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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chaos Legion: a.k.a. "I Can't Believe My Best Friend Wants to Destroy All of Existence Because I Killed His Girl", or "FureHaka"

Making anime & manga adaptations of light novels is nothing special nowadays, & it's been like that for about the past decade, at most. That being said, it's not exactly a new thing by any means, as light novels were being adapted as far back as the 80s. Series like Dirty Pair, Boogiepop Phantom, Kino's Journey, The Slayers, Orphen, The Twelve Kingdoms, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, & Full Metal Panic! were all initially light novels before being turned into TV anime, movies, OVAs, manga, etc. & becoming even more successful; it's just that adapting light novels has become more traditional since the dawn of the new millennium. Adapting light novels into video games has also been a thing, too, but isn't normally done until the novel has first become an anime. Going from light novel to video game directly is fairly rare, and when it's imported outside of Japan it can mean that almost everyone who plays it will think that it's an original property. For a perfect example, there's Chaos Legion.

Chaos Legion debuted in Fujimi Shobo's Dragon Magazine (home of Slayers, Orphen, & Chaika - The Coffin Princess) back in September 2002 & was written by Tow Ubukata (Fafner, Heroic Age, Le Chevalier D'Eon), with illustrations by Satoru Yuiga (E's [Otherwise], 10 Tokyo Warriors). It would run until the very end of 2004, totaling 7 novels; the original novel was numberless (likely in case it wound up being the only book), while the others were numbered 0-05.It never received any sort of anime or manga adaptation, this was before Ubukata starting becoming a big deal (though his Mardock Scramble novels debuted in 2003, so you never know...), but it did receive a video game adaptation by Capcom (Production Studio 6, to be exact) in early 2003 for the PlayStation 2, with a PC port at the end of the year. Specifically adapting the first novel, Chaos Legion: Seisen Magun-hen/The Holy War Demon Army Chapter, the game actually saw release in Japan around the time the second novel, Chaos Legion 0: Shoma Rokujin-hen/The Six Camps of the Summoned Demons Chapter, was originally released; pretty impressive, I'd say. When it saw international release in the second half of 2003, though, most people thought that the game was an original property, which is still a common misconception to this day. Anyway, how was the game itself & does it still hold up well enough after 13 years?

Sieg Wahrheit is a a young Knight of the Dark Glyphs who works for The Order of St. Overia as a Legionator, one who can summon beings known as Legion to assist him in battle. Sieg has been tasked with hunting down Victor Delacroix, a former Knight who has gone rogue, killed St. Clovis, one of the leaders of the Order, & stolen the Apocrypha of Yzarc, which holds the key to world destruction. Victor wishes to destroy all in order to "purify" the world, one which he feels the Order is using for its own selfish purposes & resulted in the death of his love, Siela Riviere, three years prior. Eventually teaming up with Arcia Rinslet, a Maiden of the Silver (gun-wielding female warriors) who was sent to cleanse towns that had become sieged by Delacroix's demon armies, Sieg has to try to keep his old friend from acquiring the Three Sacred Glyphs that can give him ultimate power, while also repent for what he considers the ultimate sin... For he was the one who killed Siela three years ago.

Chaos Legion is a hack & slash game that, unlike most reviews assumed when it first came out, is probably most similar to Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors series; if you want to keep it Capcom, though, consider it a spiritual predecessor to Sengoku Basara. You play as Sieg, who controls relatively simply, considering that the game uses all face & shoulder buttons. Square is your general attack button, which can be chained up to six times, while X makes Sieg jump. Circle makes Sieg fire an electric attack that allows him to lock onto a single enemy (very useful for some bosses), while holding R1 locks Sieg in the direction he's facing so that strafing is possible; it also doubles as a camera reset & locks the camera onto any locked-on foe. The remaining buttons are Legion focused, with L1 allowing Sieg to summon forth the currently selected Legion, while L2 allows him to switch to his other equipped Legion; though there are seven Legion to choose from, you can only equip two at a time. R2 switches your Legion between active & passive mode (i.e. they actively go after foes, or wait until you command them), and triangle is probably the most important Legion button. When not summoned, if activates a Legion's Enchant (assist ability), which differs for each, and when summoned it tells them to initiate their Force (command attack). Overall, the controls work very well, but one can't play Chaos Legion like a certain Capcom series that was popular around then, which is where most of the reviews at the time made their mistakes.

You see, just two months before Chaos Legion was released in Japan, Devil May Cry 2 was released in North America & Japan, with the original DMC having been looked at as a revolutionary action game. Because of that, most reviewers (especially in North America) felt that every action game after DMC had to be just like that in some fashion, & Chaos Legion is not really meant to play that like at all times. Sure, there are moments when you can go in swords blazing & tear up the foes like crazy, which DMC definitely aimed to feel like, but in most situations doing just that will get you killed almost instantly. This isn't a game where you aim to decimate your foes stylishly, but rather one where you make sure you have the right Legions for the stage & take on your foes carefully, with the occasional bit of absolute decimation. Be careful, though, because under Sieg's health meter is the soul meter, which acts as the shared health for your Legions. When summoned, the soul meter acts acts as a health meter, & if fully drained will result in a break, making the Legion that suffered the break unusable until the soul meter is about half way filled (or a soul recovery item is used). When inactive, the soul meter becomes like a super meter in a fighting game, complete with multiple levels. Every time triangle is pressed at this point uses one level from the soul meter to use an Enchant. Though the original Japanese release was criticized for being too easy, even at the hardest difficulty, Capcom definitely raised everything for the international release; even early on in Normal you can be defeated rather quickly if not properly prepped.

As for the Warriors/Basara comparison I alluded to earlier, it mainly comes in the way the stages are handled. Much like those two series, Sieg will often go up against large waves of enemies, sometimes even hitting near 20-30 smaller foes at once, and often there will be a larger creature that requires hitting a weak spot for big damage; sometimes you'll fight nothing but large enemies, too. Stages are very linear, though, much like how Basara's stages are handled. While that number of enemies sounds like nothing compared to those other franchises, Chaos Legion does differ in that your foes will be anxious to attack. It's been often complained that general enemy grunts in those two series don't attack enough & feel like nothing but fodder, but in this game it's actually encouraged to hit foes that are attacking you, since you deal more damage & gain 4x the amount of experience by doing so. Yes, Sieg earns EXP while fighting, which is then given to his currently equipped Legions at the end of each stage. You're also graded on various stats upon clearing a stage (finish time, number of critical hits, total soul, etc.), which adds a multiplier to the EXP you've accumulated. During the intermission between each stage, you can power up your Legions by spending EXP, allowing you strengthen attack or defense, add more legionnaires to your side when summoned, power up their respective Enchants, & even give Sieg specific Legion-exclusive attacks. While Sieg will always have his square button combo chain, he can also get moves like double jumping, a powerful tackle, an downward aerial thrust, & even a counter move. One of Chaos Legion's best gameplay elements is that you really get the feeling that Sieg is truly powering up with each stage, unlocking new attacks & potential strategies to utilize.

The other great gameplay aspect is the Legion system itself. All eight Legions handle very differently from each other, are based on specific concepts, & are best used against either organic enemies or metallic ones. Guilt is a squadron of saber-wielding knights that focus on fast slashes for organics, Hatred is a small group of massive brutes who give outright beatdowns best on organics, Malice is a squad of bowgunners who work best against metallics, Arrogance is a set of moving shields that protect Sieg mainly, Flawed is a group of clawed ninjas that electrify best against metallics, Blasphemy is a small cadre of living bombs that blow up anything equally, & Thanatos is the "Ultimate Legion" that works alone. You even start the game with only Thanatos, but after one stage Delacroix splits it up into nine pieces that have to recovered in order to use again; by the time you regain Thanatos, though, you're at the endgame already. Some Legion work best when summoned, like Arrogance (as the shields keep enemies at bay), or are more useful as assists, like Blasphemy (which Sieg kicks like an explosive soccer ball into foes), but I will admit that they aren't exactly balanced. It may be simply because they are the first two you get access to, but Guilt & Malice are easily the best Legions in the game. Guilt is excellent to use both as a summon & as an assist (where it does a series a slashes that hold enemies in a spot for a bit), while Malice is an excellent long range summon. Sure, they do next to no damage against foes they aren't meant for, but if equipped together you more or less remove that issue. Still, it's worth using & leveling every Legion, simply because of the extra abilities they all give Sieg. For example, Flawed's double jump is essential if you want to get all of the Thanatos chips, not to mention reach extra EXP gems to use on any Legions, let alone extra health/soul/attack/defense up gems to strengthen Sieg himself. It may not be perfectly balanced, but the Legion system is still very cool & fun to use, and helps make Chaos Legion a pretty identifiable game when compared to other hack & slashers.

In terms of length, you can get through all 14 stages (Prologue, 2-13, & Final Stage) in about 10-12 hours, though you may not want to blaze right through to the end as fast as possible. After Stage 9 you're allowed to replay any stage you've beaten, and by then you'll have unlocked some new abilities to let you explore some previously inaccessible areas, which encourages replaying prior stages (not to mention the obvious EXP you'll earn for your Legions). Also, after Stage 12 you unlock "Another World", which changes up the enemies for all of the stages up to that point, making them harder & even giving access to a couple of areas that are only accessible by that point. By the time I unlocked Stage 13 I was more than happy to play through the stages again due to Another World, since the remixed enemies do makes them feel fresh enough; also, I wanted to power up Thanatos at that point, not to mention use it in general. That put my total play time at around 14-15 hours, which I'd say is more than fair for a game like this. Sadly, there is no "New Game+" option where you carry over whatever unspent experience you had at the end; that 100,000,000+ EXP you get from the last stage is just for fun. Also, finishing the game on Normal difficulty unlocks Hard, and beating Hard unlocks Super Hard, while the first playthrough in general allows you to not only select between English audio or Japanese for the cutscenes (the first playthrough is only via English, as the lip sync was done to match that language), but also lets you play as Arcia for the entire game. Normally, you only play as Arcia once, for the initial playthrough of Stage 9 (revisits have you use Sieg), but she definitely plays different enough to make a second playthrough viable. Though she has no Legions to use, she can switch between close range kicks or long range gunplay, with circle being used for a special bomb-like attack that does massive damage (& can only be used as long as you have stock for it). All in all, there's a good amount of replay value to be found here, which is very welcome.

Since it is based on a light novel, though, one may wonder how it works as an adaptation of Ubukata & Yuiga's original work. I can't quite judge accurately, since the novels aren't available in English, but I will admit that Capcom seems to have taken a rather basic execution in terms of adapting. Sure, the five main characters are all there, & I'm going to guess that all of the stages & monsters were used to some extent in the original light novel as well, but the story is what really suffers here. Including the prologue & epilogue, there are only 12 cutscenes to be found (which apparently add up to only a little over a half hour), and theses are the only moments where the story is actually told (I guess you can also include the preludes for each numbered stage, which feature prose by the narrator). The end result is that Chaos Legion's story is told in a very simple & basic fashion. You get the general gist of everything & can still relate to the characters to an extent, but it's also likely that a lot of character development & world building was excised by turning it into an action-focused video game. To be fair, however, a lot of this is made up for by the fact that Capcom absolutely nailed the gothic opera look, feel, & general vibe that I'm sure Tow Ubukata aimed for. Even if the adaptation itself is pretty lackluster on the whole, there's still more than enough to chew on, & it makes me wish I could read the light novels. Seriously, I'm not a big fan of reading novels & the like, but I'd definitely make an exception for Chaos Legion if the light novels ever came over. Sadly, it doesn't have a gigantically long, self-descriptive title, nor is it a massive existing hit like Attack on Titan or Sword Art Online, so I'd say that the chances are low, even with it being written by Tow Ubukata.

Chaos Legion actually marked the debuts for some of the staff in certain roles, like it being the very first game produced by Yoshinori Ono, who had previously only been a sound producer; he has since become the executive producer for the Street Fighter series. This was also only the second (& seemingly final) game directed by Makoto Maeda, who had previously directed Giga Wing 2. Probably the most notable debut for this game, though, comes from music composer Hideyuki Fukasawa, who got his first notable gig by helping arrange Taro Iwashiro's compositions for Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny. His first time composing everything himself, though, was for Chaos Legion, which is, quite honestly, one of the absolute greatest video game soundtracks I have ever heard. While Ono & Maeda's staff completely nailed the visual style that Ubukata's light novel likely gave off, it's Fukasawa's music that absolutely seals the deal. A mix of orchestral, gothic chanting, & symphonic rock, the soundtrack to Chaos Legion is absolute perfection.

The simultaneously shooting-yet-chilling "Blood Remains" starts it all off for the main menu, but it's not until you play the Prologue stage that you truly understand just how outstanding this music is. Without a doubt, "Welcome to the Darkness" is one of the greatest first stage themes ever heard in a video game, instantly enforcing into your mind the kind of world that Chaos Legion takes place in. It's a broken world of muted colors, one truly fitting the use of the word "gothic", a land where Sieg's vivid red hair comes off as purposefully clashing; truly a world in which the year is followed by A.S./Anno Satanis, rather than A.D./Anno Domini. Some can argue that some tracks might sound similar at first listen, like boss themes "Choir of Curse" & "The Drones of Hell", but that initial feel quickly subsides. Hideyuki Fukasawa simply delivered a perfect soundtrack on his first try, & it's not surprising that he's since gone on to score the likes of Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, & even anime like Flowers of EvilFate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Don't just take my word for it, though; just listen to any song on that soundtrack & try to argue. It's an OST that I need to get a hold of.

Acting as a perfect polar opposite to Fukasawa's score, though, is the ending theme, "FLY" by LIV. After a constant barrage of gothic darkness, demonic forces, & a muted color palate, the game ends with a song of hope, love, & absolute resolution that makes the ending credits feel almost like it comes from a Hollywood movie. Sadly, the PC port excises the song, but in its place is a beautiful piano rendition of one of the songs from the game arranged by Masato Kouda (Marvel vs. Capcom, Devil May Cry). When it comes to the voice cast, however, it definitely is not an ideal one, especially in English. While it's a small cast, the main problem is that everyone has a habit of reading their lines more or less awkwardly; some do it less than others, but all of them either use an odd inflection or reads too fast. Christian Campbell (Alias in Red Faction II, Max Steel) delivers a usually monotone voice for Sieg that does fit him to an extent, with some flourishes of emotion, but overall sounds a little odd at times. The biggest culprit when it comes to odd line readings, though, is definitely Josh Gillman (Angeal in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII), whose Delacroix can be all over the place; his sadness & moments of pain are okay, but all of his other lines just sound so off & awkward. Going in the opposite direction, probably the best performance is from Shanelle Workman (Milly in Baten Kaitos Origins, Jennifer in Splatterhouse [2010]), as her Arcia is easily the most natural sounding of the bunch. Finally, there's Rebecca Riedy (Asha in Saint Row IV), who doesn't say much but does well enough as Siela, & David Thomas (The Sorrow in Metal Gear Solid 3), who gives "The Old Man", who heads the Order, an oddly fitting western drawl & acts as the narrator.

The Japanese cast is an example of guest casting, as the four main characters are all voiced by stage actors. Sieg is voiced by Manabu Oshio, the lead singer of LIV, who delivers the monotone style well for Sieg, though I feel that his voice sounds just a tad too deep for the character at times; it's especially weird, since his singing voice has a much higher pitch to it. Delacroix is performed by Ken Kaito, who delivers a nice sense of superiority, but has a similarly deep voice like that of Oshio; it works in this case, though. Yui Ichikawa voices Arcia, who is probably the best of the lot simply by sounding the most emotional & the least like she's just reading lines at times. Siela is voiced by Ryo, and though she has few lines does a good job with them. Finally, voice actor Takeshi Maeda voices The Old Man & Yasushi Ishii voices the Narrator & an "Intelligencer" (a.k.a. a recon scout), who fit their small roles well enough. Admittedly, though, there's just a different cadence when stage actors do voice work in Japanese productions, and it keeps the Japanese audio from sounding quite how one would normally expect it. Sadly, voice work isn't one of Chaos Legion's strengths, especially in English, but it's not exactly an example of having some of the worst voice work ever in a video game, either. There was a Drama CD released a month after the game in Japan, with traditional voice actors like Toshiyuki Morikawa (Sieg), Jurota Kosugi (Delacroix), Yuu Asakawa (Siela), & Sumi Mitou (Arcia) doing the voices, but I obviously can't judge that product; I'd imagine it sounds more like an anime, though.

All in all, Chaos Legion is a great hack & slash game that, sadly, was grossly misunderstood by most people back when it first came out in 2003 simply because it didn't quite tow the line that Devil May Cry introduced. The visuals still hold well to this day (& the PC version looks even better, with improved textures & the like), the gameplay is fast & furious (with the framerate never dropping at all, even with hordes of foes on screen), the controls are spot-on, & the music is downright godly. Also, the difficulty increase for the international release resulted in giving the game an ideal progression curve, where you always feel more powerful than before, but never feeling like an outright beast that can carelessly plow through new stages, even when you've maxed out your health, attack, & defense; Stages 10 & 11 are definite wake-up calls in that regard. Though there are flaws to be found (the voice work, the slightly unbalanced Legions, & some bosses are pretty easy to beat), & it may not be an ideal adaptation of the original light novel, they just don't bog down the game enough to not make it worthy of a sport in anyone's PS2 collection; it's simply an awesome hack & slash game with a great aesthetic & cool gameplay. Sadly, the game more or less bombed in terms of sales, especially in Japan, & the PC port that came later was infamous for being intensely unstable, which resulted in it being the worst rated PC game ever released by Capcom; the first print run for North America wouldn't even load up at all. I've read that it does run on Windows 10, though it's apparently incompatible with Windows 7.

Still, Chaos Legion has managed to become a true cult-classic, with fans still discussing the game to this day; the forum for the PS2 version over at GameFAQs was somewhat active just last year. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, some fans still wish for a return of Chaos Legion, or even just want Sieg to be included in a Versus Series game, not knowing that it was a licensed title; the most we got was Sieg's outfit being an unlockable costume for Tenkai in Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams. Personally, with light novels looking to become a viable medium to release here in North America, I'll hold out some slight hope that Tow Ubukata's original seven books will one day come over. It's obviously not likely to happen, but if a company like Vertical asks if there are any light novels that people would like to see come over then I'll answer with the only series I'd buy; I did just that with the company's recent survey, after all.

*Images used are of the PC version & taken from*

1 comment:

  1. Glad to find another fan of this game.

    "...I'll hold out some slight hope that Tow Ubukata's original seven books will one day come over."

    Also glad to hear this. A lot of anime and manga out there have rich, complex fictional universes with layers of depth that go completely unearthed by Western viewers because they don't have access to the written source material. For a loose analogy, it would be like if the entire Sci Fi fan community had to base it's complete impression of the DUNE franchise purely off the compressed 1984 David Lynch adaptation simply becuase they had no access to the original novel. How does that do Frank Herbert any justice? Or what if LOTR fans only had access to the animated Ralph Bakshi adaptation and were completely denied access to the original Tolkien books? Do you think LOTR would be the respected magnum opus today if that was the case? Without the literature, we rarely get the whole picture. Heck...think about DYNASTY WARRIORS for example. What would the appeal of DYNASTY WARRIORS beyond the mindless hacking and slashing without ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS serving as the foundation? I don't see much benefit to that. It's disheartening to see condescending comments from Western reviewers about the stories of certain anime/video game imports being bland, unoriginal and shallow when really they're fragmented and incomplete; the substance being in the literary source material which is unmentioned and/or unavailable. It really makes a difference when you have a knowledgeable foundation upon which to evaluate an adaptation, rather than going backwards and trying to infer or guess the ingredients of the original work from the adaptation. But until the market changes, that's just the way things are going to be with a lot of imported entertainment.