Monday, August 15, 2011

Cyber Knight

Group SNE/Compile/Tonkin House - 1990 - Japan

Usually when thinking about the Duo's rich RPG library things like voice acting, cutscenes and redbook soundtracks, or more specifically, the CD-ROM format come to mind. There are a number of cartridge-based RPGs, however, a handful of which range from good to even excellent. Often times these games get overlooked in favor of the "big name" titles.

Cyber Knight is one such adventure, conceived by Group SNE and programmed by veteran softhouse Compile. Imagine an entire galaxy at your fingertips, awaiting exploration. Imagine having total control over a team driving hand-picked mecha. Imagine a research and development department designing advanced armaments for your mecha based on alien technology encountered along the way. This is Cyber Knight.

Command your team and the crew of the space cruiser Swordfish on a quest to halt an insurgence by a rogue group of robots known as "Berserkers." You'll have to select your landing parties carefully, and make sure their mecha are properly equipped for the mission at hand before disembarking. Different mecha are capable of handling different numbers and types of weapons and have diverse durability, range and strength ratings. Experimenting with different mecha and equipment configurations is indeed a big part of the fun in Cyber Knight, and actually adds a degree of replay value.

Upon entering a new solar system, you'll be required to scan planets in order to determine viable landing spots. Much of the exploration in Cyber Knight is in fact played out in the Swordfish, traversing the galaxy. Once a habitable planet is found and you've successfully landed, reconnoiter is usually pretty straightforward.

Hardened Turbo fans familiar with Compile's other chip titles Alien & Devil's Crush and Blazing Lazers will be quick to note similarities in not only tunes but the instrumentation itself. Indeed, the Cyber Knight soundtrack is one of the best chiptune soundtracks on the console. The first time I powered up the game, I was immediately hypnotized by an opening track that hammers away behind the title screen story scroll. Similarities in palette choices and graphical design to the aforementioned games will also be evident, however visually speaking Cyber Knight is probably Compile's least impressive effort on the console. Still, while a 1992 Super NES port of the game features a much smoother color palette, I find Compile's original art on the Duo version much more appealing.

The biggest knock against Knight doesn't have anything to do with technical shortcomings, however. If you aren't able to read Japanese, you'll be headed nowhere fast without a walkthrough. The non-linear nature of the game precludes the chance of just plowing through blind. Luckily, a walkthrough exists for the SNES version that will tell you everything to need to know for success with the Duo version.

I had lots of fun with Cyber Knight, especially playing around with different mecha configurations and weapon assignments. In fact, you'll encounter some enemies resistant to certain types of weaponry which makes such experimentation a must. The fantastic soundtrack really helped make the experience a blast, with a handful of genuinely memorable tunes. People hoping to get anything out of Cyber Knight need to be prepared to deal with the language issues. That said, people ready and capable of handling this are in for a treat.

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