Posted on March 15th, 2010 4 comments
Release Date: 4/27/89
Price: 6500 yen
Media: HuCard (4 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 23.36 / 30.00
Kōgien: “An original game with a lot of innovative ideas, especially in the fighting patterns and visual scenes. An RPG with an emphasis on story events, it gives you EXP after story scenes, saving you from having to grind out levels.”
Right now, as I write this (not in 1989, when this RPG was released), there’s a major controversy brewing over the future of manga in Japan. This Thursday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly will be voting on a measure that, while lacking any direct legal penalty, defines “provocative depictions” of manga characters under 18 years old as child pornography and encourages publishers to restrict them. “Great,” you say, “the less creepy junk in manga the better, right?” Maybe, but a lot of mainstream, household-name manga authors (including people like Doraemon’s Fujiko Fujio whose work has never wandered anywhere near pornography) are protesting the statute nonetheless, concerned that it’s written too vaguely and could be a slippery slope to more restrictions on expression in the future. [UPDATE: The measure has been tabled until June at the earliest.]
One of the manga artists speaking up against the statute is Gō Nagai, a veteran whose mark on the modern scene is massive. His first big hit was Harenchi Gakuen, a school gag comic that toed the line of good taste and made Nagai the enfant terrible of the then-brand-new Shonen Jump magazine’s artist stable. His work took on a darker, more violent turn as the 70s wore on, beginning with his work on the Devilman anime and culminating with comics like Violence Jack and 1979’s Susa-no-Oh, the series that finally earned him a Kodansha Manga Award.
I’ve never read Susa-no-Oh, but Susa-no-Oh Densetsu is based on it and apparently picks up the story after Nagai’s manga first ended in 1980, famously closing with a massive cliffhanger that he never bothered resolving. (Nagai later claimed the move was deliberate and wrote more Susa-no-Oh stories later on for a variety of magazines.)
You play Shingo Susa, a kid with problems — he’s got superpowers connected to the evil deity Susa-no-Oh, who’s been unleashed and divided into three monsters by his rival Uryu when the game begins. (It’s all depicted in the lavish intro sequence below.) The world’s totally Mad Max, complete with a sub-quest where you must refine your own gasoline in order to power an airplane, and your three-person party fights with swords, machine guns, hand grenades, and a small selection of ESP powers.
To be honest, I’m not too sure why Hudson bothered licensing Nagai’s manga for this game. The designers assume knowledge of the manga, but don’t use it to craft anything besides your typical sort of 8-bit console RPG. There are a lot of neat ideas here gamewise, though; no doubt thanks to the involvement of Hiromasa Iwasaki, who worked on Ys Books I & II and Tengai Makyo II (which this game actually resembles a little bit). The world has day-night cycles (Dragon Quest III was pretty much the only JRPG to feature that up to this point); the battles are tactical in style; you can even hire mercenaries to shore up your party before you find some real allies. These are all pretty novel features for a 1989 console release, and they — combined with the challenge level and the storytelling, both decent once things get rolling — make the game engaging through to the end.
Click the above video to check out the opening few minutes. This is the second four-megabit game after Space Harrier, and you can definitely tell where Iwasaki and crew used that extra space. The game itself is standard JRPG, but at least the intro is brutally Nagai.