Ever felt like taking control of an all around rough and tumble guy, using lots of weapons and spells, and possibly (inevitably) getting pounded by the bad guys before you end them once and for all? Like you games tough. Well, here’s a real doozy for you. Chakan: The Forever Man, developed and published by Sega, is one of the hardest action platformers I’ve every played. If you have the need to be punished but don’t have the cash for a dominatrix, try Chakan instead.
It feels odd saying this about an action platformer, but the most intriguing part of Chakan: The Forever is the story. Chakan is fighter that is seemingly unbeatable. He travels the world to take out bad guys and has never been beaten. He starts bragging that even Death could not defeat him. Well, one day Death shows up, stating if Chakan wins he’ll be granted life everlasting. After days of fighting, Chakan wins and is granted immortality, but with the curse of feeling the suffering of others. So Chakan sets out to stop peoples’ pain at the hands of others. Badass. The best part is once you think you’ve beaten the game, you get a sad ending about how you’ll never rest because of the misery in the world and can continue on fighting. Fake endings always win points with me, and this one is presented in such a way that deepens the story and steels you to play on.
The game is broken down into four dimensions: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. Each dimension has a few stages. These stages can be played in any order, but you’ll need to get certain items from other areas to advance. For example, stage two of the fire dimension cannot be completed without the grappling hook, which is found in the first stage of the water dimension. You jump and slash your way through, finding new objects and power-ups along the ways.
There are no lives since you are an indestructible warrior. When you are defeated in a level, you are sent back to the hub world to retry to stage. This is helpful because you will be dying a lot. Chakan is a hard game. This is a game that is beatable only if you are either a gaming savant or are capable of memorizing levels. Level design is a bit maze like and can be confusing. You’ll often be wandering around looking for the right path. It can be frustrating and you’ll feel the need to take breaks. This is a trial and error game. There are three play modes: hard, easy, and practice. Hard and easy are regular play modes. Practice gives you all the spells and unlimited potions, which are used to power your spells. Starting in this mode is great because you can play around with the spells, seeing what they do and how they affect your style of play. High jumps, fire swords, and health regeneration saved my life every time I played. Enemies die with relative ease, but can pop up at in-screen spawn points as well as from off-screen and will deal big damage in large groups, swarming around you like locusts (actually, I think there are locusts in the game). Various weapons you collect have more strength and multiple uses. The war hammer can smash through fake walls, the grappling hook can grasp sconces, etc. You’ll mostly be using your swords because of they ability to be focused for their predetermined striking ability.
Fighting isn’t about precision hits. Your swords are your best friends because you can attack in diagonally, horizontally, and vertically. But you won’t be timing your attacks; you’ll be presetting them. If you hold the attack button and the directional pad, Chakan will keep his swords in that position, damaging any enemies that come in contact with the blades. This is especially useful for low enemies in waves as they run into your swords like lemmings. Since you are unable to control your axe, scythe, and hammer as such, nor are you able to spin jump with these weapons, you won’t be using them much. You can handle your grappling hook in the same way as the swords, but its less accurate and you’ll only be using it to hit enemies while jumping with the hook. But everything Chakan does, he does looking sharp.
Chakan’s outfit looks as if Karl Lagerfeld designed for The Pirates of the Dark Water. His all-sage green garb is complemented perfectly by bandolier and enormous hat. It’s dark, brooding, and comes across as a Cajun version of Vampire Hunter D. Clothes make the man, and Chakan looks like the kind of man who has no problem taking our evil praying mantises. He looks right at home swinging a giant hammer or spin jumping from rock wall to dragon statue.
(Brief Pirates of the Dark Water Rant: that was one of my favorite shows as a child. I’ve only recently learned that they never produced the last half of the episodes, leaving five of the thirteen treasures never to be found. But as a child, I didn’t know this. Every time the show came on I watched, hoping for a new treasure to be discovered. But every episode ended in disappointment. Screw you Hanna-Barbera for not finishing your best show! SCREW YOU!)
The music is Chakan is reminiscent of the Trent Reznor score for Quake, pulsating, moody, and heavy with some 90’s era bass lines that would be at home in a Korn music video. New songs in new levels make for one fresh to death soundtrack. Would I want to hear any outside of the game? Not on your life. But it sets the mood and compliments the graphics and game play quite nicely.
Enemies are abstract and bland at the same time. Bland because they’re mostly fire bats, dragonflies, worms, lizard men, and such. Abstract because the smaller enemies all look like blobs. In the water dimension, it’s hard to distinguish the small green enemies in the water from the small green enemies in the air, making it seem as green globules were the only attackers in the level and came across as lazy design. Mini bosses are nearly indistinguishable from regular aggressors. I past a medium sized octopus three times before I realized I had to kill it to advance to the next stage. Plus later on I fought multiple octopi making its first appearance less special than the impossibly low regard I held for it. Major bosses aren’t much of a revelation either. Elkenrod of the fire dimension runs out from behind some columns after navigating the level. When you beat her, the game fades to black and Chakan reappears in front of the hub world’s crazy steam punkesque hourglass machine. Even without special treatment for boss fights and stock enemies, Chakan: The Forever Man is still a fun game that will leave hardcore gamers satisfied.
Chakan was close to having a sequel on the Dreamcast, but was shelved when the Dream Machine was put out to pasture. Animations and developer interviews can be found online, and there was a lot of promise and ambition behind the sequel. The small cult following for Chakan is the vocal minority of the game, but wondering what could have been will be the closest we’ll ever get. Fortunately, we have Chakan: The Forever Man to beat us senseless, validating our tears and making the victory over spider queens and dragonfly kings that much sweeter.