News/Go Go Goemon! Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero
Hello everyone! We have something very special to share with you today. Presenting, Working Designs’ (Lunar, Popful Mail, Alundra) long lost canceled English localization of Konami’s Bouken Jidai Katsugeki Goemon (冒険時代活劇ゴエモン), also known as Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero (or Mystical Ninja Goemon during development) for the Sony PlayStation 2! This game has A LOT of history behind it, and considering its localization was in development by Working Designs, there’s quite a story to tell.
It’s never fun when a game you look forward to gets canceled for unknown reasons, but it’s especially difficult when the game is from a franchise you were a fan of. Every franchise will have its fan base, and the Goemon/Mystical Ninja fanbase is no different. Goemon fans have had it tough for the two decades since the last time a Mystical Ninja game was released in the US. Since the Konami of today has taken a path far removed from its previous successes in the video game industry, the future is grim for those who were fans of a once-beloved franchise.
Today, what makes a great franchise is the broad appeal. If a video game can be made to be sold in every market, it’s a video game worth creating. It’s this mentality that continues to persist in the modern video game industry. However, not every game has to have broad appeal in order for it to be recognized as a great game. Even throughout the 90s, many games were being created that, while fun to play, never had a chance to sell for a variety of different reasons - some reasons that might exist beyond the control of that game’s publishers. This is how “niche” games are defined - games that do not necessarily cater to a wide audience but can still provide many hours of entertainment.
While we have many niche games being released today especially thanks in part to the indie developer scene, there was a time when all games competed for the same shelf space regardless of whether they were considered niche or not. This means that no matter what genre or what the game looked like, a game had an equally fair chance of garnishing attention from those browsing a store aisle or a mail-order catalog. Action games, arcade games, shoot em ups, puzzle games, simulator games, and even role-playing games all competed with one another for a chance to be bought and played.
At the time there were many video game publishers who were in the business of selling games on these store shelves. While many companies have come and gone, a few continue to release games to this very day - companies such as Capcom, Sega, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft. While even back in the early 90s there was a healthy diversity of video game companies from various countries, the country of Japan housed some of the most iconic video game franchises that are still celebrated to this very day. Throughout the 80s and the 90s, one Japanese company stood out from the rest in terms of quality and appeal. That company?
Goemon and Konami
Konami was founded in 1969 by Japanese business Kagemasa Kozuki who remains the chairman of Konami to this very day. Konami began as a jukebox rental and repair company before the company would be formed as the Konami Industry Co., Ltd., shifting its focus on amusement machines. Konami would begin releasing arcade video games starting with 1977’s Block Yard, followed by a Space Invader clone called Space King in 1978. It wouldn’t take long before Konami began developing games for the Famicom to expand their investment into the home console gaming market. In just a few years time, the company would go on to create many arcade hits like Gradius, Twinbee, and Contra.
Just around this time, Konami was seeing success in games like Gradius, there was one tiny game they made that would eventually become one of Konami’s other celebrated IPs for the years that followed...
Goemon (also known as Mr. Kabuki)!
Sometime in May of 1986, Konami introduced Goemon to the world in his very own arcade game called Mr. Goemon. Released only in Japan, Mr. Goemon is a side-scrolling platform game based on Ishikawa Goemon, an infamous outlaw in 16th-century Japan. After stealing from his master and killing those who pursue him, he became a civilian in both Kyoto and Osaka where he lived a double life as a merchant by day and a thief by night. In Japan, Goemon is essentially the Japanese version of Robin Hood. While some think of him as a simple thief, most celebrate him as someone who took from the rich to give back to the poor and misfortunate.
The character and game design of Goemon would evolve, becoming more of a light-hearted adventure with a group of friends during the Edo period of Japan. The games would eventually adapt the familiar motif of focusing on Japanese style humor that the games would be best known for, and would help differentiate itself from other contemporaries in the action-adventure subgenre. Aside from the great gameplay, what makes Goemon unique is its humor and Japanese aesthetic. It’s a game that could’ve only been created and designed by those who lived in Japan.
It’s not clear who at Konami created the Goemon character and for what purpose, but he immediately became Konami’s most renowned IP. Almost immediately following the release of Mr. Goemon, his first console game on the Famicom “Ganbare Goemon!” was released on July 30th, 1986. It isn’t known how much of a success the Goemon franchise was to Konami, but regardless, Konami continued to put out Goemon games almost every year on a wide variety of platforms, such as the Famicom, MSX2, Game Boy, Super Famicom, and beyond.
Goemon would finally make his first appearance in North America in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, released on June 30, 1992, almost a full year after the original Japanese release. Up until the introduction of Nintendo’s SNES console in North America, none of the Goemon games have ever been released outside of Japan. In an interview with Next Generation magazine, Konami’s General Manager Nagata Akihiki went on to state that games like Goemon and Parodius that utilize traditional Japanese characters are seen as too specific to the home market where these franchises originated from. While it isn’t clear why Konami would sometimes release some Goemon games in North America and not others, what is clear is that the games themselves are holistically designed with a Japanese audience in mind. As a result, a game like Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon for the Nintendo 64 might sell over 100,000 copies in Japan but might only sell half as many units from other territories combined. To Konami, this would have been the indicator to not focus on localizing the games for a North American audience and to put more of their efforts into localizing games that would fit the demands of a specific target market.
However, what appeal does Goemon have for the North American audience? Throughout the 90s there was a steady surge of interest in Japanese culture. From Japanese animation, movies, literature, and games, the “otaku” culture began to expand throughout North America. More and more people in other countries began taking an interest in things coming out of Japan. People were even taking a significant interest in the things that existed only within the country itself. As interest grew in Japanese media by the mid-90s, more video game publishers began capitalizing on some of the games that were traditionally meant for a Japanese audience.
This might explain why, for a brief period, Konami began bringing most of the Goemon games meant for Nintendo systems starting with Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. The game was released in North America on April 16, 1998, and in Europe two days later, just months after the original Japanese release. Developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka (KCEO), the game marks the series’ first 3D entry which was an ongoing trend for gaming during this time. Designed as an action-adventure platform game that happened to still be one of the more popular video game genres at the time, the game was released during a crucial time during the lifespan of the Nintendo 64, where console owners were experiencing a long series of software droughts caused by multiple delays in anticipated software (like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). The game was most likely considered for localization to capitalize on the increasing interest in Japanese culture. The game could have also been considered since it happened to be a high-quality game that could fill in the gap caused by the software drought.
Despite the game selling over 50,000 copies in North America, it was often criticized for its poor localization attempt. The cutscenes in the original Japanese release had voice acting while it was removed completely in the English release. The script was often translated too literally which ended up confusing many of the critics who reviewed the game. Jokes that might have worked for a native Japanese audience fell flat on general audiences. The poor localization had also caused issues with the game’s plot, often preventing people from being able to progress through the game properly due to translation errors.
Following the release of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon on both the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy in Japan, Konami would go on to create various other Goemon games for the Game Boy Color and Sony PlayStation. Despite Konami making some effort by bringing over Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon to North America, none of the other Goemon games that had been released on other systems made their way to the West, despite the Sony PlayStation’s popularity growing exponentially at the time.
Konami would make one final effort to bring Goemon to countries outside Japan by releasing Goemon’s Great Adventure (also known as Mystical Ninja 2 Starring Goemon in Europe) for the Nintendo 64 in June 18th, 1999 in Europe and September 15th, 1999 in North America. Despite technically being a follow-up to its predecessor, KCEO decided to take a less ambitious approach and design a 3D side-scrolling platformer instead. Because the scope of the game was dialed back for this sequel, the game was able to incorporate cooperative multiplayer much like the games released back on the SNES. The localization continued to be inconsistent much like the last game in the series. The localization team decided to leave the original Japanese voice acting in the game this time but took out the Japanese vocal songs. Even though additional languages were added for the European release of the game, the same awkward English translation that was present in the previous game continued to be an issue.
Despite Goemon’s Great Adventure selling over 160,000 copies worldwide, it might not have been good enough for Konami. During this time, priorities in the video game industry began to shift in favor of creating games with a much larger scope in an attempt to capture a wider audience. While a company might have at one point invested in the development of a wide variety of games that could be relatively quick to produce for various markets, the company would begin to invest more of its resources into creating games that can be sold simultaneously into as many different markets as possible. As the cost of game development overtime began to grow exponentially with the larger project scopes, companies began to put their priorities in only a handful of projects at once.
In regards to Konami, they were beginning to see the most success they would ever acquire through the releases of Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid. Silent Hill, a survival horror game released on February 23rd, 1999 in North America, sold over 2 million copies. Metal Gear Solid, an action-adventure stealth game released on October 21, 1998, would go on to sell over 6 million copies by 2001. To Konami, it had to have been a no-brainer to drop Goemon in favor of putting more of its resources into games that could pull sales numbers like these.
However, one saving grace with Goemon is that it has usually performed well in its original home market. While the series may never have been able to pull in the big numbers as seen with Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid, the franchise possibly still had a place in Japan. Given that most of the games in the Goemon franchise up to this point might not have cost as much time and money to produce, there was still an interest. Sometime after the development of the original Japanese release of Goemon’s Great Adventure had been completed, work began on what would become one of the very last Goemon console games.
Bouken Jidai Katsugeki Goemon was in development by Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe (KCEK), which was a Kobe-based subsidiary of Konami that was established in 1998 when the 1st development division at KCEO broke away to become its independent division. The game marks the first major series departure since the early days of Mr. Goemon. According to staff comments in the officially released strategy book, the game originally started Tos a 2D RPG. Possibly either due to Sony’s licensing standards at the time (which will be explained later on in this article) or the positive reception of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon outside of Japan, KCEK decided to bring the game back to the size and scope of the first Goemon game on the Nintendo 64. The design of Goemon himself received the most radical change, with changes to his design being made even well into the game’s production (pay attention to his design in the opening FMV).
The game is a significant departure from all of the Goemon games that have come before. While the game itself retains most of the gameplay elements as seen in previous entries in the franchise, the game brands itself as more of a single-player role-playing game with action-adventure elements. The game sports a leveling system, an inventory management system, and even character customization. However, gone are the days of having multiple characters to choose from. Goemon is the only playable character in the entire game aside from his nonplayable white tiger cub named Kotora.
However, where the departure is immediately noticeable is in the game’s tone and aesthetic. Goemon games were never really about the story, so story elements were never treated seriously. This is evident in the series’ reliance on Japanese-centric humor, which was what the franchise was most well known for. The story, dialog, and characters in Goemon games were always brash, filled with innuendo and jokes to the point of ridiculousness. However, while this new entry is still relatively light-hearted, it takes itself seriously by putting more emphasis on the game’s lore and plot, perhaps to a fault.
All of these changes could be seen as an attempt to make Goemon itself more appealing to other markets. These attempts at dialing back and changing various aspects of Goemon through this game might have been intentional. Many Goemon fans view this game as a spinoff title, and it’s clear why. While the game is fine despite its flaws, it just doesn’t feel wholly satisfying to play. In an effort to tone down the humor and style that was present in the past games, the game is devoid of the character and charm that made the past entries interesting. Not only is it a mediocre game, it feels like a poor Goemon game.
Bouken Jidai Katsugeki Goemon ended up being released on December 21st, 2000 in Japan for the Sony PlayStation 2. While we weren’t able to determine how well this game sold in Japan at launch, the game received two re-releases within a few years of each other. We assume that, given what happened to the series after the release of this game, that while the game was a modest success, it might not have been good enough for Konami. It’s clear where Konami’s priorities were shifting at the time, as the company was already investing in Silent Hill 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2, which would bring the company more success than it has ever received before.
After the release of Goemon on the PlayStation 2, one more attempt at revitalizing the franchise was made in the form of the 2D action-platformer Goemon: Shin Sedai Shumei (ゴエモン 新世代襲名!) for the original PlayStation. The game was released one year after the release of Bouken Jidai Katsugeki Goemon and was immediately ported to the Game Boy Advance just three months later. The game attempted to steer the franchise in yet another direction by completely changing the art style and the game’s setting to a more futuristic theme. The game would again not rely on the humor the franchise was known for. This game would mark the last time a Goemon game would be developed for a console release.
A few Goemon games continued to be released even after the release of the last console game. However, none of them would ever leave Japan. After the release of Goemon’s Great Adventure in 1999, Konami USA became disinterested in the Goemon IP and refused to pursue localizing any Goemon games going forward. Konami has always been strict in regards to the licensing of their IPs. When Konami USA gave up the opportunities to localize any of the future Goemon games, Konami Japan simply never pursued it further.
With Konami USA giving up on Goemon, the franchise became effectively dead outside of Japan. While none of the games in the franchise were ever going to sell the numbers that games like Silent Hill, Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid, and Dance Dance Revolution could pull in North America, Goemon still had a fanbase that was appreciative for the games that were able to be released. When Konami USA gave up the license for Goemon after the release of Goemon’s Great Adventure, it seemed unlikely that any other company would’ve taken up the task to localize the games and treat them with the respect they deserve.
What most people might not know, however, is that there was one company that managed to do the seemingly impossible – license Goemon from Konami Japan. And they did so while aiming to give the series the best localization effort possible, something few companies put emphasis on. The company had a track record for very high localization standards, having done so for multiple obscure Japanese titles.
That company was Working Designs.
Enter Working Designs.
Working Designs was originally founded in 1986 as a computer software company in a partnership between venture capitalist Sylvia Schmitt and programmer Todd Mark. At the time Working Designs would have been primarily known for its Master Accountant series of IBM PC software. Two years after the founding of Working Designs, Todd Mark suddenly passed away which forced Sylvia to hire Victor Ireland to complete Todd’s programming work. After several years of being in the computer software industry, the company changed its focus from computer software to the growing video game market in part due to Vic Ireland’s interest in video games at the time. In 1991, Working Designs would sign its first publishing agreement with Taito Corp to become one of the very few third-party companies to localize and release games for the NEC TurboGrafx-16.
Even in the beginning, Working Designs was a very small company. The company itself never exceeded more than a dozen or so employees at one time except perhaps when the company grew in popularity during the end of the 1990s. Despite taking on the challenge of localizing games such as Cadash and Parasol Stars, the company, in the beginning, had to rely more on the original developers of those games to make changes due to the company’s small size and lack of experience. It wouldn’t take long before the company began to take more creative liberties in how it approached adjusting the game difficulty and script.
One of the many script changes in Shining Wisdom.
One area that Working Designs would often be criticized for throughout its existence would be the changes they would make during the localization process. Even to this day, the majority of video games that originate from one country and are introduced in another are often altered in various aspects to make the game more appealing for that country’s intended audience. Graphics, gameplay, difficulty, and most commonly a game’s script are one of the many things that get altered when games are introduced in another country. For instance, a game that might’ve been too easy in Japan might have its difficulty altered when released in the United States to make a more compelling product. Even when Working Designs was still familiarizing itself with video game development, some of the company’s most well-known practices of altering their games during the localization process began even when the company was still producing games for the TurboGrafx-16.
But what set Working Designs’ localization changes apart from other companies at the time was the fact that the company wouldn’t simply adapt a game into a new market, it would often localize the games to improve them over the original versions as well as to adapt them for an American audience. At the time, video game localization efforts (particularly in text-heavy games such as RPGs) were often very poor due to a few factors. Sometimes translations were done in house by the original developers by people who weren’t experienced in writing dialog that sounded natural to a native English speaker, or translations were outsourced to a third party without any insight into the game’s original code where it would be sent back for integration by the game’s original developers. Working Designs, however, was one of the very few companies in the localization business that would try to work with either the game’s original developers or the game’s original code and script to implement the changes that they would like to have without compromise. For instance, if Working Designs wanted to add a feature they would think would improve the game for the US release, they would simply add it themselves. If they wanted to alter the dialog or the characters to make them more interesting for the intended audience, they would do so. While these changes were often criticized even at the time when these games were released, they at the very least made for a much more interesting product.
After releasing a few games for the TurboGrafx-16, Working Designs decided to expand into producing more advanced titles for upcoming CD-based video game consoles such as the Sega CD. The company decided to invest in a studio space that would allow them to record audio for their upcoming projects. After signing on as one of the many third parties for the Sega CD sometime in May of 1993, the company decided to tackle Lunar: The Silver Star as one of its first major projects.
Lunar: The Silver Star is a turn-based role-playing video game genre where being a game developed in tangent between Game Arts and Studio Alex and was originally released to critical and commercial success in Japan on June 26th, 1992 for the Sega Mega CD. The game made extensive use of Mega CD’s hardware capabilities, such as short video and audio segments to illustrate the game’s narrative, animated FMV sequences, compact disc audio tracks, and the ability to save game progress to either the console’s internal RAM or a separate RAM cartridge. To an outsider starving for titles to play on their Sega CD, this game would’ve fit the bill perfectly. Despite this, however, there remained a stigma that plagued most Japanese role-playing games from seeing a western release that almost persisted throughout the entire decade.
Though it might be hard to believe today, there was a lengthy moment in history where very few role-playing games were brought over and localized for the United States market. During a time when many video game genres were being birthed into existence through trial and error, there were certain genres that at least to video game publishers never seemed to be worth the investment - the roleplaying game genre. If you were to look back during the early 90s, it makes sense that role-playing games were not seen as something worthwhile to both publishers and the general audience. To a video game publisher, role-playing games for consoles were always the most costly and also the most troublesome to create. Since the dominating medium that housed games during this time were cartridges, which were expensive to manufacture and sell, a role-playing game would require much more memory on average in comparison to other video game genres at the time due to the necessity of storing large volumes of text and graphic data. Role-playing games imported from Japan were even more of an issue since there would often be a communication barrier that would extend localization development. In the United States, there was a social stigma surrounding role-playing games in general, in part due to the role-playing game scare from the 70s and 80s that dissuaded the general audience from going anywhere near these games. Since home console video games at the time were often seen as arcade-like experiences that one could take home with them, the general audience at the time was often interested in video games that offered experiences similar to that of the arcades. Role-playing games at the time carried very little potential in this lucrative market and were often seen as bad investments.
One could argue that role-playing games were often viewed as the “niche” games of their time. Given the fact that roleplaying games themselves were costly to produce and were often unappealing to the mass market, the audience that could enjoy games from this genre was often very limited. Nevertheless, Working Designs was one of the few third-party companies that realized the appeal of many of the games that other companies failed to capitalize on. Not only did Working Designs invest considerable amounts of time in making sure the localization of Lunar was top notch, they invested many resources to ensure that their version of the game was the best it could be. They worked with original developers Studio Alex/Game Arts to add new sequences and gameplay elements, something that is a rarity for other companies that invested in localization. Every line of dialog was carefully written so that it was free from grammar and spelling mistakes, something that most other roleplaying games from Japan often had. Each spoken line of dialog that relied on digital audio was re-recorded in English with decent voice direction, even the song used in the opening scene was given a full dub as well!
Packing for Lunar 2: Eternal Blue
Working Designs didn’t stop at just localizing the game either. The company was among the very first to invest resources into creating products with inherent collectors value through premium packaging. The premium packaging used for the PlayStation release of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete was one of the most ambitious efforts at the time. Lunar for PS1 was sold with a hardback 120-page manual, four discs (two-game discs plus one soundtrack and one making-of video disc), and a piece of cloth that contains a map of the overworld. The sequel to the game, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, would up the ante even more by including all of the same offerings as its predecessor but also included a full-size gold pendant and four mini character standees. During a time when most video games would look identical sitting next to each other on a store shelf, seeing Lunar would’ve been eye-catching. Those who picked up the game knew that they were going to see something very special.
Despite the Japanese release of Lunar for the Mega CD selling an estimated 100,000 copies (making it the best selling game on the system) and the almost universal praise from media outlets at the time for the English localization, Sega still had doubts about the market for roleplaying games. While Sega themselves invested considerable resources in localizing the Phantasy Star series, doubts arose when it came time to localize the fourth installment in the franchise. When the original Japanese release of Phantasy Star IV was near, Sega of America had decided at that point that there was no market for roleplaying games. Despite Phantasy Star IV selling very well in Japan and having been based on a preexisting property of Sega, Sega of America wasn’t quick to pick the game up for localization. According to Vic Ireland, Working Designs was interested in licensing the game from Sega of Japan for localization when Sega of America passed on the game. When Sega of America heard about Working Design’s interest, they suddenly became interested in localizing the game again. According to Vic Ireland, Sega of America had purposely priced the game higher than the average 24Mbit cartridge in order to prove the point that there was no market for role-playing games. Despite the increase in price, the game apparently sold many copies and was regarded very highly by many reviewers at the time. Ironically, Phantasy Star IV would become one of Megadrive's best role-playing games of all time.
While Working Designs continued to license games for Sega’s consoles, they started looking into licensing games for other platforms. While the Nintendo 64 was considered too expensive to consider publishing on, Working Designs began looking into releasing games for the then newly released Sony PlayStation. Sometime around March of 1995, Working Designs would become a third-party licensee for the PlayStation. However, this relationship would be temporarily short-lived due to frustrations caused under the ruling thumb of Bernie Stolar.
Bernie Stolar was the first executive vice president and was one of the founding members of Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA). He played an integral role in launching the Sony PlayStation in North America and was also responsible for signing on many of the earliest game franchises that would become synonymous with the PlayStation brand, such as Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and Ridge Racer. It was reported by those who have dealt with Sony at the time that they had a “no RPG” rule that was most likely imposed by Bernie Stolar himself. During the pre-launch in North America and sometime shortly after there were no roleplaying games released for the system. According to a biography written on Giant Bomb, this was done to put more emphasis on 3D games. Most Japanese role-playing games were 2D and the genre itself had a history of not selling. This made Working Design’s efforts to bring Japanese role-playing games like Arc the Lad (which was one of the best-selling PlayStation games in Japan at the time) to the PlayStation in vain. Even when Vic Ireland went to Sony’s headquarters in Japan directly to try to overrule the decision, nothing worked.
Because of the strain of getting games approved by Sony during the early days of the PlayStation, Working Designs ended up only getting approval for RayStorm, an arcade-style shoot ‘em up that ended up being released in June of 1997 under Working Designs’ SPAZ label (created to differentiate from Working Designs’ offerings in the roleplaying genre). At the time, Working Designs had been continuing their working relationship with Sega by bringing various titles over from Japan to the Sega Saturn. At the time, the Sega Saturn had a rough launch in North America, and faith in the company was diminishing quickly following the console’s poor reception. On September 30, 1996, president and CEO of Sega of America Tom Kalinske departed Sega. Tom Kalinske was personally responsible for much of Sega of America’s success in the early 1990s, so his departure left a large spot for someone to fill.
However, in a twisted turn of events, an opportunity for Bernie to leave Sony and become Sega of America’s Chief Operating Officer for the Sega Saturn presented itself sometime during the PlayStation’s first holiday sales season in 1996. Bernie would accept the offer and would begin working at Sega of America starting in March of 1997. This one move would spell disaster for any relationship Working Designs had with Sega of America.
Upon taking his position at Sega, Bernie Stolar instituted a ”Five Star” games policy that took effect immediately, and was announced publicly on June 19th, 1997 at E3 that same year. The Five Star games policy enforced very strict five-star quality criteria that determined whether or not a game would be released in response to the “quantity over quality” approach that was being perceived by critics of the video game industry at the time. Bernie along with a review panel of product developers, testers, and other marketing staff would review various games throughout development and rate each game a score out of 100. If the game scored below even a 90, the developers of the game would have to correct the flaws as determined by the review board or risk having the game denied altogether. This created an issue where games that couldn’t reach a near-perfect score had to be constantly delayed or inadvertently canceled as a result of a bad grade, creating a drought of any kind of software that the Sega Saturn severely needed.
However, any positive intention to support the Sega Saturn was about to be immediately thrown out the window.
“Saturn’s not our future.” --Bernie Stolar (Image provided by Classic Gaming Quarterly’s Twitter)
In the September 1997 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) following E3 that year, Bernie Stolar provided EGM with a few clarifications about Sega’s future plans with both the Sega Saturn and the unannounced successor to the console. It was in this issue that Bernie Stolar’s famous “Saturn’s not our future” statement was made public, which prior to this article only amounted to what was said by Stolar sometime on June 23rd. To both developers and general consumers, this was Sega’s official indication that they were no longer interested in supporting the Sega Saturn. This quote is attributed to many of the reactions of those who tried to support both Sega and the Sega Saturn. With this quote, many believed that the company’s intentions were not on supporting the Sega Saturn but rather to focus on all of their efforts in their next console - the Sega Dreamcast.
However, the release of the Sega Dreamcast was more than a year away in Japan and more than two years away in North America. Sega of America inadvertently created a scenario where they had very little support for almost two years while haphazardly trying to support the current console they were stuck with.
To those who worked with Sega during this time, every move from Sega seemed like an act of self-sabotage. The consensus from those outside the company at the time was that Sega of America was actively making efforts to kill the Sega Saturn as early as possible. There were many incidents that occurred both inside and outside of Sega that would end up souring the company’s relationships with general consumers and with companies like Working Designs as well. Sega’s attempts to minimize their efforts with the Sega Saturn were carried throughout the company from game development to marketing. However, in regards to Working Designs, there were two pivotal events that showcased the company’s true intentions.
On November 30th, 1996, Working Designs released Dragon Force, a real-time strategy and tactics role-playing game for the Sega Saturn. The game was a unique title for the Sega Saturn as it was one of the few titles that made extensive use of the Sega Saturn’s ability to utilize Memory Backup Cartridges, an equivalent to the Sony PlayStation’s memory card, that allowed players to store saved games onto a cartridge that existed outside of the system’s internal RAM backup. Unfortunately, the official Sega brand backup cartridges were rare and were often unavailable in most retail outlets even when at the console’s peak. As a result, third-party companies like GameShark and InterAct made their own brand of memory cartridges that were more widely available and for a fraction of the cost in comparison to Sega’s official cartridges. However, much like most third-party peripherals made for all consoles sold at the time, these peripherals were created without the help of an official company and relied on reverse engineering to create an equivalent product. In the case of the memory cartridge, the companies making the cheaper alternatives used shortcuts to reduce the cost of manufacturing the cartridges. For instance, cartridges sold with 8 megs of storage actually had 4 megs but relied on compression to fit game data onto the cartridge. These cost-effective measures often created issues where it was possible for data corruption to occur in games that relied on tight system timings while saving data.
The use of these cartridges was so rampant that most issues people were having with their copies of Dragon Force were attributed solely to the use of the unofficial cartridges. Things got so bad that Vic Ireland had to make a statement on the Working Designs website suggesting those who were having issues with the game to find an official memory cartridge by any means necessary. The company even provided customers a means of buying official cartridges directly from them in an effort to provide a better experience for their Sega Saturn fanbase. Working Designs was able to achieve this by importing the official cartridges from Japan where there were more in abundance, and pricing them at a similar price to that of the cheaper unofficial variants.
However, eventually, Sega caught wind of what Working Designs was doing and cut off their supply of carts. According to Vic Ireland, this was possibly an attempt to start the early death of the Sega Saturn as games that depended more on the official memory cartridges wouldn’t have been able to be played properly. The move to shorten the supply of official cartridges suggests that Sega had no interest in games that utilized them, which would be usually required to play them properly given the console’s limited internal memory built into the console itself. With no means of properly being able to save game data, the decision to artificially cut the supply of official memory cartridges would dissuade developers from creating games that would utilize them, like Working Designs’ roleplaying games. However, the memory cartridge issue is a drop in the bucket in comparison to what occurred shortly before E3 1997.
According to Vic Ireland in an old Usenet post dating back to around the time of E3 1997, Working Designs had shared booth space with Sega every year since Lunar on the Sega CD. In November of 1996, they were given a chance to rent space in the main hall to hold a booth of their very own. It was decided that they would stay within Sega’s booth for one more year before deciding to do their own. In April of 1997, a few weeks before E3 and about a month after Bernie Stolar became COO of Sega of America, they were called up by Sega themselves to deny their promise of sharing booth space with Working Designs at that year’s E3. By this point, it was too late for Working Designs to rent space of their own as all of the available space had been rented out. In frustration, Working Designs contacted Sega of Japan in an effort to get some booth space at the convention. In Sega tradition, Sega of Japan forced Sega of America’s hand and Working Designs was able to hold a booth at E3 1997...
(Click the image for video of Working Designs’ booth at E3 1997)
...unfortunately, the space that they were put in couldn’t be any less desirable. The booth ended up being stationed far away from any of Sega’s booths. Sega themselves dedicated most of the prime space to games like Sonic Jam where Sega’s preferred titles could stand out amongst the smaller ones. It’s rumored that in comparison to the previous E3s that Sega consciously made the decision to deny shared space with any third party who wanted to present their Saturn titles at the show, although we couldn’t confirm this. Even though they ended up getting some space to hold their booth at the convention, Working Designs ended up being charged even more for the space than they would’ve paid if they had just shared the space with Sega originally as promised, possibly due to the short notice caused when requesting it.
Sega’s treatment of Working Designs during the E3 booth debacle was the straw that broke the camel’s back. At the time before Working Designs ended their relationship with Sega, they were in the process of showcasing four titles that were present in some form at E3 - Magic Knight Rayearth (which was going through production troubles of its own), Lunar: Silver Star Story (originally titled Lunar: Silver Star Story Directors Cut), SEGA AGES Volume 1, and Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean. According to Vic Ireland, they had also planned to show off a shoot ‘em up collection that was divided into two SKUs consisting of Hyper Duel/Thunderforce Gold Pack 1 and Blast Wind/Thunderforce Gold Pack 2 but was pulled shortly before the show. Working Designs was even considering picking up Game Art’s legendary Grandia for the Sega Saturn, which was not only the definitive version of the game but possibly one of the best RPGs to ever grace the Sega Saturn. While Vic Ireland had already decided that the Sega Saturn was a failure with little chance of succeeding more than the PlayStation long before the E3 booth incident occurred, the E3 booth incident and the overall treatment of Working Designs by Sega of America under the leadership of Bernie Stolar made it necessary to walk away from Sega.
While the drama induced by the relationship of Sega of America was ongoing, Vic Ireland was already looking into re-establishing Working Design’s relationship with SCEA. In the same press release that was meant to advertise Working Design’s upcoming games on the Sega Saturn, Vic Ireland held no restraint when discussing the reason why the company’s previous relationship with Sony went sour. While Working Designs continued to work to finish the release of Magic Knight Rayearth (which ended up being the very last title on the Sega Saturn in North America) and SEGA AGES, a compilation of various Sega arcade classics, Vic Ireland decided to cancel Lunar and the shoot ‘em up compilation after the events that occurred before and during E3 1997. In an interview with Vic Ireland on Lunar-Net sometime around E3 of 1998, Vic Ireland would go on to say “Unless Bernie is gone Dreamcast is a serious no for us.” Originally, Lunar for the Saturn was going to be their very last Saturn title following the release of Rayearth on it’s original planned release date of October 1997. Following the release of Magic Knight Rayearth in 1998, Working Designs would never appear on another Sega console ever again.
At least up until July 23rd in 1997, the games were still planned for release on the Sega Saturn for some time toward the end of the year. On the list of tentative release schedules that was listed on the page for the announcement that Albert Odyssey had shipped, there was a brief mention of a “Playstation RPG” for a December release later that year. This game ended up being Alundra, which ended up being released on January 8th, 1998 in North America and the first Working Designs game to appear on the PlayStation after the breakup with Sega.
At the time Alundra was being localized by Working Designs, the attitude SCEA had towards roleplaying games had changed, especially after witnessing the poor reception of Bernie Stolar’s radical changes to Sega of America’s certification policies. According to Vic Ireland, “Sony had great energy and the organization was loaded with actual gamers who know games”.
It’s no wonder then that Alundra ultimately ended up becoming Working Design’s third best-selling game. Following the success of Alundra, Working Designs followed through with their promise to bring Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete to North America but possibly in a not-so-unexpected turn of events. On January 16th, 1998, Working Designs formally announced both the cancellation of the Sega Saturn version and the announcement of the PlayStation version of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. This decision was possibly made easier when Final Fantasy VII, which had recently been released just a few months prior to the announcement of Lunar, broke ground for the roleplaying genre by selling 330,000 copies during the game’s debut weekend and grossed over $16 million within that time alone. Sony was now all ears when it came to roleplaying games. What was once considered a niche subgenre in the video game industry became the industry leader going forward in storytelling, presentation, and spectacle. What was Sega’s loss became Sony’s gain.
As mentioned before in this article, Working Designs went far beyond what other contemporaries were doing for video game localization at the time. Despite being a relatively small company, they continued to have high-quality standards when it came to the localization, development, and packaging of every game they brought over from Japan. Riding on the high of the roleplaying game craze, Working Designs saw the most success it would ever see during this golden age. According to Vic Ireland, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete ended up being Working Designs’ top seller grossing over 250,000 sold copies (in the premium packaging), followed by Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete which was released two years later, and Alundra. Other Working Designs titles during this period would average around 40 to 60 thousand copies sold as well. Working Designs was able to coast for many years with the profits made with their newfound success, enabling them to continue to do more projects that they were passionate about and to revisit old plans to see how they would fare with the new management (like Arc the Lad, which was introduced in the form of the Arc the Lad Collection).
However, not everything is meant to last forever.
The Fall of Working Designs
Shortly around the time of the turn of the millennium, the video game industry began to develop an obsession with expanding the scope of what video game entertainment could be. Video games had to become more complex and technologically impressive. Sony was now effectively the leader in the industry, proving with the release of many high-quality roleplaying games that narrative-driven games and cinematic experiences were the future. Unfamiliar technologies that were brand new to console games, like online connectivity, and a desire to push the envelope of graphical fidelity required more complex hardware. The PlayStation 2 was created to fulfill this goal.
With the release of the PlayStation 2, video game developers had to adapt to the demands of the market (or whatever the publisher of that specific console was looking for). Video game developers began focusing their efforts on proven tried and true genres throughout this period. As the generation went on, video game developers began moving more development in-house by expanding their development teams and project scope sizes. Bigger games lead to bigger teams which mean bigger development cost, with more chance for failure. This was the industry that Working Designs was about to enter. During the launch preparations for the PlayStation 2, the management at SCEA had changed. With the change of management, some of the old, familiar policies that affected certain types of games would be reintroduced to much of Working Designs’ frustration.
Working Design’s first game on the PlayStation 2 was Silpheed: The Lost Planet, released on May 1, 2001. However, when the company was actively pursuing other projects following the release of Slipheed, Working Designs began to witness opposition to their requests to certify their games. In the past, Working Designs never had difficulty in getting a game past Sony or Sega’s certification process. Now with new management at Sony, Working Designs had to work with much stricter policies that actively worked against their favor for arbitrary reasons. The biggest reason for this was graphical fidelity (2D vs 3D).
These issues with certification began to affect Working Designs negatively starting with the localization projects to bring Growlanser II and III to North America. Originally announced as an E3 2002 press release, Growlanser II and III are 2D strategy-RPGs developed by Career Soft (developers of the Langrisser series on Sega consoles). Before being picked up by Working Designs, the game might have originally been considered by Atlus USA. Aside from various other issues that Sony had with the game itself, Sony had supposedly instilled a mindset of being unfavorable to the idea of releasing single releases of 2D games. However, this doesn’t mean that Sony was averse to selling 2D games at all during this time. The idea was that one single 2D game by itself wouldn’t be worth the MSRP of a 3D commercial game, which at the time was $50. Working Designs’ plan was to release both games separately a few months after each other at full MSRP each. The workaround to Sony’s policy on single-release 2D games was to release these games in the form of a bundle or compilation. After nearly two years negotiating the certification for both games, Sony gave Working Designs an ultimatum that in order for Growlanser II to be released, the game must be bundled with Growlanser III, or else neither would be released.
This spelled disaster for Working Designs in the long run. With Growlanser II still in development and III riding on the completion of the other, the company had no choice but to spend resources on a game they were essentially giving away for free - two games for the price of one. Mind you, both games were fully translated, localized, and given voice acting. The final game, announced as Growlanser Generations around September 18th, 2003, was finally released on December 7th, 2004 for $50, over two years since the initial announcement of the two games releasing separately. A deluxe pack was also produced for around $90 in hopes of recuperating some of the cost of developing the two games for release simultaneously.
At the time, Working Designs only had the two Growlanser games in the pipeline as they didn’t have enough resources to take on the number of projects they used to do during the PlayStation era. The long process of certifying the game and the development times necessary to complete the sequel had also killed all momentum the company had going forward. However, the company had one more ace up their sleeve that couldn’t possibly fail (could it?)...
Sometime in 1997, possibly around the time of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon’s (Mystical Ninja 64) release on the Nintendo 64, Vic Ireland began taking an interest in potentially licensing the franchise from Konami. While Vic was unimpressed by the localization effort done on Mystical Ninja 64’s North American release, he understood the appeal of Goemon and the games themselves. With the quirky Japanese-centric humor found in most of the Goemon games, the franchise might have made for a perfect fit for Working Designs’ unique approach to localization.
And so, Vic began negotiating with Konami over possibly acquiring the license to Goemon. Unlike most Japanese video game companies Vic had to negotiate with, no other company is probably as stingy with their IPs as Konami (aside from Nintendo of course). Konami would only entrust their IPs to their sister companies like Konami USA. If Konami USA showed no interest in an IP that Konami corporate was willing to offer, then that IP was effectively dead in that territory. Working Designs had attempted to license Policenauts, Guitar Freaks, and even Dance Dance Revolution at one point. Despite Konami USA showing no interest, Konami Japan denied anyone else the opportunity to work with these IPs.. Business culture in Japan is based largely on personal relationships, and is less transactional than in the west. As a result, forming a relationship with a Japanese company that gets one to a point where negotiations can be made can take a very long time. After five years of establishing relationships with Konami personally, combined with their other relationships that were established with many other developers over the years in Japan, Working Designs became one of the first (or few) third party companies to be given the golden opportunity to license one of Konami’s most precious IPs - Goemon. Vic had hoped that by having Konami entrust Working Designs the responsibility of handling the Goemon IP, that the door would remain open to future localizations of other Konami properties if Goemon was localized successfully.
After Working Designs acquired the license to Goemon, they immediately went to work. Given that Konami USA had recently shown no interest in the Goemon franchise anymore by refusing to localize the latest game in the series, Bouken Jidai Katsugeki Goemon for the PlayStation 2, it was a no brainer for Working Designs. Thus, work began on localizing the game given what was expected of Working Designs at the time. Given the responsibility that was entrusted by Konami, Working Designs wanted to treat this game with a lot more care than perhaps some of their other games up until this point. For example, in a rare act for Working Designs, they made the decision to leave the original Japanese voice acting in the game completely intact. We currently don’t know what the original plans for this game’s localization are, but it’s possible that certain enhancements to the game itself to fix some of the game’s design flaws were already in the works.
At the time, however, there was one thing that Working Designs had never anticipated being an issue up until this point - the certification process. When Working Designs was granted the license to Goemon, they were also preparing to get Growlanser II and III certified by SCEA. To their surprise, however, not only was Growlanser II and III denied certification initially by Sony, but so was Goemon. Details on why Goemon was denied certification from Sony is uncertain, but we can confirm that Working Designs had tried but failed to get the game certified before the game was announced publicly for the first time. However, given that Goemon for the PlayStation 2 was a 3D game based on an already established IP by a well-known company like Konami, we can only assume that it was denied for other reasons - most likely because of the game’s aesthetic or in terms of its gameplay.
(Click the image for video footage of Working Designs’ booth at E3 2002.)
Regardless of the certification status of the game, Working Designs formally announced their localization of Bouken Jidai Katsugeki Goemon (originally given the title Mystical Ninja Goemon before being finally named Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero) on May 22nd, 2002 just in time for their press conference at E3 2002. While the game was present at the show, we couldn’t confirm if the game was playable or if it was only present in trailer form only. The game was originally meant to be released prior to the release of both Growlanser II and III. The game was advertised with a collectible Goemon plush doll that could be acquired at the show in a crane game (along with a cool inflatable Growlanser sword), while a prototype of a Kotora (the white tiger cub) plush doll was also present but not acquirable. In typical Working Designs fashion, there was originally going to be a pre-sell promotion where you could get one of the five characters from the game in the form of a plush doll.
The original announcement trailer that was included in an issue of PlayStation Magazine.
Aside from this, and the fact that there would be enhancements to the game, this was all the information the public was ever given officially through PR in regards to this game.
And then, radio silence. After the showcase at E3 2002, the game silently disappeared. While there were a few remarks about the game in some western magazines, mostly at the time of the E3 showcase, there would be no further news about the game. While we now know that the silence was mostly due to the production of getting both Growlanser games out the door, there would be no details shared about what precisely would be changed for the final game, or when the game would be coming out. Aside from a few anecdotes on Working Design’s message board at the time, and the fact that some magazines in the west did get a chance to play a build with most of the localization finished sometime after the show, this was all there ever was.
Given that most of the attention was on Growlanser Generations for a significant amount of time, it's possible that progress on Goemon after the first rejection by Sony was very slow or sporadic. Given that Working Designs does most of the production of their localizations in-house, this meant that the production of all three games had to be shared amongst the small team.
In an effort to meet SCEA’s demands of improving the game, most of the programming work went into adding features and fixes that the original game sorely needed. Among the many improvements added to the game by Working Designs - rumble support was added, money was no longer capped at 9999, inventory management has been improved, the camera system has been improved, game-breaking bug fixes and oversights were fixed, as well as much other quality of life improvements. In the end, this game would’ve contained the most amount of improvements that Working Designs has ever done for a single game.
After production on Growlanser Generations had ended by the end of 2004, the only project Working Designs had in the pipeline was Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero. By this point, the game had been in production for at least three years. Most of the company’s finances were sunk into the cost of developing Growlanser Generations. With no other games in development, the release of Goemon became the company’s one and only goal. Sometime in 2005, it was rumored that Vic Ireland had privately asked several members of the gaming press and the industry to write statements as to why Goemon should be released. In one final push, with all of the game’s enhancements in place in an almost finished version, the game was submitted one final time to SCEA.
It’s not clear on what grounds Goemon was rejected by SCEA. While the game isn’t perfect, the changes Working Designs had implemented were enough to put out a very competent game. Despite being based on a pre-established franchise by a noteworthy publisher and developer, it still wasn’t enough to persuade Sony. Rumors circulated that the final reasoning for not accepting Goemon was due to its graphics, but we can’t find a comment from Vic that seems to suggest that this was the truth. Considering that Goemon might have not had a long time left to go before it was actually finished, the game would have been a late release in respect to the relevancy of the PlayStation 2. Considering that Sony was already focusing on their next major project, the PlayStation 3, it’s possible that this was also a consideration for ultimately denying the game.
No matter what the reasons may be, the damage was done and Working Design’s fate was sealed. By the end of August of 2005, most of the remaining staff at Working Designs were given their last days. On December 13th, 2005, Vic Ireland would go on to make the official announcement of Working Design’s closure, ending an almost 20 year legacy in bringing games people might have otherwise never heard about, to an audience that might have been willing to give the games a try. Whether you love them or hate them, at the time there was never any other company quite like Working Designs that could make their games to 11.
Aftermath and Rediscovery
As Working Designs was in the process of closing its doors, mentions of Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero had quickly faded away. While the game had a relatively weak media presence to begin with, fans of the Goemon series who happened to stumble upon the early mentions of the game in 2002 were understandably disappointed with the cancellation of the game. With the cancellation of the game and the demise of the Goemon/Mystical Ninja franchise in the US, all hope for the game’s release quickly faded away. Since the production of Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero was kept close to Working Designs during development, only a few US magazines ever got to see the English version in development. As a result, the chance of a build still existing outside of those who worked on the game was slim to none.
However, a few months ago we were given a chance to purchase one of the few prototypes out there in circulation. Unlike most video game prototypes that are usually from various media outlets for preview or review purposes, this disc is quite unique. The disc itself comes in a custom-made case with an insert printed on glossy Tektronix office paper. The disc is dated to August 26th, 2005 which is one of the reported dates of Working Design’s last days for some employees. As such, this disc is very likely to be the very last build of Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero before the studio shut down. The prototype itself features an almost completely translated version of the game (we encountered only one line that wasn’t translated at all) with only a few text and dialog-related bugs. In preparation for this release, our good friend Frank Cifaldi at the Video Game History Foundation hooked us up with an earlier prototype dump courtesy of an anonymous donor. The prototype predates the August build by two months with an obviously less refined translation. Most of the additions have been implemented, but this build contains more text-related bugs in comparison to the August build.
It didn’t take long for Working Designs’ successor to take the place of the fallen company. Almost immediately after the closure of Working Designs, its successor GAIJINWORKS was formed using key ex-Working Designs staff that continued to follow the previous company’s tradition of focusing on fan-service for those who were interested in niche games. GAIJINWORKS was able to adapt its fan-friendly model of providing games to its fans by embracing digital and physical release models that are able to serve both hard-core video game collectors as well as the general fans of the games that they are able to provide.
Even after failing to bring Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero to the United States market, attempts were made to still bring the localized version of the game out in the years following the closure of Working Designs. According to Vic Ireland, almost immediately after the closure of the company, there were several other publishers that were interested in bringing Goemon and Growlanser Generations over to Europe. It’s not clear as to why this never happened, but it’s likely that it would have cost the company a lot more money to fund the resources necessary to translate the games in different languages while also being subjected to Sony’s standards in Europe.
When Working Designs announced its closure on December 12th, 2005, GAIJINWORKS was formed almost immediately to take its place. Toward the PlayStation 3’s end of life, the company was able to renegotiate relicensing old Working Designs games for digital release on Sony’s PlayStation Store via the PlayStation Network under the “PS1 Classics” library. The PS1 Classics service offered digital-only versions of certain PS1 titles playable through software emulation. The PS1 Classics library was created in an effort to provide old as well as new fans of the PlayStation a convenient way to play titles from the PS1’s expansive library on their PlayStation 3s, PlayStation Portables, and PlayStation Vitas. GAIJINWORKS was able to offer most of Working Designs’ releases via this program, allowing many people to enjoy these games once again.
On October 4th, 2011 Sony started their PS2 Classics service on the PlayStation Store, which made select PlayStation 2 titles available for digital purchase and available through software emulation on the PlayStation 3. Vic Ireland had expressed interest in releasing Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero even before the service was announced, and began looking into publishing the game using the PS2 Classics service. However, there were a number of issues that prevented the game from being released this way. According to Sony’s policies on PS1/PS2 classics, they would only allow games that have been commercially certified and sold to exist on the service. They also disallowed any releases based on modified disc images as well. In order to get the game available as a PS2 Classic, the game would have to go through the process that’s involved in publishing a retail PS2 game, one of which involves having the game go through quality assurance at Sony. However, Sony was no longer offering quality assurance on any PlayStation 2 games at the time aside from a possible QA line in South America.
As time went on, things were looking grimmer and grimmer. By the time the PS2 Classics service accumulated a decent collection of games, Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) had just been released. The release of the PS4 coincided with a change within the company’s approach to legacy content. The PS4 was the first PlayStation console that provided no built-in backward compatibility for past systems, indicating that legacy content was not going to be Sony’s focus going forward. While Sony did provide PS2 Classics yet again on the PS4, the service was short-lived as the service only provided a fraction of the games that were ultimately made available on the PS3. At the same time, Konami started to focus less on video game development and more on slot machines by investing more in the more lucrative gambling industry.
“I think the ship has sailed on Goemon PS2. We looked into putting it on PSN, but there's no QA line to run it through anymore, and that would be required since it wasn't ever published.” --Victor Ireland
At this point, it’s possible that the only chance the game has for an actual release is if the game is directly ported to a modern platform rather than sticking with the existing PlayStation 2 codebase. While possible, it might currently be impractical as the game was programmed and designed as a title for the PlayStation 2 during its first year, a console that had a complex series of design choices which make a direct port to another platform very difficult unless one experienced in handling such projects (like Bluepoint Games’ work on the PS3). GAIJINWORKS, much like Working Designs in its prime, has always been in the business of bringing over and localizing games for the same target system. While the company has committed to doing extensive programming work to add features and improvements to the games they work on, they might not necessarily have the resources dedicated to fully bringing a game to another platform. It’s also possible there would need to be renegotiations with the Goemon license in order to make something like this happen, which might not be as easily achievable given Konami’s current management and company outlook.
The Goemon/Mystical Ninja franchise has remained in stasis for almost a decade in Japan and even longer in the United States. While Goemon himself has appeared in a few spin-offs usually celebrating the various IPs of Konami, the very last time a Goemon game has been released in the US was “Goemon’s Great Adventure” for the Nintendo 64, a little over 22 years ago as of writing! Vic Ireland, through the efforts of Working Designs, attempted to give Goemon fans the game that they have long sought after since the last game on the Nintendo 64 when Konami themselves consciously decided not to. Vic worked with Konami over the course of five years in the efforts to acquire the license to Goemon and continued to localize the game over the course of three years after acquiring the license despite being rejected multiple times by Sony, a company that in the previous generation would have welcomed many niche titles with open arms. Not settling for just simply localizing the game, Working Designs’ small crew worked over the course of those three years to improve on the game’s original shortcomings in the attempt to make a better product Goemon fans would appreciate. Despite the criticisms Working Designs has received over its lifetime, one thing that can’t easily be denied is that the company always did what they thought was best for their games as well as their fans. When you play a Working Designs game you can tell that the company had a deep affinity for each game they worked on. That in itself is admirable. But what separated Working Designs from other companies is their dedication to making a game that might not have had the best reception by itself into something better by adding improvements to the game as a whole, right down to the game’s packaging. That’s something that shines through Mystical Ninja Goemon Zero and is something Working Designs should be most remembered for.
We’d like to thank Gonz for gathering the necessary funds to secure the release, as without his contribution this release would never have been possible. We’d like to thank Sazpaimon for acquiring as well as handling many aspects of this release. He recorded not just one, but two full-length playthroughs of both prototypes and worked together with ehw to make sure that this release would happen. We’d also like to thank ehw, Xkeeper, Hwd45, ZeaLitY, Sappharad, OKeijiDragon, Gerbilsoft, and Carnivol for funding this release as well. Last but not least, we’d like to thank Frank Cifaldi and Hubz from the Video Game History Foundation for restoring the cover insert as well as giving us guidance on scanning with the best possible quality. You guys are all heroes.
Until we meet again, see you next time!
(Photos courtesy of Sazpaimon ❤️)
NOTE: This game does not work correctly in most emulators at this time. Please do not bother any emulator developers into supporting this game. We recommend playing the game on actual hardware for the time being.