Archive for the ‘MEcha’ Category

Goodbye Cyber Troopers: Virtual On

February 28, 2015

A brief bit of history, growing up my father was very big on PC games. He played everything from Wolfenstein 3D to the space sims like the long forgotten “The Last Dynasty“. there was no shortage of the types of genres that my sister and I were privy to. We were introduced to almost every genre that was available. I still remember my sister poking around in point and click adventure title called “Robot City” and the hours she and I would spend trying to solve a murder of a scientist in a city ran by robots who all happened to follow the Asimov’s Law (the law of robotics that basically stipulate that a robot can not harm a human being”.

Out of all the genres we experiences, none was as influential in my development as a gamer as the Mech genre did. In the early 90’s, Mech games were a fairly big deal especially on Personal Computers. My Father had several games that ranged from the venerated ‘MechWarrior‘ franchise and it’s expansions to the lesser know just as good ‘EarthSiege‘. I’ve forgotten what age I was but I still vividly remember how much awe and amazement I was in  watching my Dad pilot the lumbering mechanical beasts of destruction.

The sound of the calm A.I. alerting him that his machine and it’s armaments were online, warning him when he was nearly out of ammo on mid combat, my eyes would widen in pure excitement as I watched him calmly cycle through his weapons and tear down his opponents with a hails of missile fire and eviscerate anyone that got in his way with barrages of laser fire that would light up the screen and sound as amazing as it looked. To my young mind, MechWarrior and EarthSiege were in a class of their own, in terms of action that is. The landscapes my father waged war in were usually flat, never-ending plains or deserts  or dark gray canyons, just very drab and depressing but worked perfectly in terms of atmosphere. I mean this was war on a massive scale, you were too busy watching your radar as your Fifteen meter robot slowly marched across alien landscapes. It all made sense, that’s the way Mech games should be right?

                                                                     Doesn’t look much now but this was amazing back in the day

Or so I thought.

It’s several years later and my father had just bought a new Compaq computer. I had just come back from school when he called me to his office. As I neared him, I heard very unfamiliar sound effects along with very unfamiliar music that was unusually cheerful sounding. By the time I had gotten to the corner of my father’s office my curiosity  was in overdrive. It wasn’t until my eyes witnessed what was on his monitor that my young adolescent mind was suddenly blown apart.

On his screen there were two brightly colored  machines jetting around firing off bolts of even more brightly colored  laser beams and projectiles at one another. The arena they battled though tiny in comparison to the maps that were present in MechWarrior, were brightly lit. Despite the arena size you could tell these machines were huge in scale because the obstacles they y dodged behind for cover to escape one another’s onslaught were buildings..

My father had just introduced me to Virtual On  and the the world of Japanese giant robots and inadvertently began my life long obsession with the genre.

The Raiden Unloading some beams on an enemy. This was my Dad's favored machine.

The Raiden Unloading some beams on Temjin. This was my Dad’s favored machine.

After years of watching my old man mow down other slow moving machines, it was absolutely engrossing to witness him fighting a machine one on one while literally flying around an arena non-stop. ‘Virtual On ‘became an integral step in my development and growth as a gamer. It opened me up to an alternative take on a genre for which I was only familiar with on one side.

‘Virtual On’ was an extremely popular arcade game released in Japanese arcades by Sega back in 1995. The game saw subsequent releases for the Sega Saturn and PC several years down the line. The first version of the game, which was ported to PC’s in America and Japan was titled ‘Cyber Troopers Virtual On- Operation Moon Gate’. The plot of ‘VOOM‘ was not unlike the that of the 80’s cult film ‘The Last Starfighter‘.

You, the player is playing an arcade game but is unwittingly  actually controlling their machine. The arcade machine itself was sent from the future to seek out players who were capable of controlling the giant robots or ‘Virtuaroids’ as they were called in game. Virtuaroids came in all sorts of shapes and colors there were some that looked reminiscent of Western Mecha with an emphasis on firepower over speed. Some that were references to other Japanese Mecha like the famous ‘Mobile Suit Gundam’ and what Japanese game would be complete without a school girl themed robot?

The "Fei Yen"

The “Fei Yen” very small, very fast and very cute!

The ‘Virtual On’ series has a storied history that might not get to continue on. Sega’s recent layoffs and refocusing on the PC and Mobile Phone market instead of game consoles and arcades has a long time ‘Virtual On’ fan like myself very worried. I’ve done my best to follow the series through it’s paces. From the awesome sequel “Oratario Tangram” to the not so awesome “Virtual On:Marz“,  even going as far as to import ‘Virtual On: Force’ for the Xbox 360 . As a long time fan, I’ve done my best to keep up with the series and it’s community which is still very active both here and in Japan.

Despite not having a sequel to ‘Force’ in years, ‘Virtual On’ is still celebrated in Japan. The Virtuaroids have had crossovers into other games like the famous Super Robot Wars  series of strategy role playing games that feature different Mecha from different Japanese anime and video-games taking on various enemies from their respective TV shows. In fact Super Robot Wars: UX which is available on the Nintendo 3DS in Japan has a crossover within a crossover in the form of a Hatsune Miku version of the Fei-Yen (the pink mecha pictured above).

                                                                                           Hatsune Miku “Fei-Yen”

With Sega slowly looking like it’s going to close it’s doors on console gaming, I can’t help but worry about what will happen to the games that jump started my love for Japanese giant robots. Like I said earlier, there hasn’t been a new ‘Virtual On’ in nearly a decade, with ‘Force’ being released to arcades in 2001 and receiving a Japan-only Xbox 360 port several years later. Things don’t exactly look well for the series but one could hope that someone at Sega  remembers ‘Cyber Troopers: Virtual On’, because the fans will always remember to “Get Ready”.



How Evangelion 64 almost consumed my life

December 28, 2014

I was watching Adult Swim’s presentation of the new (old in Japan) Evangelion movies. While I was watching the combined snore fest of “You (are)not alone” and “You(can) not advance”. I got to reminiscing about Evangelion 64. Via emulation, Eva 64 was my first contact with a game based on the  famous(now infamous) anime. At the time there were no usb controllers at my place and playing through the game on a keyboard made the experiences a bit more difficult than it had to be.However, I thoroughly enjoyed the ability to finally get to play through the events of at the time, one of my favorite giant robot anime.

I had gotten into Neon Genesis Evangelion at a “rough” time in my life. I had just been broken up with  by the supposed “girl of my dreams” and was in the throes of teenage angst and depression. Around that time a close friend of minelent me his DVD boxset of Evangelion (looking back, could I really call him friend after this?). An anime known for it’s depressing characters and even darker themes. It was like a match made in heaven, I smashed my way through each episodes trying to understand the characters, their motivations etc etc.

What many Eva fans (and even non fans) are acutely aware of is that the original Evangelion tv show and movies were rife with religious symbolism and is steeped in it’s own self created lore. This is what captivated me the most, I would spend time at the school library printing up sheets and sheets of information off of different websites (this was a bit before wikipedia, so I had to do some amount of research). I would then take these massive packets of paper and gorge myself on all the information I had sought out. “What are the Angels? where did they come from? why are the named after Judeo-Christian themes?” I was basically a young Fox Mulder, not in some FBI basement but in my bedroom, trying to piece together some kind of grand puzzle.

Around that time that same friend who lent me his Evangelion DVDs, put me on to Nintendo 64 emulation, I had been happily playing Ocarina of time and Majora’s Mask up uuntil that point..that all changed. During one of my fevered search engine snooping I found out that there had been an Neon Genesis Evangelion game released for the Nintendo 64 at some point. My head started spinning “Evangelion 64?” I would think to myself constantly “how could I have not known?. I immediately went about tracking down the rom image of the game, the excitement coursing through my body as the game slowly downloaded to my puny 64MB USB memory stick was as palpable as Emperor Palpatine’s force lightning strikes hitting Luke Skywalker’s reclining body in Return of The Jedi.

I couldn’t wait to get home, both my mother and father were off at work and my sister, who generally didn’t bother to meddle in my affairs wasn’t going to snitch to my folks that I had been playing games instead of doing homework right after school. When I finally got the chance to get home and boot up the game, I couldn’t have been more excited. Looking back, I was also extremely lucky that the game’s menus were in English instead of Japanese. After calibrating the keyboard controls appropriately, my adventures as an Eva pilot begun.

Evangelion 64 followed the plot of the anime and one of the films (I forgot which movie, maybe “End of Evangelion”? I’m not sure) and functioned as a collection of mini games filled with situations where you occasionally fight an Angel as an Eva. The minigames were all varied and were very interesting in how they were implemented in each episode from the anime. One of my favorite minigames happened to be in my favorite episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 9, “Both of you, Dance like you want to win!”. In this episode, The protagonist,Shinji Ikari and one of the other main characters,Asuka langley Soryu, must deal with an enemy that can only be killed if they attacked it as a synchronized unit. The way the game deals with this episode is through a rhythm game not unlike DDR, you pressed the C buttons on the N64 controller in unison to the prompts on screen, which is of course done to the music of that episode. The battle between the Eva and the Angel(s) plays out like a cut-scene where you tap out the button patterns on screen, if you messed up even once, the scene would end and you were defeated.

Another scenario had you play sniper and had to shoot down a giant Angel while under assault, which meant you had to fight with the controls and lock the reticule on the monster and fire before you and your robot were obliterated. I remember getting up to a certain point within the game where pin point accuracy was absolutely  necessary to bring down an enemy, unfortunately due to my being on a keyboard instead of actual Nintendo 64 controller, the level became extremely frustrating, frustrating enough for me to quit the game all together.

What made Evangelion 64 so amazing, was that it was one of the few Nintendo 64 games that had full voice acting. Even though said voices were in Japanese, it still gave the game an atmosphere. The constant chatter of the characters made me feel like I was actually playing through an episode of the anime. For me, at the time it was exactly what I needed to escape the pain of that breakup. For a good several years I remained a devoted fan to Neon Genesis Evangelion and I played several different Evangelion games since Eva 64. However, none captured that same sense of adventure as Evangelion 64 did for me, if you try and play the game today, be prepared. It’s rough looking and dated, if you go through the emulation route, it looks a bit cleaner and runs pretty smooth. Would I suggest that you play this? maybe, if you have patience and a vested interested in the world of the anime than yes, by all means dive right in. Hell if you’re a mecha anime fan and you’re trying to whet your taste for some of the first forays into the genre on the Nintendo 64 console were like, than yes go for it! Hell, you can find some gameplay on youtube thanks to a dedicated few. Either way I hope you, the reader, find the time to check out Neon Genesis Evangelion 64 and if you do, shoot me a message.

Bon voyage!