Gamestyle Archive Intro: One of the more overlooked Treasure titles this arrived in the UK without too much fanfare and offered a unique experience away from the onslaught of big franchise titles on the PS2. From memory Swing Games PR were really pleased with the effort of the GS team. Writer JJ, published August 2001.
ACCESSORIES: Memory Card
RELEASE: Out Now
There are a handful of games developers that need no introduction and even fewer that exist by doing their own thing regardless of current trends. Japanese developer Treasure have been doing such ever since their first game for the Mega Drive and have given us some classics including Radiant Silvergun, Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes and Sin & Punishment. In today’s gaming world they are fairly unique in as when they have a project for a particular console they will approach the company in question i.e. Sony. However if that company insists on any changes then Treasure will not release the game on that format. Over recent years having a Treasure game has been a mark of respect for most consoles and even now their reputation grows amongst gamers.
Having been a fan of the developer for many years and constantly driving my Gamestyle colleagues mad with praise about Treasure, it’s probably best that I took a look at their latest release. I can fully appreciate that many of their titles will not appeal to the mass public as their distinctive looks; designs and hidden gameplay do not gather favourable reviews. Two of the most recent releases (Bangoi-O, Mischief Makers) while good games have struggled because of this and Freak Out certainly isn’t a pick up and play game by nature. Unbiased and critical as ever, welcome to the mad, truly bizarre game that is Freak Out.
The story is strange even by Treasure standards and is as unique as the implementation of the game itself. The main character is Linda, a young girl who has to live in a big house on the outskirts of town with her twelve sisters. Like Cinderella all her sisters are incredibly vain and rude to Linda, always commentating on her poor appearance. The sisters are so involved with themselves that they are not aware of the outside world and exist only to pamper their looks and egos. Linda often gets sent on chores to the shops to collect beauty products and clothes. During these trips she enjoys being free of all twelve sisters and looking at the beauty of the outside world. On one such occasion as Linda is returning home she sees a van delivering a package to her sister’s house. Inside the house the sisters gather around the box that opens by itself to reveal a doorway. They all hear a voice promising them beauty beyond reason for all eternity if they step through the door way to the Museum of Agony.
As Linda approaches the house a white light engulfs everything, spreading outwards, smashing windows and then silence. Upon entering the house Linda sees the doorway and is given an ultimatum by the evil voice – if she wishes to save them she must go through the doorway. Linda has a friend in her scarf that has become possessed because of the white light and is a fearsome weapon against the Zako.
The first thing that you notice about Freak Out upon entering are the Museum of Agony are the unique visuals which can be described as being influenced by Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas. The black stencil marks that cover the screen as you move create a surreal almost dreamlike atmosphere. Immediately at this point you release that Freak Out is going to play like no other game before. This room acts as the central hub to the twelve sisters and options such as save and the Gallery of Shame. It’s a good place to learn about your scarf and what it can do to objects. The control system utilises the shoulder buttons and analogue sticks only and will require some practice but soon becomes second nature.
The scarf is controlled by using the right analogue stick and with buttons you can grab a hold of anything on the screen stretching, snapping, twisting – bend me, shape me, anyway you want me, if you please. Apart from the visuals this is Freak Out’s most inspired feature and in my experience a totally new one. While Red Faction’s game engine was hyped more than the game, ultimately it proved to be limited and not as groundbreaking as we would have hoped. I find the one employed by Freak Out to be far more exciting because it allows you to interact with the scenery and characters more so than ever before. In this game the scenery is your weapon. Not bad for a company which has only just began exploring the possibilities of 3D engines and have only one previous 3D release to their credit. Games such as Zelda through its hook weapon allowed you to reach places like never before, Freak Out takes this to a whole new level. At first this is what most will struggle to come to terms with, as the levels may seem very barren and similar to Mario 64 in places. Soon you realise that this is not the case, everything on screen game be grabbed and pulled including the ground, trees and buildings. More often than not I found myself ignoring the Zako’s (minions of the demons) that are scattered around the levels and indulged in seeing what the scarf could do.
Everything that the scarf grabs onto has a tension level and the indicator on the bottom right corner will show how much tension has been built up. A simple attack is the Snap Attack achieved by grabbing a Zako, pulling on it then letting go this snap will cause minimal damage but is handy for when you are in tricky situations i.e. on a cliff or bridge. More devastating attacks such as the torpedo attack and scarf bomb result in major damage and a fantastic shower of lighting effects and visuals. Your scarf is not only limited to attacks as it can throw items, help you jump or climb distances and even exorcise the possessed sisters. Points are awarded for good attacks and these prove invaluable as they open new, previously locked doors and once you have five points you can use the scarf bomb attack.
The game is relatively short due to the unique structure that it employs, rather than having twelve levels followed by a boss battle the game has twelve boss rooms. There are also four large landscape rooms that you can visit throughout the game and use to build up points and practise your scarf techniques. The shortness of the game may be disappointing to some but as mentioned previously there is plenty to do on every level so take it at face value and you will miss out on so much. With the exception of playing games for reviewing purposes my PS2 does not see much activity but even after completing Freak Out I find myself going back all the time. Apart from the joys to be found on each level the Gallery of Shame allows you to gain revenge on your sisters once you have defeated them.
Freak Out isn’t the fastest game you will ever play but at least it does run at a constant frame rate and even picks up during the attack sequences. Visually you will struggle to describe Freak Out but if a Japanese anime maker decided to create a cartoon based on a little girl stuck in nightmare state after watching a series of Tim Burton films then this would be it. Some of the character designs are inspired, particularly the Zako who are vain women with breasts so big and deformed its surprising they can even stand up. Overall the game looks fantastic and is a credit to the machine – thankfully the jagged edges are less intrusive than witnessed on other releases. Treasure has created some excellent soundtracks over the years and Freak Out including sound effects does not disappoint in this regard.
While I find this game excellent and perhaps the most original on the system since Fantavision many will overlook it, which is a great shame. The PS2 needs more originality rather than the usual endless flurry of sequels containing only graphical enhancements i.e. GT3. Gamestyle can only recommend that if you fancy something original, daring and eventually great fun to play that you give Freak Out a try. Games this original deserve to be rewarded in some way and who knows, you may just love it.
Gamestyle Score: 8/10