Ginger Nuts of Horror
Thirteen for Halloween: Chakkan the Forever Man.
Don't play this game. I'm not kidding; if you value patience, sanity or whatever system you happen to find it on, do not play this game.
Not because any apparent horror or disturbia in its subject matter (though there' s plenty of that), but because it's one of the most frustrating experiences you are likely to have. For those who had copies of this game back in the days of its original release (the Sega Megadrive era) and made any kind of headway with it, I salute you from the depths of my black and seeping heart, I truly do: this game is a nightmare of bad controls, pin-point accurate jumps, blind leaps, instant death traps and practically every sin platform video games of the era ever committed.
So...why are we still talking about it?...
Well...like many games of the era, it does have some redeeming features, most of which are encapsulated in its presentation: the game is uniquely stylish for its era and given the systems on which it manifested (Sega Megadrive and Gamegear); another example of a work whose ambition, perhaps, was thwarted by the technological limitations of the era; were Chakkan to be rebooted now as something akin to Darksouls, Bloodborn et al, its moody, nihilistic action-horror stylings would likely make it an instant hit.
As it stands, the game is a thing of maddening beauty; a fantastic central concept, involving and engaging anti-hero protagonist (again, unusual for the era), great atmosphere, aesthetics etc...but impossible, impossible to play. My own experience derives from watching long-plays of the game on YouTube, which is perhaps the best way to experience it:
As the eponymous Forever man, the player is an immortal swordsman who, after defeating Death himself in a duel, claimed immortality as his prize. However, what Death provided is far from what the swordsman envisaged: obliged to stalk the world (and myriad others) as a deathless assassin, his charge is to eliminate all forms of evil from existence before he can claim rest.
Reduced to a walking corpse over the centuries, Chakkan only desires one thing: to finally fulfil his bargain and be allowed to die.
This is a peculiarly complex and ambiguous tension for video game protagonists of the era, especially within this genre: for the most part, player characters had about as much depth and background as a “Mister Man” character, and often not even that. Chakkan is a step apart in this regard; he does not fight out of some macho, Contra style militarism or for revenge; he is weary of fighting: all he wants is to die at last, to have some peace from the endless, grinding conflict.
From the first instance, the game has a broody, threatening atmosphere, the title screen lurid and atmospheric; lightning flashing down on a mountaintop, The Forever Man perched at its peak, swords drawn, eyes aglow in his cadaverous face, drums pounding out a funeral beat in the background.
The structure of the game is also highly unusual; upon starting, the player finds themselves in a
The structure of the game is also highly unusual; upon starting, the player finds themselves in a surreal hub-world; a series of shattered stairways and cloisters that look to have been torn from some shattered temple, tumbling endlessly against a backdrop of scrolling stars and space.
On every walkway, eldritch portals lead to each of the game's worlds; play areas designed around a particular back-story and aesthetic, each with its own perils, monsters and a final boss who is the object of Chakkan's hunt. Before each quest begins, the player is treated to the image of an elaborate hour glass, its sands running as text scrolls across the screen, providing oblique back story on the realm beyond and the evils that preside over them. These are some of the more interesting elements of the game, as they lend depth to the mythology and make the monsters Chakkan faces more than just video game enemies to be dispatched. Each of the realms is atmospheric and aesthetically well presented, the pain priestess Elkenrod's cathedral a place of fire pits and torture chambers, of summoned demons and mutilated victims, whilst the subterranean, H.R. Giger inspired pits of the Spider Queen and her brood maintain a more organic, Alien-like environment, various vermin such as giant spiders and half-spider, half-human hybrids scuttling over every surface. Atmosphere and aesthetics are certainly the main order of the day, here, as the areas are also so poorly designed in terms of structure and player practicality, most are unlikely to see a great deal of them before quitting out of sheer fury.
Within each realm, Chakkan can acquire different weapons that allow for progress through certain environmental barriers, puzzles etc as well as making certain enemies easier to defeat. The grappling hook, for example, allows Chakkan to swing from certain elements of the background, reaching higher areas or saving himself from instant death pits. The hammer, meanwhile, allows him to smash his way through barriers or knock down blockades. Each area is also littered with various potions, which Chakkan can collect and combine to produce certain effects. This is an interesting function within the game, as there is no means of determining what combination of potion will produce what effect; it's a matter of trial and error, which might have been more effective were it not for the fact that certain areas require certain effects in order to progress. If you don't have the right potions, or used them up previously, then too bad: back to the beginning you go.
After defeating the first four guardians and conquering the initial levels, Death himself informs Chakkan that he has only succeeded in defeating the evils on the terrestrial plain; that he must now travel to the elemental plains and conquer an entirely new set of levels with a new series of guardians.
This is the point at which the game becomes practically impossible: levels such as the Fire Drake's Hellish domain are so perilous that practically every step comes with the threat of instant death. The fact that you have to take numerous leaps of faith (often into rivers of flowing lava) means that the effort is one of trial and error, inching forward until you've managed to map out every inch of the levels in your mind.
Should you somehow conquer all four of the elemental plains (*cough* save states), you will be treated to a prolonged and extremely nihilistic ending sequence in which Death points Chakkan's eyes to the stars streaming overhead, and informs him that his quest only ends when he has eliminated all evil; each of the stars he can see has its own worlds, each with their own plains and evils to conquer. His quest is never ending, and he will never know peace.
After the final credits have rolled, the player will be “treated” to a final boss, of sorts: a grotesque, clearly H.R. Giger inspired monstrosity that is impossible to defeat without some sort of cheat in place.
What is clear is that the designers never believed that any player would reach this far, as, should you happen to defeat this entity, there is nothing: only the hour glass, endlessly streaming the sands of time; no text, no credits; the only means of escaping the screen turning off the console and restarting the game.
The nihilism of this ending is extremely unusual amongst video games of the era; a likely product of the designers lack of belief that anyone would actually see it.
Chakkan is not a good game, by technical standards: it is frustrating, oblique, poorly designed and not fun to play. It is, however, an interesting aesthetic experience and an excellent example of how, very often, excellent ideas, aesthetic design and atmosphere are not enough to sustain interest when it comes to video games, and of how the technological limitations of the era often defeated true vision and artistic flare.
is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.