• Battle Houshin Review - Nintendo Gamecube

    Based loosely around the Houshin Engi anime, Battle Houshin promises Dynasty Warrior style game play and is Koei's first Gamecube effort. The story appears to be your usual good versus evil plot. An evil warlord and his minions have gained control of a powerful globe shaped weapon of mass destruction in an attempt to take over the land.

    From the start the game boasts a choice of 4 playable characters. As seems extremely common these days, they are based around the elements.

    There are 2 male characters, Shiga is a wind fighter and Taikobou is representative of lightning, then we have 2 females. Nata is a girl with fire expertise, and Reiran is the ice girl.
    The enemy is made up of huge armies complete with animals, large weapons and bases. There are around 8 varieties of enemy soldier such as archers, warriors and wizards. There are creatures such as wolves, jellyfish and very large horned beasts. On some stages your enemies will have cannons, and on others they will push boulders off of mountaintops. All in all there are plenty of adversaries for both you and your allies to overcome.

    The game has 2 play modes, Story and Battle. The story mode pretty much speaks for itself. You select 1 of the characters and then, accompanied by your allies, you must battle through 8 chapters each split into 3 or 4 stages. Along the way you will have some extremely large-scale fights and then end of stage battles against some huge bosses such as a flying dragon and a gigantic fire spitting bird. The bosses can be extremely impressive at times, leaving you with a real underdog feel when facing them.

    The story mode has a choice of 3 difficulty settings although in truth even the easy setting will provide a stiff test to the average gamer. Enemy soldiers will not even give you the slightest chance of recovery before attacking you again. Bosses later in the game will knock you about with the same kind of combos that you were at one time inflicting on weak enemy troops. This story mode will take 5 to 6 hours at most to play through, but it is enjoyable to do so countless times.

    Sadly some parts of this mode can prove irritating rather than challenging. On a certain spiralling tower level, pieces of the floor can give way leaving you at the very beginning of the stairway. This seems pointless, especially when there are no more enemies to face, just a dull hike back up the route you have already followed countless times. Similar frustrations are to be found throughout the story mode.

    The battle mode is also pretty self-explanatory. This sees you select a character and 1 of 3 levels. You have to battle through 4 stages with pretty much no story to worry about. On these stages the enemies come thick and fast and it is a real test of survival. It was a good idea on the part of the developers to include such a mode as it presents more of a pick up and play feel than the story section.

    To increase the replay value of these 2 modes, the developers have included full statistical breakdown including such fine points as best combo, quickest completion time, points scored and so forth. Also there are hidden features to unlock in the game. Power ups and weapons can be discovered on most stages, normally hidden within barrels and pots or awarded when killing an enemy soldier.

    A feature absent from this game but one that would have been very enjoyable is that of a multiplayer variety. Whether it had been co-operative or straight versus mode, this game is crying out for a classic battle against friends but sadly it is not present. Maybe if a sequel was to appear sometime in the future this could be addressed.

    The controls of Battle Houshin are faultless. The main buttons see B as your jump and A as your attack. Rotating the Analogue Stick 360 degrees while pressing the A button will see a spin attack akin to Zelda on the N64. Using this A button you can knock up some big combos against your foe, sometimes over 100 hits. The R shoulder button provides a block and also a roll movement. The camera is centred using the L shoulder button, and there is also limited camera control using the C Stick.

    The magic system is one of the most important aspects of Battle Houshin and without it the game would seem quite empty. Each character specialises in a type of magic, although all of them can use all 4 kinds. As mentioned earlier these powers are Wind, Lightning, Fire and Ice. Magic is represented on screen by a green meter. When this is empty, no magic for you! To revitalise your magic bar you must hand out a beating on your opponent or collect a power up.

    There are 4 magic attacks that can be unleashed. The first is a straightforward throw attack using the Y button. This just blasts the set magic type towards the direction you are facing. Next up is targeting magic. This is done by holding down the Y button. A first person view comes into play where you must quickly line up the enemies you want to hit then release the button to attack. The 2 strongest magical attacks are brought into play using the X button. To slash your way through the enemy using your magic bolstered weapon you simply press and hold the X button. The most impressive form of magic is the bombing attack. You jump into the air with the B button and then press the X button to drop your magic onto the helpless victims below. This causes all sorts of havoc and is best used when completely surrounded. All of these magical attacks are very useful although they do also damage your allies.

    The magic system allows for some variation in the game and although it is simple it really adds to the experience. Between stages you are given the opportunity to mix and match the weapons at your disposal to allow different magic set-ups. Each character's skill set is represented by 4 symbols, each with Experience points ranging from 1 to 4. You have 2 columns that can be equipped with weapons. Each weapon is also represented by the 4 symbols and the Exp points. A character can make use of any weapon that is on a par or worse than their own Exp points. So, for example, if your character has a level 2 top symbol you can only make use of weapons with a level 2 or under top symbol. Fairly straight forward as you can see. The magic mixing system is great in that it allows you to have more than 1 style of magic. If you prefer the wind throw magic but the lightning bombing magic you can create a balance of the 2. You might want to use some strategy in using a particular kind of magic on certain stages, depending on the scenario.

    To gain the experience points you must make use of that particular attack. So to try and increase the level of your targeting magic you should use this as often as possible. There are other attributes too, HP, Attack POW and DEF to name but a few. These are all easily noticeable in your character profile screen and on selected weapons The layout of all of this is very straightforward and you can preview the attacks using the Y button, so even without an understanding of Japanese, importers will not have any trouble tinkering with the magic and weapons system.

    Battle Houshin boasts clean and crisp visuals but nothing out of the ordinary. The character models are detailed and well animated, with some nice variation. The animals have quite an unrealistic movement but the humans are very nicely done. The real graphical power has been placed into the exquisite magical effects. The lightning and fire attacks stand out. Another impressive factor is the fact that despite all of the numerous characters battling and using magic on screen at once, little or no slowdown occurs.

    Sadly, due to what can only be assumed to be rushed development, the story mode has a very poor draw distance on most stages, yet the battle mode doesn't suffer from this problem.

    The soundtrack in Battle Houshin can be impressive at times. The voice acting seems to very good, all in Japanese of course. During a level your allies will shout instructions and call for help. The phrases they come out with are pretty generic and reused over and over but they do give a sense of cooperation.

    The game has excellent presentation. From the beautiful story building cut scenes to the epic soundtrack and voice acting. Thankfully the cut scenes are informative and yet not overly long, getting straight to the point. The menus are clear and easy to read if you understand Japanese. There are loads of options and statistics to be toyed with.

    The game boasts a link up feature with the GBA RPG, Magical Houshin. Early indications are that this is used to swap stats and experience points and that it could possibly unlock hidden characters to play. There are also some weapon slots marked as M, possibly to be gained from the link.

    Battle Houshin proves to be an enjoyable romp with some nice features. With a slightly longer story mode and a multiplayer feature this could be made into a classic franchise, but as it stands it is still a good game in its own right.

    A review by Bob Compton