A few weeks are left until the return of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: let’s discover together the origins of one of the most loved spin-offs in Pokémon sauce.
Spike Chunsoft wasn’t always Spike Chunsoft. Koichi Nakamura was a prodigy boy who in the 80s had put aside a considerable heritage by programming at an amateur level that was still in high school: his software and his publications for the I / O magazine had already made him popular in the environment, but Nakamura seriously broke through in 1982, the third year of high school, when he participated in an annual Enix competition with a game, Door Door, which earned him a large cash prize and the attention of a company that, shortly after, would have given birth to Dragon Quest thanks to him. In fact, Nakamura continued to develop in his free time even during his university years and with the accumulated savings he founded a small company of five people that he called Chunsoft., inspired by the first ideogram of his surname – Naka (中) – which was also read, Chun.
Nakamura officially settled Chunsoft in a small apartment building in Chofu, a fraction of Tokyo, and published the conversion of Door Door for PC-6001 in 1985. After that, he began a collaboration with Enix and shifted the focus on development for Famicom, at that time much more profitable thanks to the success of the Nintendo console. It was exactly in this context that Nakamura got to know Yuji Horii, another Enix contest winner with whom he had started working on a series of conversions for Famicom. Horii and Nakamura had a common passion: western role-playing games. In love with Wizardry and Ultima, the two young men designed a similar title but, inspired by Masanobu Endo’s The Tower of Druaga, they set it in a tone more suitable for the Japanese public, also recruiting a well-known cartoonist, Akira Toriyama. Dragon Quest was born basically like this and Chunsoft developed the first four episodes with Kochi Nakamura at the helm as director and supervisor in the case of the fifth chapter.
Today Spike Chunsoft is so-called because the two companies merged into one around 2012: Chunsoft had, in fact, become a subsidiary of Dwango, which also owned Spike, in 2005. Already at the time, however, Chunsoft had become not so famous for the Dragon Quest – which usually associates mainly with Enix up to the eighth and lately with Square Enix in general – as for its so-called Mystery Dungeons, a genre that in a sense has become its workhorse over the years. The turning point occurs in the transition period from Famicom or NES, whatever you want, to Super Famicom: in that period Nakamura had left the programming and ran the company full time, always looking for new ideas with which to capture the attention of the players. One of them occurred when Nakamura came across Rogue in a cross way: it was a 1980 title by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman that immediately attracted his attention because of the high but satisfying difficulty.
Inspired by Rogue, Nakamura and the Chunsoft guys developed Torneko no Daibōken: Fushigi no Dungeon for Super Famicom in 1993. Set in the universe of Dragon Quest – Torneko, which became Baldo in Italy, appears for the first time in Dragon Quest IV – the title gives way to a real genre that takes the name of Fushigi no Dungeon, Mystery Dungeon in English. Chunsoft would then develop two sequels, Torneko: The Last Hope in 1999 and Torneko no Daibōken III in 2002, after having already cleared what had in the meantime become a real franchise. The good success of Torneko no Daibōken, in fact, had convinced Nakamura to continue on that path without drawing on licensed universes or characters: this is how Shiren the Wanderer was born, the first of a long series of unreleased songs that would also arrive on Nintendo DS and mobile systems. Shiren the Wanderer, however, remains the only Mystery Dungeon owner of Chunsoft, who would later draw on the imaginary Square for Chocobo’s Dungeon in 1997 and the Nintendo one with Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Team and Blue Team in 2005.
And here we go again and again. But what exactly is a “Mystery Dungeon” video game? In short, these are titles that we could almost consider the precursors of roguelikes on consoles, a genre that still remains very muted today. They are role-playing games, first of all, focused on the exploration of procedural labyrinths in which you fight in turns. The dynamics are rather particular because the enemies move and act whenever the player does, forcing the player to carefully calculate his moves as if he were playing chess. A number of additional disadvantages put the player under pressure: one can only escape from dungeons in specific cases, and defeat involves the loss of the money and items we brought with us to the dungeons. Initially designed to appeal to a very young audience, especially Chocobo DungeonMystery Dungeons soon found a special place in the hearts of fans and Chunsoft refined his technique, managing to convey the distinctive features of the specific franchises to his Mystery Dungeons under license, as we will see with the evolution of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. next week.