32-Bit, gaming, Sega Saturn

Tokyochuchu on: Dragon Force

 

Does anyone remember Dragon Force on the Sega Saturn? If you’re lucky enough to do so, you’ll be remembering one of the best strategy RPG titles of it’s generation.

At the beginning of the game you get to pick one of seven nations to play as (after you finish the game, you can play as the bad-guys too). Each nation has it’s own storyline and it’s a lot of fun to see a bunch of different takes on the same plot. Speaking of plot, the main thrust of the story centers around the reawakening of a long dormant dark god and an antagonistic nation stirring the pot and starting wars on purpose. Despite it’s ‘rent-a-fantasy-plot’ lack of originality, it’s decently scripted and is told via amazing anime-style artwork.

The game starts you off with a couple of castles in your home nation and a core staff of loyal generals to do your bidding. Your task is to conquer the entire continent thus bringing peace by unification. The player sends their armies (each led by a general) to the surrounding castles on the map and does battle with it’s inhabitants. If you win, you get control of said castle and have a chance to convert the enemy leaders to your cause, lending another army to your overall force in the process.

The armies you send out can contain up to five generals. Each general can have up to 100 troops under his command (you start with only 10 troops but 10 more get awarded every time you win a battle with that general). This means that a full scale battle could have 1000 units duking it out, with a maximum of 202 sprites sharing the screen at the same time! That’s some impressive shit, let me tell you. The battles are relatively simple. You choose a formation and tactic (march, defend, flank…etc) and then just watch the resulting scuffle. There’s little interaction after the initial menus except to fire off your general’s special attack move (tornadoes / fireballs / insert generic JRPG move here) or to issue simple orders like retreat, separate or melee. If all 200 troops are killed before either general is defeated, the two generals then enter into a one-on-one sword duel to settle matters.

Dragon Force was and is a great game. Aside from the beginning (lack of troops) and the ending (dragons!) the game has very little in the way of challenge. Even the battles, as busy as they look, are extremely simple and not particularly exciting (in the best possible way).

What the game DOES have is a deep sense of relaxation. It’s one of those games that you can put on after work or before bed and totally unwind in. The graphics are beautiful, the soundtrack is phenomenal and the gameplay is so atmospheric and serene that you’ll be lucky not to fall asleep just glancing at it. And it’s somewhere in that relinquishing of stress that Dragon Force’s true beauty becomes apparent; it has sleepy catharsis stitched into every pixel.

So there you are; Dragon Force, the video game equivalent of popping sleeping pills (non suicide style).

 

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32-Bit, gaming, Sega Saturn

Tokyochuchu on: Amok

 

Does anyone out there remember the 1996 Playstation, Saturn & PC title Amok? For those who remain blissfully unaware, Amok was a third-person mech shooter. Although mech shooters were two-a-penny in the mid nineties, Amok tried to stand out from the crowd by adding an amphibious element to the proceedings. When on land the mech would be in the standard AT-ST style but when in the water it would transform into a big submersible frog. This presumably made it easier to kill enemies as they’d be busy pissing themselves laughing at your ‘frog-mobile’ whilst you were getting missile lock.

The plot of Amok was the usual half baked crap. Something about a rebel fight against corrupt dictatorzzzzzzz… Basically speaking, Amok was a level-based arcade shooter which means no-one gave a tea-bagging nun about the plot, only caring about where the next sumbitch to be gibbed was hiding at. Objectives in the game followed the normal path of the day; ‘take out three shield generator pylons and then take out whatever they were shielding’ or; ‘escort this train from A to B and make sure it doesn’t get blown up’. Sometimes the game would shock you by stretching to; ‘make sure you blow up this train and it’s escorts’!!!

As you may have gathered from my tone, Amok was certainly not perfect. In fact it had a myriad of annoying flaws. Firstly, it suffered almost all of the graphical failings of the 32bit era; nasty pixelation of close-up objects, a poor draw distance masked by ‘fog’ and plenty of pop-up and fade-in. Add to that it’s crippling difficulty and a very short campaign and you’re probably left wondering why I’m even bringing up such an obvious gaming turd.

The reason Amok is remembered so fondly is down to it’s one saving grace; you could play the entire campaign in split-screen two player co-op. That might be commonplace now, but back in ’96 it was a real rarity. That changed Amok from something that I would’ve shelved very quickly into a nostalgically flawed title that I nether-the-less sank a shit-ton of hours into with my brother. God bless your crappy, unoriginal, graphically nauseating ass, Amok… We loved you in our own sick way!

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32-Bit, gaming, Sega Saturn

Tokyochuchu on: Shining Wisdom (Sega Saturn)

Does anyone remember Shining Wisdom for the Sega Saturn? No… Anyone?

Shining Wisdom was one of the launch titles for the wayward Sega machine. Unfortunately, it was also probably the least outwardly impressive, featuring 2D graphics that would’ve ranked about average on the previous 16-bit Genesis.

That’s not to say that the game was bad. Far from it, in fact. As most Sega fans will undoubtedly know, the Shining series was the company’s staple RPG franchise. The games included titles like Shining Force, Shining Force 2, Shining in the Darkness and Shining in the Holy Ark. The series was almost exclusively turn based and was mostly viewed as a low rent Final Fantasy.

Shining Wisdom was different, though. It eschewed the usual turn based shenanigans in favor of an action-adventure bent. Basically speaking, it was an unashamed ‘Link to the Past’ Zelda ripoff. But boy, it was a good one.

The game had the same uniqueness and thought put into it’s items and implementation as the Zelda titles; Stone boots that could break floor tiles made for some cunning dungeon beats and could also be utilized for slide kicking spindly-legged enemies. There was an ice power item that could freeze water, leading to a fondly remembered water dungeon puzzle. Not to mention the dreaded mirror labyrinth, where some of the walls were only illusions and your controls got inverted as well! Great stuff!

One area where Shining Wisdom really outshone (pun alert) Zelda was in the story department. The game had a fairly deep tale to tell about ancient demons, power orbs, mystical trees and the like. It had at least quadruple the amount of text boxes as ‘Link to the Past’ or ‘Ocarina of Time’. Unlike those games, the bosses of each dungeon were minions of the main villain Pazot (they were usually after whatever item you had just procured), and you always got to talk to them a few times before you finally fought them. It was a small touch, but it gave the ensuing beatdowns a much more satisfying edge. After all, we all like to close down arrogant, mouthy fuckers, don’t we?! *please don’t hit me*

On a personal note, Shining Wisdom was a ground zero game for me. Prior to playing it, I was totally into action games. Street Fighter II, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario, Super Metroid…. Those type of games were my bag. I had played Zelda and the like, but never really understood why people liked them so much. Shining Wisdom, however, completely blew me away and forever swerved my opinion about adventure games and RPGs. They remained my favorite types of game throughout most of the 32, 64 and 128 bit cycles. With my current love of Elder Scrolls, Yakuza and Mass Effect maybe that still hasn’t changed.

So thank you, Shining Wisdom. You were good!

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