I’m not sure I ever made it past the second mission in Cybernator as a kid, but it left an impact all the same. Released in Japan in 1992 as Assault Suit Valken for Super Famicom, it was the second in the Assault Suit series after Assault Suit Leynos. Aside from being about mecha, the two games seemed to have different approaches to design. While Leynos was a rather straightforward side-scroller, Assault Suit Valken had a more tangibly weighty and methodical approach. There was an odd sense of realism to its fantastic sci-fi themes.
However, its release as Cybernator by Konami on the SNES was somewhat compromised. The translation wasn’t the best, character portraits were removed, and the ending was censored. Rainmaker Productions seeks to rectify that with Assault Suit Valken Declassified. They’ve enlisted the legendary port-house M2 to transfer the title to modern consoles while Rainmaker themselves pack it with additional features. The result is the best way to experience the product, but there are some reservations.
Assault Suit Valken: Declassified (Switch)
Developer: NCS Corporation, M2
Publisher: Rainmaker Productions
Released: March 30, 2023
Assault Suit Valken depicts a future war between two sides vying for control over the Earth’s exhausted resources and territory on the moon. You’re set in the stompy boots of a Valken mecha, and it’s up to you to do your part as a faceless soldier. There’s a real war-is-hell angle to everything, which makes it somewhat unique compared to other action games of the time.
What really made Assault Suit Valken stand apart, however, was the level of detail that went into it. A lot was done to maximize the feeling of stompiness. Your mecha moves slowly, grinding along the ground when you boost. Its thrusters seem to struggle to keep the mecha hovering in the air for even a short time. Bullets ricochet and tear gouges out of the environment. For a 1992 game, it’s a technical and visual treat.
It plays out in a linear, level-by-level formula. One of the major drawbacks of the original version was the limited continues and lack of lives. It was difficult to make any progress, as it was all too easy to make a mistake and get sent back to the start of the game. While those continues are still there by default, there is a way to change the game over to “free play” where you don’t have to worry about that. Aside from that, there are save states. However, there is no rewind. Either way, you have a better chance of getting to the end than you would with just an SNES cartridge.
Check out that ASS-117A
While Assault Suit Valken was remastered in 2004 for the PS2, that version is not what’s represented here. It is purely the Super Nintendo version. You can listen to the arranged soundtrack from the main menu, but I haven’t found a way to use it during gameplay. Some options do seem to be secretly locked at the beginning, but I haven’t found a way to swap the soundtrack during play.
The main difference in Assault Suit Valken Declassified is that the dialogue has been retranslated. The good news is that character portraits have returned, and more of the dialogue makes sense. The bad news is that the line, “The long ten seconds to death begins now…” has been removed. That line statement didn’t make a whole lot of sense within context, but it sounded cool.
Did you know the Valken’s model designation is ASS-117A? I am not making that up. I just learned it through Assault Suit Valken Declassified, and I am way too juvenile for this sort of thing.
I learned it from the previously Japan-only guidebook that rainmaker has recreated for the game. Not only does this include a walkthrough, but it also has a timeline and a trove of lore. It’s a rather comprehensive read, and considering that so little of this lore is actually conveyed through the game, it can provide a lot of insight. Obviously, none of this is essential to know, but a lot of it is relatively obscure outside of Japan.
There’s also a lot of art included to go along with things. Some of it is concept art, but other pieces are newly created for this re-release. It’s not something I typically go crazy for, and this time is no different. However, it’s still cool.
Also recreated and translated is the manual. Considering the Cybernator manual completely bastardized the plot and made it sound extremely ‘90s in comparison, it’s nice to see it as it was originally intended. It’s only 12 pages long, but it really rounds out the package.
Included is an interview with Satoshi Nakai, who was responsible for the graphics on Assault Suit Valken. The interview is surprisingly enlightening, as it shows that his input was responsible for some of the best parts of the game, including the environmental damage. I also discovered that the Japan-only Front Mission: Gun Hazard is considered by him to be the real sequel to Assault Suit Valken. While I was well aware of their similarities, this is the first time I heard of the staff crossover. The director and programmer of the game, Hideo Suzuki, also worked on both projects.
If you go into Assault Suit Valken Declassified expecting a redone or expanded version of Cybernator, you’re probably going to be underwhelmed. What’s included is largely unchanged from the SNES version, aside from the updated translation and return of some minor removed features. There’s nothing revolutionary to the experience. The fact that there is no option or inclusion of the PS2 remaster unfortunately causes the whole experience to fall short of being absolutely definitive.
If there’s one majorly unfortunate part of the port as a product, it’s that $25 is a tall asking price, even if you have a keen interest in all the extras. You don’t have to reach very hard to find similar products for different games that are more reasonably priced.
But with that in mind, Assault Suit Valken Declassified is an undeniably loving return to the Super Famicom title. It’s plain to see that Rainmaker wanted to do the game justice and give North American fans the ability to enjoy it in the same way as it has in Japan. If you’re a fan of the game, it’s at least worth a look. If you haven’t tried it before, you’re long overdue for this mission. I just wish the price of entry was lower.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]