Retrograding 05.10.04

Developer: Blue Sky Software
Publisher: Vertigo 2099
Release Date: 1994
System Released on: Sega Genesis

Two things before we begin.

1. Someone unobservant schmuck over at Gamefaqs shows the release date of the game as February 1996. This is the reality. I owned the game as a sophomore in high school. On launch day. In 1996, I was a senior in High School. I remember this because back in the day when you really only had BBS and the net was not as widespread, three of my friends and I got the information of the Genesis and SNES release dates from a Shadowrun grapevine and we all flipped out and called our local Funcoland to place a pre-order. I then played sick that day waiting for the phone call from the store so I could jet to the store and engage in what would turn out to be one of the best games ever made. Man, 1994: before cell phones, before wide spread internet, when computers still had both size disk drives…sso much has changed in a decade. Note to GameFaqs: Please get some fact checkers. You’ve got the Japanese only Sega CD version info under the Sega Genesis slot.

2. This will not be covering the SNES version. Why? Because the two games have nothing in common whatsoever aside from the title. And because the SNES version is vastly inferior. The Genesis version actually followed the table top game to the letter. The SNES version was a hodge podge of bits of the Shadowrun tabletop setting stuck in a Cuisenaire. Don’t get me wrong. The SNES game was good, probably the best RPG for the SNES that wasn’t made by Square, but compared to the fact the Genesis version was a perfect adaptation of FASA’s Cyberpunk classic game, and was far less linear just makes me wonder how anyone every to pickup the pen and paper RPG game could enjoy the SNES version. And in truth, from the people I know that are fans of both 16 bit Shadowrun games, there are two distinct camps: The people who played the tabletop game, who preferred the Genesis version. And the people who never touched the source material (or even knew there was a Shadowrun RPG before the video games) who prefer the SNES version. Maybe that was the point: to have a game for two distinct audiences? For me, the Genesis version is superior in every way possible and beseech you to get that one over the SNES version any day.

Let’s talk about the source material first. It’s the year 2050 and things have changed. The United States in now a series of territories, the world is run by corporations and conglomerates with people known as Shadowrunners doing the dirty work for the companies. Some do it because they feel the company they are working for is less corrupt than the others and are trying to make a difference. Most just want a fat paycheck that comes from risking your life day in and day out.

Combine this with the fact magic has returned to the world of man. And with magic has come the return of demihumans. Oh they never actually left. They just ended up looking human when magic left. And when it came back, people that thought they were humans woke up to find themselves dwarves, trolls, orcs, and elves. Explain bringing home a seven foot green skinned troll with horns the size of your mastiff home to mom.

It’s a darker world. One where flesh and bone are replaced by steel and sharp things that make soft things scream and bleed. One where your life is worth only as much as your company wants it to be. And that’s usually a pittance. Magicians, dragons and vampires intermingle with Deckers, Street Samurai, and Riggers. It’s a wonderful concept and one I’m glad to see has survived even past the company, FASA, that created it.
The Video Game version of Shadowrun is wonderful. Instead of having a character that combines every playable class in the tabletop version (if you tried that there said title character from the SNES version would die pretty damn quickly), you have a choice of three classes for you character to be: The Street Samurai (A cyborg), A Decker (These guys plug into a computer system and manipulate it), or my personal favorite – The Gator Shaman (Magician). The latter is my favorite as you eventually get a maxed out Samurai on your team and I don’t really like the Decker, if only because my experiences in the tabletop game were “Decker slows down the game for a few hours while he is in the Matrix.” And thus am biased against him. And the Shaman has Hellblast. Can’t beat that.

Your character is named Joshua. And you are searching for your brother who has disappeared. Thankfully you tracked him down to a run down inn in Seattle called “Stoker’s Coffin.” Only to learn your brother is dead. Your first real quest of the linear game is to get enough nuyen (cash) to get your brother’s items out of hock. The kicker is once you get his stuff out of hock from the hotel owner, it turns out your brother had twice the amount you just paid hidden in his stash. That alone helps to really set the tone of the entire game.

The plot of the game is simple at first, but grows in complexity. All Joshua wants is to find out what happened to his brother, and he gets swept into a conspiracy so vast, it involves a Demon trying to take over Seattle. Yes, I know it sounds odd. But trust me, once you get into the game and the cyberpunk setting, it all makes sense and is one hell of a great ride.

What makes me love the game so much is that although there is a linear plot to the game, you can spend countless hours doing the subquests and running missions not related to the main plot from FIVE different Mr. Johnsons (guys that give you runner missions). Think a 16 bit Morrowind, and you’re not too far off the track. There are hidden missions from the Chernobyl decking quest to over a dozen occurrences that can happen at anytime during the game. These occurrences may SEEM generic, but try doing the same choice each time a similar one comes up and watch what happens!

The game packs in ten different NPC’s, two of which you can have fighting with you at a time (My choices are Stark and then Freya Goldenhair. Two hellblasters and Stark with heavy firearms = dead demon fast.) Each runner is completely different from the others and the ability to mix and match really add to the game’s depth. The crappy Dwarf Rat Shaman will play far different from say, Winston Marrs, the troll street Samurai.

You can also buy/find contacts for Joshua. There are 13 of these to talk to, each one providing different info and black market items. You can even ally with the Mafia or Yakuza through your contacts. Hey. No one ever say Joshua was a good and pure hero kinda guy.

Looking back on Shadowrun, it’s amazing how replayable the game is, even today. The AI is the best I’ve ever seen in terms of computer controlled partners in an action RPG. The graphics are easily comparable with that of the Game Boy Advance, and it would be GREAT (hint hint) to see Shadowrun ported over to the ol’ GBA. The story is top notch, hooking any RPG fan into the game until you are done, or have gotten frustrated when trying to collect the items that will reveal the identity of your brother’s killer (more on that later). Shadowrun is easily the second best RPG on the Sega Genesis, and for the entirety of the 16 bit war as well. I’m sitting here staring at my TV with my old Genesis hooked up, watching Joshua going nutso with his roomsweeper shotgun that I purchased at the Crime Mall on some Lone Star officers and all I can think about is “Why aren’t games today this fun and riveting?”

Back to the aforementioned quest for your brother. Two of the items are easy enough to come by. The first is a Gargoyle’s horn. The second is a hell hound skin. These enemies are plentiful and easy obliterated. The hard part is getting the Feathered Serpent scale. Not only because you have to go through a big maze to find the dragon, but because there is a random event where some Native American children are playing around looking for arrowheads and by helping them, you get a message reading “You found a dragon scale.” Don’t be tricked. It’s not the same thing. But like I said, to get the real thing, you’ve got to traverse one heck of a labyrinth. Oh, and then kill a few strike teams hired by the Renraku corporation. But once you get the scale, you can discover your brother’s killer and also get a nifty ally who will show up at the end of the game to help you when things look bleak. Everyone I knew who had this game, long before FAQS and strategy guides for the game were available had to call the evil Sega help hotline for info on how to get through to the Feathered Serpent. And that was back when help lines cost a buck a minute. That’s one thing about the old days I DON’T miss. ;-)

It’s ironic that this video game has a greater legacy than the RPG it was based off of. Since FASA died in 2001, the Shadowrun RPG hasn’t quite died with it, but it has fallen from the #3 RPG (after D&D and Call of Cthulhu) to almost forgotten except by zealots of the game. There are some toys/figures available but that’s all I’ve seen for a long time. I never hear anyone I know that still tabletop RPG’s ever even mention this game. I could be wrong though. It could just be Minneapolis where Shadowrun has gone extinct. However, both the Genesis and SNES version of Shadowrun have thrived and with good reason. They are warmly remembered by long time and retrogamers as not only some of the best games, the 16-bit era had to offer, but of all time. Shadowrun easily earned it’s place as #6 on my all time favorite RPG countdown, and if you can, go out and get the game on Ebay while you can. Hell, I bought a Sega Nomad just to have Portable Shadowrun goodness.

And if you are interested, this link will take you to the classic tabletop RPG homepage and allow you to read and buy Shadowrun items and books.

Oh, and if you do go out and get an old copy of Shadowrun, or just dust off your old cart after reading this, here’s a present from me to you: ABBACAB START. Then check your PDA for an invisible option. Enjoy.