Legend of Kay

Gamestyle Archive Intro: well, here is a real rarity a review from Richard Meerman that doesn’t involve a 10 score, which was a running gag in Gamestyle Towers that Richie loved to give anything on the Gamecube platform the perfect score. Hence why this PS2 title doesn’t achieve top marks. Ok, I’m kidding as hailing from the Netherlands Richard was a vital part of the GS team and a great guy to have onboard. This review dates from June 2005.

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Funny that: whenever there’s cartoon animals in videogames, chances are they ‘know’ some form of martial arts. Perfect examples of this apparently-trademarked trend are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and, less famously, The Samurai Pizza Cats. Of course, trends are there for the taking – and will doubtless spawn many followers and even more ‘copycats’ (pun intended). Please welcome: Legend of Kay.

The Legend of Kay takes place in an idyllic world where different groups of animals live harmoniously together in their own little communities. In each town is a magic well that, as long as the animals follow “the way”, will always produce water that nourishes both their flesh and spirit. The tranquility is soon shattered however when the animals begin to neglect their way of life – forcing the wells to dry up, and providing the perfect excuse for the evil emperor Shun and his gorilla army to invade and occupy the lands. The villagers seem to have abandoned all hope… save for the exception of a young cat called Kay who has been following the teachings of a once great master, and has taken it upon himself to free the animals from their captors.

The game is best described as a platform-RPG, with a little action and adventure thrown in for good measure. Playing as the ever-agile cat, you quixotically roam the landscape – completing main quests to move the story along and partaking of side-quests in order to earn a few extra goodies. Kay is your average, slightly arrogant, adolescent hero who thankfully shows a little more enthusiasm in his moves than he does in his lackadaisical chatter. In true platform tradition, Kay is able to jump, double-jump and somersault-jump (enabling him to reach high ledges and make long distance jumps). He can also swing from ropes, ride other animals, fight and even use an element of ninja magic during his travels. As with most platformers, you begin your adventure with a basic wooden weapon and limited fighting abilities… but these soon improve as the story moves along, where you’ll acquire better weapons and the wherewithal to learn stronger combos. There’s also the opportunity to buy treats from the various shops (ie, potions, armour, weapon upgrades and gadgets that will aid you in your quest).

Naturally, the game becomes much harder as you progress but also features a unique saving system which comes in the form of a magic lantern that automatically saves the game as you pass it (without any intervention from the player). Graphically, the Legend of Kay is brilliant with excellent reflection-mapping that is showcased perfectly inside the Japanese buildings (where you can clearly see everything in the shiny floors – except curiously for Kay’s own reflection. Hmm). The sprawling game environment is awash with beautiful colours and textures, creating a near-perfect fantasy world with varied themes throughout the different levels.

Character animation is very smooth and detailed – from general movement to the combat sequences – and Kay is as agile as you would expect a cat to be (further demonstrating the developers had paid full attention to this aspect of the game). Unfortunately, the camera can prove a little troublesome – randomly switching its view and making some jumps almost impossible to execute properly. A minor drop in framerate was also detected at various points in the game, but it’s certainly nothing to impinge upon the overall experience.

On the audio front, Legend of Kay again receives top marks, with the disinterested and typically-teenage warblings of Kay mixed into the clamour of combat and orchestral backing track. In the end, Legend of Kay is a solid game set in a beautifully-created world brimming with life and atmosphere. While it begins unassumingly, the game soon finds its ‘furry’ feet; posing a challenge for even the most experienced of players (and the varied side-quests and mini-games are enough to keep you interested until the very end). Although obviously aimed at a younger audience, this game will undoubtedly please anyone who enjoys platformers and perfectly-playable RPG crossovers. Well worth the asking price.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

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Onimusha 3: Demon Siege

Gamestyle Archive Intro:  it has been a while since we had a writer debut in the archive so I’m pleased to welcome Anna Williams into the fold. Hopefully this is the first of several great reviews from her in an era when gaming was perceived wrongly to be a male activity. If my hazy memory is correct she loved the Capcom games and characters. This review dates from July 2004.

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This game gets off to a good start before one’s even opened the box – Capcom are well-known for producing stellar titles (barring a few exceptions like Glass Rose and Devil May Cry 2), and Onimusha 3 is sourced from vintage stock: a duo of games which possessed gorgeous graphics, frankly astonishing FMV sequences, joypad-throwingly hard puzzles and slick combat. Onimusha 3 could have been just more of the same – and Capcom would have been safe in the knowledge that it would sell well – but this game goes the whole ten yards (oh yes!) and elevates itself well above its predecessors.

Demon Siege is the first in the Onimusha series to make use of the thumbsticks (finally!), but in an admirable nod to user-friendliness, one can still ape the style of the first two titles (ie, playing with D-pad) should one wish to. Indeed, one can even use them in conjunction: the stick for movement and evasion, and the pad for combos such as the ten-point slash. The game once again features good old Samanosuke, the hero of the first ‘musha (although he’s aged a bit since then). Joining him are Jacques Blanc (a French policeman who has been rendered in the likeness of actor Jean Reno – presumably to capitalise upon the European market), his girlfriend Michelle Aubert, and Ako – a faerie-like creature related to the ‘Tengu’ species. Sadly, Jubei Yagyu is conspicuous by his absence. As well as feudal Japan, this game also takes place in modern-day France, as one switches between the two main characters. Jacques and Samanosuke are teleported into each others’ times courtesy of a machine called the Time-Folder, created by mad scientist Guildenstern – one of the most high-ranking of the evil ‘Genma’ demons (as opposed to the ‘Oni’, who are the nice ones).

Gameplay alternates between Jacques, who is trapped in medieval Japan, and Sam in France, both of whom are accompanied by the cheerful tengu Ako (who can conveniently hop between time periods). At certain checkpoints, she can even ferry items from one man to the other; this is necessary in order to solve puzzles (as actions taken by Jacques in the past can affect Sam in the future) or to resolve the disparity of healing-items (herbs in Japan, med kits in France). Additionally, one can also play as Michelle Aubert, an elite grenade-toting policewoman with big ‘woo’ guns, who needs to rescue Jacques’ annoying sprog Henri (when he goes walkabout in search of his father).

Onimusha 3 offers a great deal of variety in locations (especially when compared to the first two games, which pretty much took place in the same village and its surrounding countryside): Japan showcases the forests of Mt. Hiei and the seaport town of Sakai, as well as castles, a frozen lake and an underwater temple visited by both characters in both times. France will see you climbing the Arc de Triomphe and then descending into the sewers of snot-demons below; and later to Notre Dame, Boulogne Zoo (where Guildenstern has unleashed some gorilla/tiger demons he’s created), the Eiffel Tower (which is covered in electrical ooze), and Mt St Michel. Mt St Michel is also visited by Jacques in the past, and he and Sam must pass keys and cogs back and forth (as an aside, surely that phrase should be the other way around?) in order to gain access to the Time Folder and destroy it. Confusingly, the Mt explodes in both the past AND the present. And there’s another Sam in the past along with Jacques; he doesn’t get transported to our time until a few days after Jacques’ medieval adventure (erm, just don’t ask, alright?).

Sam and Jacques have very different fighting styles, and you’ll likely end up having a favourite. Jacques fights with whip-like weapons: namely a sword, spear and mace that unfurl in lengths of chain to greatly increase their range (and handy for swinging from the Oni fireflies to reach higher or distant platforms). His weapons conjure up the standard videogame elements of fire, ice and electricity, while Sam’s swords invoke light, wind, and earth (and he also has the advantage of long-ranged arrows which can be fired at either airborne or ground-based enemies). Fighting earns you Genma souls: white ones top up your magic power and yellow ones your health – and big purple ones let the character turn into his Oni form (when he’s got five of them), which makes him temporarily invincible and capable of some serious arse-kickery. Handily, once you’ve acquired five purple souls you don’t transform into an Oni immediately (as was the case in Onimusha 1 and 2): you can keep them for as long as you like until you decide a transformation would be appropriate. Souls are absorbed by the chaps’ Oni gauntlets, and by Michelle’s soul bracelet (she doesn’t get an Oni form), but this isn’t done automatically.

Combat is a balancing act of deciding whether to attack or defend, or whether to absorb souls – which leaves you vulnerable. Perhaps the most important are the pink souls (the game says they’re red, but they’re definitely pink) which can be spent at save-points on increasing your weapons’ power, your armour’s strength or the speed with which your gauntlet absorbs souls. As you need a lot of souls to obtain these upgrades, you should choose wisely. Tactical thinking must also be employed when deciding what Ako should wear. During your travels, you’ll find waistcoats (aka ‘vests’ – obviously translated for the American market) for Ako, and each imposes a different effect. The most useful of which is the white one, which heals you when you stand still (thus meaning you can save your herbs and med kits for the heat of battle). Other waistcoats enhance absorption speed or the number of pink souls released. Deciding what to use – and when – is important, however it is unfortunate that one cannot change them (or your weapons) on the fly.

Having to access menu screens can disrupt the flow of the game. As well as fighting, puzzles can also provide some entertaining avenues for thought: while some are obvious – in the form of locked boxes which can only be opened by sliding some tiles around – they are far less vexatious than the ones found in the previous two titles. Most of these boxes yield jewels which can increase your health or magic gauges, but they don’t do this automatically – innovatively, you must choose when and whether you want to use them, so you can decide how hard or easy you want to make it on yourself. You can also give jewels to the other character via Ako. However, much of the puzzling is hidden within levels themselves (ie, paths and structures) and is usually nothing more than glorified quests to ‘find this key to open that door’ – or ‘find this crest to open that gate to go back in time to find this gem for that statue forwards in time which opens a logic puzzle to that door which yields this key which is needed in the past’ – but is no less enjoyable for it.

As enjoyable as Onimusha 3: Demon Siege undoubtedly is, it can get very frustrating when it all goes wrong. Some enemy AI just plain cheats: one type of enemy (once he’s knocked you down) continues hitting you – not giving you the chance to block or even to get back up. Many of the boss battles are also very hard compared to ordinary enemies, and will eat away at your herbs and medicines (and most require that you call upon the Oni form). As a result, instead of feeling triumphant upon their defeat, one tends to feel moreover exhausted and “thank smeg that’s over with”. A battle should be fun to endure, not a chore.

Thankfully, most non-boss fights are a great deal of fun – especially the Genma hordes at the epic battle for Honnoji Temple, where you can fight for as long as you like because the enemies keep respawning, enabling you to gleefully string together chain combo-after-chain combo (and the enemies piss you off just enough to make destroying them very satisfying). This game has obviously been a labour of love for Capcom; replete with so many finishing touches that add up to a stunning experience (you can even turn the blood off or make it green). Replay value is also high: fighting well in the Dark Realm earns you the weapons from the first game, which Sam can then use when starting a repeat file. There are also extra costumes to unlock (including Sam’s cowboy outfit with a toy panda strapped to his wrist in place of the Oni gauntlet) and bonus levels showing what happened to the other characters.

Coupled – quadrupled? – with the fact that the game also rewards you for being mad-skilled (eg, beating it in a short time, or without saving, without dying, etc), Onimusha 3: Demon Siege is double bastard-woo with hot custard on top (and those who allege otherwise are suffering from cranio-rectal inversions).

Gamestyle score: 9/10

Blood Will Tell

Gamestyle Archive intro: did I review this in June 2005? That’s the sign of not a terrible game which would be memorable for all the wrong reasons but rather average. At Gamestyle we were big on scoring average experiences as average hence 5 out of 10. It still frustrates me that most sites score an average game as 7 out of 10, which instead is a very good game. That’s the problem with all scoring as it rigs the whole process and many punters I’m sure skip to the score and don’t follow the reviewers comments.

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With so many demons to exorcise, Japanese developers seem hell-bent on dissecting each and every legend, story or piece of pulp fiction that has ever tormented their psyche. Wow Entertainment is the latest to bring us a ferocious tale of a samurai – literally torn apart by demons and sent on a quest for revenge.

Taken from its Manga inspiration, you fill the role of Hyakkimaru, a samurai who has been damned since birth. As the prophesied child of light (aka potential demon slayer), the 48 ruling demons take a great deal of interest in Hyakkimaru’s arrival. And while they cannot prevent his birth, promises of power instead corrupt his family: once the contract is agreed, Hyakkimaru’s father could not envisage the sinister punishment to befall his son. Aware that they could not kill the child, the demons instead took 48 body parts – however, Hyakkimaru’s will to survive was sorely underestimated. Hence, as each demon falls, a body part is restored to the barely-human samurai. Hyakkimaru is initially a puppet-like figure with the frankly bizarre ability to pull off limbs that reveal weapons of varying devastation.

This instantly sets Blood Will Tell apart from other entrants in the samurai-adventure genre: the prologue and immediate missions are handled with aplomb (especially when the restoration of sight returns colour to the screen). But the appeal begins to wane, as Gamestyle realises – along with the player – that in spite of its outdoor decor, inside this is just a generic offering. Linearity soon announces itself, as you are forced along one-way streets and enemies appearing spontaneously. These foot soldiers of evil fall into the category of every other Japanese samurai offering, and are quite dispossessed of intelligence. Once they are harvested, you then face off against one of 48 demons that hold a body part taken from Hyakkimuaru. (At this point, Gamestyle must add that each body part is correctly placed into one of several systems that make up the human body; if anything, Blood Will Tell< actually serves as an educational tool for the ‘bloody’ familiarity it provides – although the game itself rarely bursts a vessel.) The various parts that Hyakkimaru wields improve with each and every kill.

The difficulty is well-placed, but with so many foes offered for slaughter the experience eventually becomes mundane and even futile. Unlike other games where you must seek out confrontations, Blood Will Tell shoves them down your throat; there is no escaping the treadmill of points, as you gradually reach the end (and some sort of peace). Nevertheless, this is a Sega game – and the developer notoriously knows how to entertain gamers. Adding a little spice to the proceedings is a co-operative mode that takes the form of the standard ‘buddy’ dynamic. The faithful sidekick (Dororo) is available for the bloodthirsty missions that make up story mode, but certain junctions require sole possession of the character. These are perhaps the weakest link in the adventure (and an otherwise poor attempt to break up the monotony – as are the incidental mini-games on offer).

At this stage of its lifecycle, Gamestyle would expect Playstation 2 releases to offer solid, well-built environments that show flair or some graphical distinction. Alas, what seemed extraordinary two years ago is somewhat ordinary today – with only the in-game cut sequences rising above and beyond the confines of a dated landscape. Similarly, camera issues again raise their lethargic head: Blood Will Tell quashes the onscreen view of the player by limiting camera control to a 180-degree angle. Normally, one might toggle the right analogue stick for correction, but Blood Will Tell offers a somewhat unorthodox alternative – giving you relative freedom only during boss encounters. But even this ‘freedom’ is hamstrung by repetition. Imagine, if you would, 48 bosses in one game; creating 10 novel bosses would be hard enough, but 48? Gamestyle rests its point. Outside of boss missions, the camera hovers at angles that make close combat unpredictable (as you lunge with hope, rather than precision).

In conclusion, Blood Will Tell falls into the same trap that has ensnared similar releases. It lacks the vital spark to set it apart from others already on the shelf. And, despite the best efforts of its marketing gurus, Blood Will Tell looks set to remain indistinguishable at retail; no doubt inviting but ultimately middling.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10