Over the course of several months, I attempted to get OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast working on my shit-tier PS2 emulator, and to no avail. In the process, I became obsessed with learning the nuances of PS2 emulation, and in doing so discovered two things: the PS2 is not that easy to replicate even on mid-tier machines, and PS2 games are some truly poorly optimized shit. I was putting myself through this bullshit because I suddenly became enamored with OutRun for the first time, learning all about the gameplay loop and the various spin-offs from the Sega arcade classic. Naturally, this lead me to the most recent (and last) major release in the franchise: Coast 2 Coast, which had been released on the PS2, the Xbox, and PSP. I assumed it would be easy to just snatch the ISO and play this on my PS2 emulator. Unfortunately, it was one of the buggier games to emulate, and suffered from such fucked-up slowdown and framerate sputtering that no amount of configuration really held it together.
I know what you're asking: why are you putting so much effort into trying to play this extremely niche and largely forgotten arcade racer. Well, I don't have a solid answer, but OutRun kind of clicked for me in a really weird way. OutRun is the perfect combo of retrowave music, chilled out gameplay that still demands a degree of skillful driving, and is short enough to play in bursts without worrying that I'm gonna be stuck without a savepoint for an hour. As of late, I've been entranced by games that are more on the "arcade" spectrum due to fatigue from 100-hour open world excursions. Games like Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, F-Zero, and Donkey Kong Country are more my jam nowadays for the replay value and tightly-designed playthroughs encapsulated within; I love being able to pick up and play them for a while, end the session, and come back whenever without losing out on anything.
I wasn't a Sega kid; I grew up with the SNES, and even then I didn't get into any racing games until Diddy Kong Racing for the N64. F-Zero X and GX are probably my go-to hardcore racers, but beyond that, I never really latched on to any others in the genre. I only started an interest in OutRun after the Sega Ages arcade-perfect edition of the game was dropped on the Switch, and I fell in love with it instantly. There was just something about the simplicity of it--the complexity only really stemming from controlling your speed, making tight corners over rolling hills, and avoiding other cars--that was endearing. Little things like the course choice and "collecting" them all through multiple runs was fun, too. The soundtrack for the original was maybe 3 or 4 tracks you selected prior to racing but they were all bangers. Everything just came together so nicely that I simply had to seek out what else that series offered.
OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is a relic--literally. The Ferrari license with Sega ran out, so this game can't even be sold on Steam anymore. I'm told it used to be on Steam, and I wish I knew that years ago, as it would have made things easier for me. What's so special about C2C, anyway? It's technically the home console port of the aptly named OutRun 2, which was launched in arcades in 2003. The first "true" revival of the series, it kept the spirit of the original game alive with its great soundtrack, branching courses, sharp turns, and challenging traffic, while also adding more of a "competitive" aspect to the game with drifting. It's kind of crucial that you know how to drift well, along with slipstreaming to gain speed, in OutRun 2; this is the New Thing they added to keep it fresh and in my humble opinion, it's a really great way to add a new dimension to an already great experience.
The new updated Coast 2 Coast version of OutRun 2 introduced mission modes, primarily for racing but also for the series standby of "pleasing your girlfriend" who rides next to you and gives you tasks to do like "destroy other cars" or "pass convoys" or "dribble a giant fuckin beach ball." Yes, your girlfriend in this game is insane. The other mission mode is "Flagman," which sees you doing more "racer" shit against other cars and aiming to perfect your pure skills in dozens of challenges. You also had classic OutRun modes like the trademark ride through numerous locales against the clock or skillful time trials against track ghosts. There's just so much shit to do and it's taking me forever to improve my rankings to unlock dozens of other challenges and stages to clear--this game is the longest, most fully featured entry in the franchise by a mile. What's even better is that you're always earning Miles, which can be exchanged for new cars, music, track formations, and other treats. The replayability is just kind of sick for a self-proclaimed arcade game converted into a console experience.
I got lucky with this game because I found out it is rightfully classified as "abandonware" (due to the lapsed Ferrari license) and the PC version was actually available on the internet in its entirety. It's obviously better-looking and boasts elite performance compared to the shitty PS2/PSP versions I struggled with, so it all worked out in the end.
But the greater question remains: why should I have to go through all this shit to play a game? What happens when something loses a license to be produced on the digital platform AND you can't get a hold of the shitty physical system that houses it? It's a problem that keeps growing all the time and the answers aren't always going to be "just emulate it, dummy." In the case of titles like Metal Gear Solid 4, we might never see those games available on anything besides the goofy-ass cellular spine of the PS3. If I want to play Mischief Makers, there are 2 options: dig out a still-living N64 and the cart, or boot up Project 64 on my PC. There's just no way a Treasure game from the late 90s is going to be included on a compilation or dropped onto the Switch via some kind of "Treasure Ages" project, and I've accepted that. What's still troubling is that this option isn't always viable or even possible.
Some of my favorite obscure games, like Ogre Battle 64 or Symphony of the Night, have been fortunate in recent years to have a few conversions or ports to systems. But when I put the WiiU or the Vita to bed, it's also fortunate that I'll have copies of both on my computer to persuse. For games like Mischief Makers or Coast 2 Coast, it'll be the only viable way to experience them without shelling out obscene cash for equipment that might not even work as well anymore. In 2019, there are a few companies like Capcom and Sega that are still dedicated to not only publishing compilations of their classics, but ensuring that they're released for both the PC and your consoles. SquareEnix, to a degree, has also done this; though their propensity for tinkering and editing older games is something I still dislike. You'd expect Nintendo to do a bit more beyond the Classic hardware revisions or the pitiful Nintendo Online offerings, but only time will tell if they decide to try harder at creating a streamable vault of their software.
A part of me really wanted to own a playable version of Coast 2 Coast mainly due to the circumstances of its gradual erasure from servers and store shelves. For all the stupid shit about this hobby, I still love the history of it and all the development put into things like OutRun over the last decade or two. Being able to fire it up and enjoy it anytime is as good a way as any to preserve the past when there hasn't been a concrete way to do so.
It's fucking free. You owe it to yourself to get in on this one.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was a victim of a vast conspiracy. Not one equal to an Illuminati takeover, mind you, but a money-grubbing publisher that seemed hellbent on killing an amazing series with piecemeal promises turned to ash and tears in our mouths.
. For those of you uninitiated with the history of this current series, it boils down to this: it's a dystopia wherein technological advancements have given us augmented body parts, limbs, and organs, turning humans into something greater and more badass. However, since this is a true dystopia, the world has decided that something so cool and good is actually shit, mostly due to something something racial apartheid and also a slight accident that happened in the previous game, where millions of augmented people got their bodies hacked and went nuts for a few hours. You are Adam Jensen, the strongest supercop secret agent ever, and you have more augments than any human alive. Why is that? Something Illuminati something. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because you're dropped into the Kafkaesque world of Prague, and your mission is to help the public and investigate a recent terrorist attack.
DXMD curbs a lot from the previous Human Revolution game, which is mostly a good thing. Grates are still half of the solutions for puzzles, so it's good to see that grate construction and airduct design are universal from Detroit to Hong Kong to Czech Republic. I imagine there was some fucking Geneva Convention on how every secretive area must have at least one air duct leading in or out; I'm thankful for them, so thank you whoever put this mandate into effect. DXMD also brings back the classic "dialogue boss fights," though sometimes "winning" an argument with someone doesn't really lead to anything special. It's still very much a cover-based, sneak-oriented FPS RPG game, playing jack of all trades and master of none--you won't find these elements as refined as Hitman, Dishonored, Call of Duty, or Destiny, but they blend well enough such that you'll be asking the bartender for another.
DXMD also cribs the "start in a nervous city area and then proceed to the fucking slums" cycle, which is kind of lazy since I expected something different. Detroit is to Prague as Hong Kong's undercity is to Golem City; they're all still interesting but I wanted the developers to change shit up a little.
One of the hooks in DXMD is a brand new subsect of uberpowers like "exploding ceramic wristblade" or "psychic Mewtwo hacking" and "a really fast dash." As much as some of these are fun, I found myself relying on old standby powers like cloaking and Hulk hand takedowns, if not for their practicality but for their easy applications. The new powers, at first, require you to lock out other powers to balance things out, though spoiler alert--3/4 through the game you get to kind of go hogwild anyway. (Not that it matters with your annoyingly small battery life, even with upgrades.) At the very least, when DXMD tries to Metroid you with a skill reset, you are refunded 8 or 9 points at the start to use on mandatory shit like Icarus Landing System or Expanded Attache.
DXMD also promised a better weapon modular system, but this only amounts to "sometimes switch to EMP ammo, or maybe turn off your silencer." It's a complete non-feature that doesn't really add or subtract to the experience. The gunplay is the same as ever; not exactly Bungie-levels of control but it does the job in a cover-based RPG shootmans.
From a conceptual point, I have to say that my issues with the Mankind Divided story don't always lie within the plotline and environment, but rather with the piss-poor supporting cast. The game is badly damaged by the replacement of Pritchard, Malik, and Sarif with....your gruff "you're a loose cannon" boss, some whatever who cares co-worker who just vanishes midway, a sidekick hacker lady who you barely know shit about, and the CSI scanner guy I guess? I didn't feel much for Alex Vega, Smiley, or even Talos Rucker; whatever high notes they come close to hitting are snatched back due to constraint with the narrative. Adam, through it all, is also robbed of much of his personal vindication and emotional spots. In the previous game, you were at least in the center of trying to deal with your new body, the death of your girlfriend, and the Illuminati. Here, Adam just kind of coolly walks through the shit and handles things with annoyance, albeit with that killer gruff voice of his. One of the better sidequests involving actually honest-to-god detective work sees Adam doing some interesting beatcop shit, forging a nice connection with a crime victim and a world-weary desk sergeant. If Mankind Divided was more of a "super detective" simulator with shit like this and less of an "Interpol guy handling huge national crisis" thing, the character roster would have been richer for it. Instead, sidequests are just as mixed as the first game--not in terms of quality, but in ludonarrative disconnection. Handling snoop jobs for the office psychologist makes sense; finding some random cult in the sewer, less so. I suppose I can't complain though, since the better narratives and experiences lie within the sidequests. Maybe Squeenix should just go full-hog and make a Judge Dredd game instead so we can accept the distant, growly wetwork more readily.
The RPG system of Mankind Divided is much like how Human Revolution was: an amalgam of dialogue challenges, detective work, exploration, hacking, and clever application of your skills. But, what about the combat when push comes to shove? In my experience, combat in MD boils down to taking comfortable cover behind a shelf or desk, and pointing your shotgun at the conga line of morons who file in. I feel like this was a symptom of the map layouts, since even Human revolution had multi-tiered battlegrounds like the shootout and escape at Hengshua Gardens capsule hotel. DXMD has much of the same fight or flight scenarios, but it feels like the AI is more inclined to engaging head-on than in the previous game. Why they think they can fight the world's best supercop is a mystery to me, but when I was actually discovered and thus was forced to play sharpshooter, the fights didn't feel especially memorable. There's a reason why stealth is the preferable option, after all--though if you want to do a pseudo-psychopath run, the Titan augment is there for you. And if you're like me and prioritize a no-armor upgrade, stealth-focused playthrough, getting caught means that you probably don't have the ability to win any shootouts without cover. (This is actually how I think it ought to be, though the mediocre shooting mechanics make it less fun to engage in gun combat.)
3/4 through the game, the environment suddenly becomes uberhostile, and thus all the other remaining sidequests become boorish to travel to without fighting a jaded security force. I don't feel this is as significant a spoiler, mainly because it's a very significant low point in the entire game. Suddenly, things become extremely annoying, and the world's teeming life is replaced with laborious sneaking against armored foes. In fact, I was so loathe to play through this bullshit, that my whole review of this is appearing super late as a result. It seems to be a theme lately, too--lots of these immersive sims have a terrible third act that feels rushed.
I find it hard to grade DXMD on a slightly lower end than I wanted to, and I feel bad for the people who developed it with good intentions. It's common knowledge by now that Eidos was basically told by Squeenix to split their project in half so it could be sold in multiple parts--and as a result, DXMD suffers for it with a stunted end and a Frank Pritchard DLC being portioned off for monies. It's a disgustingly garbage tactic to try on consumers, and in the long run it ruined a lot of the game's potential to be even greater. I loved Human Revolution dearly--it felt so chromatically cool and fresh, giving you more of a super-detective / pseudo security chief mystery story than the Interpol agent narrative that Mankind Divided offers. In my opinion, the street-level work that Adam did in the previous game was far more interesting, especially with the tense political and emotional resonance involved (and Pritchard.) Mankind Divided's status as a good game instead of a great one is largely due to not only the weaker storyboard and location, but the unfortunate chopjob that Square saw fit to execute. Much like many of the unlucky Augs, Mankind Divided was taken apart for extortionist measure. What's worse is that Deus Ex as a series has been sent to the freezer indefinitely, as Square-Enix now focuses on a potential Avengers cash cow game. It's hugely fucked up that this game was mutilated just to be portioned off, and now we won't even get the goddamn conclusion that was being held hostage. I hate to see such a grand intellectual property die like this. I can only hope that, in the future, they sell off this property to someone who has the capacity to give it earnest love and effort--like Arkane and original writer Harvey Smith, for instance. Until then, we can only dream of electric sheep and microtransactions.
Better luck next time, Hanzer.
Shining Force is a fucking weird game.
Originally a staple release for the Sega Genesis, my first exposure to Shining Force was actually through a special Sega Smash hits collection available on the Dreamcast and the PC. The best way to describe it is "prehistoric Fire Emblem gameplay set in a ridiculous world." It was a strategy RPG, but only "strategic" in the fact that you moved 8 idiots around on a map to hit other weirdos. It's the same kind of setup as Fire Emblem, but with simplified mechanics; sure, you could promote and equip characters, and use a variety of magic spells, but there were no permadeaths or advanced skillsets. The game's real hook was in saying "look at all these weirdos on my team." This is a game wherein your primary strike force will comprise of dwarves, elves, androids, birdmen, armadillo cyborgs, flying squids, werewolves, ninjas, and centaurs. You'll be fighting gargoyles, laser weapons, robotic skeletons from Doom, Darth Vader, and Slappy from the hit Goosebumps novel "Night of the Living Dummy." Absolutely none of this continent makes sense; one second you're in a medieval setting, the next minute you're in some weird underground robot factory, and then you're fighting ventriloquist dummies in a circus tent. Did I mention there are fucking lightsabers in this game?
Ok, you get the picture: Shining Force gets weird and makes no apology for it. Apparently, it was enough of a favorite for Sega to not only put it on many of their Greatest Hits CDs, but also completely remake the game from the ground up for the Gameboy Advance. This newer update, besides being an obvious visual and auditory rehaul, provides a much more enjoyable translation, balance tweaks, an expanded story, 3 new characters in an additional sidestory, and a whole slew of other improvements. For the sake of this rundown, I'll be using this definitive version of the game--it is, after all, the correct translation of the game, as opposed to the error-laden original on the Genesis.
Part of what makes Shining Force so much fun is its rather dumbed-down fights. You choose 8 fighters from your eventually-mammoth roster, you run around a turn-based map, and kill everything/reach a goal/destroy a machine thing. The nice thing about battles is that death carries zero consequence (unless the main character, Max, is bumped off.) You'll have to pay a negligible amount of gold for resurrection, but it's not a big deal; you're encouraged to throw your band of idiots into combat on a regular basis with no regard for their safety.
Let's talk a bit about the characters themselves. As stated before, the variety and number of strange people you'll recruit is staggering; what's even more ridiculous is how some of them are hidden and can't be found through simply walking through the story. Some recruits, like the insanely awesome Hanzou or the death machine Domingo, need to be sought out via some stupid puzzle or sequence of events. As you level up your dumb swordmens, you gain boosts to certain stats and sometimes gain a spell (if you're a magicmans, that is.) The odd thing about SF is that the stats are somewhat iffy; certain characters can be hit-or-miss, depending on the RNG on your current playthrough. Fighters like Zylo the werewolf or Hanzou the ninja will always be a cut above most of the crop, regardless of the random stat boosts--however, a good chunk of the roster may or may not reach full potential due to this roll of the dice. I realize generation of stats happens this way in many other games, as well--but it just seems like it's taken to a greater effect in Shining Force for quite a bit of the characters.
Mages in Shining Force are not that great. For one thing, the game has a dubious honor in not giving you options to refill your MP gauge. Once you've used up your spell energy, that's it for the rest of the battle.
This sucks on every conceivable level, especially because spells are pretty much the only way to hit multiple enemies with a big attack. Your only hope is to build up your mages to a point where you have lots of MP. Once you get better characters (and Domingo), chances are you'll drop any magic users besides maybe a healer--and even the healers suffer from the same magic drain problem. By taking magic users with you, you're basically utilizing a 5 or 6 hit wonder that becomes useless soon after. All of them should be eventually replaced when you get more characters.
When your weird werewolves and centaur knight fellows reach at least level 10, you have the option to Promote them into a more powerful form. You can wait until unpromoted dudes reach up to a max of 20, or send them into overdrive as soon as level 10 hits--it's up to you. Characters who have been maxed to 20 twice will usually have better stats, though.
This game is absurd in the number of fucking characters you get and situations you find yourself embroiled within. Shit, I can barely remember each character's special dialogues and stories they tell you between missions, so instead of going needlessly in-depth, I'll just knock off the top Shining Force Things that stand out to me.
1) ZYLO FUCKING OWNS
It's true; regardless of playthrough, Zylo the werewolf will always be one of the best characters on your team. In the original Genesis version, Zylo's upgraded Wolf Baron promotion enabled him to use GHOST WOLF SPIRITS to fight. In the GBA version, his standard appearance gifted him with adamantium claw gauntlets and a revamped Wolf Baron form gave him Izuna Death Drops. Zylo always hits hard, always tanks hard; Zylo is fucking great and should never NOT be on your team.
2) CHOKEPOINTS ARE TERRIBLE
A majority of the maps in SF fall into two categories: 1) big fuckoff open plains that take forever to travel across, or 2) labyrinth with annoying as fuck chokepoints that line your team up like shitty bowling pins. There are so many chokepoints in the game, I wonder if it was the developer's way of saying "use flying characters, idiot." These corridors only serve to stall fights and bring the action to a crawl for both sides. This design for levels should be fucking outlawed in all strategy RPGs, and it's unfortunate that SF is a huge perpetrator in this hellish practice.
3) GOD'S SATELLITE IS WATCHING YOU
Your main character, Max, is for all intents and purposes a generic swordsman who happens to be a bit more powerful than your other soldiers. Max learns 2 spells during the game: Egress, a retreat spell that can be abused to garner experience from repeat fights, and Supernova, which is basically a giant laser beam that shoots down from outer space. Only available in the GBA version, there is zero explanation as to why Max is capable of entreating God to smite enemies for him. It's batshit insane, badass to watch, and I love it.
4) THE NEW GBA SIDESTORY IS WEIRD
The GBA version of SF gives you a new set of side missions that occur every time you complete a chapter. These missions involve Narsha, the daughter of the big bad King, and her mission to free her country from the influence of the horned hellghast, Darksol. She's accompanied by a ninja insect man named Zuika, and a strange...thing named Mawlock. Narsha is basically a schoolgirl in combat boots, wields a mace, and uses support magic that is summoned by a weird robot satellite. Eventually, you get to add all 3 of these fuckers to your main roster. Narsha is pretty much required recruitment, since her attack-boost magic overpowers your dudes into godlike territory; Zuika, though, is stranger and employs a strange metamorphosis gimmick later on that is difficult to utilize properly. Mawlock's entire shtick is being able to use colelctable cards to emulate traits from other characters, and the only way to collect those cards is through Social Link shit with your party or finding them in odd places. Mawlock is part of the New Game+ as well, since he starts out with you in your second runthrough.
5) There is a useless character in this game
Through convoluted means, you can unlock a hamster with a football helmet named Jogurt (or Yogurt, depending on your version of the game.) He is the weakest charactr in the game, unable to kill pretty much anything or take a single hit. If you do somehow land the finish blow on anything with Jogurt, you get a Jogurt Ring. Equip a Jogurt Ring to transform one of your characters into Jogurt. Amazing.
Should you play Shining Force? My answer to this is yes. As Strategy-RPG games go, this one is as simple and harmless as they come, offering a watered down Fire Emblem without much of the min-maxing bullshit or permadeath. It's easy to play, has a relatively fun story and whackjob characters, and doesn't really stress you with huge difficulty spikes. Just pick Zylo if you get stuck, honestly. If you're looking to get into other strategy RPGs like FF Tactics, Fire Emblem, or even Ogre Tactics, this is a nice starting point if Fire Emblem or FE: Sacred Stones for GBA aren't your style.
There's no such thing as a “hidden gem” in videogames anymore. You have the entire internet at your fingertips; if something was released in physical form, someone has covered it and reviewed it, telling you if it's garbage or not. When I was younger, I didn't have anything to inform me besides Nintendo Power and a crappy AOL site that occasionally updated a list of upcoming Dreamcast releases. With guidance like that, you get stuck with shit like Arcade's Revenge or Harley's Humongous Adventure. However, there's also that sense of adventure—that thrill of not knowing if you're wasting all your money on a terrible game or a diamond in the rough. Flying Dragon isn't really of gemstone quality, but it sure as hell is a unique, relatively fun experience. I think I initially bought this game at a Macy's or Sears or something—an outlet not entirely focused on games, but had a small games rotunda with a kiosk to cash in on the console craze. I was offered the chance from my mother to pick something up since there was a sale, and I didn't find anything I knew I liked. I saw this weird game in the display case, asked to look at the back, and quickly decided to get it.
Flying Dragon is a fighting game for the N64. Back then, the phrase “fighting game for the N64” could only mean one thing: it fucking sucked. Compare the Playstation offerings of Street Fighter 3, Bloody Roar, and Tekken to shit like War Gods, Mace, and Fighter's Destiny 2; it was obvious that the N64 didn't have anything good, just a bunch of bumbling disasters. I only picked up Flying Dragon because of the RPG elements it promised, along with the ridiculous tagline of “customizable 3D system.” In hindsight, I should have known that this meant little more than “you can change the round times and also sidestep lol.” Whatever. What really mattered was that Flying Dragon happened to be 2 games in 1.
There are two selections for you once you name your Controller Pak file “buttface” and start up the game: SD Hiryu and 3D Hiryu. I assume “hiryu” stands for “Hiryu No Ken,” which is what the series is called in Japan—but we'll get into that later. SD Hiryu is the more notable choice, as it offers the unique RPG elements and character growth.
SD stands for “super deformed,” which is a common art style in many Japanese games; your characters are basically big-headed cartoonish caricatures. It's a little anime, but not anime enough to make me want to kill myself, so it's at the right level of SD. You have 8 characters to start with, while 2 secret characters—Voldemort in dragon armor and Pinnochio—can be unlocked later on. There's a standard Goku clone, a racist sumo wrestling robot with buck teeth, a wrestler named “Powers,” and a psychic cherry blossom ninja girl among the various choices. They're actually pretty well-balanced and interesting, given the fact that some of them focus more upon counters, throws, projectiles, or combos. Since you're going to be leveling up items and overall character strength, I'd suggest you stick to only a few characters, or you'll go insane with the repetitive tournaments.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of items and treasures to collect or evolve. I've played this game for a long time and I still haven't gotten them all, and I was never completely sure what all of them do. For the most part, you'll be equipping basic offense and defense items, which do things like add value to physical attacks, throws, or stamina. Not all characters can equip everything, and not everyone should; you don't want to equip a +2 Throw option on a character that only has one decent Throw. Since you have 4 slots for each character, you'll have space for one Offense, one Defense, and two Misc. items that do whatever. Most of the Offense and Defense items are fairly straightforward, though there are a lot of Misc items that are just kind of mindboggling.
One of your characters, Suzaku, starts with TWO of these mindfuck items: Nameless Fang, and Nameless Feather (both tied for Best Generic Name Ever). Nameless Fang and its ensuing evolutions grant you a percent-chance of lowering your opponent's Attack value, at a certain rate. So, Nameless Fang, at a rate of 50%, can lower the strength of a single attack by -2. Got all that? There are also items that do the same with an enemy's defense, as well.
The other item, Nameless Feather (and its evolutions, as well) is something that has puzzled the internet for years. It grants “Otedama,” which causes “gusts of wind” or “your opponenet will float” or something, according to its hackneyed description. Now, I have yet to see any fucking gusts of wind appear with this thing equipped, though apparently it means you have an easier time juggling opponents. I might be inclined to agree with this, given how well this could work with Suzaku's patented “Fuck Off” uppercut move. I'm just going to assume that people's hypothesis about the floaty juggling is correct and move on with my pitiful life.
Although chances are most of the very rare items, like the unpronounceable, legendary “Pike Of Gundertentaisen,” will be dropped randomly from tournament wins, you can still buy a decent amount of items from the Shop. I realize I forgot to mention that you get gold monies for each opponent defeated, as well as a cash bonus for tournament wins, but it's only because I'm already tripping over myself trying to cover every goddamned facet of this itemization system. The Shop sells a lot of basic items at first, but gradually increases its stock with better equipment as you make progress through the game. You can even get discounts depending on whether or not the anime waifu who runs the shop likes you or not; the only way to get anything less than “likes you” is to repeatedly enter and exit the shop while buying jack shit. The shopkeeper eventually becomes so pissed off that the prices of everything get raised, as well. There's basically zero window shopping in Flying Dragon.
Later on, it will be easier to play with lesser-abled characters, since your powerful ones will have unlocked all these more effective goodies for them to equip right away. More often than not, the very effective items have a high level requirement to equip—characters will move from level zero all the way up to five, based on how far you have come in the tournaments.
In addition to all the goofy loincloths and nameless fangs your heart may desire, you can also purchase weird shit like “mind's eye” boosters and single-use medicines that heal you in battle, equipping it in the Misc slot. Mind's Eye is a mechanic I still don't really understand too well, but apparently it helps you identify certain spots on an opponent's body to hit for greater damage. The screen will go dark, you'll see glowing points appear on specific limbs, and you'll have to try your best to hit them with whatever moves aim for that space. It's kind of random and probably sounded better on paper than it does in a tangible sense. Moral here is don't fucking waste money buying “mind's eye” boosters.
You can buy helpful books and scrolls that give you hints on the game mechanics, too. Most of these are stupid and aren't worth buying unless you're truly an idiot, but a few strategy books are worth glossing over so you can figure out how to defeat the fucking Metal champions in tournament mode.
The last thing I'll say about items is that once in a while, you'll find one with some kind of “Treasure Buster” ability. That means you'll be able to utilize your Special meter for this alternate ability, instead of your usual special move. Sometimes it's a useless 2-second invulnerability glow of some kind, sometimes it'll freeze your enemy in place. God only knows with this game and its Otedama ocean breeze bullshit. I will say that the most useful (and fun) item was the incredibly rare Teleport Mantle, which—you guessed it—lets you perform Mega Man-esque teleports around the stage.
The tournament mode, like I mentioned before, consists of 5 or 6 fights each time. However, as you win more and more tournaments with a character, they will eventually start fighting stronger opponents, leading to the Metal fighters. These Metal fighters are basically just shiny platinum reskinned versions of the main 8 fighters, and they always appear in a certain order, starting with Metal Shouryu (the game’s resident Native American ninja). What’s so special about these alloyed assholes? Well, they each have a particular ability tailor-made to annoy the shit out of you. Shouryu’s is actually one of the worst: each time you hit him, you are frozen for a second or two. With the timer set to “INFINITY” for these special battles, there are pretty much only two ways to feasibly beat Metal Fucking Shouryu: 1) Using only projectile attacks, which doesn’t trigger the freeze ability but takes literally half an hour to do since projectiles barely do fuck-all to Metal characters, or 2) USE SECRET SCROLL. You see, each Metal character’s special ability can be negated by finding a stupid item, usually hinted at through certain books and texts in the item shop. These texts usually tell you things like “beat a tournament with the timer set to 99 and rounds set to 1 to unlock Mythical Ice Cream which cancels the ability of Metal Suzaku.” Once you’ve done whatever boring task the text commands of you, the secret item is bestowed and you can righteously destroy the Metal boss.
Sooner or later, after beating all the Metal jackasses with or without those anti-treasures, you’ll be invited to the RYUMAOU tournament. Ryumaou is the big bad secret boss character whose interests include chokeslams, triple-kicks, and making giant fists drop down from heaven onto your skull. To reach him, you’ll have to defeat every fucking Metal character in a row. If that wasn’t fun enough, not only do you have to beat normal Ryumaou, but also his Metal Hasbro action figure palette swap, now with 100% more bullshit. If you can somehow make it past all that crap, you’ll unlock Ryumaou for regular play.
There’s another secret character named Bokuchin, who is basically a deformed Pinnochio with the most annoying goddamn voice in the world. Good, then, that Bokuchin seems to fucking talk and shriek more than any other character whilst fighting. Bokuchin is possibly the most frustrating secret in the game, possibly even more ridiculous to find then the “Whatever of Whatevertaisen” weapons that drop only under a blue moon. In fact, Bokuchin unlocks much in the same fucking way: randomly. Bokuchin just pops up whenever he fucking feels like it for a special “Challenger Approaching” battle in tournaments; he could appear on your 4th fight or your 400th, and there’s no goddamn way to unlock him otherwise. Good luck finding this motherfucker.
Randomness is really the name of the game for SD Hiryu; there are so many things that just “happen” or tend to drop without warning, and I doubt you’ll ever really find all the items that exist. There are even special moves for characters that sort of drop randomly, or could possibly rely on the number of tournaments you win. There’s almost no real order to the madness, which is precisely what makes it so much fun to barrel through. The fact that you have 8 different characters to experiment with makes it even better (well, 7, maybe; Hayato is boring as shit and is borderline worthless).
3D Hiryu is a different affair from SD Hiryu entirely, focusing on “finesse scores” instead of “silly power glove collecting.” 3D Hiryu is the serious hardcore version of FD, relying more on counters and combos than ever were suggested in the previous mode; it plays and looks like some weird Virtua Fighter knockoff. By all accounts, it’s an extremely passable and adequate standalone game, if somewhat barebones; I don’t think this would have ever stood on its own, which is probably why it came packaged with the more unique Hiryu game.
The character selection is pretty generic, giving you a mix of “adult versions” of SD Hiryu combatants and new (uninteresting) ones. Ryuhi, Hayato, and Shouryu all make the cut over, as does Suzaku—but curiously, Suzaku is called “Red Falcon” here. I don’t know who the fuck they thought they were fooling, though; Red Falcon looks like Suzaku and carries over quite a bit of his moveset. Who knows, who cares. Wiler, Robonohana, and Powers are swapped out for a military lady named Kate, a cyborg assassin named Raima, and an old man named Gengai. I never thought I’d miss the bucktoothed sumo wrestling cyborg, but here we are.
So, why wasn’t Flying Dragon a more successful game? It’s a legitimately interesting idea that didn’t get any real press at the time of its release, not even in Nintendo Power, god save us. The stigma of an N64 fighting game might have killed it before it really got its legs going; it didn’t help that this was part of a series that didn’t even really have a place in English-speaking territories. Not only was there an SD Hiryu no Ken game with over 20ish characters for the SNES (including SD Raima and a flying lion) but there was a sequel that didn’t even make it over to the States. I’ve tried the sequel through the magic of emulation, but only really got to sample a few fights due to not knowing what the fuck was going on. There’s no official translation, and never will be. Nobody gives a fuck about the series, though this situation wasn’t helped by the fact that it was published by Natsume (SERIOUS FUN). Natsume mostly stuck to Harvest Moon sims and weirdo Nippon platformers, and they were never really a big player in terms of AAA releases. Harvest Moon 64 was probably their best known release, and it looks like it’ll stay that way in regards to N64 publications.
It’s 2014, and emulation exists everywhere. The possibility that game carts of Flying Dragon exist at a reasonable price being slim to none, I heartily endorse “borrowing” this game on ROM to try for yourself, if only to laugh at every “I Will Send You To The Hospital” quote from the mouths of these weirdo SD characters. RPG elements in fighting games aren’t very widespread these days, unless you count the half-assed modes Guilty Gear throws out these days. Flying Dragon is pretty simple, pretty fun, and endlessly entertaining with the amount of bizarre questions it tosses at you. It’s a lost treasure, much like the Pike of Gundertentaisen.