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TECMO'S DECEPTION / Tecmo / PSX
"Give Gandalf a big hug!"
I think that one of the things people fail to appreciate about Tecmo's Deception is that it strikes a pretty strong blow for free speech in gaming. Since the inception and mass popularity of the NES, the trend in Western console gaming was to go to embarrassing lengths to scrub anything out of a game that might potentially offend Judeo-Christians, even going so far as to change the word "Holy" and remove anything shaped like a cross in quite a number of titles. In 1996, when Deception was localized in English and released, graphic violence had largely been accepted by the mainstream in gaming, but this cringing, pandering mentality towards religion was still very much in place.
So it was really rather refreshing when Deception just came stomping into the market into the West and said, "Hay guys guess what, in this game you work for Satan and you're a complete amoral monster, you lure people to your evil castle and murder/enslave them using various traps, and all of this is because you made a deal to revive Satan, yes THAT Satan, Satan Satan Satan." The only real compromise they made that I know of was, oddly, the title of the game - called "Devil's Deception" in Japan, it was altered for all the other markets it was released to, but the references to Satan in the dialogue (as well as the violence and killing) once in-game were certainly not painted over in any way.
So you're the Prince of this medieval kingdom, you've just come back from The Wars or whatever, but while talking to your father the King, your asshat brother Yurius and the scheming court mage Zamur use magic to kill him and pin the blame on you. About to be burned at the stake, you call out for power - any kind of power, good or evil - to deliver you from this predicament and allow you to take revenge. Fortunately, Satan's faithful demon wench Astarte is listening, and strikes a deal with you - she'll whisk you off to the nearby Castle of the Damned, and give you the demonic power to take revenge, if you help her find the relics to revive Satan. So the plot is kinda like Shakespeare, just with crap dialogue, ninjas and spike pits.
The game takes place over a series of 27 chapters, where various groups of intrepid adventurers invade the castle. At first, the game really plays up the amoral/evil bit, by having you kill people like a set of concerned parents trying to collect the reward on your head so they can save their sick child. Most of the people who invade the castle, however, are either foolish adventurers looking to loot the place, or assassins sent by Yurias and Zamur (who are arguably even more evil and remorseless than you are.)
Prior to each chapter's start, you get a rundown of the strengths and weaknesses of the adventurers currently in your house, and you have a chance to set different types of traps. There's traps that just do damage, like spikes that come out of the walls and pitfalls. Then there's your capture traps, like cages and cranes that come down from the ceiling, and give you the option of sucking out the captive's soul for more MP (needed to set traps). Then there's confusion traps, which cause the enemy to wander around dumbfounded for a few seconds, during which time their chance of evading other traps is greatly reduced.
The control of the game is, surprisingly, like that of an older PC FPS - you view everything from the first person, can look up and down, and can strafe left and right with the shoulder buttons. Only thing you can't do is shoot, or attack in any way. The traps are your main mode of defense, and a set of masks that create various voices that attract different types of adventurers to your location. About ten chapters into the game, you get the option to keep the corpses of captured adventurers to make monsters with, and these monsters can be sicced on the enemies at close range to do damage on them. Other than that, though, all you do is dodge enemy attacks and try to lure them into your traps.
There's a whole range of standard fantasy character classes who come in to take you on, from soldiers who simply run at you with a sword, to ninjas who disappear and reappear at random other places in the room. Each character type has a certain inherent ability to evade traps, and usually each one is only susceptible to one particular kind of trap, which you kind of have to determine with trial and error most of the time.
The game's premise is original, and simply goofing around with the traps and figuring out how to best bait each of the character classes is good fun for quite awhile. The game does have a couple of major flaws, though - namely, the pathing and the AI. All the enemies behave in the same way, and seem to have the same simplistic AI routine, from the first dumb soldiers who blunder into the castle to the big bad boss-type characters toward the end of the game. The pathing can get extremely frustrating when trying to lure an enemy, as the second you go out of their line of sight (around a corner or behind a doorway) they generally totally forget about you and start wandering off in the other direction.
The AI and pathing kind of kill the tension and sense of menace, and make the game a little too easy. I think it still does enough right to be well worth playing, however. Not just for the novelty of the premise and for doesn't afraid of Christian retribution, but the graphics are pretty decent for a first-gen 1996 Playstation title, and the creepy music (a mixture of ambient techno, African rhythms and a little symphonic here and there for flavor) adds a lot to the experience when played with good headphones. The unintentional comedy of the bad transration to English as well as completely bizarre touches like requiring you to do all your shopping from the same merchants you are trying to kill adds an unintended touch of campy comedy value throughout as well.
"I'll show you just as soon as I get done punching your face!"
Oh, and as far as being "Satanic"? The presence of Satan in the background is really the only element. The game leaves off with six possible endings, four of which you "lock up the devil" after a last-minute change of heart. The other two where he is revived are extremely unpleasant for both you and the rest of the world in general.
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