Retronauts Pocket Episode 15: Destiny of an Emperor

Retronauts 15 Pocket cover

Usually if I come into a Retronauts episode with knowledge of a game nobody has heard of, it’s about some obscure Japanese PlayStation game or whatever else was under the dart I threw at my ROM list in 2002. I did not entirely expect that to happen with this week’s topic, Capcom’s Destiny of an Emperor. It was a 1990 Capcom NES release, and I knew it wasn’t an oft-metioned classic, but among the four of us on the show and topic-submitter Steven Sztuk, Steve and I were the only ones who had a memory of it. Go figure.
But that’s part of the fun, and luckily, Destiny of an Emperor is an interesting game! Last week’s guest Gary Butterfield rejoins us for this chat about the game, where I go over its basic features — it’s an RPG based on a manga based on the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” novel, and uses some very familiar old JRPG tropes that are applied, one way or another, to a game about amassing troops and fighting endless wars. It’s adorable, really, and worth checking out. Enjoy the show.

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Filed under Retronauts, Retronauts Pocket

9 Responses to Retronauts Pocket Episode 15: Destiny of an Emperor

  1. Aaron Schafer

    Holy shit! My favourite game!

    Well, okay, maybe not favourite favourite like, of all time, but my absolute favourite game when I was ten years old, bar none. I was playing Bravely Default just last night (awesome game, by the way), and came across an item to be unlocked in the village called Lu Bu’s Spear. I was instantly excited, thinking back on the traitorous Lu Bu and his maxed-out 255 strength from Destiny of an Emperor. (Side note: my mind always tries to spit out Destiny of THE Emperor, rather than AN Emperor. No idea why.)

    I remember years ago now, when I first heard of a little thing called Virtual Console, via my friend Travis telling me all about the new Nintendo machine coming called the Wii. We were both Nintendo kids from way back, and the notion of being able to go back and play all those forgotten classics from our childhood was the most exciting thing imaginable. I recall, after him telling me about VC, I started making a list at home that night of the games I was most looking forward to playing. Incredibly nerdy, yes, as my girlfriend at the time was delighted to point out, but I was too geeked to care. (Also, as a compulsive list-maker, it seemed like the thing to do.) My first seven games on the list were, in order:

    1) The Bard’s Tale: Tales of the Unknown (one of those FCI/Pony Canyon ports of an old PC game, but one I obsessively played on the NES as a kid, and still miss dearly to this day.)
    2) Secret of Mana (Of all the amazing Squaresoft games of the early- to mid-90s, this is the only one that hadn’t yet been rereleased on Playstation, which, even if the ports mostly sucked — i.e. the horrific and somewhat bizarre loading times on Chrono Trigger, was still a big deal to grown up me.)
    3) Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior 4 (Still my favourite of all the DQ series, and the entire reason I finally gave in and bought a DS system, just to play the remake. I rented this enormous RPG until I beat it, but never did own the thing, as it was apparently really rare even at the time it was released.)
    4) Destiny of an Emperor (see geeky adoration above)
    5) Illusion of Gaia (Another rental fave, though I never did beat it, unfortunately; I’m still waiting to someday play all of Quintet’s catalogue again.)
    6) 7th Saga (the American localisation apparently made the game nearly impossible to beat; I rented it a ton the summer I broke my leg, but got stuck fighting the alien who was one of your competitors for the runes, and was far overpowered compared to you by the time you reached him)
    7) Legendary Wings (top-down Capcom shooter of awesomeness; it had cool side-scrolling sections as well, and was one of my favourite co-op games as a child. Super fun.)

    Looking back now, I realise Virtual Console was never going to be the utterly amazing thing we imagined it to be, as the rights to old games — and the business model for putting them out — aren’t as simple as we thought, but the fact only one of the seven I first listed have actually seen a VC release is more than a little sad to me. The DQ4 remake is really great, though, even if I do still feel nostalgic for the authentic NES experience. These other games, I can’t imagine I’m ever going to see them brought out, much as it pains me to say.

    Too long, didn’t read? I love love love Destiny of an Emperor, still remember fighting Dong Zhuo and being betrayed by Lu Bu, still think the character portraits in it (Zhao Yun and Zhang Fei were two of my favourites, if I remember correctly after all these years), are some of the very best artwork ever put forth in video game form, and I would gladly pay large sums of money to actually be able to play the game again. It’s a classic, far more entertaining than the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games I always compared it to in my head, even if the games are completely different (give me a break; I was ten!), and the fact virtually nobody knows much of anything about it saddens me beyond belief.

    Thank you Retronauts, and thank you Mr. Barnholdt, for bringing a huge smile of surprise and delight to my face when I opened this web page today. Fantastic.

    Also, has there been any thought given yet to anything beyond this batch of episodes? If you decide to hold a Kickstarter for another season or anything, count me in.

  2. Jeremy Bosco

    Aaron, I’m in the same boat as you, though I actually do count DOAE as my favorite game of all time. I have played and beaten it at least once a year pretty much since it came out, and in fact am in the middle of yet another playthrough right now. I have also always believed it had one of the most underrated soundtracks on the NES, with the final battle theme as my favorite of the game, and one of my favorite video game music tracks of all time.

    • Aaron Schafer

      Ah, you’re right, Jeremy. The soundtrack was really fantastic as well, and very…i don’t know. Capcom-y? Mega Man-y? Or,at least, i remember much of the battle music feeling a lot like Mega Man stage music.

      I wonder if the capcom composers were all in-house, or if they had a very limited number of people who did music for nearly all their games, or what, because you can always recognise capcom music for the nes. Konami games didn’t sound like capcom games, that didn’t sound like acclaim games, that didn’t sound like nintendo’s own games. Each company had a distinct sound, even when from game to game the style of composition would vary. Does anyone know if each company developed their own library of sound assets for the chipset of the nes, or was it just a case of certain sound programmers working on a lot of games? I love the old chiptune music, and love all the retronauts episodes about video game music in general, and going back to look at some of the amazing art people managed to create with this incredibly limited palette is fascinating, to me at least.

  3. Cool episode on a game that I also assumed was a Nobunaga’s Ambition clone until I played it. It seems pretty typical of the trend in the late 80s: every single Japanese publisher releasing an RPG hoping to ride the Dragon Quest gravy train. The subject matter wasn’t even that unusual for time, as there were quite a few games based on historical China/Japan.

    A couple things I’d like to point out:
    The opening bit about the heavens bearing witness to their vow to all die on the same day, etc, is actually a very famous line in the original novel, not just the manga. “The Peach Garden Vow” still turns up in Chinese culture today, with Triad members sometimes depicted taking a similar vow.

    Also, there was an earlier Famicom game which replaced army troops with hit points, Sanada Ju Yuushi, from Kemco in 1988. It’s sort of an interesting predecessor to Destiny, since it also involves wandering around the world picking up legendary warriors to add to your party and building up your army’s strength.

  4. Sean C

    Besides seeing this on Chrontendo, One of the blogs I follow on WordPress, The RPG Consoler (A chronogaming RPG blog) played this game last summer and he streamed all of it on twitch and wrote up some entries on it.

    I too had never heard of this game. But by the time his came out I had moved on to the Sega Genesis already. There were actually quite a few RPG games out when this released other than just Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. Notably NES Wizardry, Phantasy Star 1 and 2, Willow etc. Actually I think this released fairly close to Dragon Warrior 2 and Final Fantasy Adventure. Maybe that’s why it got overlooked by a lot of people. Watching the game I was surprised by the sheer amounts of general and characters in the game. Although I did find the story rather confusing. Not sure if from the subject material or the translation. But a very ambitious game and probrably deserved more of a spotlight at the time.