As a kid growing up in the early to mid-90s, videogames were a huge part of my childhood. Like many kids from that time, I had a Game Boy and played it most often while away from home. However, there was one game I owned for the Game Boy that kept me playing whether I was at home or on the go: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
. Link's Awakening
was an important game for me growing up, taking the formula of A Link to the Past
, one of my all-time favorite games, and condensing it to Game Boy form meant it was an automatic hit in my book. It also helped that a good friend of mine at that time was also playing the game, so we would often compare notes and help each other along throughout the game.
But wait! This isn't an article about Link's Awakening
, so why am I spending so much time talking about it? Well, it has come to my attention recently that the topic of this article, a game by the name of For the Frog the Bell Tolls
, and Link's Awakening
have a lot in common. Specifically, both games share the same engine, so the aesthetic as well as certain gameplay mechanics are nearly identical between these two games. With Link's Awakening
being a game that is so near and dear to me, I knew I had to check out For the Frog the Bell Tolls
, so I bought an original Japanese Game Boy cartridge of the game and popped it into my Retron 5 complete with an English language translation patch so I could enjoy this adventure firsthand!For the Frog the Bell Tolls
was released exclusively in Japan on September 4, 1992 for the Nintendo Game Boy as Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru
. It was jointly developed by Nintendo R&D1 and Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. The game engine of For the Frog the Bell Tolls
was later reused for The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
, resulting in many similarities between the two games. Certain characters from the game have also made cameo appearances in other games, such as Prince Richard appearing in Link's Awakening
, and the main protagonist appearing in Super Smash Bros.
for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U as an assist trophy. There was also a full-color 'DX' version of the game in development for the Game Boy Color, but it was ultimately canceled.
Hey look, it's Richard!
The story begins with our main protagonist, the prince of the Sable Kingdom, and his best friend and rival, Prince Richard of the Custard Kingdom, having a friendly duel. Ever since they were young children, Richard and the main character have been equals in almost everything with the exception of fencing, where Richard was always victorious. While dueling, a messenger arrives from the neighboring Mille-Feuille Kingdom informing the two princes that the evil King Delarin has invaded Mille-Feuille and has kidnapped the princess Tiramisu. Richard, confident that he can rescue the princess and save the kingdom, takes a boat to Mille-Feuille and leaves the prince of Sable behind. Buying his own boat and heading to Mille-Feuille himself, the prince of Sable begins on his adventure to save the princess and the kingdom.
The story is fairly straightforward and lighthearted, and this works well for the type of game this is. There is a good bit of comic relief throughout, and the game delights in poking fun at common adventure game tropes. It is at its core yet another "save the princess" story, but it throws enough quirky ideas into the mix to give the game its own unique flair. The result is a story that may be mostly predictable, but it has enough personality and charm to keep players interested.
The game doesn't take itself too seriously.
Much of the game takes place on the overworld map of Mille-Feuille and plays from a top-down perspective similar to classic Legend of Zelda
games. While on the world map, you can explore the world looking for treasures, enemies, or certain locations of interest. You can also visit towns where you can talk to townspeople, visit shops, and recover health. It is important to talk to the townspeople, sometimes multiple times, as that will sometimes be the only way to progress in the game. Visiting shops is important as well, since you will often need to buy disposable items such as saws and pickaxes in order to progress through certain locations.
The dungeons play very differently from the overworld portion of the game. Dungeons are almost exclusively side-scrolling and will require some platforming skills to make it to the end. If you are familiar with the short side-scrolling sections in the dungeons of Link's Awakening
, then the dungeons in For the Frog the Bell Tolls
will look familiar as well. Similar to the overworld sections of the game, the dungeons will have enemies and treasures scattered about, but something unique to the dungeons are the platforming challenges you will face. Moving platforms, spikes, and death pits are a few of the obstacles you will have to overcome during these sections.
Side-scrolling dungeons are a big departure from the overhead sections.
Combat in the game is very unique. Instead of hacking and slashing your way through enemies like in a traditional Legend of Zelda
game or going into a turn-based encounter like in classic JRPGs, combat plays out more-or-less automatically. Upon coming into contact with an enemy, both your character sprite and the enemy sprite disappear into a cloud of dust (just like in old cartoons!) and take turns hitting each other until one is victorious. You have no control during these encounters, except for being able to press the cancel button and attempt to escape, so the battles are entirely based on stats. There is no skill or strategy involved, so losing a fight means you missed a stat or equipment upgrade along the way and must track it down before progressing further. While I'm sure this style of combat will likely disappoint many players, I didn't find it to be a problem most of the time and actually found it refreshingly streamlined at times.
This leads us to the topic of dying in the game. When you die, you wake up in the hospital of a nearby town that you have previously visited and are able to continue your adventure from there. Most of the time, this is a pretty forgiving system that lets you get right back into the fray rather quickly. However, if you die deep inside of a dungeon, this system can result in lots of tedious backtracking. Fortunately, the game incorporates a save system that allows you to save anywhere at any time, effectively working like save-states in an emulator. Be sure to save often and before any difficult platforming or enemy encounters, and you should be able to keep frustration to a minimum.
Hopefully you weren't too far into a dungeon and forgot to save.
Character progression in the game is entirely based on stat upgrades you find scattered throughout the overworld and dungeons and also on weapon and armor upgrades that are either found or bought in stores. Level grinding is impossible in this game since there are no experience points or character levels, so encountering enemies that are too tough to defeat means you missed a stat or equipment upgrade somewhere. In some chests you may find upgrades for your life (total health), power (damage you deal per turn), and speed (number of attacks you can make per turn). There are also a small number of increasingly more powerful swords and armor which increase your power and defense ratings respectively.
One unique aspect of the game is the ability to transform into other creatures. A short while into the game, you are granted the ability to transform into a frog by falling into cold water, a snake by eating a snake egg, and back into a human by eating a special type of fruit. Each state has its own strengths and weaknesses and using all three will be crucial to completing the game. The human state is better at combat and can push blocks, but only has average jumping ability. The frog state can jump the highest and travel through water, but cannot fight at all, although it can eat bug and insect type enemies, instantly killing them and refilling one segment of health. Lastly, the snake can crawl into more narrow passages and can also use its venom to change weak enemies into blocks that can be used for platforming, but the snake cannot jump at all. Certain NPCs react differently toward you depending on which state you're in, and this is also important to note while progressing through the game.
The main character can't swim. Good thing frogs can!
For a Game Boy title, the graphics and sound are well done. The environments and sprites are charming and look great. The game has a distinctive look other than its obvious similarities to Link's Awakening
. The music, composed by Kazumi Totaka, is great as well and features some catchy tracks to accompany your adventure. Overall, there's really nothing to complain about in terms of presentation, and the developers did a great job with the technology they had to work with.For the Frog the Bell Tolls
is a game that I would recommend to most gamers. While it isn't perfect, most of the game's frustrations can be avoided by knowing how to work around them (thoroughly explore all the environments, talk to every NPC, and make liberal use of the save system). Clocking in at roughly six hours for a single playthrough, For the Frog the Bell Tolls
is not only a short and sweet adventure, it is a unique and charming one as well. Original cartridges of the game are pretty inexpensive on eBay, but keep in mind that all text will be in Japanese and you will need a device such as the Retron 5 to apply an English translation patch. It is also available digitally on the Japanese Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console.