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SummaryUnfortunately, not as great as I expected it to be...
The Good"Shadowrun" for Sega (Mega) CD has nothing in common with the SNES and Genesis games of the same name but the setting (and, naturally, the title). All the three games are based on pen-and-paper Shadowrun RPG, and all three are completely different.
I never played the Genesis version; for some reason I never felt attracted to it. I loved the SNES version and was fascinated by the unique mixture of cyberpunk and Tolkien-like medieval fantasy of Shadowrun, a world in which you can meet elf hackers and orcs with machine guns. I am also a big fan of Japanese RPGs, having particular weakness for rare and obscure titles than were never released outside of their homeland. So when I heard about a Japanese (Eastern)-style RPG set in Shadowrun universe, I thought it was a dream coming true.
So I found this game on eBay and bought it. "Shadowrun" for Sega CD cost me 85 US dollars, not including shipping fee. It was the largest amount of money I've ever paid for a video game. Was it worth it? Unfortunately, not quite... But first, let me tell you about the good things in this game.
The best part is undoubtedly the setting. A dark cyberpunk environment with all kinds of technological gadgets, magic, and mythical creatures straight out of "Lord of the Rings" - this is not something you'll see in every video game - at least not all of those in the same video game. Sending your elf character to hack computers in a hostile company or helping some orcs to fight biomonsters in an abandoned subway tunnel is just... satisfying.
The gameplay system looks quite interesting on paper: it is a hybrid between Japanese-style adventure and Japanese-style (again) strategy RPG. So no, it doesn't play the same way as classical Eastern RPG like, for example, Final Fantasy. Dialogues and most of the navigation are performed through verb-based command menus super-imposed over still backgrounds, with small character portraits occasionally popping out. This is typical gameplay mechanics for Japanese adventures; if you played such well-known titles as Snatcher or Eve Burst Error, you know how it works.
The other part of the game are strategic battles. When entering a hostile area, the view switches to traditional top-down perspective, with small super-deformed characters walking around. When you see an enemy, a turn-based battle initiates, during which you move your characters over the screen in turns and attack with long-ranged or melee weapons, a bit like in Fallout.
The interesting part about all this is the idea itself. The closest thing I know is Sakura Taisen series, also a mixture of Japanese adventure and strategy (it had dating-sim thrown in as well).
You can buy weapons and various medical upgrades that will strengthen your characters. You can also level up your magic spells (Mao, the female character of your party, can use magic) for money, which I think is a pretty good idea.
There is a lot of dialogue in the game, typically for Japanese adventures, which is of course a good thing. Even though you start with a pre-selected party of four characters, they all participate in conversations equally, have different dialogue lines and different backgrounds.
The graphics are merely alright in this game, but some of the cut scenes are rather well-done. Also, I have no complaints about the music, some of the pieces fit the sinister cyberpunk setting quite well.
The BadI had two serious problems with this game: the "episodic" nature of the story line and the very limited and uneven gameplay.
First, the story. If you expect an epic, emotional tale in the best tradition of Japanese RPG, you are looking in the wrong place. There is nothing really epic in the story and also nothing particularly emotional. It is divided in chapters, each chapter being a case solved by the group of four mercenaries, the protagonists of the game. In the beginning of a chapter, a client comes to the bar that serves as a home base for the group and offers to pay money for solving a dangerous case: hunting down an insane murderer, retrieving a lost item, infiltrating a big company building, and so on. Those cases have little to do with each other, so instead of an over-arching story with plot twists, character development, and an ultimate goal, all you have is a series of short episodes from a mercenary's life.
The more important problem is the gameplay. In this game you can't just wander around, visiting different locations whenever you like. There are also no levels, and no experience, money, or items won after battles. So how do you make your characters stronger? Only by buying better weapons, armor, and implants. And you can only buy them when the game wants you to. Sometimes, when you are in the bar, there is an option to visit the shops. At other times it is not possible.
So, let's say, you spend all your money (you can get money only as payment from customers, there is a fixed amount of it every time) on an ultra-expensive medical implant, and two chapters later find out you should have spent it on a better armor instead. In a normal RPG, you could go out, fight regular battles, gather more money, etc. But here, all you can do is reload and replay two chapters once again, which takes a whole lot of pressing the A button to clear dialogue boxes, since the largest bulk of the game is simplistic Japanese adventure.
For an RPG, this gameplay is extremely shallow and unsatisfying; and there is little else to do beside fighting the strategic battles, because the adventure part is just so boring. In Sakura Taisen you had at least some entertaining dating sim thrown in. Here, the game simply takes you by the hand and guides you from location to location. Once you arrive somewhere, there is no way out. You have to follow the very linear path, without any items or any interesting stuff, and fight the pre-determined battles with what you've got.
And let me tell you, I have rarely seen such unbalanced battles before. You see, the combat in this game is based on dice rolls. You can roll them manually, which is just a waste of time, or let the computer do it. I've played AD&D-based games with dice combat (like Baldur's Gate), and sure, there was also an element of luck there, but it's a far cry from the unfairness we have in this "Shadowrun". Getting better equipment and implants won't help you that much (although without them, you'll be killed in no time, and they do cost a lot of money, which you don't have). The outcome of a battle largely depends on luck. An enemy can kill your strongest party member right at the beginning of a battle if his dices are rolling well, and there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes luck plays into your hands, too, and after every battle I won I felt that the victory had nothing to do with skill or preparation.
So what we have here is a totally linear Japanese adventure without any interaction, almost no freedom of movement, and weird strategy battles that involve more luck than actual strategy.
The Bottom Line+ Cool setting
+ Lots of dialogue
+ Interesting gameplay elements
- The story line is not strong enough
- Gameplay is very limited
- Very unbalanced battles
- Could have been much more
I have never paid so much money for any other game. It is probably the rarest Japanese RPG around, and I was just too eager to have it. Now I regret I spent so much money on it. Sure, it is set in an unusual, intriguing world, has plenty of dialogue, and some interesting gameplay elements. But its core gameplay is just too limited and unbalanced, and the story is little more than a collection of simple "mercenary cases". It is a pity, because the game surely had potential. You can have the same unique Shadowrun experience with much more exciting gameplay (and even a better story) in this incarnation of the role-playing game.