At death’s door
Sometimes, games require difficult moral choices that we aren’t prepared to handle. Tecmo’s Deception II wheels and deals in this dilemma, and it doesn’t shy away from asking you, the player, to make some gruesome decisions that may just scar you for life.
Tecmo’s Deception series, as a whole, is a unique beast that requires careful consideration about whether you even want to start playing it. Most of the games in the series, Kagero included, work on the premise that you are a person given the ability to set traps to defend a certain area from invaders. Your motivations for defending the area vary, but you’re tasked with this objective alone. In Kagero, you’re a young girl who was kidnapped by a group of aliens who train you to fight in their stead. To prove your worth, you’re sent to a few places in the kingdom to defend the premises with traps. Traps, which are progressively learned throughout the game, are your tickets to death. Your goal is to keep folks out of the castle/mansion/wherever. You accomplish this by creating combos of death with the traps. If there’s one thing about Kagero that’s awesome and fascinating, it’s the combo and trap scenarios. I’ve managed to kill my way through the game with some seriously devious combos that have to be seen to be understood.
While Kagero is technical interesting, the background isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire. The graphics are your typically early PlayStation blocky polygonal nightmares until you’re actually in game and setting traps. That’s when the game really shines, in terms of its look. The same thing goes for the soundtrack; it’s not great but there’s a few interesting tracks that you might hum for a little while (editor’s note: The track for naming a character is one of my ringtones), and there’s a few that will immediately make you wonder if someone was watching softcore pornography late at night while creating the game’s soundtrack.
Morality comes into play from the beginning. Those hard decisions we mentioned before? Those are going to come in the form of who you let live and you let die. It takes a lot to kill off an entire family that’s managed to stumble into the castle you’re guarding, and it takes a lot to let them escape. Full disclosure: In the 14 years that I’ve been playing various runs through the game, I have never killed the entire family, and thus, I can’t get the ending that involves perfect kills. I couldn’t do it because that question being asked of me, I couldn’t answer. It’s a personal choice that can’t simply be solved. For some, it’s a no-brainer; for me, it’s a deal-breaker. By the point that I’d gotten to that choice of deaths, I was fully involved in the game and thus I continued playing. But, maybe if I’d known that was a factor in playing, maybe I wouldn’t have picked it up or maybe I wouldn’t have taken the time to understand the depth in the game that comes from this choice. The depth is what will draw you in and keep you coming back, long after you’ve completed your final mission and the credits roll.
And that morality clause sometimes triggers anger within me. Having played numerous times through to the later missions of the game and the eventual final mission, I’ve had the chance to learn the nuances of the game. My anger stems from the frantic pace at which you must act and sometimes make that moral choice. Maybe I don’t want to rush and kill a person (or family) because I need time to think about the consequences of my actions. This phantom deadline — usually triggered by someone’s health getting low — adds an unnecessary time element to the proceedings. Sometimes, it causes panic to set in and makes things worse. And your controls may or may not be of help then. A number of things are possible: Traps may miss, area effects will hurt you or the cooldown of a trap is too long. All of these are built into the game system, and they’re all equally annoying. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I managed to die by electrocuting myself and my foe. Or, the number of times I died because I couldn’t run fast enough in Chapter 23 to get away from the robots that are easily twice as fast as I am.
And my biggest gripe comes in the later chapters of the game. Once you’re committed to a trap combo that works, you’re not really encouraged to experiment. Why experiment when it’s probably going to get you killed? Because, make no mistake, you’re going to die. A lot. In the later chapters, the difficulty is so high that if you weren’t correctly setting yourself up consistently toward the better traps, you’re going to be stuck until you can build up enough money to purchase the good stuff and move forward. The repetition and stagnancy becomes glaringly obvious deep into the campaign.
Overall, there’s loads of replay factor in Kagero. There’s different trap routes to unlock, multiple endings depending on who you let live and a decent soundtrack and storyline that explains the method to the madness of death and destruction. Be forewarned, however: You need to be ready to play judge, jury and executioner if you want to survive the emotional onslaught of Kagero.