Wow - I really thought that 'Little Ralph' would be the hardest game for me to find solid pictures for. Sadly, the only images relating to Dark Awake (or Chaos Breaker, as it was named in arcades) that were greater than 200 pixels wide were from fan-made hentai doujins. Again, wow.
Anyway, Dark Awake: The King Has No Name - which I imagine sounds cooler to those who don't understand English - is a 2004 arcade fighter by Eolith that was finally brought to consoles by way of Recom's PSN port. Eolith, for those who remember, made King of Fighters 2001 and 2002 back when SNK went bankrupt. While I can't deny that KOF2001 and 2002 were by far my least favorite KOF entries, I also couldn't deny that 2002 was a significant improvement over 2001, and that gave me significant hope for Dark Awake.
At first glace, Dark Awake is the result of a one-night stand between D&D and KOF. While the game is obviously visually inspired by the fantasy worlds of Tolkien and E Howard, the game has the 3-on-3 survival, strikers and general feel of the King of Fighters series. The character selection is also arranged similarly to King of Fighters, with teams of three organized by various races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Dark Elves, Monsters and Undead, for a total of 18 playable characters.
Rather than two punches and two kicks, the four button set-up consists of a weak (A), medium (B) and heavy (C) attack, plus a variable (D) attack which differs for each character, although for most it takes the form of a standing overhead to counter those ducking turtlers. Special move motions tend to be very simple to pull off, rarely requiring you to look at a move list - although a few of the Super attacks have ridiculous inputs.
The characters are also all fairly distinct from each other, with many feeling fairly new to fighting games altogether. There are a couple of characters who are riding mounted beasts, and these characters have movements which are very different from the average fighter - jumping in particular being very different. Another character I found interesting was the Dwarf gunner Vargan, who must keep his gun loaded in order to fire.
An interesting subversion to the KOF style is the ability to select items. Each team must consist of at least one character and one item, with the remaining two slots free to choose either an item or character. There are 32 items, each being fairly unique. One heals you on use, another raises your mana, some are passive and increase stats for specific characters, and at least one even revives a character upon their death. Selecting the right item for your team can make a serious difference on the battle field.
The gameplay is fairly solid, of what I've played. I never got to play this online, but I played a good bit with some friends and we all enjoyed it. Single-player was also rather enjoyable, as the attempt to beat the game well enough to face off against 'The King With No Name' with different teams is a good challenge without being unfair. I've heard talk of certain characters having infinite combos, but unless you plan to play this at high levels, I think that's a bit of a non-issue.
Graphically, the look is good, so long as you are alright with it using older hardware. Yes, the game has some noticeable pixels. No, the game does not have a widescreen option because the original arcade hardware did not support this. If you can get past this, though, you'll find the game is actually pretty smoothly animated and the graphics are great in the context of its time and limitations.
Sound-wise, the music was fairly average. It wasn't bad enough to leave a bad impression, but it didn't leave a good impression either. Sound effects were decent as well, nothing really standing out - although the 'confirm' sound was a bit too high pitched. The vocal are great ... if you can appreciate hilariously bad Engrish. I can, but maybe you take things a little bit more seriously than I do.
One problem I did have with the game - aside from my inability to find matches online - was that there is no local versus mode. Obviously, you can still play against another person on the same console, but you have to do it through Arcade and have your opponent join in later. Much like an actual arcade, the winner will be stuck using the same team he won with, which makes playing around with the cast of characters a chore at times.
Currently, the game is being offered on the Japanese PlayStation Network for 1000 Yen, down from its original price of 2000. As far as is known, there are no plans to bring this game stateside or to other platforms. I'd recommend signing up for a Japanese PSN account (it's not that hard, trust me!) and using a JP PSN card to add Yen to the account, as this seems to be the only way to play.
RetroGrade: B. If you are a fighting game fan who wants something off-beat for the PS3, I'd recommend you pick this up. It may not be a technical marvel, but it is a load of fun to play with friends - and I think that's the most important thing for a fighter to be.