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Tecmo's Deception: Invitation to Darkness (PlayStation) artwork

Tecmo's Deception: Invitation to Darkness (PlayStation) review

"This is the story of Henry the merchant, a loveless miser who nonetheless ventures to the darkest depths of distant Zemekia in search of the fabled Castle of the Damned and handsome profits. After all, even the sadistic blackguard reputed to dwell there must surely appreciate those little niceties like silken bat wings, eyes of newt, and the carefully bottled tears of heartbroken virgins. Unfortunately this portly peddler's greed comes to an ignoble end when he finds himself impaled upon poisoned steel spikes that suddenly shriek forth from a nearby wall."

This is the story of Henry the merchant, a loveless miser who nonetheless ventures to the darkest depths of distant Zemekia in search of the fabled Castle of the Damned and handsome profits. After all, even the sadistic blackguard reputed to dwell there must surely appreciate those little niceties like silken bat wings, eyes of newt, and the carefully bottled tears of heartbroken virgins. Unfortunately this portly peddler's greed comes to an ignoble end when he finds himself impaled upon poisoned steel spikes that suddenly shriek forth from a nearby wall.

Enter the shining cavalier Londo and his honorable band of fellow knights, men dedicated to naught but the principles of brotherhood and justice. Dispatched by the rightful king of the realm, they stalk through these deadly shadows with trusty blades in hand looking to punish this monster for his countless horrific crimes. Alas, not even the bravest of hearts or manliest of moustaches proves to be of any avail against the merciless mass of a ten ton weight.

Eventually the ever increasing reward offered for ridding the land of its unholy menace entices a husband and wife team of adventurers who hope to combine their might and magic not in the name of vengeance or glory, but to spare the life of cherished young daughter Rosa from the ravages of her wasting illness. Later that night the innocent girl sits alone in her bedroom, quietly sobbing to the darkness that will one day claim her.

"Mommy! . . . Daddy! . . ." she wails. "Where are you?"

Child, your parents are never coming home. Their souls have been devoured by Satan.

This is the twisted tale of Tecmo's Deception, and you are the nameless prince who eagerly surrenders his once noble spirit to the legions of darkness after being unjustly accused of his father's murder and led to the gallows. However rather than providing endless youth or eldritch spells to unleash Hell's Explosive Venom, that wily devil bequeaths a collection of fiendish traps to spread throughout your accursed new abode as well as a contract to bring about his resurrection one callous murder at a time.

Yes, in the vein of the celebrated Dungeon Keeper and malevolent Wizardry IV, you're thrust into the role of lurking villain, directing unhallowed wrath upon the do-gooders who dare intrude upon your depraved domain. Aside from the aforementioned spikes and oversized anvils, the Adversary's arsenal includes (not quite) bottomless pits concealed in the floor, bursts of gas causing temporary insanity, and a Python-esque clawed foot that descends from the ceiling to smear some hapless hero into sticky jam. Fallen angels, it would seem, retain a sense of humor. Survival, however, is no laughing matter; being otherwise incapable of defending yourself means that selecting the proper array of these gruesome devices in just the right spots is absolutely essential to success. You need only lure your chosen victim within range of a trap by using your oh so vulnerable person as bait, but certain choices are more effective against specific enemy classes; even a perfectly laid pitfall is likely to be dodged by nimble ninjas. Another useful strategy is to attempt capturing your foes instead; after inflicting just enough punishment to wear someone down you can also employ an electrified cage or grasping hand to take the luckless prisoner alive – but only long enough to savor the piercing screams of anguish as you either butcher him for a heap of extra gold or rip out her immortal essence for additional MP.

One would expect that all this blatant slaughter in the service of devils would have conjured up an outcry faster than you can say "Ades, Satan," but amazingly enough Tecmo got off with a laughably mild Teen rating and none of the controversy that ultimately ensnared Night Trap, although it does warn of "satanic references" in miniscule lettering on the back of the jewel case. Oh yes, "references." By the burning balls of Ba'alzebub, this outing promises untold hours of undying, sadistic entertainment as you sink ever deeper into the seductive embrace of evil! Just ask this typically satisfied gamer who boldly accepted Tecmo's Invitation to Darkness:

" . . . "

Hahaha, he should have known better than to haggle with the Prince of Lies, for it will soon become apparent that this promise is but a hollow . . . deception.

There are twenty-seven different missions in addition to optional opportunities to go off body collecting, but it isn't long before the lack of any real variety causes them to blur together into a overly familiar haze. While a given stage might occasionally feature a powerful lone invader, most of the time you're fending off multiple waves of angry mobs whose behavior seldom deviates from their class type, and you'll be encountering the same groups over and over again. This situation is only exacerbated by the fact that you don't receive any new traps until halfway through the game, and even then they're basically the exact same snares sporting a slightly different look coupled with greater radius and damage. It's also possible to construct additional rooms and hallways for your hellish home, but this is a rather dubious blessing as it gives your guests more ground in which to wander aimlessly before you locate them, and is the most likely reason why saving requires an obscene NINE blocks of memory. That's over half of an original PlayStation memory card! Man, this game truly was inspired by the infernal forges of the Nine Hells.

If you've experienced later (better) entries in the series there's little else that will seem familiar, as the original title introduced a number of features that were never heard from again. The most obvious of these are the 1st person perspective along with its role-playing focus on gaining levels through successful kills and purchasing items from itinerant traders before you slay them as well. Unfortunately the popular concept of chaining traps into cleverly complimentary combinations wouldn't arrive until Kagero, so instead you're simply allowed to cram as many death dealers into each room as you like so long as they don't overlap – but they also have a limited number of uses before they disappear completely. God help you (unlikely) if you should ever exhaust all your traps in the middle of a mission, as you'll have no recourse but to drop everything, flee all the way back to the castle's power source, and wait an eternity for the strategic map to load so you can whip up some replacements.

The final unique aspect of the first installment is particularly noteworthy for breaking that most important rule of the entire franchise: the creation and subsequent summoning of vile monstrosities, which allow you to directly target opponents with their single devastating strikes in exchange for expensive crystals. This can dramatically speed up the gameplay but acts as a decidedly double-edged sword; your patchwork horrors gain all the experience from any kill they make, causing them to evolve into stronger forms but ultimately leaving you underpowered after only a brief period of time. They're also pretty difficult to create, requiring a nightmarish medley of captured corpses from the optional missions. Yet it may be hard to resist the potential for mayhem when your former fiancée, the lovely lass Fiana, visits the castle after hearing whispers of your fate and insists upon spending the night. Will you feel any regret as you watch the love of your life gradually degenerate into a misshapen horror just so you could have the most powerful creature in the game tear into her horrified subjects with a fanged grin, or merely the paternal pride of finely-stitched craftsmanship?

The ultimate reward for pressing on is one of six distinct conclusions hinging upon your choices in the final two chapters, but you're unlikely to ever see them all since an equally pivotal factor involving the fate of Fiana occurs all the way back in the eighth; by the end this will feel rather more like an eternity ago. The sheer repetition involved makes even a single journey through this admittedly unique tale of traps and treachery an exhausting undertaking; the mere thought of a second attempt is simply too daunting to contemplate. Yet it counts for much that the jaw-dropping premise and diabolical style of this game have never been duplicated – even if its myriad sins bar Deception from ever reaching gaming heaven, the benefits of playing it on an emulator with save states may just keep you from casting it into the lake of fire.

sho's avatar
Staff review by Sho (October 28, 2009)

Sho enjoys classic video games, black comedy, and poking people until they explode -- figuratively or otherwise. He also writes a bit.

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zippdementia posted October 28, 2009:

I think you could have cut down the length of this one, but I'm gonna give you extra points for referencing both Night Trap and Hell's Explosive Venom.

Seriously, I didn't know that other people knew what Hell's Explosive Venom was.
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bloomer posted October 29, 2009:

More naming shenanigans... This game was called 'Devil's Deception' in less religiously obsessed parts of the world - EG Sydney. I owned it, played it, reviewed it, gave it 4/10, played it some more, added an epilogue to the review in 2001, and still gave it 4/10.

I remember Zig reviewing this at gamefaqs, winning RoTD, then accusing the rewarders of rewarding him for producing extreme fluff. And it was pretty fluffy.
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zigfried posted October 29, 2009:

I've tried my best to block Deception from my mind, but I remember two things about why the game is evil:

1) The bottom of the disc is black, which proves that videogames are not beyond Satan's sinister reach.

2) The game screamed (even though it has no mouth) when I threw it into the blazing fireplace. Mumm-ra also screamed when thrown into the fire.


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