RetroVision – Eiji Aonuma’s Forgotten Debut

Alongside its creator Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma is best known to the gaming world as one of the lead directors and creative forces behind The Legend of Zelda series.  Having worked exclusively on series since the 1998 masterpiece, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Eiji Aonuma has gone on to play a critical role in the creation of every single entry in the series ever since.  So you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is the only series Eiji Aonuma has ever worked on.  However, prior to helping design Link’s adventures through the Kingdom of Hyrule, Aonuma made his directorial debut on a different Nintendo title.  A game that was critical in him gaining the role he still holds today.

Before he became well known for his work on the Legend of Zelda, Eiji Aonuma directed a game for the Super Famiom titled Marvelous: Mōhitotsu no Takarajima (マーヴェラス ~もうひとつの宝島~).  Translated in English to Marvelous: Another Treasure Island, not only does the game’s title pay homage to the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel, but so does the story.  The game tells the tale of three young boys, Deon, Max and Jack, as they hunt for the lost treasure of the legendary great Captain Maverick, a treasure fitting referred to as “Marvelous”.  This quest begins when the three boys go on a school trip to Camp Island, and after stumbling upon clues as to the location of the long thought mythical treasure, the boys begin a quest filled with hidden dangers and cryptic puzzles.

Marvelous Screenshot
Marvelous is visually similar to A Link To The Past

This story may seem very distant from the tales of Link, however if you look closely enough many similarities can be seen, especially the elements of exploration and discovery.  Once you notice these similarities you’ll start to see them everywhere, with the look and feel of the game being very close to A Link To The Past, a game released five years prior.  However, the game also does some very different things.  These range from utilisng a point and click interface taken from PC classics such as similarly pirate themed The Secret of Monkey Island, a chaptered approach to storytelling, and utilising three characters, each with there own unique skills in different ways.

However, despite the highly polished experience, and the positive reception the game received in its native homeland, Marvelous has become a game that has been lost to time, with many never having heard of it.  This is not only true on a global level, which is understandable given that the game was never given an international release, but is sadly also true in relation to Japan, where it is still considered rare.  One of the reasons for this is due to its 1996 release, which came  right at the tale end of the 16-bit generation, and following the release of some next-generation consoles, namely the SEGA Saturn and the PlayStation.  Nintendo were also placing all of their attention on the upcoming Nintendo 64, and this meant that games such as Marvelous and Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War were not given as much attention as they may have previously, contributing to their lack of an international release.

Aonuma & Miyamoto
Miyamoto & Aonuma demoing the Wii U Legend of Zelda

Nevertheless, the game did catch the attention of one man in particular, Shigeru Miyamoto.  In fact, after noticing the similarities to the series he created, Miyamoto was so impressed with both the game and Eiji Aonuma, that he brought Aonuma in to work as a designer on the series latest entry.  That game was the series’ N64 debut, The Ocarina of Time.  This is something that Aonuma recalled in an interview when talking about how he became so intertwined with The Legend of Zelda series:

I directed a few different titles before I worked on my first Zelda game, but what’s interesting is that a lot of those games had a very Zelda-like feel to them.  Perhaps it was because I had been so influenced by my recent playthrough of A Link to the Past, but it was something Mr. Miyamoto noticed in the work I had been doing.  He said, “You know – if you want to make a Zelda game maybe you should come over to that team and make a Zelda game.” That is when I joined the Zelda team that produced Ocarina of Time.

This invite to join the Legend of Zelda team by Shigeru Minamoto, was the start of Aonuma’s long relationship with the iconic series.  Arguably though, none of this would have been possible without a game that most will have never heard of, let alone played.  And for those that are wondering if this is a game that they should experience, then I’ll be reviewing this game soon on my Japanese Super Famicom.  Either way, for anyone who is a fan of The Legend of Zelda, or gaming in general, there’s a lot to be thankful for in three boys’ quest to find the lost treasure of Captain Maverick.  Arguably the Marvelous treasure was the game itself.

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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