The lights are on
When it comes to videogames, I’m bad at being bad.
Even when I know that everything is virtual—the world, its inhabitants, everything—I still tend to be very conscious of my behavior. The one time I tried going Renegade while playing a demo for Mass Effect 2, I was so bothered by the actions I’d taken and the choices I’d made that I shut the game off after less than 15 minutes. I’d rather suffer through a harder level of difficulty than slaughter innocent polygonal animals, unless there’s simply no realistic means of progression otherwise. Heck, even inconveniencing a game’s characters bothers me—which is why I feel guilty whenever I talk to Dark Souls NPCs too many times, go out of my way not to pull Yorda’s arm too suddenly inIco, or cut short exploration in Uncharted when Sully or Elena express frustration over my dawdling.
And yet, every now and then, when the right game comes along, a darker, sinister me sometimes comes out. Since its early, pre-3D days, one of those games has been Grand Theft Auto, serving as a playground where I constantly eschewed storyline progression in exchange for seeing how much destruction and mayhem I could cause. Another example? A somewhat obscure and niche Japanese release for the original PlayStation called Tecmo’s Deception.
The original Deception was a game that I never should have liked. Players take up the role of a man who, after his execution, pleads with the devil for another chance at life. He’s granted his wish, but in exchange must rule over a massive, gothic castle, one that he must defend from intruders.
That means of defense? Setting traps, and then springing them on whoever walks through the castle doors—no matter if they’re soldiers or commoners. In the first Deception, gameplay was pretty crude: walk around the castle in a first-person viewpoint, set simple traps, and trigger them at the right time. By the time Kagero: Deception II came along, the idea became far more fleshed out. The player character—Millennia, who helped usher in the series’ move to female protagonists—could now be seen thanks to the shift to a third-person playstyle, and traps had more flexibility to set up as unfolding combos. Snag that poor sap who wandered in by mistake in a bear trap, shoot him in the back with an iron arrow, and then drop a boulder onto a staircase so that it rolls down to crush him!
It wasn’t that Deception allowed me to be evil—it was that it allowed me to be sadistically, criminally, unrepentantlyevil. All those characters I’d played second fiddle to throughout the years, all of those little children who ran off into monster-filled caves that I had to rescue, all of those forced love interests that I had had to put up with, all of those townsfolk who wanted me to be their savior yet charged me for weapons and beds at the inn, I could picture them as the fodder that filed into my domain and took glee in coming up with increasingly demented ways to snuff out their existence. If I were ever going to be bad in a videogame, I had to do so in the grandest, most abhorrent way possible.
Later efforts in the Deception series pointed to the possibility that, going forward, Tecmo might be wanting to tone down some of the series’ evil slant—or, at least soften up its protagonists a bit. Thankfully, Deception IV: Blood Tiesthrows any notions of a kinder, gentler Deception out the window. While the game isn’t as dark or demonic in tone as it could’ve been, it also isn’t afraid to task you with being evil without offering an excuse or justifiable reason for doing what you’re doing. I mean, main character Laegrinna is the daughter of Satan, tasked with aiding in the resurrection of her father by drawing in the 12 legendary saints, killing them, and recovering the sacred text known as the Holy Verses that serves as the key to his resurrection. In attempting to accomplishing that task, the only pause she gives before dispatching her foes is to tell them point blank that they’re about to be dispatched. My fears of a watered-down, “she has to be bad but doesn’t want to be” heroine were thankfully for naught.
Also concerning for me previous to playing were Laegrinna’s three Daemon assistants: Caelea, Veruza, and Lilia. In design and art style, they hinted that Deception IV might be trying to sneak in some fanservice in order to appeal to a wider audience—or, given the sleeper hit status of the series, any audience. Once in the game, I found myself appreciating all three of my Satan-spawned assistants, each for different reasons. Sure, they’ve been tailored to check off as many anime/JRPG trope boxes as possible, but they’re also extremely likable. They add a bit of humor to the game at points where it won’t break the narrative, and the way they root you on for being a heartless b*tch helps keep you from feeling too guilty for being a murderous monster. Surprisingly, it was a portion of the game where I hadn’t held any concerns over attempts at fanservice that ended up tainting Deception IV’s portrayal of women: the female soldiers who help make up the cast of characters that serve as invaders to whatever location you’re currently inhabiting. A shocking number of them sport character models who seem to have forgotten to put on pants—and when you’ve got a soldier who has full plate armor from her torso up and her knees down, those bare calves and thighs feel more like a bizarre element of pandering than they do legitimate character design.
Caelea, Veruza, and Lilia also serve a more important role, since they help usher in one of the biggest changes thatDeception IV sees over previous entries. Each is the master of a certain style of trap: Elaborate, Sadistic, and Humiliating, respectively. Like before, players will use (and unlock) different types of traps—ground, ceiling, wall, projectiles, and so on—but now they also belong to one of those three styles. That additional layer of classification comes into play when trying to accomplish requests from the Daemon sisters, but they also give the developers the chance to infuse Deception IV with a little more creativity. Why just have a trap that locks an opponent in place for a few seconds, when you can instead humiliate them by having them ride a wooden horse?
Another major departure from previous Deception titles is how you’ll go about actually setting off those traps. Before, they were assigned to each face button on a PlayStation controller; now, you can select between your prepared traps with either the D-pad or shoulder buttons and activate them with the X button. Initially, this might seem like it would be harder to properly combo traps, but in fact, it’s much easier—so long as you’ve given trap placement a little forethought. As soon as you activate one trap, the next in line will be selected, and so on. Going through an entire six- or seven-trap sequence now has a smooth flow to it, and if there’s a particular trap that you really want to always have available at a moment’s notice, you can assign it (or other abilities like dodging or healing) to a set face button.
While changes such as those were welcome and appreciated, I was equally impressed by what also happensoutside of Deception IV’s main story mode. In an era when many games require numerous DLC packs to feel like a content-rich experience, Tecmo Koei offers something that feels robust right from the start. As you complete the various chapters of Laegrinna’s lengthy adventure, you can go back and freely battle it out using customized mixes of the stages you’ve seen and the foes you’ve faced. If you want something more structured, Missions mode offers up to 100 tasks with set time limits and win conditions—and, given how challenging later missions can be, running through all of them is far from easy. Burn through all of that, and Cross-Quests mode awaits, where player-generated challenges can be created, tested, uploaded, or downloaded. This won’t let you make anything near as complex as what you’ll find in Story mode, but it’s still a welcome option that means Deception IV could offer you new challenges for months (or even years) to come. Finally, cross-platform saves between the PS3 and PS Vita versions are great for those who decide to double dip, and alternative outfits for Laegrinna are unlocked with effort—not cash.
It wasn’t long into Deception IV that I realized just how wonderful it felt to be visiting the series again. It’s been a long time since the franchise and I sat down together for some sadistic pleasure—though, to be fair, I missed the 2005 PS2 spin-off, Trapt—and this really feels like a an extension of what came before, just given some modern polish.Deception IV is classic Deception, and I mean that in ways both good and bad. Since the start, this has been a series that’s felt original and groundbreaking, but also one where its limitations were absolutely obvious. To this day, it’s easy to feel as if enemies come in only one of two flavors: dumb as a bag of rocks and existing simply for your amusement, or so seemingly cheap and overpowered that you’ll want to throw your controller (or Vita) against the nearest wall. Sometimes, progress will come from simply finding the cheesiest spammable solution you can find, and if you allow yourself, it’s dreadfully easy to just stick with the same selection of traps and never bother unlocking or upgrading others.
With that all being true, however, I can’t not love Deception IV. Yes, the enemy AI isn’t the best, the gameplay can feel repetitive, and the production values are sometimes a little questionable. But, damn, there’s just so much entertainment waiting within this game, and figuring out the most effective-yet-brutal trap setups plays out as some twisted homage to Rube Goldberg. Even when a certain boss killed me over, and over, and over, and over, and Iswore they were a broken piece of garbage, I never stopped wanting to play. Even after the hundredth time I subjected some hapless victim to a certain sequence of traps, doing it for the 101st time still brought joy to my heart.Deception IV is the type of game we don’t get enough of anymore, an example of that expansive middle ground between big-budget triple-A projects and the array of attempts from the indie scene. There used to be a time when so much of what I played could be described as “fun but flawed,” and that was just how life worked. Grand ideas aren’t always afforded grand execution or budgets. Development team members often number in the teens, not hundreds. As a critic, it’s my job to try to pass judgement on a game after looking at it from all angles and considering how it succeeded (or failed) in everything it tried to do. As a gamer, however, I still remember that the most important thing a game can do is be fun.
And, even with its flaws, there’s no question that Deception IV is definitely that: fun
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