All it took was a series of ever increasingly ridiculous trailers to me turn onto Deception IV: Blood Ties. Like in the old days, it wasn’t the impressive graphics or CG cutscenes that sold the game, it was simply the gameplay.
Would you believe that beneath all the over-the-top comical violence lies a real thinking man’s game based on careful timing and planning? I didn’t think a major studio would take the chance on a game like this these days, but Tecmo seems firm and ready to carry on with the title.
Even more curious than the gameplay was the presence of a roman numeral “IV” in the title. Apparently, the Deception, or Kagero series as it is known in Japan, has a long history of creating torture devices to dispatch unpleasant guests, and unlike what I had previously assumed, several have made it to the States.
One of these, Trapt, was not-so-coincidentally released on PSN several weeks ago at about the same time this hype train got rolling. My patience to play Deception IV: Blood Ties couldn’t last, so I decided to get a short history lesson before jumping into the upcoming game.
It’s a pretty decent game, too. Heavy on the ideas, bat-crazy ridiculous in the presentation, but sadly lacking in the controls.
Are You Trying to Be Funny?
Trapt was released in Japan in early 2005 with an American release later in the year, a time in which we already saw the Xbox 360 on the horizon, making this one of those quirky late-generation titles full of experimental ideas that wouldn’t cut it during a console’s heyday.
Problems arise in the presentation, which is about as middle of the road as a PlayStation 2 game gets. Not especially horrible, but certainly not up to snuff with the console’s better titles either. Tecmo’s graphic designers were obviously working with a budget and limited time, rushing to get the game out before focusing on the new consoles.
Rooms are blocky, although the grid based gameplay wouldn’t allow it to be anything else, and the uninspired tight cutscenes play out routinely with little excitement, cramped in the game’s tiny setting.
At least Trapt performs well where it is supposed to: animating the traps. When physical pain is caused unto those who stumble into one, you can feel it through the controller into your very bones. Violent, brutal, and sometime hilarious traps will rock enemies to the core in both crazy and imaginative ways.
However, such a weird concept for a video game is backed up by a serious storyline. Japan has always been known for juxtaposing extreme violence alongside humor, but I’m not sure what to make of Trapt’s tale.
Is it funny that a medieval fantasy with enough political backstabbing to make George R. R. Martin proud runs along side a game where knights get hit in the nuts by wooden horses or soldiers are mauled by alligators?
Tecmo plays these cutscenes so straight, and it plays the danger of the missions straight too. Heavily orchestrated music plays in the background as creepy soldiers never relent in cutting the protagonist down.
Then comes the moment when a soldier walks into the light, slips on a banana peel, is hit with a comically large swinging hammer and finds himself impaled on spiked wall or tossed into a full blown Iron Maiden. His blood leaks from the bottom not five seconds after falling for two Looney Tunes gags.
Is that funny? Is that gruesome? I just can’t tell. The glorification of violence is all over the place in this game, and I’m not sure if I really like it or not because I honestly feel both ways.
Who Lives, Who Dies?
For all of its awkward presentation, Trapt does have a solid narrative when playing it straight. A princess is on the run after being accused of murdering her father, the king. Her evil-stepmother witnesses the murder and claims the princesses’ evil “fiend’s arm” as the murder weapon.
The princess, of course, has no such evil arm, but still has to flee when the guards side with the evil queen. She retreats into a haunted mansion that no soldier will enter, and after doing so becomes possessed with the “fiend’s arm” the queen accuses her of.
The mansion’s bodiless voice tells her that she is now his slave and must use magical traps to kill her pursuers and collect souls. One by one, the soldiers overcome their fear and enter the mansion for many personal reasons. The bounty on the princess is high, and they want to use the money to get married. They hate the royal family, and would love to see her dead. They are slaves to the queen and do her bidding.
Some love the sweet princess and are taken aback when they realize she has apparently done exactly what she is accused of. When they attempt to arrest her, she must defend herself and kill them, feeding the evil fiend in the process.
Or, she can let them go. A solid trap and near death will cause some units to flee back to their normal lives, but then the princess won’t gain enough points to buy new traps. Tecmo provides a short biography of every person chasing the princess at the beginning of each mission, so you can choose to spare or slaughter them based on that.
It’s nothing deep and doesn’t affect the outcome of the game in any way, but Tecmo subtly put one of the best uses of video game morality into this late-gen stinker nobody played.
Aside from that, characters are shallow and there is no real reason to care about anybody besides the princess and maybe her handmaiden. That’s ok, because they all end up dead, so it doesn’t matter.
Localization… or Lack there Of
So surprise surprise. Trapt actually has a nice little story to tell, making it all the more shameful that Tecmo used the absolute laziest localization in the history of video gaming to tell it.
How is it lazy? Well, Tecmo didn’t bother to dub it into English, leaving only the Japanese voice track intact, no doubt realizing that only fans of the Japanese series were going to pick up and enjoy this.
Some might appreciate the fact, but the voices of the princess and the rest of the cast sound like they were pulled from the most generic anime on Earth, the kind of stuff I thought was good back in college during the 2005 release date. My shameful adolescence would have loved it, but at least I know better now.
It’s a shame too there is no English because Trapt is the kind of game which could have really benefited from a turn-of-the-millenium Shenmue or Dynasty Warriors style dubbing from SEGA, adding to the shlock with horrible English voice acting destroying a plot which takes itself too seriously.
Either that or a quality dub with an English cast to help me care more about the schmucks I am killing, feeling sorry for them like I am supposed to.
I would have gotten way more out of either, but the lame Japanese voices and error ridden text translation just makes me not care one bit.
I mean, the Japanese dub and the translation can’t even agree on the princess’ name. Everyone distinctly calls the princess Alicia when talking in Japanese, but the dub has her written as Allura. If the translators can’t even bother to care, why should I?
Even more outlandish are some cutscenes that don’t even feature voices! I don’t disrespect any game not featuring voice acting, but if you want to add it, you need to be consistent with its usage. Not a single side mission in the game features a character talking or even mouthing the text that appears along the bottom.
Not even a “bleep” or “bloop” used since the days of the NES, creating an odd silence in the characters’ interaction.
Lazy, lazy, lazy!
I Heard You Like Traps
If I can give Trapt credit for anything, it’s that it certainly doesn’t want or try to play by anyone’s rules. The series has a fanbase who knows what they want, sadistic ways to kill people, and Tecmo delivered the best with what they had available.
At it’s heart, Trapt’s main motivation is collecting new traps to use in battle, and impressive traps lead to bigger rewards leading to bigger more impressive traps. Quite a cycle. Completing missions grants money, and the amount of money is based on how well traps are chained together and how much pain is inflicted on the poor soul who falls into them.
No more than two characters will chase Allura (or is it Alicia?) at a time, giving plenty of time to set up a trap. Only three traps can be laid at once though, meaning the long and elaborate chains found in Deception IV’s trailer aren’t available in this earlier game.
Each room of the mansion does feature some environmental hazards that can be used to boost the combo count to a margin of four or five. Technically speaking, a simple three trap combination will do enough damage to dispose of many enemies, but those who play by the bare essential rules are sadly missing this point.
Experiment! Have fun! Find what works, find what doesn’t. Trapt is only four hours long if played straight, so get some usage for your $9.99, and just be thankful you didn’t drop $49.99 on it when it launched physically.
By the endgame, enemies do grow a brain. They become wise to trap placement and won’t simply walk in their line of fire like brainless penguins anymore, meaning more thought must be put into each wave of enemy units.
Thieves can flip over ground traps, knights aren’t affected by blades thanks to their armor. Each new trap adds more than just an aesthetic. It adds a new strategic element to overcome your foe, who, by the way, you know what kind of unit he will be before going into battle thanks to the biography that also tells you how much he loves his wife.
This means there is an actual learning curve to Trapt as well, Video Game Design 101. Just when Alicia’s (or is it Allura’s) movepool feels dried up and boring, new traps make themselves available.
Just don’t expect a huge variety of tools. Trapt comes up a little short in the content department, and a few more options might have been nice.
Control, Control, You Must Learn Control
So this Trapt sounds like a pretty nice little game. Where can it go wrong? Why did critics tear it up back in the day?
Well sadly, it is fatally crippled by technical limitations which ultimately destroy it from being an easy recommendation for a cheap weekend. The slogging camera has trouble keeping up with Allura (or Alicia), which causes an obvious and almost game breaking problem considering that knowledge of where enemies are at all times is essential to the game.
You need to be able to see a trap and time it just perfectly in some situations, but the camera doesn’t allow for such precision. Some traps, like the extremely effective bladed pendulum, have a very small margin of error, and doing it blind boils down to dumb luck.
I mean, this is Tecmo, a company famous for tight action games like Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive. Couldn’t they yank someone from Team Ninja for an afternoon and have them give a brief seminar about the importance of camera in a game?
Slowdown also rears its nasty head a few times with the bigger trap animations clogging up the PlayStation 2’s limited power. Needless to say, Deception IV is bound to fix these two major problems with the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita’s superior firepower.
Play Deception IV Instead!!
In fact, Deception IV will most likely fix a lot of the problems which ultimately killed Trapt. Localization has come a long way since then, meaning it might be able to actually make this awkward juxtaposition of horrible violence, serious melodrama, and slapstick humor work.
Superior technology and graphics, more content, and the modern wonders of camera control technology could also give it the boost it needs to make the formula finally grand.
Is Trapt a successful game? Ehhh… so-so. I would have said no in 2005, but I’m looking at this as a PSN title in 2014, and that makes me say yes because of Tecmo’s motivations for the release.
Because I enjoyed Trapt, copious flaws and all, Tecmo now has me marking down March 25 as the day I pick up Deception IV: Blood Ties for my PlayStation 3. Well played, Tecmo. Well played.
As for a standalone game, Trapt still holds value as a nice little history lesson if you become a fan and want a bit more context after the fact.