Genre: Action Developer: IGS Publisher: IGS Players: 1 Released: 1991
Dahna Megami Tanjou is a game I find myself coming back to often, struggling with its controls, unrelenting difficulty, and unappealing visuals. Why? Seriously, I don’t know. There’s just something that keeps me stumbling back for more, like a masochist in withdrawal for some cruel yet delicious form of torture. It must be that I simply want to complete it so as to never have to touch it again, or it may have something to do with the untapped potential you can so easily see, potential that all but gives up so close to its goal.
We have a saying in Spanish: tanto nadar para ahogarse en la orilla. It more or less translates to “all that effort swimming, just to drown at the shoreline.” That, to me at least, is as good a comparison to Dahna as there is. Here we have an action title that seemingly has all the ingredients for a romping good time: A strong yet beautiful heroine, tons of nasty foes, sword-swinging gameplay, and blood… copious amounts of blood for an early Genesis title. Yes, on the surface this sounds like Golden Axe on crack, and its import status gave it an allure back in the day that made it that much more attractive. Surely this game was much too dark and violent for an American audience, and Sega apparently wanted to protect our fragile little psyches by keeping it safely bottled up in Japan.
Er, no. All it takes is a quick boot up to see that the only victims of Dahna’s bladed assault are the visions of hack-and-slash greatness that once sat at the forefront of a hopeful gamer’s mind. Can you tell I’m disappointed? There’s no hiding it, I guess. After wanting this title for so long, the result was more than anti-climactic; it was downright insulting. In all fairness, the laundry list of problems inherent in Dahna is something that plagued many such titles of the era, but this one endeavors to take things one step further.
First up is the stiff gameplay. As a swords…person (um, is that P.C. enough?), Dahna shouldn’t be able to defend herself from a litter of puppies, let alone an army of hateful soldiers. She’s slow and plodding and getting her to reach airborne foes is entirely too frustrating for an action title. Take the second boss, for example. It would seem that he’d be easy enough to beat, what with his predictable rush-and-swing attack. All one need do is high jump and come down on him with a spear attack. Sounds simple, right? It would be if Dahna would actually high jump when you want her to and evading the boss’s spear would be much easier if you didn’t have to press up just to make her stand when she’s ducking.
Adding to the control woes is Dahna’s weak forward jump. Whether it be dodging horses coming from behind or simply moving from platform to platform, she’s incapable of any sort of consistency. Furthermore, a fall equals the instant death of your single, paltry life, and you’ll find yourself zipping through the five meager continues quickly in the early going. Only those who stick things out and learn to come to grips with Dahna’s movements will be “rewarded” with moving on with any sort of a life bar left. Falling platforms offer no second chance, and any slight slip up means you’re looking at a decidedly charmless “game over” screen. Practice makes perfect? Patience is a virtue they say? I think not.
At least many of Dahna’s contemporaries used eye candy to cover up their shortcomings. No such luck here. The visuals and audio included are as equally bland as the gameplay, though there is a large quantity of blood splattered every time you so much as touch any living creature. Sadly, they make little effort to entice you into striving on. There’s a nice attempt at the use of parallax scrolling (something quite common at the time), but that doesn’t impress me. Heck, even Jewel Master had cool scrolling. Maybe what makes Dahna’s graphics so hard to stomach is that the sprites are so darn small. Am I not supposed to consider her a powerful warrior? It’s hard to do when she’s the smallest character on my screen. Maybe she missed Gilius Thunderhead’s “be small and carry a massive weapon” memo, or maybe she just forgot her lifts.
And what’s a warrior without magic? Dahna has three different spells at her disposal, though only one (the defensive fog) is really of any worth. The amount of time it takes to actually amass any decent amount of magic power renders it virtually useless, and you’re left relying on Dahna’s painfully slow swing to provide the bulk of your offense. Normally, I’d be tempted to just outrun my enemies, especially on horseback, but killing them provides you with valuable experience points that are needed to increase your pathetic life bar. The sad part is that you’ll be almost three stages in before you achieve the first upgrade, and it would’ve been nice if it weren’t so hard to actually get the drop on enemies before they strike at you.
Maybe the one bright spot is that while difficult, Dahna isn’t impossible, and its cheap price point means that you won’t lose much to your curiosity, save for a few hours of time. I repeatedly try to like Dahna, revisiting it in futile attempts to find something… anything to make me say “so that’s why I bought this,” yet all my attempts prove futile. Do yourself a favor and spare yourself from my mistake. Try before you buy if you can, but don’t dive in unless you’re ready to land on your sword. Luckily, it’s not a big enough weapon to cause you any lasting damage.
SCORE: 4 out of 10