Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Jul 25th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under Sega Saturn, fighting, platform, rpg, capture, time loop

The vast sea of forgotten tales long buried in the sands of time can seem insurmountable to one looking for a place to dig. Sega's Saturn is a system that has been pushed to the wayside for the entirety of its existence in the West, while it enjoyed a brief success as the great black gaming box of the East. Some of its games made their way over to the West, but the overall ratio of those that came compared to those that never made it is sad to look at, especially if you put yourself in the mindset of a Western Saturn fan who sees the press talk about new Japanese games that only had a tiny chance of being brought over. Some of the ones brought over were excellent, like Dragon Force, GunGriffon and the arcade ports that I have previously discussed. Even the weaker titles brought over were at least something to whet the appetite. With all that in mind, which category of quality does Dark Savior manage to fall into, or is it just another futile voyage along a sea of the endless sands?

Dark Savior was developed by CLIMAX Entertainment and published by Sega. It was released on the Saturn in Japan and North America in 1996, and the following year for PAL regions. The game remains a Saturn exclusive to this day, with no modern rereleases of any kind. At the time, CLIMAX was still a relatively new developer on the scene of full scale video game development. The company was founded in 1990 and began their collaborative work with the team that became Camelot Software on the Genesis/Mega Drive games Shining in the Darkness and Shining Force. After those were finished and released, CLIMAX went to solo development for another Genesis release, Landstalker. Some of the company's developers broke off and founded Matrix Software, which began development on Alundra. The rest of CLIMAX finished work on Landstalker's Super Famicom sequel, Lady Stalker. Dark Savior would be CLIMAX's third game.

Dark Savior begins with a short cutscene outlining the story information printed in the game's manual. A famous team of bounty hunters captures a powerful monster named Bilan. One of the hunters volunteers to go alone and escort Bilan to his immediately scheduled execution upon Jailer's Island. The hunter hops onto the Seabandits ship, takes a nap, and upon awakening, finds out that Bilan has escaped and has headed for Jailer's Island anyway; there, Bilan transforms into a massive beast of destruction. Garian ends up exploring the island and finding a tangled political web of plots unfolding before his eyes, including slave labor being used by the guards and a revolt planned by the prisoners. He also meets his female love interest in the form of a ninja woman, and finds a blue rose. From there, Garian wakes up on the Seabandit's ship, with the blue rose in his possession on top of his equipped gear. Jack goes off and returns with the news that Bilan has actually escaped. It's not a dream after all.

Immediately after this introduction, the player is set loose on the ship, with some tense music playing. The goal is the Captain's Cabin. A timer appears in the corner which increments upwards as the player runs Garian off to the cabin. This first stage introduces the platforming elements of the game, keeping it to flat rooms and hallways for the first few rooms before adding in jumping and puzzle solving elements to the running formula. If Garian manages to make it to the Cabin while Bilan is there, then a fight breaks out, but a first time player will likely go along with the game's first parallel, which unfolds similarly to Garian's nightmare. The actual combat plays out like a tournament fighter, with the player able to bring forth a flurry of damage from attacks, combos, special attacks, ultimate attacks, and Garian can block to stop the opponent from beating him into the ground. Garian can also capture his opponent by meeting certain requirements for each fighter, and can use them in lieu of himself in future battles.

Garian wins Bounty Hunter Experience Points after successful combat, which he can use on recovery for himself or upgrades through the Bounty Hunter's Handbook. The environment also has a few items hidden around that can be traded to an Agency bird like Jack, but her name is Regina. These items are chocolate bars, magazines, and Jalapeņo juice (or alcohol in the original Japanese release). This is a prison economy, so barter is important. Garian can end up earning gear upgrades to do extra damage in combat and take less from his opponents, so the most efficient fighter who catches a lot of his opponents alive, makes for a strong bounty hunter.

The game has three basic ideas that it plays around with in regards to the timer, what happens when Garian reaches the cabin before Bilan reaches the cabin, what happens while Bilan is inside, or what happens after Bilan escapes. If Garian wins the fight in the second scenario, then he embarks on an adventure on Jailer's Island where Bilan is not in the picture, if he loses, then Garian dies and ends up in a form of purgatory, and the player gets to play through a battle arena. If you complete this battle arena then a second player can control Garian's opponent in future plays of this arena. One of these scenarios leads directly into another, so there ends up being a total of five parallel stories with the battle arena counted. This has allowed Dark Savior to be the freshest narrative experienced on the system since Dragon Force's character driven insults before combat.

Dark Savior's idea for a narrative was a fresh take on gaming stories of its time, but even critics playing it upon release noted that the platforming sections are the worst aspect of the game. This is an accurate statement, especially given that some areas, especially the Silver Castle, will always require practice when it is encountered. The game is shown in an isometric perspective, with large, well detailed 2D sprites for the characters, which stand or move around on top of a 3D background. Garian has a shadow, but objects in the environment do not always cast a shadow that can be completely related to Garian's current position. The abundance of faith based leaps make [/i]Dark Savior[/i] a nail biter. With practice, this can all be drilled into play, but it feels like an unfair way to force a specific play style. There is a mining cart mini game that makes the platforming look genius, so there's that to look forward to in multiple parallels. The combat system on the other hand, is fairly well-executed. It's not as deep as one of Capcom's fast arcade fighters of the same day, but once some combos are figured out, they can be reliably repeated. Just playing through all of the parallels once might be enough to stomp almost all of the story-based enemies without a problem. The game's music may stand out as much as the combat and is quite fitting for the strange events that transcend any of Garian's individual paths and consciousness.

A lot of complaints have been lodged at the Saturn, but for the last few years, more collectors have been snatching up what they can of the system, and the price of games keeps climbing. Dark Savior has yet to be affected too much by this climb. Its price range varies from $30-50 online. Even with its problems Dark Savior is a fine addition to any Saturn library, and remains affordable for the time being. The entire mix of all the different gameplay styles make it an action game with enough narrative depth to challenge being defined as a role playing game. This is a fair assessment despite how all of the different systems resemble nothing like the formula found in most classic role playing games. This game came out at a time where real time battle systems were being tested in more depth by Japanese RPG developers. In fact, 1996 was the same year that saw the release of Star Ocean on the Super Famicom, with Tales of Phantasia having not even been out a year at this point. Yet despite its Western release, Dark Savior has been nearly forgotten, though it may deserve notoriety among similar real time RPGs of its time.

The vast sea of forgotten tales long buried in the sands of time can seem insurmountable to one looking for a place to dig...

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Thanks for the review. I was recommended this game when I picked up my first Saturn but never got around to trying it out. I'll keep my eye out for a copy.
Definitely one of my favorite RPG on the system besides Dragon Force. Both these games are worth buying a Saturn alone.
Saw the cover art and realized I'd picked this one up a little while back. I'll definitely consider giving it a go... but not until after I've taken a crack at the Star Wars Force Unleashed games.
I've been curious about this game since I first saw it on shelves 15+ years ago.  Now realizing the connection to Landstalker, which constantly has praised heaped upon it, I should probably consider snagging this game if/when I see it in the wild at a reasonable price.  It looks like something I might dig.

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