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

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Zenki FX: Vajra Fight
Tenchi Meidou

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Kishin Douji Zenki FX: Vajra Fight (鬼神童子 ZENKI FX 金剛焱闘) - PC-FX (December 1995)

The reason for starting this article and, if you've never heard of the source anime before, probably the most discussed game of the series: that fabled, super expensive, extremely rare, fantastic 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up, which maybe looks a bit like Guardian Heroes, and is exclusive to a system almost nobody owns. Most of these myths surrounding Vajra Fight are true - it is expensive and difficult to find, exclusive to NEC's failed PC-FX system, and it does at passing glance resemble Treasure's classic. Its status as a holy grail for hardcore collectors though, isn't entirely warranted unfortunately. (For those curious about the name, it's a Sanskrit word)

In truth it's more like a straight one-on-one fighter, with exposition dialogue before each fight. No rounds, just a single health bar for each enemy and a fight to the death. There are some scrolling stages with smaller zako enemies, but there are only seven such sections in the entire game and they are very short, perhaps less than a minute each. The combat takes place on a single plane, like Street Fighter, but lacks depth. The PC-FX has six face buttons, but only three are used: one for blocking, one for jumping, and an attack button to be used in combination with the d-pad for different moves. The actual moveset for each of the two characters is also painfully limited. Blocking though is quite useful, with fights against the bigger bosses requiring a good rhythm and precise timing to avoid taking massive damage.

There's a bit of variety in being able to choose between characters, with Chiaki being quite nimble but only able to fight using projectile attacks. Her moves list is the smallest, since she doesn't attack physically, instead relying on fireballs. Zenki on the other hand controls like your typical brawler, with kicks, punches and rushing uppercuts. Occasionally a side-character from the anime will pop onto the screen to drop Chiaki's bracelet. If Zenki can grab this item he'll turn Super Saiyan with a major boost to attack, defence and health - in some instances it's essential for defeating bosses. If Chiaki grabs her own bracelet, she summons Zenki who burns off an enormous portion of a boss' health. Cheap players will want to stick with her since being able to attack from afar allows her to avoid taking damage, and summoning Zenki makes short work of enemies. Holding down the attack button with either character allows you to build up a charge that increases your attack strength.

The raw mechanics of the game aren't particularly bad - this isn't Rise of the Robots. But there just isn't enough content to the game. The entire thing can be finished in under 40 minutes, and considering how easy it is on the default difficulty level, it's likely that everyone will do so on their first go. If you're not fluent in Japanese the voiced dialogues and little animated portraits before each fight are going to be meaningless. As a result the entire thing plays like a really long episode from any random anime series - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes replays tedious, and for such an expensive game it's unacceptable. The two player mode is a nice distraction, but not really enough to warrant purchase. Players take control of either Chiaki or Zenki, and team up for the duration of the game.

The story is involves Chiaki getting a phone call from some girl being harassed by a demon, so she and Zenki head out to save her, but in doing so the girl gets kidnapped while the heroes are warped to some other dimension. Cue lots of running battles while in pursuit, taking in planes, trains and anthropomorphic automobiles (no, I'm not making this up - you encounter said vehicles in this exact order). Just when you think you've rescued the girl she's killed and dissolves in your arms, leaving you to take on the final bad guy. After this it goes really weird, and what seems to be Inugami from the anime appears with his pet wolf, Kokutei. They dispatch a surprise demon attack, and the credits roll... Language barrier aside, it makes about as much sense as an episode of Dragon Ball. Certainly not on the grandiose level of Guardian Heroes narrative, though not without its charms.

Unfortunately as a game with a price tag it's insubstantial, even in the context of the era it was released in, where games were shorter. And yet it seems flippant to dismiss Vajra Fight so easily, given the awe and respect it holds. In fairness it does look gorgeous - and I mean absolutely gorgeous, one of the most gorgeous low-resolution 2D games ever developed. The number of frames of animation for everything that happens is striking, and the size of some sprites is massive. It's almost like watching an anime, except instead of animation cells having been drawn by hand, it uses chunky pixelated sprites for everything. The Sega Saturn has a lot of respect as a 2D powerhouse, but it's clear the PC-FX was damn good in this regard too. The stage with a sunset city as the backdrop is truly staggering, especially when you're desperately clambering up a collapsing building. The amount of effort the team put into the minutiae of the game's visuals is astounding, and is probably why it's so short in other respects.

It's easy to understand why collectors would place it on a pedestal, since in addition to rarity the production values are as high as you'll find. It's not worth paying for though. Anyone with a decent computer should be able to emulate it using the multi-system emulator Mednafen, and the ISO for Vajra Fight is easy to find online. If it costs you little, Vajra Fight is absolutely worth the 40 minutes it takes to complete.

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Vajra Fight (PC-FX)

Vajra Fight (PC-FX)

Vajra Fight (PC-FX)

Vajra Fight (PC-FX)

Vajra Fight (PC-FX)

Vajra Fight (PC-FX)


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Kishin Douji Zenki: Tenchi Meidou (鬼神童子 ZENKI 天地鳴動) - Super Famicom (February 1996)

Cover

In the mid-to-late 1990s didn't it feel like every game series out of Japan was getting some kind of digital boardgame iteration made? Mario, Sonic and Goemon all had standalone boardgame entries, while something like Fighter Destiny 2 had a boardgame mode included in it. Tenchi Meidou was the last release in the Zenki series, and for whatever reason they decided to turn it into a boardgame (with added slide-puzzle, slot-machines and playing card mechanics).

Gameplay is split into two parts. First you're placed on a themed map/board, with various pathways around it. It's more like a sliding puzzle though, since the path-tiles are all mixed up. A virtual six-sided die is rolled and, depending on what you roll, you're given a number of moves to either shift a tile (one move), or have your character walk to the adjacent tile (one move). Your first task is to create a direct path to the goal area on the map, which can actually take a few rolls of the die, especially on larger maps. Once done you walk along until you reach the end.

Making things tricky are the various enemies dotted around the board. Touch one and you're placed in behind-the-character battle scene. This is weird, complex and totally incomprehensible to anyone not fluent in Japanese. Pushing buttons spins a pair of slot machine wheels with kanji on them, with whatever it lands on granting you a series of special attack cards you can use to damage the enemy. Cue fancy screen-splitting graphics-distorting animations and a drop in HP. Afterwards the enemy does the same. Clearly the developers were proud of their battle engine, since you can ignore the "Map Mode" entirely and jump straight into combat, picking your avatar from a roster of Zenki characters, and then choosing the enemy. You can even have the AI control both the main character and enemy, thereby making the game play itself. Although it may sound similar to the first-person combat in Denei Live, it's marginally more fun to muck around with.

There's also a four player mode, which looks interesting, but ultimately this is the kind of game where the language barrier is prohibitive and its obscurity means it will never be fan-translated. Whether it even needs to be is another question. A lot of good Japanese RPGs are worth stumbling through with a guide, but there's nothing especially interesting about a videogame boardgame based on an obscure manga property. You're better off trying the Goemon one if you want a digital die rolling simulator.

All in all, the Zenki series seems to have ended not even with a whimper, rather a puff of smoke and the roll of some dice.

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Tenchi Meidou (Super Famicom)

Tenchi Meidou (Super Famicom)

Tenchi Meidou (Super Famicom)

Tenchi Meidou (Super Famicom)


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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

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