"Yu Yu Hakusho is an anime about action. Knock-down, drag-out, ball-punching, head-crunching, back-breaking action. So how is that raw fighting spirit translated into this video game? Why, by molding it into a tactical RPG lite of course. What results from these mismatched styles is a game that is too sedate for the show, exacerbated by a skimpy narrative that cannot sustain the redundant fray. "
Yu Yu Hakusho is an anime about action. Knock-down, drag-out, ball-punching, head-crunching, back-breaking action. So how is that raw fighting spirit translated into this video game? Why, by molding it into a tactical RPG lite of course. What results from these mismatched styles is a game that is too sedate for the show, exacerbated by a skimpy narrative that cannot sustain the redundant fray.
Sure, Atari wants you to believe that Yu Yu Hakusho: Tournament Tactics captures the essence of the franchise; they actually forcefully labeled it as an action title. The foreboding bass synth beat may indicate a harrowing endeavor, but deliberately moving miniature versions of these heroes from square to square on an invisible grid doesn't scream action. Gone are the characteristic one-on-one duels to the death seen in the series, replaced by a turn-based system where your party of five is encouraged to gang up and attack hapless enemies from behind. A typical stage requires navigation around stalagmites and uneven terrain, avoiding the supersonic roar of anthropomorphic lions and staying out of range of gelatinous orange projectiles from alien-looking anteaters, in an effort to clear all enemies from the small cross section of the 3-D environment. You know, situations that don't appear in the show. And these repeat, virtually unchanged, about a dozen times in each of the seven levels, all punctuated by the long-awaited appearance of recognizable fighters in the Dark Arena.
Naturally, the characters will only be recognizable for those familiar with the exploits of Yusuke Urameshi and his band of men and demons. Tournament Tactics does nothing to elucidate their history, skipping directly to the Dark Tournament Saga that comprises the second major arc of the show. In fact, this game assumes you've seen that period as well; it doesn't come close to telling the complete tale. The most important events are depicted with a still frame or two from the anime, but most of the prefight banter alludes to events not seen in this bare rehash.
Just as this transition has lost all but the character likenesses and trademark attacks, the strategy has been left out of tactical portion of the game. In battle, the AI shows some smarts by cooperatively attacking the weakest member of your team, and they also generally attempt to move away and cover their vulnerable backs. However, as long as you refrain from a completely reckless approach, the good guys will always have the upper hand. Part of this arises from the fact that each battle is self-contained; vital statistics are refreshed starting out and victory is attained as long as one team member still stands. Fighters who fall will only incur a dip in energy for their next use, a small trifle since everyone has the natural ability to take a turn to rejuvenate health and spirit energy, the power spent making every attack. These attacks are the larger portion of the player's advantage. Eventually, some characters attain offensive moves that can strike down any enemy with a single blow. They'll also be quick enough to always take the first turn, which causes the anticlimactic effect of being able to kill the fearsome bosses before they even move.
Easy to attain as they are, the victories lead to some player management between rounds. Restorative and protective items are showered upon the party; trinkets that must be equipped to a certain fighter and are hardly worth messing with given the self-healing ability. Experience points are also gained and transformed into currency to upgrade character attributes. At first, this trick gives the illusion of power over how each fighter evolves, yet each person has the same four areas of skill and prices are such that the levels are naturally filled in a uniform manner. Really, the manual allocation controls something that could be done automatically.
But those experience points prompt the game's largest flaw. Only the five characters who fight earn the rewards, of course, but the party eventually balloons to ten members: the stars, befriended foes like Jin and Touya, even Yukina offers her skills as a medic. The number of battles, though, is severely limited; only constant fixtures will be able to max out their skills. Effectively, this is a punishment for anyone who actually wants to experiment with all the pieces available. If Urameshi in particular isn't used -- a reasonable proposition since he isn't the best -- it will be impossible to beat the final boss, since he finally must face an opponent alone. That's about twenty hours down the drain. The whole system is a cheap ploy to force repeated playthroughs in order to see everyone's full capabilities.
Still, there's no suppressing the coolness factor of playing as these favorite heroes. Seeing Yusuke pop off his Spirit Shotgun or catching a glimpse of Kurama transform into Yoko are highlights of the game. Even the usual bickering between Hiei and Kuwabara can momentarily overshadow their brief journey into this repetitive little world. Maybe this is just enough charm to entice fans into another licensed trap. Indeed, if this game featured a more complete retelling of the story or a more exciting way of incorporating all the characters from the show, then it might actually have been worth checking out. As it is, Yu Yu Hakusho and Tournament Tactics just don't fit together.
Community review by woodhouse (July 16, 2005)
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