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Wednesday 29/03/2017: Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink

August 9, 2013

Castle of Shikigami III (Part 1)

Ugh... This is it. A big one. A game that, in all regards, could be considered bad. On the storytelling aspect, it fails. On the gameplay aspect, it fails. The character aspect fails as well. It's a mess. And yet... I can't help but play it. Because I want to finish this damn game. Just once.

You heard right: This game is so hard that I never finished it. And in fact, I'll have so much to say that I'll need to cover everything on two blog posts. Readers, welcome to the first multi-parter review of Planned All Along!

Sigh... Today... Castle of Shikigami III.



 

Those blue things? All bullets. All harmful.

Before I start cursing at this game, a little overview. Last week, I reviewed a game on the DS that felt like a portable console version of the kind of game we find more commonly on Internet. This... is the same thing. Have you heard of Bullet Hell? This is a term coined by fans. It describes a shooting game in which the player controls a relatively small character who goes against thousands and thousands of enemies, all of which can shoot an endless stream of bullets. The player's task is to carefully aim and destroy most, if not all, enemies, both with the regular weapon and one or more special attacks, including a Bomb Move, while dodging all the bullets being thrown towards it. It doesn't end there; the boss of each level is huge and has a large life bar that must be entirely depleted. On the way, the player can pick up upgrades or power-ups that will give him the upper hand in this battle.


R-Type, one of the precursors to Bullet Hell games.
This is Bullet Hell games in a nutshell. This type of game is most commonly found on Internet, both in horizontal and vertical flight. This simply means that in horizontal flight, the character is on the left, and the enemies come from the right, top or bottom of the screen. In vertical flight, the character is at the bottom of the screen, seen in bird's view, and all enemies come from the sides or the top of the screen. Those are pretty popular, as many of those offer a decent challenge and can be a lot of fun, especially if you're playing for high scores. There has always been flight shooting games, from the very first Asteroids (which wasn't Bullet Hell yet), to R-Type (horizontal flight, played with the formula by adding walls and walking enemies), to the games we know today.

Castle of Shikigami III is, basically, a vertical flight Bullet Hell shooting game. It's also the third in the series. I gathered a bit of information on this series of games. The first and second games are available on PlayStation 2, while the third one is only available on the Wii. The second and third game have also been released on other consoles, but only in Japan. Whoop-dee-doo. All games are also available for PC... again, in Japan only. There, the series is known as Shikigami no Shiro, which roughly translates to Castle of Spirits.

This also brings up the following question: What does Shikigami mean? Well, apparently, a Shikigami is a spirit that is connected to the spiritual strength of its human master. It all depends on the master's control over this spirit. This is a concept that has been seen in famous Japanese works such as Inuyasha, Spirited Away, and Bleach, just to name a few.

But what is a shikigami here? It's still a spirit... I think... that can lend its power to its master to launch stronger attacks against the opponents. Quite a stretch, huh?
Since this is a blog about the story behind the games, I guess I should start right away. The story happens in the calm country of Alacaland. I say calm, because apparently everyone in that country vanished mysteriously. As a result, ten “powerful psychics” have been called to the rescue and have to solve the mystery. Your task is to take control of one (or two) of those psychics. By fighting through the waves of enemies, each one of them will try to solve this mystery, and free the country of Alcaland from its darkness.

Basic enough, but this game isn't exactly the strongest on its story, and you will see why later. Anyway, remember when I said that the game was awful on the aspect of its characters? That's because they're all clichés. Or Mary Sues, that's even worse. Let's take a look at each and why they're here. Another thing: In-game, almost all of them have different attacks, special attacks, and Bomb Moves. (A Bomb Move in Bullet Hell is a weapon that can be used a limited number of times, though they can be replenished to be used again. Those are very powerful and can switch the odds to the player's advantage, especially during boss battles.)
Top row: Reika Kirishima, Emilio Stanburke, Mihee Kim, Batu Harai, Nagino Ise.
Bottom row: Kohtaro Kuga/Sayo Yuuki, Roger Sasuke, Fumiko Odette Van Stein,
Munchausen and Gennojo Hyuuga. Highlighted: Reika. 
Kohtaro Kuga: Known as the main protagonist, he's the most normal person in the team, which is saying a lot. His Shikigami was a girl named Sazae, which he apparently loved; but a shrine maiden named Sayo Yuuki merged with Sazae. Kohtaro is still coping with the loss of his Shikagami, and this is his attempt at rising back to battle.
Reika Kirishima: A girl who is just 17 and yet is already a Time Cop. Literally, she's from the future, and travels through time to gather information and solve crimes. And her Bomb Move is to stop time for a few seconds. Does anybody realize that she can create paradoxes that could destroy the freaking world? On the plus side, she knows things about almost everyone, including the bosses of this game. Has a tendency to get lost.
Emilio Stanburke: The first time I saw him, I thought the young boy was a girl. In Japanese medias, only girls have pupils this large... Emilio is a member of the royal family of Alcaland, and intends to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of his people. His main expression is angst, which is really bizarre on the face of a 10 years old boy.
Mihee Kim: A fighting doctor from Korea whose left arm contains an alarming amount of dark energy. She can kill people just by touching them with that arm. In the game, she has three main expressions: Brooding, angry and pissed off. I saw her laughing ONLY ONCE, and that's because she was making fun of Reika during Dramatic Change mode.
Batu Harai: An exorcist that has been hired by Emilio to solve the case of the multiple disappearances. He carries around a spear shaped like a holy cross, and he's got a scar and a patch over his right eye. Apparently, he would prefer to get the job done quickly.
Nagino Ise: A young girl, age 9. She's a reality warper who can summon any object as long as she can pronounce its name.... but this ability doesn't appear in-game because it would make the game too easy, I guess. It's like she has multiple personality disorder, with one personality calm and almost nasty, and another young, happy and carefree. She walks around with a cute rabbit character which is said to be some god or something.
Roger Sasuke: Most ridiculous full name I've ever heard, by the way. An “American ninja” who's good friends with Kohtaro and takes both his status of ninja and his friendship seriously... too seriously. In fact, he shows so much adoration for Kohtaro that one would think that he's homosexual. Which I wouldn't have a problem from, I'm not a homophobe. It's just really odd in context.
Fumiko Odette van Stein: An evil witch who decided to help this one time. She has lots of bad curses in reserve, and she would dare using them on opponents. She's very fond of Alcaland, which is why she decided to help. Although, it might be too early to say that she's passed on to the good side.
Gennojo Hyuga: A psychic... private investigator. Okay, this is cliché and ridiculous. He was apparently against going on that mission, but a lack of money and the government's orders forced him to answer yes to the invitation. He tends to team up with Mihee, probably because he's the only one who can stand her awful mood.
Munchausen: A battle butler sporting spiral glasses. He is good friends with Kohtaro and Roger, and seems to be like a sensei of sorts to Fumiko. The two share the same attacks! He has a very deep voice and... nothing much more is said about him.

Seriously, all those characters are either clichés (the ninja fan, the ex-villain, the fighting prince, the private eye, the battle butler) or overly powerful, so much that they'd be considered freaking SUPERHEROES in North America. A TIME COP, REALLY? A reality warper? An arm of darkness? A fighting prince at age 10 is ALREADY a Gary Stu! ...This is why this game fails on the aspect of its characters. Many of them are interesting, but most are just things we've seen a hundred times in a hundred different works, not to mention of course that they should be too freaking powerful anywhere else. 

But is the game worth all the trouble of creating ten different characters? Let's see after a first playthrough.

(One hour spent playing later...)

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-...

Complete that word by yourself. You know what the last two letters are, I'm not writing them, you KNOW what's coming. This game is horrible. It's AWFUL!

It has only five levels, but that's actually a pretty logical number when you realize that most people won't even make it beyond the third level. There are no power-ups in this game, and you only win back Hit Points and Bomb Moves through your score. Plus, the story makes NO SENSE as it unravels. I'll give the game some credit, though. It sure is creative. Let's just take a look at what happens, level by level.

Level 1: The character you picked starts flying above a castle, and then over some fields, and the enemies start appearing. Those enemies are quickly taken down by the psychic. Mid-level, however, a much larger foe appears and your psychic decided to go much higher to fight this mid-boss, which is a robot... that looks like a feather-less chicken. Once that big thing is taken down, the psychic goes back to the altitude he/she was previously at, and it is revealed that the character is now flying above a village. More small foes pass by and attempt to defeat the psychic. However, if you have just a bit of talent in avoiding the bullets, you will do fine. Anyway, the character reaches what looks like a shrine, and another human character appears over the shrine. This is Yukari Horiguchi, a young witch.


Ashley the witch's long-lost older sister?

And, quite frankly, Yukari is the best part of this game. I mean it. She's got to be the funniest of all the characters in this damn game. If you toggled on the cutscenes, you'll see her react differently to everyone, and she will almost always make a reference to the fact that this is all a video game. She wonders why Kohtaro and Sayo are fighting together when this is 1-Player Mode, she barks at Mihee after the fighting doctor compares her to a dog, she wants to hug Emilio, and I think she's repulsed by Munchausen. As it turns out, this character appeared in a previous Castle of Shikigami game, though she was the fourth boss in that other game. She gets called on it, too, as she was demoted to first boss. Yet she doesn't seem to mind much. She's also pretty easy to take down. I know I succeeded on the first time I played. 

Best image I could find for Shikou.

Level 2: The psychic is now flying above a natural environment, a forest and a river. More enemies approach, and they are taken down. However, the psychic approaches a waterfall and is greeted by a large machine. Each time a section of the machine's life bar is depleted, it hides in the waterfall and comes back in a different form, with a new manner of attacking. However, as it is a mid-boss, it is not the most difficult to defeat. After this, the action continues again above more of this natural environment, until the psychic reaches a lake and his path gets blocked by huge stone falling out of nowhere. The character is then greeted by Shikou Mibuya, a noble warrior who seems to wear a costume that makes him look like a bird-man. He uses flaming birds as attacks. He's also Sayo's uncle...

He has an attack that negates your regular attack. You can only use your Shikigami attacks or your Bomb Move during that part of the battle. When defeated, he speaks a little, and then vanishes.

Oh boy... I think I'm gonna end there for the moment. I need a break from writing about this. However, stay tuned, because Monday), I'll post Part 2 of this review. Yes it's a two-parter, because there's so much to say about this game that I'll need an extra blog post. Until then, I'll keep playing and I'll try to beat the game... Read you next time!