A survivor’s guide to the Gun Survivor tetralogy*

*That’s a fancy way of saying “Thing what has four parts”

Wildly mediocre reviews of Capcom’s light gun-compatible sort-of-series kept me away until recently, when a surfeit of Paypal money coupled with a devil-may-care attitude to the potential Metacritic score of my game collection came together and ended up with me buying the complete set – hurray for slightly irresponsible financial spending!

At the time these games were released either the light gun side of things was played up by Capcom (or Capcom’s PR arm), or the reviewers saw it on the back of the box and latched onto it like a hungry Rottweiler to a string of sausages; however in reality these games being compatible with Namco’s excellent light gun peripherals is about as relevant to the Gun Survivor series as Dreamcast keyboard compatibility is to Soul Calibur or how ambitious gamers can play Dark Souls with a Guitar Hero guitar. In practise the Gun Survivor series is actually better played and understood as twin-stick FPS games; left stick for movement, right stick to aim. They never did get the feeling quite right but the controls aren’t an insurmountable issue, they’re just a bit awkward.

Every game is very different and unconnected to the last, so each requires a different sort of approach:

Biohazard: Gun Survivor (AKA: Resident Evil: Survivor)

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The series kicks off on the Umbrella-owned Sheena island, starring Ark Thompson; the amnesiac friend of everybody’s favourite ex-RPD rookie, Leon S Kennedy. The amnesia angle is given a welcome little nudge away from the usual as Ark spends a fair bit of the game thinking he’s the wrong man, and the mysterious evil past he’s fretting about turns out to not be his past at all – good news eh? Although the light gun compatibility and first-person view lead many to expect it to play out as a typical arcade shooter, Gun Survivor is very much a typical (if distinctly low budget) Resident Evil title complete with keys, files, hidden magnums and should-I-fight-or-should-I-run sections to contend with. Ark can be whipped round to focus on points of interest in the room such as doors and items at the touch of a button, making movement, exploration, and item hunting relatively straightforward.

Oh, and if you’re looking at the screenshots and thinking “Those guys look familiar…” it’s because they lifted a lot of assets directly from Resident Evil 2.

Best thought of as… a first-person Resident Evil game

 

Gun Survivor 2 Biohazard Code: Veronica (AKA: Resident Evil Survivor 2: CODE: Veronica)

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Now unlike the others this one really was an arcade gun game (released in partnership with Namco), although the guns were the sort mounted onto the cabinet (so, analogue joysticks in disguise) rather than proper Virtua Cop style light guns. In any case, as a real arcade game this one’s all about getting you into the action quickly, finding keys to open doors placed throughout the free-roaming map and beating the clock; if you don’t get out of an area in time Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis shows up (he was probably grateful for the work) and then you’re really in trouble! The home port has a few nifty extras, as well as an inexcusably poor English translation.

Oh, and if you’re looking at the screenshots and thinking “Those guys look familiar…” it’s because they lifted a lot of assets directly from Resident Evil: CODE: Veronica (much like I lifted this sentence from the Gun Survivor description above).

Best thought of as…  CODE: Veronica Battle Game Deluxe

 

Gun Survivor 3: Dino Crisis (AKA: Dino Stalker)

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For whatever reason the Gun Survivor series took a break from shooting the undead for one game and instead drew inspiration from Capcom’s other survival-action series Dino Crisis instead. This one keeps the free-roaming (although the route is pretty linear) and timer (replenished by shooting or collecting crystals littered throughout the stage) of Gun Survivor 2 but greatly expands on the environments and polishes the gunplay into something much more satisfactory. It’s also absolutely bonkers, putting the player into the role of a doomed-to-die World War II pilot plucked out of his timeline by people from the far future to fight dinosaurs in hyperspace as well as a perfect dinosaur created by an evil supercomputer. No game – old or new - has come close to making me smile as much as this one has all year; and I love this game for it.

Best thought of as… Don’t think, feel.

 

Gun Survivor 4: Biohazard: Heroes Never Die (AKA: Resident Evil: Dead Aim)

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As is typical for this sort of thing, Capcom pulled the plug on the Gun Survivor series just as they really nailed it. Heroes Never Die returned to the slower-paced exploration and dread of the original Gun Survivor but with all the added polish and experience gained from the development of the previous titles. Unlike the others it’s possible (even if highly unlikely) to run out of ammo in this one, meaning that accurate fire is no longer just a matter of personal pride but necessary for survival too. Thanks to its exceptional graphics and engaging gameplay out of all the games in this spinoff series Heroes Never Die is infuriatingly just a HD upscale and over-the-shoulder aiming tweak away from being a decent mainline Resident Evil game in its own right.

Best thought of as… A prototype Resident Evil 4 

In fairness the first two games in the series probably require you to be seriously interested in experimental design ideas or a complete Resident Evil nut to really appreciate them, but the last two are legitimately good games, if a little unwieldy. Gun Survivor 3: Dino Crisis is the closest I’ve come to playing a game that really captures that gloriously mad 80’s/90’s arcade game feel in far too long, and Heroes Never Die is the game that finally got the balance between arcade-accurate shooting and the more traditional Resident Evil game structure just right. I’d encourage anyone that’d like to try a pair of underappreciated Playstation 2 games to seek out Gun Survivor 3 and 4 straight away.

Ramblings and recollections: Sega Saturn 20th Anniversary Edition!

If all’s gone well and I’ve got my dates correct as well as written something vaguely passable in time then today/tomorrow/yesterday/sometime around now (delete as applicable) is the Saturn’s 20th anniversary, hurrah!

This is going to sound more than a little off-kilter for a celebratory post but there’s no getting away from the fact that the Saturn got off to a bad start on western shores, being both more expensive than the Playstation as well as the launch titles looking significantly worse than their Sony-flavoured counterparts. You’ll never catch me arguing that Battle Arena Toshinden was a better game than Virtua Fighter (Ridge Racer vs. Daytona USA however is a much closer call) but it sure as hell looked a lot better, and that was damn important when you were trying to sell the future of gaming at the dawn of the 3D era to people who knew and cared about gouraud shading.

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Outside Japan the system never really recovered from this opening stumble, with Sony’s young upstart soundly thrashing any and all challengers and becoming so popular in the process that it actually ended up coming full circle and having a lot of hyper-niche games of its own. But even with the Playstation being so hip and cool my dad bought a copy of Tekken 2 and then hid it from my brother and I so he could get a head start on the game I always had a soft spot for the Saturn, and was rewarded for my bone-headed stubbornness with the likes of NiGHTS, Burning Rangers and Shining Force 3. Deep Fear was an inexcusable PAL send-off though, even if the normally excellent (UK) Sega Saturn Magazine gave it a thoroughly undeserved 86% review score at the time (no I will not let that awful game off the hook).

Of course over in Japan though things couldn’t have been more different, with the Saturn being Sega’s most popular and successful console of all time over there. Japanese gamers had access to a wealth of titles the rest of the world simply never got to see; from fantastic arcade ports to the beginnings of the wildly successful Sakura Taisen series as well as more RPGs than a genre fan would know what to do with (trust me on this). So while us western fans of Sega’s 32-bit console may never quite get over that need to justify our original purchase as we explain our console allegiance, we can at least play safe in the knowledge that the one country that arguably really mattered gave the Saturn the success it deserved.

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These days general opinion of the Saturn has changed and gamers have now accepted the console as the connoisseur’s import hardware of choice; however all this “hardcore” attention towards the likes of Radiant Silvergun and Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru has robbed a lot otherwise perfectly good (and reasonably cheap) titles of their chance to shine. So if you do decide to dust off your Saturn today, don’t worry that you’ll come across someone boasting about playing Street Fighter Alpha 3 (with 4MB RAM cart!)as intended” or sharing photos of their complete set of US Magic Knight Rayearth picture disc variants (*yawn*), instead you should sit back with a copy of Fighters Megamix, Panzer Dragoon Zwei, or any of the other games shown in the screenshots in this post (mouseover an image for the title) and revel in the knowledge that you’re playing some of the finest games ever to grace the planet – and you didn’t need to break the bank to do so either!

Have fun!

Oh, you’re still here? Want some more Saturn recommendations? Check out my top ten Saturn games*!

A little look at… King of Fighters: Kyo

The King of Fighters Kyo is one of those games I’ve been meaning to buy for a very long time but never quite got around to it, so when SNK had a 50% off sale on PSN a few months ago I… I didn’t buy it then either. But that’s OK, because a few weeks ago I charged my Japanese PSN account up in slavering anticipation for Biohazard HD Remaster (Resident Evil HD to normal folks, or my personal favourite alternative: REmake Remake) and had enough credit left over for a couple of Playstation games, including this one.

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So what it is then? Well this comes from a time when SNK seemed to realise that while 2D beat ‘em ups were brilliant people weren’t really into them like they used to and their Neo Geo AES, bless its cotton socks, was always really more about the love than the money it could bring in. So SNK had a bit of a go at branching out, with mixed results. The most notable one was probably the Samurai Spirits RPG, if only because it sounds like a recipe for instant success but turned out to be almost irredeemable rubbish instead. Then there was… that adventure game with Athena in it too.

Oh! And The King of Fighters Kyo too of course!

This one’s an adventure game set thirty one days before The King of Fighters ‘97 tournament: an adventure game about a fighting game with menu-based adventure-style fighting in it. If that sounds like a bit of a train wreck, then that’s because it is.

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Now in theory an adventure game in this setting could work; there’s enough plot and more than enough characters to get something exciting happening, so it’s a little sad to see Kyo spending so much of his time dropping in on friends just to make sure Iori doesn’t upset them. Y’see, one of KoF: Kyo’s main mechanics is that just about everyone Kyo meets is potentially a tournament team-mate, but you can only select them if they like him enough. This would be fairly straightforward “Don’t be mean to people, you moose” business if it weren’t for Iori dropping in on random locations several times a day and throwing a spanner in the works simply by being there, with the added kick in the teeth being that as soon as Iori’s shown up then win or lose your friend likes you less anyway, making the already tedious battling a complete waste of time.

When you’re not busy dealing with Iori the game plays out in typical adventure game fashion, visiting locations on the map to trigger events that occasionally have (largely superfluous) dialogue choices and the odd menu-based battle against just about anyone with a pulse. As you’d expect all the KoF regulars use their standard KoF ‘97 sprites and animations, while the new characters are done in a similar style. In stills these new fighters look good and fit in well with SNK’s sprite work, but in motion it becomes obvious that they’ve been created on the cheap using simplistic and choppy animations.

It’s not all bad though; there’s a hell of a lot of optional content in the game, the flashy battle effects/made-for-the-game animated FMV supers are impressive and the Terry/Andy/Geese South Town mini-arc was genuinely engaging, but these are all-too-brief highlights in an otherwise unremarkable game.

It’s certainly not as bad as Samurai Spirits: Bushido Retsuden, not by a long shot; but while that game had me outright raging in places The King of Fighters Kyo only had me switching from “mildly interested” to “mildly bored” most of the time, which is arguably worse. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the game should be avoided, but I expected something more exciting from a game with as many explosive and iconic characters in it as this one does.

At least we can thank the game for giving us this excellent image of Benimaru playing the guitar.

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Some kind of rant-thing about the SNES and then a look at some Mega CD RPGs. Probably.

If you like 16-bit RPGs from Japan it’s generally accepted that you’ll need a SNES and a Japanese Windows 95 compatible PC. That’s it, you’re done! Your pathway to role-playing nirvana is open, and you’ve got all you’ll ever need right at your fingertips.

...or perhaps not.

Now I want to make it clear that I really don’t have a problem with the SNES or its huge selection of quality RPGs – it’s the genre king of the era and it holds that position for a reason - but there’s a wealth of quality RPGs in less likely places if you cast your net just a bit further than usual.

So in this blog post I’m going to take you on a whirlwind tour of a few Mega CD RPGS like Genei Toshi, Shadowrun and 3x3 Eyes, just so people can see some of the fantastic art and cool ideas these games had. “But Kimimi, a lot of the RPGs in this post are Japan only!” you might possible say (say it anyway if you didn’t – work with me here!). Do you know what other RPGs are Japan only? Seiken Densetsu 3. Bahamut Lagoon. Shin Megami Tensei 2 (and If… and Majin Tensei). Mystic Ark. Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. Der Langrisser. FEDA (Wow, I really need to get some of these covered on the blog ASAP!). Yet there’s no shortage of gamers online going on about how good those games are.

OK, OK: so all of those have fan translations available and that naturally makes them far more accessible to the import-curious than their Mega CD (and Mega Drive, and PC Engine) equivalents; but – and I’m trying (and failing) to find a way to phrase this in a kind manner – good games don’t stop existing just because you can’t personally play or understand them. I do see why people would only judge a console’s library based on the games they can actually play themselves, but (I think?) all I’m really after here is an acknowledgement of the possibility that there are RPGs of merit available on consoles that didn’t come with the Nintendo Seal of Quality™.

Anyway! Here’s A Very Quick Look At A Few Mega CD RPGs Wot I Dun Own*

(Dun Ownded, in Shadowrun’s case)

3x3 Eyes

Oh dear, opening with a licensed anime game? Not a good sign – or so you’d think. For some reason the 3x3 Eyes series has done well in the Russian roulette that is the anime-to-game porting business (just look at the PC Engine adventure game!), and this Mega CD exclusive RPG is no exception.

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Dark Wizard

Do you own a Mega CD? Do you yearn for a hex-based strategy title? Then you’re definitely a minority; but luckily Sega don’t care because they made this for you anyway. This game even had a US release, although not an EU one – we were still firmly in the grip of PAL-people-don’t-like-RPGs woes at the time, which is a pity because Dark Wizard’s a damn good game.

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Death Bringer

So this first person dungeon crawler is in no danger of knocking Dungeon Master II off it’s imaginary I’m-the-best-Mega CD-dungeon-crawler-in-town pedestal, but alternatives are always a good thing; especially when they’re dirt cheap and have cool 90’s anime intros.

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Heroic Legend of Arslan

It doesn’t really matter if you remember the adventures of the impossibly pretty Prince Arslan from the manga or anime, because as with the other licensed games I’ve touched upon in this post this is somehow still a very good game in its own right, so long as you’re not allergic to SRPGs or something.

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Genei Toshi: Illusion City

The Mega CD’s other cyberpunk RPG, this time a remake of the MSX/PC-98/FM-Towns classic. I still need to sit down and play this one properly, but all signs (as well as general internet opinion) points to it being as brilliant as the opening makes it out to be.

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Popful Mail

Falcom’s action-platformer-RPG hybrid was apparently at one point going to be rebranded as a Sonic the Hedgehog RPG, but thankfully angry fan letters saw to it that the Mega CD received this excellent remake of their classic computer RPG instead. Visually stunning in every regard and a hell of a lot of fun – just try to avoid Working Design’s US localisation if at all possible, please?

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Record of Lodoss War

There’s a depressingly large amount of proper FMV in this one, which may have impressed a few people at the time but now looks so bad it’s like a full-scale assault on your eyeballs. You’ll notice that I’ve left out any screenshots of these scenes, partly for your own sanity but also to keep this post looking great. Other than that this is another early 90’s anime SRPG, which suits me just fine.

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Shadowrun

Now with this one I do hope that you enjoy Shadowrun for its super-cool cyberpunk setting rather than the classic tabletop games battle system, because… the battle system here is really quite tedious. The good news is that everything else makes up for it; the atmosphere is absolutely stellar and in my opinion the best example of digital Shadowrun until the release of the incredible Shadowrun Returns in the space year 2013.

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Shin Megami Tensei

Yeah, you’ve probably played this one before - there’s even an English-language iOS port these days! But this Mega CD port still remains more than worthwhile thanks to the use of proper scaling, new artwork, some brilliant redbook audio tracks (Hall of the Four Devas is my favourite) and improved battle scenes. Until the PS1 remake came along and gave the game a complete overhaul in 2001, seven years after the Mega CD port, this was the best version of the game available.

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Shining Force CD

Another port, although as this covers the first two Game Gear Shining Force titles you really wouldn’t know it unless… well, unless you knew that already, I suppose. In any case more Shining Force is never a bad thing, especially when it looks and plays this good. Has the added bonus of being a title PAL gamers could buy without importing too – yay!

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So there you have it – a few pictures and quick scribbles about some of the RPGs in the Mega CDs library. There’s really no chance that this small and quirky collection of games will rival legends like Final Fantasy VI or Secret of Mana, but there’s still a lot to love and a lot of fun to be had if you do decide to go adventuring off to formats new.