Unusual Password Systems

A note to the young at age: Some of you may only think of passwords as a mildly annoying security function to be dealt with by auto-fill, but back in the old days passwords were used to record progress in video games, sometimes to humorous results.

A lot of passwords in the old console era were only about 16 characters long. Some were as short as 4, and a few were much longer. Legend of the Mystical Ninja (SNES) for instance had a 60 character password using both upper and lower case letters, numbers, AND special characters! Ugh, what a chore.

I was recently playing an NES title named Faxandu, a side-scrolling RPG/adventure game that I'd heard of many times but never seen in action before. I was amazed by the ingenuity and flaws in the passwords. In Faxandu, you must go to a town sage to receive a password. The passwords record which town you are in, what items you have, and your Title. “What’s a title,” you ask?

As you gain experience and levels you reach certain benchmarks where the same sages in each town will bestow you with a title. Rather than recording your exact experience points or even your level the passwords you take record your current title. Each title is set to a specific amount of experience and gold that you start with when enter your current password. So for instance let’s say your current title provides you with 5,000 experience and 3,000 gold. If you have anything more than those amounts when you stop playing, you lose anything ‘extra’ when you return. However, because these amounts are set, if you have LESS than 3,000 gold when you take a password (say because you just spent it all on healing items), then you can stop, reset, re-enter the password, and magically be back up to 3,000 gold.

At first I thought this was just some crazy idea to be innovative, but then I thought about what a password does. Faxandu’s passwords are already 32 characters long. If they had to record exact numeric values for experience and gold through cryptic lettering then the passwords would be huge. Instead, the password only needs to use enough characters to know your title which the program can use to reference static numbers for your progress. So, while it is EXTREMELY easy to exploit, this was actual a very clever solution for such an early RPG(-ish) game.

I have to assume that these kinds of password issues are a big part of why traditional RPG simulation titles never became big until the battery powered save files were introduced. Thank god for save files, but these kinds of bizarre quirks are one of the things I miss most about older games.