That is a mouthful of a title. Not as long as that Natsuiro game on PS3 and PS4, but still pretty chunky. Seeing as this game was never officially released outside Japan, our policy is to use the original Japanese name, and for the sake of brevity, we'll call it by the full title once and then just call it Kaeru from there on. That's OK with you, right? There's also multiple ways to translate the title into English, and that's something we'll tackle as we get to it. As for how we played it, in order to better but not entirely simulate the Game Boy experience, our first playthrough of this game was done on a 3DS with the translation patch, then we went and grabbed emulator shots afterwards. We can probably get away with not playing it on real hardware, seeing as it's a more slow-paced action-adventure game. Now, if the 3DS Game Boy emulator had a blur option like the Game Gear emulator on there does, we'd be in business, but alas. One oddity, however, is that the game uses flashing for its famous fight dust cloud animation which looks fine in motion but it's actually flashing different segments of the dust cloud on and off. So, if you see a dust cloud in the screenshots below, we've had to mash it together from different frames. Just another layer of deception on this, the website about video games abandoned by reason and God.
Hope you like frogs. This game's got lots of 'em.
Translated as The Frog for Whom the Bell Tolls by official Nintendo material (read: this Miiverse post by Sakurai for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS- all other mentions of the game in Smash use romaji) and as For the Frog the Bell Tolls by the 2011 fan translation, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru was released in late 1992 and developed by Team Shikamaru (of Balloon Kid fame) within Nintendo R&D1 (graphics were done by Masahiko Mashimo who also worked on Super Mario Land) and Intelligent Systems (Yasuhiko Fujii did the enemy programming before moving on to Super Metroid), quite the Nintendo team pairing there. Intelligent Systems are mostly known these days for Fire Emblem, Paper Mario and Wario Ware (although I know them for their one true magnum opus, Panel de Pon) but there's still unusual things to be found in their back catalogue, from early SNES titles like Sim City and the Battle Clash duology to more recent curiosities like Pushmo and Code Name S.T.E.A.M., so something like Kaeru isn't entirely out of their wheelhouse. With a TV commercial for the game starring idol Makio Tōno and a striking box illustration by Tomoyoshi Yamane, your curiosity surely has to be piqued, doesn't it? Especially since this is one of the few first-party Nintendo games not to get localised that you'd think would have a chance! Time to load up on AA batteries (or plug the Game Boy into the wall if you're sophisticated) and get croaking. [Groan - Ed]
(This review is based on the fan translation patch by ryanbgstl, available at RomHacking.net.)
The game wastes very little time once you begin a new game, with you- the Prince of Sablé who can be named however you wish- sparring with long-time friend and rival Prince Richard of the Custard Kingdom with whom you're always competing in something. It just so happens you're particularly bad at fencing. After a crushing defeat, news comes from the Kingdom of Mille-Feuille- Princess Tiramisu has been kidnapped and the land has been overtaken by the wicked Delarin and his Croakian Army! As brave princes are wont to do, both you and Richard set off to Mille-Feuille to save the princess fair... But Richard gets a head-start after he kicks you off the next boat heading to the kingdom and he's got a whole army under his command, whereas all you've got is an absurd amount of gold to your name. Money does make the world go round though, so one bribe to nick someone's boat later, the Prince of Sablé sets off for adventure! The road to saving Tiramisu is not easy, with many foes to defeat, obstacles to overcome and a whole host of strange characters to meet like a cranky witch, a screw-loose inventor and a Japanese businessman as well as a whole lot of frogs and snakes... Can you catch up with Richard and get all the glory as the hero? Just what does Delarin want with the kingdom? What's the deal with all the frogs anyway? All will be revealed as this strange little story unfolds...
There's two main gameplay styles in this one, top-down exploration and side-on platforming, so let's look at each one in turn. First, most of your time will be spent in the top-down exploratory sections where you'll be talking with townspeople and getting into fights to move the story along. Adopting the flick-screen style of The Legend of Zelda (in an interview, Yasuhiko Fujii mentions he kept a copy of the first Zelda beside his desk, even!) the overworld is dotted with towns that have shops to buy items and hospitals where you'll respawn when you die, dungeon entrances and open areas inbetween but it's designed in such a way that there's usually only one way for you to go at any one time, with other routes either blocked off or inaccessible until you get certain items (some of which, like the tree-destroying Saw or the rock-breaking Pickaxes, you equip over your sword). It's a fairly linear route through the kingdom with only one area, the Meringue Glacier, really offering multiple routes from the off, and the map as a whole is quite small (the overworld is a 16 x 16 grid but with sizeable gaps). You probably won't be getting lost on this journey, although you can get stuck if the enemies are too rough on you with your current equipment, essentially serving as a blockade until you get up to speed. On the plus side, there's a few additions made to make it easy to jump back in if you stop playing for a while- you can save your game at any point using the Diary item which also has entries you can read to see what you did last, early on you get a Warp Door item that allows you to zip back to the entrance of a dungeon or area whenever you like and there's noticeboards in every major town update as you progress with what's going on with the story. These are definitely welcome features, especially in a portable game you're likely to play when you can rather than in longer sessions. Generally the exploration is fine and does the job, although your inventory has less room to experiment and play around with compared to a Zelda-like game- generally items are fit for exactly one purpose, but that's fine.
The combat is one of the more memorable and unique elements of the game, doing away with most interactivity and not even bothering with the bump combat of something like Ys- touching an enemy has both of you have at it in a cartoon-style dust cloud, taking turns chipping away at each other's hearts, first one to die loses. It's a very novel (and funny) way of presenting combat but it is fairly limited, essentially serving as a progress blocker as some enemies will be too strong for you to overcome without buying new equipment or finding treasure chests with power, defense and speed (number of attacks per turn) items. Your only real interaction here is by pressing B during a scrap, where you'll take a second to either try and escape which seems to mostly be random, although running away as a frog or a snake (more on that later) is much less common, or use an item such as spicy wasabi to stop the enemy moving or switching to your sword if you had something else equipped, but that's pretty much it. Given how little you can do in combat early on, there's definitely a feeling of enemies being present solely to stop you going forward before getting other things done like buying the best equipment available or finding stat-boosting items. Fortunately, the design of the overworld means that finding the treasure chests required is generally easy and there's even optional ones (usually with money) found with minor backtracking, so eventually it becomes less and less restrictive on the player, offering more wriggle-room. The combat does its job, gives the game a lot of charm and is generally inoffensive, with one exception being the run to the Mount Pudding Mine where- if you forget what some Croakian soldiers told you an hour or two prior- you'll get stuck fighting way-overpowered soldiers. Bah.
Once you enter an indoor area that isn't a town or treasure room, things shift to a side-on perspective with the Prince able to jump and grab onto ledges in addition to entering combat. These are the closest the game has to traditional dungeons, with some of them ending with actual boss fights, although the biggest one by far is the Eclair Castle which you'll be revisiting multiple times as your accumulated equipment and transformations allow you to go deeper into the fortress, which is a neat little technique for showing you how much better the Prince has gotten at this 'adventuring' lark. The biggest wrinkle in the platforming mechanics is the multiple forms the Prince of Sablé can take, as while these can affect things in the overworld (frogs can eat insects that would otherwise really kick the Prince's butt) the differences are far more pronounced here. You start the game as a human who's good at fighting, decent at jumping and later able to push blocks, and through a series of very silly events gain access to two other forms, a frog that can jump very high and a snake that can crawl in small gaps and turn weak enemies into stepping stones.
The design here is interesting because there's a certain asynchronicity between the forms- you can change into a snake whenever you like with a Hot Springs Egg and change back to human with a Joy Fruit, but you only turn into a frog when you make contact with water. Sometimes this means doing a bit of backtracking to turn into a frog to get through an area, or navigating past a swarm of snakes as a frog which you'd otherwise want to avoid (snakes eat frogs you know). The one downside here is that eggs and fruits are a limited resource you can run out of mid-exploration, and you'll be using more fruits than eggs if you're stuck on a puzzle. There's always a way out at least if you exhaust your inventory- ether death or using the Warp Door- but honestly you're best off buying as many eggs and fruits as you can carry at the first opportunity. Weirdly the game over-accounts for a similar possible problem with the Pickaxe item- buying just one pack of them for the area you need them in means you'll never run out for the rest of the game as there's a lot of treasure chests with additional packs of them. In any case, these forms are the backbone of the game's platform-puzzle design and do a pretty decent job of making you think about what you need to do with what form to proceed. Pushing blocks, planning routes, it's all pretty standard and does what it sets out to do pretty well, and you do feel pretty smart for figuring some of this stuff out, which is crucial.
As for the platforming itself... It's mostly fine. There's a certain floatiness to jumps but that's perfectly OK as it gives you a little leeway in making it across gaps and small moving platforms, aided by the ability to grab onto ledges meaning you're not really expected to be massively precise. Later areas have instant-death pools of lava and spikes, but this is alleviated somewhat by the game letting you save anywhere- use this otherwise you'll be heading back to the last hospital! There's definitely more of a slow-paced puzzle feel to proceedings, as it's less a case of 'do I have the skill to pull off this jump' and more 'how do I go about progressing in the first place', whether it be through juggling your different forms or navigating past traps and one-way doors. The areas you'll be jumping around in range from single-screen transitional areas to multi-screen caverns and the monstrous Eclair Castle (which is actually bigger than the overworld itself) so there's a little variety in that regard, with a few different tilesets like caves and jungles and the like, but for the most part the puzzles themselves never span across more than two screens so it's easy to keep track of things. However, there is an exception in that some areas have a somewhat annoying trend of one-way doors and passages that occur across multiple screens, sometimes making you guess which way allows you to proceed as intended and which send you back a little ways- the jungle area where you get the Wasabi has a particularly mean moment like this where you have to basically guess between two paths, and picking the wrong one makes you repeat a platforming section. A minor inconvenience but it just seems a little mean-spirited for a game like this.
By far the most notable element of Kaeru is its story and tone, which is much more light-hearted and silly than others of its ilk, helping distinguish it from earlier action RPG fare on the system like Final Fantasy Adventure / Seiken Densetsu and Rolan's Curse / Velious: Roland no Majuu. You can tell this right from the start where the Prince has an obscene amount of money actually shown on the status bar- he was born into wealth and has no concept of not being able to buy his way out of trouble, and you even get the option to bribe some Croakian soldiers with predictable results. He does eventually lose all of it so you have to grind for money like a common RPG hero, but it's a funny gag to set the tone. The rest of the game goes all-in on being silly and jokey when you're not in combat or a dungeon, such as the sequence of events leading to you attaining your frog and snake forms (you have to chase down the witch responsible... At a local hot-springs) and the scientist being mad at you when you refer to his latest invention as just a 'work glove' instead of the preferred Hyper Glove (after you get him some wasabi for his sushi, naturally). The threat of Delarin and his Croakian Army is always in the background, and it does get serious at some points, but it's nicely balanced out by moments like knocking out a drunkard at the local bar or chasing an old man around his house to get a magic spell. That said, the Prince is kind of a jerk at times- during his quest to one-up his rival, he's directly responsible for the decimation of at least one village and causes an ecological disaster by heating up an otherwise cold area by way of a molten gold landslide. Clearly the real hero of the story is that sassy witch, but maybe it's best not to think too much about this, it's a bit of a laugh after all.
Ahem, anyway, this lightness of tone is even in the presentation of said story, often using slow-moving or gigantic text to sell a joke. One of my favourites is right at the start of the game, where the villagers of the first town are all very nice to the Prince before very slowly explaining 'Richard said the next Prince to come along would be easily buttered-up!' which is just superb. It genuinely had me laughing at some points! It reminds me a little of the kind of humour you'd see in a Wario game- a light bit of subversion of expectations, that kind of thing- and so it fits in quite well with the Game Boy crowd. Other elements of the presentation are solid as well, the graphics are very cute- tiny sprites for the most part but they're absolutely adorable (especially the frogs) and some cutscenes even get full-screen art for characters like Prince Richard and Mandola the Witch, and there's a good variety of tilesets for the different places you'll be visiting. The triumphant main theme on the overworld is also excellent, making you feel like you're on a dashing adventure, although the dungeon music is a little less so (you do spend an awful long time in some of them so it can start to grate). While I can't be specific on how this looks on an original Game Boy- I had to make do with a 3DS setup- it feels that since the action and movement is a little slower-paced than usual, ghosting would be less of a problem and it's fairly clear what's going on at any one point. That's an important thing for a portable game to keep in mind.
What's the conclusion, then? This is actually a tricky one, to be honest. There's certainly a lot to pick at it for- the somewhat-scattershot approach to limited resources sometimes giving you too many and sometimes not enough unless you know in advance, the rigid progression-blocking of combat that only gives you more wriggle-room much later on in the game, the reliance on one-way doors in some of the dungeons... At the same time feel it does a lot right, especially for the time. There's a lot of neat ideas here that are mostly executed well such as the more puzzle-platform-oriented dungeons that make this stand out from other action RPGs and work nicely with the transformation mechanics, the concessions given for guiding you on where you need to if you've forgotten are welcome plus there's the overall goofy tone and presentation which makes it a fun story to play through. Also in its favour is that it's fairly brief, not overstaying its welcome- it's about four to six hours for a full run and it does everything it needs to in that time, so it's a light and breezy playthrough which is always nice to see. The fact that I was more than willing to do two playthroughs of this in relatively quick succession probably speaks a lot to the quality of the game in spite of things you could nitpick. It executes on its ideas pretty darn well for the most part, and I think that's an important part of why I like it. In the years that followed more accomplished action adventures would certainly make it to the system, mostly in the form of Link's Awakening- a game that casts a peculiar shadow on this game as we'll see in Extended Play- but I think if you're looking for something light, silly and mostly enjoyable for your Game Boy or portable emulator of choice- perhaps on a winter evening, snuggled up with a blanket and a nice cup of tea- then this is a really good pick, and worth a look for sure.
For being a quirky little adventure, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru is awarded...
In a sentence, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru is...
A neat Game Boy adventure, suitable for a froggy evening.
And now, it's that time, folks!
More a thought experiment than anything else, but let's address this- why was Kaeru not localised for the West?
Tempting as it is to put the blame at Nintendo's feet for just not localising it because they're lazy or whatever, looking at the game itself indicates that it would not have been the easiest task to do quickly. There's multiple references to alcohol and characters being visibly drunk- at one point in Eclair Castle you encounter a group of Croakian guards who've had a few drinks and are willing to spill their guts to you seeing as you're a frog, and the mining town Pudding is completely full of drunks including a huge bar (with bunny girl waitresses)- and implied drug-induced hallucinations as while the Joy Fruit isn't explicitly a drug, it puts your character in a trance-like state while saying they feel "... Nice ♥" and you're free to interpret that as you wish. The town of Pudding in particular is an important part of the story and how you get a key item, all related to the bar and its patrons, so to bring it up to Nintendo code would take a bit more work than you'd expect. Combine this with the goofy nature of the whole game and my personal assessment is that Nintendo did not pursue a localisation because there would've been too much work required to alter it to fit their guidelines when also considering the potential for the game to flop if the audience didn't 'get it', seeing as it's humour-focused. That's my guess anyway. As far as I'm aware Nintendo's never really talked about this game outside of Japan so I doubt they'd ever say why they passed on it, but who knows? If any former Nintendo employees want to weigh in, unlikely as that may be, feel free!
Next, just quickly, if you ever need to clear the save data of a used copy of Kaeru, GameFAQs has a cheat for that.
On the title screen, hold Down + Right + B until the game resets to wipe all save data. Handy!
Moving on... There's literally one rerelease of Kaeru at the moment- the 3DS Virtual Console release, only in Japan- so we don't need to talk about ports.
Let's get straight to cameos and references to the series in other Nintendo games then!
The first is by far the biggest, one that no doubt confused a lot of Western kids in the '90s- Prince Richard's cameo in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on the Game Boy. This is a game full of other Nintendo characters from the obvious (Goombas, Kirby) to the more obscure (Dr. Wright from the SNES version of Sim City) and Prince Richard is chief among the obscurities, given the royal treatment to boot. He appears in his own villa (a house full of frogs) and asks the player to find five golden leaves in a nearby mini-dungeon, Kanalet Castle, in exchange for access to the Pothole Field where you'll find the Slime Key to open the game's third dungeon, Key Cavern. In his villa, a remix of the overworld theme from Kaeru plays which is a nice touch. A cute nod from one Game Boy game to another, don't you think?
He's also in the Switch remake of Link's Awakening too, serving the same role but with a lot more detail- he's got a little cape-twirl when you talk to him, and the statue you have to move to get to Pothole Field is now shaped like a frog from Kaeru. Cute. Anyway, the original Game Boy version is clearly the better one as the Mysterious Forest sign no longer says "It's a little bit mysterious" in the Switch version and that's a big point against it, sorry.
Surprisingly a different character from the game, the scientist Dr. Arewo Shitain (Dr. Ivan Knit in the fan translation) would go on to show up in a few Wario-connected games... Although the connection in a few cases is a bit more suspect. Let's start with the definite connection- Shitain makes an appearance in Wario Land 4 as an indestructible object you can interact with in certain bonus rooms. He mostly goes about his business just walking to and fro, but Wario can throw him around and jump on him all he likes. He's also an obstacle Wario needs to jump over in the Wario Hop minigame. This is definitely meant to be him, as he has the same look as he did in the original game.
The more suspect appearances are in Wario Land 3 and Dr. Mario 64, as the doc has undergone a makeover and a name change since Kaeru. Called Mad Shitain in Japan and Mad Scienstein in English in these games, his unique double-bald head is replaced with a dome apparently designed to cover his baldness, and in both instances he's a stooge for the main villain Rudy the Clown. In Wario Land 3, he throws invisibility potions at Wario in certain stages and in Dr. Mario 64 he is the penultimate boss before Rudy the Clown and can be used as a playable character. The link is tenuous at best, but it seems Mad Scienstein and the Kaeru doctor are meant to be the same person- the Ask Wario section of the Japanese Wario Land 4 website, as translated by Source Gaming, has an answer in-character as Professor Shitain and he explicitly says "I also appeared in Wario Land 3!" so... That clears that up. Just a little unusual, that's all.
A bit of music next, a remix of the overworld theme- including an excerpt from the town theme- is an unlockable record in the Japanese version of WarioWare: D.I.Y., Made in Ore / Made in Me.
This song, alongside a remix from The Mysterious Murasame Castle, was removed from the Western version, both replaced by a Wind Waker and Kid Icarus remix.
Finally, we must turn inevitably to Super Smash Bros., and there's a handful of nods to Kaeru in the series. The Prince of Sablé appears as a Sticker in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (spelled as Saberu and seen in this video at 11:09); he also appears as both a Trophy and a fully-fledged Assist Trophy in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U & 3DS (when summoned, he assumes a fighting stance then transforms into either a frog or a snake and pursues the opponent, and upon making contact initiates his dust cloud style of combat); and as well as returning as a Spirit and Assist Trophy in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the frog and snake forms (that can be upgraded to the Prince of Sablé through level-up) and Prince Richard also appear as Spirits. No music remixes sadly but hey, not every series gets an Assist Trophy all to themselves.
But wait... What about the deeper link (Arf! Arf!) between Kaeru and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening?
It is often said on the wide internet, to varying capacities, that the game engine for Link's Awakening is very similar to the one used in Kaeru. This can range from 'they have obvious similarities in the usage of top-down and side-view gameplay segments so they may have used a similar engine' to 'the engine of Kaeru was reused wholesale for Link's Awakening'. It's a well-intentioned thought, I'm sure, and makes a hell of a hook for getting people to play Kaeru- imagine that, an obscure Japan-only release being a fundamental stepping-stone in the creation of one of the most beloved Game Boy games of all time! I will admit, I'm guilty of mentioning this in passing too, because it's pretty compelling, and the evidence is there, isn't it?
Err, nope, scratch that. There's no proof that Kaeru and Link's Awakening use the same or even similar game engines. I'm not a game programmer (or much a programmer of anything, this site is made entirely in Notepad) so I can't dig into the games myself but I can look at other avenues and there's not much to support the theory. From the top, the TCRF page for Link's Awakening has nothing that indicates any leftovers from Kaeru in either the game or the early assets found in the Nintendo Gigaleak of 2021; going back to that interview with Yasuhiko Fuiji, it makes no mention of Link's Awakening as he went to work on Super Metroid straight afterwards; an Iwata Asks segment on the development of Link's Awakening goes into its history as a side-project of sorts but makes no mention of Kaeru at all; and no other Japanese sources I've found make any mention of the engine connection between the two games, it's not even on JP Wikipedia, not that it being there would be proof but it'd be something vaguely in its favour. The current EN Wikipedia page
lists a random Forbes article as the source for this info, for crying out loud! was actually corrected before this article went to print and the source was removed so I can't take the credit for that one, much as I'd like to, but it's still worth noting it used to be there. The final nail in the coffin is a tweet from someone who looked at the code of both and determined they work very differently internally. That seems pretty definitive to me. Still, I don't think anyone's going to listen, this is gonna be on YouTube videos and Wikipedia forever and ultimately it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but there's a small chance that maybe someone will listen to this old flukester yelling at the frogs. Always look for the truth rather than the myth, even if the myth is more fun.
... That ending feels like it was written by my editor.
[How dare you, if I wrote that it'd be, you know, good. - Ed]