June, 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the classic Super Nintendo role playing game Lufia and the Fortress of Doom. I can’t believe 20 years have passed; it really still seems like yesterday when I saw the original Japanese version of the game Estpolis in March, 1993, at Taito Corporation’s former research and development centre in Tsunashima, Japan, just north of Yokohama. I’d been hired in the summer of 1992 as their overseas 3rd party development producer – an incredibly awesome job where I collaborated closely with Nintendo of America, Sega of America, Taito America, and third party game developers in Europe, South Korea, and the United States. Like all Taito staff, I wore the company uniform, performed company exercises beside my desk at 8:45 a.m. sharp, and lined up to recite the company motto precisely at 9:00 a.m. We also repeated it again at 5:00 p.m.
Lufia was a very successful title when it was officially released in the fall of 1993. It sold approximately 900,000 copies, won three awards, spawned numerous sequels, and developed a bit of a cult following among video game players. In 2013, there are still quite a few gamers who recognize the name whenever I mention it. But what the videogame industry doesn’t know is that the North American version of Lufia and the Fortress of Doom almost never happened. Taito management originally never seriously considered releasing an overseas version. Karma is a strange thing, but at the time, Taito Corporation had no plans to release a North American version of the game. The truth of the matter is that Lufia and the Fortress of Doom would never have happened at all – without me coming along and being a real pain in Taito management’s backside about the game’s potential in North America.
It was on a Monday morning in March, 1993, when I saw the Japanese Super Famicom team playing what looked like a very bright, colourful, fluid, action role playing game that strongly reminded me of Dragon Warrior by Enix and Final Fantasy by Squaresoft. The game music was also very well composed, compared to other Super Famicom titles of that time. I asked the producer whose game it was. He told me that it was Estpolis, a Taito RPG for the Japanese market. I was very impressed with how it looked and played. Right away I recognized that there was nothing else like it on the market in North America – it was an impressive looking RPG. I told my managers how cool and unique this title was, compared to what I’d seen in North America. I remember they were surprised to hear this – they were corporate managers, not game developers. I asked them if they had considered possibly developing a localized North American version. I’ll never forget how they hummed and hawed for a moment before answering me.
“You know, Anthony-san, we don’t think this sort of game would do well in North America”, they said.
“Why do you think that?”, I asked.
“Because”. They paused. “We don’t think video game players in North America like action role playing games“.
One of my strengths as a video game designer is that I still possess a keen gamer’s intuition for knowing a potential hit videogame when I see one. At the time, my gamer gut was screaming that this title had hit potential.
I knew that I had to convince them.
To be continued –