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Tengai Makyō: Daiyon no Mokushiroku - The Apocalypse IV (SEGA Saturn)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Cor 13 (171997)
Written on  :  Sep 25, 2004
Rating  :  4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars

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Ladies and gentlemen... this is a Japanese RPG show!.. in USA!!

The Good

For the first time in the RPG comedy series, we leave the land of Jipang and are taken to a hilarious "japanized" version of United States of America.

The great thinker P.H. Chada had created a fictional country to laugh at the stereotypical views of Japan popular among Western people. Now the series has turned 180 degrees: the target of jokes is USA, as seen by the ignorant and quick-to-stereotype Japanese audience.

The premise of The Apocalypse is among the funniest ever to be featured in a role-playing game. Basically, the plot involves an evil organization, the Ankoku Kyodan ("Dark Society"), trying to control the world. The question is - how do they do that? Not by sending hordes of monsters and destroying towns and people (although they do that, too), but by doing any of the following: creating a Hollywood blockbuster made by "Terry Productions", its hero being a huge stupid baboon who saves the nation in the first movie as well as in the "sequel" (where he fights a dinosaur Spielberg-style); having an evil scientist occupy Chicago with electric exploding cats and a robotic Al Capone; inviting prison inmates to watch the latest installment of the "Gone with the Fire" saga, featuring the stars Clock Gable and Vivian Eee, and more.

This is Japanese ridiculous weirdness at its best. The game is clearly funnier than its predecessors, the humor becoming more imaginative and wild than ever before, often turning into grotesque; examples are the insane eating by M-me Appetit, the journey into a children's book with weird two-dimensional, cartoony images, or the scene with the grandmother from the "robotic" Minneapolis getting beheaded by a cupboard and immediately assembling her body again, saying youth can overcome anything.

The game is also one of the best examples of quirky anime art actually put to good use. Colorful wackiness permeates the game, not the least thanks to its crisp cartoony visuals that provide a perpetually carnivalesque mood. There are also quite a lot of anime movies, some of which are positively brilliant in their hilarity, while others are surprisingly dark. I would certainly like to watch again such scenes as Belladonna kissing the helpless boy on a church altar, turning him into a zombie, or Yumemi having one of her nightmares.

The most original visual technique here is the usage of animation during battles. Enemies appear as anime-style images, and each action they make in battle is animated. In addition to those simple animations, every boss has a one-time-per-battle attack which is a full-fledged anime movie! Just check out Candy's sexy attack (my favorite) as an example. Besides, every time you kill a boss you are awarded with a spectacular animation of Rizing's or Yumemi's special moves. Also, true to the tradition of the series, the voice acting in the game is of a very high quality. Some of the characters gain so much personality mainly thanks to their voices.

At first sight, the gameplay here offers nothing really new or particularly interesting. You have your typical turn-based battles with a special technique system, healing items, regular and boss enemies, experience points, and towns where you can buy better weapons and armor. However, not all is that simple. First, you gain magic spells not by learning or buying them, but by receiving them from various Indian chiefs scattered around America (replacing the tengu from previous Tengai Makyō games). Those chiefs are unrelated to the plot, and you should find their villages just because this is the only way to increase the maximum mana points in your common pot and learn new useful spells (all of which are essential healing and support magic).

You don't get money from monsters: instead, you receive hunting trophies, which you then bring to the Hunters Guild and sell. Once you have collected enough trophies from the same type of monster (animal, undead, machine, etc.), you get bonus strength, defense, TP, or other stats, depending on the monster kind. There are no random enemies in the game - they are all visibly walking on screen and re-spawn when you re-enter a room. Some of them block your way, while others just walk around and you can bypass or ignore them if you want. There are some other nice details, such as for example the inability to die permanently - if Rizing is killed in a battle, you get teleported to the location where you saved last, retaining your experience and items. For that reason, you can't revive dead characters (or at least I couldn't find any such spells or items), which is an interesting touch.

Like other games in the series, The Apocalypse is well-balanced. Regular enemies are never too weak, and you are never so overpowered as to kill them with a single spell, and some bosses put up quite a fight. The flow of the story is linear, but at the same time there is always something to explore in every area. You never get stuck in the game. There is almost no back-tracking. Story-related cutscenes appear frequently and immediately give you an idea about what to do next. The dungeons are perfect in length. Boss battles appear just at the right time, there is never too much fighting or too much time without a fight.

At certain points there are some nice puzzles and mini-games that freshen up the monotonous RPG routine - such as Dr. M.'s building in Chicago, the elevator puzzle in TV-man lair, or the coolest mini-game of all (well, after the Mortal Kombat parody in Space Quest 6): drawing a face for a character who will afterwards join your party.

The game offers an excellent variety of locations. There are snowy landscape of Alaska, weird cartoony world of children book in Salt Lake City, ominous robotic constructions of Chicago, beautiful mountains in Arizona, jungle in Mexico, Karube's baroque castle in Detroit, and finally, the last and the best location - the world of ruined skyscrapers in New York.

Just like the previous games in the series, The Apocalypse has colorful and funny villains - including, naturally, recurrent characters such as the stupid monkey Manto, who is more amusing than ever in this game. As for the "positive" cast, who could ever forget the hairy and bulky, yet suspiciously homoerotic samurai Zengo, who, in one scene, is caught naked in a sauna and can only utter phrases that begin with the syllable "gei"?..

The Bad

Like in most Tengai Makyō games, the main plot is cliche and predictable: a bunch of wacky evil guys have cursed parts of America, and a bunch of teenagers gradually restore peace in the country. In the end, it all comes to the same old "good guys vs. the big bad guy" confrontation; admittedly, the good guys and the villains are all cool, but there isn't really much more than "beat the boss, save the world" there. The villains hate and despise humanity, describing them as a race of weaklings, wanting to destroy the world to purge human sins, whereas you must try to convince them the humans should better stay alive. Even such cliches as "chosen warriors" and "a bad character must maniacally laugh in the end of each phrase" are present. You don't really notice all that while playing the game and enjoying it, but don't expect any noticeable twists or variations.

The combat system, while solid and balanced, is not really innovative; most of the elements here date back to the old Tengai Makyō games on the PC Engine. Like the overwhelming majority of Japanese RPGs, The Apocalypse has conservative, formulaic gameplay: in this case, it is well-executed, but certainly unable to transcend the usual limitations of its genre.

The Bottom Line

Like its predecessors, The Apocalypse is a comedy RPG - something that requires attention because of its rarity. The reason for the series' success is the beautiful tightness of its wacky design: you'll forget you are participating in a linear advancement of a silly plot punctuated by simplistic turn-based battles because of the humorous diversity present in every aspect of the game. That's why Tengai Makyō is like a plain, nourishing dish served with a delicious, exotic sauce.