Pixel Memory is a semi-regular feature where we will talk about an old game that we think deserves a little more coverage.
Chakan: The Forever Man. A title that’s just plain fun to say. Rolls off the tongue, dances around your lips. Cha. Kan. CHAKAAAAAAAN. Lovely.
Chakan then, a warrior so good, so skilled that he cut about in a giant hat, challenged Death himself to a fight and won hands down. But Death offered Chakan a deal – spare him and be granted eternal life. A no brainer, right?
Oh if only life were that easy: defeat Death and live forever…but Death is a tricky bastard, the deal was tainted and now Chakan must wander a dead land for eternity until the Eight Great Evils are vanquished. Unable to die even by the largest of wounds, He has no choice but to play Death’s game.
Based on a comic (which for shame I’ve never read) and released at a time when most Mega Drive games were cute little creatures cutting about brightly coloured worlds (fuck you, Zool), Chakan is a dark, brooding, grim affair, slotting itself nicely along side Splatterhouse 2 as the antithesis of those candy-coloured cute-fests. The levels usually consisting of an apocalyptic skyline of rolling clouds and the remains of ruined buildings, populated with nightmarish, bug-like enemies. It’s relentlessly bleak in design, owing more than a little debt to Giger splashed with some Wild West trappings. Goth Cowboys, in essence.
Something that really warped my brain as a kid was the hub-style level select. I’d never witnessed this sort of thing before and being able to attempt levels in any order, with some only accessible after completing others and unlocking new weapons that are used to open new areas, was a big stumbling block (it was before I got my SNES and Super Metroid came bounding my way). I never got very far in the game until replaying it years due to this open world-lite structure and of course, the crushing difficulty.
The game is SO HARD. Chakan is fairly stiff to control, his attacks are fast enough and he’s got some abilities to help (double jumps etc) but the enemies are much faster, it’s never too long till your death. Again, as a kid this really put me off playing, the game really punished you for dying by putting you back in the Hub world, resetting all progress…totally different to anything at the time and making each inch of progress through the zones feel like a little victory. It’s more about remembering where enemies will appear and how best to fight them (or avoid them) than plowing through, swords swinging. There were also no health pick ups, you had to mix your own potions in a brilliantly obtuse way. With no in-game tutorials for this, you had to figure it out.
Despite the difficulty, not getting very far and not really understanding it, something kept pulling me back in throughout the years and that all comes down to that main story conceit – A warrior so cocky that he challenged Death and won. A really cool character, especially by the 90’s standards (even if the story is a bit cliched nowadays – the doomed warrior, tricked into serving an evil…I’m lookin’ at you, Spawn…) and has kept a bit of a cult following since, the comics continue and there was even a film released in 2012 (though I can’t find anything on this besides an imdb entry).
A planned sequel for the Dreamcast was canned back in 2001 and elements of it were apparently recycled into the Legacy of Kain sequel, Blood Omen 2 and sadly since then, the character has stayed dead. The game was by no means amazing, but what it does, it does very well and the unique gameplay touches mean that it has aged much better than other games of the era. Sad that it never found a big enough fanbase to warrant a sequel.
An undying warrior….Tasked with defeating an ancient evil… Crushingly bleak world…Massively difficult, obtuse gameplay…
IT’S A 16-BIT DARK SOULS.