--------BACKGROUND OF HINOKAKERA--------
3D is an entirely different kind of "D" from 2D. It's silly to think that adding one "D" to something can open up a whole new world of possibilities...but with more possibility, there is also more responsibility. The third dimension offers a completely different view of things and in today's gaming, 3D is all the rave, compared to the classic days of 2D games from NES and other classic consoles. In the doujin universe of games, there are a great deal of 3D games that come off as lackluster and unrefined. There were a few decent 3D games, but a little group over at Reddish Region changed things during Comiket 65 back in 2003. What started out as a cheap, affordable, and rudimentary 3D fighter eventually evolved into what is known as one of the most famous doujin games around, especially as far as 3D doujin fighters are concerned.
For a small price, you could've bought a game titled "Hinokakera: the Fragments of Innocent Sinner" (version 1.00) and took it home with you after enjoying the sights and sounds of the Comiket event. The game was like many other doujin games when they are new; small character roster, basic graphics, and numerous bugs. By visiting the developer's site, you could get patches to remedy some of the problems you were facing during the game. However, it seemed as though Ryuka Akaishi of Reddish Region (also known as R. Akaishi) was intent on seeing Hinokakera become something more. After version 1.00 and version 1.1 (which was part of Comiket 67), Reddish Region eventually released a more refined version of Hinokakera titled "Hinokakera: the Fragments of Innocent Sinner - Reinforced Edition". H:RE significantly boosted the appeal of the previous game with better texturing, cleaner colors, slightly tweaked character models, altered character abilities and other such things. At that time, the game began to pick up momentum...but it still needed a little more polish.
Finally, in 2007 during Comiket 73, Reddish Region sold a newer Hinokakera simply titled "Hinokakera - fragment:Eclipse". Eclipse is the latest entry to the series, although a new version is in the works (Version 4) that seems to be a graphical update and it may be released sometime during 2009. While Reddish Region is very popular these days due to Hinokakera, I should also briefly talk about Ryuka Akaishi since this individual is not only responsible for a majority of the game content, but also the artwork of the characters. Before Hinokakera, Akaishi was also known as an accomplished artist and has produced many beautiful art illustrations that can be found on the Reddish Region site. One illustration has the character named Aya from Hinokakera dated back in 2002. It was possibly from inspiration or a deep liking of Aya's character that Akaishi decided to put her in the game and make her an integral character to the plot. It would be interesting if Aya was never meant to be "Aya" to begin with, but rather, just some girl meant to be in a manga or book of some kind. Other artwork includes such things as "Red Garland" as well as other fine works of art.
--------SO HOW THE HECK IS ECLIPSE!?--------
The game addressed the concerns of fans by fixing more bugs and the like from the previous installments to the series, but more importantly, it adds one other thing that the previous games did not; The game now gives players the opportunity to learn more about characters with an all new story mode. H:fE's story mode (which consists of 6 chapters and an epilogue) is more elaborate and interesting than some other fighters in the way the story progresses. There is a lot of dialogue, though little interaction takes place. Since you sit back and enjoy the ride, one might classify the story mode in the leagues of a "kinetic novel" as opposed to a simple paint-by-numbers plot found in ordinary fighters. This is because the story plays out like a visual novel and is broken into chapters and such, though there is no real interaction or decision making. To a much lesser extent, another example of a kinetic novel story mode in U.S. territories would be "Bloody Roar 2: The New Breed" for the Sony Playstation with dialogue and numerous artistic stills in-between fight scenes that slowly reveal some kind of plot. The story mode is not voiced, but that makes things run smoother. You can save at nearly anytime if you get tired of reading the plot and wish to quit, but not during battles.
The story of the game deals with an eighteen year old named Raven who is placed in a world where humanity is on the brink of extinction and about 99 percent of the total population of the world is lost. In the past, there have been wars known as "Demon Sealing Wars" where people would hunt down special people with demon-like special powers. Powers that stem from demonic origins are known only to bring death and Raven just so happens to have powers of said origin. Because demon power is so destructive, it has been made taboo by a legal institution that claims to bring order to the remaining citizens of the world. Silvis Laws (who was also called Silvis Lawes), a man who is part of the legal institution of order, is after Raven. Besides chasing after Raven because he helped a prisoner girl named Aya escape from the institution, Silvis has nothing but hate for all who bear powers of a demonic origin due to an incident in his past. Although rescuing Aya was somewhat unintentional, Raven eventually takes care of the sixteen year old girl since she is in the same boat as himself and looks after her. Raven and Aya will soon see what fate has in store for them and that their meeting was destined from day one. Along the way, he will meet other characters from the game.
When you look at the credits and see that Ryuka Akaishi did so much of the work (though there are others that also contributed to Hinokakera's success), it's easy to see why the game is praised. I'll be honest with you though; The 3D character models look like something you might see in Fighter Maker 2 for the PS2. They are very simple in design for the most part and many of the character animations is about equally on par as FM2. I like the cast of characters, but they do possess an obvious lack of design as far as the details of clothing, etc. Outfits tend to be mostly very simple in colors...in fact, in the first version of Hinokakera, Raven's jacket looked like it was entirely black with almost no shading or fine details whatsoever! While the visuals have improved somewhat in that regard, more could have been done. However, the game doesn't come off as uninspired as FM2 at ALL. Why? The game uses particle effects quite generously and the specials attacks are downright beautiful. Some may think that the specials are exaggerated, but hell, after playing so many SNK games, I'm hardly going to put this game down for going over the top.
Characters show an anime image when super attacks are done and they show no mercy. There are some huge explosions to be had, some nasty teleportation tricks going on, and even an 100+ hit combo to be witnessed by the eyes. You KNOW a game is cool when even the most innocent character can burst into a ball of light destroying everything in sight...and of course, it wouldn't be complete if you didn't see the rocks rising from the ground for dramatic effect. The story mode anime stills are also nice, though reused too much in my fair opinion. The character art as a whole is pretty good though. The specials are great and can be watched again and again, but there is more to this game than a few nice specials and not every fighter on the market has the luxury of making such a claim.
Eclipse has an excellent soundtrack that features a variety of tunes that anyone should enjoy. My particular favorites are Aronia and Raven's tunes. Aronia's theme suits her nicely since she is a woman of class and unrivaled beauty and Raven's tune, while somewhat typical to people of his nature, does well to fit the aggressive and wild character that he is. The tunes are of high quality and their clarity is great. The characters also have voices, with the majority being decent. One that I found particularly funny though was Kasumi Seiga Freslight's voice. When she pulls off a powerful spinning kick attack, she makes this hilarious "Hiiiiyaaaerh!" sort of noise...yeah, it's good for a laugh or two. Another character, known as Malakh, has no voice at all and this is even stated in the manual. Since it seems as though it was intentional, I won't really comment further on the matter.
Moving along, we finally get to the bulk of the game. For fighting game veterans, it's pretty obvious where Hinokakera gets some of its ideas from, especially in Eclipse. From the character roster which has been setup slightly like Guilty Gear XX, down to the rock music of sorts that plays during said character selection screen down to the versus screen that is set up much like Guilty Gear, one shouldn't be too surprised by what I'm about to say next. The game reminds me of a 3D Guilty Gear. When selecting a character, you can choose two modes: Assault or Technical (you could not do this in the first version). Depending on the mode, you can initiate different "breaks" which are generally the equivalent of Guilty Gear's "Roman Cancels", only with more variety in the ways that you can interrupt attacks. Assault mode is an attack mode while Technical is more defensive. For example, if you tap the guard button during a combo under Assault mode, you will initiate an "Assault Break". This particular break makes your character dash in close to an opponent so you can make up ground you lost during a combo so that you can further punish your foe. During Technical mode, you can initiate breaks like the "Counter Break" which allows you to attack immediately after performing a "Just Guard" to an opponent's attack. Depending on the circumstances, you can do a "Critical Hit" if you hit an enemy at the right time and take extra damage with your attacks.
In case you are wondering, a just guard is also found in games like Street Fighter III. It requires you to tap away from your opponent right before an attack connects. There are many other breaks that can also be performed and have varying usefulness. In order to do any breaks though, you must allow your Assault or Technical gauge to fill up. It slowly fills over time automatically and learning when to break is very important. Besides the just guards and normal guarding, you can also pull off a "Mighty Guard". This sort of guard can be found in games like Marvel VS Capcom 2. When you are mighty guarding, attacks send you sliding far away to create distance between you and the enemy. However, every time you are hit during a mighty guard, you lose energy that can be used to pull off super moves. You also lose 1 point of energy during regular intervals when you are mighty guarding. If you attack a character who is guarding constantly, you can eventually break their guard. This is known as a "Guard Break". In Version 1.00, there was a blue bar at the top of the screen that showed when a character's guard was going to break. H:RE and H:fE just make the character change colors when they are hit repeatedly. Your characters can also side step out of harms way like many other 3D fighters and you can perform a "Safe Fall" to help prevent aerial juggling as well as air blocking.
Finally, you have your super attacks. They can be performed with various typical fighting game motions (two half circles back, one quarter circle forward + attack, etc). You can do more powerful versions of regular special attacks that cost 25 points of energy, super attacks that cost 50 points of energy, and then "Overdrive" attacks. Overdrive attacks (the most powerful attacks) function differently. You must first enter overdrive mode where the word "overdrive" is shown by your super gauge. Overdrive mode is also helpful because you slowly recover missing health when it is activated and you can also double jump normally. Otherwise, you have to activate an air combo (with an uppercut attack or such) and do juggles with all that "rising lights" jazz you would get in Guilty Gear when you use an air combo starter attack in order to double jump. Overdrive attacks are godly powerful...at max power, they might as well have been instant death attacks like Guilty Gear. You can only use overdrive mode once a round, though other super attacks can still be performed. Speaking of rounds, they are not timed (meaning no time overs or anything like that). Characters have various different abilities and skills to get acquainted with for the fighting fan looking to maximize their combo potential.
Eclipse is not without flaws. While the game has a few unlockables, the only ones that are truly worthwhile are unlocking the two hidden characters by completing story mode. The controls are also a little loose. I would often find my character dashing or stepping backwards when I simply wanted to enter overdrive mode. The character roster is still pretty small in comparison to many other 3D fighters in 2007 (13 after you unlock the hidden ones). It is also regrettable that you cannot normally fight on the first endgame boss' stage because it was really cool. Speaking of stages, the game has a lacking variety of battle stages. Heck, three stages are generally the same, though at different times of day with different weather conditions. Still, the amount of work that went into the game is very impressive given the amount of hands-on-deck so to speak and it's not hard to see why this is one of the most famous of all doujin fighters right up there with Eternal Fighter Zero. The game is relatively light on resources (check Reddish Region site for CPU requirements) and you can change your controller setup as well as play with a friend over the net or on the same CPU. If you try this game and like it, you should sing your praises over at Reddish Region's site.
- Written by Vyse the determined -