The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls, or Kaeru no Tame Ni Kane wa Naru, is a Japan-exclusive Gameboy game. It was released before Link’s Awakening, and uses the same engine and in some cases sound effects and graphics. Despite being brothers with Link’s Awakening, the gameplay is quite different and definitely stands on it’s own. Most recently, the Sable Prince was featured in Super Smash Brothers for 3DS and Wii U, raising international awareness of the game.
Ever since I started studying Japanese, I have always wanted to play this game. When Nintendo had their three year anniversary sale for the 3DS, I immediately grabbed the game. After mentioning it on Twitter, BluePikmin and several other people requested a review, so here it is.
The title might have been inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Japanese title is brilliant as it references the key plot of the game while being pretty light hearted.
Please note, while there is a fan translation rom hack of this game, I will not be using the terms used in that version. Instead, I’ll be referring to characters by their Japanese names, or in cases where the English equivalent is obvious, the English version (Prince Richard, for example). This is because I played through the Japanese release of the game. A lot of the characters names are based on desserts, so in those cases I will be using the English equivalent.
There is also a lot of different ways this has been translated. Brawl has the main character translated as, “Sabure Prince” (with the Japanese name for the game). While Smash for Wii U/3DS has the main character translated as “Sablé Prince”. This is because in general, Brawl was translated very literally in a lot of areas while Smash for Wii U was localized. If you would like more examples, please read Why Does Wario Fart?. The Brawl and Smash for Wii U/3DS translation comparisons are especially relevant. After playing through the game, in my humble opinion, Sablé Prince works out well enough for the character’s name (as he actually doesn’t have one). However, I think “For Frogs the Bell Tolls” would be a better title. However, since The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls is the title used by Nintendo, I will be using that.
Warning: Spoilers in the next section!
The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls starts off with the main protagonist (the Sablé Prince) and his frind/ rival, Prince Richard of the Custard Kingdom, fighting. They hear word that Princess Tiramisu of the Mille-Feuille Kingdom needs help. Prince Richard immediately sets off to help her. The Sablé Prince, determined not to lose to Prince Richard, sets off to find Princess Tiramisu first.
Shortly after arriving, a huge earthquake strikes causing some major destruction. The Sablé Prince proceeds forward, looking for the Princess and Prince Richard. Eventually, he is turned into a frog (by Mandola) where he finds out Prince Richard suffered from the same fate. He uses his money to pay for another potion to return to human form, and thus is unable to pay to repair the bell (that was damaged by the earthquake). According to legend, once the bell is rung it will return to their human form. Prince Richard is pretty shocked by this, and the Sablé Prince continues on in order to find the gold to repair the bell, find the Princess and save the day. He learns how to transform into a snake, which greatly aids him in his journey.
Overall, the story is extremely light-hearted and fun. The game doesn’t take itself seriously, with some minor fourth wall breaks. For example, at one point players will need to travel to Nantendo in order to receive an item to progress in the game. There’s also a Woolly Mammoth fight.
The dialogue is enjoyable. Sometimes, the game increases the size of the font/ characters to really make an impact. A lot of care went into the story, and it’s definitely one of the strongest aspects to this game. The game’s story was written by Yoshio Sakamoto, who has also worked on the Metroid series and some Wario games.
In my opinion, the game would best be described as an action adventure platforming…with some very minor RPG elements.
The battle system in The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls, is pretty unique. After touching an enemy, battles automatically happen with the outcome being determined by the player and enemies’ stats. Players do have an option to run away, or use an item mid-battle. The battles occur in a cartoonish cloud of dust. When the Sablé Prince is a much higher level, he will simply push enemies away. The stats of the Sablé Prince is totally dependent on the gear he is, and what form he is.
A lot of the times, in order to progress players will need to find certain upgrades. This makes the game feel extremely linear. Luckily, NPCs will often point you in the right direction. For example, at the very start there is an old man who straight up tells players, ‘hey, if you don’t have this shield, you won’t be able to progress’. The map is also somewhat useful, but this linear progression can be annoying sometimes. There was a couple of instances where I ventured out somewhere, but because I didn’t talk to someone or activate the trigger, nothing was there, forcing me to retrace my steps and talk to everyone I could.
The gameplay is basically split into two parts. The overworld, and the dungeons. In the dungeons, gameplay is more platforming. This isn’t an issue for most areas of the game. One example where it is an issue is the third or fourth visit to the main castle, which introduces one hit KO lava. Upon dying, players are transported to the hospital of the town they last visited. This is just too punishing. Admittedly, the platforming isn’t too challenging, but having to venture all the way back is just annoying.
The two transformations also offer unique gameplay elements. The Sablé Prince will turn into a frog upon touching water automatically, while eating a Hot Springs Egg, will turn the Sablé Prince into a Snake. The frog allows the Prince to jump higher, but is extremely weak. The snake allows the Prince to crawl through tunnels, and convert weak enemies into blocks (by biting them). The snake form feels a bit underused, I think they could have done a better job incorporating the block creation ability into more puzzles. At the same time, this leads me into another issue with the gameplay — item management.
As mentioned previously, the egg is required to transform into a snake. In order to transform back into a human, the Sablé Prince must eat a piece of fruit. Since this are items, if players are out of them, then they are placed into a bind. The game usually provides enough of these items through chests, but in some cases if the player doesn’t stock up they might run out if they aren’t careful.
The game is beautiful and is truly a shame the game was never released internationally. The graphics are great, and the music and sound effects tie everything together. A lot of the areas have their own unique tunes. The music was composed by Kazumi Totaka, whose has been involved with a ton of music for Nintendo. The game is very well polished overall.
The game has certainly left an impression on me. In the end, I finished it in two sittings, and after completing the game I kept thinking about it. The world is very well crafted, and game has a lot of charm to it. I cannot stress how much of a shame it is, that this game is not officially available in English.
The Frog for Whom the Bell Tolls is a great game. I hope one day it is officially localized by Nintendo, as it’s a classic in every sense of the word. While it has some issues, the game overall is an experience that I would highly recommend to everyone.
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