Every gamer has one game in their memory. It’s a certain kind of game, one that the gamer in question both loves and hates. The hatred tends to stem from the insane difficulty the game has. For a lot of gamers, that game was Ninja Gaiden. But for those of us who played lots of games for the Sega Genesis, we had Chakan the Forever Man, a game so brutal that even the easy setting was hard. To this day, I don’t know anyone who has beaten it on Hard mode. So, what was this game that haunted my childhood and yet enthralled me? Where did it come from, and what legacy does it leave behind?
To begin with, Chakan first appeared in an independent comic book. I’ve never read it, but I’ve seen scans of it, and it really didn’t seem that big a deal. But Chakan was popular enough that he got a game out of the deal. The story of the character was that Chakan was a warrior, one who was so good at fighting he feared nothing. He then boasted that Death would bow before his swords. And as it tends to go in these stories, Death showed up. A bet was made: should Chakan win, Death would give him eternal life, and if he lost he’d be a servant of Death. The two battled until Chakan somehow prevailed. And so, Death gave Chakan his reward. He would not die, but at night his dreams would be filled with visions of evil. The pain of the victims would be his, and regardless of his wounds, he will not die. His face will have the look of Death, and his eyes would glow with hellfire. The only end to his suffering will only come if all evils of darkness are dead.
The coolest thing about the game is that it starts with the above story in one of the most awesome 16-bit opening I’ve seen in most games. Chakan must defeat the four great evils: Elkenrod, Spider-Queen, Mantis and Dragonfly King. Each villain’s world is divided into three stages, which can be completed in any order. And each world starts with Chakan giving an awesome speech about how the boss is evil, and that he’s coming for them. These speeches gave me chills as a child, and still give me goosebumps now.
Graphically, the game is standard 16-bit fair. The art design is cool, reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s work, and Chakan’s design with its wide hat and dual swords make me think of Robert E. Howard’s character Solomon Kane. The only fault I can find with the graphics is Chakan’s walking animation, which while it conveys a sense of a stalking immortal hunter, also happens to be very slow. His animation when attacking or jumping is good, why not his walking animation?
Sound-wise, the Genesis does pretty good playing ominous tones. And of course, there’s that terrifying howl that starts when the Sega logo comes on. That still scares me now, even when I know it’s coming.
And now we get to the part most people who even know this game remember. Gameplay-wise, the controls are simple, the three Genesis buttons go between item and weapon switching, attacking, and jumping. There’s a double-jump, but only when you’re still on the rise during the initial jump. And Chakan can attack in seven directions in this 2-D sidescrolling action game. And amusingly, you can actually alternate his diagonal attacks to make him look like he’s dancing to the BeeGees. In every world, there are alchemic potions that you can use to do magic attacks, and there are additional weapons like a hammer and grappling hook to use. But as I said, this game has haunted me for one reason: IT’S SO DAMN HARD! I mean, I could probably dedicate my day to playing this game all the time so that I can learn all the tricks of the game, but it’s still damn hard. Ninja Gaiden hard.
Chakan’s creator is trying hard these days to get a film made, and Sega was briefly working on a new Chakan for the Dreamcast before the advent of DVD and the PS2 killed the system. While the game never was completed, the art designs were absorbed for the Legacy of Kain game Blood Omen 2. Sadly, the game has never been re-released in compilations nor has it been ported to the Wii virtual console. If you can find a copy for your old Genesis, give it a try. Just try not to throw the controller through the TV in frustration.