Rengoku: The Tower Of Purgatory has one very big issue to overcome as to whether it will make it into your gaming carry case; namely your tolerance for repetition. Thematically, mechanically, aesthetically – everything is centred around the concept of ‘the copy’.
This is essentially a re-release of the first title in the extremely niche series, and now it’s available in Europe as a digital download for PSP. At the ten pound price point, on the surface you’re getting a lot of bang for your rather measly buck with this Konami and Hudson effort, a full PSP title with a fairly lengthy single player campaign and ad-hoc multiplayer is nothing to sniff at when it comes to value.
You’re not being short changed in the looks department either, the cinematics are beautiful and the game engine is more than competent to present the grim, Jean Giraud Arzach inspired visuals. Future fantasy is the order of the day, though very dark, Isaac Asimov informed fantasy; this world is very bleak indeed, a place filled with never ending android versus android combat, a blood sport for war starved humans. Only the player controlled A.D.A.M android resembles any form of a consciousness here, fighting his way to the top of an arena-like tower to claim control over it and hopefully discover meaning to his rather sad existence. Our A.D.A.M will be wading through a seemingly endless number of bio-mechanical bad guys and end of floor bosses to get there however, clearing room after room to open locked doors and progress to higher areas of the tower.
Sitting somewhere between Demon’s Souls and a traditional rogue-like, Rengoku is unashamedly hardcore. Stats screens, level grinding and complex weapon attributes provide the game’s RPG elements, while floor after floor of these one on one enemy encounters make up the title’s action. Combat comes in the form of Virtual On style arena battles with the PSP’s face buttons corresponding to left and right arm, head and leg weapons, all of which can be customised to the Nth degree with capsules gleaned from fallen opponents. You’ll start off with just your fists, but pretty soon you’ll be picking up additional weapons, shields and projectiles. This all leads to a wealth of customisation options, but the actual fighting itself is dull and unsatisfying, especially when encounters on some floors reach into the dozens. When engaged in combat, you rarely feel like you’re making contact with an opponent and there’s little feedback on what strategies are or are not working. Similarly, though combos can be chained together and evade moves utilised, there’s little emphasis to do so barring a few rare instances, so it’s just as easy to stand way back and fire from afar with some fairly meaty weaponry. When you do get up close and personal evading becomes essential with most enemies, but with a lack of fidelity to the controls, it may as well be Buck Rogers trusty sidekick Twiki being the android performing the moves for all the grace and finesse portrayed.
The weapon loot you acquire throughout the adventure can also be transferred into Elixir Skin, the game’s experience system. Most of your XP will come from melting down this scavenged weaponry, so a balancing act between having a powerful avatar and a powerful weapon is essential if you’re going to make significant progress. But this experience system is where the game will fall down for many players as the grind involved in the title is pretty heavy going at times. Heading back to previous floors to take on lower level enemies, just to pick up a specific type of weapon or open up a new inventory slot can get pretty tedious, especially when the realisation sinks in that the level design around you is extremely basic, the fighting isn’t changing and the enemy AI is, ironically, almost non-existent.
Likewise, when your A.D.A.M is defeated, his body disintegrates and drops to the first floor of the tower, at which point you lose most of your acquired weapons, all enemies re-spawn and you must make your way back to your original destination. There are instant transporters to take some of the banality out of this penalization, but if you’re the kind of person who plays every game on casual, this element of the game will bore you to tears, after the fifth time a specific boss gets the best of you, you’ll probably reach for the ‘off’ button. If you’re harder than hardcore then there does come an almost perverse sense of enjoyment in the blind persistence that is required with this type of experience, though probably not enough to keep most coming back for more.
As our protagonist android A.D.A.M is well aware, Rengoku: The Tower Of Purgatory is very much an uphill struggle all the way, one that a very distinct segment of gamers will utterly relish, finding untold nuances and unintended symbolic meaning within. For the rest of us, there’s not enough complexity or variety in the game to warrant exploration of this moodily atmospheric nightmare world.
MLG Rating: 5/10
Platform: Playstation Portable Release Date (Digital): 11/03/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Rengoku: The Tower Of Purgatory for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PSP 2000. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.