Friday, April 6, 2012

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Susano-o Densetsu (1989)

Perhaps my entire fascination with Japanese RPGs stems from a subconscious desire to rid myself of the desire to play Japanese RPGs; since I don't speak or read the language with any degree of fluency, a game has to do something really special to keep me interested.  This week I've spent a little time with Susano-o Densetsu, a rather strange role-playing game published by PC Engine co-creator Hudson Soft as Volume 17 of the company's own HuCard series.  There's a little bit of English here and there, but it's primarily in Japanese and I'm not familiar with the property if it originated in another medium, so I won't be able to tell you very much about the story.  But here we go anyway!

As far as I can tell from the opening sequence, which is surprisingly substantial given that this is not a CD-ROM game, our hero is harassed or otherwise irritated by a vampire, a little person, a Cardinal, Street Fighter II's Ken, and a shirtless caped luchador into becoming a wild-haired, glowing-eyed demon of goodness.  Or something.

Given the unusual and colorful character lineup, while I know the title translates as something like Legend of Susano-o, it's much more tempting to call it Bazooka No-o and his Friends and his Wacky Electric Hairdo:
Oh, Susano-o!  Oh, don't you fry for me!

After the opening, which must eat up a good half of this largeish 512 MB HuCard, the game settles into a more-or-less standard JRPG format.  The game adopts a cyberpunk aesthetic -- the streets are deteriorating, the buildings are rundown, and everyone dresses in improbably colorful futurewear, including our hero, who conceals his crazy eyes and mod hairstyle beneath an attractive suit of golden armor.  The usual fantasy role-playing lineup of shops and inns is morphed into more modern establishments -- a Bar, weapons shop, Hotel, and everyone's favorite restaurant, Food:

The proprietors do not buy into the conventional wisdom that the customer is always right, though I guess it wouldn't feel right to buy weapons from the friendly, perky type usually found working in retail:

Everything takes place in an overhead view; after leaving town, the player wanders around the world map.  Something I always appreciate is that enemy attackers can be seen from a distance, giving a weak and fleeing player a chance to avoid confrontations.  But if we get too close to an incoming enemy formation, the battle begins.

The combat system is unusual  -- forward-looking in some ways, yet hopelessly clunky in others.  It tries to play like a very slow-paced action RPG, with a real-time counter permitting enemy and player attacks.  When the player has a chance to act, we can spend the opportunity moving away from enemies or attacking with ranged weapons.  But the detailed text displays (most of which seem to be of the "Player hits enemy for N damage!" variety) slow the whole operation down -- we can't speed them up very much or skip over them, which makes fighting more tedious than it ought to be.

Also, once enemies get close enough to strike our hero, it's hard to get out of the way -- the player tends to be surrounded by foes who simply close in turn after turn, so if we don't succeed in taking them out while they're halfway across the screen, our hero is encircled and summarily dispatched.  The open screen layout implies more flexibility and control, but without some structure to the combat it's almost impossible to strategize effectively; there's something to be said for the traditional lineup approach.  It also doesn't help that the player's sight tends to shift from enemy to enemy each turn, so that if we hit buttons too quickly our default target is usually not what we expected it to be.

When our hero succumbs to the onslaught and flickers offscreen, he returns to the friendly local hotel, where the crusty manager seems less than sympathetic:

Susano-o Densetsu is pretty standard RPG fare -- without being able to understand the story, at least, the dystopic trappings quickly devolve into the usual attack-and-level-up-then-rest-up cycle.  And while the combat system feels fresh to some degree, its best featured get bogged down in a clunky and uncooperative interface.  But it does close another gap in my Hudson Soft numbered-volume HuCard collection -- Volume 17, check!

It's fairly rare to see a substantial RPG on the HuCard format, so collectors may find this one interesting on that count.  It's not an expensive game to collect -- like most early PC Engine titles, it's fairly common these days.  You might be able to find a copy for sale here.

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