Review: Daikatana

Years ago when I reviewed a number of PC games from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, there was one game on the list that I desperately wanted to talk about, Daikatana. There was just one problem, when I sat down to play the game, I ran into all sorts of incompatibilities and technical issues. When playing older games, these sort of roadblocks are not at all unusual and usually, I’m pretty good at working around these types of problems. But in the case of Daikatana, I didn’t have much luck. So, I put the game on the back burner and turned my attention elsewhere. Now, several years later, I’m to a point in my backlog where I’m discussing games from the same era and I decided to take this opportunity to give Daikatana a second look.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Daikatana, allow me to bring you up to speed… To be honest, I don’t even know where to begin with this title. Daikatana is nothing short of infamous. Occasionally on the Internet, you’ll find lists like “the worst PC games of all time” or “the biggest PC gaming failures ever” – Daikatana is almost always on those lists. The reason this game has such a dismal reputation is complicated. But to make a long story short, from the very beginning of its development, Daikatana promised the moon and was hyped up to a point where it would never be able to deliver on all of its promises. On top of that, the game suffered from development issues that delayed its release multiple times. When it finally did see the light of day, it was riddled with game-breaking bugs that left many gamers (myself included) extremely frustrated.

Personally, I remember playing the game upon its initial release and feeling both impressed and disgusted. Many elements of the game seemed lackluster and repetitive. But at the same time, there were certain aspects of it that I had never seen before (more on all this later) that impressed me a great deal. Regardless of how I felt about the game, as I played I kept encountering issues that would halt my progress. To start with, the game contained bugs that actually prevented me from completing a particular level (this happened more than once). Eventually, this issue was patched out, but then my saved progress would be reset and I’d have to start the game over again from the beginning, etc. After a couple rounds of this, I just threw up my hands and walked away. But that was then and this is now. It’s been twenty years since Daikatana was originally released, and despite it’s infamous reputation, it actually has a small but passionate following. Over the last few years, fans have worked behind the scenes to release unofficial patches that add support for modern PCs and fix many of the issues that still linger from the earliest days of the game. So, with that in mind, I decided to cast aside any prejudices I had and approach it with a fresh set of eyes.

I should mention that there are actually a couple different versions of this game. Most players are going to be interested in the PC version and this is what my review is based on. But Daikatana was also released for the N64. There’s even a Game Boy Color game that bears the name (but in reality is a completely different game altogether). For those of you interested in trying the game for yourself, the PC version is the way to go. Once you’ve obtained a copy, you’ll also want to grab the latest patch – which can be found here.

Daikatana is a first-person shooter. But like both Deus Ex and SiN, it also focuses very heavily on story. The game starts in a dystopian future and features the character of Hiro Miyamoto, a Japanese martial artist. One evening, Hiro is visited by a mysterious old man who explains that one of Hiro’s ancient ancestors crafted a magical sword, the Daikatana. It is a weapon so powerful that it could cut through time and space. He explains that centuries ago, the sword fell into the wrong hands and as a result, the proper course of history was altered. In attempt to correct the timeline, the old man sent his daughter on a quest to recover the sword. But their plot was discovered and she was taken prisoner. With his dying breath, he begs Hiro to rescue his daughter and recover the Daikatana so that history can be corrected once and for all.

The player controls Hiro as he infiltrates the fortress where the fabled Daikatana is kept. While there, Hiro encounters the Mikiko (the old man’s daughter) and Superfly (head of security for the fortress, who decides to join Hiro in his quest). These two characters accompany Hiro for the remainder of the game. The trio manages to locate the Daikatana, but fall into a trap that sends them back in time. From there, the group must navigate through various parts of history and attempt to set things right.

When this game was originally released, one of the features I was most excited about was the AI companions. The concept was marketed as “a cooperative experience, with only one player”. But in reality, it was a colossal failure. The NPCs would often lag behind or get stuck outside of doors and other environmental obstacles. In the end, they ended up being more of a detriment than a help. I was excited to see if the unofficial patch improved this behavior. It didn’t. When I played through the game this time around, I encountered the same issue. Admittedly, it wasn’t as bad of a problem as it was in the vanilla release of the game. But it is still pretty terrible. In fact, the new patch’s real way of “solving” the problem is by giving you the option to remove the NPCs from the game altogether. Bummer.

Despite being a FPS game, there’s actually a number of complex mechanics that go into the gameplay – many of which are similar to many RPG games. For starters, saving the game. Unlike most FPS games, you can’t just save your progress anywhere. In Daikatana, saving your game requires that you consume a “Save Gem”. Save Gems are consumable items that are scatted around the game. Since they are required to save your progress, players are encouraged to seek them out. Save Gems emit a sound. So whenever you hear one, you engage is a game of hot and cold trying to locate it. Naturally, this mechanic adds a whole new level of difficulty and strategy to the gameplay. Another RPG-like aspect comes in the form of experience points. As you play you earn experience points that can be used to level up various attributes. This allows players to customize the main character so that they can play the game in a style that best fits them. This was actually a pretty revolutionary concept for an FPS at the time. The only problem is.. other mechanics in the game render this whole concept pretty pointless. I’m talking about the Daikatana weapon itself. You see, when using that particular weapon, any experience points earned go towards leveling up the weapon itself, and not the player. And, after leveling the weapon up to a certain point, it becomes ridiculously overpowered. So much so that NOT using just doesn’t make any sense.

This is really a shame because as you progress through the game, the weapons at your disposal change and become much more interesting. For example, there’s a part of the game where you travel back to ancient Greece. When on this level you gain access to cool weapons like a razor-edged discus or a divine trident. But what’s the point of using them when you have the Daikatana  that c an mow through anything with ease? That leads me to what I suppose that’s really my biggest frustration with the game; great ideas but poor execution. So many of the concepts introduced in this game have potential. But in the end everything just feels half-baked. It’s a really a shame too, because the story itself is actually pretty interesting and I think if the game was able to live up to its expectations, the legacy around Daikatana could have gone in an entirely different direction.

Even with all its flaws, there’s one thing that Daikatana managed to do right; multiplayer. Daikatana features a number of excellent multiplayer options; Deathmatch, CTF, Tag, and even a co-op mode for the single player scenario. The biggest problem, however, is that since the game has such a terrible reputation, there’s literally no one playing. If someone you can manage to find a friend interested in playing, the multiplayer is certainly worth a look. Regardless, it can’t really claim that its good enough to save the game from all of its other shortcomings.

With all that said, let’s take a look at the specifics.

 

Version Reviewed: PC

Difficulty: Variable –  Like most FPS games, Daikatana features various difficulty settings. Increasing the difficulty also increases the number of enemies, improves the enemy AI, and also decreases the number of save gems on each level. Overall, the difficulty levels are fairly appropriate on their own. But updates to the game have introduced elements that neuter the difficulty a bit. For example, the version 1.1 update gave players an option to enable a “save anywhere” feature. This effectively eliminates the need to worry about save gems, thus making the game much, much easier. Even so, the biggest challenge in the game for me, came not from the difficulty of the title itself. But rather overcoming bugs and level design glitches.

Multiplayer:  Yes.

Story: For an FPS of its era, Daikatana actually has a pretty impressive plot. The quality of the story is apparent from the very beginning of the game and continues all the way to the very end. In fact, this might be the games best element. Sadly, due the game’s terrible reputation, very few gamers ever got to experience it.

Originality: Even if they were poorly executed, Daikatana boasts some pretty radical concepts. Mixing FPS and RPG elements had been done before in games like Deus Ex. But the implementation here is different enough to stand out. The terrible thing is, nearly all of the game’s original conceptual praise is muted by its terrible gameplay experience.

Soundtrack: This is probably the second best thing about the game. Both the music and voice acting are actually very well done. The soundtrack itself is catchy and appropriate. It does a great job of setting the mood and tone. There’s nothing here that you’ll be humming after the game is over, but overall it does its job well. Also, if you’re fan of Romero’s other games, there’s a few audible Easter Eggs…

Fun: Not much. Nearly every aspect of the game aside from the positives mentioned above work towards killing any fun this game might possibly provide. This game suffers from horrendous level design, buggy AI, and a terrible save system. With a few scant exceptions, playing through this game for my review felt like a chore, not entertainment.

Graphics: When considering the technology used by the game engine, the graphics don’t look especially terrible. But that being said, there’s really no excuse for this game to look as bad as it does. Being released in 2000, Daikatana probably looks worse than any of its peers. The character models are poorly rendered and overly blocky, the environmental graphics are decent – but often blunted by poor lighting effects. Visually, this game is a hot mess.

Playcontrol: This game controls about like you’d expect from an FPS. I have no real issues with the controls themselves. But the level design often proves difficult to navigate. This true for a number of reasons, but good examples include difficulty jumping from water to land, awkward placement of ladders, and the overuse of ground obstacles. While these shortcomings are not the fault of the game’s controls themselves, they make playing the game cumbersome at times.

Downloadable Content: None

Mature Content: Violence and blood.

Value: Be grateful that you didn’t pay top dollar for this game when it first came out, like I did. These days, Daikatana sells for around $7.00 on Steam. This is not a bad price, if I’m being honest. But, this game routinely sells for 60-80% off during sales. It wouldn’t hurt to wait and catch it at a reduced price.

Overall score (1-100): 30 – There’s really no nice way to say this. Daikatana sucks. It sucked when it first came out and it still sucks today. It’s filled with lots of good ideas, but nearly all of them are poorly executed in one way or another. A majority of the game suffers from poor level design and boring/repetitive enemies. Sure, there’s a few exceptions, but not enough to make this a game worth recommending.

Original System: PC, N64

Available today on:  PC   –  (List updated as of  Fall 2020)

Best Modern Experience: PC   –   (As of Fall 2020)

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