Reviewed: May 9, 2005
Released: April 26, 2005
Rengoku: The Tower of Purgatory managed to slip its way into the PSP line-up with little to no fanfare a few weeks ago. This intense action-fighter is loaded with style, more story than it deserves, and even some RPG elements to mix things up a bit, but it stumbles, both under the weight of its own complexity and the clunky control system that just doesnít work as well as it should on the PSP. I canít help but wonder how this game would have done if it had been released on the PS2 instead.
You play as A.D.A.M., a battle android from a long line of battle androids that were created to end a seemingly eternal war. After they achieved this formidable goal the world was left in peace with an army of androids lying around, so the battle-starved survivors did the only logical thing; they constructed a tower, dumped the androids inside and allowed them to fight their way to the top. Naturally, this was all covered by the media and quickly became the ultimate ďrealityĒ TV show.
Of course the twist is that youíre A.D.A.M. has developed an ego, or otherwise become sentient. So while you get to manage countless combinations of weapons and elaborate combat moves as you fight your way to the top of the tower, you also get to question the meaning of life.
Itís an impressive attempt at storytelling using Danteís Purgatory Cantos as its sole source of inspiration, but the story falls on deaf ears, literally, with captioned movies that are interesting only for the visual component and artistic flair, courtesy of Japanese manga artist, Jun Suemi; although his best work is oddly preserved for the bonus gallery.
Rengoku is a mix of action and RPG but when it comes to the action things just donít work as well as they should. Most of this is due to the clunky control scheme. Hardcore gamers will likely stick it out and master the controls but casual warriors will be discouraged from getting more than a few levels into the game.
The manual gives you the bare basics and there is an in-game tutorial you can play at anytime, but it runs on its own pace, which is too fast, even by my speed-reading standards. And with no way to stop or replay previous lessons without restarting the entire tutorial, itís more frustrating than informative.
Movement is handled with the D-pad while your viewpoint is handled with the A-pad, although you have little reason to adjust the view. Double-tapping the movement allows you to run or sidestep (dodge). The left trigger is your target lock, which then alters movement based on that target like circle strafe or retreating while facing the enemy. This feature is annoying as well since the lock is dropped when the target leaves your view.
Combat is handled with a complex assortment of weapons you can assign to four positions, left and right hands, chest, and head. Each weapon point is independently fired with the corresponding face buttons. There are also passive devices such as shields or technique upgrades that can attach to your feet.
Modifying and upgrading your character is handled with a screen that would be overwhelming on a 20Ē monitor, but when compacted down to a 5Ē screen, itís visual overload. Itís also overly complicated, as you have to navigate multiple menus to achieve simple functions that could have been just as easily done on a single screen. Again, like the game itself, itís something you can eventually adapt to over time.
Your immediate goal is to experiment and find the ultimate weapon combinations that complement each other so you can achieve massive combo attacks and go for the ďoverkillĒ, an extra level of beating that will often knock loose new and rarer weapons from the enemy. Itís an interesting battle tactic, but itís complicated by the fact that you cannot move while firing and weapons are quick to overheat if used too often or in the wrong combination.
Rengoku falls victim to the same curse that plagues most combo games like this, and once you find that one good combo or series of attacks there is little reason to experiment further. Unfortunately, this discovery comes early in the game making it far less rewarding to explore the combat RPG elements in this game.
Pacing is definitely off in Rengoku and leveling up your character takes much longer than it should. Simple upgrades take thousands of ďElixir SkinĒ points but you are only awarded a few points per kill. Battles are not as frequent as they are in most RPG games and when they do occur they take a lot longer than traditional RPG fights. You can melt down your old and unused weapons and upgrades for extra elixir, which helps a little bit.
One particularly annoying aspect of the game is that when you die you lose all weapons you currently had equipped and are sent to the base of the current level. Dying is unavoidable so prepare for a lot of repetitious gameplay hampered by difficult choices of not wanting to use your best weapons for fear of losing them. The exception to this ďruleĒ is boss battles where you are allowed to keep your weapons after death.
Rengoku offers a Scenario mode that takes you on a tiered tour de force of the Tower of Purgatory. Youíll need to play this at least once and create a save file before you can access the Pancratium mode, a four-play battle mode that allows you to challenge other gamers via the wireless capabilities of the PSP. Of course, finding three other people with this game might be more of a challenge than completing the Scenario mode. Contrary to the claim on the box, the game does not support Internet play, so all your competition has to be in the same room.
Graphically, Rengoku is a mix of awesome character design set against boring and repetitive room and level design. A.D.A.M. is alive with subtle details and a reflective sheen that can only be seen and appreciated on the crisp PSP display, but itís that same display that shows off the simple, square, and generally empty rooms you will be exploring in search of combat fodder.
Given the simplistic nature of the visual design I was surprised at the relatively short draw distance where backgrounds would annoyingly fade into existence and even the enemy would vanish if they moved far enough away in the larger rooms. This also unlocks the target, which means you get to reacquire it all over again when they pop back into view.
Bosses are fairly complicated in their design, actually more so than their battle tactics, and some get really creative. Subordinate enemies are also interesting but you never see too many at any one time. Weapon design and combat animation is imaginative and some of the special effects are quite stunning, but the simple run and walking animations are rather primitive.
If you are a fan of energetic rock beats and techno riffs then you will love the soundtrack for Rengoku. There are far too few songs in the library so prepare for a lot of repetition in the track cycles.
Sound effects are really well done and represent the traditional combat sounds and other noises you might hear in android combat with a definitive Japanese flavor. The lack of speech made the cutscenes a bore and the tutorial nearly impossible.
Rengoku delivers a substantial gameplay experience that tops out around 12-15 hours; of course a lot of this is dying and replaying, at least for me. Some of the bosses are insanely difficult and take numerous attempts to learn and defeat their tactics.
The multiplayer component is solid even though I was only able to find one other person with the game, so my experience was one-on-one. Even so, I was able to bring some of my custom weapon sets over on my memory card. One interesting twist in multiplayer is that your weapons are auto-assigned when you respawn, which means you often have to make the most out of random weapons. And if you are into trading, you can exchange items (trading card style), so if somebody has a weapon you havenít found yet or vice versa, you can exchange while linked.
Rengoku: The Tower of Purgatory is certainly an original and bold attempt to try something new and I can say without hesitation that there is no other game like this on the PSP and there probably wonít be another for quite some time. If you have a penchant for quirky robot fighters then give it a try, otherwise save your RPG cravings for something like Untold Legends.