Cyber Knight (SNES) Review

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Review by tankMage (January 2017)

Score: C

As SNES RPGs go, Cyber Knight is rather primitive and it should be noted that it was initially a PC Engine release. The game itself has a lot of interesting concepts, being a sci-fi RPG that shuns many of the popular troupes of its time (Sorry, no whiny teenage heroes or “chosen ones” here). Enemies drop parts that can be used to upgrade the mechs your pilots control, level ups are based around character skill (characters don’t gain HP or attack power, but become better at what they do), and you get to zoom around the galaxy in a snazzy spaceship. Too bad the graphics are bad even for an early SNES RPG, the battle system is not exactly streamlined, the story is a bit shallow, and location design leaves something to be desired.

Even with all of its faults, Cyber Knight isn’t a bad game and serves as an interesting glimpse into a facet of gaming most westerners missed out on in the 1990s. On a side note, Aeon Genesis seemed to have some difficulty with the translation hack of this game. A lot of the status widows didn’t have much space and they had to abbreviate some words. There’s also a few spots where the dialog windows are buggy, but all in all they did a fair job and it’s better than not having an English version of the game at all.

Graphics

As I said in the preface, this game’s graphics are poor even for an early nineties SNES RPG. The fact that the original game is from 1990 and was ported may have a role in how the graphics turned out, but connoisseurs of 16 bit art will be disappointed regardless of the cause. Ultimately, this game resembles an NES title more than it does SNES thanks to its ugly stage design.

The character sprites seem too big in comparison to scenery like rocks and buildings. While I thought this was, because the characters were piloting mechs at first, I soon realized this problem applied to all NPCs, some of which were normal humans. What’s worse is that the scenery is often very plain and lacks depth. The result is something that looks like a higher resolution Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy.

The battle screen makes up for the maps slightly. The mechs are colorful and have some decent, if not original designs. Even better, the weapons have their own sprites and the animations used for fighting are actually pretty decent compared to some of Cyber Knight’s contemporaries. The devs must have been limited by cartridge memory or budget, however, because a lot of the enemy sprites are recycled throughout the game. Sometimes they didn’t even bother to change a foe’s color scheme or invert the sprite and reused bosses appear as normal enemies in later stages.

Oddly enough, the spaceship (the Swordfish) is perhaps the best looking place in the game. The Swordfish consists of a cool looking cross sectional diagram of the craft that indicates where you are in the ship and a nicely drawn still image of the room you currently occupy. This was sort of a cop out on the devs part, but it was done well and gives the spaceship a sense of security in an otherwise hostile universe. The character portraits are also decent, but they consist of generic anime types. You have the determined looking commander, the goofy, but kind hearted dude, the tough girl, and the blue-haired waifu in your crew that you see in just about any anime or Japanese game from this era, so don’t expect to be blown away by the character portraits even if they were done well.

So overall, Cyber Knight’s graphics are substandard, despite the fact that aspects of the battle system and spaceship are done pretty well. Even Final Fantasy IV with its dwarven sprites and rather static combat screen blow Cyber Knight out of the water graphically.

Story

The story for this game is fairly interesting and original. Your team is returning home from a mission when their spaceship is attacked by pirates. Outnumbered and outgunned, they are forced to activate the jump drive, which malfunctions and sends them to some unknown sector of the galaxy. Fortunately they manage to make repairs, but the jump drive is still damaged and they cannot return to Earth. Your only option is to explore the wreckage of an old spaceship found on a nearby planet…

If the summary of the first few minutes of Cyber Knight doesn’t pique your curiosity, then I don’t know what will. Throughout the game you travel to different worlds and encounter some strange situations and beings as well as a mystery. While I won’t say much more to avoid spoiling the plot, I will say I enjoyed the story, although little more character development would have been a major improvement, since the cast is a bit two dimensional. Despite the overall lack of depth to the characters’ personalities, I was happy to see this game avoid turning into some kind of silly space soap opera.

There are a few interesting surprises awaiting the player that are rather unique (and more than slightly strange) that set this game apart from just about anything I’ve seen. While Cyber Knight’s story is not very long and lacks depth, the ending left me wanting more without leaving the game with an unfinished feeling. In fact, the Commander’s musings during the epilogue are rather insightful and chilling in stark contrast to the rather neutral tone of the rest of the game.

Music

A lot of the tunes are the sort of thing you expect to find in almost any RPG from this era and tend to be rather dull. Then there are some very cool tracks like the Swordfish theme and the final theme. In fact, the final song is pretty impressive from a technical standpoint and quickly became one of my favorite end themes. My primary complaint about the soundtrack is that the battle music is somewhat boring and disappointing , especially after hearing some of the better tracks. At least the devs tried to make things more interesting by creating two battle themes, but be prepared to get tired of both very quickly.

Cyber Knight features some decent sound effects. The various sounds used for all the lasers, missiles, and explosions are just right for a science fiction RPG, even though a few of the sound effects are on the generic side, but overall they are well implemented and help make the game a tiny bit more immersive.

User Interface

The user interface for this game is rather mediocre. The creators were saddled with the somewhat challenging task of designing menus for a fairly sophisticated title on a console that had a limited number of buttons. To further complicate the issue, Aeon Genesis had to squeeze English text into windows designed to house Japanese characters. The result is a UI that feels as though it’s held together with bubble gum and rubber bands.

Just one of Cyber Knight’s many, many menus.

Players will find themselves navigating  menus while in combat, using the Swordfish’s facilities, healing the party, and performing just about any task possible within the game. Cyber Knight requires players to frequently move from one planet to another and examine each world or change equipment in battle, which becomes cumbersome very quickly. On a more positive note, the devs laid everything out for the player as well as they could and the manner in which the Swordfish menus are designed helps deflect from the fact that the ship is ultimately just another set of menus.

The slow speed at which the player moves around towns, dungeons, and the overworld is also noteworthy. At this point in history it was not uncommon for RPG characters to crawl across maps at a snail’s pace (in fact one of my favorite things about Final Fantasy 6 was the Sprint Shoes relic, which sped character movement up considerably), Cyber Knight has the dubious honor of having the slowest walk cycle I have ever seen. Walking around and exploring the game became tedious, partly due to the fact that the pace at which the hero and his friends ambled about was so sluggish.

Gameplay

Cyber Knight is choc full of good ideas that didn’t quite pan out. The battle engine was cool, but could have been designed much better. Exploring the galaxy was a great idea that may have been ahead of its time (I’m not an expert on sci-fi RPGs, but the only other title I know of that allows for this is Mass Effect), but outside of two hidden weapons and the plot, there’s really no reason to wander around looking for things. Finally, the dungeons were laid out in the most boring unimaginative way possible. On the bright side, this game doesn’t require the player to constantly grind.

The battle system is a sort of fusion between a tactical RPG and a more traditional JRPG. Players and enemies can move about the map freely and attack one another at close range or from a distance. The catch is that the player chooses all the actions he or she wants to perform in a single round and the battle plays out afterwards. This made the entire system feel pointless since you essentially have to guess where the enemy will go or what it will do, which makes it more of a gamble than a game of strategy. This issue is exasperated by the fact that a module (AKA mech) cannot use long range weapons if an enemy is adjacent to it. Consequently, the player must try to spread his party out and hope the enemy doesn’t close with him or equip melee weapons and bum rush his foes. Either way, the game failed to capture the spirit of the tactical RPG genre, since guesswork comes into play more than actual strategy.

While the battle system is a bit poorly executed, it is helped along by the great variety of enemies, weapons, and modules the player will encounter. Cyber Knight is also fairly well balanced, with the exception of two overpowered weapons hidden in the game. A lot of the boss battles were close calls or took a couple of tries for me to beat. This is thanks to the fact that character levels only improve a hero’s ability to fight in subtle ways and modules can only be upgraded by taking parts from enemies in an area. Once the player gets all of the upgrades from enemy drops, he or she must push on to the next world in order to gain more power.

Much of the challenge you will find in Cyber Knight can be attributed to its resistance system. Player mechs and enemies alike can resist certain types of weapons, effectively negating or reducing the damage they take from incoming attacks. Resistance adds a nice layer of complexity to the battle system, but it is not unusual to have to switch weapons in the heat of battle in order to damage your opponent, which gets repetitive after a while. Speaking of battles, Cyber Knight has a very high random encounter rate and battles were so frequent that they made the game frustrating. The incessant attacks made exploring dungeons more drawn out than necessary.

You’ll get tired of seeing “Enemies!!” pop up every few seconds very quickly.

There’s a lot of star systems and planets to visit in this game, but most of them are barren and insignificant. In fact you cannot even land on the vast majority of planets that you will encounter (Ok, so Cyber Knight gets a point for realism here since gas giants and molten worlds are probably not good places to try to visit). Even explorable worlds are composed of only a small overworld map, a town, and a dungeon or two. As a result, exploration tends to become anticlimactic rather quickly as you jump from one star system to the next, scan planets, and find the few places that can be visited to be underwhelming. To Cyber Knight’s credit, the shear number of star systems and planets impart a sense of vastness to the game and a few of the worlds players will encounter are imaginative.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this section, the dungeons are the sort of dull, convoluted mazes one would expect to encounter in an NES role playing game. Generally, picking your way through one of Cyber Knight’s dungeons boils down to finding a door that will open or the correct staircase. There are no puzzles, maps, treasure boxes, or any of the goodies that make adventuring exciting in an RPG to be found in this title’s dungeons. Of course, the fact that most of these “dungeons” are things like wrecked spaceships and technologically sophisticated fortresses makes them somewhat novel. The limited number of med/repair kits the party can carry also makes exploring dangerous areas more exciting, because it is possible to run out of these resources and fail.

Perhaps the most well realized aspects of Cyber Knight are it’s experience and economic systems. Firstly, Cyber Knight has no money or shops to buy equipment from. Instead, players upgrade their modules by finding Neoparts on defeated enemies and taking them to the lab to be analyzed. A Neopart may yield new weapons, increased armor, and/or a slew of other bonuses. You will generally find all the Neoparts you need during the course of normal gameplay and will only have to actively farm them on rare occasions. Needless to say, this cuts down on grinding significantly and improves game balance by making it difficult to simply overpower your opponents by being a much higher level, due to the fact that a specific Neopart only yields one or two possible upgrades. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell if you’ve found all the upgrades, because there is no in-game list or definite pattern to Neopart bonuses, which means players will have to gather several Neoparts from each enemy if they want to be sure they received every power up.

The level cap for this game is sixteen, which is the lowest I’ve seen in any RPG. Most players will get at least one or two characters to the max level through normal gameplay, maybe more if they use their crew member’s abilities wisely, effectively cutting down down the amount of grinding you will need to do even more. Characters also get bonus experience for using the skill they specialize in. Soldiers will gain extra experience from combat. Those who can repair mechs and heal other pilots will receive bonus experience for performing such actions upon returning to the spaceship. I found Cyber Knight’s experience system to be one of the best I have encountered as a result, since it cuts down on the tedium of grinding and rewards players for using their party more strategically.

All in all, this title’s gameplay was not implemented terribly well, but was creative enough to make the game marginally interesting to those willing to endure its faults.

Final Thoughts

Cyber Knight gets points for its cool arsenal of mechs/weapons, rather novel plot, and experience system that required minimal grinding, but bad graphics and dismal level design prevented this game from being more than mediocre. The devs seemed so focused on giving the player cool toys to play with that they neglected the game world. The end result is a title that comes off as slapped together. Seeking out planets and exploring dungeons, which could have been a major strength of this RPG, became increasingly tedious as the game progressed, because so little thought was put into environmental design. With that said, Cyber Knight was not a total failure and seeing as how sci-fi RPGs tend to be less common than their fantasy counterparts, the game is a refreshing change of pace. Hopefully, the sequel to this title (Cyber Knight II) will prove to be far superior to the original.

Recommendations

Cyber Knight is probably going to disappoint most 16-bit RPG fans, but it’s not a bad game and those who wish to play an obscure JRPG that never officially hit western shores may get some mileage out of it.

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