When it comes to publishers that really helped introduce quirky Japanese to North America, most people immediately think of Atlus. Which is fine, as Atlus is an awesome company that deserves the recognition it receives. However, there's another that was also founded in 1986 that was just as influential on the gaming scene that doesn't always receive the same adoration. That company is Working Designs.
Oh yeah, Working Designs, those guys. Didn't they do Lunar: The Silver Star and Alundra? There seems to be a disconnect in people's minds, at least among those who don't obsess over niche games. Even casual gamers may recognize the names of some of Working Designs most popular projects, but it doesn't seem to register just how much the company did and the opportunities it provided gamers to experience games we would normally never see. Certainly, Atlus took chances, but Working Designs seemed more willing to take greater leaps, supporting smaller games for platforms that might not have been the most popular.
Take the SEGA Saturn. Working Designs was a strong supporter of the system, even though it trailed far behind the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While one of the games Working Designs brought us was the SEGA Ages collection with After Burner II, Outrun, and Space Harrier, the other five Saturn games it localized and released were far more complex endeavors. The company took on RPGs like Shining Wisdom, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean, as well as strategic endeavors like Dragon Force and Iron Storm. It provided the Saturn with substantial adventures that would keep players occupied for hours. As a result, Working Designs’ Saturn games are among the most expensive you can find, costing upwards of $60 for a used copy.
Of course, this wasn't irregular behavior for Working Designs. The company was dedicated to bringing RPGs and strategy games to the underdogs. People with a SEGA CD, TurboGrafx-16 or Turbo CD could take solace in knowing that at least one company hadn't forgotten about them and was going to make sure games like Lunar, Popful Mail, Cosmic Fantasy 2, and Cadash were there to bolster their game libraries.
That isn't to say Working Designs ignored more successful consoles. They too received plenty of love from the publisher. Without Working Designs' intercession, we may never have played Alundra, seen the Arc the Lad Collection or had the PlayStation versions of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete and Lunar: Eternal Blue expose the deserving series to a larger audience. In fact, it was in these later years that Working Designs branched out beyond the RPGs and strategy games for which it was known. It's because of Working Designs that we were granted games like the beloved Silhouette Mirage from Treasure and the shooter Thunder Force V.
In a way, it's appropriate that the PlayStation 2 release Growlanser Generations was Working Designs' swansong. Despite being a well established and successful series in Japan and an Atlus title, it was Working Designs that first took a chance and brought us Growlanser Generations. This collection of Growlanser II: The Sense of Justice and Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness provided an English-speaking audience their first taste of the strategic RPG series. The collection garnered a mostly favorable response from gamers and introduced JRPG fans to a whole new series.
While Working Designs is no more, its spirit lives on in former Working Designs president Victor Ireland's Gaijinworks. Though it hasn't been as active or influential as Working Designs yet, it's with Gaijinworks' help that games like Miami Law, Blaster Master, Blaster Master Overdrive, and the forthcoming Class of Heroes II have been released outside of Japan.
Date: November 29, 2012