Drag-On Dragoon

Reviews
Drag-On Dragoon - Title Screen
PlayStation 2
09/11/2003 (Japan), 03/02/2004 (US), 04/21/2004 (PAL)
ドラッグオンドラグーン
Drakengard
A few months into the merger between Square and Enix, Square had not yet begun to fall out of the good graces of many of its loyal fans. While they weren't the highly experimental Square of the 1990s, their catalog hardly consisted only of releases from flagship series Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Traditional JRPGs still reigned, but Square Enix had some notable action RPGs in their back catalog: Parasite Eve, Vagrant Story, and the Seiken Densetsu/Mana series (of which a remake of the first entry in the franchise had just released on the Game Boy Advance). 2003 would also see a new series added to that list: Drag-On Dragoon/Drakengard. Drag-On Dragoon was developed by the Tokyo-based (and now disbanded) Cavia. They were a very young studio, and while this was not Cavia's first RPG (that honor belonged to a One Piece licensed game on the Game Boy Advance, "nanatsu shima no daihihou"), it was their first action game of any kind. So why would Square Enix publish a new action RPG property when they had plenty of other franchises they could pull from? This was meant from the start to be a dark RPG, unlike most of Square Enix's other properties. The story was written by Yoko Taro (who was also the game's director) and Natori Sawako, and is easily the highlight here despite being presented in a fairly bland manner for large chunks of time. The game's Japanese slogan was "抗え、最後まで" or "Resist until the very end". Continue Reading

The Kung Fu

Reviews
The Kung Fu - Title Screen
PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16
11/21/1987 (Japan), 1989 (US)
THE 功夫
China Warrior
Most of the beat-em-up games we've seen so far has been arcade ports (with the exception of the first three Hokuto no Ken games). The Kung Fu was obviously meant to be an arcade game in spirit, with Spartan X's DNA flowing strongly through it. The PC Engine was marketed as the next evolution of current consoles after all, so it needed something to set a fairly standard game like this apart from its contemporaries on the Famicom/NES and Mark III/Master System. That something would be giant character sprites, standing nearly the entire height of the screen. The story is about as standard as it gets: An assassin by the name of Wang (who looks remarkably like Bruce Lee) sets out to defeat the Dark Emperor and save the country that he has overtaken. To do this he must of course use his own kung fu to defeat other martial artists, and eventually the Dark Emperor himself (who turns out to be nothing more than a stereotypical practitioner of drunken kung fu). There are four stages (along with a bonus stage in which you stop a cursor on a power gauge in order to break a large pot), each divided into 3 separate parts that contain a boss at the end. You get three lives and up to two health meters to make your way through these stages, though it is possible to earn more through score and oolong tea power-ups (in the case of health). Continue Reading

Nekketsu Kouha Kunio kun

Reviews
Nekketsu Kouha Kunio kun - Title Screen
Famicom/NES
04/17/1987 (Japan), 01/1988 (US),
熱血硬派くにおくん
Hot Blooded Tough Guy Kunio
Renegade
Delinquent high school students talking tough and beating each other up in school uniforms while sporting distinct hair styles is probably not unfamiliar to those who enjoy Japanese media. This genre, called "tsuppari" (or "yankii"/"yankee" as we got into the 90s), was very prevalent in from the 1970s through the 1990s. Technos Japan's Nekketsu Kouha Kunio kun ("Hot Blooded Tough Guy Kunio") was the video game front runner for this genre, proceeding even one of the most well known representations of tsuppari, a manga series called "Crows". It's unclear how much inspiration was actually taken from other media, but in a 2013 interview director Yoshihisa Kishimoto said that the game reflected his own high school experience. Continue Reading

2015: How Did I Play This Much This Year?

Over the last couple of years I've really come to enjoy these end of the year posts. Not because I enjoy or even attempt to declare a "Game of the Year", but because they help me get perspective on the year as a whole in terms of game releases. I even began keeping a list of what I played in 2015, instead of having to scramble to pull it all from memory or play logs. In looking back on this list, I was a little floored by just how many new games I played. There are actually less than I played last year, but the quality of releases and number of them that I truly cared about in 2015 ended up being higher. With that said, these are the new releases that I played this year, in the order that they were released. Continue Reading

Hokuto no Ken 2: seikimatsu kyuuseishu densetsu

Reviews
Hokuto no Ken 2 - Title Screen
Famicom/NES
04/17/1987 (Japan), 04/1989 (US)
北斗の拳2 世紀末救世主伝説
Fist of the North Star 2: Legend of the Century's End Savior
Fist of the North Star
Marking the third Hokuto no Ken game released in a single year's time, Hokuto no Ken 2 is a followup to the first Shouei System developed game on the Famicom. Not only did the inferior of the two Hokuto no Ken games get the sequel in this case (the more deserving one being the Master System/Mark II game), but this one is also based on the second half of the series (taking place several years after Raoh's defeat). Popular opinion is that the second half was a mere shadow of the first, with weaker supporting characters and a far less engaging story. It also bears the same subtitle that the anime adaptation of Hokuto no Ken did from the beginning: "seikimatsu kyuuseishu densetsu" ("Legend of the Century's End Savior"). On top of getting a raw deal in terms of the source material, Hokuto no Ken 2 also had the misfortune of being released on the exact same day as the Famicom port of a genre-evolving beat-em-up: Nekketsu Kouha Kunio kun (Renegade). It's no wonder that these early Hokuto no Ken games have been largely forgotten. Continue Reading