Xak: The Art of Visual Stage (サーク)
Released on 2/26/93, published by Sunsoft
Xak is the first game in a series that began on the PC-88/98 and was then ported to various other PCs and consoles. The Super Famicom only got a port of Xak I. The title is written in katakana as サーク, which would be Anglicized as something like “Circ” or “Sark”. The subtitle “Art of Visual Stage” has nothing to do with the game itself, but refers to the graphical engine — apparently in its initial PC-88/98 release the game was notable for its graphical engine that provided better graphics than other games which were able to show depth of field and such.
Xak is heavily influenced by Ys, to the point where it starts to cross over from “influence” to “ripoff”. It’s an action RPG with an odd-looking title, where the first story is split into two games. You run into enemies to hit them (in the original version) and it has a similar looking item and equipment screen. The feel of the games is very similar.
The Super Famicom port of Xak I redoes the entire game, changing it from a “run into enemies” system to one where you actually swing your sword. It feels a lot like Lagoon in that you have to make sure you stand in the right place, and you can find yourself getting a game over very quickly. Fortunately you can save anywhere and on a game over the game immediately loads your most recent save, so progress is quick even if you die a lot. As in Ys, levelling has a huge effect on the game. Enemies that you start out barely damaging you can eventually hurt just by running into them.
Unfortunately because only Xak I was ported to Super Famicom, you get an incomplete experience — there is a final boss and some closure to the story but there are a bunch of loose ends, characters that barely serve any purpose (but will be back in II) and a final scene that teases the second game. This makes me wish I had started with Turbo CD games.
As you can also tell from this post, the game is very short. I beat it in a little over 6 hours.
The main character is Latok, who as usual has the bloodline of a god (Duel). His father disappeared half a year ago, so when Pixie shows up to deliver him a message, Latok has to take it instead.
|The father’s name is “Dork”|
The evil god Badu has revived because someone broke the seal to release him. 250 years ago he was defeated by Duel but now that Duel is no longer in the world, it’s up to his descendant to destroy Duel. Pixie gives Latok the King’s Seal and it’s time for Latok’s journey to begin.
The first area starts off brutal. It’s a pattern throughout the game that at first the enemies crush you, but after a level or two they’re manageable. So the first part of the game involves exploring around, finding out where you can go (dying instantly is a sign you’re going the wrong way). Eventually I found the Morul Fort, where an earthquake happened recently.
One key to the game is that you often have to talk to people three times before they’ll do anything. This fort also has lots of locked doors, but two of them can be opened by the people inside (who you can’t see). I had to use a walkthrough to figure out what to do here, and also found out I missed an earlier boss because I didn’t see the path.
|Latok carrying Frey|
You can find Frey hurt in the forest. She has no further role in this game but she has her own side game and will join the main party in Xak III. This is also the first boss battle, against a tree spirit.
I was way too overlevelled at this point so he only took two hits.
In the Morul Fort Latok finds a statue of Duel that tells him he needs three of the Xak Depuls, which will give him the power necessary to defeat Badu. Other than that your main goal here is just to get through the Morul Fort out to the other side, which involves fighting the second boss. This boss also went down in 2 hits.
|A water dragon|
Now with the Blue Depul, Latok sets out to the next area, where he takes a mine basket down to a cave.
This cave has annoying bats. They don’t do damage or take many hits, but they’re fast and hard to attack, and they get in your way when you’re trying to fight other enemies. This place also has a pirate hideout, which is a great place to level since you can leave and enter the area, and the enemies are slow and easy to hit. The cave ends with another boss, the elementals:
|Fire and Water elemental|
After a few hits they combine into the Combine Elemental. Not a hard boss but it does a huge amount of damage so you do have to be careful.
For some reason after this you get a scene where it replays moments from the game so far (less than 3 hours!) and then we’re in “part 2”.
|Part 2 is starting!|
The game is not long enough for this. You come out in a Hobbit village (the Tolkien estate’s lawyers can’t read Japanese) and have to switch between here and the next dungeon, the large Zeglard tower. After finding a ghost, helping out some gnomes, and levelling a lot, we fight a boss called the Necromancer.
All he does is summon undead, and then run after you beat them all. This allows you to progress into the next area, the Lava Zone. There is a small group of humans living here who help you out with information and items. Rachel’s father went to the Flame Fort to find some medicine for their sick child, but hasn’t returned.
The fort itself requires a Flame Mantle to walk through fire curtains, and a gas mask to go through gaseous areas. Rachel’s dad is in the fort but his leg is hurt. He gives Latok the medicine but has to stay behind.
|A gas area|
An old man near Rachel tells Latok that he needs a Dragon Ring to control a dragon at the top of the tower. Up there, Latok suddenly gets the Red Depul from a box he picked up earlier in the game, and is given the Purple Depul soon after — this is rather odd from a story standpoint. But now comes the worst part of the game.
|This isn’t the superfamicomshooting blog|
It’s a shooting game. I hit the max level of 25 in the Flame Fort so there’s nothing to do but try this over and over. The boss is really difficult, and of course you can’t level any more. So this is essentially a pure action part of the game. I enjoyed Gradius and R-Type but those were much better than this.
|Flame Dragon boss|
Your shots only do 1 damage, and only if you hit the head. The dragon’s movements are unpredictable and he often shoots out a whole bunch of flames in various directions. After a bunch of losses I passed this with heavy save state abuse. I can’t imagine how long it would have taken me if I honestly started from the beginning of the shooting part every time I lost. I checked out some videos of this part on different consoles. This seems like the hardest one. The PC versions are similar but seem to be slower moving (the MSX version adds an extra boss!) The PC Engine part is pathetic; the action area is very short and the dragon dies in one hit.
In the next area is the final boss. He kills you in one hit, which is annoying, but he’s not very difficult aside from that, despite his two forms.
Badu tells Latok that his father is the one who released the seal, but he has no idea where Dork went. Then there’s an epilogue where the Necromancer talks to a ???? person, and that’s the end. Like I said, lots of loose plot threads and unfinished business.
Overall the game’s not bad other than the shooting section. But probably if you’re considering playing this you should go with the PC Engine version so you can actually play the full story. But the SNES graphics look a lot better. The music is pretty good, but it probably sounds better off the CD.
Next up is Albert Odyssey, the first SRPG on this blog.
An action RPG that suddenly turns into a vertical shooter at the end? That reminds me of Rayearth on the Saturn… although IIRC Rayearth had "heart container" items instead of experience points and levels, making it more of a Zelda-alike than an RPG.
Yeah I've seen videos of that — if I ever do Saturn/PSX games in 10 years I'll give it a try. There's a Rayearth game for SFC also but it's just a standard RPG.
I remember the SFC Rayearth game fairly well, because it was the first or second Japan-only game I played on an emulator (the other being one of the DBZ fighting games) This was back in the early 2000s when SNES emulation was very primitive. In the emulator I had, the sound in Rayearth didn't work (you had to disable sound in the emulator's options or it would lock up) and a lot of the visuals for spells, etc. were messed up, often with the "texture" of the spell covering the entire screen instead of being displayed properly. Emulation has come a long way since then thanks to people like Anomie and byuu.
The SFC Rayearth game followed the manga storyline slavishly (more so than the anime, which had substantial changes in the first half and veered into a completely different story from the manga in the second half), and the only unusual thing mechanically was the system where your weapons and armor levelled up by swinging or getting hit respectively. You could grind up your armor level by tanking for a bunch of turns in each random battle, but it wasn't necessary because the game was really easy–even for a player could barely read elementary-school level Japanese, like me at the time.
My first JP-only emulator experience was the fan translated FF5, on zsnes back in 98 or 99. At the time you still had to disable the background layer in the ship section because the transparency effects hadn't been emulated yet. But it ran at a decent clip on my Pentium 100.
Looks a lot like Lufia!