Saturday, 1 September 2018

Ankoku Shinwa: Yamato Takeru Densetsu (NES)


Also known as Dark Myth, this is an adventure game based on the 1976 comic, all focussed around Japanese and Buddhist mythology, with a particular focus on the creation myths of Japan. The comic only lasted a single volume, so I assume it wasn't massively popular when it came out, with both this game and an OAV being released in 1989 and 1990 respectively, over a decade later. I can't say for certain, but I'm going to lay the credit for both adaptations at the feet of the Teito Monogatari franchise of novels, comics, movies and anime, that really re-popularised Japanese mythology and mysticism in the 1980s.

The game itself has typical 80s menu-based Famicom adventure game sections where you look at, walk, talk to, get, and use things, places and people, each one puntucated by a boss fight done in the style of a 2D platform game (but with no platforms). The adventure sections are actually pretty easy, there never seems to be more than three options for each action you can take, and even working through trial and error, you shouldn't face too many problems, except for one. Paradoxically, the game, at times, assumes you're an idiot, which makes the puzzles harder.

For example, there's a point where you encounter two statues, one with an empty eye socket, another with a removable eye-shaped gem. Obviusly, the solution is to take the eye-shaped gem from one statue and put it into the other. The thing that got me stuck, though, is that the option to put the gem into the eyehole doesn't appear until you check your late dad's journal, which will helpfully tell you "put the gem in the eyehole!" Figuring out that I had to look in the journal led to me having to look up a guide, and it makes no sense to me that the game forces you to do that as part of the puzzle, rather than using it as an optional hint.

The action sequences are very brief and very easy, and would barely be worth mentioning if they weren't unusual by their simple presence in the game. They're not terrible or a chore, but neither do they add a lot to the game. The game's difficulty is a mystery in general, though: the story's subject matter is pretty dark, with lots of deaths and a fair bit of violence, and the way the story's told in the comic and the OAV is also very dense, to the extent that it almost seems like it was made with the intent of being an edutainment piece on Japanese myth and ancient history. Contradictory to the tone and style of the source material is the game's difficulty. It all feels like it was made for a much younger audience than the other versions, and maybe it was?

Though the subject matter is interesting, and surprisingly rare in videogames, I still feel like everything about this game just makes it a weak substitute for either of the other versions of the story, and you'd probably be better off reading or watching one of those.

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