Chakan: The Forever Man (Sega Genesis) – Review
Several months ago I purchased Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the 360 and was pleasantly impressed with the included titles. Kid Chameleon, Comix Zone, and numerous other titles from my childhood, but one title seemed to be forgotten…
And I can happily say that this game (and comic, more on that in a future review) has withstood the test of time and is very much an unsung classic. I will warn you now, this review has plenty of spoilers, but to adequately explain why I love this game and character so much, I need to talk about the game in detail. By giving things away, I don’t think it will necessarily ruin the experience for a new player, but rather help clarify why this game was so original and fun to play.
Also the game has been out for nearly two decades, if you haven’t played it yet, do it.
The story behind the game is pretty interesting. As I mentioned before, the game Chakan: The Forever Man is based on the independent comic by Robert Kraus. Ed Annuziata, a game designer for Sega at the time, approached Kraus at a convention after hearing the story of Chakan. From there, through dogged determination, Ed succeeded in getting Sega’s approval and kept in contact with Robert through the course of the game’s development.
In fact, Kraus himself penned a number of concept sketches for characters meant for the game.
The end result was a game that stayed very true to the dark tone of the comic, which was refreshing when one remembers all the kid-friendly licensed games that dominated the SNES and Genesis in the early 90s. This was actually much more true of the SNES, due to the overly tame image Nintendo maintained, so the dark, edgy, and violent Chakan game was right at home on the blast-processing powerhouse of 90s attitude that was the Genesis.
It is clear from the start of the game, as soon as the Sega logo turns blood red as Chakan’s pained howl cries out, Sega was again doing what NintenDon’t.
The game then introduces the player to the character of Chakan with some backstory. Chakan, when he was alive, was an unparalleled swordsman, scientist, and occultist. He grew so confident in his martial and mystical proweress that he began to boast that his abilities surpassed Death itself. One night, Death comes to him, and Chakan wagers that if he wins a duel, Death must grant him eternal life.
Surprisingly, Chakan defeats Death in the duel, and Death gives him his prize, eternal life. However, there is a catch. Death is not something that ordinarily grants life, so what Chakan ends up with is an immortality that comes from Death itself. Chakan’s physical features are molded in the shape of a skeletal grimace, and he is tasked with living eternally in Death’s debt. Chakan, now realizing the folly in wishing for life from the death-bringer, now desires the peaceful slumber of the grave above all else.Death says he will allow this, but only after Chakan has slain all the supernatural evil of the terrestial and elemental planes. Once all those that live in demonic defiance to Death’s call have been slain, only then can Chakan rest in peace.
You then begin the game on a multidimensional plane of portals as the cosmos move behind. The portals are gateways to different demonic supernatural entities that Chakan must destroy. Each portal contains about three stages, with the last stage containing the boss. After you clear all four portals of the terrestrial realm, four more appear here as part of the elemental realm. After that the game is (almost) over.
The graphics are very good, the music is very “Genesis,” most will love it although some (especially younger gamers that don’t remember the Genesis) may find it a bit grating. The music from the Dragonfly King stage, the portal selection plane, and the Mantis Lord stage are my personal favorites, and each stage’s music compliments the level’s atmosphere very well whether it’s all about slashing your way through hoards of monsters or wandering in an ancient long-forgotten dreary cove of hidden spectral terrors.
So far this game probably sounds very epic, and it is, but the one common criticism for many about this game is the frustrating difficulty. Now this game kept faithful to the story, and Chakan cannot die. So let that process for a moment, this game is notoriously difficult, despite the fact your character CANNOT DIE. You will see a lot of things in this game, but one thing you will NEVER see is a “Game Over” screen, and yet this game is still infamously difficult.
Upon entering a portal you soon realize that completing this game will take awhile…
In the upper right hand corner is the amount of abuse Chakan can take before he has to retreat from the portal. Again, Chakan can never die, but he can feel pain. Once his bar of skulls is depleted from being hit too many times, Chakan retreats back to the realm of portals. There, if he reenters the portal, you can try again at the beginning of whichever stage you left off in, whether it’s the first, second, or last stage of that portal. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that portals can stay open for only so long, as shown by the hourglass timer in the bottom right hand corner. It depletes VERY slowly, but over time of constantly replaying a particularly difficult stage, time will deplete before you know it.
The hourglass begins the first time you enter the portal, and keeps going until it fully runs out or if you complete the whole portal (all three stages,) or if you reset it with a spell (more on that later). If it runs out, Chakan retreats back to the realm of portals, and when you reenter, you have to start from the first stage of that portal, even if it ran out during that portal’s third stage.
The above screen shot was taken during the 2nd stage of the tundra beast’s portal. Here you can see I’m almost out of time, all because of this one spot. The first time I came here, I noticed there was an enemy waiting for me on the other side, so I jumped down into the pit, not knowing that spikes awaited me.
Back to the realm of portals…
And I reenter the portal, starting from the stage I left off at, get to this point again, and can’t make it across. The ceiling is too low to really get a good jump across before the enemy appears, and even if i did get across, I’d be hit and probably fall again.
At this point I think that the game seems to be fully aware that the player has infinite lives, and to even the score, the game has instances like this. It is almost as if the player won a duel with Death itself, and demanded that they be granted “Infinite Lives,” and Death allowed it, but in exchange, allowed the game to be as incredibly sadistic as it wants.
Fortunately, along the way Chakan can collect potions and mix them together to give himself different powers, similar to how the character uses alchemy in the comics to give himself an edge over some particularly nasty paranormal problems.
On your inventory screen you can see your collected potions on top, spells that can be made in the middle, and your acquired weapons and tools on the bottom. If you are stuck in a particular portal, sometimes the answer is to jump down a pit or allow Chakan to be chopped to bits by an enemy quickly so he can leave, enter another portal, and acquire some other potions or perhaps a particularly helpful tool.
In the case above, what ended up happening was that I tactfully retreated (by jumping down the pit of spikes), did a few other levels, and along the way collected the potions needed to give Chakan a temporary force-field and the ability to super-jump. I returned to the tundra beast’s level and finally overcame that pit. The super-jump spell allowed Chakan to safely clear the pit, and the force-field spell meant that he would be unaffected by the enemy that waited on the other side.
Later, I used the potions necessary for the spell to reset the hourglass right before time ran out. Indeed, in this game, dying is not the end. In fact, it can and should be used as strategy.
Through trial and error, the player will begin to learn the layout of the levels, and as they play the formulas for the different spells become more familiar. Chakan has a variety of sword-based attacks, even a cool flippy-spinning attack, but the hit detection is flawed as enemies will on occasion pass right through Chakan’s s blade and do damage.
If one’s serious about beating this game fairly, they need to set aside a few hours, as this game lacks a password system and, from the constant “cheap deaths” the game throws at you, frustration will be an obstacle for even the most persistent of gamers.
After completing all of portals on both the terrestrial and elemental planes, then Chakan can get his reward – the sweet permanent embrace of death.
That’s right! At the end of other games, the hero saves the world and gets the girl/fortune/fame and usually “a happily ever after” follows. Not here. Chakan’s reward? He impales himself with his sword, happily committing suicide and ending his existence right in front of the player!
Ordinarily, I would have been more upset if this happened in any other game. For example, let’s say if Link did the same thing at the end of Ocarina of Time, fans across the world would enter months of mourning. Or a less dramatic example, say in Ninja Gaiden after completing the game, if Ryu impaled himself on his katana, I would have had a nuclear-level fit! But here, it just feels… right. The game is so successful in carrying over the comic’s sense of morbid hopelessness that it works.
Then come the credits…
But after seeing “Thanks for Playing,” faster than someone who speaks really slowly can say “Bayonetta!” Death tells Chakan that is NOT the end. The deal was that once Chakan slew all of the supernatural evils of the terrestrial and elemental planes, then he could rest. Although Chakan has been hunting for over a thousand years, he has only succeeded in slaying all of EARTH’S evils. Death instructs Chakan to look at the stars, as each one is home to thousands and thousands more supernatural entities to put to rest.
Chakan’s tortured hunt has barely began…
Before the player can fully absorb this tragedy of what this means for our hero, Chakan is confronted with.. uhm… whatever the hell this is:
What exactly is going on at this point is never really made clear. Why the hell are gold-colored bald gnomes holding up a fire-spitting death-float of naked alien girls and skeletons and why is it on the plane of portals? Anyway, this is the final boss of the game, and you only get one shot at it. If you lose, you see this:
So one would think “okay, I lost, and I got this ending, saying ‘Rest will come another day…’ so that must mean if I win, Chakan somehow gets his much sought-after eternal slumber!” Well… not quite. If you win this challenging final boss fight, to your confusion you see this:
And if you don’t turn off your system, you keep seeing this image on your screen for a very long time as the music from the realm with the portals plays on a continuous loop. After about twenty minutes (I think it’s about 20 minutes… honestly I am not in the mood to try timing it again. I tried before, stepped out of my room quickly, returned and it was gone), the cryptic message “Not the End” appears and the game restarts.
And that’s about it for Chakan in the world of videogames. There was a decent port of this for Game Gear, and there was supposed to be a sequel made for the Dreamcast years later that never happened, although a lot of the concept art for the game was used in Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain.
A game like this is not for everyone, but older gamers should appreciate the dark story along with the simple yet challenging gameplay, provided they have enough patience. It is a 2d side-scrolling action platformer, and the level design is very good, complete with multiple routes, shortcuts, and hidden passages. Each level succeeds in conveying its own specific atmosphere. This means that the game hardly ever feels repetitive, which is a good thing since the game can take a long time to complete.
I will review the comic later, all I’ll say about it for now is that if the story to the game sounded appealing in the slightest bit, then do yourself a HUGE favor and go to http://www.rakgraphics.com and check out Chakan’s comics and stories.
Thanks for reading,
– Furry Senpai Mikekun