Monday, July 16, 2012

8BE-Esper Dream 2
One snowy weekend I rented and played The Secret of Evermore for SNES start to finish. A fan of its quasi-predecessor The Secret of Mana (unawares Nintendo of America screwed the pooch in deciding not to localize Seiken Densetsu 3), I played Evermore with a ravenous appetite for its every-boy protagonist and film-inspired levels. Battling through the prehistoric past, early civilization and the future, my sidekick ever-changing, seemed such a novel game.

No big deal, just attacking a bug with a bone.

Like a beta-test for
the Secret of Evermore.
Little did I know Konami had beaten SquareSoft to the punch by three whole years, releasing a little-heralded Action-RPG for the Famicom entitled Esper Dream 2 (エスパードリーム2 新たなる戦い) 1n 1993. Again a victim of Nintendo of America's asinine North American localization, Esper Dream 2 never saw release outside Japan. The plot-- boy travels through varied, book-inspired worlds, his companion ever-changing -- makes Secret of Evermore seem redundant. Obviously, being a Famicom title, the Esper Dream/Evermore ratio isn't 1:1 (Esper Dream's battle mechanics aren't as smooth as Evermore's), but a 11-year-old me (NERD!) would have much preferred Esper Dream's Library setting over Evermore's B-Movie bonanza.

Esper Dream Library
That's what you get for trying to find
the dirty parts of Around the World
in 80 Days.
The game opens with little preamble; the hero, reading in his local library, is begged by a pink fairy to reclaim five magical rings stolen from the "Book Worlds." She gives him a bow and some armor and tells him to enter the Book Worlds via one of the five nearby bookshelves. This boy, given armament, does what any well-thought boy would do in the same situation: he walks into those shelves and starts fighting monsters, damnit! The levels can be completed in (almost) any order and a different companion joins our hero in each Book. As the hero levels up, different magical powers become available...blah blah blah JRPG blah blah.

Esper Dream 2 Level 1
"Darling it's better, down where it's
wetter, take it from meeeeee!"
After pushing through the Bookshelf marked "1," a cutscene plays showing the "Holy Light" being stolen from a quaint, seaside village. Your companion for this leg of the journey is green-haired Lisa. She proves handy (especially if you're low-leveled) in her omni-directional attacks and ability to sings the enemies to sleep. Instead of utilizing a Final Fantasy style RNG for battles, Esper Dream's baddies are noted on the overworld by a set of moving paw-prints. Touching said prints jettisons the Hero into an arena-type battle against a number of foes. Aside from searching out Lisa's twin sister and her latex bodysuit (rowr!) Book 1 is a linear, simple affair.

Book 2: Space Train
All Aboard!
This book finds the hero aboard a train hurtling through space and time. The quest here is to exterminate a horde of space-rabbits infesting the train (Insert Monty Python and the Holy Grail joke here ["Look at the bones!"]). Aram, the train's conductor, offers his help in this leg of the quest, his attacks being similar to Lisa's, only more powerful. Also like Book 1 before it, this level is of minimum difficulty. The maps are mostly linear and, as long as you don't run from the battles, none of the "boss" enemies are too difficult.

Book 4
"Uh, hey... wanna screw?"
Wait, what happened to Book 3? We'll get to that. Book 4 takes our hero to a factory populated by screws and screwdrivers. You're joined here by Screwy the Screw and told to save the other kidnapped screws and defeat the machine which has gone berzerk on them: Metal God. Book 4 is difficult world; eneimes are tougher, the map is expansive, and the quest requires you Double Back more than ZZ Top. The upside--once you get the Mine weapon--is destroying blocks during battle can unearth treasure chests holding  500 gold! Spend Book 4 using mines and you'll finish richer than Warren Buffet.

Book 3: Esper Dream 1BOOK 3: ESPER DREAM 1
With Book 4 completed, Book 3 will become available. However, as soon as you approach the bookshelf, another boy will appear, tell you Book 3 has already been taken care of, and give you it's power ring and a suit of armor! The boy is in fact the hero of Esper Dream 1, and once you enter the bookshelf, you'll see other characters from Esper Dream 1.I'm not sure if this is a cop-out (not providing a level 3) or a nice tip of the hat to Esper Dream 1. I'm leaning toward cop-out.

Book 5: Star Mountain
"I'm the man on the silver
The game's final full level is like a Dyson in that it never stops sucking. The map dwarfs previous levels, the enemies are difficult even if you've maxed your experience points and the plot of this chapter requires lots of doubling back. Luckily, your companion for this chapter, Starry the Star (real creative with the names, Konami), is uber-powerful. Twin beasts, Fujin and Rajin, try to steal a Magic Mirror so to unleash a being of ultimate evil. Spolier alert: they succeed. Otherwise, after defeating Book 5, there wouldn't be...

The five book worlds saved, the five rings retrieved, our hero descends to the Library basement for the final battle. A mysterious red stranger accompanies you upon entry. While it's nice he basically kills all the baddies for you, it turns out --big surprise-- he's a bad guy who steals the rings and flees. After defeating each of the previous bosses in order (because of course that's going to be a thing in this game; more boss battles without having to create new sprites), the hero reaches the five stolen power rings just in time to see them used to conjure the game's final boss: the Dream Destroyer (who is actually kind of a bad-ass).

Released at the end of the NES/Famicom lifecycle, Esper Dream 2 shows that by 1993, game programmers had a masterful handle on what the NES could and couldn't do. Esper Dream 2's environments, despite their limited color palettes, are varied, and the gameplay progresses so that--excepting portions of the game requiring double-backs--Esper Dream 2 remains fresh throughout. Had it ever been translated to English during the NES heyday, Esper Dream 2 certainly would be forebear to the conversation which includes Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore.

Esper Dream 2 was hacked by Aeon Genesis, the translation patch available from

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