Of Tecmo's properties before it merged with Koei, the Deception series was billed as its big cult franchise. For the last 10 years, there were three entries on the PSOne alone, followed by one side-story entry on the PS2. Afterward, it remained dormant, and many assumed the company was done and wanted to focus on the Fatal Frame series. To everyone's surprise, the company decided to release a sequel, Deception IV: Blood Ties, to the seven-year-old PS3. It decided that the title would also go on the PS Vita, marking the first time the series has gone portable. Though it has been a long time since players have seen the world, this entry reaffirms the series' status as a cult game.
The story sets up Deception IV rather nicely. Long ago, 12 brave knights sealed the Devil into an artifact that was later split into 12 pieces. The knights, now saints, went their separate ways to ensure the pieces were safe and the Devil would not return to this world. Centuries passed, and while his body is gone, Satan's spirit has given birth to a daughter and her assistants. You play the role of Laegrinna, daughter of Satan, who is charged with getting the descendants of the saints to converge in one place and give up their artifact pieces to resurrect the Devil.
Interestingly, the game doesn't focus much on the main characters. Though most evil characters tend to be interesting due to their mannerisms or goals, you and your assistants are one-note beings. Instead, the game focuses on the descendants of the knights, as you lure them and their armies to your location. The soldiers all have a flaw that makes them despicable enough that death doesn't seem too cruel of a fate. The problem with this approach is that the characters are pretty disposable after one chapter, so any attachment or sense of joy when dispatching them is short-lived. As a result, the story isn't very strong.
For those who haven't played other games in the series, the gameplay will feel different. For starters, your main character is pretty weak and useless. She can withstand a few hits from any weapon, and if you activate the option at the expense of a reduced reward per level, she can dodge most attacks. She cannot attack enemies directly, however, so you spend a great deal of time running away from enemies. What she can do is set traps in designated rooms, and it is your job to lure your victims into these traps so they can be killed or, in some cases, captured. Some traps are specific to a room.
The traps that you construct are specific to three different areas: ceiling, floors and walls. They are also categorized by type, which matches the color and personalities of your assistants. Blue Elaborate traps are meant as setup pieces, where enemies are locked into place, and wall pieces push enemies into spikes. Red Sadistic traps are the most brutal. They directly damage players with crushing spikes from above and shark-like blades from below. Lastly, the Yellow Humiliating traps act as both setup pieces and sources of humor. You can use things like falling bedpans and giant rocking horses to immobilize the enemy.
The joy of Deception IV is in placing traps that send the victim careening from one spot to another. For example, you can lure an enemy into a wall piece that impales him with spikes and drag the victim toward it. Then, the ceiling blade can push the enemy to the side while another wall piece launches a buzzsaw to push the victim forward. A pumpkin drops from the ceiling, forcing the enemy to wander blindly until he steps on a springboard, which launches him into an electric chair that provides a big jolt. Another wall piece can shoot an arrow while he's in mid-air, forcing him to land under a falling chandelier. In many ways, the game emulates a Rube Goldberg puzzle similar to Crazy Machines, but with a very violent and gory slant. Creating more complicated traps, using a specific trap, or luring people to a specific room gives you more currency at the end of the level, which you can spend on costumes, traps, and defensive abilities.
The enemies add a strategic element to your plans because not everyone will fall for the trap. Once an enemy arrives on the scene, you can look at his stats and see his backstory. More importantly, you can see his attack tendencies and see which trap types he's immune to or avoids. The easy way to counteract this is to use traps that hurt them and weaken their armor until it falls apart, leaving them vulnerable to all trap types.
On paper, this sounds great, and toward the latter half of the game, when you have a full arsenal of traps and the ability to produce a long sequence, it's a sadistically fun game. It takes quite some time to get there, though, and the early half of the game is slow due to your small arsenal and limitations. You can still produce something effective, but you'll likely rely on the same traps round after round. The enemies are rather brain-dead, robbing the game of some depth as your foes are oblivious to some traps and sometimes walk right into environmental dangers. Had the AI been improved, you'd really have a fight on your hands. It remains fun, but it could have been better.
If the flaws don't dissuade you from the title, then you'll have plenty to enjoy once you complete the rather lengthy campaign. Free Battle lets you lay out different trap combinations against any enemy in any room. It's essentially the practice mode, and like the main story, it's available from the very beginning. Missions are the Challenge mode, as you have to go through 100 of them, each with goals and restrictions like time limits and trap requirements. Perhaps the most exciting is Cross-Quests mode, which allows you to create missions and download those made by other players. As long as the flow of creations remains steady, there is seemingly no end to the amount of available gameplay.
For owners of both the PS3 and the Vita, the bad news is that the game does not support Sony's popular cross-buy program. Unlike most titles that are on both the PS3 and the Vita, buying one copy on one platform doesn't guarantee that you get the same game for the other platform. It also doesn't have different trophy lists, so playing the game on both platforms nets you no profile bonuses. It does, however, support cross-saves with a process that works similar to Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, where you have to upload your save file to the game's server and re-download it from there. Considering the drawbacks mentioned earlier, it seems like something you'd only use if you really enjoy the game and wanted to take it everywhere with you.
Graphically, Deception IV isn't much of a looker. The majority of the environments are drab, and aside from the various trap hotspots naturally embedded in the environment, there isn't much to see. There are no special visual effects that make the game stand out positively, and while your character model is fairly well done, everyone you kill has a limited design pool and look like enhanced PS2 models. The whole thing moves at a solid frame rate, so that is reassuring, and it looks more at home on the Vita than it does on the PS3. The cut scenes, meanwhile, are nothing more than large still pictures used to convey limited emotion atop text. They look decent enough, but it's disappointing that some of the soldiers in these scenes are nothing more than clear silhouettes.
The sound fares a little better but not by much. The music is decidedly gothic in tone and good for the situation. It isn't extremely memorable, per se, but it's consistent with the game. The voices are all in Japanese, so it doesn't suffer from any criticisms about how the English dub could be theoretically worse. Still, the common anime traits like a high-pitched voice belonging to a diminutive female figure and another character delivering a low, one-toned voice are in full effect. Those who aren't fans of these aspects won't change their minds anytime soon.
Deception IV: Blood Ties is a very divisive game for the general public. Its slower pace has limited appeal, and the constant act of leading victims to traps can quickly become tedious. The limited tool set in the early levels doesn't lead to much diversity, and the dumb AI opposition may quell any immediate interest. The later levels prove to be the most fun, as unleashing complicated multi-step traps is amusing, and the seemingly endless supply of levels ensures that those who are hooked by the gameplay won't run out of content anytime soon. Fans of the series will immediately dig it, and everyone else is encouraged to stick with Deception IV beyond the initial set of levels to experience the title's appeal.
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