Friday, March 18, 2011

Of Import: Götzendiener

Ha ha!  Fooled you, import gaming fans!  Despite the name, tzendiener is not from Germany.  It's from Japan, for my favorite import machine, the PC Engine.

It's an isometric action/adventure game released in 1994 for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM format, late in the system's life.  And it's probably most notable today for the animation studio responsible for the graphics:

Gainax was a successful Japanese anime studio (Gunbuster, Otaku no Video) that also did artwork and animation for a number of games during the 16-bit era, including Alisia Dragoon on the Genesis, the Princess Maker series on multiple platforms, and some "adult" games like the Battle Skin Panic series.

The story of tzendiener finds our heroine freed from her shackles, just after her demon kidnapper and the generic hero who has come to rescue her both expire of wounds sustained during the climactic battle of someone else's story.

With the bad guy and the good guy both lying dead, she has no choice but to doff her princess gown, pick up her would-be-rescuer's sword, and soldier forth herself to escape her demon captor's large and puzzle-filled tower:

Götzendiener seems to be inspired by Jordan Mechner's classic Prince of Persia -- I offer the Arabian motif and the swordplay as supporting evidence -- but it's even more puzzle-oriented, with very brief action interludes to break up the mazey wandering bits.

I spent quite a bit of time exploring the levels -- we can pull chains, cut ropes, break down walls, and attack the occasional enemy creature.  But our heroine is no Lara Croft -- she can really only walk, draw her sword and climb; here, we have to place a broken ladder over a narrow gap in the flooring that even I could jump across in real life:

The battles aren't particularly challenging, either -- at least in the early going, as long as we have the right weapon in hand and keep swinging, it's not hard to take any of the creatures we encounter down.  And some creatures are friendly, like this gryphonesque animal that carries us to another part of the castle.

The graphics are lovely, but after a while, the map-heavy gameplay becomes wearing.  There really isn't very much going on most of the time, leaving our spunky princess to wander endlessly in circles, looking for some doorway, ladder or object she hasn't noticed before that might make something new happen.  In my first quest, I even ran across a fatal bug: I hit the SELECT button to drop the sledgehammer, after breaking some rocks blocking access to this ladder.  It ended up being thrown into the middle of a wall, and the game promptly froze.

Götzendiener is one of those late-in-the-life-cycle games that occasionally turn up when a system is past its prime -- it has great artwork and an interesting gameplay approach, and maximizes what the PC Engine can do.  But it's pushing the hardware in ways that ultimately compromise the experience.  The isometric look is very nice, but priority breaks are common, with doors that open in front of what should be occluding walls, and staircases that half-block our heroine's legs when she's walking up them.  And the CD-based opening music gives way to atmospheric but repetitive chiptune themes once the action gets underway, keeping the disc free for rapid access, but making what's meant to be an absorbing experience a shade less than it could have been.

Nice graphics, okay gameplay, and some technical issues that make it feel unfinished -- back on the shelf with thee, Götzendiener!

I'm not recommending this one, but more patient gamers than I may find it interesting.  It may be available for sale here or here:

Gotzen Diender PC-Engine SCD


  1. Oddly enough, I actually like this game a lot. I've played through it five time since I picked it up a few years back and have only had one issue with the game freezing (and that was due to my Duo acting up). Yes, It's not perfect at all. But it's definitely a game for folks with a bit of patience and persistence who know it's an "ancient" game by "today's standards".

    Also, the ending is pretty abrupt, but interesting, that's for sure. Did you get to use the magic system in the game at some point? The princess can use a flame spell to light stuff on fire and get past a few puzzles. It's underutilized, like some of the other elements, which has me also thinking Gainax had bigger plans for this one before they had to get it out the door.

    I'd actually LOVE to see this remade, but by a studio that can tackle it in 3D (Team ICO would be my choice if i had the call). Also, with some tweaking, this would be a fantastic Legend of Zelda game with Zelda as the lead instead of Link. Instead of dying at the beginning like the "hero" who goes in to rescue the princess, Link can get nabbed himself, which forces Zelda to free herself and rescue HIM. That would be a far more interesting game than yet another alternate world TLOZ with a different Link doing the same old stuff. I say Nintendo needs to give the princess a chance to shine and this game is the perfect template for an adventure...

  2. Thanks for the comment, Greg! It would be interesting to see this concept revisited in true 3-D, and maybe with a more compact design or additional content to enliven the experience. I agree that Zelda never gets to do as much as she ought to, and this would provide a template for such an adventure. Good to know that patience pays off with this one!