Revisiting Götzendiener

I’ve been meaning to take another look at this 1994 PC Engine title for a while now: The first time I finished it (many years ago now) I found it as fascinating as it was utterly broken, and ever since then I’ve been clinging on to the faint hope that perhaps it was me, not Götzendiener, that needed fixing.

I was wrong.

If you’d like to bail out now I’ll just say that Götzendiener is a bit like an isometric Prince of Persia, if Prince of Persia was a colossal mess of faint glimmers of good ideas trapped within a half-baked and clearly unfinished game.

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Still here? Then let’s take a moment to hammer home how rushed this game is before we get down to the specifics. Do you remember Soul Reaver? Do you remember how that game was very carefully inching its way towards a vampire-decimating climax at the silenced cathedral, but abruptly changed to ‘Wait we meant um timey-wimey stuffs er sorry no boss fight for you please look forward to Soul Reaver 2’ with no warning? Now imagine the break point between the properly designed and HELPWEHAVENOMOREGAME segments occurring after a mere fifteen minutes and you’ve got Götzendiener.

But what makes this so jarring is that those first fifteen minutes are really well done, kicked off by a stunning introduction sequence that shows the typical brave hero-types making their way through hordes of demons to rescue the pink-clad princess… only for them all drop dead before they can free her. So what does Princess Misa do when all hope’s apparently lost? She seizes the opportunity to rescue herself!

The escape from this opening location feels almost like a sort of prototype 2D ICO  – as far as the graphical limitations of the time allowed, anyway. While Misa’s in this tower there’s a wonderful sense of being trapped in a place, not a level, and as you puzzle your way around you can catch glimpses of areas you can’t directly access, including a tantalising glimpse of what appears to be the main gate leading out of the tower to freedom. There are some one-off and common-sense-led problem solving sections here too – has the ladder come away from the wall while you’re on it? Pick the broken piece up off the floor and use it to create a bridge across a gap. Rubble blocking the way? Find a heavy mallet nearby and smash up the rocks.

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But even at this stage the game’s already coming undone, with Misa encountering what can only be described as a variety of placeholder events around the tower. Early on Misa will hear ominous deep bells tolling – and she can even find the specially-animated monsters pulling on the rope! Except… killing the monsters and silencing the bells does nothing at all. Which is kind-of OK as it was never presented as an alarm to signify Misa had escaped (monsters are incredibly slow, encountered one at a time, with perhaps twenty crossing her path all game) and if they were signalling the start of some dark ritual it’s never shown on screen. So… basically some monsters making noise, as far as anyone’s concerned. Nearby there’s an assembly of monsters on the ground floor that do send a brief shiver down your spine as you wonder if you’ve stumbled into an early version of Metal Gear Solid 2’s famous commandant speech in the tanker, only to find that this gaggle won’t just refuse to rush towards Misa when there’s only a waist-high barrier separating the two, but they won’t move at all. They’re for all intents and purposes ‘painted on’ decoration, the fragile husk of what could have been an incredible scene.

Players undeterred by this strangeness will shortly find themselves scaling a ladder that stretches all the way to the top of an enormous multi-level demon statue (another unique decorative object), and leaping on to the back of a magical bird that whisks Misa away to… a nearby ladder, and the game continues as if it hadn’t handed you a visually dramatic climax topped off with the perfect means of escape. This odd sequence is later underlined by the ending cinematic (just one of three cutscenes all game, including the intro), which shows the same statue crumbling for no particular reason and Misa flying away on the same bird that appeared out of nowhere and wouldn’t fly her away before.

Once out of this area the game only gets worse, with things like multiple Misa-sized crawlspaces in the caves that cannot be interacted with but always lead to places you need to go (very much like Castlevania 64's unused whip points), a major encounter with the only speaking anything in the game represented by a unique sprite that’s not even facing her way, and an extended sequence in some crystal caverns that involves nothing more than falling through the floor lots and lots and lots of times (you may be interested to know you fall down about six or seven floors but somehow end up back on the surface after about three or so).

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The only reward for gritting your teeth and forcing your way through to the end is a battle against the penultimate boss - the only enemy in the game who doesn’t walk into your sword until it’s dead – a final boss who does walk into your sword until it’s dead, and what I would assume is the final final boss; a unique enemy wandering the area as the previously-mentioned mook that literally cannot attack but will grant you the ending cutscene when it dies (just three swings of the sword, folks!).

The ending monologue (unvoiced, as are the other two cutscenes) confirms that Götzendiener’s plot is nothing more than the typical ‘I’m good! You’re evil! No, YOU’RE THE REAL EVIL duetoeventsthatoccurredbeforeyouwereevenborn’ anime-style plot ‘twist’ that I seem to keep stumbling on while playing games from the nineties; all told in less text than you’d find on the back of a cereal box.

Having got all this off my chest said all this… I still don’t feel it’s fair to call Götzendiener a bad game. There’s clearly some ambition and inventiveness lurking behind its half-arsed shell, and for those brief moments near the beginning when the game’s design and ideas are singing in harmony there’s a real feeling that this could be something really special. Best to file this one away with the likes of Phantasy Star III – plenty of great ideas on paper, but terrible execution.

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