Reviewed: October 24, 2004
Released: September 20, 2004
In case it isn't obvious enough from the fact that I write game reviews, I love video games. Something that I love just as much as video games, however, is anime. If that wasn't stereotypically dorky enough, I love playing video games based on anime. And I am not alone. Ask any otaku out there: the idea of playing as their favorite anime character in a video game makes them jump up and down with excitement like a little kid at Christmas (Or maybe that's just me. Whatever.)
It makes sense that the two would go together. Anime video games go back to the days of the NES, back when some genius decided that it would be a clever marketing ploy. And boy, does it work. For example, Atari put out The Legend of Goku for the Gameboy Advance, a game based on the insanely popular anime Dragonball Z, and it sucked horribly. Did that stop me from buying The Legend of Goku 2? Hell no! Lack of money did that! But if I had just a little more cash to spend on crappy fan-targeted games....
So, how does Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament measure up? Well, I was pleasantly surprised, but also disappointed.
For those of you not acquainted with the anime Yu Yu Hakusho, the story goes something like this: Yusuke Urameshi is a punk kid living in Tokyo that always gets into trouble. He gets into fights, skips school, the whole bad kid thing. He surprises everyone when he impulsively sacrifices his own life to save the life of a kid about to get hit by a car. This even suprises everyone in the afterlife - they hadn't prepared a place for him yet! So what happens? Why, Yusuke is offered a job as Spirit Detective in exchange for getting his life back, of course!
As Spirit Detective, he protects the Human world from the Demon world; along with his allies Kuwabara (a long-time nemesis turned friend), Kurama (A demon reincarnated into a human), Hiei (a criminal demon that works with the others as a part his sentencing) and martial arts master Genkai. They are all forced into a tournament, by some longtime enemies, in which the odds are stacked against them. Suffice to say, Dark Tournament is a fighting game based on this part of the show. And boy, are the odds ever stacked against you in it.
Obviously, the main point of the game is playing through the dark tournament from the show. Dark Tournament Mode starts out giving you a little backstory through choppy cut scenes from the anime that would only vaguely make sense to those that haven't seen the show. The fights here start out as child's play, and then become increasingly (read: impossibly) difficult. Gamers have absolutely no control over the difficulty level in Dark Tournament mode. I got to a certain point where I had to look up cheats on the internet just so I could get through it.
Other modes of gameplay are of course Arcade, where you play through a string of fighters in several rounds, Skirmish, where you can fight one on one with the computer, (A little redundant with Arcade mode, but whatever.) Tag Team mode, in which you choose several fighters to tag in and out of battle, and training mode.
In Training mode, you choose a character and the game walks you through that character's combos and techniques. The cool thing about training mode is that the martial arts master from the show, Genkai, walks you through each routine with vocal accompaniment. This is a nice touch, but it can get rather annoying to have an old lady (Genkai, that is) scream, "Focus!" at you when you mess up. What was not cool about training mode were the glaringly obvious mistakes that show further lack of detail that just shouldn't happen with a game with such seemingly high production values.
There was one point where the buttons on the screen were incorrect, and the game would not move me forward when I did the move according to it. There was another point at which I was playing as a character who can transform several times and has techniques unique to each transformation. Because the training mode does not put these transformations and techniques in order, I had to guess at which transformation I had to use in order to execute the moves the game was telling me to. I can understand one small mistake, but so many blatantly obvious mistakes are uncalled for, and should have been caught back in earlier stages of production.
By far the most fun mode is Tag Team. You can create a team of up to five characters and play against the computer, tagging in and out instantly as you see fit. It really is a lot of fun, and I could see a group of friends getting together and having a blast at this. You can recreate teams from the show, or create your own, which fans will really enjoy. I know I did.
Lastly, there is the Token Game. Don't even ask me to explain this part of the game to you, because I'm still figuring it out. You see, as you do different stuff in the game, you will unlock tokens to be played in a game against the computer. Think of the card game from Final Fantasy VIII. Personally, I hate side games like this, and really dislike them even more when the tutorials, such as they are in Dark Tournament, are really vague. From what I've been able to gather, there is one character that can be unlocked under special circumstances from playing the Token game. It really doesn't justify an entire side game, especially one as lame as it is here.
On the good side, Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament has a lot to offer, with a plethora of fighters, all with unique moves and techniques, and arenas from many scenes in the show. You will be able to fight as even the most obscure of fighters from the Dark Tournament. Remember Makintaro? Me neither. You can play as him though.
It's a matter of getting to all of this that is the main issue here. I enjoy a good challenge as much as the next gamer, but Dark Tournament can get rather ridiculous. Does the computer really have to block constantly and counter with 13 hit combos that take away an entire life bar every freakin' time you attempt to hit back? And some of the handicaps, while true to the show, don't help. If I have to fight at a fraction of my health against a ridiculously fast and strong fighter, couldn't the difficulty level been curbed just a bit in my favor? What's that you say? Maybe I should have customized the control pad to my liking to help me in such an endeavor? Well, I certainly would have liked to, but there are two control schemes to choose from, and that's it. Would it be so much to ask to at least have the option to program the controls, or have I been too spoiled by the many other fighting games that allow such a luxury?
Still, the controls, I'm happy to report, are smooth and fun. This isn't a button mashing game, which I personally appreciate. The controls are technical and precise, so it will take some practice to get good at, but it is fun to learn. Some of the combos are difficult to execute, but not ridiculously so as they were in say, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. All moves are not only possible, but probable.
As a fan of the show, I was a bit disappointed in the rushed story and lack of detail in Dark Tournament's story mode. At some points, there are sequences that explain what's going on, but fall short of offering any sort of resolution. Sure, fans of the show are going to be the ones playing this game so they already know the story, but the whole thing feels rushed and ultimately unsatisfying at some points. A better sense of pacing could have helped this game out a lot. I also would have like the characters to say something before and after battle, as the characters of Dragonball Z Budokai did. It only makes sense that such would be the Case for Yu Yu Hakusho. I love the anime, and I'm sure I'm not alone when I want to see a little more personality from my favorite characters. The lack of fan service is rather disappointing.
This is an area in which Dark Tournament really shines. The graphics are smooth, and very fun to watch. Cel shading is used, which gives the overall game a crisp, smooth look. I was also quite pleased to see that it looks very much like the show: the movement and posturing of each character, the backgrounds, and the facial expressions. It stays very true to the atmosphere of the anime.
There are plenty of moves that are just fun to watch, and take the sting off of getting the crap kicked out of your character against the ridiculously strong computer. Some of the special moves that are executed by drawing from your ki gauge (that's spirit energy, for those of you that don't know.) are just downright pretty.
One complaint I do have, however, is the lack of alternate costumes. Very few characters get an alternate, which is also staying true to the show, in that many characters in the Dark Tournament saga are minor, and don't show up much later, and in true cartoon fashion, seem to have but one outfit. Still, come on! At the very least there could have been an option to switch color palettes for characters that don't have alternates! It's a minor complaint, but still, a little variety never hurt any game.
The sound in Dark Tournament is nothing to really write home about, but it does fit the entire feel of the game nicely. The voice actors from the American anime Atari really had unless they wanted to face the consequences of angry mobs of fans. Naturally, voice acting is well done, as it is in the show. I just wish there was more of it, especially before and after battles. Where's the trash talking? The boasting? The one-liners?
The music, well, it's there. I'm not exactly sure why, but J-Pop usually always sounds about 10 years behind the times, and Dark Tournament's music is no exception. There are some very early nineties songs going on in this game - the same ones from the show, for all you fans. In all fairness though, Yu Yu Hakusho did come out in Japan in the early nineties, so maybe for its time the music wasn't laughably dated. Music written specifically for this game is just forgettable, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It serves its purpose, and I don't think we're really playing a fighting game for mind-blowing music anyway. One song that did stand out, however, was a nicely atmospheric number in the cave arena. This one really fit the setting: dark and moody. Very nice selection, guys.
As far as sound effects go, they were subtle, but pretty cool. For example, take the ice demon, Touya. When he materializes an ice sword out of thin air, you can hear the ice crackling and forming around his hand. When he is knocked back, you can hear the ice shatter like glass. Another character's banshee blade sounds like, well, a banshee. All in all the sound effects do what they are supposed to do, which is enhance how fun the gameplay is, and they do so nicely - but not incredibly so.
Like most fighting games that don't all-out suck, there is a lot of replay value in Dark Tournament. With a story mode, arcade mode, tag team, training, a side token game (yeah, I said it sucks. Maybe you'll like it. Who knows?) and a plethora of unlockables, there is plenty to do. If you are a pain junkie, you may attempt to explore this game without cheats. I know I will now that I'm done reviewing, but I'm stubborn that way. No game is going to get the best of me!
That said you won't run out of things to do for quite a while either way. And as with all fighting games, picking up the controller once in a while for a few rounds is always fun. Dark Tournament is not exactly worth its weight in gold, but overall, it's a pretty solid experience and a must for any hardcore fan.
All in all, Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament is a pretty fun game. Granted, it could have used a little polish here and there. However, it has a lot of strong points that redeem the game as a whole. Fans will want to pick this one up, and will be pleased to see that there was an actual effort to make a good game for fans to buy, not just a mess that was published for the sole purpose of profit. Thank you Atari. We appreciate this.
Non-fans will of course not care for this game, as it is admittedly a rushed job, and hard to understand for people unacquainted with the show. Then again, that goes without saying. This is strictly a fan game, and in that vein, it is a success.