I’m a little ashamed to admit that the 1992 Japanese PC-98 action-RPG Elm Knight caught my eye for the most shallow of reasons: a really good title screen. Yes, I know—absolutely embarrassing behavior. In my defense, the title screen is honestly He Good.
The image that grabbed me and refused to let go is a portrait of an insensitive face drenched in shadow. It has a menacing but not necessarily offensive aura to it, the figure popping out of the screen in that unmistakably ’90s anime “bio-armor” style. It has a person-ish body that is not quite a machine, but certainly not birth either.
Developer: micro cabin
free: November 1992
Japanese PC: FM Towns, PC-98 (Image credit: Micro Cabin, via Mobygames)
Even when I stop to consider it, that single still image remains a great piece of pixel art, and I saw it as a guarantee that whatever I was about to dive into. He was pretty good looking, even if the rest of the game amounted to a pathetic pile of nothing.
“Look great” is a huge understatement for this 30 year old game. Elm Night is an astonishing 10-disc epic where the magical “Irregulars” battle against the fearsome forces of a tech-savvy empire, a game that opens with a lengthy animated cutscene and isn’t shy about splashing out adventures that are more Happens even more. The frequency of these painstakingly hand-animated scenes is astonishing—no wonder the back of the box claims to be two and a half hours.
The time and effort put into these scenes shines through in every frame. Every single second of the introduction is created using a combination of huge action-packed sprites and scrolling background images in real time. It displays animated cut-ins on top of Consistently animated cutscenes without slowing to a crawl, a serious technical flex at the time—deeply detailed (and again, animated) The mechanical designs make it feel like I’m watching a secret cast battle, everyone on the team determined to outdo each other.
Somehow Elm Knight’s artwork only gets better as the game progresses, introducing casual flourishes that few pixel art games would have for decades. There are animated “transparent” monitors and moving shadows that distort as they travel above and into other objects – handled manually by an artist’s eyes rather than calculated by a graphics card.
Of course a lot of computer games in the ’90s had impressive cutscenes—I remember sitting quietly in front of my Amiga as some moody chiptunes with some of the best pixel art Europe had to offer. But those cutscenes tended to make the rest of the game look a bit like, well, boring, “Stage 1: START!”… and all of a sudden you’re controlling some little guy who looked like his running animations were outsourced to a deep-sea fish that only told someone ” The concept of “running”. Phone.
This was happening the same year Wolfenstein 3D English came out on PC
That’s not true here, and if parts of Elm Night where I am Thanks to Micro Cabin’s “Space Graphic Structure” system (the fancy name for their proprietary 3D engine) where the real magic lies, the controls are in real-time first-person for older computers designed for neither. Exploration and action-based combat. ,
Other games of the era, such as The Eye of the Beholder, simulated the effect, but in Elm Knight there is a genuine seamless transition from one “tile” to another. Objects naturally get bigger as I turn or strafe as I move or realistically move (as far as a landscape made of scaled sprites can be “realistic”) become.
Of course, there’s always been a catch in early ’90s 3D, and in this case it’s a giant 2D overlay covering a large portion of the screen, which is used to hide the reduced size of the playfield and make the game appear smaller. Keeps running at over four fps. Again the elm knight is quick to do something clever and artistic: it’s not a restricted field of vision, that is. my character’s perspective, In every mech-controlling segment of the game—and there are plenty of them—the pixelated frame is a cockpit, complete with functional instrument panels that monitor enemy movement, ammo count, energy levels, and more. .
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(Image credit: Micro Cabin)
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The cramped nature of this screen really makes every piece of the cockpit feel the same Big This would be it if I had a wider viewport and a clean interface. The presentation of Elm Knight set me up as a human pilot who wields a giant bipedal war machine, rather than a player directly controlling a metal mech.
There’s not a lot of time to delve into the scenes anyway, because during these segments I literally have to get out of the way of missiles fired at me by enemy mech. Relatively open areas are designed for dodging, strafing, and stealth in one cheeky shot before turning back to safety (movement is controlled via the number pad, as it was pre-WASD times). Ammo is generally in short supply, meaning that long shots at enemies facing the other way are a risky proposition, rather than the safest and most sensible option. Cannon fodder doesn’t have enemies in Elm Knights.
I realize that in 2022 it all sounds “amazing” like having a new FPS release with dialogue or online matchmaking as voice actors, but it was happening the same year Wolfenstein 3D came to English PC . At the time the 3D world of Elm Knight was considered a huge technological achievement for just existing, so it’s especially noteworthy to see Micro Cabin not only do this, but also do something worthwhile with its incredible graphics system when it was going on. The end result is a game that plays like an exciting evolution of the dungeon crawler just a few years older than it – it essentially bridges the gap between ’80s wizardry and ’90s doom.
Games with such technical prowess tend to adopt an overly SIMI “no fun allowed” ethos – or perhaps it’s especially rare for programming wizardry and imaginative design to go hand in hand.. but Elm Knight Jump is silly, with its main characters often throwing light-hearted verbal expressions and comically goofy expressions at each other. A short conversation with the starting NPCs houses the point:
- “Hey! You better not be an Imperial spy!”
- “What? Of course I’m not a spy!”
- “That’s something a detective would say.”
It’s a dumb joke, but it’s also the perfect display of Elm Knight’s intentional stupidity, setting up its more dramatic scenes to make a real impact.
Elm Knight is the complete package. Age has not diminished its achievements nor its show-stopping moments, and beyond the expectation of an English translation (official or otherwise), there is no real need to change what is already there. It should be better known for its killer art and raw ambition coming together to create a technical showpiece.
Obviously I’ll have to play games with cool title screens more often.