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The Gameslinger's blog

12:01 AM on 09.24.2012

A Second Look At: The Dark Eye


Title: The Dark Eye

Developer: Inscape

Publishers: Time Warner Interactive/Expert Software Inc. (N.A.), GT Interactive (Europe)

Platforms: Windows PC, MAC

Release Date: October 31st, 1995 – November 12th 1995 (varied by specific location) (N.A. and Europe)

Cover art for The Dark Eye.

What Is This Game?

The Dark Eye is a first-person point-and-click adventure, and a truly bizarre, impressionistic entry in the horror genre. Weaving together several of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poems into a larger whole, the game tells an increasingly twisted and tragic story that continually crosses the boundaries between reality and nightmare; sanity and insanity. The stage is set in the late 1800’s, and begins when player’s character arrives at his Uncle’s seemingly peaceful seaside home. He is welcomed by Uncle Edwin, an aging artist, as well as his brother, Henry, and their cousin, Elise. Soon after, however, a series of increasingly bizarre and unfortunate event begin to unfold; some of which bend the lines between reality and the subconscious, and others that are far too real. As the main character moves unwilling between reality, an ethereal, dreamlike “otherworld,” and a series of nightmarish events placing him in the perspectives of different murderers and their unfortunate victims, he begins to question reality and his own sanity. With the majority of the game’s scenarios and events derived from or inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and a truly unique graphical approach that combines prerendered CG backgrounds with stop-motion animated, clay-sculpted characters (in addition to a number of other abstract graphical techniques), The Dark Eye combines surreal visuals with a haunting atmosphere to create an experience as strange as it is engrossing.

A less-than-warm welcome to your Uncle's seaside home opens the doors to a nightmarish experience....


The Dark Eye is a game I may never have experienced if I’d not acquired it somewhat at random when I was much younger. Received as a birthday gift shortly after my family got their first computer, The Dark Eye was one of two more-or-less random PC games I’d received for my birthday (the other game being the less-fascinating and rather generic FPS title Assassin 2015). Going in with no prior knowledge outside of what the back of the box had told me, I found myself intrigued even by the title screen and utterly entranced shortly after the start of this bizarre and frightening journey. To be honest, I was probably a bit young for such a mature, and often gruesome or terrifying, game. But to a child of the late 80’s and 90’s, raised on the likes of Terminator and Aliens, that meant little to me. Even at the time, I appreciated that this was something very different and inspired, and it captured my love and fascination both as the first true “horror” title I’d played, and as something genuinely unique, even experimental, amongst the other games I’d played as a boy. I played through the game multiple times, was borderline obsessed with it, even amidst (or perhaps partially because of) my confusion over the seemingly baffling, fragmented and abstract story it wove. Ultimately, The Dark Eye served not only as my introduction to the horror genre of video games, but also as one of the first games that truly forced me to begin thinking of video games as more than just a fun pastime, and instead as an art form.

Even now, years later, The Dark Eye stands out to me amongst all of the video games I’ve experienced as something special; and as I’ve grown, I’ve come to appreciate the artistry and creativity of this strange little title, and what an impact it had on me personally as a turning point for my perspective on what a video game could really be. The Dark Eye was not a well-known game upon its release, nor has it gained much popularity over the course of time; however, the few who have played all seem to agree that there is something very special about this game. While The Dark Eye has a handful of issues and is certainly not for everyone, it is also a remarkably inspired and creative work from a purely artistic standpoint, as well as an engrossing, if somewhat fragmented, tale, and still one of the most eerie, haunting and mind-bending gaming experiences I’ve had. The Dark Eye may be largely forgotten, but any gamer who appreciates video games as an art form, or just loves horror games, owes it to themselves to hunt down a copy of The Dark Eye; there is a haunting and unique experience awaiting those who do…..

Prepare for a game as artful and surreal, as it is disturbing and frightening.

History, Release and Reception:

The Dark Eye was developed by the now-defunct developer Inscape during the height of the point-and-click adventure genre’s reign on the PC. Founded in 1994, Inscape was funded by two of Time Warner’s subsidiaries; Home Box Office and Warner Music Group. Founder Michael Nash had worked in interactive media development before, his prior career highlighted by his work as executive producer on San Francisco art collective/musical group “The Residents’” 1993 interactive PC/MAC CD-ROM title, “Freak Show;” a title somewhere between a game and an interactive tour, of sorts, that had the player navigating a bizarre carnival setting. Inscape was established shortly after, in 1994, with 5 million dollars invested from Time Warner, under the shared interest of Nash and Warner in combining talents from the entertainment and programming industries to work in the ever-expanding and, at the time, still somewhat untested, interactive entertainment industry.

Inscape’s first release came in 1995, in the form of a sequel of sorts to ‘Freak Show;” another “Residents” game, “Bad Day on the Midway.” Again taking place in a bizarre traveling carnival, Bad Day on the Midway was more of a fully-fleshed-out “game” than Freak Show; essentially a point-and-click adventure-horror title with multiple story paths and puzzle-solving. The game was well-received, even winning a number of awards, including two 1995 Macrovision International User Conference Awards (Best Entertainment Title and Most Innovative use of Multimedia) and a spot in CD-ROM Today’s “Top Ten Discs of All Time.”

Inscape founder Micheal Nash had worked in the realm of interactive entertainment before, his most noteworthy project being The Residents' Freak Show. After founding Inscape, Bad Day on the Midway was created as a sort of sequel to Freak Show.

It was within the same year, and at almost the same release date as Bad Day on the Midway, that Inscape also released The Dark Eye. Under development at the same time as Bad Day on the Midway by another group within Inscape, the project was headed by lead designer Russell Lees and while not nearly as high profile as Bad Day on the Midway, was every bit as passionate and inspired a project. For Russell Lees, The Dark Eye was a project all about experimentation, and his passion for the project showed through in the hard, painstaking work and creativity he put forth towards its creation. A former playwright and engineer, Lees was steered towards video game production by Michael Nash, who happened to be a childhood friend of his. When Nash had still been in the process of conceiving Inscape with Time Warner, he had asked Lees to come up with a few ideas and send them his way. One of those ideas was “the player entering the tales of Edgar Alan Poe;” and a few months later, when Nash contacted him about turning this idea into a game, Lees ended up working on The Dark Eye for Inscape as his first project in the video game world.

As a passionate aficionado of Edgar Alan Poe’s work, Russell Lees had read all of Poe’s stories and poems in their entirety, and upon conception of The Dark Eye, found himself re-reading Poe’s work, this time analyzing it for which of his writings would work best in the realm of interactive entertainment. He eventually settled up the general theme of murder, and selected the Poe stories he felt could best be told, in interactive form, through the eyes of both the murderer, and the victim; a chilling choice for the viewpoint of the player, and one which would allow the main character, and the player, to delve into the insanity which drove the murderers, and the terror and despair of the victims.

Russel Lees (left), creator of The Dark Eye, was a passionate fan of Poe's work. Legendary author William S. Burroughs (right) shared his love of Poe, which ultimately lead to Burroughs providing some of the game's most prominent voice work.

Equally important to Lees was the visual and aural presentation of The Dark Eye. With the assistance of artistic director Rebekah Behrendt, and animator Doug Beswick (known best for his work in Hollywood with the effects on films like Beetlejuice, Aliens and The Addams Family), Lees was committed to creating a visual design for The Dark Eye that was all its own. Working with a variety of graphical techniques including claymation, stop-motion animation, photo montages, and more traditional 3D computer-generated graphics, Lees and his team put painstaking amounts of effort toward perfecting the game’s visuals. While Inscape itself did the designs for the stop-motion characters, they had the designs shipped out to a Hollywood production house for their creation; but Russell Lees himself, along with his two hired animators, personally spent hours in a warehouse animating the stop-motion puppets and their scenes. Working from 7 am to 7pm for over a month on this process, Lees and his animators not only needed to animate their characters by hand, they also had to shoot them against a blue screen for their scenes and light the puppets to match the computer-generated environments in which their scenes took place.

Extensive thought and work was put into The Dark Eye's visuals, and a wide variety of techniques and styles were implemented throughout the game.

Just as important was the audio presentation of The Dark Eye, and for voice work and musical scoring, Lees looked to talented professionals for work on the project. For the soundtrack, award-winning British musician Thomas Dolby was brought on board. In addition to a sizeable, award-winning solo career including hits like “She Blinded Me With Science,” Dolby and his studio, Headspace, had a well-proven track record with soundtrack production, including tracks and production work for the 1986 George Lucas film “Howard the Duck,” and the 1992 animated film “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.” Likewise, for voice work, Lees was fortunate enough to recruit a talented cast. Top-billed amongst a cast of talented voice actors was the legendary author of such post-World War II, 50’s “beat” generation classics as “Naked Lunch,” William S. Burroughs, who lent his voice to the main character’s uncle, Edwin, as well as the narration of selected tales and poems throughout the game. Lees actually traveled from Inscape studios in Los Angeles, all the way to Burroughs’ home in Kansas, to record his voice work for the game. Though Burroughs reportedly had almost no idea of what a video game even WAS, he did have a love for Poe, and this love made him happy to work on the project. Other actors were recruited through agents and sample tapes sent to Inscape. Lees says he was extremely lucky to find such excellent actors, all of whom were enthusiastic to work on a “real acting” job, instead of advertising or selling product.

It is ironic, then, with so much seemingly careful planning and hard work, that Russell Lees and his team were working on a short production cycle of under one year, and that there was also a good amount of uncertainty, and ideas that didn’t make the final cut. In fact, when Nash gave Lees’ “Poe” idea the go, Lees really had no idea WHAT that idea was going to become. His first idea, which earned the project the green light from Inscape, was the vague concept of “the narrator’s version of The Tell-Tale Heart.” The Dark Eye was developed on a relatively short development cycle, as mentioned, and when it began, the team really had almost no idea of how the game would look, or of the distinctive visual style it would take on. Likewise, the actual gameplay, specifically the amount of freedom given to the player, was a heavy topic of discussion, with debates over player choice and the possibility of multiple endings. Once the idea of the game comprising a variety of Poe’s stories came into play, and the themes of murder and insanity were settled upon, which stories to use and how to implement them also came into play; would the player be able to perhaps even combine the stories, resulting in different outcomes? And which, and how many, of Poe’s works would make the cut? While more were originally discussed, and the game was at first to include closer to seven “nightmare sequences” based on Poe’s stories, ultimately three were settled upon (The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and Berenice), in addition to a collection of narrated and text-based stories and poems (The Masque of the Red Death, Annabel Lee, The Premature Burial), all of which were tied together by the main story, a modified version of The Fall of the House of Usher, altered to tie in the “nightmare” scenes and their stronger themes of insanity and murder.

Ultimately, The Dark Eye was released late in 1995, to very little awareness. What few critics noticed it were mostly positive about the game, though some bemoaned the game’s largely straight-forward nature, which ultimately involved minimal choice by the player. However, critics praised the originality of the game and its striking visual and aural presentation, as well as its excellent atmosphere. Gamespot was one of the few sources to notice the game around the time of its initial release, and while they only awarded it a 5.4 out of 10, their review emphasized the game’s positive aspects, but simply cautioned players that it truly was not for everyone. With little fanfare and near-nonexistent promotion by Inscape itself, the game quickly faded into obscurity…..

Inscape enjoyed some success for a while afterward, beginning with the critical praise of the almost simultaneously-released Bad Day on the Midway, and ultimately leading to a slew of new releases announced at E3 in 1996. However, by February 1997, it was announced that Inscape was to be acquired by Graphix Zone and meanwhile, Michael Nash decided to leave Inscape, allegedly concerned over the recent acquisition. Graphix Zone itself, unfortunately, went under just a few months later, in November of 1997, taking Inscape with it. Meanwhile, Russell Lees moved on towards other ambitions in interactive media, working with Zoesis Studios for a time, and ultimately, as of this writing, becoming a Narrative Designer at Ubisoft Montreal.

The Dark Eye itself has ultimately fallen into gaming obscurity, but its unique attributes and inspired, artistic vision have earned it some attention from gamers who stumbled across it over the years and especially, in this age of the internet, has managed to at least earn a (very) small cult following, of sorts, namely amongst curious fans of the point-and-click adventure genre. A few more reviews, many increasingly positive, have sprung up on various video game websites over the last ten years; amongst them are Adventure Gamer’s 2003 review, awarding the game a 3 out of 5, Just Adventure’s 2003 review, crowning the game with a glowing “A+” rating, and Adventure Classic Gaming’s 2008 review, giving the game a 4 out of 5.

The Dark Eye had very little awareness when it was released, and ultimately still lives in obscurity today. However, curious gamers interested in the art of video games, and in a truly strange-but-inspired vision, should hunt down a copy of The Dark Eye and see what it has to offer; a unique and frightening vision awaits those who do…..

Your Uncle Edwin is an avid painter, but his works take on an increasingly bizarre and disturbing edge....

The Game:


While The Dark Eye is a very polished and professionally well-made game, it does have a handful of flaws that inhibit it from being the slightly-greater, and possibly more recognized, game it could have been. These flaws are not so much on a technical level, but more come in the form of some design and storytelling choices that ultimately make the game a bit too straight-forward, and result in some awkward or disconnected storytelling which may confuse, turn-off or possibly even bore some gamers. The Dark Eye never was, and never was meant to be, a game for everyone; however, these issues still have some hold over what is otherwise a fascinating and unique experience.

The biggest complaint leveled against The Dark Eye has always been its linearity. While point-and-click adventures run the gamut from having tons of items and multiple endings, to others which suffer similarly from a rather straight-forward progression, The Dark Eye does tend to lead the player on a somewhat too straight-and-narrow path, even compared to other, similarly straight-forward adventure titles. While the player is free to move about environments of their own accord, and can make minor decisions, like “soul-jumping” between the killer and victim at key times throughout a nightmare sequence, in addition to the ability to do the “nightmares” in a few different orders, and a very small amount of optional discoveries or easter eggs throughout the game, ultimately, the path the player must take is very narrow, with limited interactivity with their surroundings, and no inventory or items to be picked up or used in any way. Essentially, while the player can move about at their own will and do some exploring, they are always tied to whatever the next specific action is that is required to progress the story, of which there is only one path through, and one ending to.

The gameplay works fine, however the overall progression may be a bit too linear for some.

This overly linear approach means that the game, which is of relatively short length to begin with, has rather limited replay value, and at times can feel almost frustrating due to what little control the player really has over their actions or the events unfolding. While a feeling of helplessness and despair over the terrible events the player must not only watch, but participate in, is no doubt a central theme to the game, the lack of any kind of choice and limited interaction is also frustrating to an extent, precisely because video games are an interactive form of entertainment. Many similar horror games, the Silent Hill series for example, produce a similar sense of helplessness and despair, while still giving the player enough control over their character and interactions, and even somewhat over the story, that it still produces a satisfying experience for the player. With this in mind, a game like Silent Hill does, in turn, manage to produce an experience that is both hopeless and frightening, but still a satisfying interactive experience. Though everything is going to hell around the player and there is basically nothing they can do about it, the greater level of control and interactivity creates the feeling that the player is just in a helpless situation, but still has control over their own actions. On the other hand, while The Dark Eye’s very straight forward nature does produce a sense of helplessness and horror over the events unfolding, the limited player control and choices create a gameplay experience that can feel frustrating at times, in that the game simply won’t let you do much else about it. This greatly affects the replay value of the game as well, since the problem only becomes more apparent the more times you play through the game, desperately seeking some explanation for things or a way to change even the most minor events, only to find that the game…..just won’t let you do anything else.

Ultimately, the linearity of The Dark Eye’s progression is probably its biggest fault, but what also needs to be mentioned is some disjointed storytelling, leading to a story that, while interesting and frightening, doesn’t really connect its various pieces well at times, or quite manage to come full circle the way it should.

As mentioned, The Dark Eye’s story is comprised of a number of different tales of Edgar Alan Poe woven together. The main “hub” of the game is their Uncle Edwin’s house, which is where the core of the story ultimately unfolds; the bulk of the game, however, takes place in a bizarre alternate-reality of Edwin’s home and, subsequently, the “nightmare” sequences (based on various Poe tales) in which the player enters the role of murderers and their victims through interaction with different objects in the “alternate” Edwin’s home. While the script, dialogue, writing and acting are all excellent in every individual part of the game, it’s the way that these individual pieces fit together that doesn’t always quite add up.

The "nightmare" sequences are brilliantly executed on their own, but don't always tie into the main story strongly.

For example, one “nightmare” sequence is the story “Berenice.” While there is a surprising amount of depth and thought put into the telling of that individual story, and it is equally well-written and frightening when the player experiences it both from the murderer’s perspective and the victim’s, in the end, it never really ties back to the main story outside of that particular “nightmare” very much. The same could be said of all of these nightmare sequences, as well as the other poems and stories the player witnesses during the game. Another good example of this is “The Masque of the Red Death.” When the main character finds a massive, macabre painting in the basement of their Uncle’s house, it leads to a narration, told alongside frames of the painting itself, of “The Masque of the Red Death.” On its own, this particular part of the game is brilliant; the narration by William S. Burroughs is riveting, the musical score in the background suspenseful, and the visuals abstract and disturbing. It is so well done that I remember looking forward to this part upon replays of the game, even though it is essentially 10 minutes of extended narration told alongside still pictures with no player interaction; it really is well-done and fascinating. However, I also remember, after being so riveted by the tale and intrigued by this disturbing discovery in the house’s cellar, that I simply couldn’t wait, upon my first playthrough, to see how it would tie together with the story…….and it never did. While I do understand that The Dark Eye is a game that consists of what is essentially a collection of tales, the fact that they are told together, as extensions of one tale, and not separately, would, logically, leads you to believe, and leave you waiting and hoping for, it all to add up in some way; and yet in the end, despite some common themes loosely connecting the nightmares to the tragedy unfolding at the Uncle’s house and the main character’s lose of sanity, nothing ever really connects or adds up to one whole quite the way it should. Instead, in the end, leaving the tale the game tells, as a whole, feeling somewhat unfinished or disjointed, with a few too many loose ends.

Aside from these issues, there is very little else to complain about. One minor complaint is that, at times, it can be confusing what to do next; and considering the aforementioned linearity of the game, the action that must be performed next to progress the game can sometimes be very specific and tough to figure out. Also a concern is the game’s somewhat short length and, as a result of this combined with its linearity, lack of replay value; the game will probably take between 5 and 8 hours on the first playthrough, and there is, sadly, little motivation to replay it after.

With these issues addressed and out of the way, however, it must be said that The Dark Eye is an incredibly unique experience that has far more positives and good reasons to play it, and which ultimately overcome these flaws, making it an interesting and inspired journey well worth taking…..

The Dark Eye is a psychological and often cerebral horror experience.

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

Despite its linearity and some concerns over disjointed storytelling, The Dark Eye really is an incredibly unique game, absolutely worth the time of anybody interested in the experimental or artistic side of gaming, or any horror junkie who wants a truly cerebral and surreal experience in horror gaming.

Undoubtedly, one of, if not the, greatest triumphs of The Dark Eye is in its incredibly inspired and original visuals and sound. I had never before played a game that looked quite like The Dark Eye and still, to this day, have not seen another like it. The Dark Eye is immediately striking visually and aurally. Even the menus and title screen are brilliantly designed and oozing with an abstract, eerie style. Before even beginning the game, you are already drawn into its macabre world through the dark title screen, with a light slowly searching across what appears to be cracked glass in total blackness, catching glimpses of the shadowy words, “THE DARK EYE” amongst the blackness, while a foreboding cello drones eerily in the foreground of the title music. The presentation does not let up afterwards, either. As you are brought to a main menu with the appearance of a browned, aged piece of paper, and create or select your file under the file select menu’s heading “This phrenologial study has been prepared for,” a now almost dreamlike melody plays in the background. After creating your file , you are brought to an abstract illustration of a human head, with various portions of the mind outlined but not filled in (which will subsequently be filled in as you progress through the game). As the game begins, you are introduced to the main character through a blank-faced reflection of what would be his face in the water. Through the game’s uniformly excellent voice acting, the main character introduces himself to you, telling you that “for the tale I am about to tell, I neither expect nor ask for belief” and yet that “I do not lie; and I surely do not dream.” With an ethereal , dreamlike melody playing in the background of his introduction, the game immediately sweeps you into its world, while simultaneously lending an early sense of subtle dread to player as to just what strange or awful events will soon unfold.

The ethereal and surreal opening sequence immediately draws you into The Dark Eye's strange world.

The game never lets up visually or aurally from this point on. The sights and sounds of The Dark Eye are so consistently brilliant, well-conceived and unsettling that it makes for an experience that just as often sweeps the player off their feet, in awe of the inspired vision of the game, as it does keep the player on edge, uneasy and filled with a sense of dread and fear that never subsides. Indeed, its intricate and abstract visual style is both impressive in its creativity, and works wonderfully for the game itself, a perfect fit to its story, setting and mood, lending to it a heightened sense of the surreal, bizarre and nightmarish. The Dark Eye is a sheer masterpiece of mood and style, in large part due to its incredibly creative and well-done visuals and sound.

The Dark Eye is remarkably stylish and visually inspired throughout. Even the Main Menu is creative and clever.

The character designs and animation are likely to be the first, and most striking, visual element one will notice upon their first experience with The Dark Eye. As I mentioned earlier, The Dark Eye’s characters were designed as claymation puppets dressed in clothing, animated through stop-motion, and added into the game’s 3D prerendered environments through a painstakingly intricate process involving lightning and shoot the puppets carefully in a dark warehouse. The process itself is worthy of praise, and the fact that it was pulled off so flawlessly is truly admirable, too. However, the very designs of the characters are what really make their appearance so striking and unique. Characters have a decidedly “caricatured” look to them, with grotesquely exaggerated features; but what is so great about them is not just that they look so initially bizarre and exaggerated, but also how perfectly they suit the game. Not only are the character designs rich in creativity and warped imagination, they also fit the game’s eerily dreamlike, bizarre atmosphere so perfectly that they never once feel out of place, and honestly don’t even feel outwardly jarring once you are absorbed in the game; they simply fit the game like a glove, and, in addition, do so much to subtly enhance its trippy, warped style and mood. Without a doubt the character designs and visuals are one of The Dark Eye’s most striking visual attributes, and a true achievement in graphical design and creativity.

The character designs are bizarre and absolutely brilliant.

The Dark Eye’s visual brilliance does not stop there how, and the game as a whole truly is a sight to see, which still holds up remarkably well to this day. This is achieved largely in part because of the remarkable care put into its graphical presentation, and the wide array of unconventional techniques used to achieve its distinct style. While backgrounds and settings are mostly prerendered 3D environments (which are every bit as stylistic and well-designed as the rest of the visuals), The Dark Eye implements a broad spectrum of other techniques to creatively enhance the visuals, and produce a look completely its own. Among them are paintings, photo montages, illustrations, and models, all produced with a chilling style and painstaking attention to detail. Put all of this together, along with the aforementioned character designs and excellent lighting, colors and shadows, add a flawlessly realized 19th century setting combined with an eerie, often downright disturbing, style, and you have a game that is not only one of the most visually unique and creative you’re likely to experience, but also one that stands the test of time, even after more than 15 years.

Just as important and impressive is The Dark Eye’s excellent soundwork. Much like the visuals, the sound of The Dark Eye is nearly flawless across the board, and does just as masterful a job of creating a frightening and distinctive atmosphere. It is hard, truly, to pick one aspect of The Dark Eye’s sound which truly excels above the rest, because it is all so well done. Voice acting, and the excellent dialogue (as well as monologue and narration) is one of the greatest highlights. A talented voice cast combine with effective, well-written dialogue to not only create some of the better voice work of the mid-90’s, but also do wonders towards enhancing the mood and tone of the game. Voices are well-suited to the individual characters, and the actors themselves all show great talent in conveying emotional, subtly nuanced voice performances. The well-written and excellently acted dialogue does a great job of helping to create an engaging, interesting and believable cast of characters. The narrations and monologues performed by William S. Burroughs deserve a special mention, as well, with his unique drawl of a voice working wonders to create some inimitably haunting storytelling.

Music and sound are just as expertly crafted, as well, with both working together to dramatically heighten the ethereal, frightening and surreal atmosphere. Music ranges from deep, foreboding orchestral compositions to strangely dreamlike and ethereal pieces, as well as classical pieces. There is a wide range of sounds and tones to the game’s musical score, and it all works perfectly in harmony to heighten the mood and tension of the game. But just as important, and often working very closely and even intermingling with the music, is the phenomenal soundwork. From the eerie whispers permeating throughout the alternate reality/dream-state of Uncle Edwin’s home, to the simple soundwork of footsteps and creaking floor boards or just natural sounds like that of a crowd or the background of a quiet night, The Dark Eye nails its soundwork on all fronts. Without a doubt, the aural experience of The Dark Eye is brilliant, and works expertly alongside its equally brilliant visuals to create a frightening, twisted mood and style.

The visuals and sound of The Dark Eye are truly two elements I could go on and on about. Needless to say at this point, they are brilliantly imaginative and extremely well crafted, and are probably, on their own, worth experiencing the game for. But The Dark Eye has many other great strengths which cement it as a memorable and remarkably unique experience.

Playing the role of the murderer in the game's "nightmares" is truly disturbing.

The Dark Eye is partially such an effective experience BECAUSE it is a video game; the importance of interactivity in it cannot be overstated, and is proof of what a great strength interactivity lends to this medium. While the progression is rather linear, and the gameplay itself honestly pretty simply (in many ways, a point-and-click adventure at its most basic), The Dark Eye is still an experience that works so well because it is interactive, and truly is an experience that would not work (or would be a completely different experience) in any other medium. Being able to move about of your own accord and simply controlling the game is an essential part of what makes everything so effective. This is best shown in the core concept of the game; experiencing nightmarish murders and loss of sanity through the eyes of killers and their victims. The very fact that The Dark Eye puts you, the player, in the role of a main character who is questionably losing his own sanity makes for a disturbing and nightmarish enough concept; but even more fiendish in its design is when it forces you, as the main character, helplessly into the role of murderer and then, subsequently, victim, and forces you to experience their insanity and horror from their own, first-person perspective. What’s best is how effectively it works; not only does it create a real sensation of despair and horror when forcing you to play the victim, but, perhaps even more disturbingly, it creates an effective understanding and bond with the player when putting them in the role of the murderer. Not only does it do such a great job of frightening us by placing us in the role of the killer; it even manages to create a feeling of understanding and, even, sympathy for them, as it forces us into their minds, hearing their thoughts and experiencing their own loss of sanity and empathy. The Dark Eye doesn’t simply cut to the chase, you see; it has you control and linger in the minds of the murderers and their victims for a solid stretch of time before witnessing the murder itself. And this, in turn, creates not only an effective sense of dread, but also a twisted understanding of even its most reprehensible characters and the acts they perform. This ties back to how important interactivity is to The Dark Eye; its gameplay may be linear and not terribly complex, but it is so important in the simple fact that The Dark Eye works so well, and is so effective and frightening because it is a video game; because it is interactive.

And being put in the role of the victim can be absolutely terrifying.

Likewise, although The Dark Eye suffers from some ultimately disjointed story elements, that I wished had added up a bit more by the end, it is still, simultaneously, a very well-scripted and extremely interesting experience throughout, with very few lulls and many memorable moments. The game keeps things taught and exciting throughout, and as you drift back and forth between reality and alternate reality, murderer and victim, and dream and waking life, there are always interesting, and increasingly disturbing, events, and suspense which never lets up. Though to describe too much would be to spoil some of the shock and intrigue, it must be said that The Dark Eye is a game with moments that have stuck clearly in my memory for what is now well over 15 years since I first played it, and the density of these frightening, disturbing and exciting moments throughout is amazing; and, needless to say, any fan of Poe’s works will almost certainly find themselves enthralled with the wonderfully twisted and frightening adaptations of his work witnessed throughout the game. While, sadly, some different tales don’t ultimately tie into the main story as well as they could have, they are still excellent adaptations of his works to an interactive format, and, when put in the context of the overarching story of the game, which is filled with a genuinely intriguing and sympathetic cast, make for an incredibly intriguing experience throughout, with, honestly, few parts which are NOT excellent or memorable. The Dark Eye is absolutely an engrossing experience that will not soon be forgotten by any who play it, and is, as well, an excellent example of the psychological horror genre done very well in video games; as well as a prime example of how effective horror can be when told through an interactive medium.

While some elements of the story are a bit disjointed, it is still thoroughly intriguing, and filled with fascinating characters, throughout.

In Conclusion:

The Dark Eye is a truly memorable gaming experience, and a prime example of video games as an art form. Not only that, but it is also a game, in some ways, far ahead of its time, which holds up and has aged remarkably well. While the game is a bit too linear, and the various story arcs don’t quite come together or tie up all their loose ends as well as one might hope, these faults still do little to drag the game down as a whole; and ultimately, The Dark Eye is an incredibly imaginative, inspired example of video games as an artistic form of entertainment, from a time well before the notion of video games as a legitimate art form was the hot button topic it has become today. From its incredibly creative and varied graphical style and techniques, to its remarkable soundwork, to the superb atmosphere it all comes together to create, The Dark Eye is a real achievement of creative design work. Not only that, but it a prime example of how video games can excel as a storytelling medium because of the intimacy of the interactive experience. While The Dark Eye is a sadly overlooked and forgotten relic of mid-90’s PC gaming, it is also one which begs to be picked up and experienced by any who love horror, or take real interest in video games as a creative, artistic medium. For those who do, a lost horror-adventure classic, and a remarkably original and surreal experience, awaits.

The Dark Eye has been tragically overlooked, but any fan of horror or true, artistic creativity in video games owes it to themselves to experience this lost would-be classic.

Who Should Play It?

Horror fans, especially fans of psychological horror, and gamers with a lost-love of 90’s point-and-click adventures. Any gamer with an interest in the more artistic and experimental side of gaming. Those who love an original style, or heavy, dark or surreal atmosphere. Those looking for a good example of “video games as art.”   read

9:47 PM on 09.22.2012

The Gameslinger Will Return Soon With More 'Games Obscura!'

Greetings, all, this is The Gameslinger, returning once again from the wastelands, to the small town of Destructoid.

This post is just a brief announcement post, to inform the Destructoid community and any who care that I will be returning from my 2-month absence from the C-Blogs, with new articles for my "Games Obscura" blog! I never meant to go absent, with such a large gap since my last article, but the last few months proved rather hectic and busy, and things are just settling back down again; which means more time to concentrate on Games Obscura. I'll be getting back on schedule, with more regular updates to my blog, more in-depth "Second Look At" and "Look Forward" articles, and in general more time on my blog and around the community.

So, for those who take interest, just know that I'll be around, on a regular basis, once more. Expect regular updates and new articles in the future, and keep an eye out for my newest article within the next few days. For fans of the overlooked, under-appreciated, strange and obscure side of gaming, hopefully I'll give you something to enjoy and look forward to again. It's good to be back, and I hope to see you all here at Games Obscura, and around Destructoid. See you soon.....


1:15 AM on 07.20.2012

A Look Forward At: The City of Metronome


Title: The City of Metronome

Alternate Title(s): Metronome (early development/abbreviated title)

Developer: Tarsier Studios

Publisher: To be announced/none

Platforms: Xbox 360 (possibly cancelled), Playstation 3, PC (?)

Target Release Date: To be announced/none

Status: Development stalled; currently without publisher

Title image for The City of Metronome.

What Is This Game?

The City of Metronome is a 3D adventure game with some platforming elements. The game employs a cartoonish yet dark look not unlike the animated films of Tim Burton, and features a setting and style with a somewhat Victorian-steampunk feel to it. Set in a sprawling, gloomy city named Metronome, the game casts the player as a boy carrying a “sound box” capable of recording sounds throughout the game, and playing them back for use as weapons, communication with citizens, or tools for solving different puzzles and interacting with the environment. With an emphasis on exploration and its large, sprawling city as the game’s star, it tells the tale of a city in the grips of an oppressive corporation, which governs, rules and essentially brainwashes its citizens into becoming diligent, unquestioning workers. As the young hero, the player is tasked with exploring the city and uncovering its secrets, while simultaneously fighting to bring down the Corporation and unveil its dark intentions.

The game's young hero looks out at the massive city of Metronome.


The City of Metronome was first announced near the beginning of the current console generation, in early April of 2005, under the title of “Metronome.” In development by new-found Swedish developer Team Tarsier (now known as Tarsier Studios), the announcement, alongside a handful of images and a teaser trailer, stated that Metronome would be revealed at the upcoming E3 2005.

Tarsier itself was a new and largely unheard of studio. Founded in Malmo, Sweden in 2004 under the name “Team Tarsier,” the studio was small, independently owned, and had no prior releases under its belt at the time. In fact, as Tarsier studio director Peter Lubeck states, the studio was, indeed, founded with the very purpose of it being to create Metronome. Team Tarsier was, at the time, little more than a group of only seven students with a passion for video games, and Metronome was a dream they all shared and a game they hoped to create. Co-founded by Peter Lubeck and his friend Andreas Johnsson, Metronome stemed from a year of brainstorming and a shared love for steampunk settings, and by December of 2004, the team began initial work on the project. Among the project’s inspirations and influences were not just the steampunk genre, but also the anime films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, as well as the 1995 French film, “The City of Lost Children.” By January 2005, they were looking at E3 2005 as their chance to reveal their game and put it under the spotlight for gamers and potential publishers to see.

When E3 rolled around, Team Tarsier did not disappoint, pointing out the game’s full title, “The City of Metronome,” and showing off 11 minutes of gameplay footage which gained a respectable amount of attention from the press and curious gamers, all of whom seemed to find the project unique, creative, and highly intriguing. With an impressive visual style, an intriguing world and original gameplay concepts, The City of Metronome met with decidedly positive reactions from nearly everyone who saw it. With the positive reactions and imaginative idea behind the game, surely publishers would be looking to scoop up this interesting project from the fledgling studio…….however, the unique and charming style, gameplay and personality which grabbed The City of Metronome such positive reactions would also prove to be its Achilles’ Heel; the game's artistic and creative approach, combined with publishers’ phobia of working on such a project with a new, untested studio, put The City of Metronome, and Tarsier, in a sadly unfavorable position. Lubeck compares the project and its situation to “Beyond Good and Evil;” another “game that was very much loved and well received but didn't sell very well.” Adding that “that's something publishers tended to see when they looked at Metronome. It's a game that's cool, interesting and unique. It has a lot of soul and charm, but is it a game that could be turned into a commercial product?" This unfortunate stumbling block would prove to be the team’s greatest obstacle in coming years.

Initial screenshots showed off a highly stylized world, while the teaser and debut trailers and gameplay footage (links below) shown off at E3 reinforced the game's emphasis on style and unique sound-based adventure gameplay.

Likewise troublesome for the team was how to implement the sound-based gameplay in a manner both thorough and original, while being careful not to let it become a mere gimmick. Lubeck points out that many questions and variables in the sound mechanics' relation to the gameplay have arisen throughout development. Straddling the line between keeping the sound mechanics open-ended, yet not letting them become too confusing (i.e. letting the player record everything vs. only select things, or the uses of a particular sound), proved a topic of debate amongst the team and a tough obstacle to tackle. Implementing it into puzzles and combat was also a challenging concept, as the team worked to ensure that it was both functional and, yet, never a gimmick or simply a “skin” put on top of normal gameplay mechanics.

Amidst the development, potential publishers for The City of Metronome were still hard to find. After E3 2005, the game disappeared for a while, and while more concept art and a few more screenshots surfaced in early 2006, the game gradually sank into obscurity, as its lack of a publisher slowed development and media attention. The game was occasionally brought up in the next few years, but only in the form of occasional “what ever happened to that game?” articles and mentions on various video game websites. There was still interest, but with no new information or material, there was only so much to be said.

Concept art revealed some interesting designs and characters.

Just when the title was thought cancelled, and Team Tarsier all but forgotten, they suddenly came back into the limelight in 2010, after signing a publishing deal with Sony, and renaming themselves “Tarsier Studios.” Having worked on a long list of DLC for Little Big Planet and its sequel, Sony signed them on for a “new, unannounced project.” Many speculated that this project was, indeed, a Sony-exclusive release of The City of Metronome. While Tarsier had been approached a couple of times by developers interested in the game over the past few years, including Microsoft (who was interested in adapting it to Kinect) and a French publisher looking to convert the title into a point-and-click adventure, they had turned down the projects, not interested in compromising the original vision of the game; perhaps Sony were, at last, the publisher they had been waiting for. The game had been claimed and speculated to be in development for Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3 in the past, but with no concrete information on an official platform for it, the game becoming a Sony exclusive wasn’t hard to believe.

With no official word on what that project was, however, many have since assumed it was, in fact, the new Little Big Planet title for the PS Vita; which Tarsier Studios has been handed developmental control of by Sony and original Little Big Planet developer, Media Molecule. Regardless, their recent involvement with Sony has put the studio back in the limelight, and finally scored it a number of projects and releases, in addition to some awards. In addition to over 300 DLC costumes for the Little Big Planet games and the development of Little Big Planet Vita, Tarsier also released “Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic” in 2009 as a PSN downloadable title, and worked on a tech demo for the PhysX engine called “Desert Diner” (essentially a one-level first person shooter demonstrating the engine’s capabilities). Likewise, Tarsier Studios won “Studio of the Year” from the Swedish Games Industry, and won the Dagens Industri’s Gazelle Award for its rapid growth over the past few years. With its number of employees having since increased from its original seven up to forty, the studio is definitely on the rise, and has the eye of the industry upon it.

So where is The City of Metronome in all this? There is still no official word on the title, but with the studio’s growth and recent success with Sony, it has raised hope for this title, which was once thought lost. Tarsier Studios has certainly not lost its passion for the title, nor has it given up on the idea of it seeing a release. On their official website, Tarsier Studios still has The City of Metronome listed right alongside its other projects, with its profile page reading that although “Lady Publisher is a fickle mistress,” “One day though, the time will come when The City finally meets the rest of the world.” Peter Lubeck remains positive about the title as well, especially in light of their strong, growing relationship with industry giant, Sony, and Tarsier’s recently more fleshed-out resume. In a recent interview with Kotaku, Labeck said that "If we were to do Metronome as that big triple-A adventure I see no better publisher to do that than Sony. It's very good that we have that relationship with them, and going forwards that's the best partner from a publisher's perspective on that kind of ambitious, quirky, unique game. They have an open mind when it comes to investing and betting on something that sticks out, that's special." He went on to add that “we are looking at all these different new approaches like Steam, that has grown enormously on PC, XBLA and PSN, which have really shown the power of small games and with funding options like Kickstarter and Double Fine's success… that's also something that we're looking into."

While The City of Metronome remains in limbo for now, let’s hope Labeck and Trasier Studio’s passion for the title perseveres and that the game does eventually get a publisher and see a release. Because Tarsier has a very interesting game on their hands…….

Tarsier disappeared for a few years after Metronome failed to find a publisher, but resurfaced and has met with success since signing a contract with Sony. Tarsier has since worked on DLC for the Little Big Planet games on PS3, and is currently developing Little Big Planet Vita.

The Game:

What’s It All About?

The City of Metronome is a 3D adventure title featuring a large, interconnected world for the player to explore and interact with. With its Tim Burton-esque, Victorian-area steampunk-style, and the uniquely dark-yet-cartoonish look to its characters and setting, The City of Metronome is instantly striking and fascinating from a stylistic standpoint. Add to that the fascinatingly unique implementation of sound into the gameplay, and you’ve got an extremely unique idea, which would be a true shame to have never come to fruition.

The City of Metronome's visual design is extremely stylish and atmospheric.

In fact, the team has said the game’s style and mood, and its setting, the city of Metronome itself, are the most important thing about the game and its concept; perhaps even more so than its sound-centric gameplay, which they admit has seen much debate amongst the team and changes throughout the years since the project’s start. And indeed, it was the game’s incredibly striking mood and style which gained my personal interest back when I first learned of the title. After acquiring an Xbox 360 and officially entering the “next generation” of consoles myself in mid-2006, I was enthralled by the potential this new generation was showing; and while I was as wrapped up in Gears of War and Mass Effect as the next person, I also was scouring the far corners of the internet for information on all the other, lesser-known titles that would be hitting my shiny new console, as well. I came across Metronome while digging through Gametrailers and was immediately grabbed by the fascinating style displayed in its trailers; and was sold by the 11-minute E3 gameplay video. This was going to be something very special; you could practically feel the passion of its developers bursting through in every minute of video. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that Metronome became one of the most purely intriguing titles to me early on in the generation. I simply couldn’t wait to explore this amazingly stylish, dark and unique world which the videos and screenshots were presenting.

The city is the game's real star, and exploring it may be the game's most intriguing aspect.

With great mood, atmosphere and style, alongside the team’s focus on creating an immersive and lively setting out of the city, it’s easy to see how Metronome’s world could be absolutely fascinating to discover and explore. Likewise, the story wrapped around the setting seems like not only an interesting tool to drive the exploration of the city and convey the style and mood, but also like a story that could easily make for an interesting allegorical tale about society, government, and the working class. As mentioned earlier, the story of The City of Metronome casts the player as a young hero living in the vast, gloomy city of Metronome. Metronome is ruled by the all-powerful “Corporation;” a governing organization as sinister and mysterious and it is powerful. The seemingly all-seeing Corporation has a certain hold over the citizens of Metronome; the course of their lives are, by and large, are determined by the Corporation, and all of Metronome’s citizens are continuously compelled to work, without so much as a thought of questioning why. With the general populous controlled and almost brainwashed, the young hero, who possesses a sound box which can record and play back sounds to be used for different actions and effects, sets out to solve the mysteries or the city and uncover the dark secrets of the Corporation.

The citizens of Metronome are an interesting bunch. There are definitely some creative character designs.

It doesn’t take much to see how the story could serve as a metaphorical tale, which could be equated to a government’s relationship to its society, and the working class people within it, going about their work-a-day lives, unquestioning and almost oblivious to the greater workings and mechanisms which silently affect them and determine their destinies. While not many details on the story have been revealed, it is an intriguing concept, and one with great potential to tell a smart and potentially thought-provoking tale. As a gamer who values story, setting and characters in video games, and sees them as driving forces behind my personal desire to play and complete a game, a story with such potentially interesting ideas behind it is very intriguing, especially when coupled with such a strong style and atmosphere, and such an interesting setting to explore.

Much can and has been said of The City of Metronome’s style and atmosphere, and the exploration of its city and uncovering of its many secrets is so intriguing because of that focus on style and atmosphere to create an engaging and unique world. What has been shown of environments, in-door and out, and the city itself, looks like a place you’d want to explore. In-door environments are filled with eerie lighting, dingy hallways, and shadowy figures hidden behind doors begging to be opened and rooms waiting to be explored. Outdoor environments look gloomy and stylish, with exaggerated architecture that has a particularly 19th-century feel to it, and environments that look to be expansive both horizontally and vertically; the concept of navigating its many walkways, streets, alleys and rooftops is absolutely fascinating. Meanwhile, the strange citizens and enemies roaming the city have a decidedly bizarre yet cartoonish look, and interacting with them looks to be both intriguing and just a little bit eerie. Add to this the many interactions with characters, enemies and the world itself that have been shown and described, and you’ve got a world that looks incredibly unique and fascinating to explore, driven by a story and style which are original and fascinating.

Environments look great, and the game promises plenty to explore.

How Will It Play?

This all leads us to what the experience of playing The City of Metronome will be like; and it looks like one that would almost certainly be absorbing, very fresh, and very different.

With the aforementioned emphasis on the use the main character’s sound box backpack for interacting with the world, characters, enemies and puzzles of the game, and the developer’s dedication to making this use of sound more than just a gimmick, it seems this idea offers much to the gameplay in many facets. While the team is still ironing out the details on the sound-based gameplay mechanics, it’s safe to say it will play a large part in the game and offer plenty of gameplay variety, judging by both the 11-minute gameplay video and the ideas emphasized by its creators. The gameplay footage displays a number of uses for sound; including the use of music to defeat enemies in a non-violent form of combat, and to lull a sleeping guard at a gateway into opening the gate for you. The creators also emphasized other ways to use sounds you’ve captured; including adjusting the pitch and tone of the sound for different effects; recording the barking of a dog, for example, and then lowering its pitch to a deeper growl to scare enemies or citizens. Another example given was recording the sound of a door opening, then using it to force locked doors open. These examples give a good idea of the variety of uses and options presented by the main character’s sound box, and the many creative ways it would naturally implement itself into the gameplay; as everything from a non-violent solution to combat, to a tool for navigating the expanses of the city.

Using sound as a non-violent method of combating enemies is just one of the intriguing uses of sound throughout the game.

With this in mind, exploration is the other hugely intriguing aspect of gameplay in The City of Metronome, and, especially with the creative use of sound, exploring the city would undoubtedly be a vastly engaging experience, requiring thought and attention from the player. The use of different sounds to create different effects and open or explore different areas has a vast range of intriguing and thought-provoking possibilities to it. Not only do the aforementioned environments appear to be expansive, stylish and thoroughly intriguing to explore to begin with, the use of your sound box as a tool to explore them offers a range of possibilities to make exploring them and uncovering their mysteries all the more intriguing. The few examples we’ve seen and been told of serve as a small but intriguing tease of all the possibilities it could offer. And with the vast size of the environments vertically and horizontally, and a cast of citizens and objects to interact with, on top of indoor areas, the exploration possibilities Metronome offers seem incredibly intriguing. For an adventure game like this, exploration is always one of the most important aspects; an intriguing world with plenty to discover and plenty of interesting places to go is crucial, and keeping a steady but exciting pace is likewise important, and Metronome looks like it is set to provide that in spades.

Indoor environments look to offer just as much intrigue and mystery as outdoor ones.

The team seems to still be adding on ideas and experimenting with different possibilities for the game as well. One idea that stands out is the idea for episodic DLC that would put the focus on different characters in the city; and as such creating different gameplay aspects for the different characters, focusing on their own personalities. With unique gameplay mechanics centered around an incredibly stylish and potentially expansive world, Metronome has a lot of fun to offer fans of adventure games.

Looking Forward…..

The City of Metronome was strikingly stylish and creative in its atmospheric visual design and gameplay concepts when it was first revealed. Even now, years later ,and nearing the end of the console generation, with only minimal information and material available on it, the game still stands out as what could have potentially been one of the most creative and original titles of the generation. Sadly, for now, though, the game remains caught in limbo, its fate in question. However, there is still hope for The City of Metronome; perhaps more so in the past couple of years than ever. With Tarsier Studios finally taking off, and developing a healthy relationship with Sony, the title may have a greater chance now than ever of finally getting an official publisher and, at last, being completed and released. The game certainly has all the potential to be a fan-favorite; with its innovative gameplay, fascinating world ripe for exploring, and highly distinct and artistic style, the game has all the makings of, at the very least, a cult classic. While The City of Metronome’s fate ultimately remains to be seen, hopefully its potential, and its developers raw passion for it, will win over the hearts of a publisher willing to invest in its creator’s vision; it could result in one of the most stylish, refreshingly unique and interesting titles of recent years.

The City of Metronome has seen some trouble finding a publisher, but its developers remain confident that this unique and stylish game will see a release eventually.

Who Should Keep An Eye On It?

Fans of 3D adventure games and those who love exploring large, interesting worlds. Those with a love for the stylish and artistic side of gaming; or fans of steampunk or Victorian era styles, and dark (but not necessarily frightening) settings. People just looking for something a bit different.   read

8:51 PM on 07.11.2012

A Second Look At: Operation Darkness


Title: Operation Darkness

Developer: Success

Publisher: Atlus (N.A.), Success (Japan)

Platform: Xbox 360

Release Dates: October 11th, 2007 (Japan), June 24th, 2008 (N.A.)

Cover art for Operation Darkness.

What Is This Game?

Operation Darkness is a Strategy-RPG featuring traditional, grid-based tactical RPG battles, but with full 3D graphics and a 3D camera. However, the highlights that have given it a strong cult following and small, but dedicated, fanbase, are its wildly original and wonderfully bizarre setting, story, style and characters, and the joyfully imaginative glee with which it handles them. Operation Darkness’ gloriously ludicrous blending of well-researched World War II history, with elements from just about every facet of supernatural horror, fantasy and Nazi exploitation and occultism, topped off with its anime-style visuals, creates a game entirely unique in its insanity.

Operation Darkness follows a British SAS unit, the Wolf Pack, as they battle the Nazi forces of darkness during World War II. Edward Kyle, the main character, is a British soldier who enlisted in the army after losing his loved ones to the Nazis. Rising to the British Special Air Service during the war, he is partaking in the North African campaign when an encounter with Nazi Troops leaves Edward nearly dead. He is rescued by James Gallant and his fellow members of the Wolf Pack, and after recovering, is persuaded to join their ranks.

The catch? The Wolf Pack is actually a unit of soldiers with supernatural powers. And its lead members? They’re werewolves. Wait, why does the British military have a secret unit lead by werewolves? Well, because the Nazis are actually in league with vampires. And not just that, the Nazi vampires come with a force of magisters, zombies and even giant dragons in tow! That’s right, in addition to the Gestapo, the S.S., and deadly Panzer tanks, the Nazis have an army of undead and occult forces in league with them. But the Wolf Pack has some aces of their own up their sleeves; on top of werewolves, those joining forces with the Wolf Pack include a descendant of Van Helsing, Jack the Ripper, a semi-mad doctor straight out of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, and the hulk-ish Frank, who’s origin story is a wonderfully ridiculous surprise. Top this all off with a charmingly regal, Dracula-esque Nazi-vampire as the main villain, his busty assistant, who’s straight out of a Nazi-sexplotation film, and a good dose of documentary-style WWII history before each mission, and you’ve got one of the most wildly original and delightfully insane video games you’re likely to ever play. Fans of the strange and obscure, or of mercilessly tough strategy gameplay, read on: this game is one hell of a crazy ride.

Edward and his comrades prepare to battle the forces of Nazi Germany.


Operation Darkness is one of those oddball, low profile, low budget releases that seems almost destined for both obscurity AND cult status. As mentioned, Operation Darkness has a very particular type of appeal and insanity. It’s over-the-top (though thoroughly original) concepts and choice of the strategy RPG genre, which (at least outside Japan) is a niche genre to begin with, combined with its low-profile release and low budget, almost ensured that it would both live in obscurity, but also attract a certain love and attention from a very specific, if small, crowd.

Needless to say, I was a member of that small crowd. As a fan of alternate history storylines, anime-style visuals, RPGs, and the Shadow Hearts series (another RPG series dealing with alternate histories and the occult), as well as a World War II history buff, Operation Darkness was almost uncanny in what a perfect fit to my tastes and interests it was. Once again, not exactly mainstream, but absolutely refreshing in the originality and imagination of its concept for those interested. After being pleasantly surprised that Atlus had picked the game up for a North American release, I made sure to pick the game up on day one; regardless of critical reception or technical flaws, this game was absolutely my speed.

Indeed, Operation Darkness is a truly original concept, and a satisfyingly grueling challenge, too; as refreshing in its sometimes merciless difficulty as it is in its joyful creativity. While its unforgiving difficulty was, in fact, even a point criticism from some, it was simultaneously refreshing in its tough and unforgiving game design; requiring the player to, in fact, be careful and strategic; an element missing in far too many easier strategy RPGs. Operation Darkness is a relatively low-budget game, and one with a few very obvious technical issues. However, these could hardly detract, at least for me, from what proved to be an incredibly satisfying, challenging, creative, original and just downright fun and likeable game.

Operation Darkness is filled with crazy and imaginative ideas.

History, Release and Reception:

The project which became Operation Darkness originally began early development as a PS2 game in 2003. With the PS2’s reign over the console world in full swing at the time, the console was the obvious choice for most RPG developers, with the strong performance of the genre on the PS2, and the popularity of the console in all major regions.

Ken Ogura, producer of Operation Darkness, was a fan of 19th and 20th century adventure novels, war stories, and horror, and was looking to incorporate all of these elements into a single story; the idea that sprung from this is what would become Operation Darkness. Incorporating concepts and ideas drawn from a multitude of books and movies, Ogura came up with the concept for Operation Darkness: a World War II story that would take historical settings, events and people of the time, and flip them on their head with the inclusion of a supernatural, horror and fantasy elements.

There is much depth that can be delved into while exploring the numerous inspirations and concepts which make up and influence Operation Darkness; a long list of historical, horror, fantasy and sci-fi inspirations make up the list, from novels to films, to the actual war journals and history books researched by the team.

Among the inspirations are, of course, all manner of modern and classic horror, sci-fi and fantasy sources. While the main villain, Alexander Vlado, is a self-proclaimed former servant of Count Dracula himself, his sexy assistant, Carmilla, draws inspiration not only in her design, which is clearly drawn from Nazi sexploitation films like “Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S.,” but also in her name and tempting vampiric personality, inspired by the 1872 vampire-horror novella, titled “Carmilla.” Likewise, another character, Elisa Van Helsing, one of the game’s protagonists, is a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing from the original Dracula novel, while Herbert East, the party’s healer and only character capable of resurrecting other party members, is a direct reference to Herbert West; a doctor from H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West: Reanimator;” the story of a doctor who finds a way to reanimate the dead through injection (Herbert East even holds a syringe in reference to West’s method of reanimation.) King Arthur’s Excalibur sword makes an appearance as well, as a special secret weapon, while the Nazi’s mechanized “Panzer Demon” soldiers pay homage to the “Protect-Gear” armor made iconic by the Keroberos saga films, most notably of them the anime film, “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade.” Hitler’s well-known obsession with the occult and Christianity is a driving point of the story, and in particular, his real-life obsession with the Lance of Longinus comes into play, in the “what if” scenario that Hitler, in fact, found the Lance and, through it, gained magical powers of the occult.

Operation Darkness draws from a long list of inspirations, both fictional and factual. Among its inspirations are Nazi exploitation films, classic horror and fantasy literature, anime, and classic World War II films and books.

Simultaneously, the game is still quite dedicated to the real history and people of World War II; and while it strays far into fictional territory, documentary-style sequences with narration and real footage from the war are included in large doses, giving the player the real history of the war, even as it alters scenarios with its fantastical approach. On that note, many real historical figures make appearances in Operation Darkness; some sticking close to their real-life personas, while others are more exaggerated or altered to suit the game’s fantastical elements. Among them are Jack the Ripper (who appears as one of the main party members of the game, and a dashing, cool-headed, young gent, to boot), Heinrich Himmler, Michael Wittmann, Erwin Rommel, and Adolf Hitler himself; in addition to many more. Likewise, (non-fantastical) weapons and vehicles are historically accurate and once again go to show that, even though the creators were going for a fantastical, bizarre angle, they still were well-researched and knowledgeable in the history surrounding the game’s story and setting.

Documentary-style sequences fill the player in on the real history of the war.

This is all just a small beginning; to list and thoroughly examine all the inspirations and influences, both fictional and factual, in Operation Darkness would take pages, and would also spoil some the game’s best surprises. Needless to say, Operation Darkness is bursting at the seams with the type of material that fans of alternate histories, horror, fantasy and scifi, as well as World War II history buffs, will devour, and it all comes together to create something both insane and special.

A host of real-life World War II historical figures make appearances, to varying degrees of historical accuracy. A few examples include (pictured left to right) Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Micheal Wittman, and Erwin Rommel.

However, the original idea for Operation Darkness had it as a more serious drama; Ogura compared the idea to “Band of Brothers” with bit of gothic horror similar to W. Paul Wilson’s novel, “The Keep.” Things changed a bit after Success gave the project a green light, and the team upped the supernatural elements and decided to go in a more wild, over-the-top direction. It is well known that Hitler had a certain obsession with the occult, and the core idea driving Operation Darkness became: “What if Hitler’s obsession with the occult came to fruition?”

Originally, in fact, Operation Darkness was to be the first game in a trilogy; Ken Ogura stated that, had Operation Darkness met with greater success, the trilogy would have spanned three separate wars, with the first game taking place during World War II, the second during the Cold War, and the final installment during the modern-day War on Terrorism. The thread binding the three installments together would, then, be the near-immortality of its key villains and protagonists; the vampires and werewolves. The trilogy would see them live through these different stages of history, experiencing and taking part in some of its greatest conflicts. An ambitious concept, for sure, but Success, as Ogura himself points out, is a company capable of publishing out-of-the-ordinary games and taking chances with them because of the lower budgets for said releases. Ultimately, Operation Darkness would not be a trilogy unless it met with popularity and financial success, and was to be made on a smaller-than-average budget.

Equally ambitious were the original game design concepts. While about 80% of the story itself had already been conceived by 2003/2004, there were also a number of elements originally intended for the game which never made it to the final cut years later; mostly as a result of time and budget. Among them were about twenty stages, characters and weapons which ultimately didn’t make the cut, in addition to concept of full co-op play throughout the main campaign.

In any event, Ken Ogura and his team at Success had the first draft of their game development plan completed by April of 2003, and by March 2004, had a green light from Success and a development team organized, ready to work on the upcoming PS2 game. By the end of 2004, however, the new generation of consoles was looming on the horizon, and Microsoft came to Success with details on their upcoming next-gen console, the Xbox 360.

Ogura and company had to decide if it was wise to stick with the Playstation 2, or move the project to the next generation of consoles. Ultimately, the decision to go the Xbox 360 was based on a number of factors. With a new console generation on the rise, the team felt it might be harder to market the game for Playstation 2, especially considering that, by the time Operation Darkness would be complete, the new generation would have already begun. Xbox 360 was the only next-gen hardware with which they had been presented with specs and a development environment for at the time, and it was showing promise with strong online capabilities, powerful technical specs, and a good development environment. Although the original Xbox had performed poorly in Japan, Ogura’s team felt confident in the Xbox 360, and with Microsoft pushing for Japanese developers and publishers, and a strong software line-up for the console, Ogura and his team were predicting that the Xbox 360 would sell at least one million units in Japan between December 2005 and the end of 2007. Aside from that, they knew the console would see strong support and sales in North America. After weighing the pros and cons, they decided upon the Xbox 360 as their best option, and switched Operation Darkness’ platform to that system.

Operation Darkness went into development for Xbox 360, and Success officially announced the game in July of 2005. The game saw a brief appearance at the Tokyo Game Show in September 2006, but the public didn’t get a real glimpse of Operation Darkness until TGS 2007, the following September. Presented at Microsoft’s own booth, attendees were allowed to go hands-on and get some play time with the game; and impressions were positive from members of the press who played it. With the game scheduled for a Japanese release just the following month, in October 2007, only a Japanese release was scheduled, with no current plans or publisher for a release outside Japan.

Operation Darkness was playable at Microsoft's booth during the 2007 Tokyo Game Show.

Atlus came to the rescue soon thereafter, however, scooping up the rights to Operation Darkness, alongside two other little-know Japanese strategy RPGs, Spectral Force 3 and Zoids Assault, in November 2007, just weeks after Operation Darkness’ Japanese release. While the Xbox 360 had already seen a slew of Strategy RPGs released in Japan, none had yet come overseas, and Atlus ambitiously planned to bring Xbox 360 strategy RPGs to North America, beginning with these three titles.

Operation Darkness saw some positive press leading up to its U.S. release on a system which, at the time, was still starving for RPGs. However, upon release, Operation Darkness fared poorly with critics and the mainstream gaming press. In addition to a lukewarm reception upon its October 2007 release in Japan, most major North American websites hammered Operation Darkness when it release stateside in June 2008. While Japan’s Famitsu gave it relatively middle-of-the-road reviews (three editors giving it 6’s, and the fourth giving it a 5), most mainstream North American sources weren’t even this kind, even despite previously positive impressions of the game. IGN gave Operation Darkness a swift review ending in a score of 2.5 out of 10, Official Xbox Magazine gave the game a 2.0 out of 5, and EGM gave the game just a 28 out of 100. General complaints included the dodgy battle camera, low-budget graphics, and high difficulty of the game. Gamespot was one of the few to view Operation Darkness in a more positive light, awarding the game a 6 out of 10, with an overall positive review, stating that in spite of the technical flaws, there was a game well worth playing underneath them.

Much as a result of the negative reception, in addition to a general lack of awareness, Operation Darkness never sold very well, and after the similarly negative reception of Spectral Force 3 and Zoids Assault, Atlus quickly put the axe to any idea of bringing more Xbox 360 strategy RPGs stateside. Likewise, Operation Darkness never saw the subsequent release, or even planning, of its creator’s desired sequels, and the game would have been entirely lost, if not for a small handful of dedicated fans who discovered the game and found themselves surprisingly enthralled with the game’s unique concept and challenging gameplay. While mainstream critical responses were negative, gamers who played Operation Darkness took a far greater liking to it; out of the three user reviews on GameFAQs, two hold 8’s out of 10, and the other a 7. Likewise, Operation Darkness has both an above-average overall score on Amazon .com (a 3.8 out of 5), as well as a slew of highly positive user reviews. In general, the game, while meeting with lackluster sales and critical failure, found love amongst curious gamers looking for something different; and with good reason. While Operation Darkness has its flaws, it is a truly creative and unique game in spite of them; one that eclipses its technical shortcomings with a genuinely fun and original idea, and challenging, strategic and exciting combat.

The Game:


So, Operation Darkness is an extremely fun and original concept, filled with great ideas and tough but rewarding combat. What could be bad? Unfortunately, the greatest issues with Operation Darkness, which ultimately lead to a poor critical response, come in the form of technical issues, in particular a lack of polish in certain areas and a number of issues that make the game in general less than user-friendly, which are no doubt due largely to its smaller-than-average production budget.

Most noticeable and damaging of Operation Darkness’ technical issues is its problematic camera, which takes some real time and acclimating to get used to. In all honesty, it is probably the camera difficulties which took the heaviest toll on Operation Darkness critically, and there’s no skating around the issue, even for somebody who loves the game: the camera has some big issues.

The big problem with the camera in Operation Darkness is that it makes it tough to plan your actions precisely because of how it works in the planning stages of the player’s turns. Battlefields in Operation Darkness are very big; much larger than those found in the average strategy RPG, and while the 3D camera lends a lot of added excitement to the battles, when trying to examine the battlefield and plot your actions, it can be very problematic. While battlefields are very large in Operation Darkness, when the player is given control of the camera during planning phases, it does very little to accommodate the player or the size of the environments in which battles take place. There is no easy way to get a good overview of the entire battlefield (aside from the minimap on the screen, which is still an imprecise tool when it’s your only resource), and so the easiest way to look around and assess the battlefield is by entering a character’s movement stage (which brings the camera out to a fully rotatable 3D view), and then moving the camera around in this view to look around the area and assess the battlefield, locations of allies and enemies, etc. While you have the ability to zoom in and out and move the camera around, it’s hard to get quite as clear a view and as accurate an assessment as you’d like easily and quickly.

The camera makes for dynamic and exciting battles, but can act strange and be tough to manage, as well. Pictured here, the camera caught inside the nearby wreckage of a vehicle.

Instead, since the camera doesn’t zoom out quite as far as would be preferable, and because enemies and objects can often be easily obscured by objects and parts of the environment, and trying to see around them with the camera can be a difficult task, it can be very tough and time consuming to accurately assess the battlefield and, as such, can lead to small but costly errors in judgment; like when an enemy pops out from behind a building you just positioned yourself next to, or a tree ends up in the line of fire between you and an enemy you thought you were positioned perfectly to attack. While time and patience is key in a heavily strategic game like this, and is the solution to these camera issues, it’s still not an excuse for them, nor is it what said time and patience should have to be put towards, and the game would really have benefited from a more intuitive and user-friendly camera.

Character movements are plotted through a larger grid-based view of the battlefield. The view presented by the movement phase provides the easiest way to assess the battlefield with the camera.

The camera isn’t the only aspect of Operation Darkness that is unintuitive. Moving beyond the camera, the games menus could have used work to be both more concise and presentable, and during battle, the lack of an ability to go back after confirming a characters move or attack can be frustrating and is telling of the lack of polish on the game’s technical side. There were a number of times when I accidentally confirmed a character’s movement or action, and, even though it was still during my turn, I could not go back to that character and correct things. Once again, being careful and thoughtful of your actions is key to a game like Operation Darkness, but worrying about accidentally making a misstep and not being able to go even one step back in your planning to correct this is still a flaw, and will, similarly to the camera, have the player expending said care and thought toward addressing technical issues with the game itself, as opposed to comfortably planning their actions with a good set of tools.

Likewise, menus can be unclear or unpolished at times outside of battle, during your time spent on the world map, in the status screens, or while shopping for items, weapons and equipment. One obvious flaw is that, while buying and selling items/weapons/equipment, you can only select one at a time. So, if you want to, say, buy or sell 10 med-kits, instead of just one, you’ll have to buy each of them one at a time; there’s no way to buy more than one at once. Status and equipment screens can also be a bit confusing, especially at first, and more explanation of some of their aspects and the stats provided on them would have been helpful; especially since many of them will play a larger and larger role as you move through the game, and at a certain point, not managing aspects like your weapons, stats and weight before missions will become a costly mistake.

Operation Darkness also took a big hit from many critics for its lack of graphical prowess. While the graphics are not as distractingly bad as some have made them out to be, they are indeed sub-par, even compared to most first-generation Xbox 360 titles. From a technical standpoint, character models and environments often come off as dull and lacking in detail, with a low polygon count, and some character animations look stiff or clunky. The game has some nice draw distance effects, and its stylish approach and decent attack and action animations (most of the time) save the graphics from being downright ugly. Still, there is no denying that Operation Darkness’ 3D graphics are well below the standards of the current generation. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that Operation Darkness is a hideous beast of a game; there are many positive aspects to the visual presentation that save the game graphically, which I’ll go into more depth about later; still Operation Darkness’ graphics are not technically impressive, and aside from a few “next-gen” effects, look like a moderately competent PS2 game.

Operation Darkness took some big hits from critics for its graphical presentation. While by no means as awful as some have made them out to be, graphics are still decidedly last-gen.

There are other complaints that have been leveled against Operation Darkness, but many of them of either small or subjective; in particular, many complaints about the game’s unforgiving difficulty and mercilessly hardcore game design choices were cited in many reviews. However, most of these, I feel, were conscious game design choices rather than actual flaws, and proved to be aspects which I and, as it appears, other fans, appreciated. Still they are worth mentioning as they will undoubtedly deter many players.

Among these complaints was the length of battles, which can at times last even a couple of hours (one particularly nasty battle near the end of the game even took me around four hours to complete), and the lack of ability to save during them. Granted, this means you’ll need to be prepared for a potentially long play session when you sit down with Operation Darkness, but at the same time, I feel like the lack of a save ability and the grueling length of battles added something to the experience and its unforgiving difficulty. Still, even a quicksave feature during battle would have helped address this issue, and would have gone a long way towards, again, making the game more user-friendly.

Another aspect that was much-bemoaned of Operation Darkness was the “permanent” death of party members, and, in addition to that, the presence of just one healing character capable of reviving party members during battle. Essentially, if any party members are left dead when a battle concludes, they are gone for good; the only ones ‘not allowed” to be left behind are a few core members of the cast. During battle, they can still be revived, but there is only one character (Herbert East) who is capable of reviving them…..and if he dies, well… might as well restart the battle, and don’t even think about continuing the game without him (or, really, any of the main characters, as there are two endings, one if anybody died and one if nobody died, and the later one is really the one worth seeing). Many professional reviews slammed the game for this; again slamming the game’s unforgiving, old-school difficulty as a flaw; but, again, this seems more a conscious design choice than a literal flaw, and I found that it served to increase the strategy and, what I found to be, satisfying challenge of the game as a whole.

Again on the subject of difficulty, many cited the almost cruelly overpowering enemy forces as a problem. In particular, the multiple waves of enemies during a single battle and sizeable ambushes they pull on the player when appearing on the battlefield; again, however, I found this to be right in line with the game’s merciless difficulty, and it never rendered the game “impossible” or “broken;” simply tough and unforgiving. One frustrating aspect of difficulty that I found was a genuine fault, though, was on the few missions that had A.I. controlled friendlies; the allies were utterly stupid, walking right into danger, and in general making the missions artificially tougher as a result.

Overall, camera issues and technical flaws aside, Operation Darkness has a lot to love, especially for gamers looking for something strange and unique. The unflinching difficulty of the game will no doubt turn off some, but is less a flaw and more a matter of personal opinion; if you can get past these issues, you’ll probably find a lot of charm and enjoyment in Operation Darkness, which leads me to…..

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

Put aside the technical issues and shortcomings, and Operation Darkness is an extremely charming game with tons of personality and style, and tough but intense and satisfying gameplay. Operation Darkness is great fun and an unrelenting challenge for strategy-RPG/tactical game fan; and it’s just as much fun to bask in its onslaught of insanity, which is perfectly understood and presented by the game, which handles it with style, and manages to both outwardly take itself seriously AND still maintain a constant, winking, subtly tongue-in-cheek demeanor; Operation Darkness is clearly having a blast with itself, and that fun is infectious and incredibly charming.

Operation Darkness is filled with memorable and exciting moments, including plenty of exciting surprises and characters along the way.

Operation Darkness features so many influences, homages, references and inspirations, and draws from so many different genres, works of fiction and pieces of history, that it is a wonder it manages to create a coherent, let along interesting, story around them. But somehow, it does. By weaving all of the elements together, from Nazi vampires and SAS werewolves, to historical fact, it creates a world and a story which, in its own crazy way, makes sense within itself. Operation Darkness succeeds in creating a coherent story out of its multitude of sources by simply implementing them all as if they were part of a world created for this game; just as any other fantasy (say, any Final Fantasy game) creates its own world and establishes its lore in a natural way, so does Operation Darkness do the same out of all the elements which make it up; factual, fantastical or otherwise. It doesn’t call attention to any of them in an obnoxious way, or present them as a gimmick; it simply handles them as natural parts and progressions of the story and world while presenting its various ideas. As such, it makes sense in and of itself as a coherent whole, rather than simply coming of as the parade of crazy in-jokes and references it could have, if handled improperly. The story itself is, in fact, pretty good, and is really intriguing, if simply for the constant anticipation of what the game is going to throw at you next and where it’s all going to go. As the story moves from North Africa up through Europe and towards Germany, this both serves as an interesting backdrop for historical fiction, and a good variety of environments in which to do battle. The story is constantly throwing curve balls at the player, and it’s absolutely fascinating just waiting to see what will happen next; whether you’re taking part in Operation Valkyrie, or finding out your next party member is actually Jack the Ripper, the game is full of surprises, and is commendable in how naturally it implements even its most ludicrous elements.

Taking part in Operation Valkyrie is just one of many exciting and memorable twists.

The story becomes truly interesting outside of mere anticipation for the next twist because of its strong and likeable cast, and how much time it spends getting to know and developing its main characters. While a few of the more minor characters tend to fall by the wayside, the main characters receive plenty of attention and development, and become interesting and very well fleshed out and developed. Their relationships with each other are equally well-developed, and a real sense of camaraderie and friendship develops between Edward and the members of the Wolf Pack. Edward’s struggles with himself, his personal loss from the war, and his complex relationships with his new-found comrades and his old friend, Jude, create a story that becomes more than just a display of supernatural insanity during World War II, but also an effective human story about loss, friendship and the realization of responsibility and duty. It not only makes for some dramatic moments later in the story, but also carries over to the gameplay, encouraging the player to keep their friends alive throughout the game as they grow to care more about the cast. There is actually some good character drama in their relationships, and the long dialogue sequences throughout the game do a good job of conveying this and establishing who the main characters are and how they relate with one another. Ultimately, the characters drive the narrative forward, and as with most stories that are truly interesting on some human level, the story develops them well and cares about them, which in turn, makes us understand and care about them. With good character development and relationships throughout, punctuated by well-voiced conversations, the game serves the characters and, in turn, the story, well.

Characters and their relationships are well-developed through lengthy dialogue sequences.

What really impresses about the story, and the game as a whole, is how absolutely packed it is with memorable moments. While the story is told well through both 2D character dialogue scenes and relatively frequent prerendered cutscenes, simultaneously almost every battle proved interesting or memorable in some regard, including numerous plot twists and epic confrontations which are sure to stand out in the memory of any player who invests the time into Operation Darkness. This dearth of great moments is, indeed, one of the greatest highlights of this game, and what makes it so consistently entertaining.

SPOILER ALERT: Among them are constant encounters and epic battles with creatures and characters torn both from the pages of history and fiction. Among the greatest moments is a grueling boss battle with Adolf Hitler and his generals, alongside a slew of skeletons, dragons and other beasts, which can take upwards of a few hours to complete. Equally memorable is when a nighttime raid on a Nazi rocket facility winds up revealing that one of your party members in actually Frankenstein’s monster, or when Elisa Van Helsing, the beautiful descendant of the famous vampire hunter, shows up to join your unit. These are just a few examples, but, needless to say, the game is filled with moments like these, which keeps things consistently fresh and exciting throughout. END SPOILERS.

The story is consistently engaging and well-told.

I’ve already touched on the flaws of Operation Darkness’ visuals, and its technical shortcomings in that department, but what hasn’t been discussed is how far the creative, distinct style, art, designs and overall look of the game go towards making up for these technical shortcomings. There is no arguing that Operation Darkness is lacking in the technical department when it comes to in-game graphics. However, elsewhere, the game handles itself very well visually. One of the greatest and most prevalent visual highlights of Operation Darkness is its attractive and stylish character designs, and the crisp, great-looking 2D character art presented during dialogue sequences throughout the game. Big, bold 2D art of the characters is presented during dialogue sequences, much in the vein of the dialogue scenes found in many of Nippon Ichi’s games. While the 2D characters are not fully animated like those found in many bigger-budget games of its kind, the art is still excellent, and it shows off the game’s unique anime-style character designs nicely, while providing a good range of expressions for most characters. This 2D character art is big, bold, stylish and colorful, character designs are attractive and memorable, and it adds a lot to the game’s visual presentation, especially where the low-detail character models are lacking.

Character designs are very appealing, and the 2D character art presented during dialogue sequences is very crisp and attractive.

I must point out, as well, that while graphics are well below par compared to most next-gen games, they are also a significant step up from the standard PS2 strategy RPG. Replacing the usual isometric view paired with small, super-deformed 2D sprites and small grid-based environments, and instead opting for full 3D character models, a dynamic 3D camera, and large, intricate environments was, to me at least, a big step up visually, and a refreshingly unique approach, from the standard PS1/PS2 era strategy RPG look. While the execution is less-than-perfect, it still goes a long way in adding a sense of epic scale and excitement to battles which simply isn’t possible from the standard tactical-RPG visual approach. While I’ve heard that Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 takes a very similar approach, and does so with more of the much-needed polish and intuitiveness which Operation Darkness lacks, Operation Darkness still stands out as unique and exciting in its approach. While I cannot personally comment on Valkyria Chronicles, since I haven’t gotten to play it myself (though I thoroughly intend to eventually), I can say that this more dynamic graphical approach was exciting and fresh to me in Operation Darkness, and offset its flaws with the scale and excitement it added to battle.

In general, the game’s style on the whole saves it visually. From the character designs and nice 2D character art, to the creative enemies, to the live-action documentary footage from the war, the game manages to present itself with style, even with its lack of detailed in-game graphics. While the game is never technically impressive, it is almost always stylistically impressive, and it melds together realism and anime-style visuals just as effectively as it melds the fantastical into the historical.

The game may look last-gen, but it saves itself visually with its unique style.

Operation Darkness does a fine job in the sound department, as well, with fittingly dramatic music and an English script and voice cast that really “get” the spirit of the game. I really loved the English voice acting in Operation Darkness, and it’s clear that Atlus went out of their way to make something more than just a typical, rushed English dub. My favorite aspect of the voice acting in Operation Darkness is the wide array of accents for characters from different countries. It benefits the game tremendously, and the subtle exaggeration of the different accents by the voice actors fits the game to a tee, without ever getting so over-the-top that it comes off as obviously corny or silly. Listening to German troops shout in an every-so-slightly humorous exaggeration of a German accent never gets old, and likewise, all members of the main cast are voiced by well-suited actors with respectable emotion and authenticity, while maintaining their accents native to their countries of origin. I loved the writing and voice acting in Operation Darkness, and it really gave off the feel that Atlus “got” this game and its unique charm when they were localizing it.

The script and English voice cast are very well done, and suit the game perfectly, complete with subtly exaggerated accents.

The soundtrack to Operation Darkness was surprisingly memorable and well-suited to the game, as well. While the soundtrack was obviously made digitally, it still does a good job of creating the appropriate excitement and dramatic impact of an orchestrated score. There are a good range of tracks during battle, and I felt they were always befitting of the situation and the game’s style, while many were, in fact, even memorable. The music does a good job of keeping the excitement of battle up, while capturing a tone that fits the game on the whole.

On the gameplay side of the equation, Operation Darkness may not be for everyone, but it’s an amazing intense and satisfying experience for those who appreciate strategic gameplay and a good, old-fashioned challenge.

In some ways, Operation Darkness is tough and challenging in a manner that many newer games don’t dare to be. While many wrote this old-school style challenge off as sloppy game design, I really don’t think that was the case. Operation Darkness is intentionally hard and unforgiving of mistakes, and intentionally stacks the odds against the player on many occasions. Playing Operation Darkness, I realized how much it made me miss that old school style of challenge which many games nowadays lack. Operation Darkness won’t hold your hand, and will happily kick your ass when you make a mistake, but this isn’t a flaw; it one of the game’s greatest assets.

Operation Darkness’ gameplay benefits from being heavily strategic, requiring a lot of planning and thinking both before battle, and during it. Before each battle, you’ll want to outfit your characters properly for the particular fight, make sure they’re leveled well enough to compete with the upcoming battle, and manage stats including magic, items and the amount of weight they are carrying. Weight is particularly important in Operation Darkness, and so you’ll want to manage what each character is carrying carefully before a fight. Weight is related to a characters speed, which, in turn, determines how frequent their turns will be. You can load a character down with 4 or 5 heavy bazookas, sure, but you’ll probably regret it when he or she gets blasted all to hell while they wait like a sitting duck for their next turn to roll around. Likewise, under-equipping your characters is a mistake; you’ll go through ammo and medical supplies quickly, and not bringing enough to a fight can be a costly mistake, as can going into battle with a party that isn’t carrying a good variety of weapons and equipment. Equipping stat boosters and skills to different characters is an essential tool, as well, and keeping your characters well leveled is the key to success. Operation Darkness maintains a good balance in its leveling as well; while it punishes laziness in strategy and leveling, it likewise provides a good amount of optional “extra” battles between story missions to help your keep your characters up to par, without forcing the player to simply repeat random battles over and over again.

Properly managing and leveling your characters before battle is crucial to success.

During battle, the game will truly put your skills to the test. While a few missions near the beginning of the game are relatively easy, the difficulty ramps up pretty quick due to a number of elements. One thing Operation Darkness loves to do is send in additional waves of enemies throughout the course of a battle, and generally surround, outnumber and overpower the player’s party. Most battles WILL have more enemies and waves than just the first set of them at the start of the battle. Some hated this; I loved it. The game is brutally merciless, and the way waves of enemies appear and constantly outnumber the player forces you to think critically throughout a battle, and change your strategy on the fly to deal with unexpected enemies. It keeps things intense and keeps you on your toes; just when you think you’re safe, suddenly you’re outnumbered or flanked and forced to think critically and deal with overwhelming odds. To some, it may be frustrating; but to others, like myself, it makes for a great challenge that rarely lets up.

Prepare to find yourself outnumbered and outgunned on many occasions.

Adding to the challenge and need to think critically during battle, are the harsh consequences of party member’s deaths, and the limited healing abilities the party is supplied with. There is only one official “healer” in the party who is capable of reviving your friends during battle, which makes things a bit tougher than usual as is. Anybody else can carry healing items, but only he can revive a downed party member. So, letting characters die, or stay dead without revival, is something you’ll want to avoid at all costs. While some party members who are essential to the core story result in an immediate “game over” upon their deaths, others will be left downed on the battlefield, capable of being revived…however, moving your only healer over to them can be risky (especially since when he dies, there’s nobody to revive HIM) and yet, if you don’t revive them by the end of the battle, that party member is lost for good; the game can continue, but you’ll never see them again. You can recruit generic soldiers from the menu outside battle, and will probably have a few in your party at most times, but they are never a good replacement for the abilities of a main character. In short, protecting your characters, going into battle prepared, and really thinking before making a move is essential to keeping everyone alive; and you’ll REALLY want to keep everyone alive.

Be sure to properly outfit your characters with the right weapons and items.

Enemies just keep getting tougher as the game moves on, and they are both awesome in their creativity and absurdity, and increasing mean and nasty to deal with. Just wait until the first time a group of Panzer Demons or Magiers ambush you, or, even more awesome and terrifying, the first time one of the absolutely monstrous Draches (the game’s gigantic dragon enemies) stomps onto the battlefield. Operation Darkness has some great enemies; both awesome in their design and terrifying in their relentlessly aggressive dispositions. The best thing about them, though, is how satisfying they make the combat; bringing down an enemy is always satisfying, and the ability to go over to them and loot their corpses for weapons, ammo and items is both literally rewarding and often an essential part of achieving victory and keeping your supplies up during battle.

You'll face off with some VERY nasty enemies later in the game.

In general, I just loved the intensity, scale and impact of battle in Operation Darkness. Battles are often very long and intense , and environments are destructible, which only adds to the wonderful chaos and intensity of battle. When a tank shell hits a building next to your character and it crumbles to pieces, or you launch a rocket into a cluster of trees and enemies, and watch as the trees collapse around them as they are thrown back by the blast, there’s a real sense of chaos and impact. Likewise, weapons, spells and special attacks have plenty of variety and, again, have a great sense of impact and spectacle to them when you execute an attack. With a large variety of weapons, from swords to M1’s to bazookas and panzerfausts, there’s no shortage of ways to attack. But on top of that is also a huge array of special attacks and spells. While James Gallant and Keith Miller, two of the Wolf Pack’s core members, can transform into werewolves during battle and deal devastating attacks, other characters are armed with equally awesome and effective specials and spells; including a giant fist which comes from the sky to crush your enemies, and an impromptu air raid. There’s no shortage of variety, spectacle or excitement during battle in Operation Darkness.

Some special attacks are absolutely ludicrous.

I also liked the game’s cover system, which adds yet another level of nuance a tactical depth. Characters can launch ambushes on enemies or continually attack them while hiding in over behind all sorts of objects. If they are hit, it knocks the character out of cover, but as long as they remain within cover, it provides a strategic advantage, and yet another level of depth to the combat.

On top of it all, Operation Darkness is a sizeable game of good length and depth, with a nice amount of secrets and extras. There are two endings, one if any party members die throughout the story, and another (much better) ending if you keep them all alive. But besides this, there’s also a slew of various extra missions, including the super-tough Eagle’s Nest missions, a secret party member, and a number of rare or secret weapons and items to find and collect; including a set of documents found on enemy bodies which eventually reveal a set of secret missions, and a number of rare, extremely powerful, weapons. The game also features a separate co-op mode, which allows up to four players to participate in battles together online. While this mode isn’t tied directly to the campaign, it is still an interesting addition and has some rewards for playing it. Operation Darkness is a game of good size and length, as well. It should take the average player anywhere from 35 to 50-something hours on their first playthrough, and in addition to its 27 sizeable main story missions, there are also a large collection of various optional (but recommended) missions. Operation Darkness is not just a game of satisfying challenge, but also one of satisfying size, length and depth.

Destructible environments, cover and a variety of weapons keep combat intense.


Operation Darkness is one of the most unique and memorable games I’ve played this generation; which is ironic because it’s also one of the most low-budget and technically inferior releases I’ve played this generation. To be perfectly fair and honest, Operation Darkness has a number of flaws and game design choices which may turn players off. However, it’s also so creative, so crazy, and so original that, for others, it will prove to be an instant favorite. Operation Darkness is one of those games that was almost destined for mainstream critical panning; with sub-par graphics, a number of technical issues, and a high learning curve, coupled with overwhelmingly challenging battles, it was never destined for mainstream acceptance. However, it is also a game so original, with such a unique appeal, and such a satisfying challenge, that it was practically meant to gain cult status and a small, but extremely loving, following. Operation Darkness is not the most technically impressive game on the Xbox 360; but it may just be one of the most fascinating and creative ideas on the system. It has its shortcomings, but for strategy RPG fans in search of a true strategic challenge or a change from the norm, or just any gamer who wants a fresh, fun idea, Operation Darkness will prove to be one of the most crazy, memorable and imaginative gaming experiences of recent years.

Operation Darkness has its share of technical issues, but they are ultimately eclipsed by its tough, rewarding combat and incredibly imaginative ideas.

Who Should Play It?

Any fan of strategy RPGs, or tactical gameplay in general, that can overlook a few technical and presentational flaws. Gamers looking for a good, solid challenge. Fans of alternate histories, stories involving the supernatural or occult, or horror, fantasy and sci-fi buffs, will find Operation Darkness, and the lore it delves into, absolutely fascinating. Likewise, World War II history buffs will find Operation Darkness just as interesting for its setting, and the real history of the war it documents and takes place during.   read

7:40 PM on 06.27.2012

A Second Look At: Red Ninja: End of Honor


Title: Red Ninja: End of Honor

Alternate Title(s): Red Ninja: Kekka no Mai (Red Ninja: Blood River Dance) (Japan)

Developer: Tranji Studios

Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games (Japan and N.A.), Sierra (Europe)

Platforms: Playstation 2, Xbox

Release Dates: March 3rd, 2005 (Japan; PS2 only), March 29th 2005 (N.A.; Xbox), March 30th, 2005 (N.A., PS2), April 1st, 2005 (Europe; PS2 and Xbox)

Cover art for Red Ninja: End of Honor.

What Is This Game?

Red Ninja: End of Honor is a stealth-action ninja game set in 16th century Japan. Red Ninja’s gameplay is somewhat of a hybrid between stealth action gameplay, similar to the Tenchu series, and platforming action reminiscent of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, and its successors. The game emphasizes stealth-killing and acrobatics, but the real stars are its beautiful heroine, Kurenai, and her unconventional wire-weapon, the Tetsugen. The story begins as Kurenai’s father, working under Lord Takeda, rival of Nobunaga Oda, gains an advantage for Takeda during the war-torn era through the creation and use of the chain gun; a weapon vastly superior to the swords and arrows of their enemies. However, a dispute about the shameful lack of honor of the powerful weapon leaves them torn over whether to use it and, in the midst of everything, the Black Lizard Clan attacks, stealing the weapon and its blueprints, and in the process, murdering Kurenai’s father, creator of the weapon. Kurenai is hung from a tree by the Tetsugen and left for dead. However, she survives, and is rescued and taken in by a ninja clan serving Takeda, where her new sensei, Chiyome, and fellow ninja, Akemi, become like mother and sister to her. From this point, the game follows Kurenai’s life as a ninja and her quest for vengeance against the Black Lizard Clan, as she carries out missions for Lord Takeda and his son, and adopts the Tetsugen as her weapon of choice, using it to brutally dispatch her enemies as an increasingly tragic and twisted story unfolds around her.

Red Ninja's heroine, Kurenai, presenting her signature weapon, the Tetsugen.


Red Ninja gained at least a bit of infamy prior to its release, mostly due to its two major selling points: its unique and brutally violent weapon, the Tetsugen, and its sexy-but-deadly heroine, Kurenai. Both had an instantly appealing and attention-grabbing quality about them, and while these selling points, admittedly, ran close to the old “selling sex and violence” routine, Kurenai herself and her weapon were also both unique and interesting enough that it put them a bit above the run-of-the-mill sex and violence approach. It was clear that some thought and creativity had gone into both Kurenai herself’s look and personality, and her interesting choice of weapon.

As a fan of stealth-action titles, I had been keeping an eye on Red Ninja since the first images and trailers started popping up in late 2003/early 2004. The game, admittedly, did not have the polished look about it, even in these early glimpses, of a high-profile title, but as a fan of Tenchu and similar stealth action titles, I was interested, both by its similarities to such titles, and its unique look and gameplay elements. I liked the style, I loved the potential for insanely over-the-top violence which its incredibly original weapon offered, and Kurenai herself was sexy, but also stood out as stylish, unique and cool. If nothing else, the game was at least worth keeping an eye on for these appealing and unique qualities, and for my personal love of the stealth-action genre.

Kurenai, with the Tetsugen's mechanisms exposed, and her ninja companion, Akemi (bottom). The unique weapon and likeable cast are two of Red Ninja's strongest points.

When the game released to mixed/negative reviews, I was a bit disheartened, but still just as intrigued; I found myself re-watching the launch trailer, and debating with myself if I should take a chance and pick Red Ninja up. Of course, being who I am, I eventually decided to go with my gut and pick the game up about a month after release.

I had no regrets; going in with knowledge of its flaws, I found myself highly enjoying Red Ninja. While the controls and camera, its main points of (justified) criticism, were twitchy and often frustrating, once I got the hang of them, I was able to move past them to what was a fun and engaging experience. With a unique blend of stealth action and platforming gameplay, a wonderfully brutal weapon at the center of it, a visually appealing, but also very likeable and strong, heroine, and a surprisingly intriguing and well-told story, Red Ninja is, in fact, an interesting and memorable game for those who can overcome its camera and control-related issues.

History, Release and Reception:

Red Ninja was first officially announced in September 2003 at the Tokyo Game Show. First impressions by most major websites and publications likened Red Ninja to the Tenchu series. Meanwhile, both the developers and publishers, as well as the press, made special note of the game’s unique razor-wire weapon, the Tetsugen, and the various gameplay aspects tied to it both in and outside combat, as well as Red Ninja’s heroine, Kurenai, whom the developers were clearly pushing as an iconic lead character, and an object of sex appeal to draw the eyes of curious gamers. In addition, the game’s story and writing prowess were a key point of focus, with special mention going to Tranji and Vivendi’s hiring of Japanese film writer/director Shinsuke Sato, to write Red Ninja’s script and lend a “cinematic” quality to the game.

Tranji itself was a new studio and first-time developer; a studio formed from Japanese developers “Opus” and “New Corporation” with Red Ninja being both the studio’s first (and what would prove to be, only) project, and primary reason for formation. Information is incredibly scarce on the studio, but it appeared they were formed with the help of Vivendi Universal, and the intention of creating Red Ninja.

Tranji and Vivendi’s decision to emphasize the uniquely violent appeal of the Tetsugen and Kurenai’s sex appeal seemed to pay off a bit, as they managed to draw a decent amount of positive press and attention for their instantly striking, unique and attention-grabbing appeal, and kept the game relatively within the spotlight, at least for a somewhat lower-profile release. Kurenai herself, debatably, became more popular than the game itself, and even today, with Red Ninja all but forgotten, she still manages to pop up and receive the odd mention from time-to-time; if nothing else, Kurenai herself enjoyed a decent amount of attention, popularity and respect for a character from an otherwise overlooked and unpopular game.

Kurenai's unique razor-wire weapon, the Tetsugen, was a key point of interest emphasized by the creators.

Around the time leading up to Red Ninja’s release, in fact, Tranji/Vivendi’s push for Kurenai’s popularity and iconic status was relatively strong; aside from a good amount of positive attention from gaming publications and websites, the character also saw a fair amount of attention elsewhere, putting her, and, as a result, Red Ninja, somewhat into the public eye. In Japan, a maid café called the “Café and Kitchen Cos-Cha” in Tokyo’s Akihabara district went full-on Red Ninja-themed leading up to the game’s release; with waitresses cosplaying Kurenai, and special Red Ninja-themed menus and decorations. Meanwhile, in North America, Playboy Magazine was planning the first of its now-annual “Women of Video Games” features for October of 2004, and Red Ninja’s Kurenai made a somewhat minor, but publicly-announced, appearance in the issue, alongside women from higher-profile releases like Bloodrayne and Leisure Suit Larry; albeit remaining mostly-clothed in the feature. Right around the time of the game’s release, as well, Vivendi began touring a Nissan 240SX with Red Ninja art on the hood, calling it the “Tetsugen S14” and sending it to major car shows and tuner events to promote the game.

Kurenai's sex appeal was also a main focus in previews and promotional art such as this. She even made a small appearance in Playboy's Women of Video Games feature.

Press was relatively positive on the game until its actual release; upon which it met with poor to mediocre reviews from almost all major websites and publications. Japan’s Famitsu magazine were some of the kinder critics of the game; with three out of four editors awarding it a 7 out of 10, and the other giving it a 6 out of 10. Elsewhere, the game didn’t fare as well critically; IGN gave it a 4.0 out of 10, calling it a “comedy of errors, without the humor,” and even the generally forgiving Play Magazine was dissatisfied, citing the control and camera issues as a major problem.

While the game earned a few fans along the way from more forgiving gamers and fans of stealth-action, it sold poorly, and quickly fell off the map after the negative reception. Red Ninja would prove to be Tranji Studio’s last game, as well, and the developer was never heard from again following the title’s poor reception. Red Ninja was quickly forgotten, but as mentioned, its main character, Kurenai, has managed to live on and maintain a sort of cult popularity of her own, mentioned from time to time, even by those unfamiliar with the game in which she starred; amongst other examples, UGO Networks listed Kurenai in 2011 as one of their “25 Hot Ninja Girls,” and just recently, in 2012, men’s magazine FHM listed her among their nine “Sexiest Ninja Babes in Games.” While Red Ninja itself may have been quickly forgotten, it could be said that, in a way, Tranji and Vivendi succeeded, on some level, with their marketing of the game; while the game itself has been, by and large, forgotten, their heavily-marketed heroine, and her iconic image and sex appeal which played such a large role as a selling point, still live on to some extent, despite the game’s obscurity.

The Game:


There are a lot of things that made me love Red Ninja, but unfortunately, for many, its most glaring flaws detracted from the game too heavily. Red Ninja’s undoing was largely due to it twitchy camera and controls, and the subsequent gameplay issues these problems give rise to. While I was able to tame the camera and manage the controls after some getting used to, there is no denying that they are heavily flawed, and the game’s biggest detractors.

Red Ninja’s camera is possibly its greatest issue, even above the controls; since some of the problems with the controls can be attributed to the camera misbehaving and generally being hard to manage. The game takes place from a standard third-person perspective, and has a fully rotatable 3D camera. This is all well and good, of course, but controlling the camera and getting it to stay in the right place can be a real problem for a number of reasons.

For one, the camera controls are pretty twitchy in general; Red Ninja implements a standard dual-analog stick control scheme for movement and camera control, where the left stick moves the character, and the right stick is used to rotate the camera. However, fine-tuning or simply adjusting the camera with the right stick can be pretty tough at times because of its high sensitivity; one needs to be easy on the stick, because the camera whips around fast. In a stealth game like this, good control of the camera can be crucial for assessing a situation and finding out the best route to get around or assassinate enemies; and it can be an even bigger problem in platforming sequences, of which Red Ninja has many, where a wrong step or misjudged jump can lead to frustration or death. The sensitive right-stick camera controls can be dealt with after a bit of getting used to, but there are problems beyond that with Red Ninja’s camera that make matters worse.

A big problem with the camera is how easily it gets hung up on, stuck behind, or squished in front of walls, structures and objects in some spots. It becomes especially problematic when in confined areas, but even in bigger, more open areas, with a few objects or buildings scattered about, Red Ninja’s camera still finds itself challenged by objects in the vicinity.

Beyond that, the camera just tends to act up and do strange things at times. Sometimes when moving around or jumping, in certain areas, it stubbornly tries to stick to a strange position or simply freaks out and gets twitchy while trying to stay on Kurenai. Despite the player having full 3D control of the camera, when it gets into a phase like this, it can be very troublesome to deal with and will sometimes all but refuse to behave. Likewise, it enters preset angles at certain times and places and when it does, they often are not helpful, and the transition to them can be unexpected and disorienting. To top it off, when rotating the camera while moving, the camera simply does not want to stay in front of Kurenai if you move it there, and will try to reposition itself behind her if you try to keep it in front of her while moving.

Thankfully, Red Ninja’s camera can be reset to its default position, directly behind Kurenai, with the push of a shoulder button, so if it gets too crazy, the push of a shoulder button can usually remedy the situation, at least until you start moving again. There is also a first person view which can be used for looking around and aiming, so at times when the camera is being especially stubborn, there are still options to correct or at least remedy the problems. Still, they are not an excuse for or solution to the camera problems overall.

Red Ninja's stubborn camera can sometimes make things difficult, especially in acrobatic or platforming sequences.

Moving away from the camera, the controls are Red Ninja’s other big issue. The layout of them on the controller is perfectly fine, but, similarly to, and partially as a result of, the camera, the controls can be very sensitive, twitchy and imprecise.

In particular, the left stick used to move Kurenai is too sensitive and twitchy; similarly to the camera, but, to be clear, not just as a result of it. Kurenai’s movement speed has a large range to it from fast to slow, and without being steady and sensitive on the stick, you’ll seed Kurenai running at a quickly increasing speed. This range of speed is due to, and necessary for, performing the games acrobatic moves, such as wall running, but can simultaneously being problematic in both stealth and platforming sequences when subtlety and precision are required.

Kurenai is an especially speedy character, although sometimes the twitchy controls make her a bit tough to control.

Speaking of wall running, the other major issue with the controls is in performing the game’s special, acrobatic moves and, as a result, navigating some of the more complex platforming sequences. Kurenai can perform a number of special or acrobatic moves, including swinging or hanging from the Tetsugen’s wire, running across water, and wall running. Of greatest note out of these is the wall-running, which is tough and inaccurate to control. Unlike in a game like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, which allows specific start and end points for wall running and handles it as an extension of the character’s actual running, Red Ninja’s wall running is fully-controllable by the player, requires the player to speed up and then hit a runnable wall at high speeds; at this point, you continue controlling Kurenai, except sideways, while controls remain the same, and controlling her during a wall run quickly is instantly jarring and quickly becomes confusing. Likewise, controlling platforming sequences in general can, as previously mentioned, be tough and imprecise due to the stubborn camera and twitchy controls. When the acrobatics and platforming are working well, they are actually very exciting and rewarding, but when they are compromised by the camera and controls, they can be extremely frustrating, as well.

Acrobatic maneuvers like wall-running can be very fun when you get them working, but the controls can make some difficult to pull off.

Once, or if, one takes the time to get the hang of Red Ninja’s camera and controls and overcome or look past their issues, it’s easy to find a game that is otherwise very fun, engaging and memorable, with some great ideas and elements. Beyond controls and camera, there are a few minor issues, but they are forgivable and not detrimental to the overall experience in most cases.

Among them are the relatively infrequent checkpoints during stages; Red Ninja’s stages are massive and very long, and are more akin to “sections” or chapters of the overall game than single stages. That said, checkpoints are rare during them, and this may be frustrating to some. I, personally, didn’t mind this on most occasions; I’m not one to complain about a lack of frequent checkpoints, usually, because I often feel that too many detract from the challenge in many games. However, the scarcity of checkpoints did prove frustrating to me on occasion due to some irritating deaths during platforming sequences because of the aforementioned camera and control issues.

Another point of criticism could be the enemy A.I., which is admittedly not the best; even on the hardest difficulty, normal enemies aren’t especially bright. However, they aren’t so foolish that it impacts the experience to much of any degree, and their oblivious nature at times and lack of combat prowess could be attributed to the Tenchu-like stealth gameplay, which tends to require this from the enemy A.I. for the game to work as a whole. Overall, I didn’t find the enemy A.I. to be much of a problem, and it generally functioned as does the A.I. in most similar stealth titles; if occasionally a bit less intelligent.

One more very minor complaint some may have is the lack of a stage select and some missable upgrades and items found in boxes in each stage. This is hardly a big deal, but could be potentially frustrating, especially since a number of these upgrades are important, helpful and fun.

Besides that, the only other noteworthy issue is the lack of replayability. While the main game is of decent length (around 10-12 hours on my first playthrough), there are literally no extras to speak of. Besides playing through on a harder difficulty or trying to better your performance, there are no extras, unlockables or incentives to play through the game a second time. Not an issue with the game itself, per say, but still an issue, as extras and unlockables in a title like this are an important key to the game’s longevity.

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

Outside of its frustrating camera and control problems, Red Ninja has a lot of things I loved about it, which made it a game that still stands out as memorable and unique to me, despite its problems, and which make it worth checking out and investing the time and effort into playing through.

First and foremost, for those who acclimate themselves to the camera and control issues, the game is actually a lot of fun to play. There are plenty of interesting and unique gameplay elements, and there is a lot of variety and different facets to the gameplay.

Red Ninja features many familiar stealth gameplay mechanics, but also has a surprising amount of variety in its gameplay, and its own unique feel.

Red Ninja is primarily a stealth action title in the vein of the Tenchu series, and fans of these titles will feel right at home creeping around the game’s massive stages, stalking guards who patrol the area in different patterns, and finding the best, and most brutal and creative, ways to execute them without being spotted. It’s just as satisfying as ever, and features a number of interesting and fun mechanics that add to it. One particularly fun and noteworthy stealth mechanic is Kurenai’s ability to “seduce” guards; essentially an ability that lets you peek out from around a corner and draw an enemy over, as Kurenai motions seductively for him and asks for help in a suggestive voice. It’s silly, and is somewhat of a crapshoot, since sometimes enemies don’t fall for it, but it’s one of a number of the ways that Red Ninja mixes up its stealth gameplay. It’s most noteworthy and enjoyable features, however, revolve around the insane violence and acrobatics, largely made possible by Kurenai’s weapon, the Tetsugen.

Kurenai can lure enemies to her via seduction........

....and quickly dispose of them when they get close.

As mentioned before, the Tetsugen is a razor-wire weapon functioning on a mechanism hidden inside Kurenai’s sleeve. The wire has a good amount of length to it and functions based on a “tension meter” which, well, shows the tension on the wire; generally, the higher the tension, the more damaging and brutal the results when you clothesline an enemy with it, or pull on it when it’s wrapped around or attached to them. The Tetsugen can be wrapped around and slung over different objects and structures, or latched on and wrapped around different body parts of your enemies, which makes for plenty of variety both on combat and in stealth. The Tetsugen is capable of all manner of violence; for example, the player can throw it an enemy from above them, then drop off the opposite side with the Tetsugen attached to their foe, and watch as it drags the enemy up, with the tension increasing, leaving them hanging in the air to die. Or, you could, perhaps, sneak up on an enemy, throw the Tetsugen towards their feet, binding them, then jump back and pull the wire, tearing the enemy’s feet off, and leaving him to drag himself along the ground.

The Tetsugen can be used as a creative and deadly tool of stealth.

The weapon also serves to make combat enjoyable and somewhat strategic if you are spotted; groups of enemies can be dealt with at the same time with the Tetsugen, and it makes for some spectacularly over-the-top showcases of violence when you pull things off right in combat. The Tetsugen can be wrapped around any and all structures and attached to an enemy while being used to attack others with the tensed wire. For example, if there were a group of three enemies, you might throw the end of the Tetsugen at one enemy, binding his feet with it, then run around a tree to create tension, and quickly speed past the other two enemies with the tensed wire, cleaving one in half, then jumping, wire still in tow, and decapitating the next, before finally releasing the wire, ripping the original enemy’s feet off. While using the weapon and managing its tension meter definitely takes some getting used to, the ludicrously over-the-top violence and range of possibilities make it worth getting the hang of, and an immensely satisfying and original weapon to use.

The Tetsugen can also make for incredibly chaotic and brutal combat.

The Tetsugen, likewise, has a number of functions and attachments which can be implemented both in and outside of combat for different effects. In the game’s acrobatic aspects and sequences, the Tetsugen works as a kind of sleeker and agile rope; seeing various creative uses similar to the trusty whip of Indiana Jones. Whether you’re swinging across chasms or hanging and lowering yourself down a pit or rising up one to sneak up behind and enemy, the Tetsugen sees plenty of creative usage.

In addition to standard items like throwing knives, bamboo darts and the like, the Tetsugen has a number of attachments and upgrades, as does Kurenai herself. The Tetsugen gains both a hook for latching onto things (for acrobatic use) and a billy-club-like attachment, allowing you to swing the wire around, pummeling enemies with the blunt end of the attachment. Similarly, Kurenai gains a number of interesting abilities throughout; including upgrades which allow her to run on water and jump higher and longer.

There are a few attachments for the Tetsugen, including a billy-club-like one which lets Kurenai pummel enemies surrounding her.

While Kurenai also has a small hand-held blade that can be used both for melee combat and stealth purposes, which is arguably easier to use and perfectly effective, the sheer chaos and creativity of the Tetsugen make it the absolute highlight of her arsenal, and worth using even in situations when it may not be necessary, just because of how fun and satisfying a weapon it is to wield.

On the subject, Red Ninja’s combat (again, once you overcome the twitchy camera and movement controls), is effective and enjoyable, and features more depth than the average stealth game. While this does, in a way, work against the game in that it somewhat discourages stealth, it is still fun and effective, and helps towards the multifaceted feel of the game. A simple lock-on system (usable both in combat and stealth), makes focusing on enemies and switching between them simple and effective, and blocking and attacking works well. Likewise, you’re even given the ability to slow down time for a few seconds when a meter fills up, allowing for more precision and finesse. The speed of Kurenai’s movement lends a fast-pace and feeling of excitement to the game overall, even in the slower stealth scenes, and it also livens up combat when spotted, as Kurenai quickly zips around her enemies, running and jumping past and through them.

Combat is fast-paced and enjoyable, thanks to Kurenai's acrobatic move set and quickness.

This sense of speed is, in fact, something I found very unique and exciting about Red Ninja, and something which sets its gameplay apart in some ways from other stealth titles, giving the game a unique and exciting feel of its own. While Red Ninja does emphasize many of the stealth gameplay aspects familiar to the genre; creeping along walls, hiding bodies, and sneaking around above enemies while observing patrol routes and layouts for the right time to strike; what is unique is the faster pace of the game created by Kurenai’s speed. While simply running up at any enemy will usually result in getting spot, Kurenai is far quicker and more agile in all her actions than the average stealth game protagonist. She makes her way through environments quickly and with acrobatic finesse, and sneaking up on enemies has a faster and more visceral feel because of it. Even traditional stealth kills with Kurenai’s small blade have a quick and intense pace to them; add to that the ability to snag enemies from a distance on the fly with the Tetsugen and quickly dispatch them, and Red Ninja manages to keep up a uniquely fast pace for a stealth action title.

Kurenai's speed lends an exciting pace to the game.

Kurenai’s acrobatics likewise play a role in keeping up her speed, and moves like wall-running, wall-jumping, backflipping, rolling and even, eventually, running on water, keep things fast, exciting and appropriately over-the-top; even if some acrobatics and platforming can be tough to perform at times. While Prince of Persia-esque platforming and acrobatic sequences can be tough at times due to the dodgy controls and camera, they also add to the game’s variety and break things up, and, when things work well, swinging, wall-running and jumping around are very exciting and satisfying.

Red Ninja’s environments and stages, namely the sheer size and length of them, was also surprising and welcome. I was a bit disheartened when I first learned that Red Ninja was just 6 “stages” long; however, that number is quite deceptive. Stages are less like brief missions or levels, and more akin to chapters; some lasting almost a couple of hours. Likewise, I like Red Ninja’s environments; I enjoyed the visual style of them, as well as the variety of areas in a stage; one stage may lead you through multiple large, connected environments, and it lends a sense of scale to the game’s world.

Prince of Persia-like acrobatics play a key role in platforming sections.

I also found Red Ninja’s boss battles to be tough, creative and tense affairs, with far more interesting and cinematic appeal than the “beat the crap out of him until he’s dead” bosses found in the Tenchu series, and would liken them to the unique and creative boss battles found in the Metal Gear Solid series. While some have criticized the sometimes unclear objectives of them, I never personally found this to be much of an issue, and found that each boss fight was unique and interesting to figure out. In particular, without spoiling much, a climatic boss battle reminiscent of the Vulcan Raven fight from Metal Gear Solid, and a battle atop a mountain during a thunderstorm, requiring you to destroy a series of electric “generators,” are two exciting moments that still stand out amongst the many boss battles I have fought.

Outside of its gameplay, special note should be made of the tale Red Ninja tells; its story surprised me, both in its quality and some of its twists. I was not expecting a particularly in-depth or well-written tale out of Red Ninja, and so it is surprising, then, that its story and characters became one of my primary reasons for playing, and wanting to complete, the game. As mentioned earlier, Japanese film writer/director Shinsuke Sato was brought on board to write the story for Red Ninja; and it shows. Red Ninja’s focus on its characters and story was both unexpected and extremely welcome, and served as a driving force for my desire to see the game through to its end. The general premise of a vengeful young person traumatized by the death of a loved one is, of course, nothing particularly new, but as with any good story, it’s not as much the premise that matters, but what is done with it; and the story Red Ninja slowly reveals is surprisingly dark, interesting and well-told.

Red Ninja's story is surprisingly dramatic and well-told.

Conveyed mostly through in-game cutscenes (with a couple of prerendered ones at the beginning and end of the game), the writing, direction and flow of the cutscenes have a strongly cinematic feel to them, which goes a long way in adding weight to the story and characters, and creating a more immersive tale. The cutscenes, and story itself, felt reminiscent to me of classic Japanese cinema set in Feudal Japan, and the voice actors are fitting and do a good job. In addition, characters, especially in their faces and expressions, are surprisingly expressive. I found myself genuinely caring about what was going to happen, and while I won’t spoil it, there are a number of unexpected twists as well as a surprising amount of character drama and development, and it all builds to satisfying and emotional climax. I enjoyed the dark themes and moral ambiguities presented, especially after a few twists around the half way mark of the game, and thought the climax it built to was both emotionally powerful and morally thought-provoking, and the sequence after the final boss, and final scenes, are memorable moments which still stand out to me. The story and cutscenes handle themselves in an effectively somber and serious tone, and the result is a story with a surprising amount of weight, and characters that are genuinely likeable and easy to care about.

Cutscenes are well-written and directed, and have a strongly cinematic feel to them.

The cast is surprisingly varied and likeable and Kurenai herself is a well-developed character with a likeable personality, who revealed herself to be more than just the pretty face (among other features) used to drive the game’s marketing. Kurenai is a strong and deadly woman, while still managing to come across as a sympathetic character who, buried under her anger, sadness and lust for revenge, is a good person underneath it all. Seeing her struggle with her multi-faceted relationships to the rest of the cast feels genuine, and her character truly develops throughout the story. For all the physical/sexual aspects of her emphasized by the developers and publishers, beyond the revealing outfit lies a strong, likeable character.

Characters are interesting and likeable.

The voice acting is also well-done for most characters, and the music, while most of it doesn’t particularly stand out, suits the game well, sets the tone properly, and does have a few stand-out tracks. On the aural side of things, Red Ninja works well and sounds pretty good, even if it isn’t particularly outstanding.

Graphically, Red Ninja isn’t a technical marvel, but still looks nice despite its technical shortcomings, and does well with what it has. With good-looking character models for main characters, subtly expressive and emotional facial animations during cutscenes, an attractive color scheme, and a distinctive style to its world, characters and cutscenes, which lies somewhere between cartoon/anime and realism, the look and style and little details of Red Ninja make it a handsome game despite its technical shortcomings. The textures can be muddy and bland at times, the polygon count isn’t particularly high on environments and enemy soldiers, and some in door environments lack detail. However, the overall style, in addition to the nice main character models, expressive faces, lively color scheme, and smooth animations and framerate, make up for some of the technical low points of the game, graphically. Indeed, main characters and environments have some great artistic design to them; I especially like the painting-like colors and look about many environments. Overall, the game has a nice, distinct style to its environments and characters, Kurenai is a distinct, attractive and well-animated character, and the game on the whole looks good and stylish, even if it isn’t a technical marvel.

Character's faces in cutscenes are expressive and well-animated.

In Conclusion….

Red Ninja is a game with a few serious flaws which, sadly, do hurt the game as a whole to a certain extent. For some, they will make it frustrating, or even a chore to play. Wrestling with its stubborn camera and getting used to the overly-sensitive movement controls may prove too much for a good number of people, and do take an unfortunate toll on what is an otherwise enjoyable game. However, especially for fans of stealth action games, Red Ninja is still a title very much worth a look for its many positive qualities beyond the camera and control issues. The camera and control problems can be overcome with some practice and patience, and once you do overcome them, you will find a lot to love, and a game with a lot of personality. Red Ninja has a surprisingly engaging and well-told story, a likeable, (would-be) iconic main character, a wonderfully unique and incredibly brutal weapon, and a nice mixture of acrobatic platforming elements and stealth action. The gameplay has a fast, visceral feel unique to the stealth action genre, and Kurenai’s quick, acrobatic moves combine well with the ludicrously violent and creative Tetsugen, making it an absolute blast to battle and assassinate your enemies. Add to this a pleasant visual style, nice character designs, and engaging cutscenes, and you have a game with a lot of good things to offer behind its initially all-too-noticeable blemishes. Red Ninja may have its share of issues, but lying beyond them is a fun, interesting and memorable experience, well worth looking past its flaws to discover.

Red Ninja has some issues, but beyond them are a fun game, an interesting story, and a strong heroine.

Who Should Play It?

Any fan of stealth-action games, and gamers with a love for insane weaponry and over-the-top violence. Those with an interest in dark stories involving feudal Japan, ninja, or just revenge and betrayal. Or anybody who’s seen Kurenai’s image around, and is interested in learning who she actually is and what her game was actually like; both the character and the game she stars in have more to them than meets the eye.   read

12:47 PM on 06.15.2012

(Preview) A Look Forward At: Eternal Light


Title: Eternal Light

Alternate Title(s): Witches (early development)

Developer: Revisitronic

Publisher: To Be Announced/None

Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Windows PC

Target Release Date: To Be Announced/None

Status: Development stalled or cancelled (developer filed for bankruptcy)/Searching for Publisher

Title image for Eternal Light.

What Is This Game?

Eternal Light is a medieval hack n’ slash/adventure game by little-know Spanish developer, Revisitronic. The game takes place in a dark medieval fantasy setting, and stars three scantily-clad female warriors, tasked with destroying “The Beast” and his army of demonic minions. The game looks to employ old-school hack n’ slash adventure gameplay, with some dungeon-crawling aspects. The developers have placed an emphasis on the game’s co-op aspects, and say that it will offer co-op for up to three players. The game is currently without a publisher and, with Revisitronic having reportedly filed for bankruptcy last year, possibly without a developer, as well.

Eternal Light is all about medieval babes slaying ugly demons.


Eternal Light was announced way back in August 2007, and since then, details on it have trickled out here and there, but have been rather sparse. Originally, the game went by a different title: Witches. Under development by the little-know Spanish developer, Revistronic, not very much was know about what this game actually was; what was apparent from the few screenshots were the game’s dark medieval setting, and that it seemed to emphasize the sex appeal of its female protagonists.

Eternal Light was originally known as "Witches" when it first appeared in 2007.

Revistronic was a relatively obscure developer, themselves: details on the developer are rare, and their previous releases few and far between; including an all-but-forgotten 1996 PC adventure title, “Three Skulls of the Toltecs” and a couple of equally overlooked 2003 PC releases: Rocko’s Quest, and Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure.

Revisitronic had released a few titles in the past, but none met with much popularity or success.

Revisitronic was quiet about Witches until late February/early March 2008, when a teaser site for the game showed up, and they finally opened up about it to the press, releasing more screenshots, a teaser trailer, and some specifics and details on the game itself. “Witches” was to be a third-person hack n’ slash adventure game, with an emphasis on co-op, deep combat systems, and (seeing through all the fancy wording used to describe it) sexy medieval women kicking ass. Revisitronic seemed confident about the game, and that its premise would be both appealing and successful.

Revisitronic finally released details about "Witches" around Feburary/March of 2008, but the game dropped off the map quickly afterwards.

The press was relatively positive about the game, but once again, Witches dropped off the map. It finally resurfaced in October of 2010, when Revisitronic released a few videos of it on their website and Youtube page, including gameplay footage and a more formal trailer, under what was apparently the game’s new title: Eternal Light. However, the game must have been forgotten at this point by the mainstream gaming press; while the videos turned up in October 2010, they didn’t make their way to most mainstream gaming news sites until February or March of 2011; if at all. In fact, GameFAQs still has yet to update their listing of Eternal Light with its new name; on their website, it's still listed as “Witches” as I write this.
Witches returned as "Eternal Light" in late 2010/early 2011, with this almost humorously provocative trailer(above), as well as a couple of gameplay videos (below).

Sadly, this marked the last word thus far about Eternal Light, and things are looking less-than-hopeful for the title. Revisitronic saw one more release in 2010: a WiiWare title, Fennimore Fillmore: The Westerner; a remake of their previously mentioned 2003 PC title, Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure, but things went downhill for the developer from there, it seems. Information on Eternal Light, and Revisitronic, is sparse at best, and no official word on the title has come out since early 2011. However, Revisitronic’s official website is currently down, and word is that they filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

With this in mind, and no further word about Eternal Light since, the game’s fate seems to be in limbo at best. It’s a shame that Eternal Light may never see that light of day, too, because, while the game was probably destined for some level of obscurity regardless, what little previews, screenshots, videos and information were shown by the developers hinted at a game that may not have been revolutionary, but probably would have been a lot of fun.

The Game:

What’s It All About?

Eternal Light, as mentioned, was/is to be a third-person hack n’ slash adventure, with what appears to be some dungeon crawling aspects. Taking place in a dark medieval fantasy setting, the game was to star three female protagonists by the names of Tempest, Shadow and Fire. With the option of three-player co-op gameplay, the players are tasked with slaughtering the satanic minions of “The Beast,” and ultimately bringing an end to his reign of terror over the land.

Eternal Light promises cooperative demon-slaying for up to three players.

There’s no avoiding that much of the appeal emphasized by the developers was what many would consider superficial or even exploitative; the main points emphasized were pretty much sex appeal and violent combat, and the game can't be discussed without bringing these up.

The main draw of Eternal Light appeared to be its three half-naked female protagonists, and its previews and almost humorously over-sexualized trailer made no bones about it. This was a game about three medieval babes massacring the hordes of darkness, and looking good doing it. Tempest, Shadow and Fire are all clad in what looks like armored lingerie, while holding big, badass weapons, casting deadly spells, and maybe taking themselves a little too seriously for how they’re dressed. That said, the ladies of Eternal Light still had an appropriately tough and no-nonsense look about them, and I dug their character designs in a way. Their faces aren’t overly pretty or feminine, and, regardless of what state of undress they’re in, they look like cynical, battle-hardened women up for a good round of demon-slaying. Half-dressed? Sure, but they still have some personality and toughness about them, too, and they’re scantily-clad choice of armor suits the game’s over-the-top, if superficial, appeal.

Previews and trailers have placed an emphasis on sex appeal.

Violence was the other half of the equation, and the developers made it clear that the combat was to be barbaric, brutal and similarly over-the-top to game’s sex appeal. With an emphasis on its “dark fantasy setting” and the ability to dismember your enemies and, apparently, even beat them to death with their own limbs, the violence was clearly targeting an M-rating, with the goal of being gory and visceral. The gritty, barbaric vibe of the game had an appealing look about it as well, and what few monster and environmental designs have been revealed are reminiscent of something akin to Conan, or the PC/PS2 hack n’ slash adventure, Rune: Viking Warlord.

For some, Eternal Light’s exploitative, blatantly violent and sexual approach was, understandably, a turn-off; with many games progressively moving towards a mature, artistic mindset this generation, some would wonder if we really need a game so shamelessly targeting sex appeal and violence as it selling points. It’s debatable, however, I found myself appreciating the blatant, unpretentious and uncaringly shameless approach to sex appeal and violence which the game and its developers were seeming to take. While the game didn’t look like it was going to win any awards for class, it also wasn’t claiming to shoot for them, and the developers seemed to take a sort of pride in Eternal Light’s shameless emphasis on dark, medieval sex and violence. While some would criticize the game and its developers for their shameless approach, I somewhat appreciated it. The trailers, screenshots and general look and description of the game had a certain ridiculous, exploitative, semi-obnoxious charm in their shamelessness; like some so-bad-its-good B-movie. At least they knew what they were trying to make: a game about medieval babes and demon-slaying violence. You couldn’t criticize them for marketing it deceptively, that’s for sure, and what’s wrong with some mindless, over-the-top fun every once in a while?

Eternal Light promised a dark setting and violent combat.

How Will It Play?

Putting the possible controversy over sex and violence aside, there were actually a number of aspects about this title that not only made it eye-catching and appealing at first glance, but also could make for a genuinely enjoyable game. First and foremost, at the center of the gameplay was the combat, which the developers promised to be intense, varied and interesting. If early previews are to be believed, Eternal Light was to features battles ranging from small-scale encounters with a few enemies, to huge, epic-scale battles featuring over one-hundred enemies at a time. In addition to this, Revistronic promised “a spectacular system of tactical combat” which, if their promises came full-circle, was to feature not only the ability to use any object in the environment as a weapon, but also to dismember you enemies and pick up their own limbs to use as weapons against them and their brethren. I was immediately reminded, again, of the cult hack n’ slash adventure “Rune: Viking Warlord,” which allowed similar use of environmental objects and body parts as weapons; which, personally, caught my attention, being a fan of that particular title and its gritty, over-the-top combat. Outside the ability to use all sorts of objects and body parts as weapons, the combat sounded like standard old-school hack n’ slash gameplay, combining physical combo attacks with magical powers; not that that is a bad thing, mind you. I, personally, love a good, old-fashioned, ultra-violent hack n’ slash romp, and Eternal Light sounded as if it was poised to offer just that.

Brutal combat, including the ability to dismember opponents and use their limbs as weapons, is a point of focus in Eternal Light.

Eternal Light had some other interesting features the developers mentioned in the limited previews and press releases seen of it. Stages were said to contain enslaved prisoners for the players to find and rescue. This is all relatively standard fare, however, the interesting bit mentioned (though never much elaborated on) was the ability to add these prisoners to your party and, apparently, have them fight alongside you throughout the game. Details about this party system haven’t been expanded upon, but it was mentioned that your “leadership” skills would play a part in this; allowing you to save these comrades and gain their trust, or sacrifice them in battle. With the lack of elaboration on this, it could really just be a fancy way of saying “if you don’t protect your party members, they’ll get killed,” but the prospect of this idea is something that could potentially add an interesting element to gameplay.

Although only a few have been revealed, enemy designs look promisingly twisted and nasty.

Also promised were “fully interactive environments.” Once again, many games promise this and the exact meaning of it varies from case to case and can mean a lot of things. However, interactive environments in a hack n’ slash adventure can only serve to make combat more interesting. It was already detailed that environmental objects could be used as weapons, but if taken full advantage of, interactive environments can add a lot of potential and variety to combat; perhaps with breakable walls or structures, for example. Again, what these “fully interactive environments” would entail remains to be seen, but its holds potential to add even more variety and chaos to battle; and some mention of climbing and scaling things was made, so perhaps some acrobatics with come into play. All a welcome addition in any game of this type.

Environments look interesting, with a decidedly dark and gritty medieval style.

Outside combat, Revisitronic also stated that the game’s campaign would be about 12 hours long, and contain multiple endings based on the actions of the characters. Once again, with the lack of details on this, it’s hard to comment on it, but multiple endings based on player’s actions and decisions is an element not seen in most hack n’ slash titles, and would be a welcome and interesting addition that could add another level to the game beyond just brutal combat and sexy outfits.

Judging by the limited details released, it sounds as if some climbing and acrobatics could play a part.

Worth mentioning as well, is that Eternal Light featured at least two confirmed modes; titled Requiem and Arena. While, once again, the lack of details on the game make it hard to comment on them, it was mentioned that they would contain “four levels and 80 scenarios.” The length, size and nature of these levels and scenarios are completely unspecified, however, so it’s really anybody’s guess about them. Still, an Arena mode sounds like a nice addition; taking on challenges in a game like Eternal Light is a fun and natural addition and has an addictive quality, adding replay value to the game outside of its campaign. And while online was never officially confirmed, it can probably be assumed that a game heavily emphasizing three-player co-op would allow for said co-op to be played online.

Although online wasn't officially confirmed, the game's heavy focus on co-op play would seem to make online a given, especially judging by the lack of split-screen in screenshots.

Looking Forward……

Eternal Light seems like a potentially interesting hack n’ slash adventure, however, its troubled history and lack of attention, unfortunately, do not bode well for it. With Revisitronic’s fate looking less than promising, and no word on it being picked up by a publisher, there’s a very good chance that Eternal Light may never see the light of day, and simply fade into obscurity without ever being released. It’s always a bit sad to see this happen, and while I doubt Eternal Light would meet with huge success or have much impact on the gaming scene, it still looked like a charmingly over-the-top, ultra-violent hack n’ slash romp, with a certain likability to its shameless, over-sexed attitude. While most might call it superficial and exploitative, and many more will probably never even know it existed, I’ll be sad to see it fade away if it never resurfaces. Eternal Light probably isn’t going to break any new ground if it ever comes out, but it does look like an enjoyable “B-game” that is charming in its semi-obnoxious sex-and-violence appeal. Hopefully we’ll hear more from Revisitronic at some point in the future, or the game will get picked up by another publisher or developer. It might look low-budget, shameless and silly, but it also could be a lot of fun.

Eternal Light's fate may be in limbo at the moment, but if it ever sees a release, it could prove to be a fun and interesting title.

Who Should Keep An Eye On It?

Fans of late-90’s/early 2000’s hack n’ slash action titles. Gamers with a thing for dark fantasy, ultra-violence, or ass-kicking babes. Or, of course, any gamers with an interest in the obscure; this title is about as obscure as they come.   read

12:50 PM on 06.10.2012

There Will Be Some New Additions to Games Obscura!

Greetings, followers, newcomers and, in general, readers of Games Obscura. Games Obscura has only been around for a few weeks, but I find myself dedicated to this blog, and have already been thinking of ways to make Games Obscura better. In particular, additions to this blog that will add variety, and keeps things fresh and exciting, while still remaining proudly dedicated to its focus on the obscure, forgotten, strange and underappreciated side of gaming. On that note, Games Obscura will be remaining strongly focused on my “Second Look At” articles for particular games, but there are also a couple of new sections and varieties of articles I will be working on, which I feel will spice up this blog and add variety, and be of great interest to readers of my blog and fellow lovers of the “obscure” side of gaming…..

In particular, there are two new “sections” or varieties of articles I will be writing, in addition to my “Second Look At” articles. The first of these new additions is something I’ll be calling “Consoles Obscura.” Essentially, second looks at particular consoles from the past which, for one reason or another, were unsuccessful, forgotten, or otherwise unappreciated. In these articles, I’ll take a look back at the history of a particular “obscure” game console, the console itself and the company behind it, its library of games, the reasons why it fell into obscurity, and what about it still makes it interesting/what games on it make it worth a second look.

Many consoles have shot for greatness, but fallen into obscurity. Pictured (left to right): Sega Genesis w/32X and Sega CD, TurboDuo, and the Neo Geo.

The second section I’ll be adding is “Future Obscura;” articles focused on in-depth previews and examinations of games that are upcoming, not-yet-released, or caught in limbo. These games aren’t receiving the attention of big-name releases for one reason or another, are odd or different, or perhaps are even having trouble getting out the gate, but are titles which fans of the obscure may find interesting to learn about. As such, these articles will shed some light on future obscure titles, and examine what they are, what’s interesting about them and why they are worth keeping an eye on.

Some upcoming games seem destined for obscurity, or may even be caught in limbo due to development troubles or lack of a publisher. Pictured: Eternal Light, aka "Witches."

So, curious and adventurous gamers, keep an eye out for future entries in Games Obscura! My “Second Look At” articles, to be clear, will remain the bulk of this blog. But I feel that these new varieties of articles will excite and inform fans of the obscure, add variety and excitement to this blog, and work well towards the focus and goal of Games Obscura. As always, if there is a console or game in either of these sections that you feel deserves attention, feel free to make requests or recommendations via PMs, email, or the comments section. Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out, I’ll be updating soon!

*edit/update: I've decided to change the name of my preview articles from "Future Obscura" to "A Look Forward At." It seemed to fit better alongside my "Second Look At" articles. "Consoles Obscura" will still keep its name.*   read

10:47 AM on 06.07.2012

A Second Look At: Koudelka


Title: Koudelka

Developer: Sacnoth

Publishers: SNK, Infogrames

Platform: Playstation

Release dates: December 16th, 1999 (Japan), June 29th, 2000 (N.A.), September 29th, 2000 (Europe)

Cover art for Koudelka.

What Is This Game?

Koudelka is the original Playstation game which served as the predecessor to the cult Playstation 2 RPG series, “Shadow Hearts.” Koudelka created the universe in which the Shadow Hearts series takes place, and serves as the first entry, both in release and chronology, in what became the Shadow Hearts series. Koudelka plays quite differently than the Shadow Hearts series, however; the game can best be described as a hybrid of survival horror and turn-based RPG gameplay.

The story is set in the year 1898, and occurs mostly in and around the mysterious Nemeton Monastery in Wales. Koudelka, a young gypsy woman, arrives at the monastery after a series of supernatural visions, and soon encounters two others: Edward Plunkett, an adventurer and looter, and James O’Flaherty, a bishop there to investigate the mysterious “Émigré Document” at the monastery. Both end up joining with Koudelka to investigate the monastery for their own reasons, and end up uncovering the dark past and terrifying secrets of the monastery together, as their unlikely alliance slowly gives way to the companionship they will need to explore the monastery, and return from it alive.

Koudelka scales the walls of the Nemeton Monastery in the game's opening cutscene.


Koudelka was a game so obscure at the time of its release that it probably would have been totally forgotten by now, if not for the moderate cult popularity of its Playstation 2 successors, the Shadow Hearts series. At the time of its release, however, I recall being totally fixated on it. The rare previews I’d seen in various video game publications had completely grabbed my interest; a dark, gothic, M-rated horror RPG set in the 1800’s? Now HERE’S something different, I thought. Even when the game was released to average and mediocre reviews, I was still transfixed by the look and concept of it, and it did nothing to deter my fascination with this obscure and unique game.

The game proved oddly elusive to me upon its release, and whether it was bad luck on my part or an actual lack of copies produced or shipped, I have no idea, but within the first month or so after its release, I went through hell just to get my hands on it. None of the stores in my area were carrying it, so I, naturally, turned to the internet to acquire a copy; upon trying to order it from EBWorld, I found the game listed as out of stock, despite even a small advertisement for it on the side of their homepage. So I backordered it……and received an email a week or two later saying they were not expecting any more copies of it to arrive, and thus cancelled my order. So I turned to a number of other online retailers, including the once-popular Chips n’ Bits, all of whom either had it backordered or not listed at all. I finally backordered it from Chips n’ Bits and, after waiting a couple weeks for it to come back into stock, I FINALLY had a copy shipped to me. A strange sequence of events, for sure, especially since the game isn’t notably rare or expensive nowadays (not common, mind you, but not terribly rare), and it became more readily available within the following couple of months. At any rate, when I finally acquired the game, I was jonesing to play it, even with a slight paranoia that the mediocre reviews might be right…..and that I might be disappointed…..

Those fears were quickly washed away, however. Shortly after popping in the first disc, viewing the game’s beautiful prerendered opening, getting into the first battle, and then moving on and doing some exploring, I was sure; this was no mistake, I was going to love this game. Koudelka was, and still is, a game that is fascinating and unique, and lives on as one of my favorite games of the Playstation era. To be clear, it has some issues, namely with the battle system, which may deter some players, and its unconventional hybrid of the survival horror and RPG genres, while interesting, puts it into a weird niche that seemed to ensure its obscurity. However, these questionable issues and quips did little to take away from the fact that Koudelka is a memorable, atmospheric experience, with excellent characters, a fascinating story, and a dark setting and style rarely seen in RPGs of its time.

Koudelka is filled with a dark style and atmosphere unique to its genre.

History, Release and Reception:

Koudelka was developed by the somewhat short-lived and obscure developer, Sacnoth. Sacnoth was a development company founded by Hiroki Kikuta, who had previously worked as a musical composer for Squaresoft in the mid-90’s, and eventually decided to set out on his own to create his own video games. Sacnoth was the result of his creative venture.

Sacnoth founder Hiroki Kikuta has spent much of his career as a musical composer, his work including the soundtrack for the SNES classic Secret of Mana, in addition to his own score for Koudelka.

1999/2000 saw two releases from Sacnoth: the highly-regarded, but extremely over-looked and under-produced, NeoGeo Pocket Color mech-strategy game, Faselei, and Koudelka. Koudelka was to be Kikuta’s masterpiece and Sacnoth’s flagship game, it seemed. Kikuta felt that the RPG genre was generally plagued by immaturity, and that it had become stagnant, relying too much on repeated genre conventions. Koudelka was to be Kikuta’s masterpiece that would take the genre in a new direction and change all that. Indeed, none could claim he wasn’t passionate about it: he claimed to have read over 100 books on British history and took the design team on a trip to Wales, all in an effort to perfect his would-be masterpiece. However, disputes and disagreements between Kikuta and his team on the direction which the gameplay should take lead to an ultimately compromised vision. Kikuta wanted a more action-oriented battle system, whereas much of the team felt it would be wiser to stick close to the turn-based conventions established by industry giant, Squaresoft. This dispute is quite likely what lead to that which became the game’s heaviest criticism; it’s somewhat odd choice of a grid-based, tactical-RPG style, battle system.

Kikuta also created the mech-strategy game Faselei, but Koudelka was the game he envisioned as his and Sacnoth's crowning achievement.

Koudelka eventually was released to little fanfare and mediocre-to-average reviews. Most critics felt generally the same way about it; the prerendered cutscenes and environments were pretty, the concept original, and the characters and story intriguing. However, the main qualm most critics had with it, which was largely what dragged down its scores, was the aforementioned battle system, along with some of the more frustrating aspects tied to it. Due in part to its lukewarm critical reception, coupled with a general lack of coverage and awareness, Koudelka was quickly forgotten. A short-lived Koudelka manga sprang up in Japan around the time of its Japanese release as well, but only lasted for three volumes and was largely overlooked and forgotten due to the game’s lack of popularity.

The game enjoyed a bit of recognition when the Shadow Hearts series came around during the PS2 era, and developed a small but dedicated cult following. By this point, however, Kikuta had already left Sacnoth due to the aforementioned disputes and Koudelka’s lack of success. Sacnoth eventually ended up making three Shadow Hearts games for the Playstation 2, changing its name to Nautilus, and getting acquired by Aruze Entertainment along the way, before finally being announced as officially “dissolved” by Aruze in 2007. Koudelka, meanwhile, while by far the least known and most rarely mentioned game in the series, still managed some recognition amongst Shadow Hearts fans as the predecessor to the series and the origin of its tale. A bittersweet story, for sure, but at least, in the end, Koudelka managed to avoid being completely forgotten thanks to its ties with its slightly more successful successors.

Although Kikuta left Sacnoth after Koudelka, the Shadow Hearts series carried on the game's legacy, expanding on its story and universe.

The Game:


Koudelka really doesn’t have a lot of flaws outside of its battle system but, unfortunately, an RPG’s battle system can often go a long way toward making or breaking it.

I’ll be honest; I had no issues personally with Koudelka’s battle system. I understood the issues it had, why it detracted from the game for some, and that it did feel somewhat odd and out-of-place with the rest of the game. However, to me anyways, its flaws were not much of a big deal, and I even found myself enjoying the battles despite them. That said, the issues with it can’t be overlooked or denied, especially since enough people took issue with them that it dragged down its overall critical reception, and even the creator was apparently dissatisfied with it.

Koudelka features random battles which take place on a small grid which the player and enemies move around on. Think strategy-RPG, but on a smaller scale, with flat terrain. The battle system in and of itself honestly works, and it’s never unmanageable or too hard to tell what you’re doing, really. The problems lie much in its lack of explanation, slow-pace, frustratingly random breakable weapons, and, once again, the jarring transition to battle, and the whole feeling that the battles are disjointed from the rest of the game.

While random encounters happen at a completely reasonable rate, where you are never overwhelmed by them, the pace of the actual battles is still a bit too slow and protracted for most. During battle, certain actions, like spell casting, can take a while to load after selecting them. Moving each of your three characters around the grid, positioning them correctly for attack, watching the enemies do the same, then going through your menus and actually attacking takes a bit of time, too. While it adds an interesting element of strategy to the combat, it also throws off the pacing of the overall game by moving at its own, slower pace and once again, ultimately making it feel like the battles exist in their own little world, without a lot of connection to the rest of the game.

Koudelka's battle system employs a strategy-RPG-esque grid, which allows characters to move around and reposition themselves on the battlefield.

It doesn’t help to dispel this feeling of disconnection with the fact that battles visually appear to take place on a whole other plain of existence. The battlefields which random encounters transport the player to have no real variety, and are more or less just a small piece of land on which the characters move around, surrounded by darkness. One minute you’re in a side room or roaming the courtyard of the monastery, the next, a random encounter hits and your party is fighting enemies in a black abyss. It didn’t bother me to any real degree, but it’s a noticeable issue, and a bit more detail, backgrounds and variety to the battlefields would have probably gone a long way towards solving that feeling of disconnection between the bulk of the game and the battles.

Likewise, the game leaves the player to figure out the details of combat, for the most part. Again, the battles are manageable and menus and commands clear enough that most people shouldn’t have a lot of trouble operating them. However, it also makes some elements, like move and hit rates, and the power of magic and attacks, seem random at times. More troubling, however, and probably the element of battle I found could be most frustrating, were the game’s breakable weapons. Any weapon you pick up and use in battle can pretty much break at any time. While it’s not entirely random, and different weapons have different levels of durability, any old attack could break your weapon at pretty much any time. Before long, I found myself not using good weapons I’d picked up in all but the most important fights and boss battles, for fear of them breaking on some petty monster and being lost forever.

Koudelka's battle system was its greatest complaint from critics and fans. While some players enjoyed it, many others were unhappy with it, including Kikuta himself.

Besides the issues with the battle system, though, there’s really not much wrong with Koudelka. Yes, you could point out small things here and there. Save points can be a bit infrequent at times. The preset camera angles on some rooms can occasionally be a bit confusing, or make for a jarring transition between areas. But that’s something one could say for just about any Playstation game with prerendered environments, and rarely ever produced any real problems or confusion. Outside of that, the only real issue that springs to mind outside the battles is the requirements for getting the best ending (there are three endings total), or for completing a few other optional parts or obtaining some optional scenes. The game is pretty unspecific about said requirements, and the actions or items required for them, and it would be very easy to overlook a few of them without a guide or walkthrough. These are not numerous, particularly difficult or easy to miss for any player who is attentive or thorough, however, and simply looking at a walkthrough and quickly checking said requirements/optional actions or items solves the problem easily. Overall, outside of some qualms with its battle system, Koudelka is a well-crafted game that has a lot of great things going for it.

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

Koudelka is worth a second look because, despite what differing opinions say about its battle system, it is otherwise a damn fine game and an incredibly memorable experience. The game is well-crafted, good-looking, and filled with style and atmosphere. It also has a wonderful and refreshingly unique setting, a great story, and excellent characters, all of which are fully voiced throughout the entire game. Not only that, but the voice acting, dialogue and writing are shockingly good, especially for a game of its time. And on top of it all, the Nemeton Monastery and its surrounding areas are an extremely enjoyable and engaging place to discover and explore.

Koudelka looks very good for a Playstation game. Its prerendered cutscenes look crisp and cinematic, and show off the game’s dark gothic style and great character and monster designs nicely. In-game graphics are pretty nice, too. Prerendered backgrounds are good-looking, and while they aren’t as crisp and clear as those in, say, the Final Fantasy or Resident Evil series, the environments are detailed and dripping with dark, atmospheric style. Character models are actually nice-looking and detailed for a 32-bit game, as well, and are very well animated during in-game cutscenes. Overall, the only area where the game stumbles graphically is in its lack of detail on its battlefields. Otherwise, Koudelka is a nice looking game.

Koudelka features many prerendered cutscenes, and all are cinematic and impressively detailed.

Speaking of visuals, one of Koudelka’s greatest strengths is in its style, artistic designs and atmosphere. Hiroki Kikuta certainly succeeded in his goal of creating a dark, mature and unconventional RPG, and it shows right from the beginning. Koudelka’s gothic architecture, gloomy environments, strange and disturbing monsters, and realistic character designs all come together to create a foreboding and mercilessly dark atmosphere. Further enhancing Koudelka’s dark and unique atmosphere are its sound and music. Subtle details in sound bring the creepy old monastery to life, with wind howling distantly in the background, fire crackling, and character’s footsteps and voices echoing through its seemingly abandoned depths. The sound is minimalist, but it should be; the game is often quiet, but is haunting in its silence. Koudelka’s music is similarly minimalist and atmospheric. Most of the musical tracks appear during battles, and while unusual in style, are befitting of the game’s atmosphere in a certain way. Outside battle, music is minimal, often relegated to cutscenes or dramatic moments. While critic’s opinions seemed somewhat divided on the music, I personally found it minimalist, unique and fitting.

Prerendered backgrounds are detailed and stylish.

Of all the game’s aural aspects, however, special note should be made of not just Koudelka’s surprisingly high-quality English voice acting, but also its extremely well-written dialogue. Not only is the writing and voice acting well above the standard of most games of its time, it’s still better than many of the games being released today. The game is heavy on dialogue, with many extended conversations, and that’s a very good thing, because not only are the characters interesting, but they are so interesting partially because the script and voice work do such an excellent job of bringing them to life. Conversations actually sound like conversations, not stilted dialogue, and help to develop the characters and story naturally.

Koudelka's cast is endearing and diverse.

Much of the writing comes off with a bit of a theatrical charm; which is a good thing. Since this is a Playstation game with prerendered backgrounds, and without the ability to create highly detailed character models, one could liken the presentation and effect of in-game cutscenes to that of a theatrical performance; while Koudelka’s prerendered cutscenes are, of course, very cinematic, in-game ones usually play out from a single angle on a prerendered environment, with all the characters of the scene on the stage of that particular environment. This creates an effect similar to watching a theatrical play, and so it seems appropriate, and works perfectly, that the voice acting, along with the animated, motion-captured character models, have the expressive, dramatic quality of stage actors during a performance. Not only does it make for consistently entertaining dialogue and cutscenes, it also makes up for the lack of subtle cinematic expression the fixed camera angles, prerendered environments and low-detail 3D character models of a 32-bit game lack. The one strike I could issue against the voice acting is that most of the accents are not native to the setting in which the game takes place; however, the writing and quality of the acting overcome this discrepancy easily, and it never detracts from the game or the characters.
Koudelka is fully-voiced, and the acting and writing are surprisingly good for a game of its era.

Koudelka is indeed a well-written and well-acted game, and on that note, the characters and story are creative, in-depth and thoroughly interesting. The story was fascinating, unique and well-told when I first played it, and time has not diminished it. After Koudelka, Edward and James come together, they slowly unravel an increasingly dark, tragic and twisted story, which they, in turn, become entangled in. I don’t want to spoil too much, since the story is one of the game’s driving forces, but the story becomes much more than a haunted house mystery; including elements of historical fiction, dark supernatural forces, the story of an old seafaring vessel, and plenty of tragic human drama tying it all together. Tied right into the story is the rich and three-dimensional cast. Koudelka herself is a great character and an interesting protagonist; she has a unique look about her, and a strong personality which truly evolves throughout the course of the game. Koudelka, Edward and James are fascinating to learn about, and just as fascinating in the development of their friendship and the excellent chemistry and character interaction between them. They are three people who are seemingly very different, and watching them converse, bicker and slowly develop from grudging comrades by necessity to companions who genuinely care about one another is satisfying and entertaining because of how well the game handles it.

The thing I loved the very most about Koudelka is the maturity with which it handles itself and its subject matter throughout the entirety of the game. There are no stupid gags, no comic relief characters, no ridiculously over-the-top moments. There are moments of humor, but they come in the form of realistic character interaction true to who the characters are and their relationships to one another. The historical setting has a coldly realistic look and vibe to it. The supernatural elements are handled with maturity and care, and never become an excuse for ridiculous superpowers or super-human fight scenes. The atmosphere and story stick adamantly to their dark and dramatic nature. The cast is filled with adult characters, who interact like adults, have adult personalities and problems, and are never over-dramatized nor become stereotypes or caricatures of themselves. In short, when Koudelka claims to be a mature game made with a mature audience in mind, it actually means it: this game is aimed at an adult audience. Even today, amongst the many games attempting to become a mature, adult, artistic form of entertainment, Koudelka still stands out as a rare example of a game that really WAS for adults, and not in a superficial sense.

The story is dark and filled with mature and often disturbing themes.

On the gameplay side of the equation, opinions may be divided on the battle system, but the other elements are actually fun and satisfying. Exploring the Nemeton Monastery is exciting, intriguing and appropriately mysterious. Roaming its long hallways, dark side rooms, gloomy courtyards and forgotten depths should prove exciting to any gamer with a curious and adventurous attitude. There’s a real sense of discovery as you uncover items hidden in dark corners, read dusty old letters and documents, solve puzzles, and unlock doors which lead you further into the mysterious depths of the monastery. Random encounters are present throughout the game, but occur at a completely reasonable and well-spaced rate that rarely feels overwhelming or irritating, unlike in so many other games.
While opinions differ on the battle system, the leveling system, on the other hand, is satisfying and rewarding. Players are free to level and customize each character as they see fit by distributing points they earn at each level up into the areas of their choosing, and thus outfitting characters of their choice with magic, melee, guns, defense, MP, HP, etc. This, in turn, adds to the battle system and, at least for myself, made battles an overall enjoyable and rewarding experience despite their issues, as I visibly watched my character’s skill sets grow to my own liking.

Exploring the monastery is both mysterious and intriguing.

Koudelka is a game of decent size and length, and it is well-paced overall, without ending too soon or running on too long with fluff or filler. I’ve heard varying reports of Koudelka’s actual length, and I’m going to assume that it is a matter of playstyle coupled with the amount of battles and exploring you do. Personally, my file clocked in at around 35 hours by the end of it all, but I also explored every nook and cranny, including a few optional parts, and spent some time level-grinding after each boss fight, so I’m sure that increased the play time a bit. I’ve heard other sources say the game is closer to 20 or 25 hours, while yet others say they blew through it in around 15. Whatever the case, Koudelka felt just the right length to me. It never droned on or hit any ruts, and the story remained focused throughout. It should be noted that the game does have multiple endings; three to be exact. However, it should also be noted, without any spoilers, that the best one isn’t hard to obtain and is, well, the best ending to see (and of the other two, one is pretty much the "dud" ending). So most probably won’t find themselves replaying the game just to see the others, especially since another full playthrough would not be required to view them, anyways. I do not say this as if it were a problem, though; the ending wraps things up nicely and the game feels full and complete by the end of it all.

While the battle system has been a subject of debate, the leveling is deep, open-ended and satisfying.

In Conclusion…..

Koudelka may have been a compromised vision, which lead to some questionable decisions for its battle system, but even this couldn’t change the fact that Koudelka was an inspired game with real passion and a great idea behind it. And its creator’s passion and inspiration shine through to create an experience that is still unique, mature and fascinating today, if sadly overlooked and forgotten. Make no mistake, while the Shadow Hearts series are some of my personal favorite games, and I loved each of the entries in the series pretty much equally (including Koudelka), it is also increasingly clear with each entry that Kikuta was not behind those games. While the Shadow Hearts series is indeed strongly tied to Koudelka in its stories (which, in turn, enhances the stories of all of the games, in my opinion), it also delved, increasingly so with each of its three entries, more into the over-the-top events and superpowers, the RPG conventions, and the moments of slap-stick humor which Kikuta originally tried so hard to avoid with Koudelka. In this, Koudelka remains something all its own; a surprisingly mature, adult game which, while perhaps flawed or compromised in some areas, is still to this day a unique and inspired vision; a memorable experience worth rediscovering.

While Kikuta's vision may have been compromised in some regards, Koudelka still proves to be a unique, engrossing and truly mature game.

Who Should Play It?

Any fans of RPGs or survival horror looking for something out of the ordinary. Adult gamers looking for an intelligent, well-written story with a realistic style, or anybody with an interest in historical fiction or stories dealing with the supernatural or the occult. And, of course, any fans of the Shadow Hearts series owe it to themselves to check out Koudelka and see where the story began.   read

7:03 PM on 06.03.2012

A Second Look At: Velvet Assassin


Title: Velvet Assassin

Alternate title(s): Sabotage (working title/development)

Developer: Replay Studios

Publisher: SouthPeak Games

Platforms: Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows PC

Release dates: April 28th, 2009 (N.A.), May 8th, 2009 (Europe)

Cover art for Velvet Assassin.

What Is This Game?

Velvet Assassin is a World War II stealth action game which follows the exploits of a British intelligence agent named Violette Summer; a character based on real-life French-British secret agent, Violette Szabo. The game starts off with Violette Summer lying in a hospital bed in a coma; after the opening, it dives into the memories of Violette, which is where the bulk of the game and its missions take place, as Violette recalls various missions against the Nazis which lead her up to this point. Velvet Assassin plays similarly to the stealth-action ninja series, Tenchu. With guards following set routes through environments, the player is tasked with sneaking behind walls and in the shadows, while finding the best way to either creep past them or, more often, sneak up on them and perform stealth kills, and the ultimate goal usually being to get from point A to point B as stealthily as possible.

Violette preparing to dispatch an unsuspecting Nazi.


I was one of the few people who was not only aware of this game since the first previews and screenshots of it surfaced, but was also very interested in it. Ya see, this game had me at first glance for two reasons: it was a World War II game that was NOT a first person shooter, and it was a stealth-action game. As a bit of a World War II buff, I love to see any World War II game trying something interesting or different. And as a fan of old-school stealth action gameplay (see: Tenchu fan), I’m always excited to try anything in the genre. Long story short, I ended up picking the game up within its first week of release.

From its very beginning, Velvet Assassin captured my interest with its rich style and atmosphere. Velvet Assassin is one of the most purely atmospheric releases I’ve played in a while, and while the story itself is minimalist, it creates a mood, style and atmosphere so unique, so thick and dark, that it almost feels like a horror game at times; which is a good thing. Velvet Assassin goes a long way towards showing how great art and sound design and creative stylistic choices can not only create a game that is moody and atmospheric, but can also look great graphically even without the highest tech in the business. The atmosphere it captures is one I’ve found nothing quite like in a World War II video game before, and it is in this that the game stands out as a unique and memorable experience, despite a minimalistic story and some dated (though, to be clear, still often very enjoyable) gameplay mechanics. Velvet Assassin is not a “perfect” game, nor is it particularly high-budget or “next-gen”, but it also hits many high points in areas big-budget, high-profile releases often neglect or take for granted….

Velvet Assassin has some disturbing themes and images throughout.

History, Release and Reception:

Velvet Assassin was created by German developer Replay Studios, a studio found in 2002, but at the time of Velvet Assassin’s release, had only two previously released titles. Its development cycle was relatively low-key, and typical of a somewhat low-profile release. First announced under the title “Sabotage,” details and screenshots trickled out here and there, but the developers and, subsequently, the press, made a point to emphasize the game’s inspiration: real-life World War II French-British agent, Violette Szabo.

And, indeed, this is a point worth emphasizing, because Szabo was a very interesting woman, and a game inspired by her story was sure to be, at the very least, a unique and fresh idea. It should be clear, though, that the game is not ABOUT Miss Szabo herself, but is just that: inspired by her. The main character of Velvet Assassin is the fictional Violette Summer, and while Velvet Assassin takes places over six missions spanning 12 levels, the real Violette Szabo completed one successful mission, and was captured during her second, tortured, and eventually executed by the Nazis. To be clear, however, the developers were not deceptive on this subject, and made it clear in interviews that while the game was inspired by a real-life hero, it was, in fact, a fictional story. And it did indeed make for a game that stood out from the crowd to those who looked into it, despite its relatively low-profile prior to release.

Violette Summer (left) was inspired by real-life WWII secret agent, Violette Szabo (right)

The title was eventually changed from “Sabotage” to Velvet Assassin, and the game was released first in North America on April 28th 2009, and in Europe on May 8th 2009. Critical reception of the game was generally middle of the road, with scores ranging from mediocre to slightly above average. Gamespot gave Velvet Assassin one of its high scores, a 7.5, and noted, as I have, the game’s rich atmosphere and tense moments as positives. Meanwhile, IGN put it on the slightly less-positive side of the road with a 5/10, emphasizing the game’s “dated” mechanics and lackluster storytelling. Either way, the game was quickly lost in the shuffle and has been rarely mentioned since. Which is a shame, since it is a unique title which gamers interested in stealth action or World War II would do well by themselves to experience….

The Game:


Velvet Assassin is not a terribly flawed or broken game, really; most setbacks it has are really just what you’d called “dated” or “last-gen” elements. Velvet Assassin works and looks fine, but just isn’t necessarily “next-gen;” a point that has proven to be a setback for many lower-profile games critically in the current generation, where large leaps forward in budgets, game design and mechanics for high-profile releases, as the industry moves closer to the “mainstream,” have increasingly widened the gap between big-name titles and smaller releases. While this has had positive effects for big-name releases, it’s also made for a tough critical environment for games like Velvet Assassin, which don’t have the budget for the highest tech, don’t have the quickest A.I. or are grounded in design choices that have quickly come to be considered outdated as the industry hurdles forward.

This is particularly applicable to Velvet Assassin’s “problems” because many of them are either elements of “last-gen” game design, or are small issues that would have been forgiven or overlooked much more readily just a few years ago. Essentially, I understand the issues which some have pointed out with Velvet Assassin, but feel that, to anybody who has enjoyed video games for more than the past five or six years, and can still have fun with a game from a previous generation, Velvet Assassin’s “dated” game design will most likely be very enjoyable, and its inherent flaws will seem miniscule and forgivable to fans of the genre.

Velvet Assassin's gameplay is reminiscent of older stealth-action titles from previous generations.

Velvet Assassin does have some moments of foolish or basic enemy A.I. that will be immediately familiar to fans of the stealth action genre. Guards follow set patrol routes through areas of environments, and if the player is spotted, will chase them for a moderate length of time (or call for help, if you’re unlucky), enter a state of “searching” when they lose them, and then eventually return to their original patrol as if nothing happened. It’s the player’s job, as in most titles of this nature, to dispose of the guards without being spotted by or, if they are spotted, to run away, hide, and try again when they calm down. While fans of old-school stealth action will take no issue with this type of enemy A.I. and the gameplay process surrounding it, it could also be seen as old-fashioned and a bit rusty to others.

While the aforementioned A.I. and old-school stealth game design choices are less flaws and more a matter of taste, Velvet Assassin does have a couple of other minor, but more legitimate, gameplay flaws. In particular, I found it odd that, in a stealth action game of this type, there was no way to press up against or move along walls, and as such no real way to peer around corners naturally. Theses staples of the genre are almost expected and, while the game is designed around the lack of them well-enough that they’re absence is rarely too much of a problem, it’s still an odd choice to exclude such a basic function, and can at times leave you wishing it was there.

There’s also a general lack of replayability to the game, which isn’t a huge issue with the experience itself, but still means you’ll have little reason to go back to it after your first playthrough. Aside from different difficulty levels, there’s not much to unlock or see after finishing the game, and stages are, of course, the same the second time as they were the first. Clocking in at around 10 hours on your first playthrough, with 12 missions, the game isn’t terribly short, but isn’t terribly long, either, and without any real incentive to play through it again, besides earning extra achievements or finding some mostly inconsequential collectibles, there’s a good chance the game will end up shelved after your first playthrough.

Velvet Assassin’s other, more noteworthy and serious problem, is with its storytelling; or lack thereof. While the game and its cutscenes are extremely heavy on atmosphere, style and mood, and do an excellent job of establishing these elements, what they fail to do is convey a real, cohesive story with any real characters or dramatic effect. As mentioned earlier, the bulk of game takes place with Violette in a coma, recalling in her mind the missions which lead up to this point. And from that point on all we really get in the way of story is Violette’s narration during cutscenes explaining what each mission was about and the events surrounding it; while the cutscenes are filled with stylized visuals to underscore Violette’s narration, we never get a real story out of them; Violette’s narration is the only real speaking role we get, and the story is told more as a series of diary entries than it is a cinematic, progressive story. I am all for non-traditional storytelling, especially in a game so focused on style and atmosphere, but the result really is that the story never feels fleshed out or fully engaging. Which is a shame, because with such an interesting concept, such a mesmerizing style, such dark and serious themes, and such an interesting person serving as inspiration, the game could have made for a fascinating tale. Instead, by the end, I was left feeling as if an amazing story about a really fascinating character had just happened……and the game hadn’t really bothered to fill me in on it.

Velvet Assassin's cutscenes are stylish and pretty, but do little to convey the story dramatically.

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

Storytelling issues aside, Velvet Assassin really is a fun, satisfying and unique game, and it has a lot going for it which make it more than worth a look. While the storytelling left a bit to be desired, the style and atmosphere the game so expertly creates go a long way towards making up for that shortcoming. The game oozes dark style and atmosphere, and establishes an incredible sense of darkness, dread and evil surrounding the main character. Many games in the horror genre could, in fact, stand to learn something from Velvet Assassin. While Velvet Assassin is not a horror game, it creates a mood and atmosphere so oppressively dark and, sometimes, morbid, that the game is genuinely depressing and scary at times. Which works great, too, because this oppressive atmosphere makes your enemies come off as all the more dangerous and the situations you are placed in that much more dire. This does a great job of unnerving the player and creating a fitting sense of danger as they sneak behind enemy lines and carefully attempt to avoid detection.

Velvet Assassin's visuals are filled with dark, brooding style and the game is heavily atmospheric.

Contributing to Velvet Assassin’s powerful atmosphere are its beautifully stylish visuals and understated but highly effective sound and music. Visually, the game is vibrant and rich. While the graphics aren’t high-end technically, they prove that great art, environment and character design, along with great lighting and shadows, and a vibrant color palette can more than offset such shortcomings. Violette herself’s character design is unique and appealing, and while Violette is meant to be a darkly beautiful woman, the game doesn’t exploit her, or feel like it’s trying to make her the “sexy female lead.” From her hairstyle, to her costumes, to her perpetually sullen face, Violette is a visually unique and striking heroine. Likewise, enemies have a tough and menacing look about them; most of them look like mean sons of bitches that’d kill you without hesitation, and that’s good, because when you’re sneaking around trying not to be spotted, it’s good to feel like there’s a reason for it.

Violette Summer is a unique and visually striking heroine.

Environments look great and are possibly the graphical highlight of the game. Colors are rich, and even bright environments have a rich darkness to them thanks to a choice of deep, dark, rich colors; colors that look almost ready to bleed off the screen. For a game so shrouded in darkness, its impressive how simultaneously rich and vibrant its color palette is. Even in its darkest environments (which there are many of), the game still never looks dull or drab. The use of shadows in the game look great, too; and since hiding in them is a central element of gameplay, they serve as more than just an cool effect. Buildings, people and objects cast long, dark shadows which both provide cover AND add to the nightmarish ambiance of the game. Meanwhile, the trippy, time-freezing “morphine mode” sequences continue to add to the dream-like effect with saturated colors and overwhelming brightness.

Environments are vibrant and richly detailed, and the game in general often looks gorgeous. Proof that great artistic design and style are often more important than a huge budget.

Cutscenes, while they may not do a great job of conveying the story, still look great and add to the dream-like (or nightmare-like) atmosphere of the game. With some gorgeous stylistic choices and interesting camerawork and visuals, Violette’s cold, depressing narration and good sound work, they may not convey the story as best they could, but still look good and are just as atmospheric and moody as the rest of the game.

Speaking of sound, the game’s sound work and music are at times minimalist, but always effective and well done. Distant screams and gunfire often add to a sense of uneasiness in outdoor areas, while indoor environments echo with damp footsteps, dripping and clanking, and the resounding echo of enemy soldier’s voices. Gun sound effects are fitting and give off a satisfying sense of impact and power. Music is incredibly effective and stylish and contributes greatly to the sense of unease and horror throughout the game, as well. Filled with creative and unusual sounds, I would compare much of it to the soundtracks of the Silent Hill series. The music can fade into the background at quiet moments, and then become overpowering and frightening at more tense moments. When sneaking around, it does a great job of subtly heightening the tension in the background, while in more tense moments, or when the player is spotted, it can become overpowering and intense; in any instance, it’s always fitting and contributes heavily to the sense of unease and horror throughout the game.

Gameplay-wise, the game may be a bit dated, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t satisfying or enjoyable. Anybody familiar with old-school stealth-action will feel right at home, and especially fans of Tenchu will find the pattern of sneaking around, finding enemies, observing their routines, and waiting for the right opportunity to execute them as satisfying and enjoyable as ever. Some may point out that the gun combat when caught in a firefight is a little clunky, but since this is a game which emphasizes stealth, that is less a flaw, and more a gameplay element which encourages and rewards stealth and strategy over going in guns blazing. The element of gunplay is really the difference between Velvet Assassin and Tenchu’s gameplay, and while the majority of the time it is most effective (and satisfying) to sneak up on an enemy and dispatch them with your knife through a brutal stealth kill, your silenced pistol makes it possible for dispatching enemies at long-range with stealth, and will inevitably help you out of some of the game’s tighter situations. The only time gun combat became a bit frustrating is in the game’s few moments where an unavoidable firefight occurs, but these moments are few and far between, and overall it is never a major issue, nor is the gun combat broken to any degree that it is an unforgivable problem.

Stealth kills are brutal and satisfying.

While the absence of a mechanic which lets you creep along walls is a bit odd, the game’s other stealth elements are well-implemented and provide for a good amount of strategy and variety to the stealth gameplay. Carrying and hiding bodies is possible, and often essential, to not alerting the enemy of any disturbances. Use of disguises in certain levels is also a fun and different way of eluding the enemy, and acting casual in said disguises is key to not giving yourself away. Peering through doors, or creeping underneath objects or through small openings is also a strategic element which allows the player to scope out and assess the environment ahead of them while developing a good strategy of how to navigate the upcoming area and take out the enemies in it. You can also hide inside certain object or behind doors to get the jump on enemies that are close by.

The ability to disguise yourself as the enemy is available in some stages.

One of the most noteworthy strategic elements of stealth in the game, though, is the “morphine mode.” Since the majority of the game takes place through Violette’s memories while she is lying in a coma, most stages (with the exception of the last couple) allow you a limited number of morphine shots; which essentially freeze time momentarily, while the game enters a dream-like visual state. This allows you time to gain the advantage in tougher situations, and to reposition yourself to a safer spot, or run up on an enemy and quickly dispatch him. The limited time and number of uses make it a good mechanic for getting out of sticky situations, but also requires the player to make careful us of it and save it for times when it is most needed. Plus, it makes for an interesting and stylish visual effect.

Morphine mode creates an interesting visual effect.

The game also employs a basic leveling system which lets you upgrade Stealth, Strength and Morphine levels. It’s not of huge consequence, but does allow for you to adjust Violette’s abilities to your playstyle a bit. While basic, it is still a welcome enough addition.

The core element of stealth in the game relies on darkness and a good hiding place, however. Shadows and darkness play a key role in the game, and taking out the lights in an environment or sticking to its shadows are essential for remaining hidden. The darkness can mean the difference between an enemy spotting you or walking right past. Like much of the enemy A.I. in old-school stealth action games, it’s not always completely realistic all the time, however, it does make for fun gameplay that is satisfying, while not utterly overwhelming.

Light and darkness play a huge role in stealth.

In conclusion……

Velvet Assassin is a stylish and atmospheric game with a unique setting and concept. Its old-school stealth gameplay may be labeled as archaic by some, but to old fans of the genre, it will probably feel more like a welcome return to genre conventions than a broken or outdated gameplay style. However, while fans of the stealth genre will no doubt find fun and satisfaction in the gameplay, the real star of this game is definitely its dark, moody style and atmosphere. The game shows that high tech isn’t all it takes to create a good looking game, and its great lighting, environments, stylistic effects and character design, along with eerie and unique music and sound work, combine to create a game with a visual and aural style that is strong and original. The game isn’t terribly long, but provides an experience that is fun, refreshing and different. With the game currently all but forgotten, and its price tag not much more than ten dollars, curious gamers should check this one out: it’s a dark, atmospheric experience that you won’t find anything else quite like.

Velvet Assassin's gameplay may be "last-gen," but it still proves to be an intense, extremely stylish and unique experience.

Who Should Play It?

Fans of stealth-action titles, namely the “Tenchu” series and similar games. Those interested in World War II video games, especially if they are looking for one that is out of the ordinary, with a unique style and genre. Also, some fans of horror video games may find the extremely dark and sometimes eerie or frightening atmosphere intriguing.   read

10:08 PM on 05.26.2012

A Second Look At: Deadly Premonition


Title: Deadly Premonition (N.A. and Europe)

Alternate titles(s): Rainy Woods (development), Red Seeds Profile (Japan)

Developer: Access Games

Publishers: Ignition Entertainment (N.A.), Marvelous Entertainment (Japan), Rising Star Games (Europe)

Platforms: Xbox 360 (N.A., Europe, Japan), Playstation 3 (Japan only)

Release dates: February 17th, 2010 (N.A.), March 11th, 2010 (Japan), October 29th, 2010 (Europe)

Cover art for Deadly Premonition.

What Is This Game?

Deadly Premonition is part open-world adventure game, part survival horror. Deadly Premonition follows a main story arc, but takes place in an open world that allows the player to wander and explore freely, featuring a day/night cycle, side quests, secrets, shops, and even fishing. The story follows FBI Agent Francis York Morgan as he arrives in the small town of Greenvale to investigate the bizarre and unusual murder of a teenage girl. Shortly after his arrival, he finds himself working with the Sheriff, George Woodman, and his deputy, Emily Wyatt, as they try to unravel the mystery behind it all. There is more to this investigation than it seems, everyone is a suspect, and the town has a dark past that it has been trying to forget. Before long, Agent Morgan (along with the mysterious voice in his head, Zack) finds himself in for a long stay in Greenvale as he unravels an increasingly sinister mystery.

Agent Francis York Morgan looks down the road to Greenvale after the game's opening scenes.


Deadly Premonition has gained a sort of notoriety this generation for its cult status and, as such, has become a sort of poster child for obscure, low-budget games the past few years. And for anybody who goes into it with the right mindset, and gives it some time, it becomes very obvious why. In some ways, Deadly Premonition is an incredibly flawed game, however, and it is an easy one to get off on the wrong foot with. The game starts off with what is essentially a protracted “dungeon” area, which places an emphasis on its less-than-stellar combat and movement controls. The graphics, likewise, are sub-par. They’re generally very bland, with dull colors and a lack of detail, and animations are stiff and robotic much of the time. Likewise, the game comes off as incredibly cheesy at first, with dialogue that seems absolutely ridiculous and the vibe of a clichéd, low-budget B-movie. To top it off, Agent Francis York Morgan, the player’s character, seems like a complete goofball…….but then something happens.

You get past the first area, and suddenly….what’s this? This game is open world? You begin to wander a bit, and realize the town of Greenvale, in which Deadly Premonition takes place, is actually open for exploration and investigation. You spend some time with the game, and you realize it’s filled with places, side quests, items and characters. Sure, the characters are ridiculous, but now it’s clear there’s a bit more to this game than you initially thought…..So you play it a bit more, and realize the story is actually becoming something more than you thought, too….what you thought was a parade of B-movie horror clichés is now becoming an engrossing mystery with supernatural elements…..Then, you roam the town and progress with the story a bit more. You get to know the people of Greenvale, and Agent Francis York Morgan…..and slowly it becomes clear that they are not bad or cliché, but instead hilariously, intentionally quirky and eccentric, and surprisingly likeable and deep. Slowly, the game’s technical flaws are forgotten……and, whether intentionally or not, somehow become part of the game’s strange, quirky, oddball charm. It all just works! But how did it work? What’s this game’s deal? Let’s take more of a look and find out……

Just like the mysterious red seeds, there's more than meets the eye to Deadly Premonition.....

History, Release and Reception:

Deadly Premonition was floating around in development for quite a while under the title “Rainy Woods.” Its trailer premiered in 2007, and I personally recall watching the trailer and thinking……wait, is this a “Twin Peaks” game? Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this, because so many people noted this that the development cycle was prolonged and the release date pushed back to revise the game and lessen some of the similarities between it and the show which served as its inspiration. The game fell off the radar for a while, and when it finally resurfaced, Ignition Games announced it would be releasing the game under the title “Deadly Premonition” in the U.S. The game was released on February 17th 2010; but the brilliance of its release was its super-low-budget retail price of $19.99. This almost certainly lent a huge hand to its surprising success as a cult hit. Twenty bucks? Heck, why not pick it up? I know for a fact that was why I ended up buying it. There I was picking up a copy of Bioshock 2 and….hey, what’s this $20 horror game I’ve never heard of? Might as well get it, it’s only twenty bucks! (funny thing, too, that I ended up putting aside Bioshock 2 to play the random budget game I bought alongside it). In any case, the strategy worked, and the game sold surprisingly well. It was released about a month later in Japan under the title “Red Seeds Profile” and in Europe in the fall.

Maybe even more surprising than the game’s sales was its critical reception. Even with its myriad technical flaws, Deadly Premonition’s quirky charm and underlying genius earned it a generally good reception from a number of major publications and websites. Many major publications and websites gave it good scores and noted its charm and good qualities in spite of its flaws, and Destructoid even gave it a 10/10 and called it a “beautiful trainwreck.” On top of that, Game Informer liked it enough to mention it a number of times throughout the following year, including a few awards at the end of the year. IGN, on the other hand, outright bashed the game, giving it a 2.0; but then doubled back later in the year with a U.K. review that gave it a 7.5. Deadly Premonition seemed to force a bit of a revolution in critical analysis of video games, in any case, and a bit of appreciation rarely seen for similarly flawed or low-budget games. The game did so surprisingly well that its creator, “SWERY,” is making a director’s cut, and has even mentioned a sequel. Who doesn’t like a good underdog story, huh?

Deadly Premonition may not be the best looking game, but beyond its technical shortcomings lie an engrossing open-world and fascinating story that earned it praise from a number of major gaming website and magazines.

The Game:


There’s no beating around the bush, so let’s get the negative stuff out of the way: And that’s that, from a technical standpoint, Deadly Premonition is a pretty flawed game. From graphics to controls to gameplay mechanics to sound and voice work, Deadly Premonition comes off as low budget, clunky and awkward at first.

As I mentioned earlier, graphics are bland, with drab colors and a general lack of detail. In addition, character animations are often stiff and robotic, and some facial expressions come off as weird and even a bit creepy.

Voice work comes off as a mixed bag with some weird writing at first, too, especially before you begin to realize that much of that quirky awkwardness in the dialogue is actually intentional. It’s not a flaw, really, but can be a turn off before you realize what direction the game is going in. Sound effects are also limited and at times unfitting. One hilarious instance of this which immediately comes to mind is the squirrel in the opening cutscene that Agent Morgan swerves off the road to avoid; it makes a monkey squeal. Also worth noting is how, every time you land a headshot on an enemy, Agent Morgan remarks on it with “Nice!” or “Great!” or something along those lines; which becomes pretty funny when you’re using an automatic weapon and he says it for every single bullet that hits the enemy. Music also tends to overpower voices during cutscenes sometimes, and is oddly unfitting at times, as well.

Likewise, controls and various elements of gameplay are awkward and tough to manage at times. Vehicles in the game, which you’ll use often to navigate and explore the world, control like tanks and can be pretty tough to steer. But when the controls are most problematic is probably during the combat, which you’ll usually encounter during the dungeon-esque “otherworld” sequences. Aiming guns is twitchy and the clunky movements make combat tough, especially when there are multiple or faster enemies. These “otherworld” sequences are also a bit prolonged and repetitive, due to the lack of enemy variety, repetitious environments, and generally straight-forward nature (lots of hallways and finding keys). The boss fights later on in the game are pretty hard to manage, too.

Combat can bit a bit awkward at times.

However, what may be a bigger gameplay-related issue is the confusing and disorienting town map. This was the one problem that actually managed to get a bit frustrating, even for me. Ya see, you can only zoom your view of the map out to a very limited degree; meaning that you can never get a full view of the entire game world on the map, or even a quarter of it, for that matter. It’s just locked on your location and you have to move it around manually to try to get an idea of your surrounding area. But what’s worse than that is that the view of the map is CONSTANTLY readjusting itself based on which direction the Agent Morgan is facing; in other words, when you look at the map one second, and are facing north, you’ll see it one way. Then, when you unpause, turn your character around, and go back to view the map again, you’ll find the entire map has flipped itself upside down. This issue never impairs your progress with the main story or with finding your next objective, as those are clearly marked, but it does make navigating and exploring the town very disorienting and, in a game that so heavily encourages exploring, finding secrets and side quests, and getting to know its world, can become frustrating when you are trying to do just that.

Deadly Premonition was obviously made on a very limited budget, and much of these flaws are likely due to that. However, what’s worth noting more than anything, is how most of these flaws become part of the game’s quirky, strange, low-budget charm. After a while, they almost work FOR the game, not against it. Strange as it seems, this game knows what it is, and almost everything about it, even its low-budget, graphical flaws, hilarious voice and sound work and clunky controls, begin to fit right in and become part of it all. It’s almost uncanny how well it all works, in all its outlandish, low-budget glory. Which leads us to……

Deadly Premonition is filled with quirky dialogue and characters.

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

Despite all its flaws, or, maybe even partially BECAUSE of them, Deadly Premonition is greater than the sum of its parts. It rises above its flaws because it is filled with genuine creativity and passion, and because it handles itself, even its rough spots, with a certain grace, dignity and insane genius. There is a lot to love about this game.

The story and characters are undoubtedly some of the game’s greatest strengths. What starts out seeming like a bad knock-off of every horror video game ever slowly reveals itself to be anything but typical or predictable, with a genuinely engrossing supernatural murder mystery and a whole town full of fascinatingly quirky and surprisingly deep characters. A long list of side quests do a lot to flesh out the smaller characters, while the main story does a great job of taking the core cast and exploring who they are. Many of them seem strange or stereotypical at first, but as the story progresses you’ll realize they are anything but. Rarely have I cared so much about a cast of characters in a game, and few games I have played take as much time and care as Deadly Premonition does to get to know it’s characters, spend time with them, develop them, and flesh them out. There are a lot of quiet but introspective moments and small but important conversations between characters, and it all serves to create an incredibly likeable and endearing cast. By the end of the game, you’ll find yourself really caring about Agent Francis York Morgan and the strange bunch around him, and it makes for some very powerful and emotional moments later on.

The cast is filled with deep and likeable characters. And conversations and interactions between them are always interesting.

It helps, too, that the story these characters are at the center is so engrossing, and surprisingly well thought-out. Deadly Premonition is a rather long game, and that’s a good thing. It takes its time and invites you into its world. And as you spend time and grow to care about it all, it slowly reveals more of itself to you. It hooks you, drags you into its world and keeps you wanting for more; wanting to see more of the town, wanting to know more about the characters and wanting to know just what in the hell is really going on. The pacing is excellent, and it keeps you intrigued. On top of that, by the end of the game, I was actually impressed by how well thought out and neatly woven together the whole story was. I won’t spoil anything, but the way the characters, the town’s dark past, the axe wielding “Raincoat Killer” and supernatural elements all wove together to create such strange yet fascinating story was actually pretty impressive; and Agent Morgan and his own past were equally interesting. Impressive stuff coming from a game I expected very little from in its humble beginnings.

The story is filled with twists and turns and will keep you guessing throughout.

The game’s world is just as endearing and interesting as its characters and story; which is good, since it is so strongly tied TO its story and characters. The town of Greenvale is surprisingly large and intricately designed. The amount of care put into the game world itself goes to show that, low budget be damned, the game’s creators really cared about this game. The game features a day/night cycle, and that cycle really does affect the game. The townspeople move about town each day on their own schedules, going places, running errands, walking the dog, etc. Shops, bars and restaurants open and close at different hours and the player even has a schedule to keep: get up in the morning, grab some coffee (which Agent Morgan not only loves, but sees premonitions of the future in!) move about town, investigate, send your clothes to the laundry for cleaning, and try to get to bed at a decent time back at the hotel. The town even goes crazy after midnight, and “otherworld” creatures and giant demon dogs come out until morning.

On top of all that, the game is filled with side quests, secret items and areas, and the ability to go off investigating on your own; peering into people’s windows, talking to them for information and trying to find clues. Side quests, likewise, are varied and interesting, and help you get to know the town and its people. Some find you driving a crazy old lady who thinks her “pot is going to get cold” if she doesn’t get home in time, while others have you investigating haunted areas of town. In any case, they are abundant and full of variety. On top of that, there are also a slew of min-games throughout town, including darts, fishing and even vehicle time trials. There’s even collectibles (trading cards!), secret weapons, and hidden items. There’s a lot to do and see in Greenvale.

There's no shortage of things to do in Greenvale. Mini-games, secrets and side quests are everywhere. You can even go fishing!

The music of the game is wonderfully unique and often delightfully unfitting, too. Yes, I know, I mentioned this up in the “flaws” section too, but as with so much of what may be perceived as flaws at first in this game, it ends up becoming a part of the game’s strange, quirky charm. Music ranges from eerie horror undertones, to swanky jazz, to soothing guitars and humming, to a hilarious, jolly “whistling” theme. It’s all so varied and odd, and yet fits the game perfectly. Likewise, the voice acting and dialogue, as mentioned before, may seem silly at first, but as you realize the tone and atmosphere of the game, they too become a perfect fit for the strange and delightful cast. Speaking of the dialogue and voice acting, another delightful point of the game are the numerous conversations and moments referencing classic film and B-movie history. Agent Morgan, and his ‘friend’ Zack, are films buffs, and the conversations and references which spring up because of it are often absolutely priceless.

While the “otherworld” scenes, where Agent Morgan suddenly is transported into supernatural dungeon areas, can be a bit prolonged and repetitive at times, they are also worth it for their better, more intense moments. In particular, your encounters with the murderous “Raincoat Killer” are truly intense and frightening. Often requiring you to mash buttons, perform QTE’s, run for your life, or find a hiding place and hold your breath so he can’t hear you breathing, these scenes are tense, pulse-pounding affairs which make the slower parts of the otherworld scenes completely worthwhile. The feeling of “Oh crap” every time the Raincoat Killer shows up never goes away, and it does a great job of establishing him to the player as a menacing villain.

When the Raincoat Killer shows up, its time to run like hell.

All of this amounts to a very unique feel and atmosphere for Deadly Premonition that really makes it a unique experience. And indeed, the game is very atmospheric; with its own, weird atmosphere. Its gloomy and foreboding at all times, but interspersed with humor and moments of fun. And yet even in its lightest moments, with all the silly characters and humor, there’s still an underlying feeling of dread and mystery in the background. It works, and it keeps you in the game’s world the whole time you’re playing.

In conclusion……

Deadly Premonition is a game worth a look by anybody ready to overlook its shortcomings, and maybe even some who aren’t too sure. It defies the odds in that, by all means, it shouldn’t be as damn good as it somehow manages to be. This is most likely due, at least in part, to it being a work that seems to have clearly had a lot of love put into it by its creators. It doesn’t feel like a game trying to please or cater to anybody; and maybe that’s why it ended up with such a miniscule budget. And yet, despite its limitations, it proves that passion and a good idea can overcome a game’s shortcomings or technical limitations. Its true brilliance is really in how well it makes everything work as a whole, even in areas where it is flawed. The depth and intricacy of the game’s world, characters and story is impossible to deny, and overshadows what the game lacks in graphical or mechanical prowess. Deadly Premonition is a pretty long game; between 25 and 35 hours, depending on how much wandering, exploring and side questing you do; and that’s good. Greenvale is a bizarre and engrossing town to get lost in. If you can overlook the technical problems, you’ll find a unique and fascinating game in Deadly Premonition; one that overcomes the odds to become a truly memorable gaming experience.

For all its flaws, Deadly Premonition still manages to come out as an incredibly likeable and engrossing game.

Who should play it?

Any fan of adventure, horror or open-world games, or those with a love for strange and quirky games. As long as you can look past low-end graphics and some faulty gameplay mechanics. Also, any fans of the “Twin Peaks” television series will probably appreciate the inspiration the game draws from that series and the homage it pays to it, as well.   read

3:14 PM on 05.24.2012

Welcome to Games Obscura......

Howdy, internet wanderers, and welcome to Games Obscura; a blog dedicated to the underrated, the forgotten, the under-appreciated, and the downright weird. I'm The Gameslinger; lifelong gamer and video game aficionado. I've been wielding a controller since I was just three years old, when my parents dusted off their old Atari 2600 and gave me a shot at it. Since that day, video games grew to be one of my greatest and most passionate interests, and a huge influence on my life and who I am.

In my gaming travels, I've played many games, and learned a decent amount about them; including their industry, their history and the talented people who create them. I’ve played many of the classics and mainstream hits; from Mario to Gears of War to Final Fantasy. But, as a curious and adventurous gamer, I also have made it a point to stray from the beaten path, to seek out the lesser known, the under-appreciated; even the poorly received or panned; and to give them the honest chance many of them deserve. There is more to the gaming scene, or even to an individual game, than one might see at first glance….

Some games were truly great, but fell by the wayside. Some are barely even heard of. Others were flawed, but had some very interesting ideas or elements to them. And some are just so weird you have to love them.

In that spirit, that is essentially the mission of The Gameslinger, and the topic of Games Obscura; to seek out games that are, for one reason or another, forgotten, under-appreciated, strange, or even poorly received, and give them a good, honest second chance. Some of the games I’ll talk about are amazing games; simply lost in the shuffle and left behind. Others are just plain weird; and yet still unique and enjoyable. Yet others are games that have been poorly received, meeting with lackluster reviews and press; and yet have positive, interesting or original concepts or aspects that make them worth a second look, even despite their flaws. (So, no, this won’t be a blog for discussing ridiculous dredge like Cheetahmen.)

Deadly Premonition is a perfect example. Quirky, low-budget, technically flawed, and met with a mixed critical reception. Yet it carved out a hardcore fanbase among gamers who picked it up, and found a game that was far more than meets the eye.

This blog will cover at least one game each week, with the objective being an in-depth, honest look at the game in question. I’ll discuss flaws, but emphasize the positive aspects of the game and what makes it worth a look. I’ll also discuss the facts and/or history of it, and my personal opinion on it. The goal is to remain objective and honest, but to keep a positive overall; there’s enough bashing and negativity towards games on the internet already, so this blog will attempt to remain positive instead. Readers can also rest assured that any game covered will be well-researched and played thoroughly; in addition to negativity, there’s also too much uninformed or under-informed ranting and raving on the internet, and this won’t be another place for that. In most cases, to fairly judge and discuss a game, one needs to invest time and effort into it. With this blog and the articles in it, I’ll do my very best to do just that.

Illbleed for the Dreamcast. A truly bizarre and incredibly unique game.

With all this in mind, I also would also like to say that I encourage community involvement on this blog! If you have anything to say about a game I’m discussing, feel free to comment and express your opinion on it, or discuss it with others. Love it? Hate it? Never played it, but think it looks interesting? Got questions? Think I’m nuts? I encourage discussion, just as long as it’s (obviously) nothing hostile.

Most importantly, if you have suggestions of games you think I should look into and write about in this blog, then let me know. I’m completely open to suggestions and requests for games to cover. And while I might not cover them the very next day, ( like I said, I like to spent time and effort to fairly discuss a game), rest assured I will respond to all requests and do my best to research, play and cover as many as possible.

Send any requests to: [email protected]

So, if you have an interest in the underrated, the forgotten, the strange, or the obscure side of gaming, then stick around, and keep an eye on The Gameslinger and Games Obscura. I’ll be updating regularly. Hope to see you here.   read

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