Lessons from Retronauts

You know, the original idea behind the Retronauts show — and hence the meaning behind its name — was to have an excuse to play and learn about old games. We were to be explorers of retro games, you see. In practice, it never worked out quite like that, because real life doesn’t usually offer you a ton of free time. For most of our shows, we just circled around things we’re already familiar with. Alas.

Nevertheless, it seems like I learn something new with every episode we assemble. I always appreciate the blog comments on Retronauts.com, because people often fill in the gaps of our knowledge and answer our questions of uncertainty. And, unlike hostile forum critics of yore, they’re usually friendly about it, pitching in because they enjoy the show and want to help out. You know, as opposed to bitterly stewing in resentment over the fact that we had the audacity to start a podcast when they just know they could do it so much better if only they could somehow make those newfangled pod-casting technologies work for them (never mind that there’s zero barrier to entry for creating a podcast besides a lack of willingness to exert an joule of energy doing something constructive).

With the most recent episode, Game Music Redux, I’ve learned more things than usual. For one, it turns out the presumed-missing Yasunori Mitsuda composed a bunch of music for Comcept’s Soul Sacrifice recently. I have no idea how I didn’t know about this already, especially given how much I’ve been around the game’s producer over the past month, but thanks to a few tweets that have come in over the past few days I now know that Soul Sacrifice has what must be a really rad soundtrack. So that’s great, and I will hunt it down.

What made me really happy, though, was that in the process of editing the most recent episode, I made a mental connection and answered a question I’ve been wondering about for years. See, in pretty much every retro game shop in Japan, the premium item showcase will invariably have a large-format game box for SNK’s Athena on Famicom that typically commands a high price. Usually something in the ¥10000 (currently $100) range.

Athena, of course, is a completely terrible NES game, and I have to assume the Famicom version is equally wretched. And while it’s not Duck Hunt common, Athena came early enough in the system’s life that I have to assume it should be available in pretty hefty quantities. So why the special treatment? Was the big box some sort of special giveaway edition or something? I’ve asked a few people, but no one seemed to know, and then I promptly failed to care enough to do any actual investigation.


Anyway, for Retronauts III/7 I wanted to splice in the Psycho Soldier theme, because I never get bored of tossing that into podcasts, and stumbled across a version on YouTube called the “Psycho Soldier Cassette Version.” The cassette, as it turns out, was boxed with copies of Famicom Athena (the connection being that the schoolgirl incarnation of Athena was the lead character in Psycho Soldier). I guess SNK never bothered to convert Psycho Soldier to Famicom, so they stuffed the game’s theme song onto a tape that was then packed into a related work, possibly as a tie-in with the undoubtedly brief idol career of singer Shimizu Kaori. It makes a kind of sense.

But now that I know the story, I understand why the Famicom versions command so much cash — I’m sure that cassette is pretty hard to come by these days, especially in working condition. And, also, I kind of want a copy now, even though I don’t have a cassette player anymore. I mean, if nothing else, just look at how gloriously pink the whole thing is! I also love the fact that Athena is dressed in practically nothing, but the box art doesn’t seem salacious or pandering. She’s just kinda hanging around, casually leaning against her sword while dressed in a battle bikini, no big deal. Maybe it’s the slightly chubby Rumiko Takahashi-esque art style, but it just seems so endearingly innocent compared to the equivalent art you’d see on a contemporary game. A heroine on a similar release today would mostly likely be wearing more clothes, but there would be a flipped-up skirt or glowing blush to her cheeks that would make it seem infinitely more risque. God bless you, 1980s, for not quite yet having mainstreamed sleaze.

Tangentially, I came across this art while searching for a good image of the contents of the Athena box and it’s basically amazing if you get the reference.


Anyway, this has been your pointless retro game commentary for the week.

8 thoughts on “Lessons from Retronauts

  1. He’s referencing how the localizers turned one of Persona 1’s characters black to “appeal” to Americans.

    I do miss art like that, which is why I sometimes find myself drawing in that style. Also thanks for turning me on to Psycho Solider’s theme, now I know what I need to download!

  2. I loved the latest episode. Speaking of NES music, I recently discovered Journey to Silius tracks in stereo on YouTube. Now that’s some incredible 8-bit rock.

  3. “Wait up, Brad. We’re going to play Athena? What? Are you stupid?”

    I actually took the time once to beat NES Athena, and it was one of the most painful experiences I had ever had on the system. Then again, it was developed by Micronics, which pretty much explains everything. I can’t imagine the Famicom version’s any better…

  4. In case noboy mentioned this: Mitsuda and Yuzo Koshiro (among other notables) collaborated on the incredible Kid Icarus: Uprising soundtrack.

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