[I ♥ The PC Engine] Valis IIPosted on May 5th, 2010 72 comments
Maker: Telenet Japan (Shin-Nihon Laser Soft)
Release Date: 6/23/89
Price: 6780 yen
Media: CD-ROM2 (5.73MB + 53 audio tracks)
PC Engine FAN Score: 24.24 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A popular PC Engine action game, and also a port from computers. The CD-ROM format allows for extravagant visuals throughout, turning the heroine Yuko into one of the PCE’s most popular characters.”
The first PCE game from good ol’ Telenet Japan (日本テレネット), but definitely not their first ever — the outfit opened for business in October 1983 and didn’t officially shut down until late 2007, approximately 150 game releases later. The company had its greatest international success during the 16-bit era, during which they released PC and console games under a needlessly large number of labels — Telenet, Renovation in the US, Wolfteam (the current Namco Tales Studio) on Japanese PCs, RIOT seemingly at random, and finally Laser Soft (and maybe one or two more I’m forgetting).
These company names weren’t just for the hell of it, either: Shin-Nihon Laser Soft was a joint venture between Telenet and Japanese electronics retailer Yodobashi Camera, formed in 1988 to release titles on the PCE CD and other next-generation platforms, although Telenet bought out Yodobashi’s share in the subsidiary pretty quickly. (At the risk of confusing readers even more, it should be noted that Atlus handled most nuts-and-bolts development of Valis II on this platform, while Telenet themselves worked on the MSX and X68000 versions.)
Why II, though, a question that Electronic Gaming Monthly asked in its preview coverage but never answered? Simple: Telenet released Valis: The Fantasm Soldier back in 1986 on Japanese computers, porting it to the Famicom in 1987. II was the sequel to that, and while it was multiplatform, the PC Engine version was evidently the most successful because Valis III (1990) and IV (1991) both picked the PCE as their lead platform. (Telenet then remade the original Valis for the PCE in 1992, thus making our favorite console the only destination you need to explore the saga of the warrior or Valis and the otherworldly land of…hey, are those her panties I’m spotting when she’s jumping?)
From the get-go, Valis was made to appeal to the sort of nerd audience that was buying OVAs by the handful in the late ’80s, the kind with tentacles and all-girl spacefaring alien races. Few other games until this point, after all, starred a sexy blue-haired teen in a Japanese school uniform who switches over to a skimpy battle bikini after the first level. Yuko Aso, played by veteran actress Sumi Shimamoto in Japan (though she sounds a little like my mom in the TurboGrafx-16 release), is a prototype for the video game bishojo; Valis was one of the first non-porn games in Japan that really sold based on the attractiveness of the main character.
Later games added things like magic attacks and slide moves, but Valis II is a pretty basic slash-’em-up. You can pick up magic items, but they’re so limited-use that they hardly become a major factor in gameplay. The chief hallmark of this series is the sheer pain handed out by the non-boss minions Yuko runs into as she bikini’s around each stage, and it’s even worse in II because everything deals so much damage — I mean, God forbid the warrior of Valis find something to protect her bare thighs and lower torso, right? This makes the game one of patterns and memorization, and of repeating a level until you’re able to get through it blindfolded with your toes on the controller.
Your main savior in Valis II is the extra lives you receive every 50,000 points (later games dropped the score system entirely). Since Yuko is resurrected immediately upon dying, this allows you to build up your life count whipping demons during a stage then flail wildly at the boss, letting your superior endurance win the battle instead of bothering to learn attack patterns. This doesn’t make the last level any easier, mind, what with the classic “final boss with two body forms” gimmick and the elevator of death that Yuko falls off of at the slightest brush with any monster.
The anime fans who bought this game, though, would’ve forgiven everything. That’s because the graphics on the cutscenes are, for the time, pretty mind-blowing. Poorly detailed, yes — I just noticed that Yuko’s head and hips are the same diameter in that shot up above. Also, the scenes occupy only about a third of the screen most of the time. Still, no matter. They’re visually stimulating and accompanied with synced CD-quality voice, which was unheard of in 1989 outside of Cobra. The music is a great, too, and still stands up to scrutiny today — it’s got that dark-yet-poppy feel that nearly every anime OVA soundtrack was sporting back then. (Telenet Japan would later pool all the cutscenes into one disc and release it under the name Valis Visual Collection in 1993 for fat-fingered otaku too wimpy to actually play action games.)
Overall it’s easy to see why Valis, along with the Tengai Makyo series, became the main public face of the PC Engine CD-ROM in these early months. It’s got everything nerds want — right down to the voice cast giving you secret greetings after the ending (a feature unsurprisingly cut from the US version) — and it’s a decent action game to boot. I don’t think anyone would call it a classic if it came out on HuCard instead, but sometimes packaging really does make all the difference.
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