Deception IV: Blood Ties
Developer: Koei Tecmo Games
Publisher: Tecmo Koei America
Release Date: 3/25/14
Deception is a series that goes back to the early days of the first Playstation, and has seen sporadic releases over the years since. Deception IV is actually the fifth game in the series (or the third Kagero game, depending on how you’re looking at it); I’m not entirely sure what the reasoning behind the titles are, but it initially started with Tecmo’s Deception: Invitation To Darkness, then Kagero: Deception II, Deception III: Dark Delusion, Trapt (otherwise known as Kagero 2: Dark Illusion), and now Deception IV: Blood Ties (also known as Kagero: Darkside Princess).
The series is unique in that there’s not really anything else like it out there. The first game introduced the main concept that the entire series revolves around, namely, that the main character is under constant attack and fights back through the use of traps, which the player can arrange in the levels. There have been variations to the games, such as how the first game featured a customizable castle to play around with, that appeared in just one game, along with things that would stick to the rest of the series, like using a female protagonist in the second game which has been a mainstay concept since. However, the core of the game has mostly remained unchanged: lay traps, lure enemies into traps, and trigger traps.
The closest style of game that I can think of to compare it to would be the Tower Defense genre, in that you are setting up defenses on the fly and earning new ones or upgrading existing ones while enemies walk through your castle. Given how that style of game has become popular in the last generation of games, I’ve always wondered why Tecmo didn’t attempt to release another Deception game, and to my surprise and joy, they announced Deception IV for release in the US. It has been 9 years since the last game, and I was interested to see what they had in store.
What’s in store is mostly more Deception. Whether that’s for better or worse likely depends on if you’re a fan of this style of game or not. I am, and while I’ve complained about other games being the same year over year, Deception titles come out so infrequently that, in this case, I’m just glad to have more, even if it sticks close to what has been seen in the series before.
The game is set up in a ridiculous way; basically, the Devil gets beat down by 12 Saints who used 12 Holy Verses to seal him away from the world. The Devil uses a fragment of his soul to create a daughter, Laegrinna, who is given three different demon servants who are to assist her in finding the Holy McGuffins so that the Devil might escape his bonds and roam free again. This is our protagonist, just so you know what you’re in for.
The plot is just there to give some kind of background to why the character is doing what she’s doing and is intentionally goofy. It also makes no sense; for example, why the Devil created a daughter whose ability is just ordering demons around, or why it took three thousand years for either him to create a daughter or for the daughter to get around to freeing him (I wasn’t clear on this point, but either way it is pretty terrible) never really makes much sense. The Devil’s plan to get free was to have a piece of his soul take the form of a daughter and hope his enemies run into her traps? Poor planning like that is how you get sealed away for 3000 years. Come on, Devil, step up your game!
Oddly, and possibly offensively, while all the main characters are female, they also look like they were designed to appeal to a male audience. The demons are Caelea of the cleavage, Veruza of the extreme cleavage, Lilia who would be better named Loli-a, and the main character Laegrinna of the butt cleavage. I don’t know why the daughter of the Devil wears a dress that goes down in the back midway to her ass crack, but maybe it’s because it’s really hot in Hell and the dress code requires them to wear clothing that breathes easier. I don’t know, as there’s never any context in the game for how they’re dressed; I mean, I’d get it maybe if the demons were Succubi or something, but that’s not the case.
In the game Cleavage, More Cleavage and Loli are instructed by Butt Cleavage on how to lay down traps. Past games in the series have had humor, while others have gone darker; Deception IV tries to create a balance by making each of their three demons represent a different method of causing punishment. Elaborate, Sadistic, and Humiliating are represented by the three demons, and each is color coded blue, red, or yellow, which matches the color of the clothing worn by the demon that represents that style. Elaborate traps are often useful for exploiting weaknesses and causing damage, sadistic ones look vicious and cause a lot of damage, while humiliating ones are often cartoonish, like banana peels and toy hammers, but are good for setting up combos, even though they don’t deal as much damage. There’s no real wrong way to play, and continued use of one style opens up more traps within that style.
Very few games have main characters with no offensive abilities at all. In Deception IV it’s all about the traps, so aside from laying them out and triggering them, the main character can’t so much as slap one of the enemies. This is really interesting in the game, since while you lay out implements of destruction the character you control is also the bait for the traps. The only way to get enemies to fall into the traps you’ve laid out is to try and get them to follow you into the area in where you trigger them. There’s an interesting risk/reward system going on; at all times you have to be constantly aware of the enemies and the environment, since you have to lure enemies into traps, during which time the character is completely vulnerable to the enemies, things that happen in the environment and the traps themselves if you get too close. It’s a really strange balance of giving a character power to do all this stuff and yet remain completely vulnerable.
Once an enemy is lured into a trap, the other portion of the game plays out. Sure, you’ve baited an enemy, but the real meat of the game is setting up these traps in a way as though you were creating a Rube Goldberg puzzle. Like setting up a rake for the enemy to step on, which will make them dizzy and move them one space, and in that space have a beartrap that clutches their legs, then having a blade swing down and knock them into a wall that spikes shoot out. The game rewards players with experience and in game currency for ingenuity in how the traps are set up, with bonuses for multi-trap combos and using different environmental hazards. The experience gained unlocks more traps to buy, and you buy that with the in game currency, so the better you are with setting up elaborate combos, the quicker you unlock things.
As a sort of side note, all of the enemies have mini-bios that give their background, and it is both completely ridiculous and extremely useful. If a character is a clean freak, try pouring oil on them; it might just be a weakness. Some are sexist towards women, and I’m not sure what their weakness is, but I assume it’s designing insulting character costumes for video games.
The game holds your hand for the first chapter, but soon, all bets are off and the game starts quickly introducing characters that are resistant to different traps, some which remember where past traps are, some that can heal or navigate the levels quicker than others, and some that are stronger and feature different attack patterns from the last. All of this requires strategy to determine how traps will be set up, which ones might exploit character weaknesses, how to use the traps that exist in the background and so on. On top of that, the demons are making requests of the player to do certain things or use specific traps for additional experience points.
If you watch a video of the game or observe someone playing, it might be hard to tell all of what is going on. I know my wife watched me play for a bit and thought it was dumb that the main character wore something that exposed her ass crack and that the enemies would just keep walking into traps. Defeating the enemies, however, isn’t really the point of the game; it’s defeating them in the craziest way that gives you the most points. To this extent, the game takes that idea and runs with it as far as possible, with a story that has more than one ending, a 100 mission challenge mode that is like a puzzle game in that it requires you to complete different scenarios with specific goals and occasionally specific traps, many traps, abilities and costumes to unlock, and the ability to create, share and download other user’s missions.
It basically takes the core idea and then pushes it as far as they can take it. Maybe it’s because I’m beginning to get used to seeing some content like extra costumes and missions delivered later as DLC, but I think it’s great to see that they included so much content in one package.
Graphically, the game may not impress compared to next gen titles, however, it looks decent enough and, most importantly, I’ve rarely run into slowdown in the game. In past Deception titles I’ve been annoyed with how low the framerate would drop when a couple of traps would go off. Deception IV runs pretty smoothly most of the time, and when it does slow down, it’s never too bad.
While I’m enjoying the game, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any negatives to it. For one, the game sticks really close to what is expected of the series. While I don’t mind, since it also is the only series to deliver this style of game, it’s also a little disappointing that they weren’t able to do more to advance the series in different ways since the release of Trapt nine years ago. Some things have been streamlined; for example, you now trigger traps with just the X button. Square and Triangle are now assigned to abilities for the character. You could technically create some of the same feeling of the old games by assigning the ability that allows you to trigger additional traps to these buttons, however, the way it is done in Deception IV works well.
There’s no mid-chapter save in the story mode, which seems like an oversight considering how long some of these can go. It would’ve been nice as well to be able to possibly switch what traps you have equipped between the mid-chapter breaks, since it’s really annoying to start a chapter, realize you have a load out that sucks for the enemies of that chapter, and then either have to tough it out or start all over from the beginning if you fail.
The creation system is interesting, but feels sort of under-utilized. For example, some of the missions in the challenge mode are set up allowing you only certain traps and specific guidelines, IE, use a certain combo to launch an enemy into an object, or get a high combo with the traps provided. Sadly, you can’t seem to specify this in your own creations. There’s a one room limit instead of being able to take the fight through multiple chambers. In order to upload, you have to earn a certain amount of credits by playing and rating other player’s content. It’s a great idea and they’ve implemented it pretty well, however, because of how it’s set up, the types of missions people create tend to be pretty similar. I would’ve liked to have seen a more fleshed out system for people to create sick puzzles using the traps in the game.
There were a couple of glitches I ran into as well. I had more than one enemy just completely lock up mid-animation and stop moving. Once this happened with a hard boss fight, so it was kind of awesome just kicking their ass without penalty, though that’s not exactly how that was supposed to happen.
There are times when you’ll experiment with a new combo only to have it completely fail, and it’s sometimes difficult to understand why it didn’t work. You’ll spend time carefully constructing a brutal series of events, but this time, when you trigger it, the character is knocked down, so the next trap, instead of hitting them, just barely misses, or the guide that shows where they’ll be flung is incorrect, or an object gets in the way of your trap that wasn’t clear from the planning guide. When that happens, there become moments when you want to say screw it and fall back onto old combos you know work, but then feel repetitive. While the game rewards cruel creativity with rewards in score and in game currency, there were times I felt frustrated and just wanted to beat the enemy without worrying I’d have to start that area from the last checkpoint. The free mode allows you to experiment with locations, traps and enemies, so it’s sometimes best to experiment there instead of during the story, though I wish there was a little more encouragement to get crazy and creative in the story mode, or at the very least, a better user interface that would allow me to more accurately predict some of my actions instead of spending my time and then crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.
Also, while it’s a staple of the series, the boss fights can seem really cheap, and instead of feeling like a fight that you can win with enough foresight and planning, it can instead feel like the game designers are just messing with you.
While it’s not perfect by any stretch, Deception IV makes some small refinements on the formula and offers a lot of content based on the core idea. While I wish that they would take that idea and explore how it could be used in different ways, there’s also no other game out there like it, and as a fan, I’m personally happy just to get a bucket full of more Deception that controls and runs well. Until someone else takes a stab at the same idea, I’ll settle for playing human version of the Mouse Trap game with Delta Horses and buzzsaws that drop from the ceiling. For anyone who hasn’t played the series prior to this, Deception IV is a great entry point, in that you do not need to understand the plot of past titles to play this game, and it is probably the most user friendly of the lot of them.
Short Attention Span Summary
Deception IV at times feels a little dated, since the basic theme of the series hasn’t really changed much over time. However, if you are someone who liked the old games and wanted more, Deception IV provides a load of gruesome entertainment, and no other game nails that feeling of setting up a perfect trap that dismantles your enemies and seeing it play out. If you’re new to the series I’d highly recommend it, if only because there’s nothing else quite like it out there.