Character Information :

To any Sega Master Fan it shouldn't come as a surprise as to who nabbed fourth. Opa-Opa was one of Sega's most memorable characters from the early days, but after his famous run in the Fantasy Zone series he seemed to slowly fall out of fashion and though occasionally popping up from time to time recently, has yet to resurge as a main character in anything significant. His appearance is one of the most recognizable in Sega's history, but unfortunately his name still leaves something to be desired, even amongst the most hardcore of retro gamers. He certainly deserves his spot in the top five, but there are a few reasons why he fell out of fashion and slowly sank away as characters like Wonder Boy and Sonic the Hedgehog took over. What happened to Opa-Opa? Let's find out.

Where it All Began
Fantasy Zone in the Arcade
Screenshot from the SMS Version

Opa-Opa had one of the most unique and recognizable designs of any Sega character ever created. While Master System fans may remember Alex Kidd, it's Opa-Opa who modern gamers recognize more often, even though they may not know his name. So what does he look like? Opa-Opa, since his first game, has always had the same appearance; an egg-like shape, red top, green bottom, glass shield in the front, wings (this can change depending on the power-ups you purchase) and little legs that sprout when he gets close to the ground. Check out this little chap below. Interestingly, this image has held for every appearance he has made, making him perhaps the most timeless character in Sega's history. Even more interesting, however, is the story behind him, or at least what's currently known about it.

Opa-Opa's exact design was the brainchild of "Mu Tsu," head designer of the team behind the first Fantasy Zone game. His name is listed at the end of the title as Warlock Mut 241, a typical usage of a pseudonym at that time, since programmers, designers and the like were not permitted to list their actual names. The head designer for Fantasy Zone and the character appears to have been the mysterious Matilda Yoko, whose only other known game was Space Harrier (also worked on by Mu Tsu, so in fact they may be the same person). If you pay attention, you will invariably find similarities in some of the enemy designs in both of these games, so this theory is probable. Headed by Mu Tsu, the design team at Sega created Opa-Opa and the Fantasy Zone world in a relatively short amount of time. The most major decision was to take the traditional format found in almost every shooter in that era and redesign it using a 'cartoony' atmosphere. This idea was derived from work done by Konami on the popular Japanese game series Twinbee, first released in arcades in 1985 (check out the ships to see the striking similarities). Opa-Opa thus was a simple idea taken from another series; take the usual spaceship, craft or whatever, use bright, pastel colors, wings instead of plane wings and an exaggerated, cartoony design. Thus, Opa-Opa was born. With his image static, he then was placed into his first game.

Opa-Opa first appeared in the arcade version of Fantasy Zone released in March of 1986, which then debuted on the Mark III in June of the same year. Konami had already released Twinbee, so Sega had to merely mess with the concept somewhat to come up with something more original, since the other series was admittingly nothing more than just another shooter in its basic format. Mu Tsu, after speaking with a programmer from Konami, came up with the idea that would, with the other, come to define a sub-category of shooters known as the 'cute-em' up'. However, the designers of Fantasy Zone decided to do something different. Instead of a vertical scroller, they made the game horizontal, but, taking a clue from games like Defender and Championship Lode Runner, made control of Opa-Opa entirely up to the player, instead of determined by a continuously moving screen. In addition, Opa-Opa doesn't receive power-ups from enemies he eliminates, but collects coins with which he can purchase a variety of items including jet boosters, bigger wings, bombs and extra lives. In addition, the game is unique in that you're required to completely destroy a series of non-moving 'bases' in order to fight a boss and continue on to the next level. Combine this with some crazy character and background designs and Opa-Opa was destined for greatness. In this game we learn, based on the manual, that Opa-Opa seems to be a person or at least an alien, inside an 'expandable spaceship'. So popular was the game that it was ported to a variety of systems including the Famicom, MSX and NES. As we all know, the Master System version was by far the most impressive for its time. However, there were more games to come that further served to obscure his true identity and led to problems mentioned above...

His First and Only Cartoon Appearance
Screenshot from Fantasy Zone II
Snapshot Taken from Red Photon Zillion

In 1987, hardly one year after Fantasy Zone was released, Sega came out with a sequel, Fantasy Zone II in the arcades and on the Mark III/Sega Master System. In Japan, the full title was Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa, but this title is still retained on the title screen of other versions, though not on the box inserts and manuals. Regardless, the character returned for an even better adventure. The basic format was kept the same but improved on drastically, so much so that I've had friends mistake the game for a 16-Bit title. This time, Opa-Opa takes on the Blackhearts and can essentially purchase the same weapons as before, though there were some additions including a purchasable life bar and invincibility shield. However, the game also introduced a series of warps (more as you progress), requiring the player to find each one hidden behind the bases to move on to other areas in the levels before finally locating the final warp to get to the boss. This made the game even more interesting in that it was essentially non-linear with a bit of an element of strategy. With secret shops and other goodies to find, it was definitely an improvement over the original, though Opa-Opa and the basic gameplay were essentially the same.

The story, however was changed into something quite strange. In the first game, Opa-Opa's lost father was the leader of the Menons, but in this title Opa-Opa's "other self" is in charge; a dual-personality created as a result of his "emotional stress" from his first battle, especially upon realizing his own father was to blame. In addition, his father assumed leadership of the Blackhearts because of his "paternal bond" with his son. One of the problems with his image by the time this game was released was that, though in the first it was suggested he was an alien or human within a craft, the ending of Fantasy Zone II suggests that the craft itself is Opa-Opa, a form of living spaceship. Unfortunately, this is never fully explained, but the character was nonetheless popular, so popular in fact that he even played as a guest character in the television series Red Photon Zillion. Because Sega was endorsing the show in its early episodes, even the guns the characters use resemble the Light Phaser for the Master System, but this was later removed when they dropped their support and the show was cancelled after hardly a year. Fantasy Zone II, though much better than the original, was only ported to two other systems, the Famicom and the MSX2.

Hmmm, What the Hell?
Screenshot from Fantasy Zone: The Maze
Ending from Galactic Protector

But the problem becomes further complicated, because shortly after the release of Fantasy Zone II, Opa-Opa appeared again in the third game in the series. Unfortunately for Mark III and Master System fans (released elsewhere a year later), the title left much to be desired. Fantasy Zone: The Maze (Opa-Opa in Japan) was totally different from the previous games and designed by a different team, thus the likelyhood for its striking differences. First, you're no longer playing a shooting title, instead, certain elements were retained from the original two games and fused with a maze-like environment in the vein of Pac-Man. The game takes place a year after the first and this time involves Opa-Opa's younger brother Upa-Upa. Based on the manual and artwork, by this time all possibility of a separate alien or human inside the characters seems gone as they have been given eyes and any mention of a pilot is absent. The graphics were well below what even the first game possessed and most of the backgrounds were simply reused from the first Fantasy Zone, overlayed with fairly bland, black mazes and enemies so small their details were sometimes muddled. It seems that by this point, as we saw with Alex Kidd, the character had become the main selling point, not the idea and Sega fans were treated to a game that received lukewarm reviews at best.

One year after this, in Japan anyway, Opa-Opa again appeared in another game with this brother called Galactic Protector. This time, after their first adventure together in The Maze, Opa-Opa and his brother have to take out asteroids from a comet in order to save three planets, including Earth. However, though an interesting title and entertaining, albeit very short, this game further confused the actual identity of the character. Opa-Opa and his brother appear with rocket boosters instead of wings, and, to further complicate the issue of whether or not they're living ships, during the ending the player is given a screenshot of Opa-Opa with his hatch open, showing an empty cockpit (see picture above). This seems to suggest he is in fact operated by a separate entity, whatever that may be, but nothing is ever provided to elucidate on this matter and fans were left to wonder what exactly he was or is or had been or who knows.

This appears to be roughly the point where Opa-Opa's image and popularity began to decline. The most likely reason for this phenomenon is the simple fact that the type of games he was featured in all follow the same format. To use a contrasting character we've already gone over, Sonic the Hedgehog, it seems Opa-Opa simply did not have as much workability due to the fact that he was essentially a spaceship. It would have been completely ridiculous to imagine a platforming game where you play as Opa-Opa or anything of this nature, and thus his image became too static to work with. First, in 1991, he was released on the Game Gear in Fantasy Zone Gear, which is in many ways the same game as Fantasy Zone, though apparently you're now playing as Opa-Opa Jr., Opa-Opa's son, whatever that means. Is he alive or what? Come on. The last boss, in fact, appears to be Opa-Opa, taken over again perhaps by his 'evil side' from the second game. This is never explained in the ending however so it seems programmers may have simply been reusing the idea because it worked well for a shooter. As you can see, his image was already too solidified to do anything new with it and he had become so consistent as a shooter character that he could not be developed any further. This wasn't his end, however, and though only one more game was made, he has still retained his popularity and has some reverberations in our current era.

Title Screen from Super Fantasy Zone
Compare Level to the First Game Above

Opa-Opa's last official Fantasy Zone appearance occured in Super Fantasy Zone, released for the Megadrive in Europe and Japan. It was never released in the US, unfortunately, which is one of the likely reasons the character eventually fell out of popularity in the states and this may in fact have added to his overall demise. In this game, Opa-Opa has to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the 'Dark Menons', so there's a least a bit of a tie-in to the other titles. The gameplay, however, was essentially the same as all the others with some different enemies and new weapons, but the same, goofy, cartoon-like atmosphere remained, as did Opa-Opa's basic design. He was more refined, but still the same character in what was generally still the same game.

In addition, his actual identity and substance was further confused. Based on the game's opening, Opa-Opa apparently belongs to a race of living spaceships that are able to sprout arms to manipulate objects. In addition, the ending seems to forget that the first attacks on Fantasy Zone were led by Opa-Opa's father and Opa-Opa himself, now replaced by a mysterious character called the 'Dark Master'. Regardless, the main problem was still Opa-Opa's identity; with his new set of arms, no one was sure exactly what he was supposed to be. This goes back to the design of the characters in Twinbee, who were outfitted with arms from the very beginning, but in that series the ships were eventually explained as having pilots (refer to article link above), whereas for Opa-Opa this fact was constantly obscured. Had this been futher developed, his image could have been retained and perhaps new titles would have been released featuring his pilot as a main character while still tying in to his original image. But, in a strange coincidence, both series and characters have seemed to fall out of popularity for most likely the same fact, they can't work in any other game than a shooter. This of course led to Opa-Opa's end, and even though his final game in the series seems to suggest more was to come based on the ending, it never came to pass, at least not yet. However, this wasn't a total end for him, and there's a reason why he's still popular to many fans.

Galaxy Dream Fantasy Zone Ticket Spitter
Nice Shirt Dude, Gimmie

Opa-Opa has still managed to live on and part of this reason may be due to the fact that he was such a static character, but at the same time appeared in a series of games that were consistently good, unlike the unfortunate past of our first character, Alex Kidd. Opa-Opa still appears from time to time up to the present day, but in such a way that he remains memorable. One of the main problems was that his name is subservient to the series itself. But, due to its general simplicity by today's standards and excellent gameplay, Fantasy Zone was ported to modern systems such as the Playstation 2 and even on mobile phones, finally solidifying his reputation as one of Sega's most famous characters. He may have been too static to work with, but at least he worked. He has recently even appeared in arcades as one of those blasted, impossible to win ticket machines where you propel little balls into targets to get points and eventually tickets to purchase prizes well below what you paid to win them (that's the picture above). Though he may not be as popular as Sonic the Hedgehog and has yet to appear in any additional games, he will likely remain as one of the most memorable characters to ever glorify the name of Sega, starting from his first release in the arcades and on the Mark III/Master System. As you can see by the chap in the shirt above, he's even become something of a retro character in the same way old Nintendo Power shirts are still being printed in the US, and these issues alone will be certain to retain his image for a very, very long time.

Character - Gameography :

Master System Titles:

Other Systems:

  • Fantasy Zone (Arcade, MSX, NES, Sega Saturn, Playstation 2)
  • Fantasy Zone II - The tears of Opa-Opa (NES)
  • Fantasy Zone Gear (Sega Game Gear)
  • Space Fantasy Zone (PC Engine)
  • Super Fantasy Zone (Megadrive)

Guest Appearances:

Images of Opa-Opa :
Fantasy Zone
Fantasy Zone II
Galactic Protector
The Maze
Related Links :

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