Gensou Senki Mona (幻想戦記 Mona) / MONA the Fantasy record of war - Windows (2004)
Doujin and indie games are slowly rising up in popularity in today's society. It can be easily argued that the world of free and low budget gaming has become more important, thanks to the stress on our economy and our wallets. Of course, of the main differences between doujin and indie games is the content. Japan seems to secure more of a comical style when it comes to their games, giving a different experience than many the Indie games of the west. Of these many titles is one of the most obscure things I have seen in some time (and probably one of the hardest to find doujin games on the internet), Gensou Senki (called ~ MONA the Fantasy record of war ~ on the title screen), a doujin game featuring different designs of Mona and Giko-Neko (the latter being a mascot from the Japanese imageboard, 2Chan) styled characters.
You most likely are wondering: "Why the hell are you telling me about this obscure game I most likely will never play?" can answer that easily: This game is unique. It holds an experience that will never be emulated in the games coming out of American and European companies today. We barely see games like these coming out of Japan today. flaming dragons, flying body builders attacking with the power of love, Zaku-like robots.
Because of my lack of Japanese language skills, the game's story is unknown to me. Though I believe I can make an accurate guess summary of what it is: Basically, shit's been goin down in this fantasy world, and it's up to one of the twenty or so heroes to step up and fight against this abomination. WHO WILL YOU CHOOSE?!
When I said that there was twenty something characters available to choose in this game, I meant it. There are a wide variety of character types, ranging from the basic sword wielding character to the grappler. Each character has their own intro and ending. The intro usually states the background of the hero and consists of one panel, where after it then goes on to explain the next stage. The ending is about five panels long, and consists of the ending of a character once the final boss is beaten. Each of the characters contains a moveset which, depending on the character, have attacks that contain constant chain-hits. These are attacks which have more than one hitbox before the animation ends, therefore doing more damage than a normal move. These are useful on certain enemies, but the temptation and ease of just pressing a button and doing a chunk of damage is too great, and it can become unbalanced, like any fighting game.
The actual game system first seems like a fighting game, with controls that of a fighting game on a computer (think of trying to play a 2D fighter on MAME on your keyboard), but it meshes together with beat 'em up elements (multiple enemies on screen, bosses among enemies, being able to move and turn around freely etc.), combining to create a Beat em Up with a static position. It retains the aesthetics of a simple fighting game, and takes that with a Beat em Up in such a partnership, that they carry weight equally and rely on each other's abilities. It builds a unique experience in a game that most likely wouldn't be very interesting normally. Using the major keys A, S, and D for strong attacks, Z and X for weak attacks, and C for blocking.
When you strike an enemy during battle, there is a chance of two random health items dropping. The bigger the combo, the more items you recieve from the enemy. The two consist of a can of coke and mutton. The coke can heals the least while the mutton heals a good chunk of your health. Though, this can be extortioned rather easily; say if you use NBK's ridicously cheap drill move on the multiple zombies in the second stage, you can recieve more than your fare share of healing items with little effort.
The stages themselves are a rather mixed bunch. The first stage and the bonus stage take place in a forest, while the second take place in a graveyard-like area. The background for the forest and the graveyard both have horrible pixilation problems, as well with the final stage. However, the other stages are crisper than the others, and it balances out rather well. All the stages are basically one picture backgrounds with maybe a different layer for some stages (as in the castle-like stages for when you fight the Robots and the Bodybuilders.
Looking at the sprites and character designs, you can find that they weren't made to be showy. They were most likely drawn in that form to take the shape of the basics of the game. It seems as if they werne't aiming to have people say: "Oh, these sprites are so amazing! All the effects are so well done!", they were making something for a silly game. The effects are static. Such as the Dragon's flamebreath, which is just a descending amount of ember-like sprites put together to look as if it was a group of fire. There is a sense of intended mediocrity in the game. It can be compared to Flash games such as Alien Hominid or Castle Crashers in light of the character sprites, though Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers have a much more refined quality than Gensou Senki.
The music is also rather dull compared to the musical scores of other doujin games such as Touhou (even though I find Touhou to have rather dull music as well, it sure is more interesting). The music consists of a simple amount of notes, being repeated over and over. However, as bad as it is, the select screen beat is fairly catchy, and the final boss theme has the typical pipe organ intro before the actual stong starts, from which it becomes the simple six note songs like the rest of the score. Also, the volume of the music itself, except for the stage select music, is low initially. Therefore it doesn't make much of a difference if you mute it or not, you could technically pull out Audacity and play a song of choice over the game, and it would be possible to listen to it with no interference.
However, as much as I can explain why this game is great because it's unique; there is still a large problem with it: The later levels. In every game you expect it to get harder as you progress, mostly for the better. Though, there are games where the progression is just a way to find new ways to rape you in various ways. Now, near the beginning, the game is slightly challenging, yet not too hard. Yes, there are times where the simple Ewoks on stage one can make mince meat from your bones, but that is really nothing compared to The second to last level. It actually can seem harder than the actual Final boss fight. The Flame dragon takes up almost the entire screen, with the only exception being the lower sides. He attacks with a series of hand movements, from swiping to slapping down and causing columns of flames to arise. His last and deadliest attack is his flame breath, which will take out almost half your health.
Gensou Senki isn't the most polished game out there compared to other Doujin games, but it's still an enjoyable ride though a lesser known area of Japanese culture, and I believe that is the most important part to it all.