Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Introducing Rygarfield

You know what’s wrong with webcomics? They just don't have broad appeal. Name any webcomic, and you can find a great mass of people who hate it or, worse yet, ignore it.

Fortunately, I have devised a new project to scale magnificent heights in online comedy and profit. It is a webcomic that no one could shun, a webcomic that fuses the Internet’s boundless affection for old video games with the proven success of one of the past century’s most marketable characters. I call it Rygarfield.

Rygarfield is available for syndication, merchandising, and whatever funding you might care to send me. Feel free to make ROM hacks and memes about Rygarfield, so long as you credit me and pay me royalties. And if anyone points out that Rygarfield is a blatant arrogation of copyrighted material, tell them it’s OK under the doctrine of fair use. Just don’t tell them to look up what the doctrine of fair use actually means.

Be sure to check back for regular Rygarfield comics about sarcasm, dog abuse, and that weird, unreachable door in the water just above Dorago's lair!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Off-Kilter Instinct

I’d like to talk about Killer Instinct and B. Orchid. Really.

I admire Killer Instinct in a strange historical capacity. It’s not the reluctant fondness I have for the considerably trashier BloodStorm. It’s more of an appreciation for the way the original Killer Instinct summarizes all of the trends that video games toyed with in the mid-1990s. It’s a fighting game, of course, and it has plastic-looking computer-rendered graphics, a soundtrack of guitar licks, ample violence, preposterous sexism, an announcer squawking excitedly about BLASTER COMBOS, and a lineup of stereotypes exploiting everything from the Predator to Jurassic Park. And all of this came from Nintendo, who by then was sick and tired of Sega pretending to be the more daring game-industry titan.

If you want to experience a good game from 1995, play Chrono Trigger, Panzer Dragoon, or Metal Warriors. If you want to know what games were really like in 1995, play Killer Instinct.

B. Orchid is part of that, of course. Her design is an amalgamation of every unfortunate stereotype inflicted on women by that decade’s video games. She gallivants around in a skin-tight suit with “HOT” on the side, moans provocatively during her post-fight footage, and, for a “No Mercy” move, whips open her top and shocks her male opponents into cardiac arrest. Yet there was a time when people were hopeful about B. Orchid.

The above profile comes from a 1994 issue of Nintendo Power. I can sympathize with the writer who had to find good things to say about Orchid, looking as she does like some hideous 1960s Eastern European knockoff of a Barbie doll. In a bout of vague optimism, Nintendo Power suggests that Orchid will change the way female characters are portrayed in video games. In hindsight, the kindest view of Orchid is that she didn’t influence such depictions one way or the other, that she was a symptom and not a catalyst.

Orchid’s appearance in Killer Instinct 2 grew even more exaggerated. By that point neither she nor the series had the same cachet among violent fighting games, but she had fans. Strange fans.

Consider the above sample from a 1996 issue of GameFan, covering the imminent release of Killer Instinct Gold for the Nintendo 64. The caption pleads for “no more letters” requesting “that shot” of Orchid, and in smaller text implores the petitioners to “get a life.” This suggests some odd background. Did a fan or a number of fans write scads of insane letters about this picture? Did a cabal of worshipers gather in some dim chatroom on the nascent Internet and conspire to blanket publications for imagery of…B. Orchid?

Microsoft and Double Helix put together their own Killer Instinct and revived the more popular characters. Orchid is one of them, of course. Her design is no breakthrough among women characters in video games, but it’s probably the most tasteful she’s ever looked. Yet I’ve seen some irate remarks over it, with one fan stating “I will never forgive the XBone for ruining B Orchid.”

There’s a lesson here. No matter how repellent and disposable you may find a character, rest assured that there’s at least one person who loves that same character enough to defend his, her, or its honor at vehement length. It doesn't matter if that character is Captain Choyear from Sonic Blast Man II, Ayumi from X Blades, Zana Keene from Arrow Flash, Maxwell Cougar from Bullet Witch, that fat little hobbit guy from Wardner, or even James Pond.

And there’s surely someone out there who can’t stand your favorite video-game character, you tasteless lackwit.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Little Things: Kid Kool

Some mysteries are compelling not because they’re important, but because they’re so weirdly insignificant. For one example, consider the king’s butler in the awkward and rampantly detested Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs. He's a miniscule oddity in a lousy old NES game, and that makes the enigma itch all the more.

Kid Kool’s interminable story sequences introduce only four characters: the ailing king, his butler, the titular Kid Kool, and, in the best endings, a princess. The butler doesn’t serve much of a purpose beyond rattling off the details of Kool’s herb-gathering mission and announcing the hero’s demise. The latter happens a lot in Kid Kool, because Kid Kool despises everyone who plays it.

But it isn't the butler's dialogue that's puzzling. It’s his appearance. His haircut, glasses, and snaggletoothed nerd visage clash with the King’s Garfield-like appearance and the mundane anime-kid design of Kool and the princess. And why do his shorts clearly say “T YAN”?

It all suggests that the butler is a caricature of someone, possibly this T. Yan individual. But who could that be?

The most obvious explanation would be that the butler is a leftover joke from Kid Kool’s original Japanese version, Kakefu-Kun no Jump Tengoku: Speed Tengoku. It was a vehicle for Kenji “Kakefu-kun” Sagara, a popular child actor in Japan during the late 1980s. Vic Tokai’s Americanization of the game replaced his Hanshin Tigers baseball cap with a spiky coiffure and changed his name to the less expensive Kid Kool, but the other characters were left alone. One clue crops up in the Japanese credits: the butler’s name is listed as “Dirty Echigoya.” It also lists the king’s name as Nioccory V of Poconioccory and his daughter as Josephine Nioccory, and I have no idea what that might mean.

Could T. Yan, Dirty Echigoya, and the butler's horrifying visage refer to some other celebrity from the same era? At the time of the game’s release, Kakefu-Kun was known mostly for his appearances on quiz shows and commercials, which extolled his resemblance to a Tigers player. Sadly, those lead to dead ends. It’s hard to find records of Kakefu-kun’s career in English, and there’s no sign of anyone with the butler’s goofy appearance or either name.

It might be that the royal steward is based on a Vic Tokai staffer. It’s not uncommon for game designers to pattern characters after their fellow employees. In fact, that's where Shu Takumi got inspiration for certain eccentrics in his Phoenix Wright games. It’s rather brazen to have an in-joke like that front and center in Kid Kool, and yet it makes sense. The credits don't mention an Echigoya, but there is a map artist named Sano Yan. A likely suspect.

Another possibility arises, however. Vic Tokai made many more games than Kid Kool, and a glance through their credits reveals one name that corresponds to T. Yan more than any other. That would be Takayan the Barbarian, director of those charming Trouble Shooter games…or the Battle Mania games, as they were known in Japan. Perhaps he worked on Kid Kool under "Sano Yan" or another name. Vic Tokai had lots of great pseudonyms to go around in those days, like "Dark Side Toshi," "Propeller Wado," and "Bigfoot Shijoh."

Could that be it? Did Takayan the Barbarian, future leader of Studio Space Iron Men, play butler in Kid Kool? Or did he turn a co-worker into the malformed attendant? It would be right at home with the in-jokes throughout Trouble Shooter.

It’s a shame that much of Vic Tokai’s past remains opaque, because a look into their history brings up all manner of fascinating details. Vic Tokai co-developed games with Seibu Lease, an even more obscure company. Vic Tokai canceled a North American release of their RPG Shinseiki Odysselya under the name Lost Mission, and it’s a curious game in any form. Vic Tokai also left the industry in 1997, and rarely do they remember that they ever made games.

Vic Tokai never grew to become another Capcom or Konami, but their games had cartoonish appeal and memorable characters beyond their station. Clash at Demonhead and the two Trouble Shooters are underrated delights, and second-stringers like The Krion Conquest and Chester Field show winsome sides amid their flaws. Sometimes that sort of scrappy inspiration is more intriguing than a creatively polished gem.

And Kid Kool? Well, even that left us something to ponder.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Men, Women, and Weirdos of Bangai-O

Treasure’s Bangai-O games are wondrous menageries of destruction. They drop tiny robots into zoomed-out stages and let them wreak havoc with lasers, baseball bats, grenades, and blinding storms of enough missiles to choke an Ichiro Itano dogfight. This brand of adorable chaos is easy enough to find. Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury is still on Xbox Live, and Bangai-O Spirits is pretty cheap among DS games. They’re both decent games, and yet they lack one endearing point of the original Bangai-O: nonsense-spouting bosses.

The dialogue is one of the best part of Bangai-O, odd as that may be for a shooter with no real storyline. Robot-pilot siblings Riki and Mami get advice from a bored housewife and a medium who channels long-dead celebrities, and every stage caps off with some bizarre boss who pilots a rival mecha or sits in a computer core. In localizing the Dreamcast version of Bangai-O, Conspiracy Entertainment intentionally left the text unpolished. It reads like something fresh off a buggy, wheezing translation machine, and it suits Bangai-O perfectly.

Conspiracy even carried the tone over to the boss profiles in the manual. The rest of the booklet is fairly straight-faced about everything, but every boss gets a description rife with absurdity. My favorite is 86, an SF Kosmo Gang leader who communicates entirely through sketches.

The entire set of character profiles can be found here. Bangai-O fans will note that very little of this backstory ever sees mention in the game itself. For example, you’ll never learn about the heroic Yomeiri Masuke’s hit TV series unless you read the manual.

Several Dreamcast games made their way to modern systems in recent years, but they’re limited to Sega offerings like Sonic Adventure and Space Channel 5. I hope that Treasure, now pursuing Steam development, sees fit to reissue Bangai-O in its blithering Dreamcast glory. Perhaps they’ll include the manual, so that all who play it can appreciate things in full.

Yes, Riki. It really is.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gravity Rush: Touched by the Hand of God

Gravity Rush was my favorite game of last year. It was the reason I bought a Vita, and it's the reason I still own a Vita. It gives a woman named Kat control over her personal gravity, and she slowly becomes a floating city's misunderstood resident superhero. The journey isn't entirely smooth for her or the player, but there's rarely a tepid moment. It’s incredibly fun just to mess with gravitational defiance, to send Kat hurtling across skyscrapers and racing along the underside of a metropolis that’s part Mobius comic, part Russian art deco. It’s a shame that the Vita’s limited success keeps Gravity Rush out of reach for many.

A certain part of Gravity Rush is troubling in one way or another. The game uses the Vita’s touch screen primarily for menus and one rather unnecessary sliding move, yet there’s a secret addition. If you touch Dusty, Kat’s pet cat and floating companion, he’ll disintegrate in a puff of smoke and re-materialize himself a second later. If you touch Kat, she’ll gasp in surprise and look around her.

Many of the Gravity Rush players who’ve noticed this assume that it’s some perverted joke, and they point out that Kat vaguely motions at her rear end as though to shield it. Sadly, this would fit with another unpleasant part of Gravity Rush. While the game takes the high road a good deal of the time, at least one scene subjects Kat to the sexualized nonsense that comic books often visit upon their heroines; a visitor catches her just after a shower, so she loses her towel and blushes. Haw haw. And since Kat’s an exceptionally likable and sympathetic heroine, this event grates even more than it would in a mediocre game. Gravity Rush, you are better than this.

But let’s give director Keiichiro Toyama and the Gravity Rush team the benefit of the doubt for a short while. Kat’s response is the same no matter where the player taps her, and her motions are identical to those she makes if she drifts too far from the city and warps back to safety. It suggests that she’s perplexed rather than harassed, or at least that the director left it purposefully vague.

Kat’s reaction is still disturbing, but for a much better reason. She’s felt the presence of some unseen entity, a being that exerts control over everything she does. Kat may be esteemed as the “Gravity Goddess” in her own world, but she now realizes that she isn’t the top of the pantheon. Unlike the player lending prayers to the final battle in Earthbound or fielding questions from the robot-girl of Wonder Project J2, there’s nothing comforting about Kat’s brush with her manipulator. She clearly doesn’t know what she experienced, only that it came from a place beyond everything she knows. As with all cases of omnipotent intercession, she can’t be sure it even happened.

Kat recovers quickly from her tinge of divine influence, and it leaves any reflection up to the player. Perhaps you, the meddlesome architect of Kat’s triumph and suffering alike, should feel bad about confusing her. You’ve dropped her off floating cities, crashed her into streets, and pressed her into service for both a scheming military and ungrateful citizens. Now you’re giving her existential tremors.

Dusty, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care about otherworldly taunts or the fragile curtain of Gravity Rush's reality. He’s a cat, after all.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Evils of Ys

Falcom’s enduring Ys series was quite busy this week. The Vita received Ys: Memories of Celceta, a pretty extensive and extensively pretty remake of the fourth game (or games, because Ys is strange like that) in this long-running line of action-RPGs. To commemorate this, XSEED discounted all of their PSP-based Ys games, including Ys Seven and fan-favorite Ys: The Oath in Felghana. It’s a darn good deal even if you’re not a huge fan of Ys. And I’m not. We’ll discuss that later.

In the thick of all this modern Ys news, the fan translation of Ys V: Kefin, the Lost City of Sand finally came to fruition. Ys V is a strange study. Though it’s not the most wayward entry in the series (that’d be the original Ys III: Wanderers from Ys), Ys V was controversial when it hit Japan late in 1995. The Ys series touched just about every major platform by the early 1990s, but it loomed largest on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16. That was where Ys games used new-fangled CD technology for impressively animated cutscenes and some downright gorgeous music. The first four Ys games received this treatment, and PC Engine/Turbo fans lauded them for it. Then Falcom, possibly wooed by the profusion of RPGs on the Super Famicom, decided to make the fifth Ys game a cartridge-based deal on Nintendo’s console.

This did not sit well with the Ys faithful. In North America, much of the outrage was confined to pockets of fans, as Ys V was never localized and few magazines reviewed it. The exception was GameFan. Nick “Rox” Des Barres, Casey “Takuhi” Loe, and Dave “E. Storm” Halverson were ardent Ys followers, and they had much to say about Ys V’s direction.

GameFan’s review wasn’t my introduction to Ys, but it was my introduction to just how much the series meant to people. Before this I’d known it only through the Super NES version of Ys III, and I had only a vague sense of just how influential and groundbreaking the early Ys games were in appearances and sounds. Nick's confession that Ys had changed his life and Takuhi's exclamations of “It’s EVIL! How could you sell out Ys?!” made more of an impact than pages of praise for classic Ys games.

Then again, Ys V isn’t so awful. As the three GameFan editors grudgingly admit, it’s a decent action/RPG once divorced from its heritage. The game puts redheaded protagonist Adol through the usual round of ancient secrets and mystic legacies, with yet another troubled young woman to kinda-sorta fall for him. His quest goes to mostly drab places, yet some scenes show the detailed atmosphere akin to late-stage Super NES RPGs like Final Fantasy VI. Most importantly, Ys V lets Adol go around like a typical action-RPG hero. No longer running into enemies to simulate battles, Adol swings his sword, blocks with his shield, jumps around, and generally feels a like an adept warrior instead of a brainless battering ram.

GameFan was right to upbraid Ys V for its inferior sound quality, short playtime, and simple approach, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it in some passive way had the game actually come to North America. That’s because I was never much of an Ys fan.

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to like Ys just as much as I wanted to like every RPG series I glimpsed in game magazines when I was a kid. Two things stood in my way. I can forgive the games for gorging on fantasy clichés; after all, the first three Ys odysseys practically introduced RPGs to those clichés. Yet I’ve never cared for Adol himself. While the games pitch him as some romantic wanderer and inspiring travelogue author, he’s bland even by the standards of silent, player-identification RPG avatars, a tabula rasa among tabulae rasae. Nor do I care for the way each game tells a routine, compartmentalized story, usually focusing on doe-eyed girls who get mixed up in arcane conspiracies and then stare wistfully into the distance as Adol sets off for another trite adventure. Adol is a boring jerk.

Then there’s the battle system shared by Ys I, II, and IV. Attempting a rapid-paced distillation of the typical RPG encounter, the games give Adol no direct means of attack. He just walks into foes, preferably off-center, and hopes for the best. Fighting in Ys V may be a touch generic, like the rest of the game is, but it’s a good deal more satisfying than the awkward combat dances of older Ys games.

And that’s one thing Ys V got right: the old system had to change. Contrary to initial reports, this was not the last of the series, and subsequent Ys games adopted the same sort of conventional controls. The modern Ys entries, including Origin and The Oath in Felghana, grant their heroes the traditional arts of slashing, defending, and sometimes jumping. The pace of combat is almost as quick as it was in the oldest Ys games, but it's now varied and enjoyable.

This seems a good time to give Ys another chance, with Memories of Celceta out and the PSP’s lineup half-off (at this writing, anyway). So I’m plunging into it all. Will I emerge a devoted fan driven furious over past and present wrongs visited upon the artistry of Ys? Probably not, but I hope I’ll have fun.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Five Greatest TurboGrafx-16 Games I Didn't Play

I never owned a TurboGrafx-16 during the system wars of the early 1990s. I doubt I was alone in this. The console was a constant third-placer in the market, and, to be honest, most of us didn’t want one that badly. Sega Genesis kids might’ve begged for a Super NES as their second system while Super NES kids begged just as doggedly for a Genesis, but the Turbo rarely entered the picture unless mom and dad spoiled you with three current game systems. Even when Toys R Us clearanced out the consoles for fifty bucks, I decided that a Super NES game was a better investment. I can't remember which game it was, possibly Alien 3 or Cybernator, but I preferred it to the poor ol' TurboGrafx.

No, I never owned a TurboGrafx-16 back then. But I owned a TurboGrafx fold-out pamphlet, and for a little while that was almost as good. At some point in 1990, NEC reps showed off the console at the air-base commissary where my parents shopped, and I got to sample Bonk’s Adventure for a few minutes. My mother was adamant that I wouldn’t get a TurboGrafx, not when I’d just gotten an NES, but she couldn’t deny me some of the fine literature they were handing out.

A credible piece of marketing for adults and kids, the entire pamphlet is preserved at Chris Bieniek’s excellent Video Game Ephemera. The booklet does a good enough job of emphasizing the TurboGrafx’s capabilities while downplaying its negatives, such as the lone controller port or the asking price of the CD system. Yet the best part is the poster formed by the back of the entire booklet. It’s a huge panorama of TurboGrafx games presented like a slice of the Sears Wish Book and filled with adorably outdated taglines like “CD Challenge!” and “So-Real Sports!”

Some part of me must've known that I’d never get a TurboGrafx until nearly a decade later, when I paid an eBay charlatan twenty-five bucks for a stained system with a broken controller. The best I would get in 1990 was this free reading material, so I pored dreamily over the expanse of games. It didn’t take too long for me to pick out my favorites, the five ones I’d definitely try if ever I laid hands on a TurboGrafx of my own.

Now I can play them and measure them against my youthful expectations, and because I can’t leave well enough alone, I’m going to do just that.

Then: In the dim, distant days when arcades still mattered, R-Type was a blockbuster, a shooter touchstone for anyone capable of grasping the intricacies of holding down a button to make an energy bullet larger. The booklet’s careful to show things any R-Type player would recognize: we all knew the hideous scorpion eye fetus from the end of the first level, and we knew those huge mechanical claws, the ones that looked like medical equipment and seemed like they should do something but never quite did.  

R-Type was a highlight of the TurboGrafx-16’s first years. It replicated the arcade version very well, and it would stay an exclusive throughout the system wars. The Genesis never had an R-Type, and the Super NES had the slower, uglier Super R-Type and the superior-but-different R-Type III. NEC positioned their star prominently, and R-Type very nearly became the pack-in for the system instead of Keith Courage. No one really liked Keith Courage.  

Now: R-Type is still an enjoyable shooter, but the TurboGrafx port’s fallen behind a bit. You can get nice, arcade-perfect R-Type very easily on modern systems, and the TurboGrafx version suffers from terrible flicker as the system tries to process a game it was never built to handle. In fact, you can see this in that larger screenshot—a good chunk of the player’s R-9 starfighter is missing. That bothered us a lot less twenty-three years ago.

Then: The pamphlet shills The Legendary Axe pretty hard, citing all sorts of awards and critical laudation, and at the time the game looked sharp and intriguing. Sure, Bonk’s Adventure was a cute Mario-style attraction, but The Legendary Axe was a bit more savage with its torchlit duels in ancient catacombs. It had the allure of the well-drawn cover to some cheap sword-and-sandal flick you’d see at Blockbuster. Your parents would never let you rent it, no more than they’d let you have another game system, but the box art was just enough.

And then you had that giant…thing in the larger screenshot. Was that the “evil Jagu” mentioned in the accompanying text, or was it just an earlier level’s boss? I expect most of us thought it wasn’t the final boss. Nintendo Power never showed the final bosses to games, and there was no reason for the TurboGrafx’s keepers to violate that sanctity of surprise. And if that was just a level boss, a middle-management type of The Legendary Axe’s corporate structure, what would the actual Jagu look like?  

Now: Disappointing, really. The Legendary Axe still looks darned good for an 8-bit system’s output (that whole “16” angle being fudged a bit), but it’s otherwise boring. It suffers the Castlevania malady of forcing players to grab power-ups just to make the hero’s basic weapon effective, all while putting the poor loinclothed guy through jumps and enemy attacks that he’s just not agile enough to handle. It doesn’t even have The Legendary Axe 2’s surprise ending.

And guess what? That giant guy from the screenshot really is Jagu, the final boss. The rest of the bosses are exceptionally lame, including two smallish bears and a giant boulder. Yes, the ultimate showdown of level two is a huge rock. That would’ve disappointed me terribly back in 1990.

Then: I wasn’t much for racing games. When the Nintendo World Championships rolled around, I worried that Rad Racer was one of the three titles key to the competition (my family spared me further fretting by not moving back to North America until well after the tournaments were over). But Victory Run had a certain something, a certain je ne sais…OK, so it just had a screenshot of a car flipping through the air. I thought it looked cool.  

Now: Victory Run is mediocre fare, and I suspect it always was. It’s a pretty mundane racing game with only a few details, like a glowing skyline and motorcycle hazards, to set it apart from the stuff you’d see on the ol’ NES. In fact, Victory Run isn’t all that different from Rad Racer, which, now that I think about it, also showed your car flying off the road in style.

Then: Another beneficiary of the “show the huge bosses” school of promotion, Blazing Lazers set itself up as the best original shooter on the console. The triangular battleship dominates the larger of the two screens, while the player’s craft clearly has a decent arsenal of shields, machine guns, and whatever those orbs might be. The smaller shot isn’t very impressive, though it depicts the initial form of the game’s final boss. Why this pamphlet wanted to spoil so many endgames, I’ll never know.

Now: Blazing Lazers holds its own among 16-bit shooters, thanks in no small way to the talents of Compile. It has all of the developer’s hallmarks: ample power-ups, nicely varied level layouts, and a ship that doesn’t control like a garbage truck in the swamp. Yet it’s not quite as accomplished as Compile’s best offerings. The levels drag on for too long, your ship is rapidly overpowered, and it never reaches the breakneck fury of M.U.S.H.A., Spirit Soldier Spriggan, or Robo Aleste. Still, it beats Cyber Core, Dragon Spirit, and just about every other shooter on the poster.

Then: We now come to the last game on my list and, not by coincidence, the single coolest screenshot in the catalog. The small square of a warrior fending off a goat-beast in some ornate space-temple is striking, but the larger screen is the show-stopper. The same warrior’s crouched in the same combat pose, yet now it’s against the muddy vermillion skies and magma-veined peaks of some alien world. Sunset glints on the cracked ribs of a monstrous carcass while serpentine horrors assail our sword-wielding crusader, whoever he or she might be. The writeup’s a bit vague on that.

At the time I didn’t know that the warrior is Yuko, a blue-haired schoolgirl drafted into being the scantily dressed savior of a barbaric dimension. Valis II bridged Yuko’s odyssey with animated cutscenes patterned after direct-to-video anime of the 1980s, when titles like Leda: The Fantastic Adventures of Yoko and Dream Dimensional Fandora didn’t need anything but heroines in battle bikinis to get their budgets stamped. This made Valis II a novelty in the America of 1990, where anime was a wondrous unexplored land of sexy science-fantasy chaos for many young game nerds. I didn’t need any of that to sell me on Valis II. A broken alien costae verae was enough.

Now: The Valis games were never particularly amazing in level design. You might cynically label them conveyor belts for cartoon intermissions. Yet Valis II is sturdy for the side-scroller that it is, and it gives Yuko projectile attacks that prove a little more interesting than the usual methods of jumping, slashing, and jump-slashing. The synthy music and cramped cutscenes, dated as they are, turn Valis II into a neat little artifact of late-1980s anime clichés. Those cutscenes also sport some delightfully awkward performances. My favorite is the monster who calls Yuko’s sword “Varris.”

So it’s not that bad of a game. I even played it long enough to recreate the catalog’s iconic screenshot! Well, I recreated most of it. Those darn snake-men wouldn’t cooperate.