The art of slashing stuff up.

Alcahest

(Looks like the streak has finally come to an end.) You know what I mean: the streak of modern games that people might have actually heard of. It ended later than I expected, but it still ended after 238 days (nearly eight months). August 26th, 2011 to April 19th, 2012. (I know that it seems early to declare the streak dead, but I know for a fact that the next game wasn't released in the past ten years.) Well, business as usual...ish...I guess. You know what that means: obscure, old school Japanese games. This time, it's Alcahest, a game that bears the three hallmarks of games I tend to cover: it's obscure, it's Japan-only, and it's unremarkable enough to justify those other two hallmarks.

I'd say that it's odd, given that it's a Square game that looks a lot like an RPG (I'll explain that in the next mountain of letters), but that's actually part of the reason why it's so forgettable. To understand this better, let's look at the story: 1000 years prior to the game itself, a great hero locks away an evil force of evil evilness. However, 1000 years pass, an evil star (possibly of an evil nature) appears in the night sky, and an empire threatens to become an empire (I'm aware of how paradoxical that is, but the game probably isn't). Now it is up to one young hero to gather the four eleme-I can't continue this. All of these cliches are giving me anemic level nosebleeds, and there are still others I haven't listed. Now all this would be acceptable if it did anything of substance with these cliches, but honestly, it doesn't. Yea, there's some betrayal and loss of humanity that looks pretty interesting, but Alcahest does jack shit with that; instead, it puts most of its work (an oddly high amount of work, given everything I'm saying) into its core message: don't be an asshole. Thanks on that, Square. Certainly couldn't figure that out on my own. But an RPG doesn't need a good story to be good....OK, it does, but I need to move away from that somehow. Perhaps onto towns and leveling systems, the former being devoid of life and a one-time deal, and the latter functioning more like a score system than a means of becoming stronger. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if you thought to yourself, "Man, this RPG is pretty crap."

Man, you humans are so full of shit. Why would you ever put that message in outer space? I'm only going to think of all the lifeforms out there that are far better than you could ever hope to be.

And then you'd realize that this isn't supposed to be an RPG; it's supposed to be an action game. Looking at it like that, the game's...mildly interesting, I guess. How interesting? Think "medieval Smash TV." Yea, there are some mild exploration elements that my analogy doesn't capture, and the control scheme is vastly different, but that's really the best way to describe it. You blaze through levels and stab anything with an animation (I guess that's why the towns are so goddamn stoic), moving onto the next room when there are no more things left to stab. Of course, that sounds pretty simple, and while the game is pretty simple, it manages to do quite a bit with that simplicity. You have some light exploration elements I mentioned before, odd navigation stuff (like an entire level made of those stupid slide-y floors from Dragon Quest dungeons), and even a third of a shooter level for no real reason. Speaking of reasons, remember what I said before, about this being mildly interesting? That's the reason I used those words. Unfortunately, I said "mildly" because when it comes to challenge, Alcahest is pretty clueless as to how the concept works. Let's be straight on this, developers of a 19 year old game: enemies should be mildly challenging (which means you probably shouldn't have them regenerate when you meander off screen), and bosses should be more challenging (meaning they shouldn't be deadly allergic to spam). OK, it's not like the entire game's like that, but for the most part, that's what you can expect in the Alcahest experience.

Oh, and weapons. Tons and tons of weapons. Did I mention that? No? I probably should have, at some point, because there's a wide variety of the damn things. First up, the guardians I completely ignored two paragraphs ago. Turns out they do more than simply animate funnily in the intro I couldn't really find anywhere. They turn the game into goddamn R-Type. Can you name any other game with circling option things, invincibility shields, and...teleporting option things? Fine, many other games, but you know what I meant by that. I'd say that these types of upgrades have no place in a straight-up hacky/slashy action game, but they feel perfectly natural. I'd also say that there's strategy for when to use them, but that's more the realm of your sword abilities than anything else. You can't just spam, say, the spin attack for every enemy in the game; you have to figure out which attack will actually kill things and respond in kind. I'd say that it introduces a nice level of depth to the combat, but, well, I've already told you about how easy it is to spam a lot of the bosses. Still, I found them to be kinda cool, I gue-Oh, and before I forget, there are also partners in this game. They'd be pretty cool if you got to see more of them, but alas, it was not meant to be. The only time you get to use all of them is at the end, when the game says "what the hell" and lets you use all of them; the rest of the time, they're just there to give you some minor support for when you're slashing through fantasy baddies...And that's pretty much all there is to Alcahest: a weak concept made presentable with decent gameplay. Whatever the hell that means.

Review Synopsis

  • When I first started playing the game, my brain started leaking out of my nose as a means of escape. I should have taken the warning...
  • ...even though there's a decent top-down action game underneath the story.
  • Oh, and something about all the cool abilities you get.

As long as I'm on obscure Japanese shit, this video! (Hey, two out of three is pretty good.) I don't know whether fans should love the detail that went into this, or hate how fast and loose it plays it with the canon.

Valis III

(Wait, didn't I already do this game?) Lemme see....yep, back in a blog I should have called "Stupid Asian Girls Jumping Off Buildings". Back when the streak was still going strong. THIS IS NOT WHAT I NEED TO BE REMINDED OF IN THIS BLOG. But you know what? I'm actually glad that this game appeared in this blog, given the comparisons I can inadvertently make between this and Alcahest. After all, they both put a ton of work into an unremarkable story, feature a decent-yet-somewhat-ignored character system, and some competent action stuffs. Yet somehow, I still like Valis III more than Alcahest.

Probably because there's a lot more work put into the story, even if both games end up exactly the same in that regard. It's been a while since Valis II; Yuko is still a vapid bitch with a terrifying stare (that's not even getting into what you see at the end), the Dream World is still just a nondescript magic land, and nobody is terrorizing either that place or Earth. Clearly, this must be corrected. (The last one. Valis III sees it fit not to touch the other two.) In enters Baddy du Jour Ramses, ready to stir some shit up. Yuko must now gather up some friends and take down this evil threat once and for all. Now like Alcahest before it, the story isn't terribly fascinating. Yes, it puts quite a bit of work into things, but it doesn't go far enough. Just look at Ramses: he's not a generic baddy, but just some leader trying to prevent his people from dying...at first. Then it turns out that he's just a manipulative bastard trying to be evil or whatnot. But it's OK, because this means he's actually a smart guy. Hell, he's smart enough to ask Yuko the one question that should stop her dead in her tracks, even if she is dumb enough to deflect it into nothingness, where it shan't ever be developed or explored in any real capacity. This happens quite a lot over the course of the game, such as when Yuko's best friend and mother show up only to disappear (yes), leaving a fairly simple story in its wake.

In case you were wondering (you probably weren't), yes, this alien mug still shows up.

No; what I'm more interested in is how the story is told. Specifically, through anime cutscenes, because this game was made in 1990 and gaming law at the time stated that all CD games must have anime cutscenes. And what a glorious law it was, in this case, as these cutscenes look pretty damn good. I've already linked you some scenes twice; do I need to tell you how detailed these things can be? How crisp and clear Yuko's stupidity is to the player? Sure, there are some animation fuck-ups (you've already seen Yuko's sudden telepathy powers in the ending), but given how good the game looks, I'm willing to let it slide. Remember, though, that I said looks. I emphasize that because the voice work in this game is quite terrible. It's like none of the voice actors gave a shit about their roles. It's almost as if they knew I'd be the only person to care about these games. For instance, here's a giant beard telling Yuko that this adventure will ultimately end in her death. She accepts her fate to help the people of the Spirit World or Dream World or whatever (which I have no real problem with, from a story perspective), but she does it with all the conviction of somebody deciding that yes, they would like one half mushroom, one half pepperoni pizza. Now imagine a game where everybody gives that level of effort, no matter the circumstances.

Now imagine that character thing from the previous part of my blog, because I'm still following that analogy. You know, the thing about this being similar to Alcahest in terms of design philosophies? The only real difference here is how much focus is put on the characters. Whereas Alcahest gave you an extra character because...I can't remember anymore, Valis III actually puts some work into these three characters, giving you reason to switch out. For example, while Valna can kill things from the other side of the screen, Yuko and Cham.....OK, Valna's clearly the best character in the game, but there are still reasons not to use her, if that makes sense. You still have magic to worry about, and Valna's not gonna carry you throughout the entire game on those merits. You actually have to switch characters and figure out who works best in a given situation, almost like there's depth or strategy. (Remember; I said "almost.") Besides, it can be pretty fun playing as different characters. Hell, it's almost like having three really average games in one (in this case, they're Castlevania, Valis II, and a bit of Mega Man). The only real flaw with the system is how much focus the game thrusts upon poor Yuko. There are certain bosses whom only she can face and certain unskippable areas only she can traverse. In the story, this makes sense, as she's the Valia Warrior or whatever the hell it was; in the game, she has the crappest range and doesn't have the magic to make up for it. I'd say "even the game developers are taking me for a wimp, asking me to battle with a girl", but I'm not sure how to communicate something that halting through text.

All that aside, though, Valis III is just your typical platformer. Nothing more. This means you do general platform stuff, like move from left to right, jump from time to time, and kill the occasional enemy. It's honestly as complex and exciting as I make it seem to be, and that's what quite a few of the levels are like: straight, boring lines that present little challenge. (Unless you're into the obscure hentai spin-offs, that's the closest any of these girls will ever come to riding a cock.) Yes, there are enemies throughout the levels, but given the threat they (don't) pose, they share more similarities with a particularly murderous road block than a challenge of any type. Though to be fair, though, this only applies to about half the game. Turns out the second half actually manages to do a lot more than that, something that can only be explained by the developers using time travel to read this blog for tips...for some reason. Or maybe it just took them a while to figure out how to design more than five enemies, and how to give them some decent personality. But don't think that the lessons only apply to the enemies; the levels get some love, too. I'd say that they do pretty creative things, but I feel the strongest urge to use the "WHO'S A CASTLEVANIA RIP-OFF, NOW!?" tower level as an example. I wish I was kidding. Still, the levels can be pretty fun and challenging. The ice level in particular is pretty cool, given how much mileage it manages to get out of the forgotten slide technique. And then the game ends, making it feel as though the developers learned their lesson too late in the game for it to matter. You know, just like with the series in general.

Review Synopsis

  • "Ramses is taking over Veccanti, and my best friend is now a ghost. This creates a strong emotional reaction within me." (Man, that joke just doesn't work in mere text.)
  • Let's be honest, Telenet: I've been playing as Yuko for four blogs now. Why the hell would I want to play as her again? (Forgetting this, of course.) Just let me play as Valna throughout the whole thing.
  • Overall, it's a decent little platformer, even if it takes a while to learn how to be one.
11 Comments
12 Comments
Posted by Video_Game_King

Alcahest

(Looks like the streak has finally come to an end.) You know what I mean: the streak of modern games that people might have actually heard of. It ended later than I expected, but it still ended after 238 days (nearly eight months). August 26th, 2011 to April 19th, 2012. (I know that it seems early to declare the streak dead, but I know for a fact that the next game wasn't released in the past ten years.) Well, business as usual...ish...I guess. You know what that means: obscure, old school Japanese games. This time, it's Alcahest, a game that bears the three hallmarks of games I tend to cover: it's obscure, it's Japan-only, and it's unremarkable enough to justify those other two hallmarks.

I'd say that it's odd, given that it's a Square game that looks a lot like an RPG (I'll explain that in the next mountain of letters), but that's actually part of the reason why it's so forgettable. To understand this better, let's look at the story: 1000 years prior to the game itself, a great hero locks away an evil force of evil evilness. However, 1000 years pass, an evil star (possibly of an evil nature) appears in the night sky, and an empire threatens to become an empire (I'm aware of how paradoxical that is, but the game probably isn't). Now it is up to one young hero to gather the four eleme-I can't continue this. All of these cliches are giving me anemic level nosebleeds, and there are still others I haven't listed. Now all this would be acceptable if it did anything of substance with these cliches, but honestly, it doesn't. Yea, there's some betrayal and loss of humanity that looks pretty interesting, but Alcahest does jack shit with that; instead, it puts most of its work (an oddly high amount of work, given everything I'm saying) into its core message: don't be an asshole. Thanks on that, Square. Certainly couldn't figure that out on my own. But an RPG doesn't need a good story to be good....OK, it does, but I need to move away from that somehow. Perhaps onto towns and leveling systems, the former being devoid of life and a one-time deal, and the latter functioning more like a score system than a means of becoming stronger. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if you thought to yourself, "Man, this RPG is pretty crap."

Man, you humans are so full of shit. Why would you ever put that message in outer space? I'm only going to think of all the lifeforms out there that are far better than you could ever hope to be.

And then you'd realize that this isn't supposed to be an RPG; it's supposed to be an action game. Looking at it like that, the game's...mildly interesting, I guess. How interesting? Think "medieval Smash TV." Yea, there are some mild exploration elements that my analogy doesn't capture, and the control scheme is vastly different, but that's really the best way to describe it. You blaze through levels and stab anything with an animation (I guess that's why the towns are so goddamn stoic), moving onto the next room when there are no more things left to stab. Of course, that sounds pretty simple, and while the game is pretty simple, it manages to do quite a bit with that simplicity. You have some light exploration elements I mentioned before, odd navigation stuff (like an entire level made of those stupid slide-y floors from Dragon Quest dungeons), and even a third of a shooter level for no real reason. Speaking of reasons, remember what I said before, about this being mildly interesting? That's the reason I used those words. Unfortunately, I said "mildly" because when it comes to challenge, Alcahest is pretty clueless as to how the concept works. Let's be straight on this, developers of a 19 year old game: enemies should be mildly challenging (which means you probably shouldn't have them regenerate when you meander off screen), and bosses should be more challenging (meaning they shouldn't be deadly allergic to spam). OK, it's not like the entire game's like that, but for the most part, that's what you can expect in the Alcahest experience.

Oh, and weapons. Tons and tons of weapons. Did I mention that? No? I probably should have, at some point, because there's a wide variety of the damn things. First up, the guardians I completely ignored two paragraphs ago. Turns out they do more than simply animate funnily in the intro I couldn't really find anywhere. They turn the game into goddamn R-Type. Can you name any other game with circling option things, invincibility shields, and...teleporting option things? Fine, many other games, but you know what I meant by that. I'd say that these types of upgrades have no place in a straight-up hacky/slashy action game, but they feel perfectly natural. I'd also say that there's strategy for when to use them, but that's more the realm of your sword abilities than anything else. You can't just spam, say, the spin attack for every enemy in the game; you have to figure out which attack will actually kill things and respond in kind. I'd say that it introduces a nice level of depth to the combat, but, well, I've already told you about how easy it is to spam a lot of the bosses. Still, I found them to be kinda cool, I gue-Oh, and before I forget, there are also partners in this game. They'd be pretty cool if you got to see more of them, but alas, it was not meant to be. The only time you get to use all of them is at the end, when the game says "what the hell" and lets you use all of them; the rest of the time, they're just there to give you some minor support for when you're slashing through fantasy baddies...And that's pretty much all there is to Alcahest: a weak concept made presentable with decent gameplay. Whatever the hell that means.

Review Synopsis

  • When I first started playing the game, my brain started leaking out of my nose as a means of escape. I should have taken the warning...
  • ...even though there's a decent top-down action game underneath the story.
  • Oh, and something about all the cool abilities you get.

As long as I'm on obscure Japanese shit, this video! (Hey, two out of three is pretty good.) I don't know whether fans should love the detail that went into this, or hate how fast and loose it plays it with the canon.

Valis III

(Wait, didn't I already do this game?) Lemme see....yep, back in a blog I should have called "Stupid Asian Girls Jumping Off Buildings". Back when the streak was still going strong. THIS IS NOT WHAT I NEED TO BE REMINDED OF IN THIS BLOG. But you know what? I'm actually glad that this game appeared in this blog, given the comparisons I can inadvertently make between this and Alcahest. After all, they both put a ton of work into an unremarkable story, feature a decent-yet-somewhat-ignored character system, and some competent action stuffs. Yet somehow, I still like Valis III more than Alcahest.

Probably because there's a lot more work put into the story, even if both games end up exactly the same in that regard. It's been a while since Valis II; Yuko is still a vapid bitch with a terrifying stare (that's not even getting into what you see at the end), the Dream World is still just a nondescript magic land, and nobody is terrorizing either that place or Earth. Clearly, this must be corrected. (The last one. Valis III sees it fit not to touch the other two.) In enters Baddy du Jour Ramses, ready to stir some shit up. Yuko must now gather up some friends and take down this evil threat once and for all. Now like Alcahest before it, the story isn't terribly fascinating. Yes, it puts quite a bit of work into things, but it doesn't go far enough. Just look at Ramses: he's not a generic baddy, but just some leader trying to prevent his people from dying...at first. Then it turns out that he's just a manipulative bastard trying to be evil or whatnot. But it's OK, because this means he's actually a smart guy. Hell, he's smart enough to ask Yuko the one question that should stop her dead in her tracks, even if she is dumb enough to deflect it into nothingness, where it shan't ever be developed or explored in any real capacity. This happens quite a lot over the course of the game, such as when Yuko's best friend and mother show up only to disappear (yes), leaving a fairly simple story in its wake.

In case you were wondering (you probably weren't), yes, this alien mug still shows up.

No; what I'm more interested in is how the story is told. Specifically, through anime cutscenes, because this game was made in 1990 and gaming law at the time stated that all CD games must have anime cutscenes. And what a glorious law it was, in this case, as these cutscenes look pretty damn good. I've already linked you some scenes twice; do I need to tell you how detailed these things can be? How crisp and clear Yuko's stupidity is to the player? Sure, there are some animation fuck-ups (you've already seen Yuko's sudden telepathy powers in the ending), but given how good the game looks, I'm willing to let it slide. Remember, though, that I said looks. I emphasize that because the voice work in this game is quite terrible. It's like none of the voice actors gave a shit about their roles. It's almost as if they knew I'd be the only person to care about these games. For instance, here's a giant beard telling Yuko that this adventure will ultimately end in her death. She accepts her fate to help the people of the Spirit World or Dream World or whatever (which I have no real problem with, from a story perspective), but she does it with all the conviction of somebody deciding that yes, they would like one half mushroom, one half pepperoni pizza. Now imagine a game where everybody gives that level of effort, no matter the circumstances.

Now imagine that character thing from the previous part of my blog, because I'm still following that analogy. You know, the thing about this being similar to Alcahest in terms of design philosophies? The only real difference here is how much focus is put on the characters. Whereas Alcahest gave you an extra character because...I can't remember anymore, Valis III actually puts some work into these three characters, giving you reason to switch out. For example, while Valna can kill things from the other side of the screen, Yuko and Cham.....OK, Valna's clearly the best character in the game, but there are still reasons not to use her, if that makes sense. You still have magic to worry about, and Valna's not gonna carry you throughout the entire game on those merits. You actually have to switch characters and figure out who works best in a given situation, almost like there's depth or strategy. (Remember; I said "almost.") Besides, it can be pretty fun playing as different characters. Hell, it's almost like having three really average games in one (in this case, they're Castlevania, Valis II, and a bit of Mega Man). The only real flaw with the system is how much focus the game thrusts upon poor Yuko. There are certain bosses whom only she can face and certain unskippable areas only she can traverse. In the story, this makes sense, as she's the Valia Warrior or whatever the hell it was; in the game, she has the crappest range and doesn't have the magic to make up for it. I'd say "even the game developers are taking me for a wimp, asking me to battle with a girl", but I'm not sure how to communicate something that halting through text.

All that aside, though, Valis III is just your typical platformer. Nothing more. This means you do general platform stuff, like move from left to right, jump from time to time, and kill the occasional enemy. It's honestly as complex and exciting as I make it seem to be, and that's what quite a few of the levels are like: straight, boring lines that present little challenge. (Unless you're into the obscure hentai spin-offs, that's the closest any of these girls will ever come to riding a cock.) Yes, there are enemies throughout the levels, but given the threat they (don't) pose, they share more similarities with a particularly murderous road block than a challenge of any type. Though to be fair, though, this only applies to about half the game. Turns out the second half actually manages to do a lot more than that, something that can only be explained by the developers using time travel to read this blog for tips...for some reason. Or maybe it just took them a while to figure out how to design more than five enemies, and how to give them some decent personality. But don't think that the lessons only apply to the enemies; the levels get some love, too. I'd say that they do pretty creative things, but I feel the strongest urge to use the "WHO'S A CASTLEVANIA RIP-OFF, NOW!?" tower level as an example. I wish I was kidding. Still, the levels can be pretty fun and challenging. The ice level in particular is pretty cool, given how much mileage it manages to get out of the forgotten slide technique. And then the game ends, making it feel as though the developers learned their lesson too late in the game for it to matter. You know, just like with the series in general.

Review Synopsis

  • "Ramses is taking over Veccanti, and my best friend is now a ghost. This creates a strong emotional reaction within me." (Man, that joke just doesn't work in mere text.)
  • Let's be honest, Telenet: I've been playing as Yuko for four blogs now. Why the hell would I want to play as her again? (Forgetting this, of course.) Just let me play as Valna throughout the whole thing.
  • Overall, it's a decent little platformer, even if it takes a while to learn how to be one.
Posted by LordAndrew

What the hell is a hallmark anyway? You'd better clean up those hallmarks you made, young man! Also, I think I've heard of Valis III. Sorry for breaking your blog.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@LordAndrew:

I think it's a sappy card that you get in the hospital or something.

Edited by Ravenlight

The moon is for jerks.

All of these cliches are giving me anemic level nosebleeds ...

Does that imply that you have naughty thoughts about cliches since the moon is for jerks so it must be an anime?

That Youtube video was awesome, perhaps overshadowing your hilarious vitriol regarding Valis III.

Unless you're into the obscure hentai spin-offs, that's the closest any of these girls will ever come to riding a cock.

Let's make an effort to blog about one of those games in the future, eh?

Posted by Commisar123

And thus ends the streak, you shall be missed and then replaced with old games

Posted by Video_Game_King

@Commisar123:

And I'm pretty sure it's gonna be a while before I even talk about a modern game. But when I do...

Posted by Commisar123

@Video_Game_King: Oh shit son, bring that modern flavor

Posted by Sinclose

I enjoyed my playthrough of Alcahest, but I've rarely heard anyone else ever even mention that game >.>

Was surprised to see this here, although I seemed to have enjoyed it more than you have. But hey, more power to ya for even mentioning it.

Also, I ran across the "Persona 4 PSN" forum thread on my way to reading this. Your reactions echoed mine ;_;

Dammit, why couldn't they have released a Persona bonanza on PSN in one go?!

Posted by Video_Game_King

@Sinclose said:

Dammit, why couldn't they have released a Persona bonanza on PSN in one go?!

Because Golden.

Posted by YukoAsho

You know, I think most of Valis III's problems, like many games of the era, lies in its horrendous English translation, both on Genesis and TurboCD. Hell, the TurboCD in particular suffered nearly constantly from the lack of care in translating and presenting games. It's also a shame that the Turbo line died in America before the TurboCD remake of Valis I, which is vastly improved over the Genesis version we got. Seriously, it's not even funny the gulf between the two (save for the inferior music).

Posted by Video_Game_King

@YukoAsho:

Normally, I'd yell at you for bumping one of my older blogs while ignoring the more recent ones, but given that I haven't blogged in a while (I'm working on it!), I'm giving this a pass. Anyway, yea, some of the problems were caused by cheap localization efforts (as bad as the CD games could be with their voice acting, at least they weren't as bad as...well, all of Syd of Valis), and while I'd like to figure out the extent of those problems, the only way I know how requires either a fan translation of the voice work or for my Japanese knowledge to improve. Neither event seems likely.

Edited by Totori
@LordAndrew said:

What the hell is a hallmark anyway? You'd better clean up those hallmarks you made, young man! Also, I think I've heard of Valis III. Sorry for breaking your blog.

A hallmark is a way identifying the maker of jewelery, and other things like guns and knives.