The Gameslinger's blog, Games Obscura, is a blog dedicated to covering strange, obscure, underrated and overlooked games. Some games covered are amazing games that were simply overlooked or forgotten. Some are flawed or poorly received, yet have interesting aspects or concepts that make them worth a second look. Others are downright weird; but fun and interesting, too. In any case, all are worth digging up and taking a second look at, and that's what this blog is all about: In-depth second looks at games that are worth rediscovering, for one reason or another.
I take requests and suggestions! If you know a game that was underrated, obscure, strange, overlooked or poorly received, and you think that it is worth discovering and giving a good second chance, then let me know!
Send any requests or suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also leave suggestions in the comments section, or send them to me via a PM.
Feel free to browse through all my articles; the material in them generally isn't time-sensitive, and I check comments on all of my articles, new and old!
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.....
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..you 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.*