Posted on October 29th, 2009 4 comments
Release Date: 3/17/89
Price: 5600 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 23.26 / 30.00
Kōgien: “An RPG where you board a Fighting Worker robot to fight. The robot’s attack power and defense are both upgraded separately. You fight enemy robots in metallic corridors and other areas.”
I know I’ve already covered 34 PC Engine games so far (sheesh), but we’re still in the spring of 1989, practically prehistory as far as this console is concerned. It was an age where the system’s true values had yet to be discovered, one full of possibilities but not great depth…and, most important in the minds of Japanese gamers, one with a chronic lack of role-playing games. You can see this well enough just thumbing through the first year or so of PC Engine FAN and checking out the reader mail. Hudson had the genre covered near launch with Jaseiken Necromancer, of course, but for a good year afterward there were zero RPGs whatsoever released for the PCE — which is a pretty raw deal, considering that there were dozens released on the Famicom by this point. Maybe they just took time to develop; maybe developers were busy figuring out how to make a console RPG seem sufficiently “next gen” enough (before the term was invented).
It wasn’t until this point in the PCE’s history, March 1989, when RPGs started coming out at a regular clip — first Hudson’s Dungeon Explorer, then this, Sunsoft’s first PCE effort and something of an overlooked classic in its own right.
Out Live (the “live” here rhyming with “five”) is not a pretty game, especially compared to what we’ll see during the height of the CD-ROM era. Being only 2Mbit, it features extremely bland graphics (although the Phantasy Star-style 3D maps were impressive for the time) and more palette-swapping among the enemies than a single man could possibly comprehend. What it also has, though, is ideas.
Up until this point, RPGs on consoles were always fantasy games. Out Live, meanwhile, is science fiction — hard science fiction. The basic gameplay, items, and even the way the story unfolds is pretty JRPG-y, but it’s all been “ported,” if you will, to a hard-SF environment. Instead of a big, bright kingdom, you’re prowling around the corridors of a lost alien civilization, fighting the robots the aliens left behind. Instead of getting EXP and leveling, you use something called a “Computer Learning System” to upgrade the attack and defense of your “Fighting Worker” (i.e. your giant robot — yes, that kind of SF). There are settlements here and there, with shops to upgrade your ‘bot at and saloons to hunt down information in, and instead of money, you earn credits through the bounties placed on the enemies you’re beating up. (These credits can be claimed only by revisiting town, so if you get killed in battle, you lose all the credits you haven’t claimed yet. Death in Out Live isn’t as bad as death in Wizardry, but it still exacts some harsh penalties.)
The most original aspect, however, is undoubtedly the way the entire game plays out from a first-person view — you literally play the whole thing from the viewpoint of your FW’s cockpit. That, combined with the soulless, lengthy corridors you spend the story exploring, makes you seem even more lonely and helpless than you felt in Wizardry. It’s atmospheric.
Being a 3D dungeon RPG, this is not the sort of game you can idly wander through. Try that, and you will get lost, quickly. The game doesn’t help you much here — when an enemy bumps into you, the computer automatically spins you around to face the adversary, all but ensuring you’ll lose your sense of direction. All of the dungeons are twisty and meandering from the get-go, making mapping an absolute must. Auto-mapping is for pussies, all right? Real men hold the pad in one hand and draw out an overhead map on graph paper with the other, advancing step by step, filling in square by square.
This is an era when RPGs were sort of about story, sort of about fighting, but still largely about solving mazes. Because so much of the game looks identical, you pretty much have to map everything out to finish Out Live. It’s hard work, and because the game offers no help whatsoever, it’s easy to miss a step and completely mess up the map you’re drawing. There is some variety to it all — you occasionally run into elemental fields which give the advantage to fighters that use certain weapons over others — but getting anywhere here requires patience, perseverance, and an insatiable appetite for manual labor. (You aren’t helped by the play balance, either, as you’re all but guaranteed an extended grinding session at the end when you suddenly become unable to land a hit on anything.)
Summing up, Out Live is hardcore. Really hardcore. Even the password system is ridiculous — a password is 40 characters long and is synced with the “Fighting Worker Launch Code” (i.e. your name) you input at the beginning of the game. If you forget that code (like, er, I did once), then it doesn’t matter if you copied down the 40-character-long password correctly or not, because it’s useless anyway. Nooooo.
Still, this (along with Dungeon Explorer) is a reminder of what RPGs used to be about — not endless chains of cutscenes and conversation windows, but serious drudge work and endless bashing of enemies. It was man’s work, and we all could use more of it.
A bit about the story which you see in the above video, by the way. The planet in “It’s Far a Future on PLANET” is Rafra, home to a mysterious conspiracy of some sort of another that you (a galactic-empire secret agent) have been sent to investigate. The FWs are robots engineered from the high technology found in Rafra’s ruins, and there’s something about a scientist doing Frankenstein-style stuff with ’em, and to be honest I didn’t really follow all of it because Sunsoft made it a bit obtuse and I didn’t play through it all at once. This game’s more about dungeon hacking than story anyway — if you want story, you could try the PlayStation version of Out Live, released by Sunsoft in 1997 and retreaded into an anime-inspired robot romp.