Castle Shikigami 2

-XS Games (2004 - PS2 version)

 

 

The Story

Ko: “That’s it villain.”

Dandeon: “What a cool line. Quite the hero. I am Dandeon. Keeping it a fool-free zone.”

Ko: “My name is Ko. Beating down evil! Taking no excuses. Beating you down!”

Dandeon: “You’re very angry. A real hothead. I like that. An honor to beat you.”

(They battle and Ko wins.)

Dandeon: “That’s why we were chosen by the castle.”

Ko: “What?”

Dandeon: “Don’t recognize it.”

My Thoughts

Castle Shikigami 2 is a sequel to a made up sequel that has nothing to do with its preceding made up game. Allow me to explain this. The first Castle Shikigami, or Shikigami no Shiro as it is originally know in Japan, was brought over to the US as Mobile Light Force 2, the sequel to the PS One game Mobile Light Force. However, Mobile Light Force was actually the shooter Gunbird. So if you want to play the Shikigami no Shiro games in order and all you have access to are the US releases of the games, you would start with Mobile Light Force 2 (that’s Shikigami no Shiro 1) and then play Castle Shikigami 2 (that would be Shikigami no Shiro 2). If you play Mobile Light Force 1 and attempt to connect anything between the games you would be even more confused than you possibly were at the beginning of this paragraph. Got it? Good. Consequently, a special attack in the Castle Shikigami 2 instruction manual is called a Mobile Light Force 3 attack. This is incorrect as the attack is actually called a Shikigami attack. Perhaps XS Games was ready to bring this to the US under the name Mobile Light Force 3, but changed their minds at the last second. Thank the shooter gods for that.

Castle Shikigami 2 is a top-down shooter where you control one of seven characters that all posses the ability to fly (with a secret eighth character to unlock). Without having played the first game, the closest thing I can compare this to is the excellent ESP Ra. De. From what I am able to understand from the horribly translated dialogue, they are some sort of super-humans that are on a mission to foil the plans of other super-humans that are working for a castle called World Order. That is the simplistic version, at least, because really attempting to understand what is going on between the characters can get rough. The fragmented dialogue at the top is a complete conversation between player character Ko and the boss of stage 2, so you can understand why the story is hard to figure out.  

The Engrish dialogue in this game is phenomenally bad/good. In a two player game, before each stage begins, the characters converse with each other. Each combination of characters has different dialogue, so if you really have an aching to try to understand the story, you’ll have to play through with every possible combination and piece together their unintelligible sentence fragments to make any sense of things. If you are playing a one player game then your chosen character has a conversation with themselves, much like a crazy person. Admittedly, if are able to play through enough of the game with a friend and use every character combination, you can understand a little bit of what is happening. Or maybe you’re just going insane.

If you need a refresher on what's happening, there is a Story Recollect mode, where you can play back any of the conversations that you have encountered in the game. Or you can play it all for the amusement of your friends. Hilarity will ensue, guaranteed. It seems like the voice actors weren’t even trying when the lines were recorded, like XS Games just pulled some people off the street and said, “Well give you $50 if you say these lines for us.” During gameplay the characters will shout out their special attacks, but the original Japanese voices are heard when they do. XS should have kept the Japanese voices for all the dialogue, which would have made things better for everyone.

There are five stages, which may not seem like a lot, but you're lucky that there are only five. Each stage is divided into two parts. At the end of part one you face the mid-level boss. These are usually large robotic creatures and are more impressive looking than the stage bosses. The stage bosses are super-powered humans like the selectable characters, yet they are substantially more powerful since they are bosses. Upon encountering one of these bosses, another confusing and questionable conversation beings. As is the case with the main characters, the bosses say different things to whatever character, or combination of characters, meets them on the field of battle.

Each character has an individual style and look of normal fire. Some are straight-on shots while others have a wider spread or curvature. Each also has a Shikigami attack in two varied types. Some attacks hit enemies across the screen while others have a limited range of just in front of your character. You’ll have to experiment to discover what type works best for you, as they all have advantages and disadvantages.

Many shooter games are difficult, but Castle Shikigami 2 is very hard, even on the “easy” settings. Stages one and two aren’t too difficult, but stage three is where you’ll be forced to get better at the game. Stage three is where you’ll master the characters’ maneuverability or die. Also, you absolutely must know how to effectively use your Shikigami attack to defeat the mid-boss of stage three. If you don’t then you will not advance any further in the game.  

Overall, the visuals are pretty good. Enemies are defined and explode with nice explosion-ry. Sometimes the bullets get to be just too much though, and you won't know how you got killed because bullets will seem to blend in. There are two music choices when starting a game. Original is more of an orchestrated soundtrack, while Arranged contains remixed versions with more techno and heavier bass. Either will do and fit the game nicely.

The enemy bullet sprays are immense, especially when dealing with bosses. Bullets fill the screen with barely any kind breaks to survive them. However, the point of impact of the characters is fairly small, so maneuvering through the shots without getting hit can be a reality. Although, until you learn where the impact point is, you will die… a lot. Even when you do learn how to successfully navigate through the onslaught of bullets, you will still die a lot.

Aside from the ramped up difficulty from stage two to three, the game also forces you to get better by only supplying a very limited number of lives and continues. The continues are also shared when two players play simultaneously. So if you’re playing with a friend that sucks at the game, you better be damn good to pick up the slack.   

If you are able to beat the game you are treated to an ending that is equally as confusing as the conversations. There are also unlockable pictures of all the characters, a boss battle mode where you fight only the bosses, and a practice mode.

Castle Shikigami 2 has an interesting feature called the tension bonus system. Basically, the closer you fly past incoming bullets the more coins you may be able to collect and the more powerful your attack can become. There are so many bullets on screen at any given time, however, that the system works by itself without you having to trying to do it on purpose.

For those that like this series there is a Shikigami no Shiro 3 in Japan. Hopefully it will come to the US at some point to confuse us more than ever.   

Score: 8.0 

-Shawn       

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