Vixen 357 - Staff Retroview  

Succumb to the Sultry Suggestion
by Mike Moehnke

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Very Hard
Less than 20 Hours
+ Fast-paced and involving battles
+ Combat animations are optional
+ Surprisingly original, and successfully so
- Gets very difficult later on
- Audio and visuals do not push the Genesis
- No in-battle save
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   Tactical RPGs, such as Shining Force I and II, were surprisingly prolific on the Sega Genesis compared to the Super Nintendo, but still not very many crossed the Pacific. Masaya's previous tactical title, Langrisser, had not been a success when released as Warsong in North America, thus ensuring the company's next effort in this vein would remain in Japanese. Vixen 357 was thus condemned to obscurity and has been mostly forgotten, but the game deserves better. Its challenge limits the potential audience, but tactical devotees will find a fascinating and rewarding experience.

   Combat in Vixen breaks with the usual tactical rules in several ways. Unusually, any action can be undertaken by a unit, regardless of whether it has moved. It is possible to move the maximum allowed distance and then use a long-range weapon to attack, for instance, or to have a unit heal itself after attacking and suffering counterattack damage. This aspect takes a little while to become familiar since it goes against most of the typical tactics, but allows for different stratagems that are quite entertaining.

   Characters slowly gain levels in Vixen 357, and have individual statistics dictating their affinities with melee and range combat, but it is the robots that are slowly acquired through the game that dominate the proceedings. Except for Ben Busk, who commands the Dread throughout the game, any character can pilot any of the available robots. These units sortie out of the Dread, which serves as a home base that replenishes ammunition and the hit points of all units inside. The robots dominate abilities also, as spells are available not to a certain character, but for a particular fighting machine. The robots can be equipped with both a melee and ranged weapon upon deployment, with powerful weapons usually having shorter ranges. The choice of weapons for a unit only lasts until it is stuffed into the Dread again, and when redeployed the option is again made available.

The age-old tactical issue of whether the reduced movement rate is compensated for by the terrain bonus a mountain offers. The age-old tactical issue of whether the reduced movement rate is compensated for by the terrain bonus a mountain offers.

   Vixen 357's challenge increases steadily, peaking in its fourteenth battle before declining a bit afterward. Enemies are not particularly intelligent, but they are quite relentless, and in later battles will focus on attacking one character in particular quite often. Only three members of the game's cast are vital, but losing anyone else will hurt very badly, because Vixen's cast stays dead if killed in battle. Like the Langrisser title that Masaya made earlier, the death of a character is reason enough to reset, because there are not even enough to occupy every machine made available as the game proceeds. Making matters more difficult is the inability to save except between battles, so one misstep near the end can spell Game Over (or Operations Failed, as this game phrases it).

   The language barrier is not much of an issue, for most of the options will be easily understood by tactical veterans. Helpfully, an icon will remain over every unit that can still perform a certain type of action: an A for Attack, an M for Move, and an S for Spell. The advantages of the various weapons are easy to understand also, and there are no interactions outside of battle that demand any Japanese knowledge. Of special note is the ability to turn off the combat animations, which speeds the game up considerably and was a rarity in 1992.

   The story of Vixen 357 is the one thing that will probably slip through the language barrier, even though it is written completely in hiragana. A war in 2384 is resumed in 2396 by a group using powerful, secretly developed war machines. Fighting this nefarious force comprises the plot, which served well enough in 1992 but hasn't aged particularly well. Far more time is spent battling the enemy than encountering dialogue, which for this game is a good thing.

Stupid photographer,missing the sender and recipient of these bullets! Stupid photographer, missing the sender and recipient of these bullets!

   Like many tactical games, the best-looking part of Vixen 357 comes when units attack each other and the game switches to a detailed animation of this event. The Sega Genesis is not pushed hard in the slightest even during these sequences, which have little animation and get repetitive quickly. Outside of the combat animations, the game's visuals are also unimpressive. Its audio features a few catchy tracks but far too many that are very short and quickly become annoying, averaging to a very mixed bag.

   Vixen 357 is not particularly long, especially with the combat animations turned off, and offers no incentive to replay. It offers a rather unique combat setup, a challenge level that ensures it cannot be played on autopilot, and a fixation on robots that predates almost all of the Super Robot Taisen series. If it had crossed the Pacific, usurping Shining Force II's status as (probably) the Genesis' best tactical game was not going to happen, but this game remains a worthy diversion for anyone with an interest in the system's less-known offerings.

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