Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I Have A Dream(cast) Review Vol #3: Maken X

Availability: Was released exclusively for the Sega Dreamcast, but was later remade for the Playstation 2 with that version released in Japan and Europe but not America.

Version I Played: Japanese import copy for Sega Dreamcast.

Review: I have not touched this one in a long time. I remember having it way back when it first came out but later let it go among many other games. It was when I was in a buy/sell/trade mode so I was constantly getting rid of games in favor of getting new games instead of allowing my collection to grow. I've lost a lot of great games through that ignorance and I wish I had them back but as is life. So when I decided to get back into Dreamcast games and even get back into importing this one came up on my radar really quickly. Yes I could have gotten the American release of the game and it would have been cheaper. However there was something I found out about the American release that may come as no surprise to some. Censorship. The American release of the game was censored, pretty heavily from what I read. This isn't so much with content like gore, but with imagery and scenarios. In the Japanese release the game there was a lot of National-Socialism imagery including enemies who had swastikas across their face. Also there's a battle in the Vatican against the pope that was cut from the American release. These are understandable cuts for the American audience. They're pretty sensitive. But at the same time you fight A pope in Assassin's Creed 2 so I guess it's not a big deal anymore.

The plot of the game is really unique if nothing else. I really like it. The main character is not a person. The main character is the weapon. The weapon/creature mindjacks whoever it wants to control and takes over their body. Also the style of the weapon changes depending who you play as. For example, the purple haired chick on the cover uses a large sword. Other characters have changes that are variable in size, shape, and style, like a club-like weapon or long and thin, etc, along with additional skills depending who you're playing as. The weapon itself is a freaky looking thing, too (see here around the 48 second mark, please don't mind the poor American localization, the Japanese version is tons better). But after taking a second look at it I would say it's more so a demon if anything else. That's a theme that tends to follow in the franchise that I believe inspired this game, Shin Megami Tensei.
I've heard rumors that this is part of the franchise or a spin off of said franchise. However all I have been able to find is that it was inspired and has a similar story/art style. It is a franchise that deals with demons pretty heavily so it's understandable that the themes in this game could be confused for a SMT game.

Now if you want to be technical, like I do, this game is not considered to be a first person shooter. It's a first person slasher. You don't have an arsenal of weapons. You have the sword and for the most part that is it. So most of the time in the game you'll be slashing and slashing. There are some special abilities depending who you're playing as. Those can be accessed by charging your attack. This may be something as simple as a stronger swipe or a projectile for a long distance hit. Because of the style of the game it does give you the ability to lock onto enemies. This is a benefit not only cause you can attack head on easier but it will then give you a health bar for the enemy, allowing you to plan out attacks easier. The combat in this game is actually really smooth and easy to use. I must say I enjoyed it far more than other FPS games of this era. Which isn't saying much but saying a lot because I didn't get into FPS games hardcore (outside of Duke 3D) until more recently and even then it's a limited interest. I will admit I have gotten really cozy with modern controllers. Not having that second joystick on the controller allowing for easy strafing has made this game unintentionally more difficult to handle. But that's not a criticism because the game was working with what it had at the time. I was going to complain how the game is very linear too but that's a problem in modern gaming as well, so it isn't something I want to dwell on. I think it just feels more linear because the levels aren't as large or as detailed. So if anything modern games give a false impression (wait, that's news?). I was thinking that this may have been a design choice because there had been multiple open world games by this point, but they were yet to be popularized by games like Grand Theft Auto III. I would say the way this game was set up was pretty standard for the time. But I still can't help but feel the levels are a bit small at the same time.
Come to think of it, variety isn't exactly the game's strong suit. Yes the story is very unique. I also feel that the enemies are a good change of pace from the typical enemies of games at the time. They have this bizarre, hell-like, horror feel to them that actually makes them pretty scary looking. They also have weapons that have that weird lifelike feel to them where the weapons are either attached to the enemy's arms, or the weapon they're holding looks like they're alive. Kinda makes me think of this crazy custom made gun controller for Death Crimson on the Sega Saturn (I'm a bit of a fan of this style). But once it establishes this style and these enemies it doesn't do much else besides that. Not all these characters ARE exactly the same but they feel so similar in the end that it's hard to really see them as different. Even when there are big boss fights they essentially look like bigger versions of the same enemies you've been fighting. It doesn't exactly make me excited level by level when it's easy to tell what's going to be around the corner.
Another thing I'm a bit annoyed by is how a lot of the fights feel pretty one sided. As I stated before your abilities are dependent on who is currently brain jacked. Sometimes you get stuck with the same person through multiple levels and that person may not have the abilities you want them to. I for example like playing as the girl you play as in the first level. The sword is big and has a good handle to it. I like the charge attack. Etc, etc. So if I could take her throughout the game I would. But later on I am forced to play through multiple levels of the game with a character that essentially uses a police baton as his weapon. There is a special attack that shocks and stuns the enemy briefly but in the heat of battle it doesn't do as much as you would like it to. But you can go back and play the levels with the character of your choice later on, but what's the point if I already did what I needed to do? Outside of maybe see if there were any secrets I missed.

One thing I will say about this is that it does have elements of FPS games that were present in a pre-Halo era of games. These elements, or lack of elements depending on how you look at it, are what made these games more challenging and less hand holding. The most obvious one is non-regenerating health. While convenient in modern games I feel that when you have a health bar that slowly regenerates it takes away not just the challenge but the tense excitement, too. Every so often I play through the God of War games which don't have regenerating health. It was a rough challenge because I now play on hard but I can guarantee it wouldn't have been as tough or satisfying if I played through the game with regenerating health. So in Maken X whenever you need to heal you will need to find a health pack. Otherwise I hope you're really good and can play through the level flawlessly until the end of the stage. These FPS games are not as forgiving as the modern ones do.
Another thing with this game is that since it's Japanese it doesn't quite have as familiar an approach. In case you hadn't noticed by now Japan is well known for RPGs, Platformers, more adventurey or quirky from an American perspective type of games. They don't make shooters too often, putting them out of practice when they do. I've heard Vanquish is awesome but that's for another day. So when you play through this you don't get a sense of Quake, Duke, definitely not Halo, but not even something like Unreal which came out around the same time. It has it's own thing going and that's what I love about it. I tend to root for the underdog, and while I'm not sure how much of a hit this was in Japan (warranted a remake so I guess well) I know it wasn't a massive hit here. And that's sad because this is an underrated gem. But I must say it would be hard to recommend the US version seeing as how butchered it is. If you have the access pick up the Japanese copy. It's super easy to import on the Dreamcast. Simple as buying the right kind of disc to boot imports (for a reasonable price even!) and pop it in. It is worth your time especially if you're into something very different.

If America Made It: Guns. Lots and lots of guns. Since the game revolves around the weapon being the character of course you won't have a wide arsenal of weapons. So if America made it the whole plot would change to allow variety in weapons. I'm not saying this would become a modern warfare type situation. It would just be closer to a Quake or Unreal clone or hopefully a Serious Sam clone. Still left of center, only with less cultural references.

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