Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Games for Adults Halloween: Deus Machina Demonbane

Deus Machina Demonbane Review

           Didn’t think I was going to ignore the actual holiday did you? Since we started on an official English release, I feel it appropriate that we should end on one too so our final review for Halloween 2011 will be for Deus Machina Demonbane. Its announcement back in June 2009 marked two significant points in the English eroge market: firstly, this meant JAST had made a deal with Nitro+ one of the most famous of eroge companies as the DVD release of Phantom of Inferno by Hirameki September 16, 2005 had helped in earning the company a strong cult fanbase, and secondly, this was the first time JAST had reached out to a fan translation group to commission the translation they were making for a game; a practice that has resulted in the license of other well known eroge such as School Days, Seinarukana, and Kara no Shoujo. Sadly, Demonbane had the misfortune of being stuck in development hell for over a year due to the fact that Nitro+ was working on moving its company HQ in Japan at the time and there was difficulty with putting this game originally released back in 2003 (under the title Zanmataisei Demonbane) onto a more modern system. Fortunately, the wait was worth it when it finally released May 13, 2011 as the game proved to be so much more than I anticipated and I can see why it was popular enough to receive a PS2 port (released July 2004 under the name Kishin Houkou Demonbane), a sequel, novel tie ins, and an anime series, and why it was so well regarded by importers.

Pros: Excellent story, diverse plot, very good characters, great artwork, good music, well performed voice acting, writers did their research on the Cthulhu mythos.

Cons: Start is a little slow, Leica’s route is pretty weak compared to the other two, very limited voice acting (officially), skip function only works when it wants to.

WTF?!: Dr. West…just read and see.

            In Demonbane you play as Kurou Daijuuji, a former student of Miskatonic University’s magic academy now turned down on his luck private detective in Arkham City (sorry, no Batman in sight). One day he receives a job from a girl named Ruri Hadou the heiress of a powerful industrial company to locate a grimoire of incredible power that she requires. The book that he finds is none other than the Necronomicon, unfortunately for him it’s taken the form of a young girl named Al Azif and soon Kurou finds himself dragged into a battle with a powerful crime organization that has amassed some of the greatest powers of technology and the occult. A battle of giant robots, Great Old Ones, and dark sorcery that will escalate into a conflict over the fate of the very world.

            Sounds like an interesting combination, doesn’t it? The Cthulhu mythos of H. P. Lovecraft and giant robots, and no I’m not talking about the Evangelion kind or the Gundam kind, I’m talking about the old school epic giant robots from Getter Robo to the great tribute to that genre Gurren Lagann. The creators of this game were able to make this combination work so well together through, for the most part, very good writing and well researched handling of the Cthulhu mythos so as to integrate the two aforementioned concepts together as well as take creative liberties here and there (such as with the Shining Trapezohedron) and make them work. It really is interesting to see how well the story of Kurou and Al is written into elements from these classic stories including “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Haunter of the Dark”, and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” to name a few. The writer even went so far as to include some Easter Eggs such as with character names from how Ruri’s butler Winfield is named after H.P. Lovecraft’s father to the more obscure with the children under Leica’s care: George, Colin, and Allison being named for three people who produced a hoax version of the Necronomicon. Of course, considering our main heroine is the Necronomicon, the writer for this game didn’t forget to make a small nod a certain beloved movie trilogy in one scene where some of the characters fight a sorcerer who has the actual book of the dead (and yes she actually says the name).

            When it comes to the story for Demonbane, it actually is surprising just how well the story turned out. Aside from the integration of giant robots and Lovecraft, the writer managed to blend action, comedy, horror, and romance together very well. You really get into the battles as the story goes on considering they become more intense and action packed, and this applies to fights both with and without the giant robots as the writer managed to portray the skills that Kurou and the enemies he fights over the course of the game have are unique depending on whether they’re fighting with or without their mechs and these differing styles of combat are shown in a way that makes them equally compelling, meaning you won’t feel like the mech fights are cooler than the non-mech fights or vice versa and you won’t feel any disappointment when the battle shifts from one to the other. Concerning the humor, while I admit some of it isn’t so different from what you’d see in an anime it’s still pretty funny thanks to good writing, characters, and voice acting. As for the horror elements, they may seem sparse at first in the story but once they start becoming more prevalent in the later half of the game they become pretty effective for building suspense. While I will admit that these story elements aren’t that scary, it’s made up for with how it instead sets the right atmosphere and matches with many of the themes from Lovecraft’s writings, particularly the chaotic horror brought on by the Great Old Ones and the like. I do wish that the story could have matched the creepy atmosphere that Lovecraft’s stories usually provided, but still…

            Naturally a story like this requires good characters in order to carry it and Demonbane’s cast is certainly up to the task (click here for profiles). For starters, Kurou makes for surprisingly effective hero, surprising because he starts out as a pretty down on his luck kind of character and not the best of magicians, however the writer managed to do a very good job at using that as a starting point for him to develop into an effective and all together bad ass hero in the later parts of the story. Of course the rest of the cast is really good to; Al, for instance, turned out to be really great heroine in being both cute, funny, and her development in the later parts of her route is pretty effective. Also the villains are all good ones with the Anti-Cross making for interesting opponents for Kurou and co. over the course of the game (though I will admit it gets a bit annoying having to sit through half of them getting beaten in about the same way and time three times), Master Therion making for an effective final opponent for Kurou and the writer actually wrote things so that it makes sense he follows the James Bond villain route and not kill Kurou right at the start, but the best of the villains (sort of) in my opinion is Dr. West (no, not that one). This character is quite possibly one of the best comical foils that I have seen in a while. Imagine if you will Dist the Reaper of Tales of the Abyss combined with Dr. Insano and that’s pretty much Dr. West. His one sided rivalry with Kurou is always hilarious to read through be it for the bizarre inventions he makes to fight him and the random and hilarious dialogue he has in most of his scenes.

            My route preference is as follows:

1)      Al

2)      Ruri

3)      Leica

The reason Al ranks at the top really is because her route is the best one; the relationship she forms with Kurou over the course of the game is very well done, especially in how it evolves from partner into lover (not to mention her interactions with Kurou are a good and often funny read), it’s the route where Kurou develops the most as a character and subsequently the one where he comes off as the most badass, and the ending is the most satisfying and conclusive (little wonder why that ending is canon). Ruri’s route comes in at a very close second; I admit I didn’t have very high expectations for it considering a lot of the import fanbase described the other two routes as unnecessary or that Ruri came off as a copy of Al in her relationship with Kurou. Thankfully those were proven wrong as not only is Ruri her own character and her relationship with Kurou different, but this route did a surprisingly good job in developing her as a character. Not only does she become a very competent heroine once her route takes off, but her route also makes interesting reveals about the story that you wouldn’t have gotten in Al’s route (though I will admit I saw the twist for her normal ending coming). The only thing that prevents her route from tying with Al’s is that her true ending for me was just too simple; I didn’t mind the way it was revealed (I actually got quite a bit of a chuckle at how it jokingly admitted its using a deus ex machina) it’s just that the ending itself just left me with a “that’s it?” kind of feeling.

Moving onto Leica’s route, this is sadly where we also have to move on to where the main story flaws of this game are. Now don’t get the wrong idea, this route is not terrible as it does have story elements that are really good such as showing how Kurou relates to the Leica and the kids she’s taking care of, more involvement from them storywise, and some of the differences from the other routes were really good like the Hunting Horror. One the route’s problems for me was its predictability; basically, every major secret that’s being hinted at such as Leica’s past and who Sandalphon is are about as obvious as who Darth Sidious was in the Star Wars prequels, which sadly makes the route not as interesting as the other two. Another problem has to do with the role given to Sandalphon where they essentially give him too big a role as a villain. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part Sandalphon is a pretty good villain in both looks and mannerisms and at first I liked that he was given more to do in this route than in the others but by the end they give him a role that quite frankly is too big for his character. Now I realize that these first two problems don’t sound very big and I can admit I might have just been burnt out after playing Al and Ruri’s routes, but these next three are the routes three biggest problems when it comes to story. The first of these is that at the start of the route a character that in Ruri and Al’s routes wasn’t a villain suddenly is for no other reason except to kill this character off so as to give Leica an important role later on, which makes for a pretty major moment of character inconsistency. The second is that considering Leica’s role in most of the game, it really is disheartening to see her role for most of her route being downgraded to damsel in distress. I can’t explain why this is without spoiling anything but you’ll see why once you play the game a bit. The third goes along with the second reason in that during that portion of the story, the writer decided for some reason to write in some scenes that I feel serve only to appeal to the lowest common denominator and don’t serve much purpose aside from that. I do realize similar scenes occur in the other two routes but those fit better in context with the story for the route and it doesn’t feel like those scenes were there just to titillate the viewers.

Before moving on, I should say one more thing about the routes in that there actually is an underlying structure to them that sort of ties them together. I recommend clearing the routes in this order:

1)      Ruri (Normal Ending)

2)      Leica

3)      Ruri True Ending

4)      Al

Now while Demonbane doesn’t have any gameplay to it, there is one flaw with it system wise that I really should point out. Basically the skip function only works when it wants to, meaning after completing a route and replaying to start another one, the skip function won’t skip over some scenes even if they’re word for word the same as they were in the route you played only because the scene now leads into a completely new one. This may sound like a minor complaint, but trust me after reading the start of the second half of the game with Black Lodge carrying out their big plan, you’ll get sick of it really quick.

In the area of presentation, Demonbane does very well. For starters the artwork is excellent both in the area of illustration and also in the 3D designs of the various giant robots. The artists I think did a very good job of using the dark color schemes of artwork in order to blend these two things together without them contrasting. Also done well are the few anime scenes that are shown at the start of the game; while I do wish that we could have had one more at the end, I am glad these scenes were kept to a minimum so they didn’t become tedious. The music for this game is very good with each piece catching the right mood for its respective scene, however the Demonbane’s biggest score in the sound department is in its voice acting. The seiyuu in this game do a very good job, but there is one flaw I should point out first: there is very little voice acting in this game, just during the beginning and ending parts. However, there exists a fan made voice patch that adds in all the voice acting from the PS2 port and this is one voice patch I highly recommend applying since not only does it add in the voices of big name actors like Norio Wakamoto, Takehito Koyasu, Joji Nakata, Kazuki Yao, and the late Daisuke Gori, but it also gives more lines to the rest of the cast and that’s a very good addition not just to hear more of Hikaru Midorikawa and Takumi Yamazaki’s performances as Master Thereon and Dr. West respectively (performances that are truly well done), but also to hear Kentaro Itou’s performance as Kurou. I’ll say it right now, this is the ebst role I’ve ever heard him in, even better than his role as Renji in Bleach (and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what helped him get picked for that role) as he’s given a much bigger part playing the main character. I will admit that the voice he does is pretty close to the voice he does for Renji, but he delivers the comedic and dramatic lines (especially the ones where Kurou kicks ass (and let’s face it cool as he is, has Renji even beaten an enemy since that one arrancar when they were first introduced?) so well he makes the role its own.

Now concerning the ero scenes, well…they aren’t bad but they’re pretty ridiculous. This mainly has to do with the art style and the fact that most of the scenes are written to be comedic, which is a bit hit or miss in that area.

In Conclusion:

            Deus Machina Demonbane truly is worthy of its place as a classic amongst Nitro+’s library and really should not be missed, especially if you like Lovecraft, giant robots, or both. With its well rounded and well acted cast of characters and well drawn artwork, you can forgive the few flaws that this game has here and there. Let’s hope this sells well enough that we can get the PC port of the sequel, Kishin Hishou Demonbane, where you can actually control Demonbane.

Final Score: 8/10 Awesome

Author Recommendation: Buy it now.

            As for the anime, I’ve only seen a little bit of it (mainly the last episode), but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not an awful adaptation from what I’ve seen, but I wouldn’t call it a good adaption either. Because it’s only 12 episodes long, things move along so fast and are simplified to save time that many significant scenes portrayed in it from the game just aren’t as effective. They also make some significant changes with the removal of a character, the way some characters look, and the final episode is its own original take on Al’s true end and while I do appreciate that they give a nod to Al’s normal end, the placement of that comes off as a cheap deus ex machina and then there’s also the fact that the ending doesn’t have any of the scenes from Al’s true ending that built up together to make the ending so conclusive and satisfying. There does exist a single episode OVA released with the PS2 port that tells an extra story, and while it’s decent its biggest flaw is that it’s only about 25 minutes long and to be honest this feels like it should have been twice that length. It basically just leaves you with a plot that moves almost too fast to follow, the core cast has very little screen time (I think Dr. West gets the most of it), and it’s a little hard to tell when it takes place in relation to the game’s plot. I’d recommend looking at the OVA if you’re curious, but only after you’ve played the game. As for the anime series, if you really want to watch it, play the game first so as to avoid spoilers but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Anyway, that concludes this year’s Games for Adults Halloween reviews. I hope you all enjoyed it and maybe were introduced to at least one good game to match the season. Happy Halloween and I hope you join me next year.

1 comment:

  1. There's also a thing called "Ouroboros Rondo" - I suggest you to look it up here (I'm seeding it right now):