Cho Dengeki Stryker Review
Well with Avengers: Age of Ultron’s cinematic debut around the corner, what better a way to celebrate that than a look at the best (and to my knowledge only) superhero VN commercially available in English? Originally released as Dengeki Stryker in Japan on June 24, 2011 by Overdrive and an almost year later English release by Mangagamer June 22, 2012, the game would get an expanded Japanese version (hence the ‘Cho’ name) on July 27, 2012 which was released in English on March 28, 2014. This localized release came in quite a few options: an expansion patch for those who bought the original release, a full digital release for newcomers, an all ages release on Steam and a physical version. Obviously MG did all it could to make sure as many people as possible could play this game and the fact that I’m covering this in anticipation of Age of Ultron means I find Cho Dengeki Stryker good, but please allow me to elaborate…
Pros: Excellent stories, great characters, excellent art work and animation, top line voice acting, awesome soundtrack.
Cons: Zero Saga is a bit weak, Hilko’s route is a little on the short side, villains are just okay.
WTF?!: Yes, one of the semi-major characters is a talking dog (who can also fly and breath fire), and that’s awesome.
Cho Dengeki Stryker’s story begins with an innocent childhood wish by a boy, Yuuki Yamato, after he fails at protecting his childhood friend Haruna from a group of bullies. This wish is to become the superhero he idolizes: Dengeki Stryker, and as it happens Yamato encounters a mysterious old man who calls himself the Memory Collector who grants the wish in exchange for Yamato’s memories. Years later a strange group of people with super powers appear with the intention of conquering Japan in the name of the Balbora Empire, but a lone hero stands in their way. A hero who bears a strong resemblance to Dengeki Stryker…
When it comes to the plot Cho Dengeki Stryker does a great deal right. First and foremost it tells a good superhero story that fully embraces many of the tropes of the genre be it from the kind we see in anime and manga to those seen in comics and movies (and even a little sentai) and does a great job in demonstrating why they work so well. The scenes where Yamato and many of the other characters do something heroic always carry the right emotional weight to feel genuine and often awesome. CDS also takes a good look at some of those trope be they comedic, such as the ridiculous effectiveness of a change of clothes, or something more in depth like a look at the concept of identity in relation to that of our hero. Best of all the view the writing has regarding this superhero story, heroism and what good can come of it is an overall positive one, but a well-balanced one too. It’s not afraid of venturing into dark territory at the right story points, yet it meets it with the right amount of heart backed up by good writing that keeps it from descending into the pit of world weary cynicism some hero stories might go to.
Second of all the story has an excellent cast of characters who are just as, if not more, appealing as the plot is (click here for profiles). Yamato himself makes for a good protagonist with his altruistic personality fitting for a hero yet also hilariously sticking out when in a normal environment in a way very reminiscent of Full Metal Panic!’s Sousuke Sagara. His partner Jack the Texan ninja (sadly a rarity here in Texas) makes for a great sidekick by bringing an even higher level of strangeness into the mix, enough to make the already unusual Yamato the straight man in many of their scenes. Of course in the area of character humor the characters that have the lion’s share of good scenes are the Balboran Vanguard from their group dynamic with one another to the contrast of how friendly they are with Yamato outside of battle since neither one knows the others’ secret identities. These scenes do a really good job in getting you attached to these characters and get invested in their fates in each of the story sagas and even the character development some of them go through.
Naturally the heroines of CDS are really good too. While Haruna does come off as your typical (non-tsundere) childhood friend type heroine at first she’s written well enough to be likable and then gets better as the sagas give her some good character moments later on. Sayaka brings quite possibly the best chemistry with Yamato by essentially being the Kaname Chidori to the aforementioned Sousuke Sagara analogy of our hero when it comes to his odd but well-meant antics. It’s also helped that her backstory is interesting and connects well to the plot of her saga. The new heroines of the Cho content are also really good, but I feel I should explain a couple things first.
Normally this is where I’d do a route ranking but the thing is Cho Dengeki Stryker kind of has a route structure but also kind of doesn’t. The stories this game has to tell are divided into six “sagas” (plus what’s essentially the common route): Zero, Heaven, Sky, Love, Steel and Light. In the original Dengeki Stryker release it was just Zero, Heaven and Sky. The Zero saga is essentially the introduction story and is kind of Haruna’s route; it basically introduces the main concept of the story as well as story elements that are further explored (and approached differently) in the next saga, Heaven. Heaven saga is a different continuity than Zero being Sayaka’s route and Sky acts as an epilogue/true ending that wraps up all the story elements there. Now of these two initial continuities Heaven-Sky is unquestionably stronger due to its being longer and having a much better ending while Zero has trouble standing on its own due to a weaker ending and quite a few plot holes thanks to the reveals in Heaven-Sky. Before the release of Cho it was assumed Zero saga was essentially retconned by Heaven-Sky, but thankfully this expansion fixes the former saga for the most part.
Obviously the new sagas were Love, Steel and Light. The Love saga is Hilko’s route and is more character focused and has less action than the other sagas. I found it entertaining since it brought in more character dynamic from the Balboran Vanguard and giving more insight into Hilko’s character than we see in the other sagas was interesting and had some payoff in seeing how she is when she genuinely cares for another person. The only problem the Love saga has is it’s basically a side story compared to the others thanks in part to it being comparatively shorter and the ending comes off as a bit too hasty a wrap up and its ignoring some major story elements from the other sagas is a tad off putting even though I know it’s supposed to be a side story.
The Steel and Light sagas are continuations of the Zero saga and like Heaven-Sky the former is the main story and the latter is the epilogue/true ending. This storyline does a good deal right in taking on the monumental task of fixing what was the weakest saga in the original release. The all new heroine it introduces, Clie, makes for a welcome addition to the game’s cast being both a likable character and providing her own brand of humor that makes for a good play on Yamato’s altruistic personality, especially with the context of how he’s developed since the events of the Zero saga. It also helps that of the heroines she’s the most badass and perhaps one of the few flaws of this saga pair is we don’t get to see as much of her in action in the latter saga. This saga also does a good job developing Rin as a character too as it gives her as much character focus as Clie so it’s technically a shared route for them, though the only difference in which of the two Yamato spends more time with is a couple of scenes.
So basically we have two main continuities: Heaven-Sky and Zero-Steel-Light. The former offers a traditional story of heroes while the latter focuses a tad more on world building than that. Of the two it’s a tough decision but I’d say I favor Heaven-Sky a little more since I find it to be a stronger conclusion while Zero-Steel-Light leaves a couple minor things up in the air and a big dramatic scene is a bit confounded by my wondering “wait, why didn’t they just…?” at a couple parts of it. Other than that I can say both continuities lead to overall satisfying conclusions and are well worth reading.
As for any other flaws concerning plot, the only major one is the villains are just okay. I’m not talking about the Vanguard as I don’t consider them villains, but some characters that show up later. While not annoying or anything like that (though I will admit one of them does toe the line at being too invincible) there’s no real depth to these characters and really have no remarkable traits aside from being the quintessential final boss for the heroes to defeat (though I suppose you could argue Zero saga’s villain as an exception). Not that there’s anything wrong with those kind of characters, it’s just that when all the other major characters are so good they stick out like a sore thumb in comparison.
In the area of presentation Cho Dengeki Stryker hits it out of the ball park on every front. The artwork is excellent with each character having their own unique look, the CG perfectly capture the action of the scene they illustrate and look like a good screen shot from an anime and so much of the design harkens back to the anime/manga designs of the 90s that were greatly inspired by the 80s anime/manga. That was probably intentional considering the vocalist for the game’s opening themes is Masaaki Endoh whose done vocals for several anime, one of the most well known being The King of Braves GaoGaiGar/Yuusha Ou GaoGaiGar which CDS does seem to draw some design inspiration from. The rest of the music is also really good in how well each tune captures the mood of their respective scenes, and furthermore in the sound department the voice acting is top notch with the vocal talent including Megumi Ogata who I’m sure many recognize as the voice of Shinji from Evangelion, Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh!, Cookie from the Majikoi games and Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho to name a few. Finally the animated scenes are directed by Shinichi Watanabe director of anime like Excel Saga and Tenchi Muyo! GXP and also did work on the aforementioned GaoGaiGar and while these scenes may be reserved for the beginning and end portions of the game they’re a great site to behold and honestly has me wishing for a full on anime for this game (provided it’s a good adaptation of course).
As for the ero scenes, assuming you decide to get the adult version, they’re…okay. Haruna, Sayaka, and Hilko have theirs occur at a fitting late point in their routes and the first two also get an extra one each that you can access from the extras menu after clearing said routes and all of them are fine as ero scenes. Rin and Clie’s are unlocked after clearing the Steel saga after making the choices on which of the two to focus on respectively but their scenes are…odd. In Rin’s case it reads like a second or third ero scene as it references a previous scene we never see, while Clie’s is just strange and I’m not exactly sure what the writer had in mind when writing it. The overall thing is the scenes don’t really have much plot importance which I’m sure is why an all ages release was possible.
Cho Dengeki Stryker is a visual novel game that is well worth experiencing. It’s an excellent superhero story filled with enjoyable characters supported by great artwork, a phenomenal soundtrack with vocals from Masaaki Endoh, grade A voice acting and well implemented anime scenes directed by Nabeshin himself (sorry no cameos as far as I could find). While the game has its flaws they’re overall minor ones and barely detract at all from the experience. In this entertainment era of superheroes I can declare with certainty that Cho Dengeki Stryker is a story that should not be missed.
Final Score: 8/10 Awesome
Author Recommendation: Buy it now.
You can buy the regular digital release here, the hard copy here or here (warning NSFW images on those links) and the all ages Steam edition here.