A little look at… Knight Arms: THE HYBLID FRAMER

Knight Arms is yet another one of my “Ooh! I have no idea what this is but it looks pretty!” purchases from Project E.G.G., a website that you should really go and spend a bit of cash at if you like the sort of games I insist on talking about here. The game itself is a shmup for Sharp’s X68000 series of computers; machines that at the time were vastly more powerful than the competition and Knight Arms is the perfect game to demonstrate the system’s graphical muscle.

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The game opens with a rather nice Space Harrier style into-the-screen level that starts off in open space before skimming you across the surface of a moon. Seeing groups of large animated enemies zooming towards you (with proper scaling! None of this cheating sprites-at-different-sizes business) would be impressive enough at home in 1989, but then the game warns you to WATCH YOUR BACK and instead of expecting you to do the usual routine of waiting for enemies to whizz past before blowing them out of the sky you can turn around at will and take them out before they even get close!

I imagine this doesn’t sound like much, so to try and add some sense of weight to that let’s take a moment to go over a few points:

  • This game came out in 1989: the same year people were ooh-ing over hot new releases that looked like this -

Mega Man 2 Super Mario Land PoP

  • The game is calculating all of this on the fly – you can rotate whenever you like and all the enemy sprites, the multi-layered parallax background and the scrolling floor all move accordingly. This isn’t a nifty “cutscene” that only occurs at set points when CPU load is guaranteed to be low.
  • Not even Sega’s hugely popular (and powerful) “Super Scaler” arcade shooters had a similar feature to this

Then just in case this visual splendour wasn’t enough once you reach the end of this section the game seamlessly switches to a side-scrolling view and the game becomes a horizontal shooter for a level, before sending you back into space, then whooshing across the surface of an aquatic planet before plunging into the water and beyond. Far from a mere gimmick, the graphical showmanship on display in Knight Arms really does add to the “wow” factor that you really should have in any game that involves flying through space and blowing things up.

But it does come at a cost: the game is compatible with both 10mHz and 16mHz X68000s, although the 10mHz version has noticeable choppiness during the 3D sections and some significant slowdown in sprite-heavy side-scrolling areas. This naturally means the 16mHz CPU is clearly the way to go if only…

...if only the game wasn’t so hard that the slowdown present in the 10mHz option actually makes it a playable game.

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The difficulty is massively uneven too; the first side-scrolling stage was so tough I honestly despaired of ever seeing anything beyond it at one point, then once I finally forced my way through I found the next couple of 3D stages flying past without any real effort on my part. Some of this difficulty is just the result of an old-school shmup playing like an old-school shmup, but even so it’s not particularly unreasonable to expect stage 1 to serve as an introduction to the game and to be easier than stages 2 and 3.

When Knight Arms gets it right you’ll be left agog at the magnificent locations and some exciting and technically impressive ideas; but all too often this will come right before you hit a brick wall that can only be overcome with some tedious repetition and a large dose of luck. Whether this is embraced as part of the game’s retro charms or thumb-breaking annoyance is entirely down to the player’s patience.

Project E.G.G.’s store page for Knight Arms can be found here - click!

New database entry! Septentrion: Out of the Blue

You might remember how much I whined and moaned about Deep Fear, Sega’s attempt at sticking their collective middle finger up at Capcom and shouting “Hah! Like we need you and your stupid Resident Evil games anyway, we’ll just make our own!” in their general direction.

Sega were wrong.

But the point of this post isn’t to drag Deep Fear and it’s wooden protagonist John Mayor out for another verbal kicking, the point of this post is to bring to your attention that as it turns out Deep Fear isn’t the worst water-based adventure game of that era, not by a long shot.

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Which brings us on to the game mentioned at the top there; Septentrion: Out of the Blue for the Playstation. As the follow-up to the generally well regarded Super Famicom title of almost the same name I thought this had a chance of perhaps being misunderstood or underappreciated due to its exceedingly primitive 3D; but as it turns out it’s just crap.

But before we dive in (ha! I made a funny) to this sea (there we go again!) of incompetence let’s start with the best bit – the water. It’s a very impressive effect considering the hardware; it bobs about in a “Ooh, look at me!” 3D sort of way, and if the ship tilts while a room’s flooded the water will respond in a reasonably dynamic way in real time.

So that’s all the good stuff out of the way, now I can get stuck into the numerous problems with the game – one of which is the water.

Y’see, the water is either that resource-intensive or they spent so long getting it right that the rest of the game looks terrible to the point of being genuinely amateurish. Textures are bland, rooms and corridors (there are a lot of those) are just a selection of boxes with the odd square or rectangular prop in them and everything is hacked into tiny segments with not even the vaguest attempt to disguise it; to continue down a corridor you’ll literally run into nothingness, and everywhere is surrounded by a featureless black void. I was that concerned about the graphics that after playing the game through on an emulator I fired up my trusty Japanese PS1 just to make sure that this wasn’t some emulator setting or incompatibility issue: it wasn’t. The game really does look this bad.

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But all this visual offensiveness could be forgiven if you were desperately swimming through rapidly rising water, too busy concentrating on escaping to higher ground to notice that somehow all the table decorations are welded onto their unattractive tables while the ship’s listing violently to the side; but this potentially scene-stealing effect is used about half a dozen times all game. A game where the central bloody premise is being trapped on a sinking ship.

It gets worse! Unlike the original’s do-or-die sixty minute timer, all events in the Playstation Septentrion game are based around artificially setting off other events first. This means that you can check a corridor (yes, it’s always flippin’ corridors with this game) for survivors, find nobody at all, then after a random conversation with Must Have Been Hit In The Face With A Spade Person #16  in Featureless Room #421 suddenly someone’s lying unconscious on the floor you just checked thirty seconds ago. Not only is this system ridiculous it also removes all the potential panic of being stuck on a sinking ship, because the game keeps reminding you in the most ham-fisted way possible that nothing will happen until you trigger the next scene.

This is all before we even get to the plot, which ultimately involves (I swear I’m not making this up) a bioweapon called Brutish Beta.

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Want to know what the final nail in the coffin was? Well, guess which ending I got after all that torment? That’s right, I got the one where Gerhalt Brown, our facially-challenged hero, got right to the end of the Mysterious Boat-Sinking Incident and then got shot dead by SPOILER.

Thanks for that.

Kimimi’s Handy List of Games That Do “Hey, we’re on a boat!” Better Than Septentrion ~Out of the Blue~:

  • Think of a game with a boat in it
  • Yep, even Resident Evil Gaiden
  • There you go – play that instead.

If for some strange reason you’d still like to reason some more information about the game you can head on over here - click!

Septentrion ~Out of the Blue~

Original Title
セプテントリオン
~Out of the Blue~
Format
Playstation
Genre
Adventure
Developer
Human
Official Website
N/A

Septentrion ~Out of the Blue~ is the 1999 follow-up, but not strictly speaking a sequel, to Human’s 1993 Super Famicom title Septentrion (released in the US as S.O.S.). While both games feature passengers and crew trying to escape a sinking ship as the central plot and gameplay device they are otherwise unrelated.

There are three characters to play as throughout the game, although selection changes at set points as the story progresses rather than being separate paths or a small party that you must switch between as the need arises. During the game other survivors may be discovered and rescued: a good number of these are optional, but certain individuals must be interacted with to proceed, even if they don’t necessarily have to be saved. Player characters and AI-controlled survivors have individual health bars, represented by constellations in the top left corner of the screen. Health is depleted when sliding during extreme ship tilting as well as when running out of air whilst swimming, but can be replenished a limited number of times using items carried by the player characters.

The only other constant UI element is a anchor; the tip of which always points towards the bow of the ship.

Unlike the omnipresent timer in the first game all events in Playstation Septentrion are governed by triggers, making it in practise more of a traditional adventure game than the disaster/survival leanings of the original. It does however retain the Super Famicom game’s gameplay feature of having multiple endings depending on who and how many people you rescue, and at the end there is a complete tally of all passengers and crew with a note recording if they died, survived, or are still missing.

Septentrion ~Out of the Blue~ was reprinted the following year by Hamster, although that would mark the end of the series as there have been no further games or ports since.

 

Photos

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Screenshots

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A little look at… the Knights of Valour PS4 demo

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I’ve been a big fan of the Knights of Valour series for a while now, so when I heard that it was finally getting some sort of home release after goodness knows how long as an arcade-only series I was more than a bit pleased.

Then I found out that this wasn’t a port of any previous game but an all new Playstation 4 exclusive: that’s a bit of a shame because the others are great, but I can live with that.

Then I found some screenshots and saw it was in low-budget 3D. Well, if that’s what it takes to get the series on home consoles, eh?

Then they announced it was going to be a “free”-to-play game.

Hmm….

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But now the demo’s available for Japanese PS+ subscribers so I got to give it a whirl myself, and from the looks of things it’s just (ha! “just”) like a re-jigged Knights of Valour 3 with the timer removed and a crummy 3D makeover. The demo only has three characters to play as (Guan Yu, Diao Chan and Zhao Yun) and there’s not a whiff of the ominous “free” elements threatened in the previews but by and large it’s very much in the same mould as its excellent predecessor with the same “phat l00tz” system and the sort-of free roaming that makes Knights of Valour 3 the sort of game you can happily play all day.

The truth is that right now they have an excellent base that could be enhanced (remember: free-to-play isn’t inherently evil, folks) or utterly obliterated depending on how they handle the online play and microtransactions, so there’s really not a lot else to comment on until further details emerge. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes on this one no matter what happens, so as soon as something more substantial pops up I’ll write a follow-up to keep everyone in the loop!

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A sort of review-ish thing about The Evil Within

Now I know this sort of thing doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my blog but I wasn’t quite prepared to write this up and then have it vanish into the depths of Tumblr after an hour either, so here we are. If it helps at all the next blog post is going to be about the gorgeous X68000 shmup Knight Arms just to try and balance things out, so normal service will be resumed shortly!

Everything below is based on my own experiences playing the PC version of the game “blind” on the default difficulty setting (“Survival”). I won’t deliberately spoil anything for the sake of it, but inevitably some of the points below are going to be in that sort of territory so do hold off on reading any further if you’re spoiler-sensitive.

Finally: if this all looks a bit TL;DR for you feel free to skip down to the score at the bottom.

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So, The Evil Within, eh? That’s the all-new survival horror game from Shinji Mikami; the clever chap responsible for the Resident Evil series, which you may have heard of (and you’ve certainly suffered through by proxy if you’ve followed me on Twitter for more than ten minutes). Players are cast in the role of Sebastian Castellanos, a detective with the Krimson City PD with the typical sad background/functioning alcoholic personality type as he heads off to investigate an incident at the local mental hospital which of course unravels into… into, well… something.

Is The Evil Within one man’s descent into madness? Or perhaps the cruel experimentations of an evil mastermind? Well, as with the rest of the game, you find out that it wants to do both but can’t decide on either, so you end up with a rather mild sampling of the two without any real direction.

The game suffers with this problem right down at the most basic level, constantly switching back and forth between Resident Evil 4-style “body horror” before abruptly changing tack and attempting something more along the line of Silent Hill’s symbolic psychological mind-twisters. Unfortunately the background to all this weirdness is so sparse you never feel any sense of dread towards the enemies because until the credits roll and the extras unlock you rarely have any idea what the heck any of them are in relation to Sebastian or the situation he’s in.

The locations suffer a similar fate, with a good part of the first half of the game having little real sense of claustrophobia or connection to the player beyond “Didn’t I see somewhere like this in Resident Evil 4/REmake?”, and the only place you ever keep coming back to is the one place you’re completely safe and can leave at will.

Now there’s nothing wrong with not having the entire plot laid out nice and neat before you, but The Evil Within goes so far the other way that for the first half of the game you’re just freewheeling through locations because you find yourself literally dumped into them and once that big plot reveal finally arrives those preceding chapters don’t suddenly unmask themselves as “hiding in plain sight” clues towards this moment or feel like anything other than a lot of filler.

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This disjointed feel equally applies to the combat: a game where enemies are sprinkled over the area like you have the speed and resources of Mr. Leon S Kennedy and his Ganado-suplexing ways, yet due to the high damage they inflict and the way they generally insist on coming back (very quickly) from the dead unless burned or thoroughly beaten to a bloody pulp it feels more like a fight with REmake’s infamous Crimson Head enemies, over and over and over again.

You do technically have many ways of dealing with enemies, but the scarcity of ammo and trap parts for the Agony Bow (your fancy-pants crossbow with the special-effect bolts) means that you’ll often fall back on the safest method – knocking them over with a few shots and then, matches willing, burning them alive.

The Agony Bow does offer the opportunity to experiment with many different ways of killing enemies in some clever ways, however many players will never dare “waste” precious trap parts on the bolts that have less immediately obvious uses due to the large number of parts required and the fact that the majority of your bolt-building supplies come from the rather risky business of deactivating bombs. Bombs that blow up in Sebastian’s face if you don’t disarm them correctly first time.

Stealth kills are also possible against certain enemy types but due to the sheer volume of them on the map it’s a hit-and-miss affair and with bullets being so rare that finding three shotgun shells is cause to crack open the champagne and do a little dance it’s not something that first-time players can simply shrug off as a technique to leave for the experts. If all else fails there’s always the “choice” to run away; although this is completely undermined by the fact that in certain parts you must run, while in others you must fight, artificially locked into a specific area until you’ve cleared out all the enemies.

As a final aside – melee fighting is absolutely not worth anyone’s time and for whatever reason the knife Sebastian happily uses to stab monsters in the brain with is only a part of his stealth kill animation – he otherwise and inexplicably prefers using his fists when out of ammo and confronted with hordes of fleshy aberrations. Melee fighting is not an option, it is the last thing you do before you die.

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So what about the bosses? They look weird and they’re all pretty gross but with the exception of the final boss it never feels like they’re out to get you, more that you were simply passing through the wrong place at the wrong time. Special mention must be made of chapter 5’s final boss monster – without wishing to sound like a petulant child a boss that can teleport at will, is incredibly fast, and has a strong tendency to instant kill you when close (via an irritatingly lengthy and unskippable animation) is plain not fair; add to that the fact that the boss must be killed in a very particular way and you have a recipe for… well, little outbursts like this.

I’ve been really quite negative about the game so far and that’s because it really doesn’t start off well at all, but things do start coming together in chapter 9 (of 15) – at that point the locations finally start to have some real relevance to the story. The sad thing is that once you finish the game a model viewer unlocks that also includes some very insightful text for each character and enemy – for the bosses and minibosses in particular this information really should have been included in files throughout the game as the significance of many encounters is greatly improved by this knowledge that you have absolutely no access to until after the final credits roll.

Overall The Evil Within really isn’t a bad game, in spite of my complaints. But it is a very disappointing one, especially considering Mikami’s previous offerings in the field. The Evil Within is ultimately a muddy attempt at being all-horrors-to-all-people, and as expected the result is a game that does a good enough job when it decides it’s going to be Resident Evil or Silent Hill for a chapter, but fails to meld them all into a convincing new whole and when presenting players with a new challenge it will take at least one death to confirm if this particular scenario is meant to be played gung-ho Leon S Kennedy style or avoided like Clock Tower’s Scissorman.

Looking at the information provided post-game and the as-yet-undescribed three DLC chapters it does appear that The Evil Within will eventually provide a complete experience; the problem is that that experience is not in the main game where you would reasonably expect it to be. Too much (barbed, bloodied) stick, and no where near enough carrot.

Final score: Reviewscoresarejustnumberswithoutcontext/10