The Life and Times of the Super Nintendo – 1995
1995 was an interesting year for video games. Of momentous importance is something that could have changed the industry as we know it today. Sony and Nintendo had originally planned a co-created CD-attachment for the Super Nintendo. As fate would have it, disagreements and corporate squabbles resulted in Sony unleashing the venerable PlayStation upon the unsuspecting masses. Meanwhile, Nintendo unleashed the Virtual Boy upon me and the 12 other people who bought it. Pages could be written about the short-lived history between Sony and Nintendo, and the results of their separation, but nothing needs to be said about whether the PlayStation or Virtual Boy won 1995.
Over in Seattle, Microsoft had yet to enter the console market with the Xbox still six years away. Bill and his gang were a little preoccupied releasing some little, unsuccessful shareware program called Windows 95.
Outside of geekdom the world was a strange and busy place. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of a double murder; the city of Kobe, Japan suffered a horrific earthquake; millions marched in Washington D.C.; and Timothy McVay set off a bomb in Oklahoma. 1995 also saw classic films such as Toy Story and Goldeneye hit the screens.
Where was I during all of this? I was 10 going on the big double-one. I was in 5th grade. I was amassing a collection of rare books from Goosebumps to Redwall and Young Jedi Knights. I vaguely recall being consciously aware of the events going on in the world, due mostly to being grossly invested in my precious gray box of joy with purple buttons. This year would be one of the last great years of the 16-bit era; the Super Nintendo was on its way out, but it wouldn’t go down without a fight. 1995 saw the release of now-cherished classics and some of my all-time personal favorites.
One game has stood the test of time and remained at the top of my list since the day I first played it, and the dozens of times I’ve played through it since. I can count all of the games I’ve achieved 100% completion on one hand, and the number of games I’ve played multiple times on the other. The first game to compel me to play it again and again and again was Chrono Trigger. Released in 1995 by “The Dream Team” at SquareSoft, in collaboration with manga artist Akira Toriyama, Chrono Trigger represented the pinnacle of my preadolescent love of video games, and signaled my life-long obsession with them. In 1995 I hadn’t really played any RPGs. I had played Final Fantasy III and gave up midway because it was too difficult for me at the time. I watched my brother play Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, but neither of those were really RPGs in the traditional sense. Chrono Trigger was truly my first experience with a text-heavy, story-driven, role-playing game and I couldn’t be more happy for that honor.
Chrono Trigger presented a vast story full of memorable characters that spanned not only a planet, but millions of years of history as well. You play the role of silent protagonist Crono who is off to attend the Millennial Fair. After running into the Princess Marle of Guardia, the two go to watch a demonstration of a teleportation machine made by Crono’s childhood friend Lucca. Through interference with her pendant, Princess Marle is sucked into a time portal and sent 400 years into the past. From there your journey throughout time begins. Over the course of the game you will travel from the age of the dinosaurs to a dystopian post-apocalyptic future while learning about the machinations behind the destruction of mankind.
Something unique and well thought out about Chrono Trigger is that the choices you make and the events that transpire impact the course of history, the people you meet, the members of your party and ultimately the conclusion of the game. I had played games with multiple endings before, but Chrono Trigger went above and beyond this aspect to include around 15 different endings. I loved everything about the game from the story to the graphics and music so much so that I couldn’t stop playing. Thanks to New Game+ I have managed to not only see every possible ending, but achieve 100% completion. There would only be one other RPG in my life that I would achieve the same goal and that was Chrono Trigger‘s PlayStation sequel, Chrono Cross. To this day I still have my Super Nintendo and completed Chono Trigger cartridge, both of which I consider to be two of my most prized possessions.
Chrono Trigger not only contained amazing depth in terms of story, choices and characters, but the graphics and music are truly unforgettable. The characters were designed by Akira Toriyama, creator of the Dragon Ball series. The art created within the game and in promotional materials is fantastic. The music was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu and Noriko Matsueda with tracks so inspiring and memorable that it’s not surprising to hear them played at gamer weddings. Chrono Trigger has garnered a cult following with some even trying to release 3D remakes for years.
1995 also saw the release of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. As a sequel to the wildly successful Super Mario World and a canon game within the Mario franchise, Yoshi had a lot to live up to. Yoshi’s Islandbelongs to a rare category of Mario games in which the plucky plumber takes on a secondary role. This game also introduced a number of motifs that would forever remain a part of the series from the babies and their terrifying cries to giant white flowers, Ralph the Raven and Kamek.
In Yoshi’s Island your main objective is to reunite Baby Mario with his captured brother. Baby Mario rides on the back of the entire Yoshi clan through forests, up mountains, inside caves, to the top of brooding fortresses and even to the moon. Mario rarely ever leaves his Yoshi unless during star power or the dreaded, inevitable moments when Yoshi is struck by an enemy. Mario floats around the screen in a bubble as a timer ticks down all the while emitting one of the most annoying sounds in video game history. His cry is ear-piercing and encourages the player to grab him as quickly as humanly possible before Kamek’s minions can.
Yoshi’s Island was a significant piece of Super Nintendo software as it utilized the Super FX 2 chip. The Super FX chip was part of the game cartridge and added additional processing power and memory to the game. From the stylized story-book cut-scenes to the vibrant worlds and massive sprite bosses, you can clearly see the power of the chip at work. Yoshi’s Island was and is one of the most beautiful 2D games ever made. Even better is the amazing music composed by the prolific Koji Kondo. As an example, the haunting fortress theme, combined with the dark and brooding atmosphere, created memorable boss dungeons that still stand the test of time. Yoshi’s Island also contained one of my most favorite final boss battles and music themes. If you really want to see the Super FX 2 chip at work, make sure you get all the way to the end of the game.
Within one year I had found two games that would compel me to play them multiple times to completion. In Yoshi’s Island you could return to any stage to try to collect all the flower petals and stars, and attempt the often challenging bonus stages. Although Yoshi made his solo return in Yoshi’s Story for the Nintendo 64, the true sequel to Yoshi’s Island wouldn’t come out until Yoshi’s Island DS in 2007.
While these two games represent the best of 1995 for the Super Nintendo, other significant releases included Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest and the cult classic Earthbound. With the failure of the Virtual Boy, the Super Nintendo continued to hold the reigns until the release of the Nintendo 64 in 1996. Even then the system would still see significant releases and memorable classics. There is no doubt that the Super Nintendo inspired gamers both new and old, and that during a tumultuous year like 1995, it would secure its place in history.