(Review archived from March 30, 2023)
I’m always on the hunt for quality system exclusives, and because I’m the type of nerd who tends to enjoy such things, the more obscure they are, the better. Being as the PC-88 is itself a bit of an obscure early home computer in the West (albeit quite popular in its native Japan), practically any system exclusive fits the bill where it comes to obscurity. Having said that, obscurity does not directly correlate in any way to quality of output (often it’s quite the opposite in fact), so I was curious to see how The Scheme would fare in the grand … uh … scheme of things.
I won’t keep you in suspense for long though, as I’m happy to report that The Scheme is pretty decent! What we have here is a is a side-scrolling action-adventure game with a science fiction theme that borrows some pretty heavy inspiration from Metroid, which released two years prior. What’s rather interesting about this though is that in The Scheme you begin the game on the planets surface, and it’s only after traversing the surface of the planet that you descend deep into the planet’s core. Although a small thing, this setup wasn’t actually seen in the Metroid series until Metroid II: Return of Samus, which didn’t release until three years after The Scheme. I’m not saying there was a direct feedback loop happening here, but who knows? The other influence I noticed in The Scheme is equally as speculative, but the fact that the protagonist features flaming red hair really seems to be a callback to Adol of Ys fame. But while the Ys connection might be tenuous, the Metroid influence truly is incredibly pronounced. That being said, while The Scheme wasn’t necessarily breaking any radical new ground in the burgeoning Metroidvania genre, it’s still safe to say that it’s an early example of that genre.
As one might expect given the Metroidvania label, exploration is a key facet of the game, which has you descending deeper and deeper through labyrinthine cave structures in search of power-ups and key items which in turn open new areas. In fact I often found myself pining for some kind of mapping feature. Much like many home computer games of this ilk (the MSX system comes to mind), there is no auto-scrolling, so you’re literally working through the game on a screen by screen basis. On it’s own that’s not so bad, but there are so many screens that are identical or close to identical that this exploration aspect occasionally borders on tedium. Again, a mapping feature would be nice, but was exceedingly uncommon for exploratory games of this sort during this time period, so it’s not exactly a fair criticism.
One aspect that needs to be highlighted though is the music, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s composed by Yuzo Koshiro who worked on Xanadu and Ys titles (hey, another Ys connection) among others in his illustrious career, though I’m not sure I would have intuitively made that connection as the music here is fairly distinct. At any rate it’s worth checking out on YouTube if you enjoy VGM. Graphics are perfectly serviceable for a game of this era, though due to my limited experience with the PC-88 I couldn’t say with certainty how they rate in terms of the overall system.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the Metroidvania genre, The Scheme is worth checking out for its excellent music and solid, if perhaps unremarkable, gameplay. It’s also an interesting historical curiosity, positioned as a rather obscure early waypoint for the development and maturation of the genre. Be prepared for some heavy exploration and backtracking though as it apparently features over 500 individual screens in which to do so.