I’m on yet another business trip for two weeks (this is a very busy Summer, I’ll let you all know now). Because I need ways to pass the time when not working, I thought I would continue on with playing more of my familiar Mega Drive collection. This lead to me replaying Shining Force 2, which is still a great game, even if I’m finding that the map design is a bit barren, leading to some of the battles being tedious. Because it was one of those nights where it’s late and my mind began to wander, I thought about messing around with other SRPGs on the system. There’s one that got fan-translated some years back that I never really got around to: Vixen 357. Not entirely sure why exactly I didn’t immediately latch onto it; it’s by Masaya, the developers of Langrisser, a series that I really like. Technically, Langrisser was developed by another team within Masaya called Career Soft, who seemingly had nothing to do with Vixen 357, but it’s probably easier if I lump the two games together for you, The Reader, to have a frame of reference.
Vixen is pretty darn cool. You control a small squad of mech pilots that, unlike most games in the genre, remain a small squad. As such, the game very much maintains this sense of a rag-tag group fighting a large empire. It’s not like one of those Gundam spin-offs where the protagonists pirouette through an army of Zakus with minimal effort. You are outnumbered in every fight, constantly being ambushed by much bigger forces led by these nearly mythological generals and commanders. Some battles might allow you to join up with another AI controller squad, or have you hold out for a certain number of turns until more CPU backup arrives, but by and large, it’s nine pilots versus the world. You have to scrape and claw your way through every meat grinder of a mission, using cover and terrain to your advantage. On top of all this, as a wise man once said: People Die When They Are Killed. Vixen 357 has permadeath. You lose anybody in that squad, they stay dead. No resurrections, no second chance mid-fight, no one-time use items to bring someone back. Given how hard this game is, and how much harder it becomes over time, you need every last body you can get on that battlefield. It’s hard as fuck, and can be a bit aggravating or sometimes even tedious, but the sense of reward you get for clearing a mission is so good.
There’s a plot. I mean, it’s there, it exists, but it’s not super important. You and your crew pilot experimental new mechas (VECTORs), another nation attacks yours, both nations go to war, the manual mentions something about aliens that’s never brought up in-game, whatever. The narrative, what little there is, only serves as flavor text as you move from battle to battle. Kind of a shame that there wasn’t even a half-hearted attempt at a Gundam-esque meditation on war. The most you get is when an enemy commander joins you after witnessing his superior commit a war crime; the rest of the game, the dialogue tends to fall into the “war as a game” borderline lightheartedness. I did do a bit of digging around before I started writing this to see if there was a manga or an an*me that this was adapted from, and maybe I could understand there was more context I needed before playing. This is not an adaptation, this is a full-on original work by Masaya! Just seems weird, considering how much effort was put into the designs of the VECTORs and their human pilots, and a plot outline of interstellar conflict being confined to a single Mega Drive game never released outside of Japan or ported to any other systems.
Another odd thing about Vixen is that there was never an attempt to bring this game stateside, like Masaya did for Langrisser 1. I bring this up for a number of reasons. 1) This game is really hard, and companies had no problem making games harder for Americans back then, so that wouldn’t be an issue. 2) Giant robots are always a hit, and Sega seemed less afraid of showcasing games that might be “too Japanese.”
3) A number of characters in Vixen have some of the most American names I have ever seen. Mack Ryan. Eddie Ray. Ben Basque. Harry Gibson. Carey Goat. Flannel Mouse.
Flannel Fucking Mouse
It’s a shame, really, that we didn’t get this over here. Vixen 357 is really good, despite any plot-based misgivings I may have. Maybe not the kind of game for everyone. Again, this is a really hard, brutal game where you can sometimes fight up to 30 enemies at a time, up to 50 in one specific level. If I didn’t spend two hours playing and having to replay a single map, then it was pretty damn close. Vixen is the kind of game that challenges you, but also makes you feel real smart when you complete the challenge, and challenges you in a way that’s fair and not a bunch of cheap bull shit (minus maybe one segment) that kills you immediately. And hey, there’s nothing more “Mega Drive” aesthetic than a really hard game with an*me and robots in it.