Malicious [import] Review

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Malicious, from little known Japanese developer Alvion, is a 3D action game in the vein of God of War and Devil May Cry that was released on the Japanese Playstation Network in October 2010.

The story of Malicious is as straight forward as it is simple. It follows a spirit clad in a magical cloak and tasked with defeating a group of six evil creatures known as the "Malicious." While dialogue exposition reveals a bit more about the story, it does little beyond explaining the Spirit’s basic motivation.

Rather than storytelling, Malicious focuses on the most memorable part of games in general: the boss fights. In fact, Malicious is so committed to bosses that it does away with dungeon crawling altogether, making the game nothing but six epic battles against the Malicious and their thousands of eager minions.

Set up like the Mega Man games of old, the Malicious can be fought in any order the player chooses (sans the final boss of course). Also like Mega Man, the bosses offer up a new weapon or skill upon defeat, which can then be used to lend the Spirit a distinct advantage when facing one of the other Malicious. Even with the right weapon, defeating the Malicious is nearly impossible without the strategic use of “aura points.”

Upon killing any of a boss’ minions, the player gains a small amount of these aura points, which can then be used to heal the Spirit, power up attacks, or enter a limit break mode in which the Spirit can go toe to toe with the Malicious for a short time.

But even with all the weapons, skills, and aura powers, Malicious is still a very hard game. It demands the memorization of the Malicious’ attack patterns, alongside learning their individual weaknesses via nothing but blunt-force trial and error. Each stage is as much a puzzle as it is a battle, and sometimes, even knowing the solution is not enough as bad luck can defeat you as surely as any of the enemies.

While many people may enjoy the game's level of difficulty, the same can not be said for the notable examples of bad programming in Malicious. Erratic graphics slowdown and camera control issues plague the game from start to finish and enemy pathing errors can result in the Spirit being trapped under an immovable enemy or locked in an endless series of throw animations. These problems don’t make the game unplayable or even unenjoyable, but they are frustrating.

What downsides there are in Malicious are offset by the quality of the visual presentation. With bright colors and a cel-shaded look reminiscent of 2008’s Prince of Persia, it is simply beautiful in both design and style. The Malicious themselves range in appearance from human to beast to magical titans, but it is the Cloak of Ash that steals the show. It is stunning the way it shifts among forms, comprising all the Spirit's weapons and gear while still retaining its unique flowing appearance. Malicious is eye candy at its finest.

Even the damage system is complementary to the game's graphical beauty. As damage is taken, the Spirit’s body begins to dissipate; first an arm, then a leg, and so on. When the Spirit is healed, the limbs regenerate. The clothing does not, though the results are hardly scandalous. While inventive, this system causes one annoying problem. Amid the frantic actions and flashing colors of a pitched battle, it can be hard to see if there's a missing limb, even on a 42-inch HDTV.

Malicious is a game that came out of nowhere. No new technologies. No massive PR push. No prestigious creators behind it. Only the barest amount of hype. Yet, despite the occasional glitch, Malicious is a great downloadable title, especially if you like your games challenging. While it has not been announced for a western release, it is a game that can be both easily imported and played with no knowledge of the Japanese language. Malicious raises the bar for downloadable games and is well worth tracking down.

Good

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Richard Eisenbeis I am a freelance gaming journalist living and working in Japan. My written articles have been featured on Bitmob.com and Metropolis.co.jp. You can find my previous video reviews on youtube on the channel "Radicals Dreams." I am also part of the Out-Cast; a podcast of 3 longtime Japanese speaking gamers living here in Japan. To have a listen, just click the homepage link above.
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