Here’s another Playstation game, this one trying to use the power of the console to do something that couldn’t have been done on older systems.
The back of the package for this game and the instruction manual make it clear what the goal of the designers was — to make a game that felt like playing an OVA (original video animation). The game has over an hour of anime sequences stretching over three CDs. However, maybe this goal was prophetic as to the ultimate quality of the game itself. Anyone who has watched anime OVAs from the 80s and 90s knows that they were often rushed and incomplete, being made primarily to support manga that told the full story behind it, or perhaps to springboard to some other project. An hour of anime is impressive for a game, but when it’s the primary vehicle of the storytelling, it’s not enough.
Designer VING does not seem to have done all that many video games; at least I can’t find any information about them beyond this game.
The manual gives the backstory: 2000 years ago there was a thriving culture on Jupiter. The Cor Del group started out as an environmental protection agency, but later developed weapons to protect the planet. The nobility feared its power, and there was a civil war. After a long war, the Empress Freya sent her young child Lavis to Earth, but the capsule malfunctioned and landed on the Moon instead. In the end, the nobility won the war with a powerful weapon, and Cor Del retreated to outer space.
2000 years later (in 2008 — so this huge war on Jupiter was in 8 AD?), the descendants of Cor Del, calling themselves the Baskil Empire, have returned suddenly to attack the solar system. The main characters are part of the force that fights them (despite the title, “Harukaze Sentai V-Force” doesn’t appear in the game at all).
The anime sequences are well done; they clearly put a lot of effort into them and I would say they are as good as the anime that was coming out in the period (granted, the resolution the PSX can produce is lower). The main characters are three sisters of the Aoi family — Kagetsu, Natsuki, and Mizuki, as well as Natsuki’s childhood friend Yukina. Their father runs a weapon development company that helps make the attack planes they use.
The first stage is just Natsuki against 3 enemies by herself, followed by some reinforcements and then other units show up. On every stage you have mostly nameless grunt units, plus the main girls. Only the main named characters can gain XP and levels.
On each turn you can move and attack (in either order). Some units (especially ships) can do 2 or even 3 attacks in a turn, although still just one move. You can’t take back your move, which is quite annoying. There are also “option” parts you can use to do things like repair, or raise evade/hit.
When you attack, there is a little anime sequence showing the attack.
This was an interesting decision and probably limited the number of different units they could have. I turned the anime off. Another weak point of the gameplay is that the attacked unit can’t dodge or counter, just sit there and take the hit.
If any of the main 4 girls dies, you get a game over. This becomes a big problem because the units you have are quite weak, and can be defeated in 2-3 hits for the most part. Hit rates are high for the enemies. So you find yourself needing to inch forward slowly, using the unnamed characters as shields — or you can just use save states. This is what I did; I’m not a big fan of having to restart an entire stage because I made one wrong move, particularly in a game that isn’t all that great to begin with.
On stage 2 we have to help another squad destroy a mothership. This stage allows you to choose your weapons and Option before you start. I always made sure I took a Repair Kit as one of the options. For weapons, you do need to think about the choices; the weapons are good against either ground, sky, or “large ship” and have different hit rates, damages, and bullet amounts. The motherships on your side can resupply and repair you with a command on their turn.
I finished this stage fairly quickly and wondered if I should have spent more time beating all the enemies to level — in the end I don’t think it’s necessary. The game’s only challenge comes from the “main character dead = game over” system, and a few levels isn’t going to help that much.
Now let’s appeal to our young male audience some more:
The first four stages don’t have much in the way of plot progression, it’s just fending off various attacks by the enemies. There are a lot of named characters on the enemy side but most of them get very little development. You can check a database of characters from the main menu to see more information about them.
On stage 5 we head into space, and learn that Natsuki has dreams of a mysterious boy; there seems to be some connection between them due to their shared Jupiter descent. Stage 6 and 7 are fighting off the enemies around the moon, and then we finally head to Jupiter. Even though the Aoi girls are still inexperienced, the losses to the Earth side have been so heavy that they don’t really have anyone else.
On stage 7 you get left without the ships so you have to do the stage with no repair. Also, Yukina feels called to Jupiter
Jupiter has some ruins that they investigate, and one of the enemies (Gaichi) is investigating on the enemy side. Gaichi realizes that all the people who were sent to the Solar System are just disposable pawns.
They find some kind of plate which seems to resonate with Natsuki, but then they have to leave. Stage 9 is very long; you have to move Natsuki and Yukina in their bikes through a stage while defending them with other units. The two main people move really slowly. In Stage 10 you have to lure a mothership onto a base to blow it up and destroy the ship. Then in Stage 11, Natsuki has a vision from the Jupiter plate and a mysterious mech comes out.
It’s piloted by the boy that Natsuki saw in her dreams, and he tells Natsuki that Yukina is actually Empress Freya’s daughter, who was found in cold sleep and raised as Yukina. Gaichi decides that if that’s the case, she needs to protect Yukina, and switches sides.
Stage 12 has you destroying some large supply centers. The centers have 3 attacks each and can gang up on a person and kill them, so it takes some caution. The characters are in upgraded ships by this point so I no longer felt like things were quite as precarious as early in the game.
In Stage 13 we have to move one of the girls in a bike with no weapons to a place on the map where she can drop a bomb, and then escape. It’s a long, slow stage but not especially hard.
In stage 14 the enemy Emperor shows up. Something starts to go wrong with the Jupiter mech and Ikos (the pilot) loses control over it.
In the final stage we end up having to shoot down the mech, killing Ikos. Then the Emperor appears — Gaichi is actually his daughter. We have to destroy the Emperor’s ship, then the Emperor’s mech that appears (I was able to do this in 1 turn so I’m not sure how hard it is).
In the ending scene, the Earth people destroy a warp gate so that the enemies can’t bring more forces as easily. But it’s revealed that the Emperor was simply a clone of General Zai, who is eager to use the data provided by the Emperor’s attack to come back in greater force and conquer the Solar System. Obviously this is the setup for some kind of sequel which was never done; there were rumors that one was being developed for the Dreamcast but it didn’t happen.
Ultimately I can appreciate what they were trying to do with this product, but it’s just hard to make this kind of thing work. I don’t know of any game for any system that makes extensive use of anime scenes the way this does — probably because it costs a lot of money to do that, and then you have less to spend on the other parts of the game. 15 stages is way too short; the story has potential but no depth, and could have easily been a 30-40 (or even more) stage game. Too many of the characters are undeveloped other than their profile entries. The gameplay lacks depth the same as the story.
I agree with one closing comment I saw on a review of this game — shouldn’t this have just been an anime?