This review originally appeared in E86, July 2000.
After three years in the pipeline, John Romero’s labour of love has finally emerged from development hell. Set in the 24th Century, Daikatana’s storyline follows the adventures of futuristic Samurai Hiro Miyamoto as he travels between four distinct time periods. Each period (future Japan, ancient Greece, Dark Ages Norway and San Francisco in 2030) contains up to six levels, which are divided into three more manageable sub-levels. The game begins in Japan, where Hiro finds himself in a marsh. It’s from here that Daikatana starts to go downhill.
Level design and enemy AI are the most immediate problems. From the outset the player is presented a ridiculously high proportion of blind alleys to explore – a problem that is somewhat addressed as the game progresses, but the feeling is one of a design almost random in nature. The first foe Hiro encounters are frogs and insects – not creatures likely to strike terror into your heart – and while the adversaries increase in size later on, their brains clearly haven’t grown in accordance with their bodies.
Despite these fundamental difficulties, Daikatana has a smattering of innovative features. The most significant of these are the ‘sidekicks’, which take the helpful characters of Half-Life and Kingpin a few steps further. Commands to acquire objects, attack enemies or to stay put can be issued, adding a slightly squad-based angle to the proceedings. Sadly, this too becomes tiresome as you have keep your allies alive or it’s game over – which, given their sometimes suicidal behaviour, can be tough.
Another interesting touch is the way Hiro’s skills and abilities grow as you progress. Experience can be channelled towards different areas – Attack, Power (damage), Speed, Acro (jumping ability), and Vitality – improving your performance. This concept also applies to Hiro’s sword, the Daikatana, which ‘learns’ how to kill different enemies the more it’s used. Other weapons range from the powerful Staff of Zeus, Shockwave and Sun Flare, to the more ineffectual Ion Blaster and Discus. However, using the more powerful arms in the close environments of the game usually results in death for you or your feckless sidekicks.
From the outset Daikatana looks and plays like a game well past its sell-by date – the Quake II engine it is based on shouldn’t be exposed to such rigours at its age. While it would have been impossible to live up to the expectation John Romero himself perpetuated, Daikatana simply doesn’t cut it.