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• For Frog The Bell Tolls

developed & published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo GameBoy / 1992.9.4

For Frog The Bell Tolls cover artwork

For Frog The Bell Tolls is one of those Nintendo games that annoyingly never saw publication outside of Japan. Developed for the original GameBoy in 1992, it laid the foundation for the excellent The Legend of Zelda – Link’s Awakening. Penned by Yoshio Sakamoto (Metroid, Kid Icarus), it stars Prince Sable and his friendly rival Prince Richard of the Custard Kingdom. As with everything, they compete to rescue Princess Tiramisu from the evil Croakian Army. A few years ago a fan translation appeared, allowing us to enjoy the game in English for the first time.

For Frog The Bell Tolls screenshot

Gameplay

For Frog The Bell Tolls is a rather odd combination of action-RPG and platformer. By compressing the RPG elements, it’s perfect for a portable and would make an ideal entrypoint for newcomers to the genre. Like Link’s Awakening, the game alternates between overhead and side view perspectives. Wandering the world, you’ll visit several distinct towns, collect items, and recruit the help of minor characters. In the side view you can jump, with most areas containing a mix of simple puzzles and platforming.

As the game’s title implies, there’s something froggy going on, but this isn’t the fairytale you’re thinking of. Just as Prince Sable’s adventure gets going he’s transformed into a frog but it’s no biggie. As a frog you can understand amphibians, eat insects for health, and jump higher, but can’t fight. Many of the game’s puzzles force you to juggle different forms, which can be triggered by coming into contact with water or using items.

For Frog The Bell Tolls screenshot

Battling

You’ll encounter enemies in both views. Prince Sable doesn’t battle foes through a menu-based combat screen, nor does he attack directly. Instead, whenever the player touches an enemy the two are engulfed in a puffcloud, where they take turns attacking automatically. It’s a simple battle of attrition where you anxiously watch your hearts, similar to Freshly-Picked: Tingle’s Rosy Rupee Land.

If you get stuck at an insurmountable enemy, it means you missed an upgrade. Rather than leveling up with experience points, you find items that permanently enhance your hearts, attack power, and speed in each zone. The more speed you have, the more consecutive attacks you’ll do in a turn. Finding or buying better swords and shields can even the odds, but you never have to grind much. It makes for a fast-paced adventure.

For Frog The Bell Tolls screenshot

Challenge

Clocking in at around 6 hours, For Frog The Bell Tolls is not exactly a long or challenging game, which may be why Nintendo skipped an international release. Perhaps it was worried Western players would feel shortchanged; I can imagine some RPG-savvy players complaining. While it might not have made sense at U.S. retail in 1992, it would make perfect sense on the 3DS eShop today.

My only complaints are the game is linear to a fault and there’s a little bit of backtracking, but the game makes up for that. Handy orbs refill your hearts when you’re in a pinch, and you can save your game anywhere. If you make a fatal error, simply reload and you’re returned to the exact spot, so it never wastes your time. Admittedly once finished, there’s no reason to come back to it as you’ll likely uncover all its secrets the first time round.

For Frog The Bell Tolls screenshot

Conclusion

With its charming simplicity and comical tone, For Frog The Bell Tolls plays like a cute little interactive storybook. Those well-versed in the genre who can enjoy monochromatic 8-bit GameBoy games will find a real treat that does away with all the unnecessary filler, leaving only the best bits.

It’s not often that we miss out on a Nintendo classic. Given it has aged like a fine wine, I’ve no doubt we’d all remember it quite fondly had we played it in the 1990s. If you consider yourself a Nintendo fan, you really owe it to yourself to play it.

PROs:
+ Cute, charming story
+ Simplified RPG gameplay trims the fat
+ Save anywhere
+ Nice presentation for its era / hardware

CONs:
– Strictly linear
– Relatively short
– A little bit of backtracking
– NEVER RELEASED OUTSIDE OF JAPAN

For Frog The Bell Tolls as seen in Smash Bros

Sadly, it was going to be colorized for GameBoy Color but got cancelled as attention shifted to the GameBoy Advance (remember Mother 3 and the Nintendo DS?). Although it was a one-off, the game has not been forgotten. There have been cameos in Zelda Link’s Awakening, Wario Land 4, and Smash Bros (seen above). Maybe someday Nintendo will take its legacy more seriously and translate its many Japanese hidden gems. This would be one of them!

Official website (Nintendo)