Note 1: Shiryo Sensen: War of the Dead was played on a Turbografx-16 game console that has been modified to output in component video. It was connected to a 32-inch HD-tv that is capable of outputting the required 240p component video signal.
Note 2: This game is a Turbografx-16 reproduction. The game was originally only released in Japan, but today, some fantastic people have translated the game to English, fixed a couple of the original game’s ‘*bugs,’ and it is now possible to play the game as a Turbochip/Hu-card on your Turbografx-16 console! *This version of the game doesn’t delete all your inventory items if you acquire too many, nor does it re-set your experience and life bar to zero if you level up your character to the highest point, 9,999.
Note 3: There are other versions of this game released for other consoles/computers, as well as a sequel. However, this particular review focuses only on the English-translated Turbochip for the Turbografx-16. There are some other great websites with information on this game, and comparisons to versions on other systems.
Overview: Shiryo Sensen: War of the Dead was originally released for the PC Engine (Japanese version of the Turbografx-16) in 1989. It is an adventure-RPG, not too dissimilar from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The game, like Zelda II, is split between an overworld exploration/map component and a side-view action component, where the player can battle monsters and acquire experience to ‘level up’ his or her character over the course of the story. Having received Zelda II for Christmas 29 years or so ago, War of the Dead took me back to the feel of that NES classic, albeit with a darker story.
Story: From the back cover of the game: Due to a series of mysterious events, the town of Chaney’s Hill has been cut off from the rest of the world. People have suddenly gone missing and cannibalistic monsters now roam the land, killing all who cross their path. The protagonist of the game is Laila Arufon, the youngest female member of the S-SWAT (Supernatural and Special Weapon Attack Team). She was born in the small town of Chaney’s Hill and has developed strange psychic abilities. Her Psychic Seal (PS) and Mind Force (MF) powers allow her to increase any weapon’s destructive power and increase her defensive capability greatly. Her mission is twofold – she must investigate the mysterious and supernatural incident in Chaney’s Hill, and rescue all the remaining survivors she can find and lead them to the town’s Church.
Gameplay: Your character, Laila, begins in the Church, which is a safe refuge from the monsters killing people in the town. In the beginning, only Laila, Carrie, and the Reverend Carpenter are in the church, but it soon fills up as you rescue the townspeople. Carrie, or other survivors, will give you hints or outright tell you where you should investigate next in order to find survivors – usually buildings around town. For example, your first destination is City Hall, and your next one is the School. As you venture outside the Church and explore the mountainous landscape of the town of Chaney’s Hill, you will randomly encounter battles with the monsters terrorizing the town. At this point, the action becomes side-scrolling, and Laila can either flee to the left or right to exit the battle, or attack the monsters with her knife or gun (the gun has a limited amount of ammo). Choosing to fight results in monsters dropping a blue orb (gives experience points to slowly ‘level up’ Laila), a red orb (replenishes Laila’s life bar), a green orb (replenishes her ‘Mind Force’ – the ability to cast spells/enchantments that increase the power of her weapons and strengthen her defense), or an ammunition box, which increases the total number of bullets for your gun(s) (up to 999).
Items and weapons: On your inventory screen (press Select), you can use items to replenish your health or Mind Force (magic). You sometimes find these items in chests inside buildings . You can also change your weapon. You start out with only the knife and a pistol, but will soon acquire alternate firearms. You will also acquire other items, usually from the game’s characters, that help you advance the story. *You cannot access the inventory screen during the side-scrolling battle sections of the game, so make sure you’re prepared with the correct weapon and health items before you encounter tough enemies. Additionally, you have an option for ‘PS REM,’ which allows you to cast your Mind Force (magic) on any of your selected weapons in order to strengthen their attack power. Different weapons use different amounts of MF – for example, the knife uses 8 MF points while the rifle uses 15.
Enemy Encounters: These are random, and certain parts of the town (or map) seem to be ‘hot spots’ for encounters. For example, I had to travel a good bit south of the Church to first encounter enemies. Walking around in a particular area near a forest allowed me to constantly fight enemies and level up my character. However, in other spots of the town, I rarely, if ever, encountered enemies. Having the ability to flee battles is a nice touch as well, although sometimes enemies may approach from both sides, making fleeing without at least some fighting difficult. In the beginning of the game, Laila is quite weak, but it doesn’t take too long to grind her levels up and increase her life bar significantly by collecting the blue orbs that enemies drop. *Her Mind Force bar (think ‘MP’ or Magic Power) increases after certain objectives (rescuing particular citizens) have been completed. When you encounter enemies in buildings rather than the town/overworld, the enemies tend to be stronger, so first spending significant time leveling up Laila in the town is crucial to your survival inside buildings.
Music: The soundtrack for War of the Dead is wonderful – an upbeat but creepy mix welcomingly accompanies you along your journey.
Passwords: To save your game, when in the Church, touch the Cross on the left side of the screen. The saving system for War of the Dead is a password system. It would have been great if this game would have utilized the TurboBooster-Plus save system that games like Neutopia take advantage of, but for some reason, it is password only. The password system for War of the Dead is the longest one I’ve ever seen in the multitude of password games I’ve played, but it’s nothing to deter you from playing the game. The wonderful translators of this game, in addition to translating the dialogue, also changed the password screen – which originally was a mix of alphabet letters, numbers, and Japanese characters – to alphabet letters, numbers, and other random symbols (no Japanese characters), which for me, with zero knowledge of Japanese, is far easier to identify and input. After a little practice, I’m able to accurately input the password in approximately 3-4 minutes. I’d recommend taking a clear picture of the password with your smart phone, or simply take the time to be precise if you’re recording it in a notebook. Because of the long password, I’d also recommend playing this game when you have half an hour or more to devote to playing time, since you can’t just pop right in and start playing.
Conclusion: War of the Dead is a welcome addition to the TurboChip library of the Turbografx-16, which is sorely lacking without English translations like this one (thank you again, translators!!!). The combination of the overworld/town exploration and side-scrolling battles works well, and is reminiscent of the well-known NES classic, Zelda II. *It’s better, however, at least in terms of being less difficult and more clear about what to do next, than Zelda II was, in my opinion. The story is wonderfully creepy and horror-esque, something unlike what I’ve ever found in other Turbografx games, other than Splatterhouse.
The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter grade: C+ War of the Dead has some good things going for it – a captivating story, fun (and simple) battles for leveling up your character, great music, and great control. However, there may be more than a few a few times when you’re confused about where to go next (just keep talking to people!), the town/map is rather large to explore while having to bring survivors back to the church (meaning you’ll do a lot of walking) and the password system is a bit long if you don’t have the patience for it, but overall, this is a fun experience, and different enough to set it apart from other adventure-RPGs. I did beat the game, and I would estimate a good 15-20 hours I spent on it. It can be tedious with all of the walking and while the English translation itself is perfect, the game is designed around you, the player, picking up on the clues other characters tell you and knowing where to go next, which may not be the most fun for every type of player.
War of the Dead is an engaging, creepy adventure-RPG.
Above is the password to get you with all items and everything out of the way to go to the Ruins for the two boss fights at the end of the game.