By Mike Pavouris / November 21, 2007
NEC's PC-98 series of personal computers are simply not known for having good action games. While most people haven't even heard of these computers (despite their game library numbering in the thousands) those who do know of them will generally tell you the same thing: that most of their games are generic hentai adventures and therefore PC-98s are a waste of money.
To an extent, this is correct. The hardware, while capable of displaying vibrant high-resolution still images, really couldn't do a good job with sprite manipulation, and therefore the ideal type of game to be developed for these computers was visual adventure games. Dismissing the thousands of these games solely because they are all "too similar" or are adult games is wrong however, as some of them simply have outstanding storylines, artwork and music, among other things, which fact alone makes checking them out worthwhile. But that is an argument for another time -- the point here is that, even when it comes to action games, providing you look hard enough, it is possible to find many worthy titles which overcome the limitations of the hardware, while taking advantage of those of its features that console or arcade games couldn't provide at the time, such as high resolution graphics. One of these games is Night Slave, released near the end of the PC-98's life by a company called Melody.
Night Slave is a side-scrolling action game very much inspired by Assault Suits Valken. From the movement mechanics of your mech, to the story and dramatic aspects that are introduced during the stages, and even right down to the mech designs themselves, the heavy Valken influence can be discerned everywhere. The thing is, Night Slave greatly expands on several aspects of Valken, and always with much style and careful attention to detail, and ends up far surpassing it.
The game starts off by introducing the members of your team, a group of mech-piloting girls from various countries who are assigned a new mission called 'Mission Night Slave'. You begin by investigating an enemy base but it's only a matter of time before the plot takes off, introducing more twists than you'll be able to keep count of -- or even see coming for that matter. And yes, that means there is a whole lot more talking in this game compared to Valken, but also a whole lot more other stuff happening as well.
Between missions you get to customize your mech with a main weapon, a sub weapon, and an extra component, while powering-up is handled in-game via a Gradius-style system. A cool aspect of the mech customization is that, unlike Valken, every different component here changes your mech's in-game appearance. Equip the assault rifle and your mech will be carrying an assault rifle, but equip the rocket launcher and your mech will be lugging a huge bazooka over its shoulder. This kind of thing was rarely ever done in 2D action games, but really does add to the fun factor. And this becomes more apparent as you progress further in the game and get access to more advanced equipment, including a special battle armor that turns your mech into a gigantic hulking machine of destruction.
Night Slave's stage design is simply unmatched. Enemies, backgrounds, and other such elements are rarely ever re-used from one stage to another, which is something you definitely can't say for most other similar games, and shows just how much sheer effort has gone into this. In addition, I have never seen another side-scroller with such incredibly diverse and varied amount of settings and situations. In the first stage you have to cross a rocky landscape and then break into the enemy base located inside a mountain, at which point you then have to battle through the base. The next stage has you fighting alongside a jet on a dock, and eventually you go towards the ocean, having to leap from battleship to battleship all the while destroying gun turrets and other parts of the ships. Another stage has you fighting through a jungle in the rain, and another is set up like a horror movie and has you investigating a mysterious base that is showing no signs of life. It's all really just superb stuff. After playing through it you begin to realize just how boring the stages in many other action games feel in comparison. Even when I'm playing a superb action game, whether arcade or console, I have rarely ever felt such a level of genuine excitement as I did during many points of Night Slave.
I guess I should also mention that this game does have adult content. Now I know what some of you may be thinking, "You just made this sound like the best action game ever yet it was just a stupid hentai game all along!?", and well, if you think that then you are wrong. Sure the game does have these scenes in it, but that was more of a marketing choice by the developers due to the fact adult PC-98 games sold much better. These scenes, while not exactly necessary, are at least somewhat related to the story, so they are not totally redundant. Most of them are not intended for titillation anyway, and this view is reinforced by the absence of a gallery mode, which was a standard thing for an adult game to contain. The bottom line is that the porn doesn't take anything away from the fact this is an incredible action game [Indeed, some would say the opposite. --Ed], easily on par with the greats of the genre and in several respects does things better.
And yet it ended up reaching a very limited audience due to only being available for PC-98 computers, which is the last place anyone would look for action thrills. Melody could have ported it to the Saturn or the PlayStation, removing the porn scenes, and it would have become one of the most praised side-scrollers on those systems. But that never happened, and knowledge of Night Slave has been practically non-existent outside Japan. Until now, that is.