• Dancing Blade Review - Sega Dreamcast

    Many years ago an exciting new genre was developed for the then new CD-based systems, based around Full Motion Video. Although they were initially popular, once people realized the universally terrible acting, awful stories, and pathetic gameplay, these games were thrown to the garbage heap of gaming history. Surprisingly, Sony chose to revive this genre back in 1998 with their first Yarudora title, Double Cast.
    About every quarter, gamers could expect another dose of Choose-Your-Own-Anime, each with a different story, a different character designer, and different voice actors. This finally culminated with Yukiwara no Hana, the fourth and final Yarudora game in early 1999. Of course, someone couldn't watch Sony create a new market all for themselves and just sit Idly by, and that someone was Konami.

    Originally released in August of 1998 for the Playstation, Dancing Blade diversified this new Interactive Animation market. Instead of creating a series of four two hour long movies like the Yarudora series, Konami simply released a short adventure/comedy that could be completed in about half an hour. However, either because of various limitations or budget problems, Konami wasn't able to put everything they wanted into the game. And as such, Konami released a improved version for the Dreamcast in 1999.
    Although I haven't played the original PSX version, the most apparent improvement would probably be the increased video quality. The frame rate of certain scenes (such as the intro) have been obviously increased, and although there is still some pixelation in the video, I rarely notice it and I would say the video quality is probably comparable to VHS quality. Of course, one shouldn't expect movie quality animation from something like this, Konami doesn't have the budget to create something with animation quality the rivals an anime movie. Outside of some of the scenes in the intro, expect amount of animation to rarely get above the level seen in an average anime television show. Furthermore, Konami had to cut corners when it came to action sequences as well. Sometimes action scenes are shown in still frames, and in other instances the heroes' attacks are shown, but their effects on the enemy is usually skipped until the end of the battle.
    This has no effect on the high quality character designs and voice acting, however. Created by Takemoto Yasuhiro, the character designs are outstanding. With Kikuko Inoue (Belldandy from "Ah My Goddess!"), Yuuko Miyamura (Asuka from "Evangelion"), and other well know voice actors, every line comes across great and every voice matches their respective characters perfectly. To support the voice acting, the music is done quite well too. Each of the four main girls have their own themes and the intro theme is addictive, and except for the animation shortcuts, it would be of comparable quality to regular anime. However, the same cannot be said of the sound effects. In comparison to the voice acting, the sound effects seem slightly muffled and a little too low in volume at times. Although this went unnoticed for most of the game, they were much too weak for the finale, and as such, they hinder an otherwise very satisfying ending.
    Speaking of ending, every time you finish the game with a new ending (of which there are four), a new piece of Omake (extra stuff) is unlocked. The four that must be unlocked include two bonus scenes unrelated to the story, an illustration gallery, and a preview of the next "episode". The only initially available omake is Arasuji Mode which is a silly retelling (complete with some hilarious Super-Deformed artwork) of how each character came to meet up with Momo and company. Keep in mind that there is also fun stuff in the manual as well, including a little board game, a two page comic featuring Nayotake and Hachiku, and four pages of illustrations featuring the various ships and robots seen in the game.
    However, the only thing not featured in ample supply is gameplay. Instead of having any real control over the male lead in the story, you simply watch anime and at certain points in the story you are given a choice as to what to do next. Depending on what choice is made, the next scene will be effected accordingly. There are a couple of problems with this though. First, After a choice is made, the screen goes black for about a second, which can be somewhat distracting when the previous scene ends with some active animation, but most of the time these transitions come and go largely unnoticed. The only real problem is that outside of the first time a choice needs to be made (which chooses which one of the two stories will be seen), the only long-lasting effect these decisions have over the story is the ending. The scene after the one chosen is usually the same for both decisions.
    Of course, that sounds like the gameplay in Dancing Blade isn't any better than the original Full Motion Video games, and in all honesty, the gameplay is indeed terrible. What makes Dancing Blade different than the first FMV games is that it is actually fun to watch. The two stories are great fun, the voice acting is excellent, and the extras warrant at least a few repeated viewings. Although there is no English to speak of in the game, not even in the menus, for anyone that wants some more anime and can understand spoken Japanese (Konami didn't include optional subtitles), Dancing Blade Katteni Momotenshi! Kanzenban is a great choice.
    Score: 7/10

    A review by James Hutton
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