Thursday, July 11, 2013

Phase Paradox

Japan has its share of weird video games ranging from silly simulations such as Ka (Mr. Mosquito) to the seemingly ordinary with surprise control schemes like Operator's Side (Lifeline).  Usually the fate of these unique titles is a short parade around the internet full of ridicule and laughter.  More often than not it's followed by by a general sharking of heads and comments along the lines of "Those crazy Japanese developers..."

It's a sentiment that I can understand, but I also think that some of these strange games slip under the radar and are missed entirely.  So, on that note allow me to share one such title.  Be warned though it's not a good game by any stretch of the imagination.  That said, you might find it interesting nonetheless.

Phase Paradox is an early PS2 release and a sequel to the early PSX multi-angle bullet hell shooter Philosoma.  Incidentally, if you double the "l" and replace the "i" in the game's title with a "y" it's the correct scientific term for a subspecies of lobster larva....what?...just say'in.  Spelling and and word choice aside, players of Phase Paradox probably wouldn't make the connection between these two games partly because of the change in title, but also because of the complete change of genre.  How you make the transition from this (see video):


...to a quasi-adventure horror game is beyond me, but that's exactly what the developers did here. Events in Phase Paradox take place aboard the spaceship Gallant. Shortly after completing a sortie with her complement of Strega-class fighters, the nearby planet 220 (referred to in dialogue as "two-two-oh") explodes in the opening cutscene.  The blast inflicts extensive damage to the Gallant and embeds a large object in the hanger bay. The story then revolves around three playable characters; a damage control officer, a bio-lab scientist, and a black woman who is a specialist of some sort. There's also a large supporting cast which drop in and out of the story quite a bit.

Gameplay consists of classic survival horror style exploration via fixed third person camera angles. Breaking up these segments are cinematics sometimes punctuated by a binary yes/no choice mechanic. It's all very linear though and every action sequence is done via proto-quicktime events.  For that reason and the railroad plot progression, it's in a difficult genre to classify.  The closest I can get is to call Phase Paradox a horror themed adventure title, minus the emphasis on item gathering and puzzle solving.

The visuals of the game are a high tech mishmash of stuff that looks straight out of films like "Blade Runner" or "Evengelion". For some reason there is also a two story old school video arcade in one section of the ship. Despite the de-emphasis on combat, a number of personal side arms make appearances in Phase Paradox ranging from sleek lasers (which make a muffled zapping sound when discharged) to good old fashion slug throwers. Voice acting and the menu system are entirely in English while subtitles and in game text are in Japanese. Music is practically nonexistent outside the five minute long credits scrawl. Sound effects are also used sparingly which gives the game a weird vibe. The ending is split between three different viewpoints depending on who you choose to follow during the final chapter. While the events are the same regardless, each ending feels altered because of the differences in perspective. Motion capture and dialogue delivery seem almost deliberately bad all around. So much so it's as if the developers deliberately wanted to capture the look and feel of a low budget direct to video production. It's a truly surreal experience that very few know exists (outside of a handful of rabid Japanese game connoisseurs).

I want to recommend Phase Paradox simply for the novelty factor (and especially to people who are fans of Echo Night: Beyond, Deadly Premonition or even just cheesy sci-fi).  Of course, how much enjoyment you get out of your time spent with Phase Paradox depends on the individual.  I'm sure some gamers will take one look at the dated graphics and dismiss it as crap that is best left buried and forgotten.  But for me, at least, it was an interesting venture into "what if...?" territory.  

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