The Konami code on the NES classic Contra is probably the world’s most famous cheat code. A programmer added the Konami code because the game was too difficult for one of its developers. Contra was released at a time that cheat codes were commonplace, yet the Konami code is famous because it is an integral part of Contra experience. Imagine a world where we didn’t have the Konami code. Imagine where Contra would rank on the lists of best games of its era when its punishing difficulty would confine most players to the first few stages. USGamer ranked Contra alongside Mega Man 2 and Ninja Gaiden as one of the best games in 1988-1989. Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man 2 are also notoriously difficult games, but they also have infinite continues or passcodes to keep gamers from losing their progress. Contra is remembered fondly for its varied and fun-yet-difficult levels because we have the Konami code. Without cheating, Contra may have been discarded as a memorably ambitious game that was ultimately too difficult to enjoy such as Silver Surfer or Top Gun (also a Konami game).


It is difficult to categorize cheating, but let’s assume that cheating is something that is frowned upon, something intended to make a gamer’s life a little easier if they so choose, or something used as a way to expand gameplay once the core game mechanics have been explored and mastered. There is no excuse for cheating on a multiplayer game, but there is something devilishly delightful about summoning a tank in the heart of a Liberty City. Most cheats will fall somewhere among these three categories, but there are some games that hit a cheating sweet spot. For these special role playing games, cheating doesn’t just make the game better. It makes the game complete.


Crusader Kings II

Crusader Kings II is a medieval-period strategy game where most gameplay is spent staring at colors dancing across an incomplete map of Eurasia. Once a player understands the interface and the huge amount of information being presented on the screen, Crusader Kings II transforms into a vessel for the most satisfying emergent stories in video games. You can play as a lowly count, a peg-legged viking war chief, a bookish khan, a decadent emperor, or a child-sacrificing devil worshipper. The game’s code is amazingly flexible, and it continues to grow deeper and more twisted after nearly five years of steady support from the developer. Do you want to adopt a heretical version of Catholicism, overthrow the Pope, and install your disfigured cousin as the new leader of Christendom? Do you want to form an Islamic trade republic on the Crimean peninsula and drive Venice to bankruptcy after a series of ruinous embargo wars? Do you want to seduce your best friend’s wife (in the game)? It’s all possible. Crusader Kings II excels because it offers so much variety, and the game engine will react organically to the choices made. All of this turns Crusader Kings II into what is arguably the most complex “What If” machine ever invented.


While it’s fun to take charge of your character’s dynasty and see how long you can hold onto your burgeoning kingdom until your imbecilic children throw it all away for some petty slight, a single player’s impact in this world of “What If” is limited by time, geography, and resources if you play by the rules. Fortunately, the game comes with a robust console command system that allows a player to create complex scenarios that can then be explored. Sometimes it’s fun to simply change the Holy Roman Emperor into a lunatic Norse pagan, put the game in observe mode, and watch the world crumble and rebuild into something completely new.

Horse Lords are literally possible… apparently.


Cheating in Crusader Kings allows a player to create impossible new worlds that actually live and breathe. It makes it possible to set up a three-way holy war between an immortal Genghis Khan, a horde of Viking berserkers, and an pacifistic army of Indian elephant riders. Once a player realizes that these types of scenarios are possible, the vanilla game is feels incomplete.


Final Fantasy II

Final Fantasy II was released for the Famicon in 1988, but it did not get an American release until 2003. Since then, it has had a remake or release for a different system at least once every two years. Final Fantasy II was a groundbreaking experiment after the unexpected success of the original Final Fantasy. It features named characters with backstories, temporary characters that the player can control at key plot moments, a robust dialogue system, and the ability to save anywhere on the world map at any moment. Square took all of the bits that made Final Fantasy a success and expanded them into a bigger, more epic package… except for one critical piece. They tweaked the leveling system.


On paper, the changes in Final Fantasy II make sense. It is an organic evolution of the simple experienced-based leveling system used in most RPGs. For example, if a character uses bows a lot, they’ll naturally grow more adept at that skill and deal more damage with bows. However, the logic quickly breaks down when it is applied to the other character statistics. If, and only if, a character takes enough damage, their HP will go up. If, and only if, a lot of MP is used in a battle, the total MP pool will increase and magic power may go up.  


This whole system incentivizes heroes to not act very heroic. If the heroes do not get the snot beat out of them in nearly every single fight, they will never build the strength the progress through the game. Instead of venturing forth and defeating the forces of evil threatening the world, players are forced to host the world’s most idiotic Fight Club. Nearly every Final Fantasy II guide recommends that players level up by having each of their characters ignore the monsters and attack each other again and again until they are near death. Rinse and repeat ad nauseum.  

This is our hero, Firion, after a self-flagellation team building exercise.


Weapon proficiency is based upon the number of times the attack command is selected. Notice that the operative word here is “selected” and not “attempted.” That means that a player can select “attack” and then cancel that order and still get credit for an attack. If a character dual wields weapons, the damage is calculated by doubling the damage from the weapon in the dominant hand. This means that a character could wield mighty Excalibur in one hand and double their damage if they put a toilet brush in the other hand. At the end of the day, Final Fantasy II is a game that necessitates that players exploit its systems in order to be successful. In doing so, it teaches a valuable lesson. Before you can defeat the great evils of the world, you must whack yourself in the back of the head with a hammer a few times.


Dragon Quest VI

Dragon Quest VI- Realms of Revelation was released in Japan in 1995 for the Super Famicon, but it never saw an American release until it was remade sixteen years later for the Nintendo DS. We will ignore the DS version because cheating options for the DS version are (sadly) limited.


I played the Super Famicon version of Dragon Quest VI in 2004. I printed out a rudimentary walkthrough that translated most of the important bits from the Japanese version and brute-forced my way through a vast and beautiful game made by Heartbeat and published by Enix during the twilight years of the Super Famicon/Super Nintendo era. The game is four megabytes large- massive for its age- and it would have been nearly impossible to economically translate the game into English. The game is brilliant on nearly every level. It has a varied and interesting cast, a robust job system to customize each character, and a huge variety of environments and enemies to explore and dispatch. The plot is paced well with a brilliant crescendo that forces players through the towns of the Dark World (such as Prison Town) in order to face the Demon King in all of his forms.


The game’s monsters are recurring characters drawn from the colorful Dragon Quest menagerie. And, let’s be honest, the titular Slime and supporting cast are the real stars of the Dragon Quest games. No one wants to play as yet another amnesiac lead. That’s simply a red herring to keep you from playing the real game. One of the character classes in the Super Famicon Dragon Quest VI is the Beastmaster. A Beastmaster can recruit monsters to serve as full-time party members. These monster companions can level up, equip items, and learn classes and skills just like their human counterparts. There are over 20 monster companions that can be recruited in the Super Famicon version while the DS version only has nine recruitable monsters (and these are limited to the Slime family of monsters). These monster companions can completely replace the main, story-driven characters if the player desires.


It’s a trap!


Unfortunately, these monsters are difficult to recruit and often start at level 1 once they join your team. If you want to roleplay as a team of brave slimes and sentient trees that rid the world of evil, you need to be prepared to sink hundreds of hours into the endeavor. This task will simultaneously overlevel your team to such a point that the game’s challenge is pointless. Fortunately, a gameshark code allows for easy recruiting and the formation of the dream team that can experience the game as it was obviously intended. Instead of leading another voiceless human to victory, a simple code enables players to experience the real story of Dragon Quest VI:

Rookie, a slime that was captured and forced to fight to the death in a ruthless “Slime Arena,” battles his way to the top of the ranks and earns his freedom. He teams up with his loyal companions- Slime Knight, Metal Bauble, and Healer- to rescue his former human oppressors from the neigh-invulnerable evil that feeds on humanity’s very own dark nature.


Treasure of the Rudras (Rudra no Hihou)

Like Dragon Quest VI, Treasure of the Rudras is a hidden gem of the late Super Famicon era that was never released in America. The magic system allows users to “inscribe” their own magic spells by typing in a name of a spell. Players can experiment with the unknown magic language to find a combination that works well, and the game doles out clues to which letter pairings will make a healing spell or change the element of one spell into another. It’s a really clever system that organically explains why a magic user should get more powerful as the story advances. Of course, more powerful spells will require more mana to use. This should, in theory, act as a check and balance to prevent a player who already knows the powerful spell clues from having access to the most powerful magic from the start.


Enter the Banana God.


If a spell is inscribed as “BANANAGOD,” the player is rewarded with what may be the most hilariously unbalanced spell in the game. For a mere 8 MP, nearly any character in the game can summon the Banana God to smite his or her foes for an insane amount of damage. For its avatar in this mortal dimension, the Banana God chooses to appear as the literal letters of its name as they crawl across the screen to crush enemies beneath its sans-serif feet.


Bow before your new lord and savior.

More Peels for the Banana God!

Follow me on twitter @j_cutting.