By Kurt Kalata

Tengai Makyou (also known by its English title, Far East of Eden) was one of the most popular RPGs during the 16-bit era, a suitable rival towards Square's Final Fantasy and Enix's Dragon Quest. Published by Hudson and developed by Red Entertainment (known for other successes like Sakura Wars, and Playstation 2 titles like Gungrave and Bujingai), Tengai Makyou was one of the flagship games for the PC Engine. Its gameplay style never deviates from the usual console role playing formula of the time - huge world maps, lots of battles, mostly uninvolved plots - but what really elevated Tengai Makyou to populaity was that it was the first game of its kind on CD. Breaking free of the memory constraints of cartridges, Tengai Makyou was able to deliver even bigger games, filled with animated, fully voiced cutscenes and CD music. We've all gotten used to fully animated CG cutscenes in today's games, but back in 1989, when the Famicom was still in the height of its populaity, characters that could talk were a really big deal.

The characters inhabit world known as Jipang, a mystical version of old Japan melded together with ancient myths and legends. At points, the game occasionally points jabs at foreigners and their misconceptions about the country - Jipang is the name that Marco Polo gave the country when he first ventured into the East. I wish I could say that Tengai Makyou is brilliant social commentary on the clashing of cultures, but to be truthful, my only knowledge of Japanese culture and history came from a college class taught by a tiny Chinese woman who spoke completely incomprehensible English. So if you're not Japanese, some of the jokes may go right over your head. On the other hand, Tengai Makyou IV turns the boat around and jabs fun at misconceptions in American history, which is something that most Americans would find incredibly amusing. Still, even if you don't pick up on the cultural jokes, there's lots of other silliness abound. Tengai Makyou clashes the world of ancient Japan with exaggerated modern elements like trains, cars and occasionally robots, just to toss a wrench in things. None of it makes sense, but the game never asks you to take it too seriously. In that sense, it feels very similar to Konami's Goemon/Mystical Ninja series.

Jipang is a somewhat silly world, filled to the brim with goofy inhabitants, and that's what ultimately makes Tengai Makyou so special. Overall, the gameplay never really breaks the reigns set down by Dragon Warrior, and the plots are seldom more than "visit a bunch of towns and defeat evil", but the silly characters and bright anime graphics bring to life what would otherwise be a somewhat stale experience. Although the cast (mostly) changes from game to game, all of the characters are meant to be descendants of the Fire Clan, whose job it is to slay demons. However, there are few recurring supporting characters to show up:

The Ashimoto Brothers
A gang of overly effeminate merchans who also tend to swindle the main characters at regular intervals.
Hoteimaru
A goofy missionary who, judging from his outfit, is all about Catholicism.
Manto
One of the series monst beloved characters, Manto is an immortal ape who looks kinda fearsome but is actually relentlessly boneheaded.

Some games are more humorous than others - the first game in the series, Ziria, carries a mostly serious tone with some lighthearted moments, and the recent Oriental Blue for the Gameboy Advance is almost entirely straightlaced. But the third game in the series, Fuun Kabukiden, begins a slow descent in weirdness (featuring singing bosses) and Tengai Makyou 4 for the Saturn is one of the most ridiculous RPGs on the planet, perhaps superceding Earthbound in its absurdness.

While there were plans to release Tengai Makyou II: Manjimaru in America, the Turbografx-16 market was crashing fast, and all plan were eventuall scrapped. The first time American saw any of Far East of Eden was the Neo Geo fighting game, Kabuki Klash. Several characters, including Manjimaru, Kabuki and Kinu fight along other Hudson characters like Milon and Bonk in Saturn Bomberman, and Manjimaru is a playable character in the Super Smash Bros. clone Dream Mix TV World Fighters for the PS2 and Gamecube - the latter of which was, of course, never released outside of Japan. Hudson also released a collection of the first three games for the PSP, although they're just emulated versions of the PC Engine originals, and ported Tengai Makyou II: Majimaru to the DS, and Tengai Makyou: The Fourth Apocalypse, to the PSP.

Tengai Makyou Ziria Artwork

Tengai Makyou: Ziria

Tengai Makyou: Kabukiden

Tengai Makyou Zero

Tengai Makyou: The Fourth Apocalypse

Dr. P.H. Chada

All of the Tengai Makyou games are listed as being written by one P.H. Chada. All of the manuals show him as some old Western gentleman from 1800s and apparently is an expert on the old Orient from the Smithsonian Museum - although given his drastic exaggerations of ancient Japan, he clearly isn't. Of course, P.H. Chada doesn't actually exist. It's merely a pseudonym for the entire development team, who, as legend has it, conceptualize their games by getting all together in a room, getting really drunk and tossing out random ideas. The Fuun Kabuki-den manual actually has some silly comments from "him", in English no less:

"It's time for the Japanese creators to enter the world-wide stage. This is a great new challenge which offers an entirely new perspective in the development of the fantasy world. Movie is dead, and we will enjoy a new form of drama through the computers in our homes. I feel "KABUKI" brings a whole new dimension to RPG not present in the western RPG. I hope "KABUKI" will strike Hollywood and Disney with this oriental magic."

The real brains behind the series is Ohji Hiroi, who was also man responsible for Sega's Sakura Taisen.

P.H. Chada

Tengai Makyou: Ziria - PC Engine CD / Xbox 360 / PSP (1989)

Japanese Cover

Tengai Makyou Ziria

Tengai Makyou Ziria

The first Tengai Makyou game, Ziria, initially came out in 1989 as one of the first titles for NEC's PC Engine CD-ROM. However, by the look of it, Ziria barely seems any better than an 8-bit title. The developers clearly wanted to duplicate the success of Dragon Quest, with blocky tiled graphics and characters that are always walking in place for some reason. One should be thankful they actually put in a dash button so your character doesn't saunter everywhere. The first-person view battle system is also a rip off, although at least the graphics here are just slightly better. But like any old RPG, they move far too slowly, especially considering you'll be fighting quite often to gain levels. The rest of the game barely takes advantage of the CD-ROM storage space, as almost all of the music is PSG, even if it's all composed by noted Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. There are voiced cutscenes, although the artwork is really pretty bad. The characters are all based off the Japanese folktale Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari. They also inspired several characters from the anime/manga Naruto.

Characters:

Ziria
Pronounced "Zi-rye-a", (and sometimes spelled "Jiraiya") he's a boy who'd rather slack around than save the world.
Tsunade
Slightly delusional, delinquent little girl who's actually quite tough
Orochimaru
A serious warrior with goofy blue hair and a samurai 'tude.

Some of these criticisms may sound harsh. It is the first console RPG to come out on a CD-ROM, but its aspirations are nothing more than to be a clone of Japan's most popular game, except set in ancient Japan.

Around the time that its sequel, Manjimaru, came out, Hudson re-released Ziria with new cover artwork. For some reason, this versions requires a Super CD-ROM to run, although the content is the exact same. It also received a complete 3D remake in 2006 for the Xbox 360, featuring HD anime cutscenes and using the engine from Tengai Makyou: Namida. Unfortunately, it was never released outside Japan either.

Tengai Makyou: Ziria

Tengai Makyou: Ziria

Tengai Makyou: Ziria

Tengai Makyou II: Manjimaru - PC Engine CD / Nintendo DS / PSP (1992)

Japanese Cover

Japanese Instruction Manual

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru

Manjimaru is the most popular game of the series, and it's easy to see why. Having jumped to the Super CD-ROM, the graphics are far, FAR better - the ingame graphics now resemble the early SNES Final Fantasy games (the sprites look almost exactly the same.) The art style, while still a bit dated to what we see today, looks magnificent in the cutscenes. The battle system is essentially the same, although there's almost no load times, and they move at a lightning quick pace. The sacrifice here is the lack of background graphics in the battles, but it's not a gigantic deal. Having the enemy's hit points above them at all times definitely helps the strategy though.

The colorful cast of characters is what really makes this game stand out.

Manjimaru Sengoku
A mischievous little boy who justs want to play adventure with his friends - until an army of the undead invade the land riding monstrous plants and ask for the body of Manjimaru. After learning of his father's past heroics, Manjimaru begins the path into manhood, which naturally involves saving the land of Jipang.
Kabuki Danjirou
An arrogant asshole of a stage actor, owner of ridiculously colorful hair and would be ladies man.
Gokuraku
A fire breathing giant of a man. Actually over a thousand years old, though he spent most of that time in capitivity.
Kinu
This innocent looking girl not only has some evil looking magical powers, but has a big fluffy dog as a companion.

Rounding out the cast are trio of cool ninja chicks who help our heroes whenever they get into trouble, and some rather foreboding doctors with mechanical limbs who are, naturally, quite evil.

Much of the music is still PSG, but there are several CD audio songs. Some of these tracks - the intro and overworld, most notably - was composed by anime favorite musician Joe Hisaishi, of movies like Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. Although the pacing and plot are still a bit lacking compared to the better SNES RPGs - much of the game is spent merely running between villages and killing bosses - it's a fun, charming little game. The DS version, released in 2006, features stylus based controls during the fights too.

MP3s

Space Void Intro
Kabuki's Theme
Manjimaru's Theme
L Map - Those Who Posses the Holy Sword Overworld

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru

Culture Lesson

The first character in Manjimaru's name may actually appear to be a swastika, but it's actually a Chinese/Japanese symbol called a manji. It's used primarily to denote Buddhist temples and stands for good fortune. In keeping with the theme of misguided Westerners, Manji is also the name Marco Polo used to refer to Southern China. If you've been around video gaming for awhile, you may recall the incident when certain people got offended by the third dungeon in The Legend of Zelda for the NES, which is also shaped like a manji. People still haven't educated themselves that this does NOT stand for Nazi Germany - even in recent years, schools have banned issues of the manga magazine Shounen Jump because it portrayed Japanese characters with the manji symbols. Hooray for cultural misunderstandings!

A Manji

Tengai Makyou 2: Manjimaru - Playstation 2 / Gamecube (2003)

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru PS2

Japanese PS2 Cover

Japanese Advertisement

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru PS2

In 2003, Hudson re-released several of their older games, updated in 3D, for the Playstation 2 and Gamecube. Among these were Bonk's Adventure, Adventure Island, Star Soldier and, of course, Tengai Makyou 2. After seeing this, you'd really have to wonder why. Since it was meant as a budget release, the graphics clearly aren't up to snuff. The character are nicely detailed sprites, but the rest of the graphics look washed out, shoddily detailed, and quite poor. You have full control over the camera, including the ability to zoom in and out. However, despite the low quality of the visuals, it only runs at 30 FPS.

There are several new anime cinemas to introduce all of the characters. But the rest of the cutscenes, which previously looked amazing on 16-bit hardware, now look like cheaply animated cartoons. The only real improvement is the battle system, with large, well animated monsters. For some reason, the loading times (especially in the PS2 version) actually make the battles seem longer than the original, despite the addition of a "speed up" option to eliminate the battle animations. It's nice to hear all of the improved music, but it doesn't make up for the rest of the game.

While the core of the game is mostly the same (with the difficulty adjusted to make leveling up a little less tedious, and minor additions like a minimap for the overworld), Manjimaru loses a lot of its charm on going from a brightly rendered 2D world to a cheaply rendered 3D one. It seems like it was created to promote the new Tengai Makyou game, Namida, as there's a trailer on the disc (as well as a "History of Tengai Makyou", which only contains overviews of Ziria and Manjimaru.)

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru PS2

Tengai Makyou Manjimaru PS2

Anime Intros

Tengai Makyou: Fuun Kabukiden - PC Engine CD / PSP (1993)

Japanese Cover

Japanese Instruction Manual

Tengai Makyou Kabukiden

Fuun Kabukiden - translated roughly as "A Turbulent Kabuki Story", is a side story to the overall Tengai Makyou plot, but what a sidestory. Kabuki was apparently so popular that he gets a game all to himself. Intertwining characters from both previous games, Kabuki meets up with Orochimaru and begins to party, until all of the women are mysteriously lifted into the sky. Not pleased, Kabuki sets off to rescue them, only to find out the Daimon Cult is back into action. The resulting adventure plays and looks pretty much the same as Manjimaru.

Kabuki Danjirou
Kabuki's retarded (yet amusing) attitude make him a much more interesting protagonist than the mostly quiet Manjimaru. He parties, he makes up his own goofy prayers and laughs maniacally as it his own ingeniousness, and his rainbow hairdo betrays the manliness that lies within.
Zeami
This stoic fellow looks and acts more like a real kabuki than the hero does. His masks grant him a variety of powers.
Okuni
A friend of Kabuki's, and the group's requisite female. Dislikes clothes that don't show her midriff.
Push Fujiyama
Until someone makes a Street Fighter RPG starring E. Honda, this is one of the few times you get to fight as a sumo wrestler.

The cutscenes are are gorgeous as ever, although the soundtrack lacks the high profile names of its predecessors. Overall the music isn't QUITE as good, as most of it is PSG, although there are several goofy vocal songs sung by the bosses, including a Japanese version of "London Bridge is Falling Down". Which makes sense, because for the first time, your characters leave the nation of Jipang for the outside world - in this case, jolly ol' England. The only real difference from its predecessors are the new side view battle scenes, making it look even more like Final Fantasy, although the mechanics are almost entirely the same as the previous games. Still, Kabukiden gets even goofier than before, especially with Kabuki being the main character - where else can you make a sword out of hydrocholoric acid? - and the game is full of wacky characters. Just take a look at two of the bad guys you'll face:

Tengai Makyou Kabukiden

Tengai Makyou Kabukiden

Tengai Makyou Kabukiden

Tengai Makyou Kabukiden

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