I’ve owned Dragon Force II for nearly twenty years, and after aeons of struggling on and off with various characters over the past decade or two, I finally finished Bozack’s campaign.
I should precursor this with a known fact: Dragon Force is the greatest SRPG ever made.
It was like nothing else for the Saturn, or any system of the era… or ever, for that matter. Massive armies of 200+ troops ducking it out in real time, with strategies that you can change on the fly, with a wide range of charismatic generals to use them with, all kinds of devastating magics and abilities, and best of all, eight totally unique campaigns with their own troop specializations, stories, and even strategies.
Fandaria Empire has the strongest batch in the entire game, but no faction will ever join you. Tradnor Kingdom has the weakest, but everyone will join you without complaint. Of course, this means Fandaria becomes one of the most battle hardened factions, while Tradnor becomes one of the weakest.
In short, the game has hundreds of hours of replay value, especially if you take on self-imposed challenges such as using only the core generals, not recruiting, using default troops, etc.
So… Dragon Force II was given a tough act to follow. Sadly, even when I first played it, I knew I was dealing with an inferior product.
Dragon Force II uses a drab color palette, lacking the bright Sega Blue Skies aesthetic of the original. It adds in a neat idea of using dual troops, so a general could command, say, a front line of archers with a back line of cavalry. Unfortunately, in execution, this still winds up being frustrating. In the original Dragon Force, when you told your troops to stand by, they stayed put. Not so in DFII. The moment enemies approach, they break formation and start attacking. This is devastating for any ranged troop, as archers and mages are known to be ripped apart in a melee.
Another noteworthy change is on the world map. In the original, whenever an attacking army wasn’t quite finished off or retreated(which was often), you could easily catch them with a swift dispatch of a pursuing army to put them down once and for all(or more likely, recruit them or toss them into the dungeon).
Not so in Dragon Force 2. No matter how quick you dispatch an army, a retreating force will always manage to escape. This means they have an opportunity to get back to a home castle, restock their troops, and maybe even their HP. While this might sound like a welcome challenge on paper(and even makes for a fun challenge route in the original), in practice, it drags out an invasion, and makes the game tedious.
What about the story? Surely that improves on the original in some way?
Nope. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Dragon Force II laughs at the legacy of the original. After all they struggled through, the original Dragon Force all succumbed to ignoble deaths, one after the other, creating a seal to hold back the “Dark Dragon Force”, leaving only the immortal Teiris alive, who comes back to help the modern Dragon Force finish off the forces of evil once and for all.
Well, except there no longer IS a Dragon Force… so they kind of just band together for reasons.
I might sound like I’m being overly harsh on the game, but there is some positives. There are some great new characters, like this goddess in my playthrough:
As shown in her literal towering over the competition, some of the new sprites and generals are great, and have a lot of personality in their design. While the overall aesthetics of DFII pale to the original, some of the sprite work still shines through.
They also do get some neat features, like having aerial specific attacks when enemy troops are attacking from the air, and even getting to take out multiple troops in one hit. Unfortunately, the aforementioned Standby tactic, where you could just have a Mage or Archer literally sit still and lay waste to an enemy general, is rendered useless thanks to their new melee AI mentality.
Another major flaw is the massive presence of Demon Castles, castles manned by the immortal Dark Dragon Force faction, aka the Dark Elves, usually staffed by generic demons with 100 strong demon forces, making a pain to take out at best, dangerous at worst.
One thing that is beyond reproach, though: the fan translation quality. All the generals and dialogue were given a loving amount of polish, most likely because each campaign had its own writer, and ensured that each was given a special amount of TLC. It really shines through, and the team deserve all the praise I can muster.
Purists may balk at some of the slang, but when a game has as much text as Dragon Force II, as Victor Ireland would surely agree, you need to make it fun to read.
So is it worth a playthrough? If you’ve played the original countless times and want a new challenge, sure.
If you’re new to the series? No. GOD NO. Play the original now, thank me later.
Anyone familiar with the Atlus SMT spin-offs known as the Devil Summoner games are probably familiar with their eclectic primary antagonists: the Phantom Society. The game says very little about them apart from giving them a sprinkling of screen time here and there, so without further ado, my attempt at piecing together what little we know… which is actually quite a lot.
Who are the Phantom Society? To try and answer this question, we have the established canon of the four Devil Summoner games to help us out(Devil Summoner, Soul Hackers, Raidou 1 and Raidou 2)… and even the forthcoming Soul Hackers 2, but we’re also going to need, in true Devil Summoner fashion, to do some investigating of our own, as well as a healthy amount of sheer guesswork.
Of course, the Kuzunohas themselves exist as the counter-balance for the Phantom Society’s dark influence, but for purpose of this essay, we’ll be focusing on the background and membership of the Phantom Society.
Expect spoilers for all four of the Devil Summoner games(SMT: DS, Soul Hackers, Raidou 1 & 2), though hopefully that goes without saying.
So what do we know about the Phantom Society?
The concept of the Phantom Society wasn’t literally introduced until the second game, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. This may be the first time they’re mentioned, but SH explicitly informs us that they’ve operated from the shadows for centuries.
Even in the very first game, the primary antagonist, Sid Davis, is a dark summoner working to revive the ancient goddess Inaruna on behalf of “the organization”. Who else could he be referring to but The Phantom Society?
Which leads to another question: how far back does their influence extend? Even as far back as the Taisho era, there’s still the presence of Dark Summoners, namely Rasputin(or a facsimile thereof) and Dahn Tsukigata. While the latter’s connection to the Phantom Society is unlikely, since he strictly works for himself with the goal of freeing his sister from the influence of the Tsukigata clan, it’s unlikely the robot we know as Rasputin(hereafter referred to as Rasputin for convenience’s sake) obtained the power and influence he wields without outside help.
While we discover that he comes from the future(likely that of SMT2’s Tokyo Millennium), for all we know, he was created by the Phantom Society in that era and sent back to ensure their influence remains unaffected by Kuzunoha the XL’s meddling.
There’s also the possibility that Actual Rasputin was himself a Dark Summoner, which would explain why he was so damn hard to kill. Why else would the future use him as a basis for their robot if he didn’t have strong ties to the occult?
So with the potential timelines of influence established(from Taisho 30 in Raidou to Tokyo Millennium from SMT2), let’s break down our list of Phantom Society members.
From Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha, there’s Grigori Rasputin(1) and Dahn Tsukigata(2).
From Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, we have Sid Davis. There’s also a few stray summoners here and there(and idiots like Takashi), though they’re less likely full-on Society members and more “nuisances”.
Lastly, from Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, we have easily the most. Carol J, Urabe Kouichirou(former), Judah Singh, Finnegan, Mayone, Naomi, and their foremost executive(at least in Amami City), Nishi(aka Azazel). Certain demons also have major sway within the Society, such as Shemyaza and Satanael, the latter of whom raises interesting questions about a certain ‘hero’ character… but we’ll touch on that later.
What of the true antagonist of Soul Hackers, Kadokura? Based on his position within Algon Soft, he’s “just” a programmer and being kept out of the loop of the Phantom Society’s activities, much to his annoyance. It seems clear to assume he’s just an outsider, though one could assume that he knows much more than he lets on, especially since he’s the hinge pin figure behind Manitou’s revival. Perhaps Kadokura was simply fed up with being just a bit player, or perhaps being a pawn in a game of demons.
This also brings up another question: are ‘Summoners’ really in control of the Phantom Society, or is it just a front for demons being truly in control? The biggest players(namely Nishi) reveal themselves to be actually demons, so maybe the rank and file just think that they’re running things.
Without further ado, back to the major players of the Phantom Society. We could start with chronological order, but I feel it’s best to start with the release order, since that’s where the lore was formed from.
With that in mind, we’ll start with none other than the series’ first Dark Summoner, and one of the most purely despicable: Sid Davis.
What do we know about Sid Davis? He’s a feared Dark Summoner. Even Kyouji Kuzunoha falls to his abilities, though we don’t quite know how, it’s safe to assume that he either got lucky with a stray spell(presumably Mudo), or he trapped Kyouji in some way.
Kyouji is just one step towards his real goal, though: the revival of the goddess, Inaruma. He needs to perform an elaborate ritual to make this happen, and the main character(& his girlfriend) just happen to be unfortunate enough to be in his way and a requirement, respectively, since Kumiko is revealed to be a direct descendant of the goddess herself.
Sid Davis’ front is that of an unassuming priest, presumably Catholic, since his grimoire is a literal holy bible. Having a Catholic priest is Japan isn’t as strange as one might think, as it’s a very present, if niche, religion within Japan. It’s also appeared in other Devil Summoner games: see the Catholic Church found in both Raidou 1 and 2, which is, ironically, Lucifer’s primary hangout… might wanna beef up that security, or at least invest in some wards.
Is his faith legit, or did he see being Catholic as the easiest way to accumulate knowledge and influence? Based on his devil summoning and ties to dark magic, we can probably assume the latter. Sid is far from being a shining example of a priestly lifestyle.
Then at the end of the game, Sid meets his end at the protagonist’s hands, despite having fulfilled the goals of his “organization” by reviving Inaruma(though she joins Sid real soon).
After the end of Sid Davis, we can presume that the Society went quiet for several decades… until the events of Soul Hackers, somewhere in the mid-21st century, or at least the 20th century’s depiction thereof.
The events of Soul Hackers reveal that the Phantom Society have since moved up in the world, now having direct control of what’s effectively becoming a megacorp: Algon Software. Having started as a simple computer software group(likely the results of Kadokura’s engineering), they’ve grown to basically control everything that goes on in and around Amami City. This is primarily thanks to their innovative VR software and its own self-contained virtual world(“Paradigm X”), which is starting to make them known on the global stage.
While nowadays it might not seem like a big deal with real-world technology like Oculus and PSVR, but back in the late 90s, it felt like the wave of the future, even if it’s only now making real strides towards the public at large.
Of course, their utopian virtual world is little more than a front for the true goals of the Phantom Society: gathering the souls of the hapless users participating in its public beta test, providing the fuel for the revival of another ancient deity. Though unlike the plan to revive the Japanese Inaruma in DS1, this time they’re going for a different nationality: the Native American deity Manitou, a Great Spirit integral to the balance of life(based on mythology and the knowledge provided by Kinap).
Soul Hackers also takes its time developing several major players both in and around the Phantom Society, primarily via vision quests, in which the last moments of key figures are relived from the player’s perspective. First, there’s Urabe, a former member of the group who’s since resigned, and is now trying to steal their new Nemissa software… only to meet his end at the hands of a former co-worker, the vicious Finnegan.
Then we meet Judah, who still actively works for the group, who meets his end during an assignment… and lastly, Naomi, more of a freelancer who takes odd jobs for the Phantom Society, only to wind up being overpowered on the job. By fulfilling Nishi’s contract to set free an ancient deity, she becomes yet another sacrifice lost just to help the Society’s overall goals.
These are only the three we meet through Vision Quests, though; they also have other major players encountered as enemies throughout the game, albeit some only appearing literally in a single scene, like the assassin Mayone. Carol J, another hitman for the group, gets a bit more screentime, but he effectively becomes little more than a stepping stone for the player towards taking on the more major players in the organization.
Although it isn’t explicitly made clear what the Phantom Society mean to achieve with their goal of Manitou’s revival, presumably it’s similar to their goal with Inaruma in DS1: giving their faction the power to widen their influence to a global scale, and having the might of an ancient deity backing them up is a massive step in the right direction. Unfortunately for their faction, Kadokura proves he’s no longer content to side back and let the Society dictate the course of his creation, so he decides to step in and take control himself… merging himself with Manitou in the process.
After defeating both the end result and Manitou himself, the deity expresses gratitude at being set free, and vanishes from Amami City altogether.
Their proposed process also raises another problematic element of how the Society operates: lack of free will. They would have simply bound both Inaruma and Manitou to their ends. Not only is trying to control an ancient deity typically a bad idea, especially when keeping it in check against its will, it also proves they have no hesitation about stepping on the backs of both persons and ancient gods alike to accomplish their goals.
While the Society tasted bitter defeat in SH, even losing most of their top brass, it seems they’re back with a vengeance in Soul Hackers 2, and actively going after summoners themselves, specifically what appears to be the power of their own souls upon demise(referred to as their ‘Covenants’).
Although it remains to be seen just what their goal is this time, it definitely seems like they have a new approach to obtaining it, which is bound to be anything but good for the world at large, even one as technologically advanced as that within modern day society. The most recent trailer states that they could “destroy the world” once obtaining enough Covenants, though one would hope they have less basic aspirations than that. Still, it’s fun to think that for all their wild-day modern aspirations, they got their start from a crazed Dark Summoner-nee-Priest with delusions of grandeur who definitely didn’t skip arm day.
I know I haven’t been updating like I should, but I’ve been neck deep in testing Sakura Wars, a job with an inordinately insane amount of hours, and a certain Kojima game about package delivery, but I digress, let’s get on with it.
@tauke on twitter was kind enough to help us promote the game, and we’re very close to the finish line.
As you may or may not know, we sadly decided to can the PC version and combine our efforts to work with @noahsteam_ ‘s team. Thanks to him and his crack team of translators and testers, I’m confident that this game never has and never will look better. It’s the biggest group effort I’ve ever been involved in, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed working on it.
The end result will be worth the wait, I’m sure.
(Li Kohran is the officially sanctioned Best Girl for Iwakura.P, accept no substitute.)
As you may have heard, another team began their own translation project for Sakura Wars… only the Saturn version.
I thought it seemed silly to make them do double work when we had so much done, so we decided to join forces, Japan and Paris Troupe style.
This is the result.
The Saturn version is light years ahead of the PC one(re: actually playable), so it’s moving along very well, but we have no intention of giving up on the PC version, it’s just gonna take a bit longer.
And as the deluge of comments and tweets imply, no, CCC is not cancelled, it’s on the backburner so projects like this and Eternal Punishment(which are WORLDS easier) can see completion.
Which, as you can see, is also seeing forward momentum.
(Full disclosure: I helped test on this, but not as much as I’d have liked to. I was not involved in the project beyond that, and a massive love for the original game.)
I’ve yet to finish it, and although I feel this pales in comparison to the masterpiece original, this is still a fine game that is worth playing for any DF fan, especially to reward the fan translation team’s biblical efforts. This baby was YEARS in the making, and is a landmark achievement.