Posted on February 24th, 2010 1 comment
Makai Hakkenden Shada
Maker: Data East
Release Date: 4/1/89
Price: 5500 yen
Media: HuCard (2mb)
PC Engine FAN Score: 19.64 / 30.00
Kōgien: “The hero is one of the hakkenshi, who goes on a journey to find his friends and defeat a mighty enemy. A Japan-style action RPG with a Satomi Hakkenden motif. The graphics, which take ample advantage of the PC Engine’s abilities, are worth noting.”
Everyone reading this is familiar with Ys Book I & II. I’m reasonably sure of that. It, along with Akumajo Dracula X, is the release that largely defines the TG16’s place in gaming history. What’s a bit less known is that even before Ys received a PC Engine port, it was already getting cloned on the platform. Cloned very badly.
Data East’s second RPG ever (the first being the original Glory of Heracles for the Famicom) is very loosely based on Nansō Satomi Hakkenden, an early 19th-century Japanese novel inspired by the Chinese classic The Water Margin. The novel featured eight samurai joining together and going on assorted exciting and manly exploits; in this game you’re one of the reincarnated hakkenshi and you must track down the other seven and seal away the evil witch Tamazusa.
The gameplay is Ys, pure and simple. You bash against enemies to attack them, striking from the side or just off-center to keep your hero from taking damage — although the manual doesn’t explain any of this, perhaps expecting you to figure it out for yourself after several futile attempts at making the I or II buttons do something constructive. Nor does it mention that you can refill your energy by standing still Ys-style, a bit of a handy fact considering that you get very few chances to refill your energy otherwise.
Two things stand out as you spend time with Shada. One, the programmers were probably too busy playing Ys on the PC-8801 to bother debugging their clone job. As you can see in the above video, dodgy collision detection often means that you take multiple hits from enemies and die when your sprites overlap in the wrong way — Ys had characters get knocked back after a successful attack in order to avoid this exact problem. It also makes conversing with villagers puzzlingly difficult, as you either run right over NPCs or wind up having to read their lines two or three times.
Two, the game is as poorly written as it is designed. The seven fighters you work with never actually fight with your hero, the way they did in the novel — they just sort of disappear and/or help you open doors and such. Three of them don’t even carry the divine jewels (or shada) their characters are supposed to have from the original story. A Zelda Lost Woods-like section half an hour into the game will cause you to be stuck for days without external help. Enemies that you are completely incapable of damaging become pussycats after you gain a single level. A woman, apparently meant to be the heroine (you have long flashbacks about her in the ending), dies literally two minutes after you meet her. And so on, and so forth, and so on.
Sadly, we’re still at the point where two megabits is the standard size for HuCard games, and in Shada’s case, Data East compensated for the small capacity by making the story very short and the puzzle aspects ridiculously unfair, hoping you’d feel satisfied with being really stuck instead of advancing the plot along. Considering that Ys is beatable by average people without relying on FAQs (at least, I did it back then), it seems unlikely that Japanese gamers at the time agreed.