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August 12, 2013

Castle of Shikigami III (Part 2)

Part 1 of this review can be seen here.

Okay, I'm back to talk more about Castle of Shikigami III. Last time, I discussed the characters, and I went through the first part of the story. I fear the worst has yet to come. So, I boot up the game, and I start playing...

Hey, where's my save file? Where is it? I can't see it anywhere! There's no save file selection! What... what the Hell?

On closer inspection, there are, in fact, no save files in this game. Does that mean you must always start over? Actually, no. A quick look at the options gave me the answer I was looking for. You see, this game's save system works differently from other games. What happens is that you first have to toggle on the save feature in the Options menu. After that, you can play, and each time you play, it gets saved on your Wii's memory. When you quit playing, and then come back, you must first go back to the Options menu and select Load Save, which will load the save file placed in your Wii memory. And THEN you can keep playing. You must do that every time you play this damn game. I've been smart enough to search for this, and I found it, but there's nothing in the game that indicates that it worked that way. Someone who doesn't go take a look at the options menu would not know about this cheap, cheap save system.

Now that my save file has loaded, let's keep playing.
An example with Gennojo Hyuuga and Roger Sasuke.

By the way, before I continue with the story, here's some interesting fact about this game: There's a co-op mode. You can play in 2-Player mode with two different characters. And there has been dialogs written and recorded for every of these possible scenarios. That means there's the 10 original scenarios, plus the 9 scenarios of Kohtaro with someone else, then the 8 scenarios of, say, Emilio with someone else (minus Kohtaro, as that combination has already been done)... and so on... There are literally 55 scenarios in this game! And you don't have to absolutely play a 2-Player game, either; there's the Dramatic Change mode that is a 1-Player game but lets you play as two characters (the second charactrer you pick will be of a different color), and you can switch between the two by pressing the B button on the Wiimote. That's pretty darn impressive, 55 scenarios, all written AND recorded. Because you hear the characters speaking in this game, too.

The voice work is pretty good. Also, it's not “cutscenes” per se, but the characters are shown as still images with their lines written at the bottom of the screen, and the image will change according to their emotion; those still images are almost treated as collectibles. However, sometimes the voice actors will add a little something that isn't written.

Okay, enough time wasted, let's jump into the rest of this story.
Those walls... those goddamn walls!
 Level 3: This is either an underground level or it's in a mountain. Whatever, it's still the most annoying level of the entire damn game. Why? Because most of this level has walls that will disappear and reappear at will, and if you touch those walls, no matter if they're visible or not, you'll lost one Hit Point (for the record, you have only three Hit Points per Continue; and those are ALREADY easy to lose). Not just that, but the field contains lots of indestructible little balls of light that will harm you. The mid-boss is a voodoo reject, and spawns force fields. More painful moments going through the rest of the level, and then we meet with the boss, a woman named... …Freedom Wind? Er... okay... That woman has very few expressions. Luckily, it seems the woman known as Freedom Wind was just passing by. In fact, she's so barely relevant to the plot that I won't bother showing her picture. Once defeated, she grants access to the fourth level.

Level 4: Oof, this is not a volcano. Actually, it looks peaceful, as the psychic is flying above the sea. But appearances are foolish; it's going to be a painful level. Just make sure you have a reserve of Bomb Moves and Continues. The fourth mid-boss is a collection of small and big metallic balls that combine into multiple forms, like a circle, squares or a cross. It's not that hard to defeat, though. After more enemies, the fourth boss is a heavy man named Kagachi who calls Kohtaro “Master”. He seems to be yet another man of honor, which doesn't mean that he won't fight here. He will, and he'll be a pain. He uses damn nasty attacks, such as going ariound the screen, including where your character is. Once defeated, you can enter the final level.

Level 5: I technically reached this far only two or three times, I haven't beaten the level, but I can still tell you about it. It's a long level, with tons of enemies that shoot thousands of bullets, and it's extremely hard to avoid them. The mid-boss is a freaking pain, and even after beating it you still have to face the barrage of bullets. Then you reach the final boss, which is fought over a large creature that is really freakish. The last boss is a woman named Tsukiko Johima, and she had a story with Kohtaro. Also, she looks eerily too much like Emilio Stanburke for it to be a simple coincidence. I'm not kidding, she's got the same hair color, same big pupils, heck she seems to be wearing the same high-class kind of clothing! What the Hell? Oh, and of course, this boss is horribly hard to defeat. That's kind of justified, as she is the last boss, after all. Once she's defeated, each character gets his or her ending, most of which are more bittersweet than happy.

Tsukiko. See? They look like family!

Emilio Stanburke.

And... for the story, that's basically it. In some scenarios, we learn that the opponents were all illus... ion.... s... Damn! What the f-... is that? THIS MAKES NO GODDAMN SENSE! If the opponents are illusions, how come they know about our heroes? How come they knew what the heroes were gonna tell them? How come they knew so much about the protagonists? Even bigger plot hole: HOW COME THEY COULD BE TOUCHED BY THE PSYCHICS' ATTACKS? EVEN WORSE: HOW THE HELL COULD THEY SHOOT BULLETS? That pain inflicted to the characters was real, dammit! And how come THEY COULD USE SPECIAL ATTACKS THAT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN RECREATED IN ANY WAY OR FORM BY SIMPLE CANNONS? That's going with the theory that cannons were placed here and there to simulate the attacks, so that the psychics were getting hit by real bullets. But then, HOW COULD CANNONS SHOOT SPECIAL ATTACKS LIKE THOSE USED BY THE BOSSES? Even worse, how could bosses harm the psychics BY RAMMING INTO THEM? Tabarnak! This makes no sense! NO SENSE! NO FREAKING SENSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

...Phew, that was one big outburst... Anyway, this is why the game doesn't work on the story aspect. If we consider all scenarios to be based on the same facts, then this just creates a half-dozen plot holes that will never be answered. And we STILL haven't found the disappeared people! It's worse than that: Not all scenarios follow the same story, so as a result you can never tell which ones are part of the same canon. If there's even a continuing storyline AT ALL! How can you trust a story that changes 54 times? …Screw this game. Screw it, screw it, screw it.
Proving my point: The game is in the center, then we have a
vertical bar on each side. This causes the important info to
be smaller on the screen, and thus causes much problems.
 Okay, um... Now that I've gotten this out of the way, let's see why this game does not work on the gameplay aspect. On the technical side, Wii games work better on large screens. Well, so do most home console games anyway. There's so much information to place on the screen at a time that some of it can be made smaller and still be visible. But "bigger screen" usually means things like flat-screen TVs now, which are more in a 16:9 format rather than a 4:3 format, therefore more rectangular. The problem comes when you realize that Castle of Shikigami III is a vertical shooter: The game takes about only half the screen, and both sides of the game are just filler to make sure it isn't just a black void. As a result, the information is small even on large screens, and it gets difficult to see everything. In the options menu, there's a way to switch it so that the game will be flipped to horizontal flight, but they just flip the game to the right, keeping the controls of the original vertical version, and as a result the controls don't change, which becomes a HUGE pain; you must remember to press left to go up, right to go down, up to go right, down to go left...

Talking about the controls... Why are all those shooter games better on a computer? Because you can choose to control your character with the mouse, which will give you a lot more precision when the time comes to avoid the bullets tossed at you. It's easier to carefully manipulate the character with the mouse than with the keyboard's arrows. And a video game controller's directional pad is just like a keyboard's arrow buttons. It's imprecise, the character might go past where you want it to go and wind up hitting another bullet beyond the safety zone you want it to reach. That's why vertical AND horizontal shooters don't work well on home consoles. The mouse is the best control method for these games, with the left button to shoot and the space bar to use the Bomb Move! And really, I can't count the number of times this happened to me: Losing a hit point because the character went past the safe zone and was hit on the other side by a bullet. And that's not counting all those times when the bullets can't even be avoided, which means you're clearly losing a hit point! Damn! Plus, the character and bullets are so small that it's guaranteed you'll often raise from your chair yelling “Hey! I didn't see that shot!” Also, your life meter and your bombs replenish with your score, and it becomes especially painful when you reach zones where you're guaranteed to get hit often and yet receive too little points to regenerate. Okay, I'll admit, that whole "controlling with the mouse" is more a pet peeve of mine with these games... but my point still stands: Controlling the character with the directional pad is more troublesome.

Now, now, all this covers the main problems with the game. Now, let's see what else is available in this game. What are the game modes?
- Regular 1-Player game (You can also choose to play a character with his second color);
- 2-Player game;
- Dramatic Change mode, where you play two characters are once and can switch back and forth between both;
- Practice Mode, which lets you try a zone from a level (pre-mid-boss level, mid-boss, pre-boss level, boss). This is how I could try Levels 4 and 5 without actually reaching them in the game itself.
- Finally, Boss Attack Mode, which pits you against all bosses (including the mid-bosses of the game) with ONLY ONE LIFE.

Developers' Content, if you wish.
Whichever way, Reika approves.
Gallery mode? What's that? Oh, it's a special part of the game where you can take a look at all still images you gathered from the characters through playing. You can zoom in or zoom out on each picture, see every detail of each character. Also, by pressing B on each picture, you can listen to the character's voices, all the things that character said when that still image was on the screen. You'll see that the characters are beautifully drawn, this is some great manga-style imagery. I'll give this game that. You can also re-watch the cutscenes that you've discovered. This includes the cutscenes for all 10 original characters and all 45 Dramatic Change Mode cutscenes. Last but not least, you can also listen to the game's soundtrack through its Jukebox Mode.

Last but not least, the options. You can do the usual stuff, like changing the volume of the voices, the music and the sound effects, setting the difficulty setting (Which I did, and yet the game is still hard as Hell), and set the score required to re-gain lost Hit Points and Bombs. You can also use it to switch the game from a vertical flight shooter to a horizontal flight... but as I said earlier, it's just the game spun 90 degrees and the controls becoming a bigger mess. You can also turn the auto-save feature On or Off, save the current settings, load the game's data saved on your Wii, assign the attacks to other buttons on the Wiimote or the Classic Controller, and get extra options – for which you must first finish the damn game.

Well, that covers pretty much everything. Final diagnosis? This game is BAD. It has an awful story that never really gets resolved entirely, instead leaving many more plot holes behind. The characters are all either overused archetypes or absurdly powerful, and the instruction booklet gives them abilities that we never see in the game. The controls are sloppy, especially on the movement, because the directional pad makes it hard to correctly avoid the enemy fire. And though you can make the game easier, it remains overly difficult. But, it doesn't just have bad points. It does give a good challenge if you're talented enough, the humor can be very funny at some points, especially with the first boss, and the images, both the backgrounds and the still images that serve as cutscenes are gorgeous. The Gallery Mode is a nice thought. Not to mention that it's really impressive that the development team wrote 55 different scenarios to fit the 10 characters and 45 Dramatic Change Mode possibilities (though, granted, it creates lots of contradictions and plot holes the size of Mars), and the voice actors did a good job voicing these ten characters - and the five bosses! - in all 55 scenarios.

So, all in all, I think I can't be too mad at this game. My final word is that if I was the kind of guy to insult video games, this one would have been going through my own Bullet Hell of insults. But I'm too nice a guy, so I'll just say that it's not my cup of tea, and those who can look beyond the game's many, many problems will find a great vertical shooter that will force them to play wisely.

J... J... Jesus. Now that's some heavy Bullet Hell. Just wait
till those bullets add upp... and add up... and add up...

Read you later! Next Friday, a game that will make me relax after this stressful experience.

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