Alicesoft is an interesting company, being one of the longest running eroge companies and I personally would call them the Atlus of erogaming, focused on interesting gameplay.
The unspoken agreement between the company and its patrons is that in return for buying its shovelware games (which are sold at half price), the company would use the profits towards its huge budget games with multiple branching paths and in-depth strategic gameplay. According to market research, games like Baldur’s Gate 2 with similar scopes may be best-sellers, but they generally don’t pay off very well in terms of money to time/effort ratio.
Daiteikoku happens to be the latest of Alicesoft’s big budget games.
Right off the bat this game has huge shoes to fill, seeing as how its predecessors are either Sengoku Rance (if you go by genre) or Daibanchou -Big Bang Age- (if you go by direct entries in a series.)
How does it hold up to those games? Not very well. The game was stuck in development hell for 3 years, apparently using 3 games worth of resources and was changed mid-project from a real-time strategy game to a turn-based game, bringing to mind a certain Dragon Quest IX. After playing the game, it’s fairly self-evident how the game was torn apart and refitted into some form of Frankenstein monster result that we got.
In SR, you either start out by defeating either Hara or Ashikaga, the designated jobber houses, and defeating them opens a path to Asakura or the Miko sect which you can take on one at the time and then maybe either of Uesugi house or Hojo (as defeating one will upset the balance of power, allowing Takeda to conquer the other). You could go for Takeda straight away in a new game plus, thus allowing you to take all three houses! You could push left at anytime to Tanegashima and Mori if you felt up to it and so on.
In short, the areas open up at a nice controlled rate and there are always multiple ways to progress the game.
In Daiteikoku, you start out next to China, the designated jobber country. Immediately after that you get into war with BOTH America and Britain. Soon after that Russia, the third faction, joins in against you. The problem? There’s only 3 factions in the game! You go straight from the “tutorial” country to basically fighting the entire world.
There’s not much variation once you get down to the details either. Each country has two different variations on certain plot events, but everything down to planetary defense forces are preset, which greatly hurts replay value. Unlike the previous games it’s often compared to, this game doesn’t do replay very well, and if it wasn’t for an option to mod in user created Custom Admirals for the game, I would say there would be almost no reason to replay the multiple branches of the game. It’s not like the plot and endings are worth replaying the game for!
There’s a lot of weird “game-y” rules. For whatever reason, as long as your ships take even a silver of damage, you cannot use them in an invasion against a planet (although the most recent patch provides the option to quick-repair ships at an exponentially rising cost), and if you fail to conquer a planet in one attempt, you get a game over.
Apparently Japan only has one marine force and troop transport ship who are stupid enough to charge into the opposing planet without checking to see if the defenses are down already.
A common criticism about most eroge protagonists (or the harem genre) is that they are boring, wimpy, cutboard cutouts for the viewer to insert himself into, making them worthless as characters.
Unfortunately, it seems that Alicesoft has decided to run too far in the other direction, making a perfect supergod who can defeat anyone both physically and mentally who also make women fall in love with him within 5 seconds of looking at him.
There’s no tension and drama in such a character, you cannot challenge him with anything if the reader is going to just yawn and go “so how is he going to win?” Even Superman wasn’t as invincible as this guy and I honestly cannot think of a single point where he didn’t succeed at whatever he was attempting to do.
The rest of your starting crew is strangely underplayed. Most of them don’t really have a personal plot to speak of and feels like they’re just there to fill up the ranks. The only one I like is Yamamoto Mugen, the old Jeigan archetype (a character who starts out as a crutch) who eventually passes away, but only because of the scene where he chooses his nurse as his successor for the next commander of his fleet. The scene is done with absolutely no irony to it, which makes it somehow extremely funny to me.
One of the huge backlash factors when the game came out was that the most publicized characters (the faction heads) didn’t get as much of a focus as people would like. This statement is absolutely true, though to be fair I don’t think Alicesoft had ever advertised that they were “main characters” and it was just an assumption the fanbase made.
Still, it is extremely odd when said faction heads have about 2 sex scenes, while characters that are created just to be fun but filler characters (like Mog and Umaro from FF6… okay, bad mental image) have an upwards of 3 to 5 scenes! It does make you wonder whether they determine manpower working on the game by throwing darts at a wall.
Outside of the characters, the overall plot has no sense of pacing, and without getting one of the true endings, it doesn’t have a climax either (not in that way, perverts!) On a non-true ending route, the game just ends after conquering all nations, with the player being extremely confused and unsatisfied.
There’s also the whole World War 2 parody theme the game has going on. It’s basically the entire selling point of the game differentiating it from “just another space simulation game”, but it doesn’t get utilized much except for a few jokes and references here and there.
Worst, it actually undermines the entire “Bright and colourful but hiding a dark, painful human existence” theme that Alicesoft has going on. Most of the World War 2 atrocities has been white-washed out of the game and it’s impossible to keep a straight face when teenage idol Hitler (who is a girl) opens up and cries about how she only wanted to free Germany from the tyranny of the Treaty of Versailles, while sad music plays in the background telling you that yeah, this is a scene that’s actually played for drama rather than comedy.
Now I’m going to turn around and say something nice about the game. While not as good as Sengoku Rance due to the lack of stand-out themes like Rebirth the Edge and Ontlogy, I do happen to like some of the music in the game. I’m particularly fond of “The Overflowing Emotions”, played during the sadder/emotional parts of the plot. I honestly think I would have felt nothing if it wasn’t for said piece, which means the composer is probably doing something right. There’s a couple of other themes like the multiple battle themes and world map themes that I enjoy listening to even out of the game too.
As far as the art goes, the game has the pragmatic but unfortunate decisions of having the entire art division of Alicesoft working on it. The CGs drawn by the main artist are pretty good, though unfortunately the ones drawn by the secondary artists are terrible. Overall the game does still have a decent artistic style going on with just a few major mistakes, so kudos to that.
The strange thing is that despite all its faults that I can think of while critically taking apart the game like this, the fact is that turn-based strategy games don’t really have much competition at the time of writing.
It’s not a great TBS game compared to say, Civilization IV, but can you think of many modern TBS game at all? There are a lot of TBS games that are far less playable than this, and the game does somehow manage to have a “One More Turn” factor to it, making you curse as you realize that it’s 3 am and your one turn has turned suddenly into many more…
If you really need a turn-based strategy fix and you already exhausted the small amounts there are, go ahead and try out this game. It’s honestly a shame the game turned out the way it was, because without the development hell and with a bit of polishing it could have been another classic Alicesoft game.
As it is, it’s just a sad reminder of what the modern gaming industry does to its victims.
Alicesoft Wiki: http://alicesoft.wikia.com/wiki/Daiteikoku