Game Freak is a household name in the gaming industry, predominantly recognized for its massively successful Pokémon series. Today, Pokémon stands as a towering franchise whose games have sold millions of copies and won hearts worldwide. However, long before they turned into a juggernaut, Game Freak experimented with varied game genres and platforms, generating lesser-known projects.
Among their earlier endeavors was Bushi Seiryuuden: Futari no Yuusha or "Warriors of the Blue Dragon Legend – The Two Heroes." Released in 1997, this title was a role-playing game (RPG) for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) which, sadly, never reached an international audience.
Bushi Seiryuuden seemed akin to a Zelda-style action-adventure game to the uninitiated observer. It presented players with a top-down world where one could roam freely and interact with environments in ways reminiscent of cutting grass with a sword. When engaging non-player characters (NPCs), a first-person perspective takes over, whereas dungeon explorations or enemy encounters shift to a side-view reminiscent of "Zelda II: The Adventure of Link." Despite these sections feeling real-time, the game cleverly implemented a turn-based system which activated enemy movement only upon the main character's actions—similar to the mechanic found in the "Shiren the Wanderer" series.
The game included additional distinctive features, setting it apart from the conventional RPG mold. The protagonist had a monster ally named Wokuu who could lift them into the air, and the use of the "Heart Eye" permitted players to uncover hidden areas and gauge enemy strength.
Visually, Bushi Seiryuuden's character designs bore a striking resemblance to early Pokémon games—a resemblance that was no coincidence. Ken Sugimori, the celebrated artist responsible for the iconic Pokémon designs, had also worked on this endeavor. The connections to Pokémon extended beyond artwork, with famed series composer Junichi Masuda providing the musical score, and the game's direction being led by Satoshi Tajiri, Pokémon's creator.
Despite their shared creative lineage, it would be an overstatement to claim Bushi Seiryuuden and Pokémon shared significant gameplay elements. Nonetheless, both games emanated from the same imaginative minds at Game Freak. Regrettably, this unique RPG's journey to Western markets was impeded by various obstacles. Game Freak had yet to establish its presence in the West because Pokémon had not been released, and publishing an obscure Super Famicom RPG in the wake of the Nintendo 64's debut in North America and Europe seemed unappealing.
Another barrier to Bushi Seiryuuden's broader release was its independence from Nintendo, unlike Pokémon, which Nintendo promoted. Early discussions suggested Enix would publish in Japan, but this plan failed to materialize, leaving the task to T&E Soft, a small-scale publisher focused on golf simulations and the Hydlide series.
Furthermore, the sheer volume of translation work needed for a Western release was daunting; it was not until 2021 that fans received a translation patch, indicative of the significant undertaking it represented.
Despite its inaccessibility and obscurity, Bushi Seiryuuden holds its place as an RPG with innovative ideas, warranting far more attention than it has received. Although it may not represent the pinnacle of SNES RPGs, it is nonetheless an essential part of Game Freak's history that showcases their potential beyond Pokémon.
After Pokémon Red and Blue hit the market in 1996, Game Freak's trajectory as a studio honed in on the Pokémon universe, allowing for only a few departures from the formula such as Drill Dozer and Giga Wrecker. Had Pokémon not achieved such incredible success, it's intriguing to consider the evolution Bushi Seiryuuden might have undergone.
For gaming history enthusiasts and RPG fans alike, Bushi Seiryuuden offers a fascinating dive into Game Freak's past and a snapshot of the creative energy that would eventually spawn one of the biggest gaming franchises in history. Now, armed with an English translation, this once-hidden gem steps into the light for the appreciation it deserves.
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