hot  /  reviews  /  video  /  blogs  /  forum


10:37 PM on 01.24.2014  

A Second Look At: "Kinetica" - Futuristic Racing's Forgotten Classic



Details:

Title: Kinetica

Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America

Platform: PlayStation 2

Release Date: October 14th, 2001 (N.A.)


Cover art for Kinetica.

What is This Game?

Kinetica was a blazing fast, sexily sleek and just plain beautiful futuristic racer, released relatively near the outset of the PlayStation 2 era; at a time when futuristic racers were still a somewhat popular niche within the racing genre. Kinetica stood out from the crowd for a number of very good reasons; an excellent sense of speed, great track design, beautiful visuals and design work, an amazing electronic soundtrack, generally great gameplay, and a truly unique set of characters based off of a highly creative, cool and appealing concept…..that the racers themselves WERE the vehicles. That is to say that, in Kinetica, you’re racers aren’t contained in some kind of vehicle; instead, the racing machine is literally a part of them. Wearing “kinetic suits” with wheels and machinery attached directly to them, and scant amounts of armor to protect (or inhibit) them save for helmets and a few other steel parts, the racers of Kinetica blaze around, right-side up, upside down, up, down and everything in between, through gorgeous futuristic land and city scapes, while performing stunts and duking it out in tense neck-and-neck battles for victory. Kinetica takes place in a beautifully realized futuristic setting, filled with everything from neon cyberpunk cities to desolate wastelands, and the cast of racers are some of the most genuinely cool, creative and appealing, I’d wager, in nearly any racing game out there; thanks largely in part to the fact that you are really playing as THEM, since they are the vehicles, after all. Pile on top of this some positively awesome track design and a mercilessly satisfying level of challenge, and you’ve got an often-overlooking futuristic racer that any fan of the sub-genre, or racing games in general, owes it to themselves to go back and take a real second look at……


Kinetica is a racing experience unlike any other. Get ready for an edge of your seat ride....

Introduction:

I’m a long-time fan of the futuristic racing sub-genre; ever since I picked up F-Zero X for my N64, I was utterly and hopelessly in love with this niche genre-within-a-genre. The blistering speed, the futuristic settings, the thumping techno and rock soundtracks and the ludicrously over-the-top track designs that were staples of the genre…..I loved the whole thing. THIS was intense, and downright fun, racing. After F-Zero X turned me on to the sub-genre, I was hooked, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.

Though futuristic racers were never a sub-genre that enjoyed huge popularity, they did have a bit of a heyday, from around the middle of the 32/64-bit generation to sometime around the middle of the PlayStation 2 era, when they hit their stride and found a niche. During this time, a healthy amount of very interesting and unique racers were released….

Right around the middle of this “heyday” was when Kinetica was released, about a year into the PS2’s lifecycle. Released alongside another futuristic racer, Extreme G 3, Kinetica was one of the first games of its kind on the system, and is still one of the very best. I was drawn to it, personally, by my love for the futuristic racing niche, but even more so for its strikingly unique premise and style. The concept and sharp, sleek look of its characters (who were, indeed, the vehicles themselves) was incredibly cool and fit right in with the extreme, cutting edge appeal of the sub-genre; and the whole game oozed style and creativity in every screenshot and piece of artwork I saw for it. When it met with a positive critical reception as well, it was very clear this was a game I, as a huge fan of futuristic racers, simply could not miss.

I was not disappointed, and when I did get my hands on Kinetica, I was instantly in love with it. As a fan, this was the best futuristic racer I’d played since F-Zero X, and probably a game of even cooler style and and an even more imaginative premise. With a good amount of content and a very stiff challenge, I was hooked on Kinetica for a long time as I squeezed every last bit of gameplay out of it, determined to dominate each race (a serious task for a game as tough and unforgiving on its harder courses as this one).

Kinetica is, frankly, a damn cool title, and a really good game. And it’s too bad, then, that the game has been largely forgotten over the years…..much as the futuristic racing niche itself has been, really. While Kinetica enjoyed critical praise upon its release, the title never really caught on, and what could have become a promising new IP slowly faded into the background and was forgotten. But, for those who never experienced it, it still isn’t too late to go back and give this great game a second look. Fans of the lost  sub-genre of futuristic racing, racing in general, vivid sci-fi settings or, frankly, any game that is just stylish, fun, challenging and downright cool, read on: Kinetica is one title very much worth discovering.....


Kinetica's unique brand of racing, where the racers ARE the vehicles, makes for a truly original and wild racing experience.

History, Release and Reception:

Kinetica was developed by SCE Santa Monica Studio, a game development branch of Sony Computer Entertainment based out of Santa Monica, California, as a branch of SCE Worldwide Studios. The studio was founded in 1999, on the eve of the PlayStation 2’s arrival, with the purpose of developing new and revolutionary first-party titles exclusive to Sony’s upcoming juggernaut. In the coming generation, SCE Santa Monica would become a major player in game development for Sony, tasked with development of some huge first party exclusives over the life of the PS2 and, eventually, the PS3.

But before it truly became one of Sony's greatest assets, SCE Santa Monica began with work on a new game for PlayStation 2, running on a powerful next-gen game engine of its own in-house development: that game was Kinetica, and that engine was, appropriately named, the Kinetica game engine; an engine that would see a lot of use in Sony’s AAA first party titles in the years to come.


Sony Santa Monica Studio was conceived in 1999, as a development branch for first party Sony titles. They developed the Kinetica game engine, which was actually first seen in the non-Sony Santa Monica developed Twisted Metal Black, and then a few months later, in its namesake game, Kinetica.

In fact, Kinetica was not the first title released to be powered by the Kinetica engine….it was another Sony-published title, and one of the PS2’s first real killer-apps: Twisted Metal Black, developed by Incognito Entertainment. Released in June 2001, a few months before Kinetica itself, the game was an early example of what SCE Santa Monica’s handiwork was capable of.

It wasn’t until a few months later, in October of 2001, when SCE Santa Monica would show the world what they’d be developing with their new game engine; and in October, Sony released the first title to be developed by the up-and-coming SCE Santa Monica development branch. Kinetica, of course, was that game. Kinetica saw very favorable coverage and reception from the press upon its release, with most reviews from major sources ranging from good to excellent; likewise, the game was released very close to another futuristic racer of similar concept: Extreme G 3, the 3rd installment of Acclaim Entertainment’s modestly successful series that saw its first two entries on the N64, and was now making the jump to PS2 and GameCube. Released little over a month and a half after the late August PS2 release of Extreme G 3 (and little under a month before its November GameCube release), Kinetica found itself frequently in direct comparison and competition from most publications and websites with Extreme G 3.


Kinetica's (pictured right) release date placed it in direct competition with another futuristic racer; Extreme G 3. (pictured left) In the end, both titles fared very well with critics, and were met with similarly positive receptions.

But, though Extreme G 3 was part of an established and moderately successful franchise, and fared very well with most critics, Kinetica was neck-and-neck with the game critically. Nearly all major video game websites and magazines praised Kinetica; GameSpy gave it an 85 out of 100, while Game Informer and IGN both awarded the game an 8 out of 10, with IGN calling it “one of the most original racing games you’re going to find on a console.” Meanwhile, Official U.S. Playstation Magazine rated the game an exceptional 4.5 “discs” out of 5. And gaming website GameZone has even gone as far as saying it “practically annihilates Extreme G 3 and the last two F-Zero games.”  A small percentage of other sources gave the game slightly lower scores, in the above-average range, including Game Pro, who rated the game a 3.5 out of 5, and Gamespot, who gave Kinetica a 7 out of 10. Kinetica had almost no unfavorable reviews to speak of from major sources, with the single exception being Play Magazine’s review, the lone oddity which gave Kinetica a 2.5 out of 5.

Kinetica fared very well with the gaming press, but, while not a financial failure, it never achieved particularly great success or popularity in terms of sales or awareness upon its release, and soon faded into general obscurity. SCE Santa Monica, on the other hand, and the Kinetica game engine, moved on to great successes and popularity. Using the Kinetica game engine, SCE Santa Monica went on to create two of Sony’s most successful series of the PS2 era; the Jak and Daxter series and the God of War titles. In addition, SCE Santa Monica’s popular PS2 engine was used in a number of successful Sony titles not developed by SCE Santa Monica, including the SOCOM series, Wipeout Fusion and Sly Cooper. SCE Santa Monica itself became one of Sony’s biggest players after the huge success of the Jak and Daxer and God of War titles. The development house was given more status and responsibility by Sony, especially into the PS3 era, and an external development branch was added to SCE Santa Monica, which funds and supports the development of an array of games, including many titles from independent developers……such as some of Sony’s biggest indie game releases like Flower, Fat Princess and Journey.


Sony Santa Monica has gone on to create and fund some of Sony's biggest first-party titles of the PS2 and PS3 eras.

Unfortunately, though, amongst the studio’s rising success, Kinetica, its first game, has been left in the dust and largely forgotten, by both gamers and seemingly the developer itself. While SCE Santa Monica has gone on to great things and made a slew of exceptional games since that have met with much greater popularity and success, it is well worth going back to their beginning to experience this inspired and original game.......


Sony Santa Monica has moved on to great success, but Kinetica has been left behind by the studio and most gamers....however, this title is as fun and high-quality as their best works, and is deserving of a second look....

The Game:

Flaws:

Kinetica is a well-made, polished game on the whole, and so there isn’t much bad to say about it, nor are there any kind of major flaws that were the cause of what held it back or kept it in obscurity. That said, there are a few quips to address before we discuss the bulk of the game, which is excellent overall.

One strike I could issue against the game is that, especially with later tracks/races, the game can feel a bit “trial and error” sometimes, and chances are that you’ll spend a good amount of time replaying some of them to learn memorize track layouts and seek out shortcuts before you can really work on kicking ass in these later races. This is not a huge flaw with Kinetica, though, and is honestly something you could say about very many racing titles…..it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, where one side of it is that “practice makes perfect” and you don’t want tracks or races that are too simple, but the other side is that this can lead to repeat plays that begin to feel like trial and error more than practice. Still, it’s not a thing that ever becomes a huge issue in the game, and more often the need to replay for perfection is a result of the game’s stiff and satisfying level of challenge than simply “trial and error” game design.


Some tracks are rather complex, and will require some practice to dominate them.

On that note, one thing that may deter players is that Kinetica has a very steep learning curve, and in particular, learning to effectively control your racers can take a bit of time. Don’t expect to be great at the game right when you jump in, as you’ll likely find the controls are a bit tough to master and that you’ll need some practice to maintain tight control over your character on the game’s wild tracks. The computer AI is pretty unforgiving as well, and races will usually wind up neck and neck; so the learning curve associated with the game could be a potential turn-off for some gamers.

While the game does have a satisfying enough amount of content, the other thing worth noting is a general lack of different modes to mix things up…..there’s not much beyond the core racing/career mode besides a (albeit helpful) practice mode and split-screen multiplayer, as well as an obligatory single race option. This isn’t a huge issue, but the game could have used a bit more content in the form of extra modes or tracks to extend longevity. However, there is still a good amount of content as far as racers, tracks and general core content go, even if it’s not, perhaps, the simply massive amount of content seen in, say, F-Zero X or GX; and the unforgiving challenge will keep you playing and perfecting your techniques for a long time as it is.


A few more modes or seasons would have fleshed out Kinetica a bit more, but as it stands, there is still a satisfying amount of content and extras.


Likewise, the game could have perhaps used a few more offensive weapons in its “pick-up” repertoire to flesh that area out a bit, but I’d say that its simply more that direct “combat” racing isn’t really Kinetica’s style; and the deep and exciting stunt system does more than enough to make up for that.

Outside that, there’s very little to complain about….Kinetica is a brilliantly crafted and great-looking game, but the one minor technical issue is some occasional slowdown in extremely busy moments, specifically when there are numerous racers on screen, and thus a lot of activity, at once. Slowdown is hardly a prevalent issue, however, and never was enough to hurt the actual gameplay or experience.

Besides these small quips and concerns, Kinetica is a great game with a hell of a lot going for it. Sit tight, because this game is definitely a ride worth taking.


Kinetica is a beautiful, original and exceptionally creative game.


Why it’s Worth a Second Look….

Kinetica is an awesome futuristic racer, well worth a second look, especially for fans of the niche, but even for those unfamiliar or impartial to it, as well. A game filled with style, beauty, creativity, challenge and just flat-out fun, Kinetica is a forgotten gem that gamers would do very well to rediscover.

There’s a lot of great stuff to say about this game. For starters, the game is really gorgeous. Especially for a game which came out less than a year after the launch of the PS2, Kinetica looks absolutely marvelous; no doubt a mixture of a quality game engine, solid craftsmanship and, perhaps more than anything, lovingly inspired and creative design. From a technical standpoint, the game looks surprisingly beautiful for its time, and easily holds its own against even later-generation PS2 titles. The Kinetica game engine went on to power some of the PS2’s best, and best-looking, titles, throughout the generation, and Kinetica easily stands right alongside those titles technically. Graphics are smooth, sleek and colorful, with a surprising level of detail, and lack the ugly blemishes of some other early-gen titles such as jaggy edges or generally low polygon or “blocky” models or environments…..again, things look smooth, rounded, detailed and natural; and, basically, just great overall. Likewise, animations look equally great, and in general, the game looks as excellent in motion as it does in stills; better, even. In general, everything moves very fluidly, backgrounds and environments are filled with detail and action, and characters especially move with both swiftness and grace, in all their actions, from simple movements to elaborate stunt maneuvers (an essential part of the part which I’ll detail in a moment). Kinetica is a technically polished and well-made game, and it shows very much in its graphics.


Kinetica's graphics are bright, smooth and vibrant.

Of course, all the technical prowess in the world means little without high quality, creative and exciting visual design, and Kinetica absolutely nails it on this front….Kinetica is filled with immense style and remarkably creative visual design. It’s hard to even know where to start when speaking on Kinetica’s visual design, as it is such a huge and amazing part of the game. The overall look of the game is fresh and unique, and its immensely creative futuristic style permeates throughout the entirety of the game…from its tracks and environments, to its character designs, even throughout its menus, loading screens and various pieces of character and environmental art that highlight the menus and screens outside gameplay.


Kinetica is absolutely bursting with creative and stylish visual design.

The whole design of Kinetica’s world is compelling and filled with imagination and detail. Environments, both the tracks themselves and the areas in while they take place, are bursting with excitement, life and attention to detail. Tracks themselves are intricate, well-designed roller-coaster rides of increasing intensity and challenge, but likewise look sleek, exciting and natural within their environments as well. Tracks are well enough designed that they often feel like (or actually are) an extension of the environment they take place in, not just a roller coaster floating above a landscape or around some skyscrapers, as can sometimes be the case in other futuristic racers. As you race through its tracks, you encounter all manner of futuristic racing challenges; insane jumps, tracks twisting and turning upside down and right side up, massive hills and extreme drops, half-pipes and whole-pipes, loops, and plenty of other extremes one would hope for from a game of its kind. Tracks are well-designed, offering a stiff challenge but with great reward, and make for insane, neck-and-neck, totally extreme racing at all times as you speed through them.

On that note, the world itself in which Kinetica takes place is an exciting amalgamation of different futuristic styles, and the environments themselves in which races take place both reflect and communicate that, creating a game filled with style and atmosphere, taking place in an exciting and unique setting. Kinetica’s futuristic setting mixes a number of styles and different types of environments to create a sleek future setting which blends hard technology with the organic, in a world where both mix and exist as extensions of one-another.  Kinetica’s world is one of towering technology meshed with organic life, with environments including towering neon, cyberpunk cities, vast expanses of desert, and stations high up in the atmosphere and in orbit above Earth. These stylish environments are gorgeous and lovingly rendered, a treat for the eyes as you blast through them at top speed; from the bright neon lights of the city, to the gloomy, mechanical expanses of high atmosphere stations, and plenty of organic and man-made places in between and beyond, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an environment lacking at all in imagination or style in Kinetica.


Tracks mesh well with the environments, and feel like natural extensions of them....and you'll be hard-pressed to find a track or environmental design that is less than excellent.

Character design is just as impressive as that of the environments and world, and is especially critical to what gives Kinetica such a fresh and creative style amongst its peers. One of the coolest things about Kinetica, which extends into the gameplay to make it a truly unique experience, is its amazing and remarkably creative character designs; which are also its vehicles. As I touched on earlier, each character is, essentially, their vehicles, with each of them sporting unique “racing suits” that serve as vehicular extensions of their own bodies. Each character’s design is thoroughly unique and interesting, with both the characters themselves and their suits each being uniquely individual and intricate in their design, and, frankly, just downright cool. From the massive, hulking Vigor, who’s torso extends upright from a motorcycle-machine where his legs would be, to the tiny Xia Covault, one of the characters who’s suit is essentially nothing more than a slightly armored and minimalist outfit with four wheels on the hands and feet, to the mechanical and spider-like appearance of Siba Castron, who’s suit has “limbs” extending to two wheels at her head and feet, the character designs, and the very concept of them, are full of imagination and style. There are a total of 9 characters in Kinetica, but each also has an “alternate” version which is, more or less, something like its own character as well; with an alternate color scheme but also a totally different name, as well. At any rate, Kinetica’s characters are each thoroughly unique and interesting in their design, which scream personality and style, and there is a well-rounded cast of male and female characters, who run the gamut from hulking to sexy to strange; and all are remarkably sleek and full of style, imagination and individuality. Fusing the organic with the mechanical, and making the characters the vehicles was an extremely creative and unique idea, and the idea was pulled off with a remarkable level of sleek, sexy style which made for a concept and visual design that was truly original; and something I’ve still yet to see anything else quite like. There’s no other game with a style quite like Kinetica’s, and the character designs truly are a huge part of what makes Kinetica’s visual appeal something really unique.


Kinetica's character designs are incredibly creative and stylish; these are just a few examples.

Kinetica really is pure style throughout, and even the menus, HUD and 2D character art ooze style. Right from the intro movie before the title screen, Kinetica engulfs you in its sleek, stylish world and doesn’t let you go. Menus are filled with style, and character selection features beautiful 2D art, while all the menus are presented and animated with slick, futuristic style. Even your in-game HUD looks sleek and stylish; it’s honestly hard to find a moment in Kinetica that is not lovingly detailed and presented with pure style and beauty.


Each character has an "alternate" version of themselves to select.


Of course, a great visual experience begs for an excellent aural one to accompany it……and Kinetica is every bit as brilliant in the sound department as it is visually. Sound design is excellent, and accompanies the game’s futuristic stylings perfectly. The severely digitized, almost garbled, sound of the voice with accompanies the player through the menus and gameplay as the sort-of “announcer” lends a unique sound to the game, and the likewise “digitized” screams of crashing racers, sounds just right, lending a strange, robotic sound to things. Sound effects follow suit, with a similar effect to much of them that sounds a bit mechanical, computerized or robotic. Sound design is excellent across the board, but but speaking of the aural design, one of the greatest highlights of the game is the excellent musical soundtrack…..


Kinetica features incredibly stylish visuals, great sound design and an absolutely excellent electronic soundtrack. The game's intro features just a sample of the aural and visual excellence you can expect.

Made up of an excellent and varied selection of electronic music across a number of electronic genres such as trance and house, Kinetica’s musical soundtrack is nothing short of phenomenal, featuring an amazing selection of licensed tracks from unique electronic artists including Hybrid, Way Out West and Meeker, amongst others. With a variety of both vocal and instrumental tracks always pumping through the menus and the gameplay, Kinetica’s excellent soundtrack, alongside its brilliant visuals, does so much to keep you immersed in the game’s constant stream of pure style. There simply is not a bad track amongst Kinetica’s musical selection, and its soundtrack both fits the game and adds to its futuristic style immensely, while simultaneously being excellent music all on its own. To call Kinetica’s soundtrack great would be an understatement; it isn’t just a great soundtrack, it’s a huge part of the game which adds to its style and entertainment value.


Kinetica's soundtrack is sublime and fits the game to a tee. Featuring a range of licensed electronic musical tracks of various stylings, it is truly a feast for the ears. Here's a sample, and you'll find more in the links after the video.

Both visually and aurally, Kinetica is a knock-out. Its smooth style and the way it combines its visual and aural elements to create a game where the style permeates throughout the entire experience with such grace and effortless skill is something remarkable. I’d compare this excellent weaving of pure style into the game to the likes of Jet Set Radio, to reference a game of similar visual and aural excellence which similarly weaves an expertly stylish experience through the brilliant and seamless meshing of its audio and visuals with gameplay.

Of course, all the style in the world would be wasted were Kinetica not a fun game to play……but I’m happy to say that Kinetica’s amazingly stylish presentation accompanies a fun, intense and challenging gameplay experience, as well.

Kinetica features a grand total of 15 tracks spread across 3 “seasons,” and, as I previously stated, a total of 9 main racers (3 of which are unlockable), each with their own alternate personality of sorts, with a different name, color scheme, etc. In a simpler or easier game, this might not sound like a particularly large amount of content, but Kinetica demands practice and perfection, and has a unforgiving learning curve and difficulty that make it very tough to just jump in and start winning. You’ll practice and perfect your skills with your favorite racers for a good, long while before you’ll truly dominate Kinetica, and this is one of the greatest strengths of the game. Never was I dissatisfied or angry with the stiff challenge of Kinetica; on the contrary, it was one of my favorite things about it. I don’t like feeling like the computer AI is cheap, but I dislike even more the feeling that I’m just flying by the competition in a racer of any type…..and Kinetica balances a grueling, unforgiving challenge without ever feeling cheap or hopelessly impossible to create an extremely challenging but immensely satisfying racing experience. You’ll be retrying the game’s toughest courses for perfection and the first place position many times, over many weeks or even months, but it’s not frustrating…it's exhilarating. And when you finally do dominate them, the satisfaction is immense. Kinetica’s stiff challenge is truly a great strength.


Kinetica offers a stiff challenge, and practice will make perfect.....expect to find yourself fighting for victory, especially on the harder tracks.

Touching back on track and racer design for a moment, it’s certainly worth revisiting the subject to emphasize that they are designed just as well from a gameplay standpoint as they are visually. While I went into some detail on them from this perspective earlier, it’s worth reiterating, on the subject of gameplay, just how well-designed and balanced the collection of racers and tracks are. Each track felt like a unique challenge, and while even the first series of tracks will put you to the test, the later ones will push you right to the brink……when I finally placed first in the last track of the final series, it was after months of practice and still in a neck-and-neck battle to the finish….and the challenge and awesome design of the tracks has a lot of to do with Kinetica’s tough but rewarding challenge…..and furthermore, they’re all just plain cool, intense and fun. I had a blast racing through all of Kinetica’s tracks; I’d honestly say there’s not a low-light in the bunch, with each providing a unique and balanced place amongst the selection. The length and structure of tracks provides a constantly intense challenge, without ever dragging on too long….races are quick affairs of a just a few laps, but never feel too short, either, partially because each one provides a unique burst of challenge and entertainment, and few dull moments at all. Racing through a variety of exciting environments adds to the experience, but the intensity and excitement of the tracks themselves, with a constant assault of huge hills and long drops, jumps, loops, half and whole pipes and so many other exciting and intense features, is at the core of Kinetica’s excellent gameplay…..great track design in a racer is essential, and Kinetica nails it.


Tracks are intense and intricately designed. There's rarely a dull moment on any of them.

Next to the tracks, the other truly integral part of any racing game is, of course, its racers. And just like its tracks, Kinetica’s racers are as well-rounded, balanced, varied and fun to control, as they are visually striking and imaginative. Just as each character has a strikingly unique persona and design, each also feels unique to play as, with their own strengths and weakness, and equal out to a cast that is as well-rounded playably as they are visually. This is a game where you’ll have to truly find “your character” and learn to dominate with them, as each character’s strengths and weaknesses vary widely enough that mastering your favorite racers is integral to ultimately winning.

Excellent track and character design and balance contribute heavily to some truly great gameplay, which is rounded and perfected by several other essential elements which solidify Kinetica as a great and unique futuristic racing experience. The computer AI is likewise well-balanced, equally intelligent while never feeling cheap. The computer AI is tough-as-nails, but doesn’t feel superhuman, and while races, especially later ones, are guaranteed to be neck-and-neck, this is, again, due to quality game design made with a satisfying, if unforgiving, challenge in mind, and not simply cheap, “slingshotting” computer AI seen in some racers.


Completing a season with a character will reveal their appearance without their kinetic suit.

Sharp gameplay would be hard to achieve in a game such as this without adequate controls, and thankfully Kinetica’s controls strike the perfect balance of “easy to learn, tough to master.” Controls all feel natural, but learning to control your racers perfectly will prove a challenge worthy of practice and concentration…..and this works well for the game. Learning to properly time moves and stunts, and corner effectively, amongst other techniques, is what will lead to mastery of your racers, and victory. More than likely, when you jump into your first race, you’ll notice right away that the controls have a feeling of required precision, and that cornering and navigating tighter parts of tracks requires thought and precise control. For Kinetica, its precise yet challenging control scheme fits the game like a glove, and gives the player a sensation that feels very true to its subject matter…..which is to say that, the precise yet challenging controls give a sensation that feels “true” to the intense experience of controlling its racers in their kinetic body suit at high speeds.

Other core elements of racing in Kinetica include stunts and boosting, both of which can be essential to winning when used properly. You’ll encounter on each track “boost strips” of differing size and length, that will let you either immediately gain a quick boost as you go over them, or will let you "siphon" boost from them to save for the right moment later on. The other way to gain boost is by performing various stunts throughout the race; stunts can be performed at any time, but will slow you down as you do them, and severely limit control/steering of your character, so it is important to time them correctly. Performing stunts is a unique and well-implemented element of gameplay that both becomes essential to racing and cleverly adds another layer of style to Kinetica’s already immensely stylish racing experience.


The almost acrobatic nature of racing in Kinetica strongly contributes to the sense of style.

Of similar important to stunts and boost, are also the “crystals” you’ll collect throughout races, and the offensive and defensive effects they will yield to aid you in getting the upper hand. Typically, collecting five orange crystals, or one purple one, will randomly give you one of several effects to use. Including such things as a super-boost or the ability to electrocute your opponents, slowing them to a crawl, this element adds just enough extra flavor to Kinetica to really round out its competitive racing experience.

Also worthy of mention is the game’s two-player split-screen mode, which works well and plays smoothly throughout, even with the occasional slow down. Overall, this mode manages to replicate the standard feel of a single player race in Kinetica without feeling dumbed down or inferior; another element many racers can struggle with at times.

Cleverly fusing its sleek and constant sense of style with its edge-of-your-seat gameplay creates an absorbingly stylish and enjoyable game across the board, and Kinetica nails the balance of style and fun like few others manage to do. I can think of few games with such an emphasis on pure style and gameplay the way Kinetica has it, which likewise manage to so seamlessly merge that style with the entire experience, including the gameplay itself. You’ll not encounter much plot during Kinetica, but this is no weakness: Kinetica is all about pure style and gameplay, and truly, it’s a strength that it doesn’t try to shoehorn in too many story elements, which in a game of its nature, can often feel tacked-on, contrived or just silly. What’s more impressive is that Kinetica simply lets the entire experience speak for itself in that way; there’s no need for long monologues or story sequences to explain Kinetica’s world and characters, because all its stylish visual, aural and gameplay elements are so well-implemented that they simply speak for themselves, and manage to absorb you in Kinetica’s world in a much more subtle and effective way.


Kinetica is a well-rounded and absorbingly stylish racing experience.


In Conclusion….

Kinetica is a game of immense style and intense gameplay, crafted expertly to create an absorbing and truly unique racing experience…..and the fact that it managed to slip through the cracks and fade away into obscurity, even amongst its studio’s success, is a shame. Sony Santa Monica has since gone on to great success, heading up development of some of Sony’s biggest exclusives on both the PS2 and PS3, but it’s worth taking a look back at where they came from to discover Kinetica; a game every bit as solid as their more popular titles, which is still one of the most unique and purely stylish racing experiences on any console. Kinetica is an inspired, stylish, addictive and extremely original game, and not just that, but one that has aged remarkably well, and remains gorgeous and thoroughly enjoyable, as much today as when it was released. Few games achieve a level of pure style the way Kinetica does, and even fewer merge that so well with great gameplay…..but Kinetica skillfully succeeds in a way few others manage. If you’re one who misses the lost genre of futuristic racing, and have yet to experience Kinetica, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to pass over this hidden gem any longer. Kinetica can be found for relatively expensive prices today, and is still one of the best and most unique entries in this sadly forgotten sub-genre of racing. Fans of futuristic racers, or just those looking for a game that is fun, stylish and just flat-out cool, should make a point of it to experience Kinetica. The futuristic racing sub-genre may have been left in the dust these past several years, but Kinetica is a relic of this forgotten niche that begs to be rediscovered…..one of the most purely stylish and just-plain-cool racers out there. Kinetica is every bit as fun, stylish and unique as the day it was released…..a true stand-out title in a lost gaming niche, and an expertly-crafted, and downright cool, game that deserves to be dragged out of obscurity.


Kinetica is perhaps one of futuristic racing's most unique, fun and stylish titles; and any fan of this niche sub-genre should make sure to check out this forgotten classic.

Who Should Play It?

Any fan of futuristic racing games, or racing games in general. Those who really appreciate a strong and absorbing sense of style in their games; especially those with a love of great visual and audio design. Fans of sci-fi settings, especially cyberpunk-style ones, or even fans of electronic music. Gamers looking for a unique, fun and challenging racing experience.   read


3:14 AM on 10.24.2013  

A Look Forward At: Data-Fly



Details:

Title: Data-Fly

Developer: ORiGO Games

Publisher: TBA/potentially ORiGO Games

Platforms: Xbox 360 (possibly cancelled), PlayStation 3

Target Release Date: To be announced/none

Status: Development sporadic/stalled; without official publisher; possibly to be self-published


Title image for Data-Fly.

What Is This Game?

Perhaps one of the most fascinatingly obscure console titles to never be released this past generation, Data-Fly was to be, from what information was revealed of it, a 3rd-person stealth action/adventure title. Set in a coldly technological future, Data-Fly’s world is one of heavy emphasis on computerization, nanotechnology and cybernetics, with a look of cold sleekness akin to something along the lines of the Aeon Flux world. Data-Fly places the player in the role of the title character, Data-Fly, an artificially-intelligent, nanotech lifeform. As the game begins, the player finds themselves, as our lead character, in the middle of the barren Salted Desert; a desert that was, long ago, the floor of a deep-sea trench, long since dried up. At the outset, Data-Fly has but one vague directive: to find her creator. However, her objective is more complicated and difficult than it initially seems, and her creator turns out to be very illusive and heavily guarded man. As Data-Fly tracks her creator, she will be lead across her futuristic world, tracking the “creator” through numerous locales, ranging from natural, organic environments to futuristic cityscapes and facilities. And as she pursues him through the sleek, cold, tech-heavy future in which she exists, Data-Fly will have to employ all her skills of stealth, cunning and combat prowess, alongside her unique nanotech abilities, as she closes in on the mysterious creator, in an adventure that will take her across a world filled with slick, highly-advanced technology, techno-organic landscapes and the remaining traces of the natural world left behind by technology.


Data-Fly is a futuristic stealth action title with plenty of personality and potential....but the game has remained in limbo, with limited details released, for several years....

History/Background:

Data-Fly was first formally announced in October 2005, tentatively scheduled for a release on the at-the-time still upcoming consoles of the next-generation, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. With few details about the title initially revealed besides its nature as a stealth action/adventure title, it was one of two titles announced for the next generation by a little-known developer named ORiGO Games; the other title being what was to be the first in an epic RPG series, The Embrace of Time: Chapter One Resurrectio Ocolus. While The Embrace of Time was a project the developer had already informally announced under the title “Project Embrace,” Data-Fly was something that had never been mentioned before.


ORiGO announced its first two games as in development in 2005. Embrace of Time (left) and Data-Fly (right) were both titles ORiGO founder Adam McClard (center) had envisioned and dreamed of creating since as far back as the late 90's, before ORiGO was even founded.... 

It is interesting to learn, then, that, according to ORiGO Games’ Deviant Art page, the title has been in the works since as far back as 1998; two years before ORiGO Gaming Entertainment (the company’s original name) was officially founded in 2000 by company CEO Adam McClard, alongside his co-founder, and vice president, David Klein. A recent graduate of Full Sail University with a degree in Computer Animation, Film and Digital Media, McClard was eager to carve out an important place for himself in the gaming industry, and set his sights to an unlikely place: China. Largely untested water for outsiders, China’s gaming industry was a place many would have seen as an impossible task to infiltrate for somebody not native to the country, but McClard relished the challenge and instead saw an array of creative and business opportunities waiting to be reaped. In 2000, Adam, alongside industry veteran David Klein, established his own company in the Chinese gaming industry: ORiGO Gaming Entertainment was officially founded, based out of Shanghai, China, with a wide range of ambitious goals.

Developing their own titles was just the beginning of McClard’s goals for his fledgling company. McClard’s decision to base his company out of China was a product of some lofty ambitions which began with infiltrating the Chinese gaming industry and developing his own unique titles, but moreover, McClard saw the Chinese gaming industry as a place filled with untapped or unfocused potential and talent, in need of somebody who could help them focus and apply their skills and ideas to make truly great games. With this in mind, one of McClard’s primary objectives, outside of developing his own games, was to help put China and its gaming industry and developers, on a productive track to success by getting their talent and work recognized, and helping to get developer’s games published.


ORiGO was officially founded under the name 'ORiGO Gaming Entertainment' in 2000, by Adam McClard, alongside his co-founder David Klein. A recent graduate, McClard was a young man with big ambitions in the industry; ones both in development of his own games and far beyond....and he set his sights to China, where he saw a trove of opportunity and talent waiting to be reaped....

Rome wasn’t built in a day, however, and while ORiGO was founded in 2000, it wasn’t until 2005, just before the official start of the “next generation,” that ORiGO began to really make a name for itself and make a push for awareness of their company, their goals and their games, on an international level. But with a new generation on the horizon, and number of years prior spent establishing itself in the Chinese gaming industry, it seemed ORiGO’s time to brings its ambitions and games to the world was at hand.

In September of 2005, Adam McClard represented ORiGO in an interview featured on IGN, in which he spoke on and revealed some of the ambitions, intentions and games ORiGO had been working on over the past few years. A relatively small group of just 20 at the time, ORiGO had big plans to grow in size as the industry moved forward over the next few years, and revealed plans to create branches outside of China, partnering with companies in Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. They also spoke on their intentions within the Chinese industry. When questioned on the current state of game development in China, McClard told IGN that “the market internally is running mostly off the sales of MMO titles,” adding that “the market is crumbling itself by producing too much without market strategy, and lack of proper education for their employees.” McClard went on to say “ORiGO is here to assist, we plan on developing an education program first in Shanghai, then throughout China to cover the broad needs and necessities of the importance of learning more proper development methods, and technology skills towards the game market.”

Likewise, on the subject of the Chinese gaming industry and ORiGO’s planned role in helping developers gain the opportunities and recognition they deserve, McClard said "China will grow, and it will grow quickly,” citing Tose Software, Sega, Ubisoft, Konami and EA’s recent interest in the region, and went on to say that the bigger hurdle was China getting its games to outside markets. McClard elaborated, stating that China has been looked down on by the industry in the past, and that getting over such mindsets and securing publishers for talent with ambitious ideas and games would be their biggest challenge in the coming generation; but that China was a market with truly limitless potential just waiting to be tapped. McClard’s views on the prevalence of piracy in China echoed similar sentiments, as well, stating that much of the cause of it involved largely disproportionate pricing in the industry, which did not line-up with the economy or average income of the Chinese people. Thus, this (coupled with the infamous Chinese console ban) was leaving many who wanted to play video games with no choice but to pirate them, as they simply could not afford the cost of purchasing them legally, even when they were available.

It was with these lofty ambitions and inspirations fresh in mind that, just a month later, in October 2005, ORiGO formally announced two titles set for the next generation: the first being The Embrace of Time: Chapter One Resurrectio Ocolus, the RPG they had previous teased as “Project Embrace,” and the latter being our current subject of interest, Data-Fly. Both titles having been in various stages of planning and development since as far back as the late-1990’s, ORiGO was finally beginning to make a name for itself and now seemed like a good time to reveal two works which the company, and Adam McClard, had held a passion for for nearly a decade at the time. With few details on either title released right away, it wasn’t until December, roughly a month after the launch of the Xbox 360 and the official onset of the new generation, that more details on either of ORiGO’s upcoming titles would surface.

While further details on The Embrace of Time remained absent, some more details and insights into Data-Fly appeared in mid-December 2005, detailing some tid-bits on the beginning of the game, a basic outline of its mysterious plot and setting, and revealing some of its stealth-oriented gameplay elements. While details were still a bit scarce on the game, it was still rather soon after its announcement, and it seemed we’d hear more on the game soon….

However, as time passed and the new generation came into full swing, any word on Data-Fly or Embrace of Time remained totally absent, and gamers and the gaming press heard little from ORiGO. Months turned to years, and soon, it was simply assumed by most sources that both games had been unceremoniously cancelled.


After several years of absence, Data-Fly suddenly reappeared in March 2009, with a post on PlayStation Universe's forums by ORiGO and a new teaser site announcing an upcoming teaser trailer and an appearance at the upcoming Game Developer's Conference. Pictured above, the cryptic image released at the time alongside the game's reappearance.

Then, suddenly, in March of 2009, Data-Fly reappeared, as, just weeks before the 2009 GDC (Game Developer’s Conference), ORiGO put up a teaser website for Data-Fly, with a countdown and some cryptic messages eluding to the game’s concept, while promising an all-new trailer for the game soon, and an appearance at Game Developer’s Conference in just a few weeks. ORiGO choose to drop the Data-Fly news via PSU.com’s forums originally, which soon thereafter, as the PlayStation Universe website became aware of the post, lead to the website being the first to break the news; and plenty of speculation from fans that the title may have gone from multi-platform to PlayStation 3 exclusive. ORiGO neither confirmed nor denied this, with their post stating simply that "Because PSU's audience has been most supportive we have decided to post this directly from the source. Keep your eyes open to PSU for the announcement."

ORiGO itself, it appeared, and McClard, had actually been very busy over the past few years, despite the general lack of news or information coming in on the company or its games. In fact, the lack of focus on their own personally developed titles could have had very much to do with all the other tasks McClard had been busying his company and himself with as the generation had moved along. Over the past few years, McClard had been busy making a name for himself in the Chinese gaming arena, and establishing ORiGO as a company focused on one of his closest and most passionate subjects of interest: bringing the Chinese gaming industry to the rest of the world, and helping developers get their games published, their ideas set in motion, and their staff properly trained to create exceptional games.

In the time that had passed, McClard had managed, working in the background, to entrench himself deeply in the gaming industry, especially within China itself. Amongst his accomplishments, in January of 2006, he co-founded the Shanghai division of the IGDA, or International Game Developer’s Association; a non-profit organization with chapters across the world, dedicated to helping game developers with various stages of production and helping them get their ideas and games out to the world. This was just one of McClard’s impressive accomplishments in that timeframe. He’d also founded the Video Game Investment Information Network (VGiiN) in 2007, an organization created to provide investors and similar entities with a better understanding of international video game markets, and to provide video game creators with a platform to be better prepared and educated on investments. In addition, McClard also managed to become the first non-Chinese member of the SISA Shanghai Online Games Committee, and in 2008 began work as an advisor for the Entertainment Media Council, a U.S.-based organization working with the entertainment industry to connect entrepreneurs with business professionals.


While development of Data-Fly and Embrace of Time may have gone silent for several years, ORiGO and McClard had kept very busy over the span of time, becoming further entrenched and more prominent in the industry. Amongst his accomplishments, McClard co-founded the Shanghai division of the IGDA, and also became the first non-Chinese member of the SISA Shanghai Online Games Committee. 


Amidst all this, it appeared ORiGO’s own titles had somewhat fallen by the wayside, but with the new info and the promise of more Data-Fly details to come as GDC 2009 approached, it seemed that the title was back on track. When the Game Developer’s Conference rolled around, ORiGO teased the game with a new “teaser image” as they promised, and soon thereafter, come the beginning of April, ORiGO released a teaser trailer for the game, showing off some of its style, setting and somewhat reworked character designs. McClard commented at the time, stating that ORiGO was “aiming for PS3 as the lead platform, due to the fact the gamers appreciate more original titles on PS3." For obvious reasons, this lead to further speculation that the game had become at least a timed PS3 exclusive, if not a PS3 exclusive entirely. Over the next month, ORiGO kept up with a steady trickle of Data-Fly details, releasing five new pieces of concept art by the end of April, stating that it was “just a sneak peak of what is to come,” and that the new art “barely scratches the surfaces.”


ORiGO followed through with its promise of more Data-Fly at and after GDC....including a teaser image at GDC (pictured above), new concept art and a teaser trailer (below) over the following month.


However, after April 2009, ORiGO again went silent on Data-Fly. It wasn’t until almost two years later, in early April 2011, that anything more was released or revealed about the elusive game. On April 7th, 2011 a slew of concept art for both Data-Fly and the long-since unmentioned Embrace of Time was unceremoniously posted on ORiGO Games’ Deviant Art page, with some interesting and enlightening factoids about both games accompanying the art. Much of the art for both games appeared not to be new art, but instead art created over the past several years, which the company had decided to release for those interested, in consideration of both games’ status as being caught somewhere in limbo. Some revealing tidbits about both games came to light via McClard’s comments accompanying the images, including the first public mention that both games had been originally envisioned as far back as the late 1990’s, and that, specifically in Data-Fly’s case, ORiGO Games still intended to one day see the game through to completion…though the time and date was unknown even to them. It was mentioned that Data-Fly was a work of passion by its creators, and was always intended to be a “pure sci-fi” world and story, one of originality and inspiration, and some interesting designs and names for various environments and enemies were revealed. It seemed there was no planned time for Data-Fly to see release, however, comments made mention that “when the time was right,” Data-Fly and its world would one day be realized. It appeared that while Data-Fly was caught in limbo, the team was still passionate about the title, and confident that one day, their vision would be realized.


A slew of concept art for Data-Fly appeared on ORiGO's Deviant Art page in April 2011. To view all of the art, follow the link below to ORiGO's Deviant Art and view their gallery.
http://origo-games.deviantart.com/

Since then, though, nothing new has been mentioned on Data-Fly. The same cannot be said for ORiGO Games, however.  In the past few years, McClard has continued to advance himself and ORiGO in the industry. ORiGO Games has expanded greatly in recent years, and branches of the company have opened in locations across Asia and North America, including ones in Singapore, Shanghai, China, Seoul, Korea and Bangkok, Thailand in Asia, as well as Los Angeles, California and Baltimore, Maryland in the United States. The company has busied itself over the past few years with one of its primary goals, mostly: helping developers get their games published, and in recent times, has expanded its vision for this goal beyond just China to an international level. Most recently, the company has worked on publishing downloadable titles, including A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda, and has more titles they will be published soon in the works, including a puzzle-platformer called Beyond Ordinary, and an action side-scroller, Mirage. ORiGO shows no sign of stopping, and most recently, within the past year, changed its official logo to appear as “OR1GO.” While information on Data-Fly has remained absent, the game can still be glimpsed on ORiGO’s official homepage, via a piece of art that scrolls by in its top bar, so it is at least safe to say the game is not forgotten by its creators.


ORiGO has spent its time recently helping smaller indie games get published. A few of the recent games they've worked on publishing (left to right); A.R.E.S Extinction Agenda, Beyond Ordinary and Mirage.

Data-Fly remains in limbo, and many have precluded that it is gone forever, with the title listed as “cancelled” in many places, including GameFAQS. However, Data-Fly is still out there, in some form…..and one can only wonder what such a passionate and intriguing work might have in store for us if it ever truly does come to fruition…..


The Game:

What’s It All About?

Details on Data-Fly have been scarce over the years, but a number of interesting bits have surfaced over time, and while it remains mysterious, there are some revealing details out there.

As stated earlier, Data-Fly has the player take on the role of the title character, Data-Fly, a nanotech, artificially-intelligent life form. Tasked with a lone objective, to “find her creator,” she’ll traverse a futuristic world while hunting the mysterious creator, a heavily guarded and elusive man. The creator is indeed a mysterious figure because, as far we know, at the game’s outset anyways, who he is and why Data-Fly must track him down is unknown, at least to the player, and seemingly to Data-Fly herself. We know Data-Fly will have an interesting array of abilities related to her nanotech make-up and that she will use them as she tracks the creator across the varied expanses of her futuristic world, and that her world appears to be one over-saturated in sleek technology, but also one which appears to have fascinating remnant of a more organic and natural past, and a large world outside the realm of man that is ruled by nature, but infused with technology. The best way to describe Data-Fly’s unique world and style would seem to be as a hybrid of a number of futuristic science fiction styles, including utopian, dystopian, cyberpunk and techno-organic.


Data-Fly combines a number of futuristic sci-fi stylings to create something fresh and fascinating.

On the subject of Data-Fly’s world, the concept art revealed via ORiGO’s Deviant Art page, and its accompanying comments, revealed a good amount about Data-Fly’s world and the environments the player would be exploring and sneaking through. Ranging from the salted sands (a desert that is the remnants of a long-dead ocean), to the vast caverns below them, to more lush settings infusing the primitive and with technology, to the depths of high-tech facilities which litter the lands of the future, to what appears to be high-tech temples and power cores, to the sleek and advanced capital city of Azadeh, and the lands still ruled by nature, filled with lush greenery and organic life beyond, the variety and imagination behind Data-Fly’s world is certainly impressive. And with what we’ve glimpsed being just a sample of its world, one can only imagine what else lies in store in its vast, varied and imaginatively lush futuristic world.


It appears Data-Fly will have no shortage of enemy types; and each appear to be distinct in appearance and abilities.

Data-Fly has also revealed itself to be an immensely stylish game in its character designs, with multiple designs befitting of the game’s interesting look and style, combining sleek technology with the organic. Enemy designs are very interesting, combining cybernetic elements with strangely organic features ranging from humanoid to fish or bird-like. Multiple enemy and boss designs have been revealed, including the mysterious “Light-Bringers,” the human-like “Nanophytes,” the hulking “Nanolysts,” and the sleek “Picerian,” and concept art for the first boss; and while the enemies remain mysterious, they are no doubt befitting of the game’s sleek, cold style. Concept art has likewise revealed natural lifeforms of the Data-Fly world which appear strange and unique. But even more striking and unique is the design of the main character herself. Data-Fly saw two iterations of her design with the same general idea but some pretty big stylistic changes. Upon the game’s original announcement in 2005, her appearance was slightly more “anime-esque,” whereas, upon the game’s reappearance in 2009, our heroine had undergone some stylistic changes giving her a darker, more serious and realistic vibe, with an overall look that remained true to her general design concept, but made her appearance significantly more serious and even slightly (intentionally) more unnatural, with wilder hair and an almost unnatural thinness to her form, which the developers described as a part her design intended to reflect her existence as a nanotech lifeform designed for performance, speed and perfection in her tasks.


While the general idea of her design remained consistent, our heroine saw a large change overall in artistic style between her initial design revealed in 2005 (left) and when the game reemerged in 2009 (right).

Considering the extremely interesting design of the characters, enemies and the world itself, alongside the thus-far mysterious but very intriguing story and setting, it is no stretch to say that Data-Fly has more than enough potential to be an extremely intriguing experience. Equally intriguing is simply the game’s look and style, which is something very much its own, but also seemingly sees inspiration from 80’s and early 90’s sci-fi; a nostalgic throwback which hits a chord with me personally. With a look reminiscent of something like the Aeon Flux animated series, combined with hints of 80’s cyberpunk and sci-fi, as well as both utopian and dystopian futires, and the techno-organic, the game certainly has an appealing style to draw us into its mysterious world. The world looks to be filled with intriguing locales to explore, and no doubt Data-Fly herself, and her mysterious creator, will be fascinating to learn more about, as well as their futuristic world. We can assume, from the mysterious nature of the trailer and story premise, and the seemingly intentionally vague details provided on the characters, world and premise, that it all hints towards an adventure full of mysteries, which, judging by the art, comments and details provided, we’ll unravel for ourselves as the game progresses.


Much of Data-Fly and its world still remains shrouded in mystery.....


How Will It Play?

While details released on Data-Fly have been few and far between, what we’ve heard and seen gives us a very good idea of how the game will play.

Data-Fly is to be, at its core, a stealth-action title. In some ways, Data-Fly does follow a stealth-action formula, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t appear to be very creative and unique; especially considering that stealth-action is a sub-genre that is not over-populated in the first place. In my experience, one could generally divide the stealth-action sub-genre into two more sub-genres of its own: "Tenchu-style” games, which emphasize the “stealth kill,” and center much of their action around eliminating your enemies as you progress. The other would be the “Metal Gear-style,” which places more of an emphasis on the infiltration aspect of stealth, and generally on finding a way past the enemy defenses; with elimination of enemies taking a backseat to sneaking past the defenses altogether, and killing being an auxiliary measure.


Data-Fly has plenty of nanotech abilities she'll use to elude, deceive and combat her foes; seen here, our heroine turning her enemies' mech unit against them.


While it is impossible to say with total certainty how Data-Fly will play, it does appear that the game leans more towards the “Metal Gear-style” of stealth gameplay, with its general theme, along with much of Data-Fly’s techniques, emphasizing infiltration and elusion of the enemy over total elimination of them. This can be assumed by the general lack of emphasis on stealth-based killing or stealth-based violence we’ve heard so far, as well as the details we’ve heard about the title character’s abilities. As a nanotech lifeform, Data-Fly will have the ability, for example, to jack into both manned and unmanned robotic enemy units and control them from afar (a technique called the ‘guardian hack technique’). This technique can be used to confuse and elude enemies, as well as gain access to areas or objects inaccessible to Data-Fly herself.

Our heroine will have a slew of other abilities to take advantage of as well; another revealed thus far is her ability to shape shift into the form of others, allowing her to take on the appearance and form of her enemies. But her ability to replicate and blend in doesn’t end there; likewise, she’ll be able to scan enemies and take on or replicate multiple aspects of them. Data-Fly will, in fact, be able to replicate not just her enemies’ appearances, but also their movements, weapons and even voices, for her own personal use. Similarly, she’ll be able to blend in with her environments, using a chameleon-like ability. While the developers haven’t yet specified all the uses of these abilities, it doesn’t take much to imagine what their primary purposes would be, and the possibilities they make for some really interesting modes of infiltration and deception are things that could make for a very unique and exciting stealth gaming experience.


Through contact, Data-Fly will be able to replicate her enemies, as well as their voices, their movements and their weapons.

This is all in addition to what will most likely be a slew of other nanotech abilities that have been implied but not officially announced; the trailer seems to imply some acrobatic maneuvers for use in stealth and combat, and perhaps even super-speed of some kind. This will be alongside, of course, the standard set of stealth abilities we’d expect; creeping along walls, hiding in and behind objects and walls, etc.

With all the emphasis on stealth and the various abilities and gameplay elements related to it, it’s surprising then to hear how much effort and emphasis ORiGO has placed on the heroine’s combat abilities and proficiency, as well. McClard stated previously that players would be able to play Data-Fly as they choose; either taking a stealth approach, or a more action-oriented one. While the game still appears to emphasize stealth as its main draw, and stealth seems to be encouraged, there is no doubt that the title character has no shortage of combat proficiency when an unavoidable battle approaches or she has alerted her enemies. It seems that Data-Fly will have a hearty selection of combat abilities and weapons at her disposal as well, for use in direct combat situations. One of her main nanotech combat abilities is something called a “body blade”…..a blade generate from her body which can take different forms and form itself in different places around her body to serve her purposes. Likewise, what we’ve seen in the trailer emphasizes her speedy, acrobatic combat techniques, and there’s little doubt that Data-Fly will prove herself to be as capable in combat as she is in stealth. Likewise, her ability to replicate objects and enemies extends to her ability to replicate their weapons….and she’ll increase her arsenal in just that manner, making her a more and more deadly threat in combat.


In addition to stealth techniques, Data-Fly's nanotech make-up provides her with a deadly array of combat abilities and maneuvers.

Naturally, if there was no regulation on the use of her special abilities, it would be easy for Data-Fly to become overpowered, so, as may be expected, special abilities of all kinds will expend energy points. To regenerate your energy points, you’ll need to seek out exposed circuitry in the environments, or the electrical components of defeated enemy units or weapons……essentially encouraging progress to keep your abilities charged up. Furthermore, you’ll use energy points to replenish your weapons and ammunition, and so, to remain effective and capable, you’ll need to progress through the environment and dispatch robotic enemy units or sentries to keep your energy, and abilities, charged up.

It was also revealed via concept art on ORiGO’s Deviant Art page, that the main character will have at least three forms, to compliment different situations and abilities. The three forms are referred to as “Pure,” “Zard,” and “Armed,” each changing her appearance slightly and presenting different aspects which compliment a variety of situations. While the specific aspects and advantages of each form weren’t specified, it appears that “Pure” is her core form, without any added offensive or defensive capabilities, most likely best suited for general stealth situations, while “Armed” appears to be a form with more heavily fortified armor (best most likely for defensive heavy combat situations), and Zard appears to be lightly armored but almost bladed and aggressive….perhaps suited for offensive close-combat situations. These are assumptions, however, and it is not the official word on what exactly each form will entail.


It has been revealed that our heroine will have three main "forms" she can take for dealing with various situations; Pure (left), Armed (center), and Zard (right), as described by McClard; or Life-Line, Nerve and Reptile as the concept art refers to them.

One aspect we’ve seen a good amount of conceptually and artistically, but little on in terms of actual in-game, gameplay-related layouts, is the environments. Environmental design is very important to a stealth title, and can have a large effect on the gameplay and the quality of it; a stealth title must be careful to have environments which compliment stealth, but also don’t seem illogically contrived for the purpose of stealth, or which make sneaking overly easy. A careful balance needs to be achieved to hit to the stealth-gameplay sweet spot. That said, ORiGO seems to know what they are doing, and the variety of environments presented conceptually provide us with glimpses of what has a lot of potential for great variety and excitement in actual gameplay. No doubt the world and environments seem to be very intriguing to discover and learn more about as it is, but the varied locales seem also like ones that will provide exciting variety in gameplay, and which have a lot of potential for varied, fresh and exciting stealth challenges as the game progresses.

On that note, Data-Fly appears to be a game which offers the player a good amount of freedom on how to play, but will progress in a relatively linear way. The game has been confirmed to take place over “stages,” not an in “open-world” fashion, which it sounds like the player will progress through in a semi-linear manner, and choose how to approach the situations presented throughout the stages. There is no word yet on how many stages there will be, however, nor the length of individual stages or the game as a whole, so these are things still purely up for speculation.


Much has been shown of the game's environments conceptually, but we've seen very little in the way of actual level design...

Looking Forward…..

Data-Fly is a fascinating, little-known title from a highly ambitious creator, of which we’ve sadly heard all-too-little about since its initial announcement; so little, in fact, that most sources have, twice now at least, assumed the title was dead and gone, long cancelled…..only for the game to pop up again, in some form, just when it was thought dead. If anything, Data-Fly may have seen few details released, even over what is now approaching almost a decade since it was first announced, but is also a title which is still very alive in its creator’s and developer’s hearts. No doubt, Data-Fly has spent its existence thus far shrouded in ambiguity, and even the actual state of development it is in remains a total mystery, but there is little doubt that ORiGO is as passionate about the title as ever……Adam McClard still appears confident the game will see release one day, eluding on ORiGO’s Deviant Art that the game’s secrets will remain a mystery until “the time is right.”  Likewise, glimpses of the game can be caught even today on ORiGO’s own homepage, making it more than clear that the game may be shrouded in secrecy and caught in limbo, but is still far from lost or forgotten by its creators. While Data-Fly’s fate remains in limbo, there is still hope for the title; ORiGO has silently risen to success in the gaming industry since the game's initial announcement, and as a game its creator has held passionately close to his heart since as far back as its conception in the late 1990’s, it’s safe to say that the game will not go easily forgotten by ORiGO or McClard……and perhaps, when the time is right, we will one day, at last, get the opportunity to experience this mysterious, intriguing and passionate vision of a futuristic world. If and when we ever do, Data-Fly has all the potential to be a very exciting and unique title, and a totally engaging stealth adventure through a mysterious and coldly beautiful futuristic world.


Data-Fly has long been caught in a state of developmental limbo.....but its creators remain passionate about it, and with ORiGO's consistently rising success in the industry, there is still hope that, one day, Data-Fly will finally reveal its mysteries to the world.


Who Should Keep an Eye On It?

Any fan of stealth-action titles. Sci-fi fans, especially those with a love for some of the unique futuristic setting found in 80’s and early 90’s science fiction films, shows and animated series. People with an interest in utopian, dystopian, techno-organic or cyberpunk futuristic settings….this game has elements of each style in it. Those with an eye or interest in passionate or well-realized fictional worlds, and an interest in the mysterious or even artistic side of science fiction.   read


5:55 PM on 07.28.2013  

A Second Look At: Brutish Mine



Details:

Title: Brutish Mine

Developer: Illusion

Publisher: Illusion

Platform: Windows PC

Release Date: September 14th, 2000 (Japan)


Cover art for Brutish Mine.


What is This Game?

Brutish Mine is a 3D, turn-based Japanese RPG, set in the year 2058, in the futuristic metropolis of Kannazawa City. Technology has continued to advance, but the continued destruction and pollution of the environment by humans has led to a number of strange space anomalies, which have resulted in the appearance of aggressive, hostile “monster-like” creatures on Earth. The worst of it, too, is their ability to blend in with human society, with many of the creatures taking the form of humans with superhuman or, seemingly, supernatural, powers . The humans take to calling these monsters “demons.” As the game begins, we glimpse some images of Kannazawa City, and an ominous scene of a blue comet hurdling through space, observed by a mysterious figure in what appears to be a satellite in orbit above the Earth. The scene soon shifts to a young man named Kento, a resident of Kannazawa City, who, while leaving a bar, encounters a “demon” in human form and is nearly killed by it, only to be saved by a young woman named Maki. Maki treats Kento’s wounds and escapes with him, and he soon finds himself at the headquarters of “SPAT,” or “Spirited Attackers” a small rebel organization dedicated to investigating and combating the demons, and the sinister corporation known as “Gaian Global,” which SPAT suspects is somehow at the center of the crisis. Maki, a member of “SPAT,” introduces Kento to the team, and he is soon inducted into their ranks.


Brutish Mine begins with some ominous glimpses of things to come....but the scene quickly shifts to our main characters......

From there, Kento, Maki, and the other members of SPAT adventure and investigate around Kannazawa City, looking for clues and adventuring while combating monsters and the forces of Gaian Global. Brutish Mine plays similarly to many RPGs of the PS1/Dreamcast era, and will no doubt remind players more than a little of the PS1 Final Fantasy entries in gameplay and style. As Kento and the other members of SPAT, you’ll explore every corner Kannazawa City (which most all of the game takes place within), unravel an increasingly sinister story, buy items, weapons and other upgrades, all while building your character’s stats to your liking on your quest to discover the dark secrets of Kannazawa City, Gaian Global and the so-called demons.


Kento is assaulted by a mysterious thug and his minions, who turn out to be of inhuman strength, but makes a narrow escape when he is rescued by the beautiful Maki. Soon after, he finds himself inducted into the rebel organization known as SPAT.....

With a story and style which infuses cyberpunk and fantasy/scifi with dark horror themes and hints of both realism and anime-styles in its art and character designs, Brutish Mine has a style which is somewhat reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series, yet still uniquely something its own, with a number of interesting inspirations coming together to create something very interesting, attractive and appealing.

Oh, and did I mention that Brutish Mine is technically a hentai game?

I didn’t scare you off there, did I? Now that the notion of taking a second look at a hentai game probably has some of you ready to walk away in disgust, others drooling with anticipation, and many more probably wondering just what the hell I’m thinking, I’d like to say this is the time to, as part of the theme always is here at Games Obscura, put aside any preconceived notions you may have about this game, as we take a good, honest second look at this forgotten gem. Brutish Mine is more than one might think upon first impression, and is a surprisingly well-made, great-looking, enjoyable, intriguing and totally overlooked piece of forgotten Japanese RPG lore.


Yep, that's right.....Brutish Mine is, technically, a "hentai" game......but don't make any assumptions just yet. This isn't your typical "adult" title, and there is actually an impressive and well-made RPG lying behind that dreaded "18-plus" label......

Introduction:

Brutish Mine was released solely in Japan in 2000 and, no doubt due largely in part to its “adult” content, got very limited attention, especially outside Japan, where it never really had a prayer of seeing an official release. It’s safe to say I’d heard nothing about it personally until a number of years later, in 2005, when my quest for the most obscure of PC games from Japan led me to a slew of hentai or otherwise 18-plus releases that had, naturally, never made it off the shores of Japan. While the majority of these titles pretty much fit the general stereotype of Japanese h-games, being either generally low-quality or long-winded and monotonous visual-novels with next-to-nothing in the way of gameplay or interactivity, a few surprisingly interesting titles popped out that didn’t quite fit that unfavorable bill. Most prominent were the games of a publisher/developer by the name of Illusion, a company whose line-up of games were shockingly high-quality and well-produced, and even more importantly, appeared to be genuinely creative and fun games, spanning a surprisingly ambitious variety of genres. And while some of their titles appeared to be straight-up erotic games, many others looked to be something quite substantially more.

Out of their library of titles I’d never before heard of, Brutish Mine stood out to me in particular. It looked very far from the stereotypical hentai game I’d expect and, in fact, had me second guessing upon first glance if this fascinating, bright and beautiful-looking game, with its impressive 3D graphics, gorgeous prerendered cinemas, addictive RPG gameplay and genuinely interesting setting and story, was, in fact, a “hentai” game. It didn’t quite fit the stereotype, for sure, and even upon beginning my actual playthrough of the game, I was surprised to find that this game, right from the outset, was something different and, honestly, much more, than what I or most people would expect from a game labeled as “hentai” or “erotic.” In fact, one thing that really struck me was the game’s surprising LACK of focus on its erotic or pornographic elements, which were surprisingly few and far-between, and its much greater interest in telling a story, creating an interesting world and ultimately making a game that was a genuinely interesting, fun and engaging RPG experience.

Whether you’re preconceived notions of games labeled as “hentai” or “adult” be positive, negative, or somewhere in-between, I honestly encourage you to put them aside and approach Brutish Mine with a fresh, clear outlook and mindset. Brutish Mine just may surprise you and, especially for fans of classic Japanese RPGs, Brutish Mine is a pleasant surprise to be discovered.


Almost completely void of any mainstream awareness in the gaming community, due in part to its "adult" status, Brutish Mine is as obscure as they come. But this title begs a second look from any fan of classic turn-based RPGs.....

History, Release and Reception:

Brutish Mine was developed and published by Illusion, a Japanese PC gaming software company that, while never having released a single game outside Japan (due largely to the adult and somewhat controversial nature of their titles), has managed to gain a degree of infamy outside of Japan in the past several years due somewhat to word-of-mouth amongst fans and the generally unusual high quality of their titles. But perhaps much more so due to a string of negative controversy which haunted the company when certain audiences outside Japan became aware of some content in a couple of their more potentially-offensive titles.

Although Illusion grew into quite respectable prominence within the “adult” Japanese PC gaming field, it began a bit more humbly in the early 1990’s. In fact, their first title did not feature any of the “adult” elements that became a staple of the company’s releases. The first in a string of releases for the NEC PC-98, “Angel Army,” the developer/publisher’s very first game, was released on April 1st, 1993. A turn-based strategy/war game featuring bright anime character designs and art, Angel Army featured none of the sexual content of the company’s later releases. Just a few months later, the first game to feature their signature blend of established gaming genres with erotic scenes was released on August 27th, 1993; a 2D platformer called Sei Senshi Mokkoriman.


Illusion released its first game in 1993, a strategy/war game titled Angel Army (pictured above). Angel Army is, to date, Illusion's only game not to featured any "adult" content, and was also the first in a long list of releases from Illusion for the NEC PC-98.

The stark difference in genres and content between their first two releases was already indicative of the company’s fascination with genre experimentation, and willingness to work with different genres. In the coming years, they would continue to establish what would become a staple of their company: releases which experimented across a variety of genres, and created polished and well-rounded gameplay experiences, while implementing adult content or scenes into the games. Amongst a slew of continuing releases for the PC-98 over the following few years were a selection of titles featuring Mokkoriman, including Mokkoriman RPG (an RPG featuring Mokkoriman), Ai no Omochashi: Space Gigolo – Red Cobra (a Space Harrier-esque 3rd-person space shooter), and Ranko Nyotai Tsuri: Mokkoriman no Nani de Nushi Tsuri (a fishing game….yep, that’s right), alongside a number of other titles, such as Ura Mansion, Hakkin, Kankin, Hyoryu and several other “visual novel” style games; a genre which Illusion would soon distance itself from completely, in the interest of taking on a range of genres, gameplay styles and innovations unique to the Japanese adult gaming niche.

In 1997, Illusion released Des Blood, the first in a series that would become a staple of the company, and would ultimately be the series that put them on the map, as a sort of centerpiece of the company’s philosophy on game design and adult gaming in general. While the original Des Blood game was a first-person adventure game with first person shooting sequences (though not to be confused with a visual novel-style game), Des Blood 2, released the following year, would push the series, and the company, even further toward its ideals of genre experimentation rarely seen in Japanese hentai games, as it implemented a 3rd-person free-roaming style of adventure gameplay with strong ties to the action and survival horror genres.


Beginning in 1997, the Des Blood series marked the beginning of a new era for Illusion, as the company placed an emphasis on genre experimentation and high-end 3D graphics. The Des Blood series itself would prove to be one of Illusion's most successful series of the late 90's and early 2000's.

At any rate, with the beginning of the Des Blood series, 1997 marked the year that Illusion would drastically evolve its games from a technical and game design perspective, to ultimately become the company they would be known as in the years to come. Placing an emphasis on detailed 3D graphics almost unseen in h-games, especially of the time, and opening up to create games in a broad range of genres seen often in gaming, but rarely in adult gaming. Illusion placed high-end graphics and production quality, with games running on their own, in-house 3D engines, as a staple of their releases, going hand-in-hand with a dedication to quality gameplay experiences and a strong relationship with their fans (the company did, and still does, release beta versions of many of their games for fans to openly try out and comment/give suggestions on for the final release), emphasizing itself as an “adult” PC gaming company that was really about quality games for gamers.

Over the course of the next several years, into the 2000’s, Illusion would continue mostly publishing and developing its own games, alongside a few releases which it published for a sort of sister development company by the name of Dreams. Illusion continued to experiment across a variety of genres, and Brutish Mine came about in the year 2000, amidst what were possibly some of the company’s best and most creative years. As the company’s first attempt at a 3D, turn-based RPG, Brutish Mine drew inspiration from some of the genre’s heavy-hitters of the time, including the Final Fantasy series. Indeed, Brutish Mine was, as many of Illusion’s releases at the time, something very unique to the adult gaming niche, but still, its status as a hentai game damned it from the outset to be cast aside by the mainstream. Brutish Mine received very little mainstream attention, naturally, and its release came and went quietly in Japan, with absolutely no attention to speak of at the time outside of Japan.

With very little reception to speak of at the time of its release, Brutish Mine faded into obscurity almost as soon as it was released, and was quickly swept up in the tide of other Illusion releases surrounding it. Illusion continued experimenting across genres, creating everything from action/adventure games (2001's Requiem Hurts), to fighting games (2002’s Battle Raper and its sequels), third-person shooters (2004’s A-GA), and even a series similar to DOA Xtreme (the Sexy Beach series, started in 2003 and still seeing installments), alongside a number of sequels and spin-offs to its successful Des Blood series.


The late 90's through the mid-2000's saw a good degree of success for Illusion, and numerous releases from across a wide variety of genres. A few highlights outside Des Blood and Brutish Mine included (pictured left to right) A-GA, Requiem Hurts, the Sexy Beach series, and the Battle Raper series.

It wasn’t until several years after Brutish Mine’s release that it, or most of Illusion’s games, would see any awareness outside of their homeland. But with the rapid expansion of the internet from the early to mid-2000’s, and the advent of considerably faster internet connections, download speeds, files sizes, “torrenting,” and, as part of all this, huge fan communities for niche areas of gaming and all manner of pop culture, Illusion’s games found a niche audience outside of Japan.

Specifically amongst large gaming/anime/Japanese pop culture communities online, Illusion found a very dedicated niche for their games outside Japan. Amongst them, sites such as the massive Hongfire website and its huge, dedicated community did much to bring awareness of Illusion’s games to people, and even saw groups creating English patches for some of their games. By around 2005/2006, Illusion had found a niche outside Japan, thanks to the internet, without even lifting a finger and, seemingly, without much awareness of it themselves. In this time, Brutish Mine itself managed to garner some special attention for its unique qualities, especially amongst communities who were already fans of the Japanese RPG genre.

While Illusion’s sudden popularity amongst this niche ultimately grabbed it popularity and attention where it never would have seen it, it also drew more awareness to the company with audiences outside of its homeland who were not used to, or very accepting of, some of its more controversial titles’ content.


Illusion found a niche audience outside Japan in the mid-2000's, as availability and awareness of its titles became more prevalent amongst niche anime/gaming communities on the internet. However, it didn't take long for this awareness to land Illusion at the center of a very serious controversy, sparked by a game called RapeLay, one of its most potentially-offensive titles.....

Beginning around the time of a controversial review of Illusion’s 2006 title “RapeLay,” on “Something Awful’s” website in 2007, almost a year after the game’s release, Illusion found itself at the center of some serious controversy that came with the sudden mainstream awareness of one of its most potentially offensive titles. Something Awful posted its somewhat-untimely review, expressing horror and disgust at the game’s content, and as the game suddenly hit mainstream awareness, it set off a chain-reaction of controversy and outrage triggered by sudden mainstream attention of the decidedly niche and potentially offensive game. It simultaneously became aware to a number of people, upon heightened awareness of the game, that it was available for purchase on Amazon.com, which lead to outrage from Keith Vaz, a British Member of Parliament, who expressed shock and disgust at the game and its availability for purchase on a mainstream website, subsequently vowing that if it and a number of other “rape-themed” games on Amazon weren’t taken down from the website, the issue would be taken before the British Parliament. Amazon quickly responded, removing all copies of RapeLay, and anything similar, listed by sellers on its website. As the controversy escalated, numerous politicians and other groups from various countries, including the United States, got behind the attack on RapeLay, ultimately lumping what was a game not even meant for distribution outside an of exclusively adult audience in Japan, in with the entire gaming industry, resulting in sweeping statements such as Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s statement that “it appears that there is no antisocial theme too base for some in the video-game industry to exploit,” as well as bans in countries such as Argentina, and a ban of sale by the EOCS (Ethics Organization of Computer Software, an independent Japanese adult gaming ratings board) in Japan, making purchase of title impossible even in Japan.

Illusion’s reaction to the controversy surrounding its seemingly obscure, Japan-only title outside of its country of origin was one of shock and confusion, at the fact that the game had not only generated such an explosive controversy, but that the international mainstream was even aware of it. Defending itself from further backlash or controversy, Illusion cited that it and all its games conformed with Japanese law and were not for distribution outside Japan; and shortly thereafter, removed all references to RapeLay from its website and halted production and distribution of the title entirely.

The entire RapeLay debacle ultimately scared Illusion enough to block viewing of the company’s website to visitors outside Japan for a few years afterward, and served to solidify the company’s intentional isolation from non-Japanese audiences, as the company made sure to drive home the point that its games were not intended for international audiences. As Illusion closed its doors once and for all to the outside world in the latter half of the 2000 decade, it continued with much of the company's previous trends, including high-end production values and 3D graphics, although it moved away from the true genre experimentation of its late 90’s and early 2000’s “heyday,” and more into the realm of games strictly focused on their erotic content. The company has maintained a solid fanbase outside of Japan, however, especially for some it’s most ambitious works of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, who have maintained availability of even the company’s most recent titles to international fans via internet sharing and even English patches.


In more recent years, Illusion, somewhat sadly, moved away from the genre experimentation and innovation of its heyday, sticking more to games focused strictly on their erotic content. Entries in some on-going series have continued, including Artificial Girl 3 (far left) and Sexy Beach Zero (center left), but most of its less sexually-focused titles have been left behind in favor of titles such as HomeMate (center right) and Real Kanojo (far right) that favor flat-out erotica.

In a way, it’s a shame that Illusion’s reputation and, ultimately, its legacy, to most of the world is dominated by the RapeLay controversy. The shadow which this single game and its controversial reputation cast over the company and the rest of its library of titles is a shame because it has ultimately obscured even further a line-up of ambitious and high-quality games which Illusion has produced over almost two decades; a line-up which may fascinate many gamers, even those not interested in “adult” or “hentai” content. Regardless of one’s stance on RapeLay or the controversy surrounding it, it would be a mistake to judge the company and its variety of other releases based solely on one title, and gamer’s may find that many of Illusion’s releases are beyond what they’d expect. For fans of turn-based RPGs, especially those of the Playstation/Dreamcast eras, Brutish Mine should be of particular interest amongst Illusion’s surprisingly impressive library. If you enjoyed the likes of the Playstation Final Fantasy entries, or many of the other RPG greats of the time, and don’t mind the occasional adult content present in several scenes, Brutish Mine is a truly obscure RPG gem waiting to be discovered…..


Brutish Mine, as many of Illusions best titles from the late 90's to mid-2000's, offers up an excellent gaming experience regardless of its adult content. Those with a love for Japanese RPGs have a treat to look forward to in this engaging and satisfying RPG.....


The Game:

Flaws:

Brutish Mine is not a terribly flawed game in most areas, and is a technically well-done and attractive game; if anything, most issues or flaws to be found with it are either subjective, or are a matter of preference or (of course) attitude towards some of its racier content.

That said, there are a few quips on the technical side that are worth mentioning in Brutish Mine. First amongst them is the game’s preset camera angles, which can be a bit awkward at times, occasionally obscuring the proper path to follow or certain objectives, items or objects which otherwise should not be a challenge to find. It’s hardly a huge issue though, and more of an occasional inconvenience than a glaring problem.

Graphically, Brutish Mine is a very good-looking game on the whole, especially considering its time and the standards of most adult titles. However, if there is one flaw I could point out with Brutish Mine graphically, it’s that the animations, both in-game and in some of the prerendered cutscenes, do have a bit of a stilted, slow or robotic look about them. This is not to imply that they are jarringly bad or strange, but simply that they can look a bit stilted or slow at times; a problem that, honestly, wouldn’t even be very noticeable if the character models themselves weren’t so smooth and well-done, making the less-than-perfect animation a bit more obvious. One other, minor, graphical issue is in a few lower-detail environments, especially environments during battle, which can have some odd looking, repeated textures or general lack of detail; but this is a very minor nitpick, as, more often than not, environments are detailed, lively and attractive.


One of the few graphical lowlights to speak of is some low-detail battle environments. By and large, however, Brutish Mine is a very good-looking game.

The character progression is a bit slow, as well, which is something that can make character growth feel less rewarding than in a standard leveling system. Using a system similar to Chrono Cross’s character growth system, in which there are no actual “levels” but instead simply the slow building and progression of character’s stats, which does involve player choice, but can also feel slow and unrewarding at times. Likewise, all aspects of character building could have used a bit more work to feel truly engaging; characters do not gain spells through leveling, for example, but rather learn them from various books found throughout the adventure. This isn’t terrible, and it is fun to find various magic and spells and apply them to your characters, however, they are few and far between, and left me feeling as if finding these spell books would have been better as an addition for acquiring rare spells, than as the only way to gain magic in the game. On a similar note, as well, you’ll find yourself in the same armor with the same weapons for a long time; while there are different weapons and armor available for purchase at shops in the game, they are rather expensive and your purchases of them will be few and far-between. In one sense, this is a good thing, as it can make for less of the hassle of constantly swapping out armor and weapons, but in another sense, it once again factors into some generally unsatisfying character growth and a sense of linearity.


Story progression and development can be a bit slow at a few points, but it ultimately pays off and remains interesting.

The story progression can also, at times, feel a bit slow, and though I found the setting and story to be ultimately quite interesting, the story does hit a stand-still at certain points, sometimes with a few “dungeon” areas between any significant plot development. Still, the story and setting on the whole were interesting enough that I found myself interested, even through these slower parts.


The game bears resemblance to the Final Fantasy series in some stylistic and gameplay elements. However, it has more than enough personality of its own, as well.

Besides these issues, Brutish Mine doesn’t have a lot of problems working against it. One subjective issue I found some might have is that the game does, admittedly, borrow heavily from the Final Fantasy series in some aspects; however, this isn’t so much a flaw with the game, as it is something that might be pointed out as unoriginal. Still, the game has more than enough of its own personality and style to separate it from being anything within “knock-off” territory.  On that note though, while it is not really a “flaw” in the game design, it should be emphasized that Brutish Mine is, in some aspects of its gameplay, battle system and design, a bit “typical” of the turn-based RPG genre, and doesn’t really bring a lot of new ideas to the table for the RPG genre. It should also be considered, however, that, as many of Illusion’s titles, it is VERY ambitious for a “hentai” game and takes strides in storytelling and game design that are usually not seen in titles of an “adult” nature; and that at the end of the day, the game is still polished and plays well regardless.

Of course, the other “subjective” matter which some might take issue with is the game’s sexual content. I don’t really want to cite the game’s adult content as a flaw, but it is something which some may object to and which may, indeed, turn some off to the game entirely. As it stands, however, it should be emphasized that, love it or hate it, the game’s erotic scenes are infrequent and usually are not entirely tasteless, either; if anything, on the opposite end of the spectrum, those who came to Brutish Mine looking for just such content may, in fact, be disappointed at the infrequency of such scenes in the game.  Relegated mostly to infrequent shower scenes and occasional sex scenes (all of which are done in prerendered cutscenes), they feel almost more along the lines of occasional easter eggs or “bonuses” than a prevalent part of the game, aside from a few which do, genuinely, pertain to the plot. Either way, love ‘em or hate ‘em, these infrequent erotic scenes can be easily ignored by those uninterested in them and, although cinematics are unskippable, it’s easy enough to simply “wait them out” if they aren’t your cup of tea, and outside of them, there is only some rare nudity to speak of in a few non-sexual scenes.

With these quips and issues out of the way, I’m happy to say that Brutish Mine is a very cool game, and one with a lot of style and substance going for it, regardless of its “adult” status. This is an interesting, attractive and very fun RPG which holds up very well on its own, and is definitely worth looking into…..


Brutish Mine does have several scenes which contain nudity or sexual content, but they are infrequent and easy enough to ignore if they aren't your thing. Love 'em or hate 'em, there is plenty to love about Brutish Mine beyond them.


Why it’s Worth a Second Look….



Brutish Mine is more than worthy of a second look from gamers, especially Japanese RPG fans, for many good reasons. In fact, for fans of Japanese RPGs, Brutish Mine is a game worthy of recommendation for many of its merits as a great-looking and engaging RPG, adult content or no; one at least up to par with the flood of noteworthy RPG titles for the original Playstation from which it draws its inspiration.

The first thing that struck me about Brutish Mine, and contributed heavily to my initial interest in it before even purchasing and playing it, were the bright and beautiful 3D graphics. Coupled with highly attractive and detailed character models and bright, detailed environments, the game’s graphical presentation and visual design are sure to be one of the first and most striking aspects of the game right from the outset. Not only was I shocked and impressed to see such a graphically impressive presentation in a hentai title, Brutish Mine is just a very nice looking game regardless, and I really loved just about every aspect of is visual design, from the look of its world to the design of its characters. The graphics are, from a technical perspective, easily on par with a Dreamcast title, and from a creative perspective, lively and, although borrowing from some inspirations, very unique and appealing, filled with life, character and inspiration. I simply loved the look of the game, the design of its world and characters, and it’s exciting infusion of a cyberpunk city with anime inspirations, with motifs of modernism, scifi/fantasy, and even touches of gothic horror in its darker moments and places. All of the motifs and elements in its visual design add up to create something that draws from a variety of outside inspirations, but ultimately adds up to something very unique, appealing and attractive. And the technically impressive graphical quality of the title does an excellent job of conveying attractive and appealing visual design of the game.


Brutish Mine features some excellent in-game 3D graphics, with smooth, detailed character models, impressive spell effects, and colorful, detailed environments.

Likewise, just as impressive as the in-game graphics are the beautiful prerendered cinematics throughout the game. The prerendered scenes are easily on par with some of the higher-end ones found in numerous PS1 titles, and are highly detailed and well-implemented throughout. Used with relative frequency throughout the game, usually at key story moments or for the game’s occasional “erotic” scenes, they are very well-rendered and work very well for the game. Characters and environments all look great in the Brutish Mine’s prerendered cutscenes, and they are well-directed and convey the story and action very well when used. They also merge well with the rest of the game, and never feel like a jarring transition from the in-game graphics; due largely to the already high quality and detail of the in-game graphics to begin with.


Prerendered cinemas are great-looking, exciting and convey the story and action well.


Delving deeper into the game’s visual design, the character design is an element I really liked about Brutish Mine. Out of the main heroes and villains, the character design of each was interesting, unique and attractive; each character has personality in their look, and all the designs have a bright, appealing look to them, combining “realistic” elements with a certain “anime” flair; similar, in some ways, to the look of characters in Final Fantasy 8 or 10, for example. The look of each character befits their personality well, as well as the feel and look of the game’s world. Once again, varying by individual character, their looks implement inspirations of sci-fi, fantasy, modernism and gothic horror, and create a cast of characters with a bright and very appealing look to them. I found each character’s design to be unique and appealing in its own way, and befitting of the character’s personality.


Character designs are attractive, with plenty of style and personality.

Likewise, from a visual design standpoint, the other element which drew me so to Brutish Mine was its world, and both its attractive graphical presentation and the fascinating look of its various locales and creative fusion of genres. As a big fan of the “cyberpunk” style, the whole look of its neon-lighted, over-industrialized, utopian-turned-dystopian city was immediately appealing to me. But what made it even more exciting was the previously mentioned, and refreshingly unexpected ,fusion of numerous style and genres coming together to create a world and look that is at first bright, upbeat and neon, but as we delve deeper into the game and its world, reveals itself as one not only filled with the expected dingy urban decay that is a staple of cyberpunk, but also, more surprisingly, some even darker themes and locations, which delve more into the occult and the styling of gothic horror. This fusing of gothic horror themes into the game’s cyberpunk setting is, in fact, the key to what gives Brutish Mine a style and feel not quite like anything else. It is obvious in some ways that Brutish Mine clearly sees inspiration in some of its visual elements from the Final Fantasy games; however, it’s the strong cyberpunk and gothic horror stylings throughout the game which really are the key to making Brutish Mine’s look, style and mood something unique, fascinating and its own. Whatever the case, it all added up to a game with a visual style that was very appealing to me personally, and created a world I found atmospheric and absorbing.


Kannazawa City proves to be a lively and interesting setting.

On the subject of Brutish Mine’s characters, I not only found myself loving their visual designs, but also found that the game did a good job of developing its core cast, from a plot and character development standpoint, into an interesting, varied cast, with well fleshed-out personalities, motives and back stories. The members of SPAT are a well-rounded group of characters, and while a few of the more minor secondary characters don’t see quite as much development, the majority of the central villains and heroes are all interesting and well-developed as characters, too. In particular, I found Kento and Maki’s (the main male and female leads) back stories and the development of their relationship were particularly interesting, and the main villain and his two female cohorts were appropriately underhanded and mysterious in their intentions, while still revealing themselves, and Gaian Global, to have some interestingly dark motives and mysteries to unravel. And dispelling any potential worries of a misogynistic attitude toward its female cast (a stereotype haunting Illusion’s games from the RapeLay debacle which, in many of their title’s cases, proves largely false), Brutish Mine’s female cast members are just as strong, if not more so, than the majority of its male cast, and indeed consist of some of the game’s most interesting and strong-willed characters. And, in both visual design and personality, they come off as attractive and sexy, but in a restrained and reasonable way; and all are strong characters, equal to their male counterparts and handled and developed well.


Brutish Mine's characters prove to be more than just pretty faces; the cast is endearing and well-developed throughout the story.

And just as with its characters, Brutish Mine’s world (namely, Kannazawa City, where the game primarily takes place) is just as engaging and interesting as it is bright and attractive. Even though the city isn’t fully explorable in an open-world sense (you move about to different locations via a overhead map of the city), the city still feels alive and engaging, with varied and interesting locales that are all great to look at and exciting to explore. While the fact that an entire, epic RPG takes place within one city may seem like a strange choice for a game of its type, it actually turns out to be a huge strength for the game. Kannazawa City reveals that it, in and of itself, is a vast world of its own, and the focus on one city as the setting both creates a more intimate feeling of attachment and familiarity to the setting, and also complements the game’s unique cyberpunk-inspired style, allowing the game to emphasize its themes of over-urbanization, conglomerations and urban decay, while still showing different sides to the city through various locales including mansions and greens on the outskirts of town or dark and mysterious corners of the city. The unique scope of Brutish Mine’s “world,” allows it to focus in on the smaller details and locations of a city which, as many urban metropolises can be, is a world of its own. And in turn, it creates a city which feels more like a real, full-scale city, not just one scaled down to a selection of shops and locales; a choice which suits the game’s style, setting and futuristic motifs well, creates a unique appeal and feel for the game world, and makes for a setting which is unique, absorbing and engaging. Kannazawa City is a setting which proves itself to be heavily atmospheric, mysterious, intriguing, varied and very interesting to explore, and is a great, unique setting which proves to be one of the game’s most interesting aspects.


You'll navigate between areas of Kannazawa City via an overhead map.

Of course, what ties the setting and characters together is the story, and I found that Brutish Mine’s story was, while maybe just a bit slow at times, ultimately mysterious, unpredictable, intriguing and with a satisfying level of depth. The main conflict between the evil conglomerate, Gaian Global, and SPAT, the underground rebel faction, within the walls of an urban jungle, does indeed bear some resemblance to the premise of, you guessed it, Final Fantasy 7. However, the game quickly goes in a direction very much its own with the story, and while I admittedly first found myself somewhat expecting a Final Fantasy 7 knock-off based on this initial premise, the game and its story proved itself to be better than that. Brutish Mine quickly takes its sci-fi/cyberpunk-esque setting and story, and begins to heap on the mystery as it soon introduces hints of the supernatural and occult, and soon enough, the story and setting take on some strong themes of the horror genre; something I did not expect, and which effectively piles on mystery and dread to the story and setting. Where the story goes is far different than I would have expected, and the mystery behind Gaian Global and its connection to the mysterious “demons” that have been appearing makes for an engaging story, due to the heavy occult/horror themes which it mixes effectively and excitingly with its fantasy/sci-fi and cyberpunk elements, and creates a sinister and intriguing atmosphere because of it. Likewise, good character development and interesting and equally mysterious backstories for the central characters creates a cast that is linked well to the tale and are fascinating characters to learn about, too, as the story unfolds. The story, setting and characters are some of an RPG of this type’s most important elements, and Brutish Mine did a great job of keeping me interested and engaged in them.


Kento and Maki's relationship is well-developed, and plays an important role as the story progresses.

Brutish Mine also provides a solid performance from an audio perspective, for the most part, as well. While sound effects can be minimal or basic, the music, though all digitized, is fitting and suits the mood well, with a few standout tracks. What I really enjoyed about Brutish Mine’s audio, however, was the frequent and well-done voice acting throughout the game. Most major story sequences, and all prerendered cutscenes, are fully voiced, and it really helps to bring the game to life. Few RPGs of the time featured extensive voice work, and Brutish Mine implements it well, with high-quality Japanese voice acting which isn’t just relegated to a handful of short scenes or exchanges.

From a gameplay standpoint, Brutish Mine is in some ways a rather traditional turn-based, Japanese RPG. However, this shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing, since it is also a very well-designed and polished one, which is fun and engaging to play, keeps things interesting, provides a decent challenge and has a few tricks and secrets of its own.

Outside of its story, setting and characters, it is often said that the other element which can make or break an RPG is its battle system; and Brutish Mine does quite well in that regard. Implementing a turn-based battle system working off an “Active Timer” system, the flow of Brutish Mine’s battles is very similar to that of the battles found in the Playstation Final Fantasy games. Though the active battle timer ultimately ends up working the same as in said Final Fantasy titles, the presentation of it is slightly different, with one single bar or “track” in the bottom right corner of the screen, with icons for all of the player characters and enemies moving along it (at different speeds based on their individual stats), ultimately moving from left to right, and when the character or enemy’s icon reaches the far right side of the track, it is their turn. You’ll have a party of three characters in battle, and during your character’s turns, you’ll work from a typical menu-based system where you can select options such as “attack,” “magic,” “item,” “defend,” and so forth, and then work through the sub-menus to select individual spells, items, options, etc. Battles move along at a satisfying pace and don’t get too long or drawn out in average battles, while simultaneously providing some satisfying and exciting boss confrontations. The game presents the battles well, too, in an exciting fashion with dynamic camera angles and exciting attack and magic animations that keep the action exciting and attractive. Overall, the pacing, set up and challenge of the battle system and battles themselves is well-done, satisfying, fun and well-balanced.


The turn-based battle system functions well, and provides a balanced level of challenge. Some of Brutish Mine's tougher boss battles (such as the one pictured) will test your skills sufficiently, as well.

Of relation to the battle system, I also quite liked Brutish Mine’s magic and, particularly, how it was not only functional, but also fit well into the setting and story of the game. Tying back to the game’s occult themes, you’ll acquire magic from mysterious tomes you’ll find in various places, and I liked the way that magic and the tomes fit well with the game’s story and made sense with the themes of occult magic the game’s story goes into. The game has a good variety of spells, including standard offensive, defensive and healing ones, and some more elaborate, “summon”-style magic which you’ll uncover as the game progresses. Spelling casting sequences during battle are well done, as well, especially for some of the more powerful offensive and summon spells.

Somewhat unconventional of the genre is Brutish Mine’s “leveling” or, more accurately, stat upgrade system. There are no actual “levels” in Brutish Mine; instead, characters gain points which give small boosts to their various stats (attack, defense, magic, etc) frequently from battle. What makes it interesting is that, at any point, the player is free to access their stats and redistribute any amount of points in one category towards another. So, for example, you may go into your menu and take points out of defense to add to attack, magic to add to agility, etc, etc.  This makes for an interesting added layer of strategy to battle and character growth, as it makes it possible to basically rebuild your characters as you see fit to suit the battles or situations you are preparing to encounter. While some might say that it in some ways makes character growth less fulfilling due to the lack of permanence, I personally thought it was an interesting system which allowed for a variety of possibilities and strategies.


Character growth is a bit unconventional. There are no "levels;" instead, characters gain points to their stats, which can be redistributed at any time as the player sees fit.

The exploration and discovery of Kannazawa City was something I found constantly intriguing, and this over course carries over into a satisfying gameplay experience outside battle, as well. There is a lot of variety to the various locales found within Kannazawa City, and discovering and exploring a new one was always full of intrigue. You’ll return to certain areas somewhat frequently, particularly SPAT headquarters, where you’ll return at time to find your friends or party members or prepare for your upcoming adventures, and a few shopping or residential areas, where you’ll go to buy or sell items/weapons/armor or converse with residents. You’ll pick up and complete some side-quests along the way, as well, often from residents of the city, which adds a little extra depth, and there are also some corners of the city and secrets hidden within them waiting to be uncovered.  While you return to certain areas somewhat often, this isn’t a weakness, and I thought that it contributed to the unique feel of the Brutish Mine’s setting; Kannazawa City felt like a massive place, but one which people actually inhabited and lived in, and the returns to familiar areas gave the adventure a unique feeling, even as you were constantly discovering and exploring new corners of the city.


The sinister Gaian Global has some dark secrets and motives to discover.....

...and you'll encounter some interesting villains during your fight against them.

The satisfaction of Brutish Mine’s exploration and general gameplay outside battle is most evident in its “dungeon” areas, which are mysterious, intriguing and often sinister places to explore. The layout of hostile areas such as these I always found to be well-balanced, and usually not too short or too long and drawn-out. Likewise, there’s a good, satisfying mixture of random battles, which aren’t too frequent, exploration that is truly intriguing, and puzzle-solving, which make dungeon areas a generally exciting affair, often topped off with an exciting boss battle. And as with the rest of Brutish Mine, these areas have plenty of variety; everything from hospitals to caverns to mansions.


There's plenty to explore in Kannazawa City, and no shortage of variety in its areas. Dungeon areas in particular are always fun to discover and explore, with interesting puzzles, secrets and bosses.

The overall progression of Brutish Mine is, on a related note, somewhat linear, with the occasional side quests or optional/secret areas, items, and extras to flesh things out a bit. The world isn’t quite as in-depth and packed with extras as some of the deepest J-RPGs of its time, but there is still enough freedom, exploration, magic and items to find and things to do and discover on the side to give the game and its world sufficient and satisfying depth. The main draw and bulk of the game, however, still comes from the path following the main story, and there is plenty of interesting material to keep you interested as you move forward. And, in the end, Brutish Mine adds up to a respectably hefty adventure, with plenty of content packed into the roughly 30 to 40 hours you’ll spend with it by the end. And on that note, without spoilers, I was happy and satisfied by the end of Brutish Mine; by its end, Brutish Mine is satisfying and complete, with its tale and main characters developed, and things coming satisfyingly full circle. I was happy with what felt like a story and game that felt complete by the end, and a climax and conclusion I felt worked well.


Brutish Mine's story develops slowly at a few points, but there is still no shortage of exciting moments, epic confrontations, or fascinating twists and turns to keep things interesting.


In Conclusion….

Brutish Mine is a beautiful, exciting and well-made RPG which was, by its very nature, doomed to never see mainstream attention, and ultimately exist in obscurity. But what’s a real shame is the negative stigma with which such “adult” or “hentai” game status left the title saddled with from its outset, too; and this, combined with the huge controversy surrounding its publisher/developer years later, has resulted in numerous ambitious and impressive titles from Illusion, including Brutish Mine, to be not only obscured, but worse, stuck with an unjust, generalized reputation which is not only unfair, but largely untrue. But, regardless of one’s feelings or preconceptions of Illusion’s more controversial titles, or hentai games in general, Brutish Mine is a game well worth a second look. By resisting the urge to shrug off Brutish Mine based on its label, one will be rewarded with what is a surprisingly fascinating and well-crafted entry in the RPG genre; one that is great-looking, stylish and absorbing, and which proves itself to be on-par with the mainstream hits of the genre in many regards. Brutish Mine is a great looking RPG that plays very well, has an attractive style to its characters and setting, and is fascinating to explore and unravel its intriguing and mysterious story and world. And regardless of its infrequent sexual content, Brutish Mine is a fine game all on its own, which stands tall as a very good RPG in its own right; not just one that’s “good for a hentai game.” No matter if your preconceived notions of what a so-called “hentai” game can be are good, bad or indifferent, it’s a good idea to put them aside, hunt down Brutish Mine, and judge it on its own merits as a game. It, like a number of Illusion’s titles, may actually surprise you, and, at the end of the day, Brutish Mine reveals itself to be a very fine RPG; one which deserves the much-needed attention it never had a chance at, and a good, honest second look.


Brutish Mine is a great-looking, thoroughly interesting RPG which, regardless of  its 18-plus label, more than deserves the much-needed attention it has never gotten.

Who Should Play It?

Fans of RPGs; especially turn-based, Japanese RPGs of the Playstation or PS2 eras. Fan of futuristic, cyberpunk, or sci-fi/fantasy; even fans of horror may find some pleasant surprises in the game’s story and style. People who enjoyed the look, style and gameplay of the PS1 Final Fantasy entries. Those looking for an obscure and interesting Japanese RPG, who won’t object to the occasional sexual content.   read


10:30 PM on 06.06.2013  

A Second Look At: Bullet Witch





Details:

Title: Bullet Witch

Developer: Cavia

Publisher(s): AQ Interactive (Japan), Atari (N.A. and Europe), Codemasters (AU)

Platform: Xbox 360

Release Date(s): July 27th, 2006 (Japan), February 27th, 2007 (N.A.), March 6th, 2007 (Europe), March 16th,2007 (AU)



Cover art for Bullet Witch.

What Is This Game?

Bullet Witch is a third-person action shooter which casts the player as Alicia Claus, a tough, beautiful, stoic witch, battling her way through the demonically-overrun, post-apocalyptic ruins of the “near future” in the year 2013. After the legions of Hell suddenly and violently appeared on Earth, they quickly began laying waste to human civilization in an orgy of murder and violence, overpowering even the military and raining destruction upon our world, and as a total badass and perhaps the world’s only hope, Alicia takes up arms against the demonic forces. Wielding her signature weapon, the “Gun Rod,” along with a host of devastating magical spells and an acrobatic moveset, and guided by a strange supernatural voice, Alicia will tear through the forces of hell, and just about anything else that stands in her way, with her destructive arsenal, on a quest to save humanity and uncover the mysteries of her own past.

Bullet Witch is an action shooter with some technical flaws, but also some very fun gameplay concepts, a massive sense of scale to the action, a dark, gritty, cool (and wonderfully over-the-top) setting, bizarre enemies, and a badass, sexy main character, which all feel like something akin to a comic out of “Heavy Metal” magazine with a bit of a Japanese gaming twist. As Alicia, our dark, brooding heroine, the player will massacre the legions of darkness, while navigating huge environments and, despite some noticeable technical flaws, will discover some amazingly intense, exciting and explosive action along the way. Bullet Witch has been bemoaned by some for some of its technical issues and lack of polish in some areas, but for those who can look past these issues, there is an explosive, intense and immensely stylish onslaught of action gameplay awaiting them. Infusing gothic horror and modern stylistic elements with the look and borderline-insanity of an animated metal music video, Bullet Witch creates a style and atmosphere uniquely its own, and when combined with explosive, intense action (including massively destructible environments) and the stylish, sexy and badass heroine at the center of it all, it becomes easy to see why Bullet Witch is a game worth checking out for curious gamers who’ve seen it sitting in the bargain bin…..if you can overlook its technical issues, a game filled with character, style and intense and addictive gameplay is waiting…..


Alicia is a graceful, stylish heroine; and Bullet Witch's brand of unique action gameplay reflects that.....


Introduction:

Bullet Witch was a game which, in a way, won my love far before I’d ever played it. The gameplay videos, trailers, and various concept and promotional art of it I had seen over the year between its release in Japan and its eventual North American release revealed to me what I, honestly, knew would probably not be a “technically” great game, but still looked to be remarkably original, creative and fun. Bullet Witch didn’t have amazingly high-end graphics on par with Gears of War, and much of the press surrounding its Japanese release reported a game that had more than its share of AI problems and technical shortcomings. But what was also apparent in every screenshot, every video and every piece of conceptual or promotional art I’d seen for Bullet Witch was a sense of creativity, style and excitement. I loved the scale of the environments and action. I loved the gothic-horror-infused post-apocalyptic setting. I loved its over-the-top, flat-out strange enemies. And I adored the amazingly cool, uniquely stylish Alicia, a heroine who managed to be badass, sexy and feminine without coming off as contrived, silly or overtly exploited. In short, I was into Bullet Witch from the beginning, intrigued by its thoroughly unique qualities and concepts and in love with its fresh, creative look and style.

I had Bullet Witch preordered months before its U.S. release in early 2007, and was following the developer’s blog on IGN for the game closely as its release approached. When the game released to mixed reviews, I wasn’t terribly shocked; and, perhaps partially because my expectations were well-adjusted, I picked up my copy of Bullet Witch and found myself thoroughly enjoying it and quickly addicted to its explosive and addictive gameplay. Bullet Witch, to be fair, has a number of glaring technical flaws and some thoroughly cheeseball writing, voice acting and cinematics……but there is also a wonderfully charming, unique, stylish and just-plain-fun action-shooter underneath them. And if you can look past its shortcomings, you’ll find a game that is fun and filled with personality…..


Bullet Witch had a lukewarm reception, but lying beyond its shortcomings is an explosive, exciting game, with plenty of style and personality....


History, Release and Reception:

Bullet Witch was created by the recently-defunct Japanese development studio, Cavia. Cavia was founded in the year 2000, and had met with a good degree of success in development of licensed titles for existing franchises, including a number of relatively successful licensed PS2 and Game Boy Advance titles for popular anime franchises including One Piece, Naruto, Steamboy and Ghost in the Shell, in addition to development of a number of spin-offs to popular video game series, including Resident Evil: Dead Aim (a light-gun shooter) and Dragon Quest:  Shonen Yangus to Fushigi no Dungeon (a Dragon Quest “Mystery Dungeon” spin-off). As a freelance developer, Cavia worked with numerous publishers, and two of their few “original” IPs being the Gungrave series, and the Drakengard series (or Drag-on Dragoon in Japan), which was published by Square Enix.

In October of 2005, on the horizon of the “next generation,” Cavia expanded its business from a freelance developer to its own development and publishing company, renaming itself AQ Interactive, while simultaneously acquiring Japanese game developers “Artoon” and “feelplus,” and re-creating the “Cavia” brand itself as another subsidiary development company within AQ Interactive. With AQ Interactive serving as a parent company to the three development houses, Cavia had managed to expand itself while simultaneously maintaining its own, original brand as a subsidiary of its new-found, expanded brand name.


Bullet Witch's developer, Cavia, had spent much of the previous console generation doing titles for established franchises; pictured here (left to right): Resident Evil: Dead Aim, Steamboy, Dragon Quest: Shonen Yangus to Fushigi no Dungeon, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and One Piece: Grand Battle.

The Drakengard series (known in Japan as Drag-on Dragoon) was one of the only original IPs for Cavia during the PS2 generation. The series won praise for its dark story and setting, although its gameplay was criticized by some as simplistic or repetitive.

Having spent much of the prior generation working on licensed properties, Cavia/AQ Interactive was eager to try their hand at a new original IP as the new generation of consoles arrived. Bullet Witch producer Tohru Takahashi described his and Cavia’s excitement for the oncoming generation in an interview with 1Up.com, stating “The Xbox 360 is a particularly exciting hardware to develop for, because its superior power now allows for new kinds of expression which were previously impossible.” With an enthusiastic outlook on the new generation Cavia set to work on creating an IP that would strike a balance of appealing to both Japanese and North American gamers, and at the same time breath a unique breathe of life into the third-person shooter genre. The idea of taking the traditional third-person shooter gameplay elements and infusing it heavily with fantastical elements and a hint of exploration and adventure gameplay was the core idea behind Bullet Witch in its inception, and served a model that the team felt would make for a unique experience while simultaneously appealing to both the Japanese and North American market’s differing tastes. The art direction and character designs were an especially important element to the team, as well, and Takahashi noted that considerable thought was put into the game’s look and style; particularly, into the main character, Alicia, herself, who went through a number of iterations before finally settling upon her final design. Likewise, Cavia built Bullet Witch’s gameplay from the ground up, including all its mechanics and the engine itself, in the interest of creating a unique next-gen experience centered on fast-paced action, massive destruction and physics-heavy combat and gameplay.

When Bullet Witch launched in Japan in July of 2006, it met with heavy promotion and hype, but also some harsh criticism from professional gaming journalists. With the Xbox 360 less-than-popular in Japan, Bullet Witch was a unique title for Japanese gamers in that it was a rare early Xbox 360 that was not only developed in Japan, but also with a Japanese audience in mind. Bullet Witch was launched with a fairly large amount of promotion, especially in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, where director Take Yoichi promoted the game at the store AsoBitCity on its launch day, alongside a playable demo set-up for the game in front of the store. Alongside considerable coverage in Famitsu's magazine and on their website leading up to its release, it appeared Bullet Witch was on track for success…..but when it released in Japan, Bullet Witch met with a lukewarm reception both critically and in sales numbers. Professional journalists noted the game’s general “unfinished” feel and lack of polish; including poor enemy AI and sub-par graphics, and, due much in part to the Xbox 360 itself and its thus-far dismal sales performance in Japan, the game, even being one of the more “popular” Xbox 360 titles in Japan at the time, still had largely poor sales numbers; debuting at number 29 on the sales charts, selling a mere 9,083 copies.


Bullet Witch had no shortage of attention leading up to its release in Japan. It was featured prominently in magazines such as Famitsu......

......and even saw a large promotion on launch day in Tokyo's Akihabara District. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360's general lack of popularity in Japan meant little success for the title.

Bullet Witch may not have been a rousing success in terms of critical or sales reception, but the title had received enough attention for its style, interesting central character, and unique brand of action gameplay to gain the attention of publishers Atari and Codemasters, who picked up the rights for North American, European and Australian releases of the title. With Atari shoehorning the title for North American and European releases, the first thing the publisher did was to look at the game’s technical flaws in hopes of improving upon them for a more positive reception outside of Japan. Much of the press surrounding Bullet Witch’s Japanese release reported on a game with a very cool concept that was simply bogged down by far too many technical flaws and limitations, resulting it what ultimately felt like an “unfinished” game. With this in mind, Atari went back to Cavia and AQ Interactive, giving them the time and money to improve upon some of the game’s issues and ultimately polish up the game for what would hopefully be a better reception internationally.

With additional time and money, AQ and Cavia went back to work on Bullet Witch, issuing improvements and tweaks to the game across the board, including a repositioned “aiming” camera, graphical tweaks and improvements, and minor work on the enemy AI, controls and core engine of the game. Meanwhile, Bullet Witch received a fair amount of hype and coverage, thanks largely in part to Atari’s push for attention and awareness. Aside from a consistently updated developer’s blog on IGN in the months leading up to Bullet Witch’s North American release and a consistent stream of coverage by the media, including a number of featured publisher and development staff interviews on major video game websites, Atari also saw to it that Alicia herself and, as such, Bullet Witch, got a little extra attention by the public eye, when she appeared topless in Playboy’s “2007 Video Game Preview” feature. Likewise, Bullet Witch saw an added promotional bonus in the form of a collectible, pre-order exclusive Bullet Witch comic for its North American release.


Atari promoted Bullet Witch quite heavily to the gaming press for its upcoming stateside release, which boasted some much needed technical improvements, and early press was positive. Sadly, upon release, it critical reception still was ultimately mediocre.

With a healthy amount of coverage and promotion, and additional work being put into the international version of the game by the developers, Bullet Witch appeared to be on the right track. Unfortunately, however, even in its final international release, improvements and all, many of Bullet Witch’s inherent flaws still shone through, resulting in an ultimately mixed-to-negative reception from critics and the press, and similarly unremarkable sales. IGN and Official Xbox Magazine both blasted Bullet Witch with 4.0’s out of 10, while Gamespot gave the game a mediocre 5.5 out of 10, citing poor level design, bad enemy AI and general technical and mechanical issues as the game’s biggest problems. On the slightly more forgiving side were sources including Game Informer, who awarded Bullet Witch a somewhat average 6.5 out of 10, and X-Play, who gave Bullet Witch a middle-of-the-road review with a score of 3 out of 5. Ultimately, it seemed, even after the game had gone back into development, undergoing tweaking and improvements on the technical front, the sentiments and complaints of many were still largely the same, and with its poor reception, Bullet Witch’s final hopes of carving out any large degree of success largely faded.

Atari continued to support Bullet Witch after its release with the subsequent release of DLC costumes and extra missions which had previously been released on the Japanese marketplace and, despite the subpar reception from the press, Bullet Witch managed to carve out some love amongst gamers who picked it up in spite of the negative buzz surrounding the game. While most who picked it up agreed that the game suffered from some legitimate problems, many also found a game that was surprisingly fun and unique underneath its problems. Despite some forgiving and loving fans who supported the game, Bullet Witch never saw the degree of success its creators or publishers had hoped for, in Japan or elsewhere, and what AQ Interactive and Cavia had hoped would be the start of a successful next-gen franchise quickly fell by the wayside. While Cavia had planned to make Bullet Witch the first in a series, the title’s poor performance critical and financially put the ax to any plans of a sequel, and Bullet Witch soon faded away as Cavia and AQ concentrated its efforts elsewhere.

Cavia and AQ Interactive themselves plugged along for a few years after, with a number of titles fitting the mold of their releases in the previous generation; mostly licensed titles based on existing anime and video game franchises, including two Zegapain games for the Xbox 360 and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles for the Wii. Although they had been tasked with developing Hironobu Sakaguchi’s upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Cry On, alongside his studio Mistwalker, with AQ Interactive to serve as publisher, the upcoming would-be killer app was cancelled in 2008, due to AQ Interactive’s unease over the Xbox 360’s lack of success in Japan. Moving on, Cavia and AQ released, along with fellow developer/publisher Square Enix, the Xbox 360/PS3 action-RPG, Nier, in May of 2010. While the title was a big hit in Japan, it was just soon after, in July, that AQ Interactive decided to dissolve the Cavia development team into AQ Interactive, and just over a year later, in October 2011, AQ Interactive itself merged with Marvelous Entertainment to create Marvelous AQL, essentially absorbing AQ into Marvelous in the process.


Cavia saw a big hit in Japan in 2010 with Neir, another original IP, for Xbox 360 and PS3. Shortly after, the Cavia brand was dissolved into AQ Interactive, and AQ merged with Marvelous.

By this point, it is safe to say that Bullet Witch is all but forgotten by most gamers and, seemingly, by its creators, with no real hope of the franchise continuing and only a small handful of gamers who recall it, and even fewer fans. Bullet Witch has received the occasional attention over the following years in Japan; although sales were unsatisfactory overall, it did manage a spot in the Xbox 360 Platinum Hits line-up in Japan. However, with such a limited audience for the Xbox 360 in Japan, even this meant little in terms of sales, and since, the game has faded into obscurity, with only the occasional mention here or there. But while Bullet Witch is a title with some problems, it’s also a title worth the attention of curious gamers; especially for the dirt-cheap prices it’s dropped to. With the game going for little more than five to ten dollars at most retailers in North America, gamers owe it to Bullet Witch to finally give it a go, if they haven’t already……while Bullet Witch has some issues, it also has a lot to offer to those willing to look past them, and is a unique, quirky and often intense and exciting shooter with a lot of genuinely inventive and innovative gameplay features, an interesting style and setting, and a downright awesome heroine. Bullet Witch may be well worth looking past its blemishes to enjoy…..


Bullet Witch has been left behind and forgotten by most, but this unique action title may very well be worth a second look now more than ever.....


The Game:

Flaws:

While there really is an interesting and often extremely enjoyable game in Bullet Witch, the truth of the matter is that many of the criticisms leveled against it are not inaccurate, and Bullet Witch does indeed have its share of issues. There’s a lot to love once you look past them, but first, let’s get the bad out of the way so we can focus on the good….

Bullet Witch is a game with a ton of great ideas, but also one with a number of downfalls that hinder them, mostly in the technical department. The big problem is that, at its core, Bullet Witch runs on its own engine, built from the ground up by the developers, and the engine itself seems to have some inherent issues which, ultimately, lead to a number of technical problems.

There are a number of issues, some small, but some pretty big, stemming from the somewhat faulty engine at Bullet Witch’s core. While it renders some surprisingly large and open stages seamlessly without load times, it also comes at the cost of an often-choppy framerate. While I found that the framerate issues ultimately didn’t lead to any major gameplay problems directly, they are still pretty noticeable when the action on screen gets chaotic, and considering one of Bullet Witch’s main selling points is massive destruction and chaotic action, framerate issues rear their head a bit too often during some of the game’s most spectacular moments of action and destruction.


The scale of the action and destruction can be massive in Bullet Witch, although the game's engine tends to struggle a bit during its more chaotic moments.

Another issue that stems from the game’s engine is some occasionally strange physics. Physics play a big part in Bullet Witch’s gameplay, and knowing this, the team designed the game’s engine to allow for advanced physics on objects and environments; and considering that the use and destruction of said objects and environments plays a pretty large part in Bullet Witch’s gameplay, seeing to it that the physics engine worked properly and consistently would seem to be a given. However, the physics in Bullet Witch can act downright strange at times, especially, once again, during chaotic moments or massive environmental destruction. Considering that many of Alicia’s offensive spells, as well the attacks of some larger scale enemies, rely on physics to destroy, throw or otherwise move objects, and while the complex physics make for some spectacular action, the somewhat spastic and unreliable nature of them also makes it somewhat unpredictable and risky to dabble with them at times. While these physics issues are not such a problem that they are constantly prevalent nor do they heavily impair or affect the gameplay, in a game so heavily reliant and focused on the use of physics in its action, some added polish and perfecting to the physics engine would have gone a long way.

Issues with Bullet Witch’s engine extend into the graphical presentation itself, as well, and while Bullet Witch is a very cool-looking game stylistically, and features some impressively large environments and incredibly frantic action and destruction, the game has number of technical problems on the graphical front as well. Aside from the aforementioned hiccups in the framerate, Bullet Witch’s graphical engine also seems to have some odd issues with properly rendering real-time shadows, which results in strangely jagged or trippy shadows, especially on objects or characters in motion. While not a huge quip, it is telling of the issues which Bullet Witch’s seemingly underpowered engine struggles with. Bullet Witch is somewhat of a double-edged sword across the board on the graphical front; while I was honestly impressed by the sheer size of the environments and scale of the action, and really like the stylistic elements of the game, including the designs for Alicia herself, her “gun rod,” the settings, and the downright bizarre enemies, the game’s graphical presentation, from a technical standpoint, appears lacking for an Xbox 360 title, even of the first generation. Textures are often flat or bland and environments, in turn, come off as low-detail. Animations are a mixed bag, as well, and while Alicia herself and some enemies move smoothly, other enemies come off as jerky and stilted in their animations.


Bullet Witch has some graphical issues, but the huge size and openness of the environments is quite impressive.

Although a number of the flaws mentioned thus far are largely anesthetic, Bullet Witch has a few other noteworthy problems which go beyond appearance. One of the most obvious and troublesome is the, frankly, idiotic AI most of Bullet Witch’s enemies suffer from. While Atari had Cavia go back to the drawing board to work on many of Bullet Witch’s technical issues for a release outside Japan, with the AI being one of the primary areas of concern, it seems Bullet Witch’s AI problems were a bit more deep-seated than some mere tweaking could correct, and even in the international version of the game, enemies remain largely oblivious and brain-dead; it’s not unusual to encounter a group of foot soldiers who will simply stand in one place as you mow them down, or who are running aimlessly back and forth or in circles. AI issues seem to permeate to all classes of enemies, with similarly oblivious or strange behavior from nearly all types, regardless of size or the nature of their attacks.


Enemy AI is one of the game's biggest problems. Much of the time, enemies are utterly brain-dead.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bullet Witch also suffers from some occasional, frustratingly “cheap” enemies and deaths, including some obnoxious moments of instant death. While these moments aren’t the norm, they also usually come suddenly, unexpectedly and with very little time or way to avoid them. In particular, the greatest offenders are Bullet Witch’s “sniper” enemies, who will hover a red laser over Alicia for a few seconds, before firing a single shot which, unless you manage to find cover, will most likely hit and, when it does, instantly kill Alicia. Often just as frustrating are the unexpected instant deaths which can result from falling or flying objects; the damage inflicted by flying, falling or moving environmental objects can seem entirely random, and results in some frustratingly unexpected, swift and frustrating deaths. It also feels like a cheap method of artificially ramping up the difficulty to, in some sense, make up for the otherwise poor AI.

Outside of the nagging technical issues and oddities, Bullet Witch’s other major issue is the length of its main story mode. Consisting of just 6 stages, the game is over far too soon, and while the individual stages themselves are very large, open and expansive, it still adds up to a campaign that can be blown through in little more than 4 to 5 hours. Bullet Witch does have considerable replay value in the form of its numerous DLC stages, as well as multiple difficulty levels and a large focus on scoring and perfecting your performance on individual stages (which, in turn, is lent an added level of addicting fun by the game’s online leaderboards), but the length of the core campaign is still shorter-than-average, and could have benefited greatly from even two or three more stages to flesh things out more.

Besides this, once we step away from the technical shortcomings, there is little I didn’t love about this quirky, flawed-but-fun game. One knock I could issue against the game is that the story, cutscenes and dialogue are pure cheese. While the premise for Bullet Witch and its world is the perfect setting for the over-the-top, ass-kicking shooter it intends to be, the cutscenes and dialogue can often be cringe-inducing and overly melodramatic. Likewise, while Alicia herself is an awesome, thoroughly likeable heroine, the same can’t be said of the remainder of the cast; and with mega-dork military meathead Max Cougar (the major supporting character of the game) desperately trying to steal the spotlight from Alicia every time he shows up in a cutscene, it can honestly be suggested that the story sequences and dialogue be ignored. This would be more of a concern if telling a story were a big focus for Bullet Witch, but Bullet Witch is clearly a game more focused on its gameplay and stylistic aspects, and as such, concerns of some cheeseball cutscenes and characters is more a passing concern than it would be in other games. As it stands, while Alicia may be the only worthwhile character in the game, she is also the one you’ll spend all of the game around, and goes a long way toward making up for the otherwise throwaway cast and story elements, by being a particularly unique, likeable and appealing character.


The dialogue and cutscenes are pretty goofy, and Alicia is probably the only likeable character in the bunch. Trust me, you'll be sick of this guy in no time.

While it may sound like Bullet Witch has a lot working against it, there’s also a lot to love beyond its issues. For those who can look past its problems, read on, Bullet Witch may have its flaws, but there is also a lot to make up for them under the surface….



Why it’s Worth a Second Look…..


Beyond the initially all-too-obvious problems which seemingly plague Bullet Witch, there really is a fun game with a lot of personality and individuality. While many were put off by its shortcomings, Bullet Witch is well worth a look by those who’ve been curious, but put off by its negative reception, or a second look by those who wrote it off originally.

Despite, or perhaps even in part because of, some cheesiness, one of the most striking and appealing aspects of Bullet Witch was its immense and distinct style. Lying somewhere between a comic you’d find in Heavy Metal magazine, a B-grade action/horror movie and a Japanese anime, with a bit of gothic flavor for good measure, Bullet Witch has a style all its own which it is simply drenched in, right from the moment you reach the title screen. Everything about the presentation and design of the menus, art style and general design of everything from the outlandish enemies to the setting to Alicia herself is bursting with a wonderfully bizarre and lively style that is simultaneously cool, dark, cheesy and at times totally crazy; and it fits the game perfectly and gives everything an added charm. Menus, including the title screen and spell casting menus have a gorgeous gothic style to them that goes above and beyond the presentational effort seen in many games of twice its budget or profile. Style was obviously a core concern for the team when making Bullet Witch, and it shows.


One of Bullet Witch's great strengths is its creative gothic/post-apocalyptic style, which the game is completely drenched in. Even the menus are oozing with style.

The greatest oddity of Bullet Witch, to me, was that a game with so many technical issues that directly affect its gameplay was simultaneously a game that was so much fun to play in spite of those flaws. While Bullet Witch suffers from a myriad of technical flaws which inhibit its gameplay, the core of the game itself was so fun and addictive that it counteracts it technical issues and produces some considerably fun, addictive and extremely satisfying gameplay.


There are definitely some strange enemies in Bullet Witch.

There are a lot of aspects which make Bullet Witch such an enjoyable game to play, and no doubt near the very top of the list is the sheer size, scale and impact of the environments and action. There’s a real sense of satisfaction in Bullet Witch’s action, and even with some poor AI, the action still manages to remain intense and keep the player on their toes, especially on higher difficulties. Although not all of Alicia’s spells are available right from the start, the impact and sense of scale is still apparent even in the first stage, and only ramps up from there. The level of satisfaction and sense of impact, excitement and power in Alicia’s actions and attacks is one of Bullet Witch’s greatest assets.


The action is explosive, unpredictable and satisfying.

The elaborate use of physics in the action, coupled with the destructibility of environments, is a large part of what makes the action and combat in Bullet Witch so exciting. While the physics engine has its hiccups, it is still undeniable the sense of fun and excitement it lends to the action, and what a large role it plays in it. The selection of offensive spells caters to the physics and destructibility of environments, too, and, once again, their impact is incredibly satisfying and appropriately exciting. From pushing objects such as cars and pieces of the environments around and into your enemies, to blowing up tanks with an explosive bolt of lightning, to casting tornado and watching a whirlwind suck in enemies, vehicles, trees and chunks of buildings, then watching it spit them out and send them flying , the spells, their elaborate casting sequences, and the ensuing chaos, lends an epic sense of scale to Bullet Witch’s combat.


Physics play a large role in the action. Expect to see cars and other large objects thrown at yourself, enemies and all about.


Likewise basic combat and general control of Alicia is exciting and satisfying. Aside from spells, the other half of combat relies on Alicia’s Gun Rod, a huge weapon she carries with her. The gun rod is capable of transforming into a number of different gun “types” including shotgun, machine and sniper rifle, as well as a few basic up-close physical attacks. In general, just as with the spells, the impact and feeling of power behind Alicia’s signature weapon is immensely satisfying. The gun rod itself suits Alicia nicely, lending to and complementing the already badass and unique style of the main character herself, and Alicia handles the weapon with a signature grace and style that permeates through all of her actions.


Alicia's signature weapon, the Gun Rod, has a number of forms and can function as numerous weapon types, including a shotgun, mini-gun, and sniper rifle.

On that note, it should be said that one of the things I loved most about Bullet Witch was just that: how unique and enjoyable Alicia was not just in her design, but also in all of her actions, movements and animations. In many ways, Alicia is really what brings the experience together and makes Bullet Witch something unique and fun beyond its flaws. Alicia moves and controls with a certain stylish grace unique to shooters and action games. From casting spells, to using the gun rod, to simple movements and acrobatic jumps and flips, Alicia has a graceful, elegant style to her animations and the way she moves that lends a very unique feel to the gameplay and puts it apart from the tough, masculine “feel” of the gameplay in many third person shooters and action games, whether the protagonist be male or female. Whether you're dodging bullets with a cartwheel, twirling the gun rod to choose between different attack types, or simply running or walking, the unique grace and elegance with which Alicia moves and controls lends a unique and exciting feel to the gameplay, and also complements Alicia’s character and style perfectly. Bullet Witch is a game with a lot of style, and Alicia’s subtle grace and elegance in everything she does works well in making the player feel at one with the stylish brand of action the game presents.


Alicia's actions have an acrobatic grace to them, which in turn give the gameplay a feel very unique to the action genre.

On that note, Alicia herself is, without a doubt, a large part of what lends such a particular attitude and style to the game as a whole, and her presence as the main character lends a constant sense of unique style to the game.  Alicia’s design is bold, distinct and creative, and she manages to be both feminine and tough, graceful and deliberate, and sexy and understated, simultaneously, without feeling exaggerated or silly, either. Her tall, slender figure, and dark, gothic character and costume design make for a strikingly distinct and unique character. The game is smart, and does well, to center itself and its action around Alicia, with its elaborate spell casting sequences calling attention not just to the destruction they cause, but to Alicia herself and her stylish brand of action, and even the game’s camera generally sets itself in such a way that keeps itself close to Alicia and makes her appear big, bold and the “center of attention” even amidst the destruction and chaos of the action around her. The default third-person camera sets itself in just such a way that keeps itself close to Alicia and is set just subtly below her level, emphasizing her character as big, bold and authoritative, and, likewise, when the camera pulls in over-the-shoulder for more precise aiming of your shots, Alicia’s character and her signature weapon are big, bold and attention-grabbing.


Alicia herself, and her bold design and presence, lend a boatload of style and personality to the game.

While Bullet Witch may seem a bit on lean content at first glance, and its main story mode is indeed a bit short with just 6 main missions, there is much more to Bullet Witch than may at first meet the eye; and a number of factors come together to drastically increase the replay value, longevity and amount of content, thus taking a game which, at first, seems like an all-too-brief experience, and turning it into a highly addictive game bursting with extra content and replayability.

The smallest, although still significant, of these features is Bullet Witch’s leveling system, which allows you to level up Alicia’s various abilities at the end of each stage with points you earn from achieving higher ranks and earning skill points to distribute into three areas;  Ability (for HP and MP), Gun Rod (pretty self-explanatory), and Witchcraft (which powers up your magical spells and abilities). The leveling system is nothing terribly involved, but there is a definite feeling of progression and accomplishment associated with it, due much in part to the fact that it does carry over beyond playthroughs and throughout the game as a whole; so, in other words, to take on harder difficulties, improve your scores and do better in the challenging extra missions of the game, leveling Alicia plays an integral part. If anything, the leveling system could have benefited from more expansion on it, as it will only take a few playthroughs to max out Alicia’s abilities; still it is a nice addition to the game and its persistence throughout the game as a whole sets the tone for what really makes Bullet Witch a fun game; its replay value, extras, extra missions, and emphasis on improving your skills and ranks.


A tense battle atop a moving airplane is one of Bullet Witch's highlight set-piece moments.

Many of Bullet Witch’s harshest critics railed against the game for the far-too-lean amount of content it initially presented players with, and, really, this was not at all an invalid complaint. Indeed, at first glance, and especially upon its initial release, Bullet Witch gave off a bad impression as a game with a very short campaign that clocks in a little more than 4 to 5 hours, and seemingly offered little to do outside of it. However, while these complaints are are/were not invalid, especially at the time most reviews were written for the game, there are a number of features they do not take into account, some due largely to the fact that said features/content were added later on via DLC. That said, these features absolutely must be addressed because of how greatly they affect the longevity and enjoyment of the game on the whole.


Scoring, ranking and online leaderboards add a whole new level of replayabililty to Bullet Witch, especially with the abundance of extra missions available via DLC.

Central to much of the extras and features which enhance Bullet Witch’s addicting replayability is its scoring/ranking system and, subsequently, its online leaderboards. At the end of each stage, the game will add up your score based on a number of factors and areas including Kill Points, Survival Rate (how many deaths/continues) and clear time, and multiply it accordingly by which difficulty you were playing on. It grades your performance with a letter rank (i.e. S, A, B, C, etc) in each area and then tallies everything up to come up with your overall score and rank for the completion of the stage. The system itself isn’t overly complicated and is easy to understand, but this works well, and is easy to grasp. Simultaneously, the score system, coupled with the online leaderboards, creates and demands an addictive drive for perfection, and the drive to perfect your score and skills becomes a central focus, and creates a highly replayable and challenging experience, greatly increasing Bullet Witch’s longevity.

Of course, with just 6 main missions, even with an addictive scoring/leaderboard system and multiple difficulties, the fun would still wear thin pretty quickly if that was all Bullet Witch had to offer. Thankfully, a slew of post-release DLC largely remedies this problem and serves to turn Bullet Witch from a game that is over in a day or two, into one you’ll be squeezing replay value out of for months.


A fun selection of alternate DLC costumes helps keep things fun and fresh, but the real meat of the game's DLC content comes in the form of its variety of additional missions.....

For starters, a list of fun and unique alternate costumes help to keep replay value up. While a somewhat superficial addition, the alternate costumes are each fun and unique and help to keep things feeling fresh upon extended play sessions and add some variety to things. Ranging from sexy to silly, the costumes include an (obligatory) schoolgirl outfit, a secretary, a colorful pixie, a mummy, and an alternate “white witch” version of Alicia’s original costume. While alternate costumes are just a surface-level addition, they are fun, varied and add an extra level of variety, freshness and fun to replaying missions. Of course, as fun as alternate costumes are, the game would need more to keep you playing than just that; and that’s where the bulk of Bullet Witch’s post-release DLC comes in, in the form of a hefty selection of extra missions which heap on heightened challenge and tons of replay value.


The wide selection of DLC missions, combined with alternate costumes and scoring/leaderboards, adds plenty of lasting appeal, variety and replay value to a game that was initially lean on content.

The game’s extra “concept” missions generally consist of reworked versions of the game’s main stages, with entirely different enemy and stage layouts, including considerably ramped up difficulty, and generally grueling challenges which will put your skills to the test, as well as versions of the game’s missions with all of your spells unlocked from the get-go (allowing use of the most destructive and high-level magic in the game’s earlier stages.) With a grand total of 17 extra missions, the amount of content and lasting appeal the DLC stages add to Bullet Witch cannot be understated; and in many ways, these DLC stages are more interesting, challenging, intense and just downright fun than the game’s original six stages. Most, in fact, go out of their way to emphasize what are some of the game’s best aspects, namely its potential for highly explosive and destructive action on a huge scale, and tense situations where the line between victory and defeat can literally be inches or milliseconds. Likewise, these missions place further emphasis on the addictive strength of the online leaderboards, and considering the intense challenge, the unpredictability of the action and chaos, and the precision and lightning-fast reflexes needed to achieve victory and perfection, the addictive fun of challenging other player’s scores and ranks in these missions adds a boatload of extended replay value to the game. The addition of having your full arsenal of spells unlocked adds a new level of insanity to each stage, and the unique layouts and challenges of each extra mission are genuinely imaginative and creative challenges. The fact that the amount of DLC missions equals out to nearly three times the game’s original set of stages really says it all; and between this and the slew of fun extra costumes, the amount of content added via DLC to Bullet Witch vastly changes and improves the game’s weight, lasting appeal and sheer fun and value.

One final, and more personal, note I must add, is that I found Bullet Witch to be the perfect game for which to set up your own playlist and play to. While the game’s soundtrack is not bad, and is well-suited to the game, it’s also minimalist and comes and goes with different action and set pieces; and I personally found that adding my own playlist and rocking out to the destruction and action in Bullet Witch was well-suited and added to the fun of the game. But I digress…..


Alicia certainly isn't afraid to leave some destruction in her wake on the way to saving the world.

In Conclusion….
 
Bullet Witch is a fun, quirky title with obviously large ambitions, which, sadly, the team may not have had the time, budget or technical prowess to ultimately achieve. The technical shortcomings, coupled with the generally lean amount of content in the game when it launched, added up to a reception that was lukewarm at best. However, Bullet Witch is also a game which begs another look, more so than it did even when it was released. Beyond some initially all-too-obvious technical shortcomings lies an explosively intense and exciting action game with uniquely open, destructible environments, a distinctive brand of stylish action, and a visually striking, imaginative and just-plain-cool heroine. Just as significant, however, and what reviews and press at the time, justly, could not have taken into account, is the huge amount of new content added via DLC, which does so much to enhance and extend the game and its lifespan, and more than remedies one of the biggest complaints leveled against the game at its inception: the very thin amount of content and replay value. With that issue more than remedied, however, and the price tag on the game reduced to little more than that of a cup of coffee, there is very little reason for action gamers or those who’ve long held off on it to pass on Bullet Witch any longer. With a unique style and setting which blends gothic horror and dystopian future, a badass and downright cool heroine, and its own very distinct brand of action, destruction and level design, Bullet Witch is more than worth a glance by curious gamers. Combine that with a boatload of post-release DLC, and you’ve got a game which is more than worth a second look. Beyond some technical deficiencies and a few cheesy cutscenes, there’s a game oozing with style, exciting action and plenty of reasons to keep you coming back for more. Bullet Witch has its shortcomings, but Alicia and her game are stylish, unique, explosively exciting and, more than ever, deserving of a second look.


Bullet Witch is not without its technical flaws, but with a strong heroine, an explosive and unique brand of action, and a boatload of post-release DLC extras, the game begs a second look now more than ever.

Who Should Play It?

Action gamers and fans of 3rd-person shooting. People who enjoy score-attack-style ranking and competition, and love competing to improve their own scores and best other’s. Fans of gothic or post-apocalyptic settings and styles. People looking for a somewhat different or unique brand of action/shooter gameplay, or who really love big, open environments and the ability to thoroughly destroy them. People who’ve seen Alicia around and are still wondering what her and her game are all about; or who appreciate a cool, stylish female lead with a unique style of ass-kicking.   read


11:07 PM on 10.24.2012  

A Second Look At: EGG: Elemental Gimmick Gear





Details:

Title: EGG: Elemental Gimmick Gear

Alternate Titles: E.G.G. (abbreviated), Elemental Gimmick Gear (abbreviated)

Developer: Birthday

Publisher(s): Hudson Soft (Japan), Vatical Entertainment (N.A.)

Platform: Sega Dreamcast

Release Dates: April 4th, 1999 (Japan), December 28th, 1999 (N.A.)


Cover art for EGG: Elemental Gimmick Gear.

What Is This Game?

EGG, aka, Elemental Gimmick Gear, is a 2D, top-down perspective action-RPG/adventure title, in the vein of Zelda, Secret of Mana and Beyond Oasis. The game tells the story of the mysterious “Sleeper,” a man found in the cockpit of a strange bipedal machine uncovered from the ancient ruins of the world of Tokion. The Sleeper is taken to a laboratory for analysis, along with his machine, where scientists discover that the machine is over 5000 years old; and that the Sleeper is alive and healthy, but despite all attempts, will not wake from his comatose slumber. Over time, the Sleeper’s machine is studied, as he remains deep in sleep within the laboratory, and the people eventually begin to create copies of his egg-shaped mecha, using them for labor and work, giving the machines the name "Elemental Gimmick Gear", or "EGG" for short.

100 years pass after the discovery of the Sleeper and his machine. One day, without warning, the mysterious ruins extend a multitude of violent, mechanical tentacles, rooting themselves into the earth and bringing with them the destruction of all in their path. Just as the sudden appearance of the giant tentacles emerge from the ruins, so does a thick fog, which surrounds the ruins with its layer of gloom, giving the ruins a new title to the people of Tokion: Fogna. Just as this crisis emerges, so does The Sleeper finally emerge from his slumber within the laboratory, having not aged a day since his discovery over one hundred years ago. Under the care of the scientist Dr. Yam, son of the YAM Ruin Laboratory founder, (the facility dedicated to study of the ruins) and Selen, a fellow scientist under the care of Dr. Yam, The Sleeper’s awakening comes as a shock alongside the sudden danger emerging from the ruins. However, awakening under the watch of Selen, who has watched and cared for him for a time, she allows him to leave without alerting the other scientists, hoping he can somehow solve the mysterious threat of Fogna. With no memory of his own past, and only a new name (Leon by default, unless you choose to rename him) given to him by Selen, The Sleeper, along with his EGG, head out into the world of Tokion to save the dying world and solve Fogna’s mysteries; even as he and his machine are just as much mystery, both to those around him, and to himself.

From here, The Sleeper will set out on an adventure of Zelda-esque gameplay proportions. As The Sleeper, you’ll talk to people in town, explore the countryside, battle other creatures and mechs, take on dungeons full of devious puzzles, fight bosses, and gain items and upgrades, all while unraveling the mysterious story behind The Sleeper, Fogna, the EGGs, and the world of Tokion. Combining lovely hand drawn 2D graphics with occasional 3D boss battles and prerendered cinematics, EGG is a beautiful adventure with a gorgeous look and sound with a world and style both ethereal and dreamlike, yet at the same time, mysterious and foreboding.


Prepare for a mysterious journey in the world of Tokion in Elemental Gimmick Gear.

Introduction:

Ah, the Dreamcast. We hardly knew thee. I was enthralled by it long before it ever launched, swept up in the massive hype behind it, and when it finally arrived I was clamoring for one. An avid admirer of Sega’s often-troubled-but-always-inspired efforts, the Dreamcast held my interest both for the revolutionary power and graphical capabilities of the system, but also for the special place in my heart which Sega’s unique brand of creativity, style and innovation held. The Dreamcast did not disappoint me when I got my hands on it; the capabilities of the system wowed me, but what wowed me even more were the variety of fascinating and unique first and third party titles coming out, and waiting at the gates. I was enthralled. Sadly, my hopes and dreams were crushed far too soon thereafter, when, barely over a year after I’d gotten one, Sega made its tragic announcement that the Dreamcast was not faring well, and that they would be ceasing support for the system, and exiting the console business.

In a way, this was both a tragedy and, yet, a sort of odd blessing for me, as a passionate Dreamcast owner. While I was nearly in denial that this amazing new system I loved was dying, it also resulted in a swift price drop across the board, not just to the console and its accessories, but also to its library of games; a library that proved incredibly vast and varied for a system that, in the end, lasted barely over two years. A relatively broke kid at the time, with my primary source of income coming from the few dollars I could earn working for neighbors and relatives, the tragedy of the Dreamcast’s failing at the same time allowed my love for the Dreamcast and its library of games to thrive; with games and accessories dropping to dirt cheap prices on Ebay, the Dreamcast became the first console I was able to consistently afford new games and accessories for on my minimal budget. While I was in denial over the Dreamcast’s defeat, I was simultaneously in gaming heaven.


The Sleeper awakens after one hundred years in the Yam Labratory, much to the surprise of scientists Dr. Yam and Selen.

As prices sank and the PlayStation 2 rose, tightening its iron grip on the market, I was squeezing every last bit of gaming bliss out of my faithful Dreamcast. I found myself putting the vast majority of the money I earned into the Dreamcast and its library of titles, and it was almost intoxicating, having so many great titles to choose from, on a system which not only was still consistently wowing me, but now also fit my boyhood budget. Amassing a sizeable collection of Dreamcast games in a short time span, few titles escaped my grasp, and even fewer escaped my attention. From the big, triple-A titles, to the smaller niche ones, to the high-res PC and PS1/N64 ports, to the massive library of import titles which never came stateside, the Dreamcast had one hell of a selection for such a short-lived console, and I was on top of it, sucking up every bit of gaming goodness I could.

EGG was one of those titles I swept up in my Dreamcast frenzy, and, while almost entirely forgotten (or, perhaps, not noticed in the first place) by the rest of the gaming community, it left a lasting impression on me, both as something fresh and unique in the Dreamcast library, and as a nostalgic reminder of gaming from earlier generations. EGG is one of many forgotten but wonderful niche titles on the Dreamcast, a system overflowing with hidden gems. I was enthralled by EGG’s gorgeous 2D art, its intriguing techno-organic setting and its challenging but satisfying traditional action-RPG gameplay. In many ways, EGG is both a lovely throwback to 16-bit gaming, and at the same time, something entirely inspired and all its own. In an age where 2D, old-school gameplay was being somewhat neglected in light of the incredible new technology at the industry's fingertips, EGG was a refreshing change of pace and a fascinating little game bursting with personality and style. Fans of old-school action-RPGs, stylish hand drawn visuals or those with a true appreciation for niche titles and stylistic excellence in gaming must dig up this forgotten relic of Dreamcast excellence.


Setting out into the world of Tokion will prove to be a mysterious journey of self-discovery for The Sleeper....

History, Release and Reception:

EGG was developed under well-known Japanese publisher, Hudson Soft, by a little-known development team by the name of Birthday. Birthday was, and is, a nearly unheard-of developer, especially outside of Japan; having primarily worked under Hudson Soft and Namco for most its existence, with relatively-little credit ever given to its name, Birthday remained under the radar for the entirety of their existence. Prior to EGG, none of Birthday’s games had ever left Japan, their resume including mostly Japan-only turn-based RPGs, with their best-known work being on the Daikaijyuu/Kaijyuu Monogatari games, a series of turn-based RPGs released for the Famicom, Super Famicom, Game Boy and Game Boy Color under Hudson Soft’s name.


Birthday's previous titles included a number of Japan-only turn-based RPGs, such as the Daikaijyuu/Kaijyuu Monogatari series, which saw numerous installments on the Famicom, Super Famicom, Game Boy and Game Boy Color.

It is almost an oddity that EGG ever saw a release outside Japan, really. Released a few months after the Dreamcast’s launch in Japan to relatively little attention, it came as a pleasant surprise when small-name North American publisher Vatical Entertainment announced in November 1999, just a couple of months after the Dreamcast’s debut in North America, that they would be bringing the little-known title stateside by the end of the year. Vatical themselves, much like Birthday, were never well-known, and had largely stuck to releases for the Game Boy/Gameboy Color, with a few occasional N64 and PS1 releases. Although Vatical had a few Bomberman titles under their belt, and had recently published some N64 titles such as Shadowgate 64 and Top Gear Overdrive, most of their releases were low-profile.

With little public attention and no advertising, EGG was unceremoniously released at the end of December 1999 in North America, amidst a rapidly growing library of titles for the Dreamcast. EGG was quickly swept up in the tide of Dreamcast releases and went largely unnoticed; although it did gain very positive reviews from the publications and websites which noticed it. IGN have the game a very positive review score of 8.0 out of 10, mentioning some quips with the combat and English translation, but otherwise finding the game to be satisfying and extremely likeable. Planet Dreamcast also gave the game an 8 out of 10, praising the game’s graphics and music, and calling it part of a “dying breed of 2D overhead action-RPGs,” going on to say it is “one of the better ones of recent years.” Reviews for EGG resonated this same vibe across the board, from anyone who took notice of this diamond in the rough; Gamespot gave EGG a 6.8 out of 10, Shin Force gave the game an 8.0 and Game Revolution gave it a “B” on its letter grade scale.

Despite a positive reception from members of the press who played it, EGG was overlooked and quickly forgotten, due in part to the game’s niche appeal as an “old-school” title in an age of revolutionary new technology, but perhaps more so, simply due to the quiet release and almost complete lack of advertising or press leading up to or following the game’s release. Birthday was not heard from again, EGG being their final game, and, likewise, Vatical Entertainment disappeared as well, after the fall of the Dreamcast lead to the cancellation of a few possibly higher-profile releases for them, including a cancelled port of System Shock 2 for Dreamcast.

EGG itself has been, sadly, almost entirely forgotten since. Even when the Dreamcast is reflected upon by gamers, this small but wonderful title has still gone largely overlooked. And that is a true shame, because EGG is not just a wonderful game, but also a title that stands out as a unique and inspired entry into the Dreamcast’s library of hidden gems, cult classics and revolutionary titles. Certainly, all who have played it agree that EGG is a very special piece of Dreamcast gaming; the few Youtube videos on it praise the game for its gorgeous art and old-school gameplay, and nearly all user reviews that can be found for EGG are positive; it has just four on Game FAQs, but of them, all are extremely positive, praising the game with a 9, two 10’s, and a 7.

EGG is sadly forgotten and overlooked, even by Dreamcast fans. And this is a shame, because EGG has all the makings of a cult classic, and is a title which truly stands out amongst the Dreamcast’s library, both for its concept and quality. If you own a Dreamcast, and have a love for traditional action-RPGs, EGG begs to be dug up, experienced and given the long-overdue appreciation it has missed out on for so long…..


EGG has seen very little awareness, but almost all who played it agree it is a title any action-RPG fan should discover......

The Game:

Flaws:

EGG is a lovely game, but there are a few quips and scruples with it, and its appeal is, admittedly, to a somewhat limited audiences. There is so much to love about EGG, so first, let’s get the bad out of the way….

Probably the most legitimate complaints about EGG lie in those about its combat and, more specifically, its boss battles, which take place in 3D. To be specific, normal combat, outside boss battles, is not problematic at all, just rather simplistic on the whole. While you’ll gain upgrades and abilities, ultimately, the core combat itself comes down to “punch, punch, punch…..and punch.” Outside that, there is also the ability to do a powerful spinning attack which will send your EGG whirling around the screen at high speeds to collide with enemies; the downside being that it will slowly drain your HP. But there is much more to the basic core of combat than that….it isn’t flawed per se, just rather simplistic.


Combat is a bit simplistic, but still works well.

Boss battles, on the other hand, are a bit more legitimately problematic. EGG takes place almost entirely from its 2D, overhead perspective; with the exception of boss fights, at which point the game goes to 3D, usually within a small, contained “arena” type room, where the boss battle takes place. Generally, the boss fights and fighting mechanics function the same as the normal 2D combat, however, they are simply not as well-designed as the rest of the game, have a somewhat clunky and inaccurate feel and, although each boss has a bit of their own “trick” to them, the boss battles generally follow the same routine and feel rather repetitive and uninspired. Boss battles are always a stiff challenge, so they are always rewarding in the end, but part of that challenge comes from the fact that the combat feels clunky and imprecise in them, and that the camera can be a bit awkward and stubborn. They aren’t terribly, horribly broken, but they do have an unpolished, tacked-on feel to them which is uncharacteristic to the rest of the game. What’s more, the boss battles would have functioned better and probably allowed for more variety and precision if they had simply been done in the same 2D, overhead style as the rest of the game. Overall, the boss battles aren’t some huge, broken issue with the game, but rather just something that feels tacked-on and unpolished; like a last minute 3D addition to what was meant to be a fully 2D game. The best way to sum up my thoughts on the boss battles is to say that I picture the team working on what was meant to be a traditional, old-school 2D action RPG, when somebody said….”listen, guys, we need to put in SOMETHING that’s 3D….this is a ‘next-gen’ system, after all……I dunno, make the bosses 3D or something.” Likewise, where the rest of the game’s hand-drawn 2D visual look positively gorgeous and overflowing with detail, the graphics in boss battles, while not ugly by any means, feel a bit bland. While they are not broken nor do they detract from what is overall an amazing game, the boss battles are clunky and a bit unnecessary, and feel uncharacteristically uninspired, amidst what is otherwise a game that feels very passionate and inspired.


The 3D boss battles in EGG are a bit of a low-light. While functional, they are a jarring transition from the rest of the game and feel a bit tacked on.

Some issues with the boss fights aside, I can find very little to really call “flawed” with EGG. One issue some may have is with the game’s steep difficulty. EGG is a homage of sorts to classic action-RPGs, and it will put the skills which fans of the genre have honed since the SNES and Genesis to the test. EGG follows a very similar structure to a game like Legend of Zelda in its pace and progression; you’ll go to town, buy items, speak to people, do some minimal side quests, roam the overworld, and go to dungeons, where you’ll solve puzzles, fight enemies and ultimately face the boss of each one, unraveling the story along the way. But don’t think EGG will let you off as easy as Zelda; EGG is tough as nails and pretty merciless as times, both in its puzzles and its enemy and boss difficulty. This is not a flaw, really; in fact, I absolutely loved it, as I’m always up for a hearty, legitimate challenge. But fans should know that EGG is a tough game, and those without the patience to overcome some its more devious dungeons may find themselves frustrated. One other minor scruple is that the game suffers from the occasional slowdown when there is a lot of action on screen; but this is a small issue which is ultimately of little effect on the game overall.

There’s not much else to really call EGG out for than these few issues, though, really. If you’re a Dreamcast owner, and a fan of classic Action-RPGs and adventures, read on, because EGG should be making its way to the top of your “to-play” list…..

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

EGG is a forgotten relic of Dreamcast lore which is worth a look from any Dreamcast owner, and is must-play for any Dreamcast fan with a love for classic action-RPGs and adventures. There is so much for fans of the genre to love here, that this wonderful title should quickly move to any fan of the genre’s to-play list….


EGG's 2D visuals are gorgeous and filled with intricate detail.

First and foremost, what will be immediately noticeable to any who play EGG are its gorgeous visuals. EGG’s world is a wonderfully imaginative techno-organic sci-fi setting, with a remarkably distinct look and style, and huge credit is owed to the artists and graphical designers at Birthday who so brilliantly brought this world to life with the gorgeous, exquisitely-detailed 2D graphics and art throughout the game. Environments are lush and bursting with color, and the contrast between the lush greens of the organic world and ancient depths of the ruins clashing with the mechanical forces rooting themselves into the otherwise pure and earthy world of Tokion makes for a strikingly memorable world and an instantly unique and fascinating style. Likewise, while sprites and character art are small and at times minimalist, the characters, mechanical designs and enemies all have a similarly distinct style to them that completes EGG’s remarkably original world and brings it to life with its own, imaginative style. The end result in a gorgeously detailed and realized world, which simultaneously draws inspiration from an array of sci-fi and fantasy sub-genres, and combines them to create something all its own. EGG’s distinct style and visuals will leave a lasting impression on any who experience it.

Aside from the lovely 2D graphics throughout EGG, I also loved the style and look of the occasional cutscenes in the game. To anybody who watches the game’s intro cinematic, this unique look will be instantly apparent. Combining 2D animated characters with prerendered CG, the look is unique, captures the feel of EGG’s world beautifully, and is pulled off with excellence. These cinematics are few are far between, but what there is of them are very nice, and serve to complement the game’s already excellent visual presentation.


Cutscenes combine traditional 2D animation with prerendered CG.

Speaking of EGG’s wonderfully imaginative and creatively brilliant world and style, the story, setting and adventure itself are all just as engaging as the visuals themselves, and in many ways, all of these elements complement each other perfectly, working together to create a fascinating and engaging world and experience. The tale EGG tells is mysterious and interesting, and is greatly enhanced by how brilliantly realized its setting is. The setting of EGG in and of itself was so fascinating that I wanted to unravel its mystery just to know more about this fascinating world, and while the story itself sometimes takes a back seat to the gameplay and exploration, it is always driving the player forward, consistently lending to the genuine sense of mystery and discovery throughout the game at all times. It was a tale and world I truly wanted to unravel the mysteries of. The origins of The Sleeper, his EGG, the ruins and the world of Tokion are shrouded in mystery, and it was all a joy to discover. Just as the setting drove me to unravel the story, so did the story drive me to explore the setting, and the way the tale and gameplay complemented each other in this manner is proof of how fascinating an experience EGG is. Likewise, by the time the credits rolled, I felt EGG was a very “complete” game, and was fascinated, satisfied and even moved by the experience I’d had in the world of Tokion.


The world of Tokion is fascinating to discover and explore.

EGG’s world is a joy to explore, on that note. It’s beautiful hand-drawn 2D graphics make for a world that is always a pleasure to behold, and there is both a constant feeling of discovery and, at the same time, a somewhat friendly, homey feeling about it all. EGG’s world is not particularly huge, really, and you’ll find yourself returning to the same small town and surrounding areas often; but this is not a weakness, it actually is one of the game’s strengths, which suits the atmosphere of the game, reinforces a feeling of connection with the people of this part of Tokion, and creates a growing feeling of “home” with the game’s surroundings, as The Sleeper himself becomes more accustomed to the places and people around him, who in turn begin to accept him and look to him for help. The size of EGG’s world and the fact that the game has you revisiting the same places and people often is ultimately a very good thing, which simultaneously manages to never hinder the feeling of adventure and discovery when exploring the ruins and outskirts of its world. If anything, the cozy area of the world you find yourself in and around, filled with familiar people and places, establishes a bond between the player and the game’s world and people, which goes hand-in-hand with the story and adds a significant weight to the game’s immersion and emotional connection.


You'll leave your EGG to explore some parts of town.

Exploring the world and ruins is always exciting, and there is a feeling of accomplishment as you build your character in a particularly Zelda-esque fashion, gaining upgrades, increased health and new abilities. While the lush overworld is always a joy to behold, the dark, foreboding dungeon areas of the ruin are just as interesting, and are an incredibly satisfying challenge to overcome. EGG’s dungeon areas play out in a familiar fashion to any action-RPG/adventure game, but what makes them so great is the particularly devious puzzles and intricate construction of the dungeons themselves. Each area of the ruins will put the skills of any fan of the genre to the test, and EGG manages to achieve a balance between a tough challenge, both in its mind-bending puzzles and its challenging enemies/bosses, while still never becoming too over-the-top; you’ll always feel challenged, but never like the challenge cannot be overcome.


Exploring the ruins will put your mind and skills to the test.

EGG is a game which achieves a very strong and distinct atmosphere, and that atmosphere is much the result of the game’s gorgeous visual style, but also its lovely musical soundtrack, as well. EGG’s soundtrack, like much of the game, harkens back to the sound and feel of classic 16-bit RPG soundtracks. EGG’s soundtrack is lovely, filled with a sense of adventure and emotion, and has the distinct 16-bit sound of something like an orchestral score that has been digitized. The soundtrack radiates feelings of adventure and nostalgia, and, as with so much of the game, fans of 16-bit RPGs with fall in love with its familiar, yet distinctly original, sound. EGG’s soundtrack is fitting and completes the mood and atmosphere of the game, and on top of it, is highly memorable; even today, over a decade since I first played EGG, I still find myself humming its most memorable tracks.


You'll gain various power-ups and upgrades throughout your quest, bulding your EGG into a more powerful and capable machine.

The thing about EGG that is hard to put down into words is just what a wonderful and memorable experience it all comes together to create. EGG will simultaneously have you feeling nostalgic for the days of 16-bit gaming, while providing you with an experience that is fresh and original even as it pays homage to old-school action-RPG adventuring. EGG is so consistently a joy to see, hear and play that the whole experience becomes something almost cerebral. Its setting and concept are so unique that, even as you recall the older titles which served as its inspiration, and even as it follows many of the gameplay concepts prevalent in so many similar titles, you’ll still never feel like you’ve taken this adventure before. EGG follows a structure of gameplay and progression very similar to the “usual” action-RPG/adventure formula; if you’ve played through a Zelda title or Beyond Oasis, you’ll know what to expect from the general feel of the gameplay, and the progression of the adventure, as you talk and buy items in town, explore the world, uncover secrets and side quests, and ultimately prepare for and enter the game’s labyrinthine dungeons to solve puzzles and defeat menacing bosses. But what makes EGG great is that it takes this well-proven formula and creates a game that is so inspired, unique and beautiful around it. Any game can copy an established formula; but to take an established formula and create something all its own and fascinatingly original with it is impressive. And to maintain a nostalgic feeling of homage and never feel like it’s just “copying” the titles it was inspired by, is a hard balance to achieve, and a real accomplishment that EGG does it so perfectly. EGG does all this with ease, and creates an engaging story and creatively inspired setting around it all.


EGG establishes a strong feeling of connection between the player and the world of Tokion and its people.

Once you finish EGG, there is not a lot of incentive for replay value, however, your stay in Tokion will not be one that is short-lived. Clocking in at somewhere between 25 to 35 hours, EGG is of healthy size for a traditional action-RPG. The adventure lasts just the right amount of time; nothing in EGG felt like fluff or filler, there is just the right amount of optional content and side quests (which, likewise, don’t overwhelm or distract from the main story and quest), and the story and bulk of the game never hits any hiccups, nor does it fly by too fast; overall, I would describe the pace as steady throughout, never losing the player’s interest or feeling rushed. Gameplay itself is satisfying and rewarding throughout, as well, as the player steadily gains upgrades for their powers and health, and the somewhat basic upgrade/leveling system for the EGG’s various abilities (attack, defense, mind, etc) works well for the game, and makes for a satisfying experience in which your character constantly feels like he is growing and becoming more powerful, creating a feeling of accomplishment as you move forward. The game moves at an almost leisurely pace at times, but once again, this is part of what makes EGG such a pleasant experience; getting to know EGG’s corner of Tokion is a fulfilling experience, and the steady pace and progression of the story and main quest do an excellent job of conveying a feeling of fascination and connection with EGG’s story and world.


Uncovering the depths of EGG's world and tale is mysterious and fascinating.

In Conclusion….

Elemental Gimmick Gear is a lovely game that simply fell through the cracks. Developed by a near-unheard-of developer and brought to North America by an equally obscure publisher, EGG saw very little in the way of advertising or press upon release, quickly washed away amongst a sea of oncoming Dreamcast releases in the console’s opening months. As a decidedly classical game, both in gameplay and graphical presentation, EGG was a bit of an oddity, as well, in a time where the gaming industry was gearing up for a revolutionary new step in technology; and perhaps this, too, cemented EGG’s position as a niche title. However, in a time and on a console that was moving so boldly towards the future, EGG simultaneously served a quiet reminder that, even amidst the revolutionary new ideas and technology being set forth into the industry, the classics and classic concepts were still every bit as solid and strong as ever. It is only a shame that more people didn’t notice; because for any gamer with a love for classic gaming and a soft spot for 16-bit action-RPGs and adventures, EGG will almost undoubtedly prove to be an immensely satisfying experience. From the classic gameplay, to the gorgeous 2D visuals, to the lovely music and thoroughly unique and engaging setting and story, EGG is sure to intrigue and enthrall any with a love for the classics. Any who own a Dreamcast, and have a love and appreciation for the 16-bit classics of the action-RPG/adventure genre, will find a true diamond in the rough with EGG. This forgotten Dreamcast classic is overlooked far too often, even by fans of its genre and system, but any who take the time to dig it up will find a wonderful journey waiting for them in the world of Tokion.


EGG's journey is one every action-RPG adventurer owes it to themselves to take.

Who Should Play It?

Any fan of the action RPG or adventure genres, especially those of the 16-bit era. Dreamcast aficionados looking to discover and play some of the system’s lost classics. Fans of science fiction or “techno-organic” styles and settings. People with a love or appreciation for hand-drawn, 2D art or creative art styles and settings in video games.   read


8:31 PM on 10.07.2012  

A Second Look At: Burning Rangers



Details:

Title: Burning Rangers

Developer: Sonic Team

Publisher: Sega

Platform: Sega Saturn

Release Date(s): February 26th, 1998 (Japan),   May 31st, 1998 (N.A.), June 31st, 1998 (Europe)


Cover art for Burning Rangers.

What Is This Game?

BURNING RANGERS, GO! From the funky soundtrack and theme music, to the bright anime-style visuals and crazy concept, Burning Rangers was a third-person 3D action/platformer that still speaks of how insanely creative, inspired and downright fun first-party Sega titles could be in the company’s heyday. Burning Rangers places the player in the roles of two new members of the Burning Rangers team. Just who are the Burning Rangers, exactly? You can think of them as a cross between firefighters and the Power Rangers, I suppose. The game takes place in a futuristic, nearly-utopian society, where one of the only prominent dangers remaining is the risk of fire. To deal with just such dangers, the Burning Rangers were formed, as an elite team of superhero-esque firefighters, trained and equipped to deal with even the most extreme fire emergencies. And this is where you, the player, comes in. Choosing from two of the Burning Rangers newest rookie members, Shou Amabane and Tillis, you’ll be sent into situations to deal with raging blazes, rescue trapped civilians, and navigate labyrinthine structures in an increasingly ludicrous (in a good sense) set of missions, while unraveling a mystery involving a distress signal that has set a giant cluster of space junk on a collision course with Earth. Armed with your blaster weapon for extinguishing fires (along with warding off a few belligerent enemies/other hazards), you’ll run, jump, fly (with your patented Burning Rangers jetpack!) and ultimately navigate your way around massive stages while putting out fires and searching every nook and cranny for crystals and civilians that will up your score. Burning Rangers is classic Sega and Sonic Team fare; and a wonderfully fun and original blending of 3D action/adventure, shooter and platforming mechanics, all wrapped up in a package with that classically outlandish Sega charm.


The whole Burning Rangers team, gathered for a mission debriefing in one of the game's anime cutscenes.

Introduction:

I came into the Sega Saturn game a little late, you see; and as a big fan of Sega’s work, that’s both a shame and an oddity. Heck, I’d had a Sega CD before it, and was in love with my Dreamcast after, so how’d I miss the Saturn boat? The sad fact of the matter was that I was a bit younger at the time, and just didn’t have the money for every console; and the Saturn had a bit of a bad rap as the “third place” console in North America at the time. I recall being very intrigued by the Saturn and many of its unique, seemingly overlooked, titles, but at the time I was younger, more impressionable, and with minimal funds, and the general consensus from the press and my peers was to just go with the Playstation and Nintendo 64, which were in much more prominent status during their respective generation in North America. I loved my Playstation and Nintendo 64, and we had a lot of great times together, but in the back of my mind, there was always the Saturn….Panzer Dragoon, Rayearth, Shining the Holy Ark, and, of course, Burning Rangers…..there was just something about these (and many more) Saturn exclusives, that kept the console in my mind throughout the generation, and far beyond it…..


Burning Rangers' style and concept are fun and upbeat.

The generation passed and the Saturn went out early (in North America, at least), albeit in a blaze of glory, with some incredible titles. The Dreamcast rose and fell (much to my dismay), just as it kicked off a new generation of consoles, and years later, the Xbox 360 released in late 2005. Oddly enough, it was only a month after acquiring an Xbox 360, effectively entering the newest generation of consoles, that I finally found myself fulfilling my belated Saturn destiny. After scoring a Japanese Saturn, with somewhere around 30 games, and a boot disc (to play North American games on my Japanese console as well….I know, it’s a bit backwards), I’d finally done what I always should have a long time ago; and funny enough, even with my shiny new Xbox 360, I found myself playing the Saturn every bit as much.

Burning Rangers had always been one of the Saturn’s most intriguing titles to me….it's bright, flashy visuals, attractive character designs, and outlandish premise had drawn me to it in old issues of Ultra Game Players and EGM. Reminding me each time I’d seen them that while Playstation and Nintendo 64 were dominating the market, there was still something very special about this console which had gone, in retrospect, criminally overlooked outside of Japan. Burning Rangers was a Saturn game which had haunted the top of my to-play list for far too long and, as such, it became one of my very first Saturn purchases after getting my hands on the system.

I wasn’t disappointed. Burning Rangers was, and still is, classic Sega fare; another forgotten testament to the  creativity, crazy ideas, great music, bright, vibrant visuals and pure fun which were a staple of first party Sega titles. One of the Saturn’s greatest stumbling blocks had always been its 3D capabilities; while, if harnessed correctly, it could do some impressive 3D, it was simply built to be a 2D machine in its original conception, and as such, proved far more troublesome for developers, in an era dominated by 3D gaming, than its competition. However, Burning Rangers goes to show that, when harnessed properly, the Saturn could, in fact, pull off a visually brilliant, totally fun and highly playable, 3D title. But Burning Rangers isn’t just a wonderful game because it shows off what the Saturn could do. Burning Rangers is just a wonderfully fun and original concept on its own; a bright, flashy, funky game with spirit and soul, a great blending of genres, and a game bursting with personality. Anybody who loves or appreciates some of Sega’s or Sonic Team’s great, original efforts, owes it to themselves to check out this joyfully vibrant, sadly forgotten Saturn classic….


Burning Rangers is a fun, funky ride. Get ready....Burning Rangers, Go!

History, Release and Reception:

Burning Rangers was yet another forgotten Sega classic that was a sad victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thus ensuring it’s unfortunate obscurity. Released in mid-1998, the Saturn was, at the time, still enjoying a comfortable level of success in its Japanese homeland, but elsewhere, was not faring so well, nor had it been for quite a time. Burning Rangers was part of the last batch of Sega Saturn games to reach North America and Europe in the Saturn’s waning years, and one of a number of brilliant first-party titles released in the systems final months, ensuring that the Saturn would at least go out in a blaze of glory.

And Burning Rangers was indeed a game worthy of any Sega Saturn owner’s attention. In addition to its fun and unique concept and impressive technical achievements for the system, it was also an all-too-rare appearance from Sonic Team on the console, backed by an array of talent and big names from the video game, anime and Japanese music realms.

Of course, the most immediately apparent and instantly attention-grabbing name for any Sega fan was that of the development team itself, Sonic Team, headed by Sega legend, Yuji Naka. Sonic Team’s presence on the Saturn had not been quite as prominent as many Sega fans would have hoped. Besides the classic Saturn launch title, NiGHTS (and subsequently, Christmas NiGHTS), the legendary Sonic the Hedgehog creators had only headed one other completed project for the system; Sonic Jam, which was not so much an original game, but a collection of 2D Sonic titles featuring a slew of extras and a 3D hub world. The most glaring issue was the lack of a true, original Sonic title for the Saturn. At the time, the team’s namesake series had seen three releases for the system, Sonic Jam and the non-Sonic Team developed Sonic R (a racing title) and Sonic 3D Blast, and of the three, none were really full-fledged entries in the Sonic franchise, and only one was a Sonic Team-developed title. Sonic Team had spent much of the generation wrapped up in the ill-fated, ultimately cancelled, Sonic Extreme, which was to be Sonic’s true Saturn successor, and as such, little had been seen of them. Because of this absence, Burning Rangers was an instant attention-grabber to any Sega fans pinning for the return of the beloved Sega development team to the console; it wasn’t a new Sonic title, but an original title from Sonic Team was long-awaited and much-needed regardless.


Mostly absent since their release of NiGHTS at the Saturn's launch, a new release from Yuji Naka (left) and Sonic Team was long-awaited by Saturn owners.

And Sonic Team spared no effort in recruiting a wide array of talent on all fronts. Burning Rangers owes much of its visual and aural excellence to a team of talented and well-known artists recruited by Sonic Team for the project. Burning Rangers has a very bright, distinct, and attractive “90’s anime” look and vibe, which resonates throughout the entirety of the game. To help achieve this stylistic element, Sega brought in anime character designer Hiroyuki Ochi for character designs, and artistic supervision and work including design of the game’s promotional and cover art. Ochi was an anime veteran, who’s work included the likes of Armitage the Third and Sol Bianca, among others, his career in the industry spanning work as an animator, character designer and director. Bringing in his talent lent much to the appealing visual style seen in Burning Rangers, and, along with the guidance of Sonic Team’s Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, did much towards lending the game its distinct and appealing style, as well as its flashy and crisply animated anime cutscenes, which were subsequently outsourced to Kyokuichi Tokyo Movie for professional animation work.


Anime production veteran Hiroyuki Ochi had worked as an animator, character designer and director on numerous anime titles, and was recruited to work on Burning Ranger's character designs, lending a strong anime style to the game.

Just as important to Burning Ranger’s was the sound and music, and plenty of equally-notable talent was on board to see to it that Burning Ranger’s poppy, funky, upbeat “anime” appeal resonated beyond the visuals. Heading up the game’s musical department was Naofumi Hataya, a man who’s musical genius should be near-legend to any Sega aficionado; his prior work including music and sound on games such as Sonic CD, Golden Axe II, and the Saturn’s own NiGHTS. Working alongside Hataya was a formidable team of vocalists lending their talents to the game’s upbeat, catchy vocal tracks which would become a staple of Burning Ranger’s style. Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, a fellow Sega musical veteran, who’s voice appeared in the soundtrack of Daytona USA, lent his vocal talent to the game’s vocal themes, in addition to Tomoko Sasaki (aka “Talking Moon”), who’d provided vocals for NiGHTS. But the attention to detail didn’t stop there; each track was, in addition, re-recorded in English in New York, under Hataya’s supervision, for the English-language version of the game.


Naofumi Hataya had created the soundtracks for Sega classics such as Golden Axe II and Sonic CD, and teamed up with talented vocalists to create Burning Rangers' brilliant soundtrack.

In addition, the Japanese version of Burning Rangers saw the addition of some big-name voice-acting talent from the anime industry. Main characters Shou Amanabe and Tillis were voiced by Hikaru Midorikawa (Zelgadis Greywords of Slayers) and Yuko Miyamura (Asuka of Neon Genesis Evangelion), while the supporting cast included voice talent by Tomokazu Seiki (Van Fanel, Vision of Escaflowne), Ryuzaburo Ohtomo (Abigail, Bastard!!), Hiroko Kasahara (Naomi Armitage, Armitage III) and Aya Hisakawa (Iria, Iria: Zeiram the Animation).

With an all-star line-up of talent across the board, Burning Rangers had a lot going for it. Just as impressive as its cast and crew line-up, were the game’s technical accomplishments, though. As previously mentioned, one the Saturn’s greatest problems for developers of the 32-bit generation was that the Saturn had been originally conceived as a 2D monster; with its 3D capabilities added in later in the console’s development, upon the realization that the market was heading in a 3D-focused direction for the generation. While the Saturn was certainly capable of producing a good 3D title, it also presented a difficult development environment for 3D games, in particular making the inclusions of detailed effects including complex lighting and transparencies much harder to pull off than they were on Sony or Nintendo’s systems. With Burning Rangers, however, Sonic Team proved that, when harnessed properly, not only could the Saturn pull off these 3D feats, but also create a damn fine looking game that could stand tall right alongside the competition. Not only did Sonic Team manage to pull off excellent lighting and transparency effects that some had thought nigh-impossible with the Saturn, it also managed to create huge environments filled with vibrant colors and detailed character models, excellent fire effects, and fast-paced action, all running at an impressively smooth framerate. As one of the Saturn’s dying efforts, Burning Rangers was an excellent accomplishment as proof of what the system could really do; and it didn’t go unnoticed, with almost every major review and preview both at the time of its release and after pointing out its technical achievements for the system.

As what was seemingly one of the Saturn’s final big games, Burning Rangers gnarred a good amount of positive attention from the press prior to its release. Previews and press of Burning Rangers were in no short supply, with a number of big, multi-page features on the game from Sega Saturn Magazine,  including a 4-page feature in December of 1997, and a massive 8-page feature in March of 1998, just prior to the title’s North American release.

When Burning Rangers was released, in February in Japan, and a few months later, come late spring/early summer, in North America and Europe, the Saturn was on its last leg outside Japan, and Sega itself was already looking past it towards hopes of success with its next console, as Dreamcast rumors started to buzz around the industry. The game fared well with the press, receiving mostly above average-to-very good reviews and scores. Gamepro magazine awarded the game a score of 4.0 out of 5, bemoaning the game’s controls a bit, but otherwise calling it a “roaring good time” and stating that “for Saturn fans, it’s one of the last good games for a system that’s pilot light has all but gone out.” Sega Saturn Magazine, meanwhile, gave the game a 90%, while Edge Magazine gave it an 8 out of 10. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 4 reviewers, meanwhile gave the game a variety of scores ranging from average to excellent; awarding it two 7.5’s, a 6.5 and an 8.5, while Gamespot.com gave the game one of its lower scores, a 62, stating that it wasn’t quite the “virtual fire-fighting experience we’d all hoped for,” but still went on to say it was a “really good game” regardless.


Burning Rangers saw a lot of positive press leading up to its release, and fared favorably with critics.

Burning Rangers saw a lot of positive press, but unfortunately, with the Saturn on the way out, it was released to a very limited audience outside of Japan, with the Saturn’s low install base and lack of success in North America and Europe. Because of the Saturn’s dying status outside Japan, Burning Rangers saw a rather limited number of copies printed and shipped, and was sadly overlooked by most.

Burning Rangers has seen some references and occasional press since, and has achieved a very positive level of cult status amongst hardcore Sega and Sega Saturn fans. To this day, the limited attention the game has gotten is almost always positive; IGN took a look back at the game with a retro-review in 2008, awarding it an 8.0 out of 10, and stating that “this game, and the Sega Saturn itself, deserved a better send-off.” Sega and Sonic Team, themselves have inserted references to Burning Rangers in some of their games since, including references in Phantasy Star Online and Phantasy Star Universe. Still, sadly, Burning Rangers remains a lost classic amongst Sega’s many great original titles of the past and, like far too many of their most creative and original works, was a sad victim of bad timing on a tragically unsuccessful and/or underappreciated console. But, like so many other underappreciated Sega classics, Burning Rangers begs a second look from curious gamers, and this lost child of Sega and Sonic Team is one with all the same charm, spirit, creativity and fun that the publisher and developer’s greatest classics are renowned for…..

The Game:

Flaws:

Burning Rangers is not a game with a lot of legitimate flaws to complain about, nor with many glaring issues. It’s honestly a very well-made game that, at its core, works well, has great presentation and is just a lot of fun to play. That said, Burning Rangers does a few quips and issues to mention, in addition to what is probably its one big flaw, which is the short length of the main game and small amount of individual missions.

This relatively short length and small amount of content in the game’s core story mode is probably Burning Ranger’s one big issue, and one of the only big complaints commonly cited by critics and fans. With only 4 missions in the game, the game flies by very quickly on your first playthrough, even considering the large size of each mission, and even considering the game’s large focus on replayability (which I’ll get more in-depth on later), it still makes for a game that goes by too quickly and feels like it could have used a bit more core content. The game has a plethora of extra content and unlockables from completing the game that vastly increase its lasting appeal (including a stage randomization feature which does much to remedy the small selection of missions), and a  focus of perfecting one’s scores and times which likewise encourages replays of the game. But the fact still remains that 4 main missions is a few less than would have been desirable, and even with the level randomization feature, more actual missions, with brand new environments and sights to see, would have increased replayability and lasting appeal even further, and made for a game that felt like it had a bit more meat on its bones.

Besides a need for a few more missions to beef up its content, other issues are mostly small or subjective in what is overall a polished and well-made game. One small quip some have mentioned involves the controls, which can at times feel a bit floaty. It never becomes a huge issue, and the control layout itself is intuitive and easy to learn, but the control over your character can feel a little loose at times, and a bit of tightening up would have made controlling your character a bit more comfortable, especially during flight or intricate platforming sequences. Likewise, boss battles feel a bit less tight and well-conceived than the rest of the game, too. These are really small and easily overcome issues, however.


Burning Rangers could use a few more main missions, but the replay value is high, and missions are all exciting and enjoyable.

Also, one far more subjective complaint, could be found in the choice to dub the vocals in the game’s iconic soundtrack into English in the North American version. This is a small issue, and a debatable one that is probably more a matter of taste. The music is still catchy and spirited in English, and nothing besides the vocals were altered in the songs, but the vocal tracks generally sound better suited to their original Japanese vocals, which have a more “professional” quality to them, and just sound smoother and more natural with the songs. A minor, ultimately subjective, issue, and really just one with the English-language version.

And that’s about it, really; besides these quips and the aforementioned need for a few more main missions to flesh the game out a bit more, Burning Rangers is a polished, well-made and extremely fun game, bursting with the slightly-crazy personality and originality that made old-school Sega first-party efforts some of the best  game’s around in the company’s heyday. Burning Rangers is truly a forgotten classic that is worth a second look….

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

Sega has many brilliant first-party titles that have gone underappreciated but achieved a strong cult following, but Burning Rangers is one of their most tragically forgotten and neglected classics. There are a multitude of good reasons for gamers to dig up, and love, Burning Rangers.

Burning Rangers is a game bursting with the style, originality and totally unique and creative individuality that have made Sega fans fall in love with so many of the company’s wonderful original titles and exclusives. Burning Rangers is a stylish and unique game in nearly every aspect. From the bright, vibrant 3D graphics, to the funky and totally catchy soundtrack, to the perfectly executed and attractive presentation and menus, and lovely, bright and stylish anime cutscenes, Burning Rangers is filled with its own brilliantly realized and downright fun look, sound and atmosphere, and is overflowing with style and entertainment value.

The first thing you’ll notice about Burning Rangers is its upbeat visual and aural style. Even before the menus, you’ll be greeted by the stylish anime opening sequence, with its funky opening theme song and beautiful 2D animation. And from there, Burning Rangers truly never lets up in its audio and visual presentation. Truth be told, just about every part of Burning Rangers is exploding with its signature style in the sound and visual departments, and I can’t recall even a moment that lets up.


Right from the opening cutscene, Burning Rangers presents itself graphically and musically as attractive, upbeat and stylish.

The title screen and then the menus are the next thing you’ll notice, and all are beautifully stylish and well thought-out. With the funky music beating in the background (Burning Rangers, Go!), you’ll navigate what are honestly some gorgeous menus that are both perfectly functional and informative, and bursting with tons of colorful style and life. The constantly animated menu backgrounds keep everything feeling fast-paced and upbeat before you even get to the action, and little touches draw you into the game’s style and world; like the ability to check your “mail” from within the game/game world on the main menu, and the big, bold and attractive 2D character art on the character select screen. Honestly, it may seem silly to emphasize a game’s menus so much as a positive aspect, but they are a prime example of the excellent presentation, and the consistency of the game’s visual and aural stylistic excellence. The thing is that Burning Rangers draws you into its fun, bright, exciting atmosphere from before the actual game even begins, and it never loses focus on it for even a moment; Sega has a track record of first-party titles that were stylish and strong in their presentation, and Burning Rangers more than lives up to that reputation. From the excellent anime opening and cutscenes, to the gorgeous and lively menus, to the in-game graphics and HUD themselves, and even the loading screens, featuring the game’s lovely 2D character art, Burning Rangers always looks and sounds great, filled with life and style.


Even the menus are lively and stylish.

The music of Burning Rangers deserves special mention, because it is so off-beat, so funky and so much a part of the game’s personality and style. All of Burning Rangers music is great, from the overly-passionate Burning Ranger’s theme music to the upbeat menu music. Most important are the fun, funky vocal tracks, which have a style lying somewhere between 70’s disco/funk and 80’s pop, which a generous helping of old-school anime theme music. It both perfectly complements and, at the same time, completes, the game’s style and atmosphere. Burning Rangers soundtrack is just plain awesome, bursting with personality and fun which suits the game perfectly. It’s anything but generic, and is genius in how well it suits the game and what a creative and individual style it works so well towards establishing for Burning Rangers.

During gameplay there are, actually, long stretches of time without any music, however. With what a strong soundtrack Burning Rangers has, this might sound disappointing, but it also works remarkably well in heightening the tension, especially considering how nicely done the game’s soundwork is. The absence of music at most times during gameplay actually helps to keep the tension up and the player’s thought-process focused. Little details do a great job, like subtle background noises, including the constant, low rumble of the burning structures as they burn and collapse, of serving as a constant reminder of the urgency of the situation, and keeping an atmosphere of danger heightened. Likewise, sudden explosions, bursts of flame and crashes of collapsing object had an effectively low, bassy and powerful sound to them, and little details like the sound of futuristic doors opening or the echo of character’s voices within the massive structures you must navigate complement and complete the sound environment and all fit in and suit the game naturally.

In the voicework department, of course, the quality ultimately depends on the version you are playing; the original Japanese voicework is professional and well-done, performed by a cast of veterans from the anime industry. In the dubbed version, voice acting is more along the lines of merely “acceptable;” never awful or painful (which, considering this is a game from the 32-bit generation, is a step up from many of its peers), but nothing particularly remarkable either; some characters and actors in the dub are slightly above average, while others are slightly below, and it often sounds a bit cheesy, but either way, the dub work is not awful, just not too great, either. Either way, the game is fully-voiced throughout, which was always a nice and welcome addition in the 32-bit generation, and the voice work is at best excellent (in the Japanese version), and never anything worse than acceptable in the dub.

On the visual stylistic side, the character designs and art deserve just as special a mention as the excellent soundtrack. Sleek, attractive and filled with personality and style, Burning Rangers anime-style visual design is highlighted by the excellent character designs and bold, attractive art presented in the anime cutscenes and 2D character art showcased throughout the game. Characters themselves have tons of personality, both distinct as individual characters and iconic to the game’s look and style, while maintaining a style both familiar and attractive to any fan of anime, especially of the 80’s and 90’s generation. The characters themselves are likeable and attractive as is, but their costume design is just as important to their individual personalities and the overall visual style of the game. I simply love the “look” of the Burning Rangers team, the individual characters, and their uniforms and outfits, which are simultaneously a semi-humorous homage to the “anime superhero” look and something totally its own, as well. Decked out in skin-tight, brightly colored spandex bodysuits, topped off with equally flashy uniforms, big-collared jackets and angelic-looking jetpacks on their backs, the Burning Rangers crew is looking downright stylish as they fight fires and save lives. Of course, the crew itself is a fun, varied and, of course, totally sexy bunch (in true classic anime hero fashion). From the beefed up muscleman, Big Landman, to the wise-but-beautiful team supervisor, Chris, to the aptly named, handsome and stoic team leader, Lead Phoenix, and your main characters Shou Amanabe (the classic cocky-but-dashing anime pretty boy) and Tillis (the classic cute and sweet, but confident, female rookie), the cast of Burning Rangers is in some ways almost the anime stereotype, but moreover a completely conscious homage to the classic team of 80’s/90’s anime superheroes, while at the same time achieving their own unique and totally likeable style and personality. The character designs, cast and whole look of the Burning Rangers team is great and, just like the soundtrack, achieves a style that is both a classic anime homage, and something completely its own.


The Burning Rangers team are sleek, stylish, attractive and likeable, and a perfect homage to the classic anime superhero team.

Of course, the setting and world these characters are in is just as important, and Burning Rangers world is just a bright, fun and stylish as its characters. Again drawing from classic anime inspiration, while adding its own flavor to the mix, Burning Rangers showcases a bright and exciting futuristic sci-fi setting, and while the story it tells is somewhat brief and a bit outlandish, it also suits the game nicely and is in tune with the game as a whole; spirited and just fun, while, more importantly, showcasing a setting that is unique and enjoyable to experience.

The game’s style and visual excellence doesn’t let up during gameplay itself, either. While it is always arguable how well 32-bit 3D graphics have “aged” by today’s standards, it is, on the other hand, a fact that, for the capabilities of the time and system from which Burning Rangers comes, it is a damn fine looking game. In-game graphics are impressive and attractive from both a technical and artistic standpoint, and look great and are technically impressive by both the standards of the Saturn, and really, of any console at the time. In-game graphics jive perfectly with the anime-style presented throughout the game, and the 3D environments and character models are bright, colorful and filled with life. Likewise, the character animations are mostly smooth and well-done, and the sheer size and complexity of the game’s massive, totally interconnected stages is both impressive just for the size itself, and for the intricacy and attention to detail in them throughout. Stages and characters themselves are lively, each character and environment both technically impressive, and filled with unique personality and style. What really drives the graphical prowess of Burning Rangers out of the park, though, and completes it as a technically impressive achievement, is the excellent lighting, fire and environmental effects. Lighting effects, big and small, are extremely well-done, and do wonders to enhance the visuals, and add to the gameplay experience. Meanwhile, fire effects, explosions, and environmental destruction looks great and adds to an exciting and unpredictable experience. One thing the Saturn always had trouble with was transparencies and similar visual effects; but judging from Burning Rangers, you’d never know that. Visual and lighting effects are not just something Burning Rangers displays it is capable of, it is an area the game consistently excels at. Combine attractive character models, massive, detailed, and intricate environments, smooth animations, and an excellent array of visual effects, and they add up to a game that is both a technical achievement for its system, and just a great-looking game in general. Add to that the fact that, through all of it, the game runs surprisingly smooth, with a consistent framerate, and Burning Rangers really is impressive. While 3D graphics of the 32-bit generation have, arguably, not aged well by today’s standards, Burning Rangers is still a great looking game for its time, and, honestly, a game that holds up pretty damn well, considering its age, today.


Burning Ranger's graphics were a technical achievement for the Saturn, packed full of 3D lighting and effects than many thought the Saturn incapable of.

Of course, as with all games, one of the most important questions is: is it fun to play? And for Burning Rangers, the answer is a resounding “yes.” True to Sonic Team’s classic work, Burning Rangers is an experience focused largely on style, and just as much on fun, addictive gameplay. At its core, Burning Rangers plays like a blending of a few genres. Specifically, Burning Ranger’s gameplay is a combination of 3D platforming, 3rd person shooting, and 3D action/adventure, with a bit of arcade flavor achieved via a large focus on replaying missions to achieve higher scores and better ranks, by racking up more points through speed and completion time, exploration, finding and rescuing civilians, extinguishing fires, defeating the occasional enemy and collecting different color “crystals” (which also function as your health in a way very similar to rings in Sonic games) throughout the stage.


Your handheld blaster will prove to be an essential tool, both for fighting enemies and bosses, as well as putting out fires.

The game will place you in the role of the character of your choice (Shou or Tillis at first, or later, the other Burning Rangers members, who become playable upon completion of the game), and once in the role of the character of your choosing, you’ll navigate and explore the game’s huge environments, solving the occasional door or environmental puzzle, with the ultimate goal of reaching the end of the stage, defeating the boss, and ultimately saving the day. Along the way, you’ll search the stage for civilians in need of rescue, teleporting them out of the area upon discovery of them, you’ll fight fires and avoid or subdue dangers like rampaging mechs or environmental dangers like explosions and collapsed environments, and perform platforming feats, largely with the help of your jetpack, which allows for extended jumps and brief flight. The most central and essential tools with which the player must work are their trademark Burning Rangers jetpack, and their chargeable blaster weapon, which doubles as a tool for extinguishing fires and as a type of pistol for fighting the occasional rampaging robot, blasting environmental obstacles and, of course, fighting the end-of-stage bosses. Of all the gameplay elements, platforming and 3rd-person shooting are probably the most constant and prominent throughout, and what I really like about Burning Rangers is the way in which it cleverly implements them as a part of the gameplay that feels natural within the game itself. Specifically, I love how Burning Rangers takes traditional platforming and shooting elements, and molds them cleverly to fit the game’s theme of a fire rescue team; using third-person shooting mechanics to fight fires, and intelligently implanting platforming in a way that feels natural through the implementation of the jetpack itself, and makes the platforming itself feel less tacked on, more like a natural, logical need when navigating a structure that is half-destroyed and quickly burning to the ground.


The jetpack enables longer, higher jumps and brief flight, and serves as an important part of platforming sections.

Burning Rangers manages to keep up a tense and urgent pace at all times, as well, thanks to another cleverly implemented gameplay feature; a constantly-increasing structural “limit” for each environment. Burning Rangers encourages players to explore its environments, pressing them to find hidden areas and rescue innocents trapped throughout them, but at the same time forces you to think on your feet and keep moving, as the steadily-increasing “limit” percentage rises in the top right corner of your HUD. Extinguishing flames throughout the environment will help to bring the percentage down again, but every time the limit reaches an increment of 20%, flames will begin to explode from the environment around the character, and if the player can’t avoid and quickly put out the raging blaze, the flames will make short work of them. This could possibly become frustrating if the game didn’t handle navigation of its huge environments so well; but thanks to the ability to radio in for navigation and directions, the game again creatively and naturally makes itself intuitive in a way that never feels obtrusive or out-of-place. In this, the game cleverly encourages exploration of its large, intricate environments to not just rescue people, but find flames to extinguish, bringing down the “limit” percentage, while at the same time forcing the player not to dawdle in any one place too long or retrace their steps too often. These smart game design choices are pulled off expertly, effectively encouraging exploration while simultaneously keeping the pace and tension of the game at a consistent high point.


Missions are tense and exciting throughout, and stages are massive and intricate.

Burning Rangers is a relatively short game, but it is also one of exceptional replay value for a number of reasons which, in many ways, actually get more fun after your first run through the story mode. One of the key factors to this is the game’s arcade-esque focus on scoring, time, and mission rankings. Replaying missions is a core part of the game’s lasting appeal, as repeat playthroughs of missions are exciting and addictive as you attempt to seek out hidden areas, finish stage quicker and with greater precision, collect more crystals, and rescue more survivors.

The replayability and lasting appeal of Burning Rangers would be relatively thin if replaying the same 4 missions for higher scores was the only reason to continue after the credits rolled. But Burning Rangers has many more features and extras that are sure to keep you coming back for more. First and foremost, it should be mentioned that playing through the main story is something to be done at least twice, since, although the missions remain the same, the two main characters, Shou and Tillis, each have their own unique cutscenes and arcs of the story. But there is far more to Burning Rangers replay value beyond that, because upon your first completion of the main story mode is when Burning Rangers really opens up, with a whole slew of excellent extras and unlockable content that bring the game and its replayability far beyond what is initially accessible.

Probably the biggest and most significant of these features is the stage randomizer which becomes available. The stage randomizer in Burning Rangers massively increases the game’s replay value and amount of content. The stage randomizer does pretty much exactly what it sounds like; randomizes the layout of each individual mission, essentially altering the paths through stages, locations of dangers and civilians, and allowing for further exploration into the massive stages, opening doors that were previously inaccessible, which give way to all new areas, while at the same time cutting off other routes. The stage randomizer feature even allows the player to save their favorite randomized layouts for future playthroughs, allowing for replays of individual randomized layouts to discover their own secrets and perfect your time, score and navigation of them. I can’t emphasize enough what a great feature this is; especially when considering the seemingly lean amount of missions first available. The stage randomizer is an excellent feature that ups the replayability and lasting appeal of Burning Rangers massively.


Burning Rangers may have only 4 main missions, but its replay value is huge, thanks to an array of unlockable features, including a level randomizer, and the ability to enter special passwords and play as extra characters.

This feature alone drastically increases the size of the game and extends its appeal well beyond the somewhat brief story mode. But there is a plethora of other fun and significant unlockables that will continue to keep any player hooked on Burning Rangers. Upon completion of Burning Rangers, in addition to the stage randomizer, you’ll also unlock a “password function,” allowing you to input a wide array of passwords which will unlock a ton of other extra features. Password-unlocked extras include sound and cutscene tests, but probably the best and most notable of them are the passwords which allow you to play as any of the game’s supporting cast (Lead Phoenix, Chris and Big Landman) as well as the mysterious Iria Klein (who’s origin would be a bit of a spoiler to reveal), in any of the stages except the final mission, in addition to the ability to play as Shou or Tillis with the Burning Rangers theme playing throughout, in substitute of the voice navigation feature. Playing as the rest of the cast is a great addition, and it’s fun to see all of these supporting characters in action, and to be able to replay the missions with the game’s funky theme music driving the action.

Scoring and improving one’s performance is, as mentioned, a huge part of Burning Rangers lasting appeal as well, and one of the most fun features tied to this comes in the form of the game’s “mail” system. Essentially, there are 118 survivors throughout the game to rescue, and while rescuing them is essential to upping your mission performance and rank, you’ll also collect mail from the survivors when you save them. Individual survivors all have their own names, and will actually send numerous emails upon repeat saves, which differ depending of the character and the amount of times you’ve saved them. It’s a fun feature which serves as a unique form of collectibles, and an incentive to go back and replay stages for better results. Just one more fun feature, adding to the fun and consistently addictive quality of Burning Ranger’s excellent gameplay.


Replaying missions to rescue survivors and perfect your time and score increases Burning Rangers lasting appeal greatly.

In Conclusion….

Burning Rangers had, and still has, everything it takes to stand tall alongside Sega’s library of first-party classics and cult hits. It has all the style, beauty and focus on innovation and pure fun of the company’s long list of original titles. Sadly, like so many of the company’s other would-be classics, Burning Rangers was a victim of its console’s unfortunate fate, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Burning Ranger’s was released to a console that had already seen little success outside its homeland, and by the time it was released, the Saturn was already being disregarded as a dead console by most. As such, Burning Rangers, even amidst positive press, went mostly unnoticed, fading into obscurity as yet another excellent and inspired, but ultimately lost, Sega original. Even today, amidst what has been somewhat of a resurgence of recognition for Sega’s forgotten classics, Burning Rangers still, as it long has, remains overlooked and forgotten. But Sega fans, and gamers in general, shouldn’t let this title slip by them any longer. Forgotten and overlooked too often, even by fans of Sega, Burning Rangers is another great original title, with all the staples of what made Sega and Sonic Team’s work so exciting in their heyday. And gamers owe it to Burning Rangers, and themselves, to discover, enjoy and appreciate this lost would-be classic. Burning Rangers is a bright, beautiful game, bursting with the quirky fun, originality, inspiration and creativity that made Sega’s original titles so exciting in their best years.


Burning Rangers is a wonderfully original and well-made Sega title, which has gone overlooked for far too long; gamers owe it to themselves to check out this fun, addictive and stylish game.

Who Should Play It?

Any fan of Sega or Sonic Team’s classic work, or Sega aficionados. Fans of anime/anime style visuals, especially fans of 80’s and 90’s anime. Those with a love for arcade-esque score-topping and skill-honing at a game. People who love classic 3D platforming or action/adventure, or those who appreciate some creative cross-genre gameplay. Any gamer with an appreciation for excellent style and presentation, or creativity and fun.   read


12:01 AM on 09.24.2012  

A Second Look At: The Dark Eye



Details:

Title: The Dark Eye

Developer: Inscape

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

Platforms: Windows PC, MAC

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


Cover art for The Dark Eye.

What Is This Game?

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


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

Introduction:

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

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


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

History, Release and Reception:

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Game:

Flaws:

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

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

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


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

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


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

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


The character designs are bizarre and absolutely brilliant.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

In Conclusion:

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


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

Who Should Play It?

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


9:47 PM on 09.22.2012  

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



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

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

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

  read


1:15 AM on 07.20.2012  

A Look Forward At: The City of Metronome



Details:

Title: The City of Metronome

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

Developer: Tarsier Studios

Publisher: To be announced/none

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

Target Release Date: To be announced/none

Status: Development stalled; currently without publisher


Title image for The City of Metronome.

What Is This Game?

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


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

History/Background:

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

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

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


Initial screenshots showed off a highly stylized world, while the teaser and debut trailers and gameplay footage (links below) shown off at E3 reinforced the game's emphasis on style and unique sound-based adventure gameplay.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_od_2oZ_UWc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-4KmBjE3oY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whsIZnqJ5sI

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

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


Concept art revealed some interesting designs and characters.

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

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

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

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


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

The Game:

What’s It All About?

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

How Will It Play?

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

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


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

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


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

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


Looking Forward…..

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


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

Who Should Keep An Eye On It?

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


8:51 PM on 07.11.2012  

A Second Look At: Operation Darkness



Details:

Title: Operation Darkness

Developer: Success

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

Platform: Xbox 360

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


Cover art for Operation Darkness.

What Is This Game?

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

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

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


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

Introduction:

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

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

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


Operation Darkness is filled with crazy and imaginative ideas.


History, Release and Reception:


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Game:

Flaws:

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.

Conclusion:

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


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

Who Should Play It?

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


7:40 PM on 06.27.2012  

A Second Look At: Red Ninja: End of Honor



Details:

Title: Red Ninja: End of Honor

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

Developer: Tranji Studios

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

Platforms: Playstation 2, Xbox

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


Cover art for Red Ninja: End of Honor.

What Is This Game?

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


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

Introduction:

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

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


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

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

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

History, Release and Reception:

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

The Game:

Flaws:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Characters are interesting and likeable.

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

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


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

In Conclusion….

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


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

Who Should Play It?

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


12:47 PM on 06.15.2012  

(Preview) A Look Forward At: Eternal Light



Details:

Title: Eternal Light

Alternate Title(s): Witches (early development)

Developer: Revisitronic

Publisher: To Be Announced/None

Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Windows PC

Target Release Date: To Be Announced/None

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


Title image for Eternal Light.

What Is This Game?

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


Eternal Light is all about medieval babes slaying ugly demons.

History/Background:

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCdgZ9PowJI&feature=plcp
Witches returned as "Eternal Light" in late 2010/early 2011, with this almost humorously provocative trailer(above), as well as a couple of gameplay videos (below).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq46ifZbElc&feature=plcp
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DU0LB9Bm4b0&feature=plcp

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

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

The Game:

What’s It All About?

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


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

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

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


Previews and trailers have placed an emphasis on sex appeal.

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

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


Eternal Light promised a dark setting and violent combat.

How Will It Play?

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Looking Forward……

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


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

Who Should Keep An Eye On It?

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







Back to Top