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by Kurt Kalata - June 17, 2006

Chaos Seed: Fūsui Kairouki (仙窟活龍大戦 カオスシード) - Super Famicom, Sega Saturn (1996)

Japanese Saturn Cover

Japanese SFC Cover

Japanese console RPGs tend to blend together after awhile. There are really only three permutations of the genre, and it's rare that games venture outside them. Final Fantasy is Dragon Quest, Fire Emblem is Front Mission, Secret of Mana is Illusion of Gaia. As much as people complain about how games are stagnating today, it's really just the same as it ever was.

One of the few truly original SNES games was Ogre Battle, a fun little game that combined the real time strategy of PC games like Dune II with the role playing aspects of your traditional Japanese RPG. It had an absurdly low print run, but it garnered a rabid cult following that still demands a new release to this day.

Chaos Seed is not even remotely similar to Ogre Battle, but it shares the same defiant spirit. Developed by Neverland Soft (the guys behind the Lufia series), Chaos Seed very much unique in the land of Japanese RPG clones. If anything, it can be compared to a few Western PC games - the concept of building a town for resources and defending it makes it similar to Crystal Dynamics' The Horde (yes, the one starring Kirk Cameron), while the dungeon building is a bit reminiscent of Bullfrog's Dungeon Keeper. But even compared to those, Chaos Seed is so incredibly unique - and insanely addicting - that it's damn shame that the game was released twice in Japan (for the Super Famicom in 1996 then in 1998 for the Saturn) but never saw an English release.

Now, in Chaos Seed, the land is dying. The soil becomes sterile, crops die, and people are miserable. But the solution doesn't lie in some grand adventure (although it does involve at least one dying spirit tree that you need to revive.) You play the role of a Dousen, a cave hermit in charge of replenishing the lost energy of the earth. In order to do this, you need to build and maintain a cave that produces the life blood of the planet. So essentially, it's a real-time resource management sim. However, things are so easy for the poor Dousen, because humans misunderstand his purpose. Many think that your shifty little underground dealings are actually the cause of the planet rot, not the solution. Still others just want to steal your energy for their own. So you're not only managing a miniature factor, but defending it from harm as well.

Unlike most sim games, which put you in the role of an omnipotent characters, you're put squarely in control the Dousen, who controls much in the same way as your standard action-RPG hero. You can run, swing your weapon, or attack with a variety of magic spells. But mostly importantly, you need to build a dungeon if you want to get anywhere. In order to expand, you simply walk up to a wall, tug it, and you can create a whole new room of varying shapes and sizes. While you're scurrying around, carving out rooms and roughing up interlopers, a timer counts down slowly. When it hits zero, the turn ends, and you're given a quick break to manage other aspects of your dungeon, like upgrading rooms or setting patrol routes. Then it's back into action for the next turn.

There are eight different types of rooms to build in your cave, each serving an important purpose. Perhaps the most critical locations in your dungeons are the Production Rooms. These create Energy, which can then be channelled into the soil to rejuvenate it. In almost every stage, the goal is to harvest a certain amount of energy. However, when you first create a Production Room, the output is pretty low. You can upgrade it to produce Energy faster, but first you need another resource, dubbed "Sentan". Another room called a Refinery will create Sentan, which allows you to improve various aspects of your dungeon. However, you need animal helpers to transport the Sentan throughout the cave, so you also need a Summoning Room to create monsters. Not only do they take care of the busy work, but they'll also act as patrols against outside invaders. You can even call upon a few of them are partners to run alongside you and aid you in combat.

Chaos Seed

Those are the basic elements of your cave, but there are several more - Survelliance Rooms let you spot the source of intruders; Excavation Rooms will dig up hidden items, which can be equipped on either the Dousen or any of the helper monsters; Warehouses let you store more items; Attack Rooms allow you to build traps; and Teleportation Rooms, which can help you get from one side of your cave to the other. Even though there's a ton of depth to the game, the process is pretty much the same in every scenario - build room, upgrade room, harvest energy, fight off bad guys, and repeat. But Chaos Seed never gets tiring because it's always challenging you to find more efficient ways to run your dungeon. When building rooms, you need to pay special attention to the resources in the soil, which directly affects it's output. More challenging is trying to wrap your brain around the game's Feng Shui system.

Depending on its location, each room is assigned one of the five symbols of Feng Shui. If you direct the ki flowing into and out of rooms in a certain way, you're granted access to even more impressive upgrades. It's a little bit hard to understand, and more than a little intimidating, because Feng Shui reminds me more of Martha Stewart books than challenging strategy games. It's never necessary, although it is helpful, and ensures that no matter how well you think you can make a dungeon, you can always do better.

This is all more than a bit complicated, so there's a pretty long tutorial scenario to teach you the ropes. After that, you're thrown into the first true scenario, where you need to build a cave on your own. However, once you've raised enough energy, you're challenged to a battle by a mysterious dragon. Before getting killed, you're saved by your master and transported, simultaneously, into several parallel dimensions. Each scenario takes place in an alternate timeline, most of which have the same characters, but all have some slight differences. It's a fascinating concept, especially with the unique ancient Chinese settings. Each scenario also ends with a credits sequence, which feels a little bit strange, because it feels like you're watching an ending sequence for every level you beat. Some of the scenarios have multiple endings, depending on certain conditions, and are all made for incredible replayability. At a certain point, you can go even go back and play the first scenario, and actually beat the damn dragon that nearly killed you the first time around.

If there's anywhere that Chaos Seed stumbles, it's in the action segments. Your default weapon is pretty short, and is practically useless unless you stick to magic, upgrade your weapon, or use alternate attacks. But with some of the crazier spells, sometimes the action gets so chaotic that it's hard to tell what's going on. Thankfully, healing spells are in abundance, and the boss battles are rarely too hard as long as you take some time off from dungeon building to kill some baddies and level up a bit. The only other possible flaw is that scenarios can take a long time, but you can save in-between turns, so it's very easy to take breaks.

And yet, for all it's hooks and innovations, Chaos Seed's primarily failing is, of course, that it's in Japanese. Even if you're only slightly fluent in the language, you can get by in most RPGs, once you learn how to read items and make your way through menus. Chaos Seed is a LOT more complicated, because it expects you to know the name and purpose of every room, item, and monster. It doesn't help that the game's concepts are so unlike everything out there that it takes awhile to learn even if you are fluent. It's certainly not impossible to enjoy the game without knowing the language, but prepare to spend plenty of time pouring over some of the excellent FAQs and memorizing at least a large handful of kanji. It takes a lot of energy and it's frustrating until you get the basics of the game down, but once you do, it's damn well worth it. I've also prepared a quick visual tutorial to help explain the basics, with some translated menus, at least the ones I could figure out. Trust me, this is a game you'll want to play.

Two years after Chaos Seed hit the Super Famicom, Neverland decided to port the game to the Sega Saturn. Unlike many ports of this nature, there are tons and tons of changes. The graphics have been improved, although the difference is only slightly noticeable. Most importantly, the resolution has been increased, so you can see more on the screen and the interface can fit more text. Character portraits have been added for the story scenes. The cool Mode 7 intro from the original has been replaced with a crappy CG cutscene, unfortunately. The music has been improved substantially, and the voices are not only more plentiful, but sound much nicer too. The added buttons on the Saturn controller allow for some extra functionality (like recalling the last spell used), and you can run by holding down the C button as opposed to rapidly tapping it.

There are plenty of minor changes to some of the storyline scenes, including the reordering of events and rewritten dialogue. There are also a few new scenarios, as well as a Puzzle Dungeon, if you want to play without bothering with the storyline. The only possible quibble is that some scenarios restrict you on building the Warehouse, which artificially lengthens certain scenarios, since it restricts how much energy you can channel into the Dragon Furnace. Otherwise, the Saturn port is the definitive version, though the Super Famicom version is still more than adequate. The Saturn version also features a bonus CD featuring artwork, character profiles, a card minigame, some arranged music, and interviews with the voice actors. Regardless, either version is awesome.

Thanks to Dag for his amazing FAQ, which is a must-read for anyone trying to play Chaos Seed.

Quick Info:

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  • Junichi Kashiwagi

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Chaos Seed (Super Famicom)

Chaos Seed (Super Famicom)

Chaos Seed (Super Famicom)

Chaos Seed (Super Famicom)

Chaos Seed (Saturn)

Chaos Seed (Saturn)

Chaos Seed (Saturn)

Chaos Seed (Saturn)


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Comparison Screenshots

Additional Super Famicom Screenshots


Additional Saturn Screenshots


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