not* delayed. A confused press decided to report instead that Final Fantasy IX would be the first game in the series to star a Teletubby.
While typing up the stories, however, word leaked out that Hironobu Sakaguchi had sneezed, and that the sneeze sounded like "Achmeetoo!" Reporters naturally interpreted this as "meeting," which obviously meant that Square was going to have a press conference to announce several blockbuster titles. Fluent Japanese speakers corrected the silly Americans, but stubborn editors decided to keep the story, figuring that eventually Square would have a press conference to announce something important. Before that could happen, though, something far more important happened: February.
February brought with it three major developments in the RPG world, and several more kind-of major developments that aren't worth mentioning. After three dozen more publications released three hundred more screen shots of Final Fantasy VIII, Square went ahead and released the game to eager Japanese gamers. This led to American gamers losing many hours of sleep over how Square's localization team would translate the Guardian Force informally known as "Grashraboras." Guesses that
various people made included Greenboors, Grassyboras, GrabberKnoll, and Harry the Hotdog Eater. The smart gamer's money was on Harry, as hotdogs turned out to be a major plot point in the game.
Not to be outdone by their fellow Japanese technological giant, Sony officially announced the sequel to the PlayStation, tentatively titled the WorkStation. Luckily, a sharp-minded young man or woman pointed out that a workstation is generally a PC. Sony hastily renamed it the PlayStation 2, as they were too tired to try to be creative. The specifications for the system were impressive, however. It featured a 5000 gigahertz CPU, a 62-speed DVD player, a 45-speed blender, a 31-flavor ice cream maker, and a little home-brewery kit, complete with barley and hops. Not only that, it can play original PlayStation games and use PlayStation controllers and memory cards while also playing DVD movies. All for the low, low cost of $192,102.21!
Working Designs, never one to be shy, decided that they did not appreciate Square and Sony stealing all of the gaming world's attention. They gathered the press and announced, proudly, that they were not announcing a Lunar delay. Shocked reporters who had already typed up their news stories telling about the delay decided that no one would notice if they went ahead and reported a delay anyway. It would be a shame to waste so much work, they figured. Besides, the real announcement was boring: Lunar would feature two player support. Not many people cared, because they were sure that March would bring more news. And it did.
Sony followed up their announcement of the PlayStation 2 by actually showing the system in action. As a joke, Sony showed off motion capture of Pokémon Yellow on the big screen, rather than actual demos for the system. The joke was on them, however, as their stock ironically skyrocketed from being mistakenly associated with Pikachu.
Among the biggest names at the Sony gala was, of course, Square, who pops up at every gaming related function. Square was revealed to be developing titles for the new system, surprising four whole people. Square showed off a few technological demos they had made for the station, which, while fairly impressive, were later revealed to be little more than MPEG clips from Warner Bros' Matrix DVD.
Meanwhile, in an empty room down the street, Yu Suzuki bragged about how Shen Mue would revolutionize not only the gaming world but also the programming world, the humor world, the movie world, and the planet Mars. It was delayed as well, but no one really noticed.
Almost as shocking as the Shen Mue delay was word coming out of Japan that Saga Frontier 2 would vastly improve on the original. Skeptical gamers pointed out that anything short of a remake of Ghosts 'n Goblins would be an improvement over Saga Frontier. Square meekly replied by pointing out it had really pretty hand drawn graphics of characters without noses. Hardcore gamers rejoiced. Everyone else was also happy, because it was time for April.
None other than the GIA itself perpetrated the biggest prank this April, convincing much of the civilized world as well as Canada that Square was making a Final Fantasy Gaiden featuring characters from Final Fantasy VIII. To the 14 of you out there that to this day refuse to believe it was a joke, the GIA has prepared a statement:
"We are very pleased that many of you fell for our April Fools' Day prank, as we put a fair amount of time and effort into it. We would like to reiterate, however, that this was a prank. It is now the year 2000, and we still receive email messages asking us when this game will be released. It will not be released. We made it up. If you still believe the game is real, then please walk into a forest and get eaten by a bear. Alternatively, if you are allergic to bears, feel free to be eaten by a shark. Thank you."
Again, Working Designs decided it did not appreciate being far from the center of attention. In an interesting and crowd pleasing announcement, they announced that the Lunar: Silver Star Story demo would go to those fans that pre-ordered Lunar, and that the demo would be longer than any other game demo ever. It would even allow you to save your game and pick up where you left off when the full game actually came out (assuming, of course, it ever did). Three cheers for Working
A few moments later, Working Designs announced that the demo had been delayed.
Nintendo noticed that Sony had announced a revolutionary new gaming system, so they had no choice but to follow suit and announce their own revolutionary new gaming system. Nintendo suits sat around their big Nintendo offices for months at a name, working on coming up with the lamest name humanly possible for a system. Sure, the specs were nice (140415ghz, 513012gigs of RAM, alarm clock, shoe polisher, and hole puncher), but why in the world would you title a system "The Dolphin?" What are dolphins' claim to fame? They're known for being friendly at Sea World and making high pitched noises, not unlike the GIA's own Brian Glick. Who wants a video game system that sits around eating fish while making high pitched squealing noises?
Meanwhile, Lunar's release date loomed. Lunar fans began to line up outside of videogame stores in anticipation of the magical moment of its arrival. Most brought large amounts of provisions. Lunar fans knew better than to trust a Working Designs release date.
As is now a May tradition, E3 came rolling right along. As usual, the hype was large, the crowds were huge, the lines were long, and the amount of actual groundbreaking news was small. Various games were seen for the first time, while others were given one last burst of publicity before hitting the shelves.
Square simultaneously pleasing some fans and angering others, as they are wont to do. First, they announced that Final Fantasy Collection, cleverly renamed to Final Fantasy Anthology for the U.S., would not feature Final Fantasy IV. But! Don't worry! It'll come with a soundtrack CD of the best sounds from Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI, which will be included! Not only that, fans will be able to vote (Square neglected to mention that the votes would be ignored) for
the tracks they'd like to see on the soundtrack! What a bargain!
Also of note at E3 was Working Designs showing off some screen shots from Lunar 2: The Eternal Blue for the PlayStation. Not only that, they announced that Lunar 3 was under development. And not only that, Lunar: Silver Star Story might be released on the 27th of the month! Of May! Of that very month of May!
Fans nearly wet their pants at the thought of having a specific date for Lunar's release. All around the U.S., fans were playing their recently released Lunar demos over and over, anxiously awaiting the moment that they could play the full game and get their hands on the extras that Working Designs includes free with all their titles for only $20 more.
Feeling pity for Lunar fans, GIA editors decided to release a few pictures of what appeared to be design documents for Final Fantasy IX. While even today, 8 months later, there are no guarantees these design documents will mirror the final title, they've provided months of speculation and approximately 402,100 emails from fans saying that the designs were obviously of Final Fantasy Tactics II.
Finally, on May 27th, Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete, was released. Sort of. Some stores didn't get in enough copies, and many disgruntled fans were just that, disgruntled. The ones that did get their copies, however, were ecstatic as they listened to their Lunar soundtrack, watched their Working Designs company ego booster CD, played their Lunar video game, and touched, felt, and smelled their Lunar cloth map.
OK, so a few fans were less than happy with their cloth map. Many envisioned the map as a scroll with colorful details, much like one would find in medieval days. Instead, fans got a handkerchief with a map so blurry that it was next to useless. Not only that, it reeked. Badly. Most every fan quickly put the map back in the plastic wrapping it came in, so as not to give visitors the impression that they were collecting dead rats in their room. Forget using it as a map, most people
were satisfied to not have to blow their nose on it. Lunar did turn out to be a very polished game, with a good translation and very few errors. Could the delays (and the map) have been worth it?
Shadowing Lunar's release was the release of Shadow Madness, touted as the first American-developed RPG since Secret of Evermore. From that alone, fans should have been cautious, but excitement was at a fever pitch as the game was released. Unfortunately, the game was sub-par in almost every way. Worry across the nation grew. Are Americans simply unable to write a good, solid, RPG? Are American schools inferior? Is it something in the Japanese genetic code that makes them superior RPG creators? Or is it in the sushi? No one knows, at this point. All that is known for sure is that it's time for June.
June opened with promise, as a title named Project Ares was shown off with great looking graphics and intriguing artwork. Not only that, there were airships! Hardcore gamers rejoiced.
Easily exciteable gamers nearly panicked when it was announced that Shen Mue was once again delayed. Fortunately, calm heads reminded everyone that no one really cared about the game anymore, and Project Ares took the reigns as Most Anticipated Dreamcast RPG. Not only that, but Star Ocean 2 was released, allowing people a chance to focus their energies on
an actual game, albeit a boring one.
The temporary distraction was not enough to keep ten-year-olds across the nation from rioting during school recess, however, when Pokémon Silver, Gold, Yellow, Purple, Fuschia, Magenta, Green, Navy, and Stadium were all delayed. Nintendo marketers apologized for the delay and offered solace in the form of details about the upcoming Pokémon movie. Nintendo executives high-fived each other as they realized they were about to rule the civilized world.
By July, the executives had realized their dream. Pokemania had reached full swing across the nation. Kids were trading cards, looting comic book stores, and playing their newly released copies of Pokémon Pinball and Pokémon Snap.
Square of Japan decided to try to counter the Pokémon tide by announcing they were finally creating a sequel to Chrono Trigger. Fans rejoiced at the announcement, except for Hanna Barbera execs, who began frantically matching Yamaneko's character design against old Thundercats episodes in hopes of a lucrative lawsuit.
Further rejoicing was had as Square announced that they were not only going to bring Chrono Cross to America, but also Legend of Mana and Dewprism. The only question that remained was whether the translations would be passable as English.
Unfortunately, the dog days of July also brought news that sent many gamers into uncontrollable fits and spasms. Word came out of Sony headquarters that rather than go to hell, Lammy from Um Jammer Lammy would visit a far away island. This was, of course, absurd. Everyone knows that guitar playing sheep go to South Dakota when they're naughty.
Gamers eventually forgot about the travesty, realizing it was no big deal when compared to the really big news of the month: Capcom was working on Breath of Fire IV. Gamers were so excited they nearly forgot to turn their calendars to August.
Columbia pictures launched August into orbit by announcing that Frank Oz would provide the voices for every character in the Final Fantasy Movie. Yoda would be making a guest appearance as a wise truck driver stuck at a gas station. Columbia pictures added that the movie had been slightly delayed, and was now aiming for a summer 2012 release date, hoping to avoid competition with Lunar: Eternal Blue in the spring of 2012.
Speaking of games set to be released in 2012, Enix boldly stepped forward and announced that Dragon Quest VII's full title would be Dragon Quest VII: Soldiers of Eden. No word has come out as to whether Dragon Quest will include a setting outside of a single castle featured in several screen shots.
On an unrelated topic, Final Fantasy VIII received a two day delay, giving it a projected release date of September 9th. Also scheduled for release on September 9th was the Sega Dreamcast. The stage was set for an epic sales battle between two giants. The betting odds came out, and wagers were placed. Most money went on Pokémon.
Anticipating the release of the Dreamcast was Sony, who decided to as stealthily as possible reduce the price of the PlayStation to $99.99. Nintendo had spies planted, however, and quickly caught wind of the devious Sony tactic. They countered by slashing the price of the Nintendo 64 to $99.98. Insulted, Sony dropped their price to $99.97, only to be trumped by Nintendo's $99.96. This went on until the two sides got bored and agreed to settle the score with a best of three tournament in Street Fighter Alpha 3. In the confusion, Nintendo tricked Sony giving them rights to the next big set of announcements.
And announce Nintendo did. Nintendo then re-affirmed its stubborn desire to release games for the 64DD, once called
the Bulky Drive. The peripheral had been delayed so many times that many authors forgot to make fun of it. Specifically, Nintendo was also still working on "Ura Zelda," so titled because coming up with a name like Zelda: Acorn of the Mystical Tree takes a lot of energy. Nintendo was on such a roll it released details about their Zelda Gaiden. At the end of the flurry, Nintendo was so tired it needed September to hurry up and arrive, which it did.
September opened with a ray of hope and a flutter of excitement as Sony unveiled an RPG they had been developing for the past 14 years in a secluded corner of the Arctic circle: Legend of Dragoon. Unfortunately for Sony, the developers were so secluded they turned into creatures devoid of creativity, leading to much disappointment when Legend of Dragoon was later
The disappointment subsided when, a day ahead of schedule, Final Fantasy VIII was released to the anxiously awaiting world. Well, the disappointment didn't actually subside until two days later, when players finally got past the hours upon hours of annoying demos for the annoyingly complex Junction system.
Bored gamers got themselves into a frenzy again the next day, however, as the Sega Dreamcast was released to eager Americans. Gamers around the country played the included demo disc for hours on end, as most everyone was too broke to afford any games after paying for the system, a VMU, and a second controller.
On the opposite side of the planet, the Japanese decided it was time to hold their annual Tokyo Game Show. At the show, Square unsurprisingly announced that it was going to try to make more humongous profits by re-releasing Chrono Trigger on the PlayStation.
Dreamcast users were also elated to learn that Phantasy Star Online was in the works. The classic RPG series was quickly upstaged by Square, as usual, however. Square dropped vague hints that they might possibly be holding a press conference at some point, a conference in which they might announce Final Fantasy IX. Quite a ruckus resulted, one that wouldn't be matched until Square announced Lucky Dan's character design.
Besides the bipedal main characters, Square revealed a few more playable characters from the cast of 40, including the frighteningly weird Space Child. Speaking of scares, it was time for a spooky month indeed: October.
Sega began by delaying the Japanese release of Shen Mue, now being hyped as "a game for the Dreamcast that might be fun to look at as long as you aren't forced to play!" Dreamcast users grew increasingly excited about Project Ares, especially since it was renamed Eternal Arcadia, and forgot about Shen Mue, once the lightning rod of joy.
Enix, worried that Square's Chrono Cross might be taking some momentum from their Dragon Quest VII machine, proudly announced that they had developed a new logo for their title. Enix public relations gurus passed it around with pride and glee, ignoring the various snickers from the crowd and concentrating on the screams of joy from Jay Leno fans.
October was a good month for fans of the "dating sim" genre. First, Thousand Arms was released to the U.S., prompting several teenage boys devoid of social lives to get a small glimpse into how fussy females can be.
Encouraged by the positive response of the teenagers who had had an important void in their lives filled, Red Company announced that it would create Sakura Taisen 3. Most Americans aren't familiar with the series, but the Japanese consider it "the ultimate substitute for a social life."
In exciting Shen Mue news, Sega revealed players would be able to collect little toys from vending machines in the game and trade them on the Internet. Pokémon, watch out!
Not satisfied with the announcement that Shen Mue would have vending machines that sold toys, Sega followed with the ritual delaying of the game. Luckily, no one really cared. Who wants to play a game where driving a forklift is considered a plot point? Gads. That's as preposterous as a fishing RPG. In other fishing-RPG related news, Legend of the River King's trip across the Pacific was unfortunately canceled.
Square picked up where they left off in October: not only showing more Chrono Cross characters, but actually releasing the game.
The biggest rumble of the month came from the sound of millions of small feet dashing to movie theaters, as Pokémon: The First Movie was released. Critics didn't like it, but then again, professional movie critics don't like any movie. They'd likely lose their union card if they were to do something crazy such as actually laud a movie.
Whether or not the critics were right in slamming Pokémon: The First Movie wasn't that relevant, as it was insanely popular anyway. Approximately 2 billion people saw the movie, assuming you count sleeping parents that were only babysitting their kids. They dreaded December, as their kids would be begging for thousands of dollars in Pokémon merchandise for Christmas. Unfortunately for them, you can't stop the big 18-wheeler of time.
Square began December by announcing that they would be bringing several older titles to the appallingly poorly titled WonderSwan, a portable system made by some company that needs to hire new people to name their systems. Obviously unsatisfied with the millions of dollars made on ports of their older games to the PlayStation, the ports of really old games to the WonderSwan should move Square from the "extremely rich" to the "online merchant" tax bracket.
Enix, never a company that one would not consider shrewd, noticed that Square had made enormous profits over the past couple of years by releasing games that had already been made. Slowly, an idea formed in an executive's head. "I know!" he said. "Let's release some of our older games on the PlayStation!" The other executives found the idea to be brilliant, and thus announced that Dragon Quests I-IV would be coming to the PlayStation.
As Enix made its announcement, Nintendo laughed at the cute little company milking its biggest franchise for every dollar that is was worth. After they cleaned the spittle from the table, however, Nintendo announced that was developing an online Pokémon game.
The biggest news of the month, however, was the joyful release of Shen Mue to Japanese audiences. After months of being lauded by some and ridiculed by others, Sega was glad to finally be able to begin work on the sequel.
Sega had banked on Shen Mue being a success, and luckily for them, it appears it will be. Months of snide remarks and witless jokes became forgotten (you've forgotten everything you've read already, haven't you?), as once players sat down with the game many realized it was as revolutionary as Sega had been touting.
As usual, after months of speculation, guesswork, complements, and insults, the hype surrounding the actual event turned out to not be any sort of indicator of actual reality. Lunar was impressive, Chrono Cross was magical, Shen Mue was revolutionary.
And the world didn't end on January 1st.
Feature by Andrew Kaufmann.
Edited by Andrew Vestal.