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Zenki Introduction
Battle Raiden (SNES)
Kishin Douji Zenki (GG)
Denei Live (SNES)

Page 2:
Zenki FX: Vajra Fight
Tenchi Meidou
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By John Szczepaniak, June 2012

Starting in 1992, Kishin Douji Zenki (or Demon Child Zenki) was a manga serialisation in Monthly Shounen Jump. Wikipedia and other sites claim this apparently ran to 12 volumes, ending in 1996. In 2005 a company called Bamboo Comics re-released these as 7 volumes. Irrespective of the number of volumes, it spawned an anime series for the duration of 1995 (from January to December if online sources are correct). Some say there were 51 episodes, the now-defunct official Enoki Films website claims 52 at 25 minutes each. In 1997 there also appears to have been an OVA.

The story, very broadly speaking, is your standard modern-fantasy hokum mixed in with a bit of Dragon Ball. Over a thousand years ago a sorceress named Ozuno (sometimes Ozunu, or even Oz-Nay) battled evil with the help of guardian deity Zenki, and they defeated the evil demon queen Karuma. Afterwards Ozuno seals Zenki in a pillar/monument/shrine. Fast forward to today and Ozuno's descendant Chiaki (aka: Cherry) summons Zenki to save her. Since he takes the form of a child, she has to use a magical bracelet to turn him - Super Saiyan style - into his more powerful form from the past. As luck would have it Karuma's evil is also back, in the form of seeds which look like giant eyeballs, and which Zenki must destroy... Or something along those lines. As expected there's a diverse roster of secondary characters which appear throughout the series' various iterations.

Of course we're not here to talk about the manga and its anime offshoots, rather the five videogames they spawned, all released in a seventh month period between August 1995 and February 1996 (so therefore likely intended to coincide with the anime series). All of them are extremely obscure, with the best known possibly being Vajra Fight for the PC-FX, by virtue of its high price and legendary status on a system lacking in software (NEC's PC-FX was a failure no matter how you cut it, with approximately 80 games released, the majority requiring Japanese language ability to fully appreciate). The Zenki games are also all rather interesting, not only in terms of aesthetics and mechanical design, but the companies which actually made them.

As you'd expect from a licensed property, many hands were involved with development of all the games. The title screen of the first SNES title (Battle Raiden) lists Hudsonsoft, the publisher for all of the games except the GameGear version, which was published by Sega. Next to it is Kikuhide Tani, the original writer for the series. On the next line is Zenki's illustrator, Yoshihiro Kuroiwa. Then Shuheisha, the manga publisher, and next to them Kitty Film, which was involved with the anime. Lastly is TV Tokyo. Nowhere on this screen does it mention the actual developer, Computer Artist Production (they're a game development company based in Nagasaki with strong links to the Hudson of old). Listed on CAP's website the first game they developed seems to have been Hagane - certainly it bears a visual similarity to Battle Raiden, which came out a year after. The company also developed Sapphire for the PC-Engine, and Sky Odyssey, one of the best overlooked gems in the entire PS2 library.

Other Zenki releases add more companies to the mix, including K-Factory which was also involved with the anime, but it seems Hudson used a different developer for each version and, given the short window of the releases, all likely began development around the same time. This is obviously speculation, but given how poorly documented the games are, even in Japanese, it's not easy getting any information, let alone something reliable. Even when viewing the ending credits to some of the games, it's not always clear which company was behind it.

What we're left with then are five games of varying quality, on three separate systems, and little other information - a group of binary relics which only hint at the complex licensing deals behind them, and are guaranteed never to see re-release.

Zenki Manga

Zenki Manga

Zenki FX: Vajra Fight (PC-FX)

Kishin Douji Zenki: Battle Raiden - SNES (August 1995)
鬼神童子 ZENKI 烈闘雷伝

Cover

Battle Raiden (SNES)

The first released Zenki game, developed by CAP, and their third title after Hagane and Sapphire. As mentioned it does look similar to Hagane, with some striking backgrounds and terrific renditions of cloudscapes - the company's pixel artists clearly knew what they were doing, since all the backgrounds in Battle Raiden look absolutely gorgeous, almost like an oil painting in motion. The gameplay though feels totally dialled-in and nowhere as interesting as Hagane. Which isn't to say it's bad, since this is one of the best entries in the series and, in some ways, is even better than Vajra Fight on the PC-FX. It's just really, really functional, without trying to be too inventive. It's also much easier. Perhaps they were relying on the brand name to make it sell?

Throughout the game you only ever control Zenki himself, though Chiaki does pop up in cut-scenes to turn him into his Super Saiyan form. Zenki tends to alternate between forms, starting off small, beating a stage's mid-boss, and then becoming big for the secondary stage and final boss, after which he usually shifts back into a kid. You've got an attack button, which needs to be rapidly tapped to pull off combos, and a jump button, which can be combined with attack for some flying kicks. There's also a back- and forwards dash, using L and R, though it's seldom if ever needed. Generally the controls are slow and clunky; the walking speed of Zenki in either form is like molasses, while the jumping feels stiff and weighted. There are a fair few platforming sections, but they're generally quite easy and don't require much precision.

In a powered-up state you also have access to a Power Bomb move, represented by the scrolls in the upper right corner, which attacks everything on screen and depletes a large portion of any boss' HP. The catch is it also drains your own energy, and three consecutive uses drops you down to a tiny sliver. Although these attacks can be replenished by collecting items around the stages, you're almost always better off never using them. Unless of course a boss is on its last legs, in which case bombs away. Powered-up Zenki can also perform special moves while holding the d-pad, for example activating a powerful tornado attack while pressing up, that can attack flying enemies.

The most inventive thing about Battle Raiden are the stage layouts. While at first you'll usually be moving from left-to-right, aiming for the exit, once reached you'll get a dialogue box explaining how a series of shrines need to be destroyed to drop a force-field. These will then immediately pop up behind you, and as you destroy them parts of the stage will change. To begin with most are a straight run, and you can sort of see platforms too high to reach in the distance, or sections you can't get to. But as some shrines are broken a set of floating platforms will appear, or the layout will change in other ways. It's actually a neat idea, adding some mild exploration to things. The problem is in a couple of stages which are quite long, and it's tedious having to backtrack to a wall which you clearly knew you'd have to go through eventually. The diversity between stages helps though: one moment you're in an eerie forest, the next an underground rainbow cavern. Then you're on a snowy mountaintop, afterwards a misty graveyard, followed by a high-speed run over wooden logs on a rapidly flowing river. The lava shrine and mythical palace in the heavens are another two especially fun levels to play through.

Overall it's a very easy and therefore short game, with only two notably tough points. In the later stone forest, full of flying insects, don't worry about fighting everything, just run as fast as you can to the end before your health runs out. Finally, the very last stage has a gruelling corridor of endurance, filled with dozens of rapidly spawning enemies. Just take it real slow and don't be tempted to Power Bomb your way through. Otherwise you'll soon reach the boss at 5-4 and clear it - probably in an afternoon.

In a lot of ways Battle Raiden is like any number of good-but-not-fantastic action-platformers that were released during the 16-bit era, such as Xardion, or Psycho Dream. It has really fantastic 2D artwork, decent music, mixed with some good ideas but clunky implementation and controls. Given the number of much better games available for the SNES, the temptation could be to condemn Battle Raiden... And yet it has a peculiar charm; an esoteric aura. It's the kind of title you'd read about in GameFAN, back in the day, and then import for your Super Famicom. Perhaps then you'd invite friends over to marvel at this oddity from Japan that would never get a western release.

Also, while production values in the later released Vajra Fight are much higher, it's worth stating this is the more substantial game. There's some great diversity between levels, and it just feels like there's more content to its 5-point-4 stages (though there probably isn't). Although the animation is less fluid and there's only one character to control, it feels like a proper and lengthy adventure, rather than a series of brief one-on-one fights. While Vajra Fight will be finished in about 30 minutes on your first play through, this will probably last a couple of afternoons on a slow weekend.

Battle Raiden (SNES)

Battle Raiden (SNES)

Battle Raiden (SNES)

Battle Raiden (SNES)

Battle Raiden (SNES)

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Kishin Douji Zenki - GameGear (September 1995)
鬼神童子 ZENKI

Cover

Zenki (GG)

Zenki (GG)

About a month after the SNES release came this, for Sega's GameGear, without any kind of subtitle to differentiate it from the other games or source material. It's a fairly good platformer with some clever attempts at depth. You're given a map to work through, with various stages and boss encounters en-route, and a couple of difficult-to-find branching pathways to unlock. Before each stage you can select either Chiaki or Zenki if you choose Zenki it will always only be as his smaller child form; he's only transformed into his adult self for boss fights.

Chiaki is the agile, higher jumping of the two characters, and attacks using only projectiles she fires from her fingers. She can destroy various shrine like objects, to reveal power-ups, which Zenki cannot. On the plus side though, when he jumps he rolls into a ball which damages enemies, and this is how he attacks, a bit like Sonic the Hedgehog. It's much easier to land a hit with Zenki, though he needs to get in closer. He can also curl into a ball to roll through gaps in a wall, and damage platforms which are beneath him, thereby allowing him to access secret routes Chiaki is unable to. The levels are generally short and compact, so it's not like these differing abilities affect things too much, but it's nice to have.

Major boss battles require Zenki in adult form (though there is a helicopter miniboss where you choose between either of the platform stage characters). As an adult Zenki has access to one of four special magical attacks, which are essential to success, since the boss fights are almost like puzzles, requiring you work out which attacks work best. For example in the chateau with lightning outside, the blue sword-wielding boss appears impossible until you discover that the tornado attack knocks off two health-blocks at a time! Before and after each boss encounter a little cut-scene plays out in Japanese.

It's also worth pointing out that it has some really great visuals for the GameGear, with clean, well-defined sprites, vividly bright and contrasting colours, and overall a really nice aesthetic. Unfortunately this is lost both through these tiny screenshots and emulation. If you must emulate, try to do it on a handheld such as the PSP, since a lot more of the game's charm comes through when you're holding it in your hands.

The only slight gripe is that after about 8 stages or so there's a story event which incapacitates Zenki, and forces you then to traipse back across the map using only Chiaki. Overall though it's similar to the preceding Zenki title: it's a nice enough game, reasonable fun in the context of the system's library, but nothing mind-bogglingly great; if you wanted a top-tier GameGear platformer, you're better off with Shinobi 2.

Zenki (GG)

Zenki (GG)

Zenki (GG)

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Kishin Douji Zenki: Denei Live - SNES (November 1995)
鬼神童子 ZENKI 電影雷舞

Cover

Denei Live (SNES)

The third release, arriving on the SNES, is a really odd one. In fact it almost seems like two entirely different game projects that were forced together at the last moment, simply to get a saleable product out the door. Upon loading it up, Denei Live appears to be a one-on-one, first-person, turn-based fighting game - like the kind you'd see done using FMV footage and awkward button prompts. The tone is all gritty and serious, as you attack an old man and afterwards a giant green... insect thing? Button combinations will launch attacks in time to various undulating energy meters, which the AI will almost invariably dodge, and when they attack you in return a quick press of up or down will likewise allow you to avoid it. So the tedium goes on until you switch the machine off.

These sections are absolute crap - let's be perfectly honest about this from the start. When done via grainy FMV there's a kind of schlock amusement to be had, but with repeating sprites on the SNES it's just silly. What you immediately want to do is grab these passwords (courtesy of ReyVGM of VGMuseum), and skip all of the first-person combat sections so as to jump straight into... the super-deformed ultra cute platforming stages?

This is why it seems to be two separate games stuck together. Right after the realistically drawn fight scenes (well, as realistic as green aliens can be), you're suddenly dropped into a ridiculously easy platformer, controlling adorable-looking chibi versions of the main characters. It doesn't make any sense. It's actually pretty fun though, in a silly sort of way. You control Chiaki, traversing floating platforms and collecting little kanji symbols until you the reach the end, whereupon she calls up Zenki (in his child form) to battle a rather easy boss. After a couple of these it switches over to a few back-to-back first-person battles, and then back to platforming again.

Quite how such disparate games came together is unknown, and apart from the main characters they differ in function, difficulty, visual quality and aesthetic style. The platforming stages feel like an unfinished game aimed at school kids, which was suddenly bolted on to something else so the coding didn't go to waste. The first-person fighting meanwhile is awful and incomprehensible. While the platforming stages are fun though, they don't quite warrant owning the cartridge. But hey, if you're curious, you can use the passwords to skip the crap and blow through the rest of what's here in an hour.

Denei Live (SNES)

Denei Live (SNES)

Denei Live (SNES)

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<<< Prior Page    

    Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Zenki Introduction
Battle Raiden (SNES)
Kishin Douji Zenki (GG)
Denei Live (SNES)

Page 2:
Zenki FX: Vajra Fight
Tenchi Meidou
Back to the Index