Friday, February 12, 2010

Cyber Knight

Compile / Group SNE / Tonkin House

I bought Cyber Knight only because it was priced at a mere two bucks and I was looking for some cheap throw-ins while wrapping up a huge transaction. I had no idea what it was about, but going by just the name, I suspected it to be an awful, archaic action title. It's actually a mecha RPG; I guess you could view it as sort of a "prehistoric" Xenogears.

Once I discovered the truth, I wasn't exactly more eager to play the game, as I didn't expect much from ancient chip RPGs at that point. But I was compelled to give it a fair chance by its incredible opening, which depicts spaceships locked in combat.

The sequence isn't particularly special visually, but it's extremely intense thanks to the accompanying tune, which absolutely rocks and features some of the best drum sounds to be found in a chip game. In fact, CK's soundtrack impresses from start to finish, with a number of other excellent tunes included in the high-quality batch. The game is worth playing through just to hear some good (and atypical) HuCard audio. But before you get going with it, you'll want to make sure that you've got two things:

1) A good guide. There's a great web page devoted to the Super Famicom version, and 95% of the walkthrough it links to is applicable to the PCE game, so you'll know where to go and what to do when you get there. There are a couple of areas mentioned in the FAQ that I either didn't have to or wasn't allowed to visit, and some cited events occurred at unexpected points in the adventure for me; but everything that you need to do to beat the PCE version is covered.

2) Knowledge of katakana. I'm not usually one to try to dissuade folks from experimenting their way through an import RPG, but I really don't see it happening with this one. The game is just too complicated for people to fiddle their way to victory.

How complicated is it? Well, you know how annoying it can be when you're wandering around a town in a Japanese RPG and you're just trying to talk to the right person to trigger the next event? Well, imagine if you didn't have to bumble around a mere six-house village but THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE instead. Cyber Knight has you travel not only to different planets but also to separate solar systems. And there isn't a defined path through the stars. The game grants you access to lots of different locations at once, and you often have a number of separate quests that you can set off on at any given time. Yes, the aforementioned FAQ does tell you where to go, but it won't help much if you can't read the in-game katakana.

The Cyber Knight play system is not simple by any means. You can select three of the six available characters for any given quest, and you'll want to take into consideration their respective classes (each character specializes in a particular field, such as science or mechanics), as certain skills are needed for certain missions. You've also got five different mecha (each with its own respective strengths and weaknesses) and many different weapon types to select from. You can lug along everything from lightsabers and plasma guns to rocket launchers and nova-flame emitters, and you'll need to experiment with all of them to figure out which ones work best against which foes. There are also assorted defense fields to mess around with. And even aboard your home base (a starship), you'll have lots of different menus to work out.

It might seem like a lot to contend with; Cyber Knight comes off as a modern RPG trapped in the body of an old one. But as is often the case with quality modern games, once you get rolling with CK's system, it'll seem pretty simple after all, and then you'll get to enjoy the finer points of the adventure. You'll rush to the aid of cavemen, robots, and large pink whales...

...while utilizing your mighty weaponry to annihilate foes ranging from fearsome dinosaurs to bizarre, indescribable aliens.

Actually, the adventure itself might prove to be a bit too simple for some. You usually aren't asked to do much exploring once you arrive at a planet. You just talk to a particular person or solve a simple maze (only two locations have labyrinths that are at all complex) and then move on to the next area of importance.

The appeal of the game, outside of the audio elements and the interesting acquaintances you make, mainly lies in the strategic combat, as you get to position your mecha on the field while considering the weapon selection/experimentation aspects. But while the enemies you run into are conceptually intriguing and can put up a fight, they don't look very good. CK isn't a top-tier title visually by any stretch of the imagination. You don't even get to fight any sizable creatures aside from the berserker queen at the end of the game.

But CK should still prove to be a very enjoyable RPG for those who are up for the reading requirements. From what I gather, there's a translated rendition of the Super Famicom version somewhere out there. But we all know that the cool way to play the game is on the PC Engine in a language we can't understand.

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