28 March 2014

Concept of Deceit

The trouble with games getting retitled upon release in various regions is that it you may completely miss a release because you literally don't know what to look for in searches or what to ask for in stores. For weeks, I'd been seeing trailers on Classic Game Room's trailer channel for a game called Conception, specifically, Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars. I had no real interest in it, so when I saw something else called Deception IV: Blood Ties, with somewhat similar-looking video thumbnails and artwork, I skipped over it. In fact, it wasn't until today that I decided to check on its official page in the PSN store. 

I suddenly felt very, very dumb. 

In my defense, the Deception series has gotten the Final Fantasy treatment when it comes to installment names, and I don't merely mean "IV being II" or "VI being III." I mean, Final Fantasy Legend and Mystic Quest-levels of "where did this come from and where does it belong?" 

Backing up, the first game in this apparently very long series that I played was Kagero II: The Dark Illusion. When I first heard of it, it was called Code Kagero. That article mentioned it being a sequel to a game called Tecmo's Deception, an early Playstation release from 1996. The games are a kind of action/strategy/puzzle synergy, feeling like an odd mix of Resident Evil and the skate park editor from the Tony Hawk games, if you can picture that. I always liked describing Kagero II (which was released as Trapt in 2005, but I refuse to call it by that name) thusly: 

"You play a beautiful princess in a gorgeous mansion... who makes a deal with a demonic spirit to give her the power to fight off bounty hunters after she's framed for her father's murder."

The setup is that you're being pursued by bounty hunters (and anyone else allured by the price on your head) who generally move fairly slowly, yet hit very hard. Your only real defense is running. Apart from that, and thanks to your demonic contract, you have the ability to pull booby traps out of thin air. When you enter a menu, the game freezes and the room gets broken up into a grid. You can set three different types of traps: ones that come out of the ground such as bear traps, ones that fall from the sky like boulders, and ones that come out of the wall like arrows. Each trap is assigned to a controller button. You decide where they're placed in the room, triggering them with the assigned button. The trade-off is that you have to lure the baddies close enough to you to get ensnared without getting hurt yourself. The other issue is that some traps take longer to set up than others. So, if a trap doesn't work, and you decide to assign another trap to pick up the slack, you'll have to stall. The traps can often work in conjunction with the mansion's architecture and decor, including torches, stained-glass windows, electric chairs, spike pits, and mechanical alligators, to name a very small sample. 

I frigging love this game. 

I freely admit it appeals to the sadist in me. As much as I'm not big on fantasy settings, there's something perpetually intriguing about castles, dungeons, secret rooms, and hidden passages. I also love the moral ambiguity, the way you question your actions (and delight in them) as your victims mutter pensive final statements as they meet sticky ends, to say nothing of the greater plot behind the scenes involving your father's murder. It definitely has its problems. It gets very repetitive and falls victim to the dominant strategy conundrum. Points earned help you purchase different traps, but you'll often find yourself sticking to a pattern of the same handful of devices, leaving you very little incentive to experiment. Still, the pros outweigh the cons and I consider the game a masterpiece. It was a fairly late release on the Playstation 2, and I was convinced I wouldn't see another entry in the series for some time, if at all. 
Now, nearly ten years later, not only does it get a sequel, and not only does it get to come stateside, but it completely flies under my radar with a name I don't recognize, and barely makes sense as a title. 

In fact, Blood Ties isn't even the proper name of the game. It's Dark Side Princess (which sounds way more badass). Even the IV isn't accurate as the game is labeled as a direct sequel to Kagero II. Remember how the Rambo series' first film is simply called First Blood, with Rambo being the "over title" of First Blood, Part 2, with Rambo III dropping the "First Blood" part altogether? Kagero II is technically Deception IV, but it's called Kagero II because it follows Kagero: Deception III. Is it any wonder this series is so obscure not only in America, but in Japan as well? 

So, given all I've gone on about the series, how I felt dumb, then excited, then confused, then back to excited, the question remains: will I be picking up the game? Not right away. There's a few dealbreakers that sour the package despite all the praise I foisted upon it. 

Firstly, the game is produced by Tecmo, who recently merged with Koei. I wasn't happy about this merger, as Tecmo saw fit to insert characters from its Ninja Gaiden franchise into Koei's Warriors Orochi games. That should make me happy, as the Samurai Warriors series is another staple of my PS2 top 5. However, it simply makes me sad. 

That's a minor gripe, though. The biggest problem is a matter of time and money. Deception IV has been released on PSN for Playstation 3 and Vita, but is not cross-buy. As much as I get why not every game gives you both the console and portable version for a single asking price, I feel like this is a huge misstep for a series that didn't really catch on outside of a very niche market in the states. A game like this really deserves to be played on the PS3, but I've been favoring my Vita of late. Whichever version I got, I wouldn't be completely happy with it, but their combined price isn't exactly worth it to me. The other issue is simply that I've reached a point where there's too many games out there and too many games in my library for me to spring for another. Child of Light is on its way, along with Hyper Light Drifter, and Wayforward will soon be delivering on the new Shantae game I preordered during the Kickstarter campaign. As far as current playing habits go, I've been really invested in Pinball Arcade, specifically the Gorgar and Black Knight tables. Speaking of pinball, Zen Studios recently announced a new 4-table pack for the Star Wars line, including a Han Solo-themed table and even one focusing on the Droids. So much to do, so little time. Wait for me, dear Deception IV... or come to Playstation Plus, whichever comes first. 

Here's a recent trailer for Deception IV
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