Sometimes you’ve got a retro-itch and the only thing that’ll scratch it is a CD-based 16-bit manga/anime tie-in RPG, right? Maybe that’s just me. Either way it means I’ve spent a good chunk of the past week chipping away at the overlooked Mega CD title named above in a vain attempt to knock another game off my towering backlog and hopefully share something worth reading with you all.
The good news is this 1993 RPG starts off strong, with a lengthy and eye-catching introduction showing off Pai’s life in Tibet, her time with Yakumo’s father, and eventually poor Yakumo’s transformation into a deathless Wu. All of these dramatic events fill the screen with reasonably well animated cutscene graphics and grace your ears with lines delivered by (most of) the original Japanese voice cast, helping to really kick things off on a high note.
This same level of care and attention can be found in the lush battle graphics too, where even the most ordinary of enemies are given lavish idle animations and a range of enormous side-facing attack/defend/hit recoil sprites. Party members are somehow shown even more love, with unique near-death stances, magic casting poses, and even different attack animations depending on the weaponry they have to hand. The downside to these scenes is that they take a good while to load (mercifully nothing like the horror that is Samurai Spirits RPG) and even longer to play out, but at least the designers were aware enough of the potential issue to give players the choice to turn them off for standard battles in the options menu.
If you delve into the mechanics here there are some nifty ideas going on under the hood too – ‘defend’ lets you select an ally to protect rather than have a character stand around with their hands over their face for a turn and effects buffs and debuffs have on both your team as well as the enemy are significant and potentially deadly to both sides. To help keep track of exactly what’s what in an RPG that often feels like it’s going out of its way to call spells by especially obtuse names players can check the effects of any magical ability before casting, with the exact use and MP cost laid out in plain Japanese.
Death in battle is also handled in an unexpected way: In keeping with the idea that none of the main characters actually die die during the story killing blows reduce a character’s HP to one rather than zero, putting them in a ‘half-dead’ state until brought back with a particular spell or item. Yakumo’s canonical ability to revive himself comes into play here too, as after a few turns (assuming you can survive that long without him) he’ll return to a functioning if dangerously ill state all by himself, leaving battles open for some exciting hanging-on-by-a-thread scenarios where he can still potentially save the day after keeling over. Another interesting feature is the overpowered ‘near death attacks’ that come into play when any character’s got exactly 2HP remaining – these deadly blows deliver at least quadruple the damage of a standard attack, with the obvious drawback being that the character in question is a mere demon’s sneeze away from being completely incapacitated.
Unfortunately it’s not all rosy in demon-fighting land, and there are a few issues here that are at odds with the beautifully presented artwork and interesting ideas. The most obvious one is having to watch party members moronically throw away items and wasted MP on allies that have fallen during a turn – there’s no reason why these couldn’t have been auto-redirected to the caster, another random party member, or plain failed due to the lack of a valid target. The other is that random battles are as frequent as they are tough, and the caves, basements, schools, and hotels you encounter them in are labyrinthine nightmares without any save points within to give you a breather. Now on the one hand the game generously supplies a variety of spells and items that can warp you to a dungeon entrance or back to the nearest save point, but on the other that still leaves you with a whole dungeon to march through again when you do find the time/patience to come back to the game. On the surface these all sound like typical retro RPG problems… until you consider this game came out the same year Shining Force 2, Phantasy Star 4 and Secret of Mana hit the shelves, so it doesn’t feel as though there’s any real excuse for the game to be as user-unfriendly as it sometimes is.
Outside of demon-bopping the actual RPGing unfortunately feels like a greatest hits collection of every bland 90’s genre feature going; stretching out the plot with endless to-ing and fro-ing between NPCs you must talk to several times in a row before they’ve give up whatever key item you need or move slightly to the side so you can get to whatever you need to go, and a vast array of shops that all sell items you aren’t sure will be an improvement over your current gear until after you’ve paid for them. The PC Engine 3x3 Eyes adventure game (apologies for the quality of the text in that ancient link) proves that the setting is more than rich enough to create an exciting globetrotting tale filled with bloodthirsty demons, but after the initial setup Seima Densetsu instead sleepwalks its way through a checklist of mediocre RPG tropes.
But while it strangely holds the exact opposite problems as Compile’s Mega CD RPG Shadowrun – a game dripping with atmosphere and intrigue but lumbered with a battle system so bad it literally didn’t function as intended - Seima Densetsu’s clearly been made with love and effort… just not necessarily a lot of skill. The good bits don’t cancel out the bad, but if you’re curious enough to try it out they’ll certainly lift this average RPG into something that’ll at least make your reasonably cheap purchase feel worthwhile. I’d recommend taking this very helpful FAQ with you on your journey, mind - http://sesesega.blog90.fc2.com/blog-entry-37.html
As an added bonus the game comes with a separate ‘CD & Graphics’ soundtrack disc – always a welcome sight in any package! You’d think the ‘& Graphics’ in the title would refer to either a few ancient BMP files tucked away on the disc or even a fancy CD+G style extra, but if that’s the case I can’t seem to get these mystical hidden graphics to display via either a Mega CD or Sega Saturn (or my PC for that matter), more’s the pity. Then again I can’t say I’ve ever tried to use CD+G before now, so if you know better please get in touch!