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  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Shiryō Sensen

    Posted on November 10th, 2009 keving 7 comments

    3110Shiryō Sensen: War of the Dead

    Maker: Victor Musical Industries
    Release Date: 3/24/89
    5500 yen
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: RPG
    PC Engine FAN Score: 19.66 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “The hero, a woman, takes up a gun as she fights off grotesque monsters. You travel around a map screen gathering information, but the game shifts to an action scene when you encounter an enemy. Port of a PC game.”

    Definitely something of a cult title in Japan, Shiryō Sensen was originally released by Victor for the MSX2 in 1987 — a good couple years before Sweet Home, the Famicom release that people often call the first “true” survival horror title. I would say Shiryō Sensen has a far more valid claim to that prize, and it was popular enough in Japan that it was ported to both the PCE and NEC’s PC-88 computers in early ’89.

    Shiryou Sensen (J)-012

    Katsuya Iwamoto, producer and designer on the game, told GameSide in 2008 that the project, like so many of the time, got its start from Dragon Quest. “I got a job as a game designer and they told me to come up with something, so I wrote the basic idea in two or three sheets of notebook paper,” he said. “There weren’t any horror games back then, really, so I wanted to make one. Dragon Quest taught me how I could tell a story through video games, so I wanted Shiryō Sensen to move along like that, too.” The game he came up with, especially in its PC Engine incarnation, certainly betrays Iwamoto’s inspiration; it plays much like a modern-day Dragon Quest but with Zelda II-like battles, because Iwamoto thought turn-based fighting with guns and grenade launchers would be weird.

    Set in the small town of Chaney’s Hill, the game stars Lila, a member of the US Army’s S-S.W.A.T. team of paranormal investigators. She’s sent to the area after all communications are cut off and an entire company of Marines disappears without a trace. The plot (involving a portal to another world and the family that’s secretly protected it for generations) is a little bit Escape from New York and a little bit Stephen King’s The Mist, both of which Iwamoto claims as inspirations — in fact, nearly the entire cast besides Lila sports names borrowed off one horror film or another.

    When you kick off, you’re about as lost as you would’ve been if you ever played the first Dragon Warrior without a strategy guide (be honest here). Considering people call it a “town,” Chaney’s Hill is vastly spread out — the drugstore’s only accessible by boat. The church you start nearby is a safe zone, but you have no map and no real mission apart from “find survivors and bring them into the church,” even though you have no idea where the buildings even are in this town. This makes for a lot of wandering and hoping for something interesting to happen at first, and it doesn’t help that Lila’s just as hopelessly underequipped as every 8-bit RPG hero at the start — one-hit kills are a serious concern for the first hour or so.

    Get used to gameplay, though, and you begin to see Shiryō Sensen’s charms. The atmosphere is Iwamoto’s biggest success here, definitely — the game’s dark and creepy, although not outright terrifying, and the music (an exclusive addition to the PCE port) is a heavy contributor to this. The battles get easier once Lila powers up a little, and eventually the game opens itself up pretty freely to the player, letting you explore town fully and get to the bottom of the twisty story on your own terms.

    In a way, this is the sort of PCE game that’s really taken this whole 20 years to be recognized for its merits. The PCE FAN score is not high, thanks to a ridiculous 54-character password system and some very famous glitches, including an outlandish overflow bug that resets Lila to level 1 if you grind past the maximum of 9999 experience points. Emulator save states makes the passwords obsolete, of course, and if you’re aware of the bugs, you can avoid them easily enough. Then you can just enjoy Shiryō Sensen for what it did right — and that’s pioneer Japanese storytelling in games, right up there with how 1987’s Metal Gear managed it.

    Here’s a vid of the opening and the final chapter of the game. Looking back at it, Shiryō definitely suffers graphically from its 2mbit size. Sadly, it’s not the first nor the last PCE game to fall victim to manufacturing budgets…


    6 responses to “[I ♥ The PC Engine] Shiryō Sensen” RSS icon

    • Wow, I never knew the significance of this game—it was fun to learn about its historical context.

      I simply liked the cover art and the ridiculous hair color of our heroine.

      I tried playing it on a PCE, but I was overwhelmed.

      So I played some Kato & Ken instead.

    • Wow, I never knew the significance of this game—it was fun to learn about its historical context.

      I simply liked the cover art and the ridiculous hair color of our heroine.

      I tried playing it on a PCE, but I was overwhelmed.

      So I played some Kato & Ken instead.

    • Looks like Zelda II to me…

    • This game looks fucking awesome. I must play it.

    • Looks interesting. Zelda II is one of my all time favorite Nes games, so I could probably get into this. Might be a bit too obscure for someone to do a fan translation of though. Also that final boss seemed a little anti climatic.

    • Thank you for the password for the last phase,
      my game was bugged before the last boss.

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