Thursday, 28 July 2011

Daikatana (N64) Review

Just about everyone and anyone will have heard of the recent release of Duke Nukem Forever. About how it spent over a decade being developed and upon finally being released many years later the entire thing is a steaming pile of bad humour and disappointment.
What is surprising was the lack of mention of another similarly underwhelming game known as Daikatana released towards the end of the beginning of the 2000s after a very long development period. Its release was repeatedly halted as new engines were invented, repeated attempts were made to implement new technology into the game as it was released and the attempts to inventively create squad based combat. The end result was far, far worse than Duke Nukem Forever on every conceivable level.
The graphics were ugly, the AI was horrific and the voice acting sounded like it had been done in a shed. Worst of all the hyped and promoted addition of your companions joining you in the game led to them dying endlessly as a result of bad programming. In a rush to try and make profit out of an underselling game, the producers Ion Storm attempted to release versions for the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Colour.

So, let’s see if the N64 port lives up to the shameful reputation of the original release.

Background and Story:
The background story is probably the best part of the game and contains some ideas which are astoundingly cheesy but were interesting enough to keep my attention when I first got it. Mind you I was aged ten back then.

You play as Hiro Miyamoto, a martial artist practicing in his dojo when he is interrupted by an old man named Ebihara. The old man then begins to dump the entire backstory to the game upon Hiro, explaining about how history is not right. He details about how Hiro’s legendary swordmaster ancestor during Japan’s feudal era created an exceptionally powerful weapon known as the daikatana at the command of the Shogun Mishima. Mishima intended to use the weapon to wipe out the force still opposing his tyrannical rule: The Ebihara clan.
Upon realising that the overlord who ruled the lands with an iron fist was in fact evil, something hard to miss, he gave the weapon instead to the Ebihara clan. The Ebiharas used the sword to beat Mishima, Hiro’s ancestor took the mystic sword back and then threw it into a volcano to prevent it being used by mere mortals. Evil men dead, doomsday sword gone and good people now ruled the land. All was right.
That is until a direct descendant of the Ebihara clan funded an expedition to get the daikatana back. Apparently the sword was so powerful it could allow its user to time travel and alter the flow of fate. One of the Mishima’s direct descendents, Kage, stole the sword and then used it to put himself as ruler of a Blade Runner-esq world. He keeps the populace in check via the use of a vaccine to a deadly virus, something else he apparently stole from the Ebihara bloodline.
The old man then reveals that Kage Mishima also has his daughter Mikiko who was trying to infiltrate his fortress and had been taught how to use the weapon by him somehow. The old man asks Hiro to get back his daughter, steal back the daikatana and set time back on its correct course.

Hiro, not believing a word of the tale told by a diseased old street bum, tries to brush him off. They are then attacked by ninjas employed by Mishima. In a slow and badly made cut scene Hiro defeats them all but not before they mortally wound Ebihara. With his dying words the old man tells Hiro that the “Death Collectors” will be along soon and to infiltrate the fortress inside his coffin.
After this ten minute long info-dump you at long last start playing. And no, I stand by what I said. This cliché ridden plot hole filled backstory involving time travel is probably the best part of the game. Be afraid.

After getting the titular weapon the protagonists are thrown back in time by Mishima to try and get rid of them and sparks the game’s true time travelling sections. On a side note, I did like the reason given for certain enemies in the game turning up. Greece contains large numbers of legendary beasts which attack the player throughout the game, Norway features powerful wizards and zombies, and Alcatraz featured a cybernetic hybrid between a monkey and a tank.
The reason for these? Mishima has screwed with time to the point where aberrations which could not have previously existed have begun to appear in the timeline. A fun idea if nothing else.

Unfortunately the characters which make up the game are as clichéd as the story. All they needed was Rob Liefeld to draw them and they’d look like they’d come from Image Comics during the 90s. Hiro Miyamoto is never given enough personality, he’s a generic growly voiced action hero wearing futuristic armour and carrying big guns. Mikiko is only seen as the token female character and rarely speaks save for exposition. Former security chief Superfly Johnson, AKA “officer Blaxploitation” is a veritable storm of clichés and hilariously bad dialogue.

And after a five minute google search I found this. Called it.

The only interesting character is Kage Mishima who is seen flying about causing endless problems for you during the game and might as well be called Doctor Doom. You see more depth in Saturday morning villains from cartoons. In spite of this there are some amusing bits dropped during each time period relating to his plans, especially in the last chapter which gives a good hint as to how he gained power.
Ultimately he comes across as some insane fusion of Adam Sutler and the Master if he was carrying the Sword of Greyskull.

Graphics and Design:
Behold the crispest graphics you will see in the game. A still image seen during the opening. It's all downhill from here people.

Even for the N64 era, the graphics of this game are horrible. All of the characters are blocky, jerkily moving CGI abominations who would have been laughed off of the set of Birdemic. Each cut scene has them slowly staggering about like they’re drunk and bobbing their heads to try and make it look like they’re talking. Goldeneye and Metal Gear Solid both had similar graphical shortcomings but found ways to overcome their problems.
Goldeneye also had somewhat slow movements and awkwardly implemented subtitles but they flowed much better and did not seem so sporadic. In addition to this they were used quite sparingly and were not a constant part of the games levels.
Metal Gear Solid worked mostly through having much faster character movements and actually having voice acting. Proper voice acting, not the amateurish attempts on the PC version. The much better camera work also probably helped.

What doesn’t help is the attempts to hide some utterly shoddy work and problems with the N64 port. Everything is blurred to hide low resolution textures and there is the constant presence of fog through out the larger levels to hide draw distance. It was something bad enough to be irritating in a good game like Rogue Squadron, so with Daikatana it’s another nail in the coffin. Combined with the poor animations and blurring the entire world feels very slow and at times almost completely static. Not something you want in an FPS.

If the graphical limitations weren’t bad enough then you have the level designs themselves to worry about. They are uninspired at the best of times and at the worst utterly confusing. The one of the Greece levels will have you running about for hours and constantly missing things while others are so linear that they feel more like shooting galleries than levels. There are a few good ones dotted between the bad but each level feels wildly different from the last giving the game a very disjointed feeling.

As for the themes of the environments themselves? I actually liked them. The first chapter is a cyberpunk dystopia crossed with an industrial cityscape which leads you through Mishima’s fortress. Almost everything looks very functional and exceptionally ugly, adding to the idea that there is something very wrong with the world. Well, there’s something very wrong with the whole game but you get the idea.
Later levels like ancient Greece and Norway’s Dark Ages similarly have very good atmospheres, being surrounded by ruins and dingy abandoned buildings. Even the final level, Alcatraz prison stands out from the opening far future setting by only being slightly more futuristic than modern day, and by implementing concrete environments rather than tarnished metal. Even the character outfits at least look interesting, with the protagonists’ wearing futuristic armour and folded plates which help them to stand out in the later sections. The rest of the game’s cast are a mixed bunch, some look good, some are horribly generic. Unfortunately these good elements are always in the background and don’t go far enough to balance out the bad aspects of the game.

Guess what, there's more than a dozen weapons in the N64 game but the one it's named after is totally unusable. This screenshot? Taken from the PC version.

The N64 game does have one major advantage over its PC version: It ditched the game’s main selling point.

Seriously, after all the hype and focus the game made upon its side characters being a major part of the gameplay this port decided to ignore them. And thank heaven that it did, as the PC version had them endlessly die and turned the entire game into a glorified escort mission. With them gone you’re free to sprint through the game blasting things left and right with a wide assortment of weapons. Save for the extremely slow movement speed.

The game’s arsenal is inventive if nothing else. Most of the weapons you get are a far cry from the usual pistol, rifle, grenades and big superlaser thingamajig. Out of the guns which are looted during the starting chapter alone you get an ion blaster which ricochets off walls, a hand held twin barrel sidewinder missile launcher, and an unholy hybrid between a double barrel auto shotgun and an assault cannon.
You don't pick up any remotely normal weapons until the final chapter and by then you’ll be carrying many dozens of weird and wonderful things. Most notably Neptune’s magic trident and staffs from various wizards you’ve slain. The truly great thing is that you keep all your guns when you go from each chapter to another and jump eras. Meaning that you can end up shooting medieval plague zombies in the face with energy weapons and missiles.

While this is undoubtedly awesome the weapons don’t feel different enough from one another to warrant the number of weapons the game has. Besides for sound effects and general looks, guns like the ion blaster and trident feel almost exactly the same. They do about the same damage and the effects for shooting something with a futuristic C4 launcher and a living poisonous staff are exactly the same. Which brings me onto my next point: the games enemies.

They feel like they’re cookie cutter variations of any enemy you would see in any game and each has only one death scream and one death animation. This removes almost any feeling of variety within the guns and makes gameplay quickly become quite repetitive and almost boringly easy. For example the guards on the first chapter will slowly run towards you, shoot pea shooters and then die to glancing hits. Rather than dreading the ten foot tall assault dreadnoughts with drill arms and battle cannons, you’ll find yourself going out of the way looking for them. Usually to the point where you’ll rush past most things trying to seek out something to give you any challenge.

The boss battles can often be the same. They’re usually either an utter joke or so impossibly hard that you’ll end up stumped for hours on them. The latter happens during the Norway chapter when you end up trying to take down some guy lurking in a chamber throwing lightning everywhere. He’s one of three wizards the group is tasked with killing due to their evil actions. Every single time you enter his chamber, the wizard will magnetically grab Hiro, plaster him against a wall and fire lightning bolts up his backside until he dies. The game doesn’t have so much a difficulty curve as a difficulty cliff face, with Daikatana leaping from insultingly easy to insultingly hard from enemy to enemy. This problem causes another good idea tried within the battle to suddenly fail: the stats system.

Hiro has multiple stats which can be upgraded and improved as the game goes by or briefly boosted. It was a good idea and an original one for consoles of the time but simply does not work within the game. For starters, against the more powerful bosses any stats improvements you have will be almost utterly pointless. Giving you next to no edge almost to the point where you need not have even bothered improving them to begin with.
In addition to this most of the time you will only want upgrades to three of your stats: power, vitality and speed. Making you kill things a bit faster, survive more damage and to stop the game feeling like Hiro’s using a Zimmer frame. The rest will never become useful at any point either due to bad gameplay implementation or sheer pointlessness, notably acro. As it increases your jumping height and distance but not once in the entire game will you ever need to jump higher or further than you can at the beginning.

Good news is that while the N64 port does fall short of the PC version in graphics, many of the gameplay bugs which plagued the original version are non existent in the N64 version. There are no times in which the game will freeze, no times in which your guns will suddenly turn invisible and no times when you will suddenly no clip through doors. That being said there are other bugs, but they’re not quite so intrusive as the previous examples.


So, is Daikatana bad? If the two thousand word rant didn’t tell you then yes, it’s not very good. But is it deserving of its reputation as one of the worst video games ever made? In all honesty not really.
Okay it has plenty of problems, anyone can see that. But there are much worse video games out there like Superman 64 or the latest Call of Juarez and unlike those this one is actually playable. The weapons are inventive, the atmosphere and style of things is well done for its time and the ludicrous plot felt like you were in a fun sci fi B movie.

What really helped the game was a surprisingly awesome soundtrack which is used to give characterise each setting. For example Greece sounds grand, heroic and uses piping horns which invokes the idea of an epic tale of old. By comparison Norway sounds dark, depressing and mournful reflecting upon the tragedies befalling the country during that era. It has nothing on great game soundtracks like Ocarina of Time or Heroes of Might and Magic but it was a cut above most game music of that generation.

At the end of the day Daikatana is painfully average at the best of times. Despite massive hype for its release, huge amounts of advertising and years of announcing people would be made bitches it felt like a generic shooter which should have been done after a year of development.
It’s not great but it’s not as horrible as people are led to believe. Just to confirm for those of you who are already typing angry comments though: yes, the PC version still sucks arse and is utterly unplayable. Seriously, you'd have more fun trying to play Big Rigs than you would that piece of junk.


Daikatana and all related characters and media are owned by Ion Storm and John Romero.
The Daikatana promotional comic was created by Image Comics.


  1. I love the PC version. But, to be fair. You MUST upgrade to v1.2 or it's completely unplayable. The sidekicks were a little overreaching. The best way to play it is going to multiplayer and starting a local Cooperative game. You can play through the whole game without them.

    Granted, there was a lot of hype around the game and that really hurt it. I think if the game was released without the hype and people were aware of the v1.2 patch and playing without sidekicks it would have been remembered as a pretty average shooter and can be fun for people who like the older FPS (of which John and his friends pretty much made famous).


  2. Pretty fair review. I would only say that the wizard you say is insanely difficult is, in fact, really not.
    The magnetic grip can be avoided by just backing down and all his other attacks can be avoided with strafing and jumping.
    In truth, Daikatana 64 is easy from beginning to end. But at list the ryhtm is better, the game is shorter and overall more pleasant than the PC version.