Some time ago, when I did my write-up of Paris-Dakar Rally Special, I mentioned that the developers of that game, ISCO, had also done two other Famicom games: Transformers Convoy no Nazo, and Seikima II Akuma no Gyakushuu. I was not especially kind when I mentioned those games, and with good reason: they are terrible.
But, because it’s October, and given that I’ve spent nearly a year getting back into my love of metal music, I thought I would at least try to give Seikima II another chance. At least finish level two before I completely write it off. I ended up finishing the game, once for the “bad” ending and again for the real ending. In the thirty minutes it takes to finish Seikima II, I admit that I ended up warming up to the game somewhat. Now, I’m not going to try and convince you all that this is some sort of hidden gem for the Famicom. It’s not. It is still very much a bad game.
Before I get into all of that, I should probably explain what exactly Seikima II is. Seikima II (pronounced “Seikimatsu,” a pun meaning “The End of the Century”) are a Japanese metal band known for dressing up in cool costumes and wearing face paint. This has led to them getting a lot of comparisons to KISS, which is bull shit. If anything, their sound, on average, sounds more like Judas Priest. You also need significantly less irony to appreciate Seikima II, whereas you need to kind of be in on the joke when it comes to enjoying KISS. I won’t go too into Seikima II’s history, as Wikipedia is right there. Just know that they’re an awesome band that looks cool and makes sick music.
Naturally, being a popular act with a distinct appearance, this also means companies are going to want to cash in. In the Wild West days of the Famicom, when any fly-by-night outfit could release absolute dogshit and still make a little money off of it, you better believe that someone saw dollar signs as Seikima II climbed up the music charts. So, we ended up with a Seikima II Famicom game. If nothing else, this game can hang its hat on the fact that unlike KISS’ shitty game, Akuma no Gyakushuu actually has the band it’s based off of in it. Not only that, but playable members of band (well, just the vocalist), meaning that it outclasses Revolution X Starring Aerosmith, and can hang with other music luminaries like Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, and the arcade game starring Journey.
In this game, you play as His Excellency Demon Kakka (formerly Demon Kogure), rescuing the other members of the band who have all been kidnapped by Zeus (as in the Greek god), and finding their missing instruments. Missing instruments is something of a cliche when it comes to games starring musicians, but at least there’s a reason for it here: the Seikima II “canon” as it were, is that the band are all demons from hell, and are using heavy metal music to spread the message of the devil. So it’s not as if ISCO were left with a blank whiteboard to put ideas on, when there’s a story for them to already work with.
The main issue with Akuma no Gyakushuu and its terrible quality is that His Excellency controls like absolute shit. Specifically, trying to jump. Pressing the jump button while in a neutral position causes His Excellency to jump straight up, and you can very slightly fine-tune his direction once he reaches the peak of his jump. Pressing jump while moving causes him to do a massive leap forward. This lack of control makes it really hard to navigate platforms, grab items, dodge enemies, or do much of anything without a lot of struggling.
On top of that, this is one of those games where you have a lot of life, but it drains over time, acting as a time limit as well, and it drains quickly. This is not a straightforward move left-to-right kind of game, either. Rather, levels are divided up through tunnels in the floor that open up once you’ve collected every item in a room, giving levels something of a maze-like structure (though admittedly, these mazes are not super complicated to navigate), so you do not have time to fuck around. Doesn’t help that enemies spawn infinitely and have somewhat erratic movement patterns. And if you need to get through a small hallway with an “indestructible” type enemy? You just have to take the damage.
Akuma no Gyakushuu is not a fun game that feels good to play. But its absolute biggest, most unforgivable crime is the fact that there is no Seikima II music in it! No chiptune renditions of classic songs to be found here, which is fucked up. Making a game about a music group and not having the music that the group has made is such a spectacular failure that I have to assume it was done on purpose, because nobody can be that stupid. Instead, you get a series of extremely annoying and ear-piercing bleeps and blips that try to sound like music.
zeus looking a little uh, jesus-y here
So what is there for me to warm up to? Well, for one, I appreciate the incredibly amateur graphics the game has. I have this thing for terrible looking Japan-only Famicom games. Don’t know what it is, but I like it. I also appreciate the incredibly mild RPG elements to the game: of all the items you are required to pick up in order to make progress, money is one of those things. The money here is an actual currency, which you can then use to buy health-restoring potions, upgrade your attack, and buy your bandmates instruments back. That’s something that took effort to code and put together. This could very well have been yet another generic 2D platformer that didn’t have maze-like layouts and extra numbers to juggle, but instead there was some degree of ambition shown here, even if the end result is not worth it. I can’t completely hate the game because of this. At least they tried.
One year later, ISCO released Seikima II Special for the MSX2 computer. I also played this one. This is a major improvement over the Famicom game. It’s look better, kind of. It controls significantly better, with His Excellency Demon Kakka moving around like a real video game character. Most importantly, Seikima II Special finally has Seikima II music! Good renditions of their music, at that! I knew that this had to be a better experience as soon as I got to the title screen and heard an 8-bit cover of “El Dorado,” an absolute stormer of a song. Now, I didn’t say that this was a good game, merely a better one. Since this is a real video game now, I can talk a little bit about the levels and stuff.
Zone 1: Jail Zone
Level Music: Rou Ningyou No Yakata
First, I will say that there are two issues with the MSX2 version of this game. One is distinct lack of black backgrounds, which goes against the heavy metal theme. Second is that, due to hardware limitations, there is no screen scrolling. This means that each screen “flips” when you move from one to the next, so you can walk into enemies or fall off a ledge if you aren’t expecting it, seeing as ISCO didn’t really think to redesign the levels around this. Anyways, in this level, you pick up a bunch of items, buy a guitar, and rescue Jail O’Hashi, who is being held in a cage guarded by a tiny little knight.
Zone 2: Raiden Zone
Song: Makai Bukyoku
You go from the woods to Heaven, I guess, so you can do what you did in zone 1 all over again. This time to rescue Raiden Yuzawa, the drummer. Nothing much to add here, other than I like the 8-bit version of Mukai Bukyoku a lot. Well done, composer at ISCO, whoever you are!
Zone 3: Ace Zone
Song: Akuma No Sakebi
Ace Shimizu is the bandmate His Excellency has to rescue this time. Maybe I can explain what some of these items you pick up actually are. You got your moneybags, which you need to buy things, those ghosts that we (“we” being Westerners) mistake for Klan members, the head of whichever bandmate you need to rescue, and a miscellaneous item that changes from level to level (here it’s candles, in the previous level it was plants). Those little hatches at the bottom of the screen open up once every item in the room (each room is two room-lengths in width) is collected, and you don’t have to pick them up again when you return to a room you’ve already been in. Should also point out that the game’s difficulty completely drops at this point. After level two, the game becomes a total breeze.
Zone 4: Xenon Zone
The final level, where you save Xenon Ishikawa. Not much to say here that I haven’t already said three times, other than Aphrodite is a really good song. I like the platforms being made of skulls and bones!
Zone 5: Zeus
Song: Death Land
Then there’s the boss fight against Zeus. Definitely not Jesus. It took me a couple of playthroughs to figure out what song plays during this fight. The reason being is that Zeus might very well be the easiest boss fight in the history of games, and dies way too quickly. Simply jump and shoot and he will die. Maybe you have to move left or right to dodge his incredibly slow attacks. There is no challenge here.
If you kill Zeus and you have the band’s instruments, then you get the ending:
The band jumps in place while His Excellency sits on his throne. A loop of “From Hell With Love” plays and then nothing else happens until you turn off the system. According to a video of the MSX version’s soundtrack, there’s also a version of “Adam no Ringo” that does not appear in-game. That’s a shame, as that song also kicks ass. In any case, that’s Seikima II Special, a pretty bad game based on a band I really like. If nothing else, maybe this post will encourage you to listen to Seikima II. Or at least check out other games that His Excellency has been in, like the Japanese version of DJ Boy (er, well, maybe not), or you can wait until Street Fighter 6 comes out and you can listen to his in-game commentary. But maybe don’t play this game, and definitely stay far away from the Famicom version.