Genre: Strategy Developer: NCS Publisher: Masaya Players: 1 Released: 1992
After playing Warsong and its Japan-only sequel Langrisser II, I decided to see if there were any other strategy/RPGs in the same vein that I didn’t know of. And there was! Vixen 357 is actually developed by the same folks who brought us the aforementioned games, as well as Gleylancer, Gynoug (Wings of Wor) on the same console and Cho Aniki on other systems. It seems like Vixen uses a modified engine from Langrisser, and overall it feels like a mix of that game series and Shining Force, but with mechs.
Since there is neither an official English translation nor a fan translation of Vixen 357, I had to play the game in Japanese. This didn’t cause much of a problem playing the game, as I could figure out most things by myself simply by experimenting, but of course I didn’t get anything of the story. So I looked it up on the Internet instead. It is the twenty-fourth century, and apparently, mankind was recently at war with aliens and defeated them using advanced mech technology. Following that, mankind developed even more advanced mechs, called “VECTOR,” in case aliens invade again or the UNSC nod off instead of work, like usual. One of the nations, called “Merizmahaap,” had a military force called “Slash,” which used these VECTORs and was away when one of their bases got invaded by an unknown enemy group. These guys also use VECTORs, and for some reason want to take over the world or something. It is up to Takuya and the rest of Slash to stop them, or else…
OK, this back story may seem a bit cryptic, but with the action going on later, things seem to get more exciting with life and death, betrayal on both sides and always something new happening.
The game is essentially turn-based battles on a grid-style battlefield, with no exploration on world maps or visits at towns, just some story text between the battles (like in Langrisser). What makes the game feel like Shining Force is that you only have your characters and their mechs, so you don’t buy any troops like in Langrisser. All characters come with their own mech, but you can put any character in any mech you like, the result will differ, however. The characters are simple, and their only stats are hitting and evasion skills at long and short range. The character known as Mack Ryan is good in long range battles, and should therefore stand back a bit, while Eddie Ray should be in front as he is good in melee battles. Takuya can be either, as he is good at both.
The mechs are a bit more advanced. They have hitting and evasion stats like the characters, but also attack and defense power, a certain movement number, ammunition and sometimes specials. The weapons are either guns, vulcans, etc. for long range attacks and axes, swords etc. for melee attacks. In general, the latter is more powerful, but then your enemy can strike back, so sometimes it’s even better to stay back and shoot if your enemy is very powerful. The specials can be either healing, a shield for yourself and your comrades or a powerful blast attack that attacks many enemies at the same time. However, this consumes MP, and not all mechs have specials. Whenever you need to heal, you go to “the mothership” (controlled by Ben Busk), but don’t hide all your characters there, because then the enemy will attack only that ship and if it is destroyed, it is game over! Some other characters, like Takuya, are essential and if the mech they are in is destroyed, it’s also game over. But I always press reset if any character dies, because if they do so they will never come back and the rest of the game will be even harder.
I have mixed feelings about the graphics. The characters are well designed, but their artwork looks a bit inconsistent to me. For example, Harry Gibson looks much older in the intro compared to in other places. The mechs look very nice – big and animated, and it’s really exciting to see your weak long ranger just barely destroy a big strong enemy. The backgrounds, on the other hand, are a bit boring. There is, for instance, only one or two overhead battlefield backgrounds. The side-view backgrounds are OK, have some animation but still lack detail and parallax scrolling. Overall, I’d say the graphics do their job, but not much more. I’d really want more stuff to see, but hey, maybe this is all they could cram into eight megs. Battle animations can be switched off.
The music has its ups and downs. The intro tune, as well as the other few longer tracks, are amazingly epic and atmospheric, sounding crystal clear and giving a perfect sci-fi feel to them. However, during the battles, the many tunes are very short, around half a minute long or even less. While they sometimes can have good composition and fit the feel of the battle, the many, many loops get repetitive very fast to say the least, and when you don’t like the music (a few tracks aren’t my cup of tea), it really gets annoying. I understand you can’t only have these long, epic tracks, but I would have preferred if they cut a handful of the shorter ones to make others longer. The sound effects are standard stuff which get the job done and nothing more, nothing less.
With one exception, which I’ll get to in a second, the difficulty of Vixen is perfect. It starts off easy and progressively gets harder in different ways, keeps introducing new challenges and rarely gets frustrating. Even though I played the game without reading the manual nor the in-game text, I managed to learn it by experimenting, which wasn’t really too hard at all. And now, on to the exception, which is known as scenario 14. This is without doubt the hardest scenario in the game and beating it on the first try is downright impossible. Well, at least with all your characters alive, which is how I wanted to play the game. I had to go back to scenario 12 and do a very tedious form of grinding (surrounding the last enemy and beating her with my worst weapons so they take no damage but give experience), then beat scenario 13 again (which I also tried grinding on) and then finally beat scenario 14 with the help of a guide on GameFAQs and lots of luck. I guess the developers wanted the players to beat the game with at least one of the characters dead and made the scenario this hard to make it happen. I didn’t like that and prefer more even difficulty curves. Thankfully, the last two scenarios aren’t as hard as number 14. You may ask yourself why I am wasting so much bandwidth on this, to which I reply that the perfectionist in me (who wishes to complete any game like this with all characters alive) felt this was the only big fly in the ointment worth yapping about.
Vixen 357 isn’t quite up there with the Shining Force games and Langrisser II, but it’s still a very good game. It gives that addiction these kind of titles give and has a unique sci-fi mech feel not many other games on the console can provide. If the game had more meat on the bones it could have been an all-time classic. But then again, not all companies have that kind of budget needed to make such games, and Vixen 357 is despite its few flaws and the language barrier very well worth playing for fans of the genre.
SCORE: 7 out of 10