Japan has no shortage of weird, quirky games, but it is unusual when you find one granted a green card for other shores - ranging back from such oddities as Kabuki Quantum Fighter to the NES to Katamari Damacy for the PS2. One of the most obscure of obscure release is Keio Flying Squadron. Released in the dying days of the Sega CD by Victor, Keio is a light-hearted, cutesy shooter that was unashamed of its Japanese origins, from a time where having anime-style artwork on the cover was still unheard of.
Keio gets it name from the Japanese era in the 19th century between the Genji and Meiji eras. The game is supposed to take place during that period, but it's still filled with wacky anachronisms. While these are the only two "real" games of the series, apparently there was a board game called Ranma-Chan no Ooeto Surogoku: Keio Yugekitai Gaiden for the PlayStation.
Keio Flying Squadron begins with an FMV intro that details the elaborate history of the game world. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with the game, which focuses on the Keio Yuugekitai. This squadron is made of three people - Rami and her two grandparents. They don't do much of anything except sit around and guard this Special Holy Object, which is really just an oversized key. Unfortunately, they aren't very good at guarding, and the key gets whisked away by the nefarious Dr. Pon, a raccoon with the IQ of 1400. Rami transforms into her rabbit costume (for no justifiable reason) and sets off to retrieve their treasure. Despite the implications of having a heroine that looks like a Playboy bunny, Keio Flying Squadron is actually 100%, family friendly, squeaky clean.
As far as shooters go, it's pretty standard stuff - you have a primary weapon that can be powered up a few levels, and a multidirectional shot as well. Two tiny dragons also act as options, supplying extra firepower. If you're missing these little helpers, all you need to do is stop shooting for a few seconds and they will magically appear out of thin air to help. There's nothing really spectacular gameplay-wise that make Keio stand out, but it does have plenty of personality. Almost all of the enemies you fight are evil raccoons, either attacking on foot or riding some crazy machination. While not as crazy as Parodius or Cho Aniki, there's some memorably wacky stuff, especially the fish-human who commands several bosses, including a giant mech with big googly eyes.
Other than the goofy bosses, the graphics are pretty mediocre. While the artwork in between levels are amusing, the in game graphics lack detail and obviously suffer from the low color palette of the Genesis. The music is impossibly upbeat and unnecessarily catchy, and the voice acting doesn't take itself too seriously.
The fact that such a unique Japanese game was actually translated into English is what garnered this one a cult following. Unfortunately, this has led to inflated prices on the secondary market, and for all intents and purposes, Keio Flying Squadron really isn't great enough to warrant the prices it goes for.
Keio Yugekitei Katsugekihen (or Keio Flying Squadron: Action Chapter) is a bit of departure from its predecessor. Katsugekihen is a side-scrolling platform game, although there are a few stages where you jump on Pochi's back for some shooter action. Like its predecessor, it's pretty standard for the genre - you run, you jump, you collect 100 golden rabbits to get an extra life. In spite of her scrawniness, Rami can lift pretty much anything that isn't nailed down, including kappas (demons which act as springs to reach difficult places) and raccoon statues (don't think they serve any purposes.) Occasionally you'll run across weapons too - hammers can be used to thwack baddies, and bows can be used to shoot arrows. Umbrellas can also be used to attack, but are more appropriate to make controlled descents or protect yourself from raining boulders. As long as you're carrying some sort of item, Rami is pretty much invincible, but getting hurt makes you drop whatever you're carrying. Similar to the Sonic games, it's pretty hard to die unless you're really trying, or accidentally fling yourself into a pit.
The 2D powerhouse that is the Sega Saturn allowed for colorful, extremely detailed sprites. Rami is totally out of proportion and has an enormous head, but she carries a goofy, dimwitted smile as she marches through each gorgeous stage, hopping on bad guys and jumping over pits. Even the bad guys are amusing - you see them taking lunch breaks in the background, watching as their hapless brethren are bopped into submission. And much like the original, you can count on some ridiculous boss encounter (one is a blob that sticks a pencil up its ass and and attacks by spinning around - you're supposed to attack him while he's busy vomiting from dizziness.) The art style used in the cutscenes is a little rough, and the opening FMV suffers from horrible compression, but they're charming nonetheless. As an incentive to replay, there are tons of bonus artworks that can be unlocked as you rack up higher scores.
Despite its simplicity, Keio Flying Squadron 2 is still pretty fun, and makes you wish you saw more 2D 32-bit side scrollers. While it was never released in America, it did see a European release under the name Keio Flying Squadron 2. The game is so extremely Japanese that even the score is tallied in kanji, which makes its localization all the more puzzling, but I certainly don't think anyone's complaining. Still, it's easier to find the Japanese version than the European one, and the game isn't text heavy anyway.