Saturday, 5 January 2013

PC Game Review: Daikatana

Platform: PC
Released: 2000
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Ion Storm
Publisher. Eidos Interactive
Buy on Steam

John Romero is a name often associated with greatness. While working at id Software, Romero was instrumental in the making of a trilogy of highly influential and groundbreaking first person shooters that are often cited as the great grandfathers of the genre itself, not only popularizing it but also defining it. Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake are 3 games that pretty much every gamer on the planet has played at some point as they literally exist on pretty much every conceivable platform that can render 3d graphics. But after Quake had finished development, John felt fed up with the policy at id of making simple shooters. He wanted to make a different game, and so in 1997 after starting up his own new development studio Ion Storm, he set out to make what would essentially be John Romero's vision of the game he wanted to make. Despite this, the process of making the game would prove a nightmare for John and his staff, and would forever banish him from the genre, and the game became one of the biggest commercial failures in gaming history. What happened? What went wrong? And most importantly, is Daikatana itself to blame? Eager to find out, I managed to get a hold of the game (by means I won't discuss though I do plan to buy a big box copy of the game to own it legally). Needless to say, my expectations were probably a lot lower than people had back in 2000 after waiting so long for it and all the hype going on. Due to this and to my big surprise, I actually really enjoyed Daikatana. Find out why in my review, where I discuss what Daikatana really has to offer, and possibly the reason it became such a failure.

"Know any good jokes?"


The story in Daikatana isn't exactly much to brag about but it's written well enough to give the game some decent plot. It's 2455 AD in Japan. Hiro Miyamoto isn't much of a hero. If anything he's a simple swordsman who spends his time teaching the young kids to fight with a sword. One day he gets a knock on his door, and an old man tells him that everything he knows is wrong, and reality itself is not what it was destined to be. Kage Mishima, CEO of the massive Mishima corporation, who not only make hamburgers out of human flesh apparently, has been causing a virus to spread among the people, and is making money off a vaccine to rule over everyone. It gets even stranger, apparently Mishima also possesses a sword that grants its wielders powers beyond just slicing bread, it can also allow time travel. The old man tells Hiro that his daughter Mikiko has been going for this sword but was taken prisoner inside Mishima's fortress, and asks Hiro to save her and get the Daikatana as well so that he will stand a chance against the powerful Mishima. However before he can tell Hiro anything more he is killed by one of Mishima's henchmen, and Hiro's adventure begins. After rescuing the big and black Security Chief "Superfly" Johnson and the beautiful but deadly Mikiko Ebihara, the three of them set out on a journey across 4 different time periods to track down Mishima and set history straight.

Needless to say, the plot allows for diverse level designs and each "episode" of the game has its own feel. Overall this makes the game feel diverse and still feel somewhat cohesive. Episode 2 for instance takes place in ancient Greece and both the level designs and the weapons you use reflect that time period as all your weapons from episode 1 are removed and only the Daikatana is the weapon you carry through all time periods (minus the first one where you don't get it until after the first boss fight). Episode 3 takes you to Norway in the dark ages and you spend that episode fighting bubonic zombies (or buboids) and rats, and 3 Wizards and an insane king. It got a little bit into the fantasy genre at that point, but I found it enjoyable.

What I liked about the story was that your sidekick characters were very instrumental in it. Unlike games like Half-Life where the sidekicks were treated like disposable meatshields that you would easily just kill, in Daikatana they have strong personalities and you meet them during the game as people who have their own motivations for helping you. For instance, you don't meet your first sidekick until a few levels into the game and you have to actually save him from a torture room, giving him a reason to follow you as he owes you for saving his life. Mikiko is also saved in a similar manner and Daikatana does a really good job at making them feel important to you and the story. At some points in the game where I was separated from them, I truly missed them and felt like it wasn't the same without them. Not many games can achieve this, I feel, and it is one of the aspects about Daikatana I truly enjoy.

The end also has a few good twists which I won't spoil for you, but needless to say it took me a bit by surprise as you get a second surprise boss fight after you defeat the main villain. All in all, the story is nothing special but the writing is well done and the characters have very well defined yet very human personalities that I felt made them very real and believable.

"Someone's gonna pay for making me find these fucking keycards!"


Daikatana was actually really groundbreaking in that it attempted something that hadn't been done so far when it came out. It attempted to be a co-op FPS. Today this is nothing new and games like L4D, Borderlands, Syndicate and even Portal 2 have popularized co-op in FPS's. But Daikatana probably PIONEERED this idea, way before anyone had even thought of making it an integral part of the gameplay, with the possible exception of Half-Life Decay but that wasn't exactly a standalone game. Sure co-op was POSSIBLE in games as early as Doom but what Daikatana did that we NOW consider a normal thing was to build the entire gaming experience around working with your sidekicks and managing their inventory and commanding them. In a lot of ways, Daikatana is actually more of a RPG than a simple FPS, evidenced by the fact you earn XP points by slaying your enemies and when you level up, you can input a point into several different slots that affect how strong your character is in various aspects. It feels a lot like a spiritual forefather to games like Borderlands in that sense, and it's MINDBLOWING that people didn't recognize just how far ahead of its time this game was back in 2000. Hell, if it had been released in 1998 or 1999 like it was intended to, it would have been even more groundbreaking. It took the idea from Half-Life of using sidekicks and basically mixed more RPG elements into it and made them more integrated in the game's story and plot and they feel just as important as you as a result.

That being said, the AI for the sidekicks could easily have been improved on. Your sidekicks WILL at times act totally lobotimized, getting stuck in doors or other parts of the level, though most of the time they act pretty much like a co-op partner would, being able to climb ladders and jump over obstacles and trace your steps. You will have to get fairly aquainted with your leader skills and using hotkeys to commanding your partners very often. Thankfully, once you learn how to work around the bugs, playing the single player is a breeze, and I got fairly quickly adjusted to how they would react in given situations and I managed to get through the game without them dying too much. It is very important to take care of them, giving them armor, health and good weapons and treat them as part of your team. This is how the game was intended to play and playing this like Quake or any other egocentric shooter is a really bad idea.

My theory is that this is one of the reasons the game failed. The hype surrounding the game and John Romero's status as a demigod that literally made everything he touched into gold, probably was more instrumental to the game's commercial failure than the buggy sidekick AI. People most likely expected another Quake, which Daikatana is anything but. If anything, I consider Daikatana a more worthy sequel to Quake than Quake 2 actually was, because while Quake 2 is a good game, it doesn't take as many risks and doesn't have nearly as much variety. The issue with the AI has easily been blown way out of proportions in other more critical reviews and I easily blame the sky high expectations people had towards the game for that. Another important thing to mention is that the game does have multiplayer co-op so IF the sidekick AI gets too annoying, just hook up with a friend and let him take the shoes of one of the sidekicks. It does make the game a ton more fun to play and I have a feeling that this is the way it was intended to be played.

As previously stated, each episode has its own theme. You are given new weapons for each episode and this keeps the game surprisingly interesting and fresh as the weapons are very well made and often make you feel really powerful. Hell, the Daikatana itself might be one of the most satisfying swords i've used in any game and I usually despise games that use swords. Though I didn't rely on it so much, it was fun to use and the more you use it, the stronger it gets, as it absorbs the energy of your slain foes. I might do a playthrough where I max it out and see how strong I can get it.

This winged/horned bitch soon is getting my katana up her arse. :P


Let me say this once and for all, the rumors that Daikatana is "uglier than Quake 2" are definitely false. While I agree that by 2000 standards the models look a bit low-poly and the fact they're not animated makes them look dated, the levels are insanely well made and the game has an intense atmosphere. It's simply gorgeous to look at and this game does more with the Quake 2 engine than Quake 2 ever did. With all the effects turned on you will see snowflakes that ARE actually snowflakes. They're not just boring white dots, they are shaped like actual snowflakes and it's this almost meticulate attention to detail that makes Daikatana one of the most memorable gaming experiences I've ever had. The game definitely outclasses Quake 2 in the graphics department just by the shere variety in level design too. From the industrial future Japan, to the sunny ancient Greece and the snowy and cold Norway in the Dark Ages, and back again to 2030's San Francisco (you even get to escape from Alcatraz), the graphics are constantly pushing the engine to its limits and Daikatana does a really good job at being one of the most diverse games I've played. The monster designs are actually really good in my opinion and all have that Romero quality about them.


Daikatana also doesn't lack in the sound department. The voice actors will sound familiar to anyone who has played Deus Ex as they've used the same ones for this game and it's very funny to hear them again with such new and different roles to play. They do a very decent job, although the fake Japanese accents definitely make them sound a bit cheesy, similar to why Deus Ex can be unintentionally funny at times. That being said, the guy who voices Superfly Johnson fits the character perfectly and he's easily one of the most lovable characters in the game.

The music is really good too, consisting of music that fits each time period. For the futuristic industrial environments you get rocking industrial music with heavy guitar riffs, and for the older ancient environments you get more symphonic pieces that are more ambient. Also worth mentioning, instead of using CD Audio like Quake 2 does, the songs are played as mp3's stored on the hard drive, so that they can be played without the need of having the game CD inserted, which I find a big relief since I hate having to insert the CD just to play the game. Cheers to the Ion Storm team for thinking ahead.

"The future, ancient Greece and now the dark ages? This game has pretty varied levels..."


All in all, Daikatana is not a bad game. I blame high expectations and the hype for the commercial failure this game had. I truly feel like it is a misunderstood gem, a diamond in the rough. If you look past its flaws, of which there are not that many, it was a groundbreaking title that foresaw the future of gaming and the co-op games that we play today. It is truly a shame that this game has gotten such a bad reputation as it was truly undeserved. I strongly suggest you give the game a try. Because I would rather base my opinion on my own experience, rather than just blindly following the mass opinion or the opinions of critics. If anything is proof that John Romero is a genious who has the capability to see into the future and push the genre forwards and not just mindlessly rehashing old ideas like the id crew did with Quake 2, Daikatana is it.

Yes, it's not perfect. But it is unique, and I had a lot of fun with it.

I give this game 8 out of 10 Human Hamburgers.

Also, check out JonTron's review of the N64 version, which truly does suck a lot.

- Alyxx

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