Daikatana, a Twenty Year Reunion
At this point in time, we’ve all heard about Daikatana and how that game single-handedly destroyed the reputation of famed game designer and nerd rockstar, John Romero. The man known for designing masterpieces such as Doom and Quake was relegated to a joker, a guy who couldn’t deliver on a game he had hyped for so long. A game everyone was so sure was going to be a hit that it spawned that one infamous ad involving Romero and female dogs.
We all love to make fun of Daikatana, but very few of us have actually played it. In honor of its twentieth anniversary, I finally decided to tackle it and see if it is as bad as everyone has been saying for the past twenty years. Maybe a hidden gem? A game ahead of its time? A misunderstood cult classic?
Ha! As if. Granted, it’s not exactly broken, being as functional as any other first-person shooter from 2000, but it’s a masterpiece in bad game design. A really ugly game for 2000 standards, with terrible enemy placement, a dull color palette, underwhelming lighting effects, and levels that are as well-designed as that awful sewer level from Shadows of the Empire. You know the one.
There is a story in Daikatana, but it’s incredibly obtuse and uninteresting. It takes a lot of work to make a story revolving around a time-travelling samurai to be boring, but this is the world we live in. If you want the brief summary of whatever the hell goes on in it, I’d suggest looking at its Wikipedia page. I played the game and read that plot and still have no idea of what’s going on. To sum things up in the easiest way possible, you’re a samurai from the future called Hiro Miyamoto (I see what you did there, John Romero). With the help of two brain-dead allies, you’re tasked with travelling through time to stop a madman from ruling the world as he just stole the cure for a world-devastating plague. Somehow, that forces you to travel back to Greece and Viking Norway. Don’t ask. Just blow everything up and call it a day.
The controls in Daikatana aren’t terrible per se, but you will need to tinker with the button mapping before starting the game. Everything’s mapped to really confusing buttons, such as “E” being used to change weapons instead of opening doors, and CTRL being used to jump instead of crouching. Besides the really unusual mapping, the gameplay is your standard Quake II clone. You walk around a maze-like level, looking for switches to push, secret areas to unveil, items to collect, and a metric ton of enemies to kill. In no way, shape or form is Daikatana a revolutionary game, even for 2000 standards. Hell, it wouldn’t even be called revolutionary for 1998 standards. Gameplay-wise, it’s as by-the-books as a shooter from the era could have been.
The overall game design just doesn’t work. Be it the level design, the enemies, your arsenal or the graphics as a whole, nothing can be praised in here. This is an unbelievably dark game that makes the sole act of looking at what’s in front of you a much more complicated task than it should. You never know where to go or what to do due to the obtuse level design. To make matters worse, even though you can technically use your ion blaster to light things up in front of you, you’re also at risk of hitting a wall and witness your ion blaster come back straight at you, damaging you a lot as a result. If you die, you don’t simply die. John Romero wants you to know how much of a failure you are, so the game tells you that your character has “failed in life”. Damn…
One would expect for your weapons to be cool, and for the roster of enemies to be menacing and interesting. That’s not exactly the case. The weapons themselves aren’t bad, but as I’ve previously mentioned, they can actually hurt you, meaning that you can’t go full-on Doomguy against enemies, and ammo is pretty freaking scarce. I did like the C4-launching handgun, though.
The enemy roster gets better the more you play the game, but that means that, at first, you’ll play entire levels in which the only foes you’ll fight against are dragonflies, frogs, and an occasional alligator. What better way to start off a game about time-travelling samurai, a game that was supposed to make me its b****, than throw me into a poorly designed swamp full of dragonflies and frogs? What were they thinking, for crying out loud? You’ll need to be patient if you really want to start fighting against harder enemies in Daikatana. The game also features AI partners in certain levels, but the less I talk about them, the better. I’ve seen cupcakes with a higher IQ than them.
I’m glad I finally played Daikatana after so many years. It’s obviously not a good game, but just like playing E.T., I feel like this is an important part of gaming history that people should try out at least once. It’s out on Steam for dirt cheap, and it can run on any computer released over the past twenty years without a single technical hiccup, which, weirdly enough, is a point in its favor. It is somewhat polished, with the exception of its horrendous AI. This is the most I’ll ever praise the game in this article, so enjoy this very brief moment of glory while it lasts.
Yes, John Romero. I can’t take this anymore. If you need me, I’ll be playing Doom Eternal for the umpteenth time.