Saturday, December 3, 2016

Super Valis: Akaki Tsuki no Otome (SFC) Review

Received: October 27th, 2016 / Written: December 1st-3rd, 2016
Alternate Title: Super Valis IV
Year: 1991, 1992 | Developed by: Telenet Japan
Published by: Shin-Nihon Laser Soft | [|O|]

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here, passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.

Image from Wikipedia; Happy 30th Anniversary, game I haven't played
On December 1986 the MSX, NEC PC-8801, and X1 computers saw the debut of Mugen Senshi Valis in Japan, which Americans will identify as Valis: The Fantasm Soldier, developed by Arcus and Tales of Phantasia developer Wolf Team and published by Telenet Japan which was about a contemporary 1980's schoolgirl named Yūko Asō who becomes the chosen warrior to wield the mystical sword named Valis as the realms of Earth, the spirit realm, and Vecanty, the Dream World are endangered.  The game would also see different versions on the FM-7 and NEC PC-9801 computers as well as the Tokuma Soft-developed Famicom version in 1987, leading to the Riot-developed MegaDrive/Genesis and PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System conversions in 1991 and 1992.  What made it stand out from other games at the time was its heavy emphasis on storytelling cutscenes to advance the narrative which would influence games like Ninja Gaiden, Cotton, and Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo, all of which owe Valis in this regard.  Popular consensus says the story and cutscenes are the sole reason to play it as the gameplay apparently left a lot to be desired, though I hear the PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System is the superior version of them all.
Image from Wikipedia
After several versions of the first game combined with intrigue to where the story would lead to next, Valis warrior Yūko would return to the scene in Mugen Senshi Valis II or Valis (The Fantasm Soldier) II in the Summer of 1989 with versions ranging from the Laser Soft-developed PC Engine CD-ROM² one (being the first game in the series to come out in America as Valis II for the TurboGrafx-CD in 1990), versions available on the MSX and NEC PC-8801 and PC-9801 and Sharp X68000 computers, and a super deformed edition on the MegaDrive/Genesis as SD Valis (Syd of Valis in America)--the last of which even Valis fans consider to be an embarrassing disappointment.  Overall the follow-up has been revered as a slight improvement from its predecessor, but it wouldn't stop there.
Image from Wikipedia
Yūko would wield the Valis sword one last time in Mugen Senshi Valis III, Valis III in America, on the PC Engine CD-ROM² System in September 1990 (with a TurboGrafx-CD release following suit in 1992) which would also receive a Reno-developed MegaDrive/Genesis port in 1991.  Of the Valis series' offerings general gamers as well as fans consider it to be the best in terms of gameplay (as you could also choose to play as either Cham or Yūko's sister Valna Asō) as well as a really good sendoff for the blue-haired Valis warrior.  I recall reading an article several years ago saying this Valis iteration in particular (among other games) was slated to come to the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, but obviously that never came to pass (likely due to licensing disagreements).  =(
Image from MobyGames; Happy 25th Anniversary, other other OTHER game I haven't played
On the heals of the third game Telenet Japan followed it up with the PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System-exclusive Valis IV in August 1991, transpiring fifteen years after the events of the previous game which was essentially a passing of the torch kind of game as Yūko, who's become a goddess in the end of Mugen Senshi Valis III, bequeaths the sword to Vecanty-born Rena Bland should she be worthy of it who's accompanied by her twin sister Amu and Asfal.  General consensus states that it's good but is outrageously difficult throughout.
No direct port of Valis IV has been made, but there was a reimagining of it on March 1992 with the Shin-Nihon Laser Soft-published Super Valis: Akaki Tsuki no Otome (for which the subtitle translates to "Red Moon Rising Maiden"; produced and directed by Valis IV producer Masami Hanari) for the Super Famicom which would arrive in NTSC SNES format on February 1993 (courtesy of Atlus) as Super Valis IV, which I bet baffled American Nintendo loyalists at the time; suddenly getting a Valis game with the Roman numeral "IV" attached even though the only American gamers who got to play the first three games at the time comprised of TurboGrafx-CD and Genesis owners (the first Valis did see a Nintendo 8-bit edition, but only for the Famicom in Japan).  So how is this series' first and only Nintendo 16-bit take?

In the year 199X, the Dream World of Vecanty had prospered in its peaceful lifestyle for fifteen years thanks to the heroic efforts of the legendary Valis warrior Yūko Asō.  But now that's being threatened by the generals and forces of the Dark World overlord
Prince Galgear.
In Vecanty, Yūko has since become its goddess who's been watching over peace all these years, but now that she can't afford to fight for the three realms herself she awaits for the one who can save everyone.
That one is the young M'aider Maiden Rena Bland, who upon meeting her swears and vows to use the Valis sword wisely against Galgear and his forces.  Yūko then bestows the mystical sword to the red-haired maiden, which is the only weapon that can hurt Galgear.
It is up to Rena to restore peace and take down the evil forces that threaten the good people of the three realms.

From Vecanty to the Red Moon, Rena will stop
at nothing to restore peace
Super Valis: Akaki Tsuki no Otome has you take control of Rena Bland in this sidescrolling actioner whose main method of attacking enemies is with the Valis sword via the Y button, with the B button allowing you to jump (how high or low you jump depends on how hard you pressed the button).  As you venture throughout you'll find varying power icons which you can toggle with either shoulder button (even when paused a la Contra Spirits/Contra III: The Alien Wars), only able to carry six at a time, and once you've chosen the power-up you want to use press the X button that way you'll use up it as much times as it allows you by pressing up and Y.  I know what you're thinking: "Castlevania clone?"  Yes,... and no.  One game series that Valis has drawn comparison to since its inception was Konami's Akumajō Dracula/Castlevania series (Mugen Senshi Valis debuted three months after the vampire slaying game that started it all) if only for this reason; in America Super Valis IV (as it was known) more than likely got compared to Super Castlevania IV (as Super Famicom Akumajō Dracula was known) due the same Roman Numeral and the word "Super" in the title even though gameplay-wise those two are dissimilar (there's no eight-way weapon aiming here, only left and right).

"Vecanty Dominator", huh?  You wouldn't happen to
be related to the ironically named Wander Over Yonder
villainess Lord Dominator, would you?  -_O
Unlike the aforementioned series where you could refill the amount necessitated to use the subweapons, in Super Valis once you choose the power-up you're only allowed to use it as many times as you're given (numbers depend on the difficulty you choose to play) and if you've ran out of the other power-ups you can still shoot the small but wide-ranging beam from your sword by pressing up and Y (the only magic you can use indefinitely).  You can swing your sword as you're standing, while in midair, and when ducking down; and you can dash also.  Your normal walking pace is deliberate, but in order to gain traction just double-tap the left or right buttons to let Rena go fast (which proves very useful when it comes to wide gaps)--you'd think that'd be enabled by simply moving and holding down the attack button like in most games of its ilk, who'da thunk that it would function as if it were a Kirby platformer post-Adventure?  Oh, who am I kidding, this game precedes the Kirby series entirely!

"Begone, foul infiltrators!"
Super Valis is a pretty game to look at, colors and details and all.  =)  Because Valis IV was a PC Engine game it could not be completely transitioned to the Nintendo 16-bit, only partially; among the elements brought over to today's game are many of Sayoko Kingodzi's background designs, with some additional ones provided specifically for this game by Kumataro Shigeta, albeit in a different layout as rearranged by Hal Nishida.  The Dream World of Vecanty has got a fiery and looming backdrop amidst the destruction of buildings and walls sometimes littered with fallen corpses; Babylon has got a bright sky with a small amount of clouds with some added visual depth incorporating two different layers scrolling at different speeds in the background as well as a towering color-layering waterfall occasionally popping up in the foreground; and there's a chilling feel as you roam its Clistal Pillor that subtly changes colors at points with occasional ice falling down.  Some of the best-looking areas this game has to offer are Castle Vanity with the parallax scrolling clouds in the backdrop amid a star-studded sky as you explore the walls and (sometimes incomplete) statues, Valhara which starts off refreshingly bright with the slow but looming backdrop and parallax scrolling sea of grass which ends up inside a worship place adorned with stained glass windows dedicated to Yūko, and there's a psychedelic wavy effect during the Red Moon stage which is cool.  =)

So beautiful  =O
Also carried over to Super Valis were the in-game character and enemy designs and animations originally done by Kōji Otsuka, Kenji Kobayashi, and Kazuhiro Koizumi who all make a return.  Rena animates nicely as she moves (faster as she runs) and as she swings her sword (but is it me or is her upper torso briefly split from her lower body as she proceeds to swing a sword while ducking?), plus her hair animation is quaint.  Among the enemies Rena encounters are evil pike-throwing suits of armor, white creatures with red spider-like tentacles, floating swordsmen, varying kinds of Valkyries, and even Rena clones who spring from sentient floating fetuses.  Boss-wise there's a general who rides a leaping, fire-breathing tiger; a three-formed boss fight who begins as a statue then turns into a harpy until finally she becomes a mermaid; a tall jet-fast general whose got a big countenance on his body; and Galgear's not too shabbily designed in-game.

Like the previous games Valis IV advanced the narrative with anime cutscenes with animation and voice acting included, but were reduced to stills when it came to Super Valis, as the scenarios were done by Haruyuki Nishida and Bunzō Matsui (who suspiciously are not credited here).  Naturally since the game got restructured the stills could not be used in chronological order (that, and another reason); doesn't matter what the context is, if Telenet Japan could fit those in somewhere that's all that matters.  Rena, Yūko, and Galgear look really good in cutscene format, and before Rena and Galgear duke it out there's a slight bit of animation with his cape flowing to the side, Rena raising and pointing the Valis sword to him, and Rena moving her lips as she's talking in that brief moment.  The colors are gorgeous during these moments, and depending on the difficulty there might be a different profile pic after you see the credits.  =)

Ah, nothing beats showering as you're fighting baddies
With none of the cues composed by Kawame, Junta, and Shingo Murakami (Mugen Senshi Valis III) making their way over to the Nintendo 16-bit console (despite many of the backgrounds, sprites, and some of the gameplay being transitioned) Super Valis' soundtrack had to be done from scratch, this time done by Junta (whose only other credit seems to be the one-on-one fighting game Taiketsu!! Brass Numbers/Doomsday Warrior), and it's a good soundtrack in its own right... however, a lot of it doesn't quite work when heard out of context, and the reason for that is because there's a heavy quality to some of the tracks.

Hurray, fixed patterns  =D
The introduction theme, for example, has got an overwhelmingly urgent and at times nightmarish sound to it with its emphasis on prolonged intense notes, and it doesn't let up until the title forms up; Babylon's theme is a fast-based techno beat that works wonders serving atmosphere for its setting but proves to be ineffective outside of that; the organ-ridden Clistal Pillor theme is heavy in terms of tone; and the Red Moon theme has a foreboding composition going for it.  The only themes that work best both in and out of context are Vecanty's theme which sets a heroic tone for what's to come, Castle Vanity's theme with its majestic instrumentation that sounds inspiring, Valhara's theme which is atmospheric yet lighthearted with some mysteriousness thrown in, and the ending theme is pleasing to listen to as your adventure has come to an end.

Harpy dives down, gets slashed in the process
The boss theme is swift-sounding but serviceable, but Galgear's theme as you fight him is a big step up as it sounds so energetic and fun (really depends on the mood if it works specifically for the game or can be listened to either way)--the sound samples might attribute to that.  =)  The sound effects are quaintly-chosen in Super Valis for Rena's normal sword swings sound just right, the magic she shoots from her Valis sword has got a somewhat whooshing sound, and the sound effect of the bosses as they explode in defeat is rather satisfying; the dinging sound for when Rena dons her health supplement armor which ironically protects even less skin (and the sound for when her health bar capacity has been augmented in the Normal and Hard difficulty settings) is cute, but for some reason when she sustains damage the sound is akin to the sound of chopped wood.  =/

Who knew that grass would be enough to slow
you down?  That is a nice view, though  =)
In the options screen you have a choice to customize the control scheme if the default one doesn't suit you (I don't have a problem with it myself) as well as set the difficulty setting between Easy, Normal, and Hard.  On Easy you automatically start with six power-ups to choose from, but in both subsequent difficulties you start with zero and have to grab them in order to make use of them should you so please; should it be full, the next one you grab will take out the leftmost power-up of the bunch due to overlapping.  You'll notice that even before you face the boss in question their health bar is ever-so present, but what you may not notice (at least not right away) is that with each moment that passes their health capacity will augment itself just slightly until it's time to face them; meaning that if you dawdle too long then their health bar will be close to maximum capacity; there's no timer, but the goal is to get to the boss fight as fast as you possibly can manage.

Don't kill Valkyrie!  =O  Who'll compassionately
break Krino's Black Xandra curse if not her?  =(
Also on Easy Rena's health capacity will be at its fullest while in both Normal and Hard you get an increase in health after every 10,000 points (up until you reach 30,000 in which case there's nothing more to add); and any time you lose a continue you'll either restart from the segment you lost all your health (Easy) or start the stage over at square one (Normal and Hard).  Super Valis joins the likes of Jaleco's shoot'em up Super Earth Defense Force, Konami's cute'em up Pop'n TwinBee, and Jaleco's beat'em up Rushing Beat Shura in that a credit constitutes as a life, but unlike those games where the amount of continues you had were limited (thirty in Rushing Beat Shura's case) this game has unlimited continues which is fairly convenient for gamers who are inexperienced and unseasoned (specifically for Hard mode).

I'm a sucker for stained glassed windows
Super Valis is a pattern-based game, which means that should you memorize where the enemies are and how you should deal with some of them (particularly the gravity-bending dragon statues in the Red Moon stage) you'll be just fine in future playthroughs; and while some enemies take one hit to demolish others will take more than that (even on Hard mode).  Any time you reach a boss you'll be given a boss description and their main method of attack, which prepares you somewhat for what's to come; General Dhalgen's schtick is jumping and shooting at you (how... simplistic), General Medius has a "Schrole Approaching Fast" technique where she sends three illusions towards you before the genuine article starts appearing swiftly (from any random angle, so be careful) on top of a small platform, and Galgear's fight gets really involved as it goes on.  There to help you sometimes is the armor power-up which is a health supplement that takes up to five hits before you're back to normal, but to perform a special explosive magic press up and Y with the armor power-up in stow as you're wearing the armor (but only use it when it's really warranted, like the fight with Galgear).

She may be a goddess, but Yūko will always
watch over you
Super Valis: Akaki Tsuki no Otome (which was programmed by Hiroshi Ono, who also did the programming for Valis IV) was not well-regarded at the time, and to this day some say it's a low point in the Valis series, with the major complaint being that it should've been a straight port of Valis IV.  It's not that simple; with it originating on a PC Engine format a direct Nintendo console conversion was out of the question (though NEC had no problems with them happening on Sega formats) so it had to be slightly altered in order for it to be approved.  In Valis IV you could choose to play as Rena, Amu, and Galgear's father Asfal, but the latter two were removed for Super Valis as Rena's the central focus, she could run now which she could not do before, her sliding ability is absent (her sliding sprite in this game is her death sprite), and while Valis IV had a heavy emphasis on narrative, Telenet Japan turned Super Valis into an arcade game, one that takes exactly thirty minutes to beat.  Could Valis IV have been ported to Nintendo 16-bit format?  In theory, it could've been a possibility (give or take some elements that may or may not be lost in translation), but unfortunately at the time it wasn't so much a question of whether you could convert PC Engine games to Nintendo format so much as were you allowed to?  =(

Aren't you cold with that armor (or lack thereof) on?
Is Super Valis that bad, though?  I don't think it is, honestly; it's not without its issues, sure, but as a whole I find it to be a good game in its own terms.  I first found out about it as well as the series on YouTube almost ten years ago as I saw some gameplay videos by a user named Valis77, who I recalled had done some Let's Play videos (with some hilarious commentary) and I was interested; it's been awhile since I've seen his videos (I do miss them) but they made me want to try anything Valis.  But, being a collector meant constantly wanting to try new games and would not get to play Super Valis until this October (in its native Japanese version).  =)  I do own a RetroGen adaptor that lets me play Genesis games on my SFC and SNES consoles, but Valis: The Fantasm Soldier and Valis III are a bit on the costly side (maybe one day I'll get to play them for myself).  I don't own a PC Engine console (I usually use consoles that require yellow/white/red AV cables and not the A/B switch boxes which you had to fidget with until the screen quality was just right, the latter option never was fun), but if I get one (and that's a big "if" 'cause it's unlikely) I would like to try Valis IV as one of the first games I get for it.

In 1995 a similar thing would happen on the Nintendo 16-bit with Akumajō Dracula XX/Castlevania: Dracula X/Castlevania: Vampire's Kiss where it was a restructured take on the previously existing Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (which I have played on Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles) with its gameplay and sprites retained as Konami could not directly port the 1993 game on account that it was a PC Engine exclusive, and because of that the Nintendo 16-bit game also garnered a less than pleasing outlook from general gamers.  So between the unfortunately named Castlevania: Dracula X and Super Valis, which do I consider to be the superior title of the two?

Shoot the core
Personally I enjoyed Super Valis more, for plenty of reasons.  I liked that you could dash if you so please, visually it left a stronger impression, and the gameplay felt for the most part more polished (as much as it might take a bit to adjust to when playing it for the first time).  =)  The lack of a timer was a plus, though I appreciated the added sense of challenge value concerning how much health the boss would have depending on how long or short a time it took you to get there, and I like the area designs; also, trying to get by with just one life can be a real rush (on Hard mode, particularly).  Despite the brevity, is there are any replay value to be had?  Yes, actually; aside from playing any one of the three difficulty settings, your overall gaming performance will be ranked based collectively on your time (out of a possible 60) and item (out of a possible 40) bonuses, which you will see after pressing Start the moment the credits are over.  I may play games for fun and not for score, but this is actually exciting as you don't find out until after you beat it.  Among the ranks you'll get based on the total score are Valiant Warrior, Pallas Athena, Joan of Arc, and Valkyrie Rena to name some; the highest I managed to score so far was a 93--all right, I'm a Super Heroine, yeah!!!  =D  ...uh, wait, what???  o_o

Sooo, who's the space babies' mother?
So what qualms do I have if it's not perfect?  For starters, Rena's invincibility time as she gets hit lasts one second and later on there are icicles that fall down or ice blasts which if you're not careful to avoid you'll be frozen for a few seconds in which case if there's an enemy or boss nearby will render you susceptible to enemy attack.  Nornil's mermaid form stays underwater just slightly below the surface and you have to wait until her body pops up, the core in the Clistal Pillor consistently moves up and down as you must time your jump properly as you shoot the normal beams towards it (once it's in vicinity) while contending with a laser-spewing guardian, but the biggest problem is the Red Moon stage itself--not necessarily on Easy and Normal but on Hard--for not only do you have to contend with Rena clones spouting from fetuses who take two sword swings on Hard (or don't, just jump over them, and jump over them again if they turn around) and gravity-pushing dragon statues but there are fireballs which will explode and take out a chunk of your health (unless your armor is on) should it be destroyed.  It is the only stage where going at a steady pace is a must unless you want to lose your health quickly, which is too bad because all the other stages I can handle just fine in any difficulty with no problem.

Super Valis was the only Valis game available on the Nintendo 16-bit console, and for awhile was the last game to come from the series until 2006 when Telenet Japan sold the Valis rights to Eants who developed Valis X, a five-episode erotic visual novel series recounting the first four games to commemorate its twentieth anniversary--which were the last games Telenet Japan published before they shut down in 2007.  Um, beg pardon?  o_O  How do you go from well-respected action/platforming fantasy series to... hentai?  That just sounds so wrong!  XP  Luckily for Valis fans the November 2011 release of  Mugen Senshi Valis Complete Plus – Legend of a Fantasm Soldier was the most recent thing pertaining to the series, but only in Japan.

If you wanted to play the closest thing to a proper Valis experience on the Nintendo 16-bit console, you would have better luck with Affect's Makeruna! Makendō or Kendo Rage as it was called in America.  But if Super Valis wasn't enough Telenet Japan action/platforming entertainment for you, don't worry: they would follow up on it with a Super Famicom-exclusive title developed by their Riot firm in
Image from Wikipedia
Psycho Dream.  Christmas is coming around the corner; it's the perfect time to ask for expensive games--well that, and birthdays.

If you're walking into Super Valis: Akaki Tsuki no Otome expecting it to be exactly like Valis IV you're going to wind up disappointed as it's best to treat it as its own game.  If you're looking for a game that's got a lot of depth and length you're not going to find it here, but if you're searching for something short and sweet then this isn't a bad game to play.  If you like action/platformers that incorporate emphasis on story and narrative your best option is to play the preceding Valis games (provided you own the consoles in question), but if you like arcade games (or rather arcade equivalents) I think Super Valis will suit you just fine.  Or if you're looking for a game you can have fun playing with thirty minutes to spare, I think you should go for it.  =)  Nothing great, but good to play once in awhile.

My Personal Score: 7.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment (spam will not be tolerated) and let me know what you think.  Merry Christmas to you all and take care!  =)
Happy 30th Anniversary, Valis!

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