Too Long; Didn't Play: Daikatana
Sponsored by: Danopian
Play Time (official Steam log): 98 minutes
Superfly Johnson appears to have crushed his skull in a door. You fail at life.
Author's note: I'm writing this under the influence of cold medicine, which some might argue is the best possible way to review Daikatana. Please bear with me.
I was this close to writing a positive review of Daikatana. I had logged a full hour, according to Steam, but I didn't feel like it counted, because the game opens with twenty-minute-long cutscene that attempts to explain the premise of the game. I decided to put 90 minutes in at least, just so I could honestly say I'd played the game for an hour, rather than just having the application open for an hour.
The game takes a decided downturn around the 80-minute mark. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The game opens, as I mentioned, with an unskippable twenty-minute cutscene, in which you see our protagonist, a fencing instructor with a face made of knuckles and hands like giant triangles, showing off his mad sword-fighting skills in an empty dojo. A knock on the door brings an old man — also with a face made of knuckles and arms like used matchsticks. He says he needs help and that it's too dangerous to talk in the dojo, so instead he brings our protagonist to a dark alley.
I forget the old man's name, so henceforth I will call him Sticklimb Crinklepus.
Once safely in the dark alley, Mr. Crinklepus explains a flashback about a mystical sword that can warp space and time, called the Daikatana. The sword was stolen by some bad dudes who went back in time and changed the course of history to make the world look like Blade Runner with robot frogs instead of robot Daryl Hannah.
Just as the flashback finishes (and I'm sure none of you saw this coming), the pair of you are attacked by some kind of giant robot demon thing. But not very thoroughly, because Mr. Crinklepus is able to give our protagonist a final exhortation to save the world, and our protagonist immediately dons some kind of power armor and heads out to reap revenge on the evil villain who killed dear old Mr. Crinklepus.
And because he's such an awesome protagonist, he heads immediately to the bad guy's headquarters armed with nothing but his fists. Now, I know what you're thinking. If you were a Japanese fencing instructor and you were called into service to save the world as a final wish of a dying man, you'd probably bring your katana with you. That's only because you are not as awesome as our protagonist, who intends to save the world bare handed.
Well, at least until he finds an ion blaster. He's bad-ass, not stupid.
The ion blaster is cool for two reasons. First, ammo for it is everywhere. It's as common as Lego bricks on the floor of a house with children. You have to work hard to not walk on it. Second, the shots can be ricocheted off of flat surfaces to allow you to shoot enemies behind cover. Or yourself, if you're shooting too close to a wall.
You find yourself fighting vicious robotic dragonflies and bloodthirsty robot frogs — don't scoff; even on the easiest difficulty setting, these critters are nasty. The dragonflies alone take two shots with the ion blaster — not to mention the automatic turrets and giant robot crocodiles.
Once I got the hang of it, though, I was enjoying myself. Even the first boss, a giant bug that spawns hundreds of the robot dragonflies to distract you from the business of repeatedly hitting it with your ion blaster (Didn't work! Nyah nyah!) was sort of enjoyable, once I realized you could actually shoot the thing at that distance.
Once you beat the first boss, you infiltrate the enemy base. This is where you start seeing people. They all flee in terror from you at first, which makes it come as quite a shock when you first encounter an armed security guard who shoots back. They explode ridiculously when shot with the ion blaster, because that was the style back then.
Around this point you find the C4 launcher, which is not a missile launcher, but a mine layer. This would have been nice to know from the start, but after blowing myself up trying to use it three or four times, I figured it out on my own. I also figured out that it's useless as a weapon, but can be helpful for destroying parts of the environment to open pathways through the level.
The next weapon you get is the game's equivalent of a shotgun. This one has a twist: it's burst fire. That's right. Every click of the mouse pounds out six shotgun blasts in the span of about two seconds. It is very helpful against the giant robot sentries, if you think standing toe-to-toe with a giant robot shooting a missile launcher at you is good tactics. For my part, I stuck with the ion blaster.
Let me pause a moment to point out that none of this was unusual for FPS's in the late 1990s. Almost all of them had one utility weapon that worked against everything and a bunch of useless chaff weapons that were good only for certain enemies or in very specific circumstances. At least that was my experience with them. The easiest clue for what weapon you were supposed to use was to see what ammo packets were most prolifically scattered throughout the levels.
Anyway, everything was going fine, and I was actually enjoying my time with Daikatana. Oh, I'd played better shooters, but this one was serviceable.
Then I met Superfly Johnson.
Superfly Johnson is a collection of blaxploitation cliches who has a backstory that you shouldn't care about. Why shouldn't you care about it?
Because he's a freaking moron! That's why you shouldn't care about it!
Once you free him from the torture device he's strapped into, he decides to tag along on your quest to avenge Sticklimb Crinklepus — because he wants to free his brother Nathaniel from the same prison.
No, not really. Instead, he follows you around while trying to run up and punch giant mechs in the I/O port.
Oh, and if he dies while running blindly in front of your weapon, shouting things like “Now THAT'S what I'm TALKIN' 'bout!” you fail the mission as if you died.
He also dies if he gets stuck in, say, a door as it goes through its closing animation. When that happens, you get a screen message saying that Superfly Johnson has crushed his skull, and you reload from the last save point.
Around the fifth time he got stuck in the same door (which you have to go through, by the way) and died in the same way, I looked at my Steam timer and saw that I had put 98 minutes in. Which meant I was officially allowed to be done.
Sorry, Mr. Crinklepus. If you want someone to avenge your pointless death, you should die in a better game.
Will I Keep Playing?
As Superfly Johnson would say: “AW, HELL NO!”
Is it the Dark Souls of its Genre?
This is always a tough decision, especially without having, you know, played Dark Souls. Should I just look at raw difficulty and leave it at that? Or should I go with developer intent and discount the parts of the game that are hard because the developer didn't execute well enough?
The game billed itself as being very, very, very hard. It succeeded on that front, I think, but only accidentally. My inability to progress past the 98 minute mark was not a function of my inadequacy as a gamer, but of the game's inability to deal with NPCs going through doors.
Daikatana is hard, but it's also unfair. It is my understanding, as someone who has never played Dark Souls, that Dark Souls is scrupulously fair, just very intolerant of player error.
So, taking that into consideration, I'll give this one a five on the zero-to-Dark Souls scale.