Trapt in a Rut
A while ago I picked up an old Playstation game called Deception III. Aside from having a translation that almost seemed to have come from the 8 bit era (read: bad) it was also notable for reversing the trend and allowing the player to indulge in setting the traps to catch out the adventurers... well, assassins but same idea. It was a nice change and certainly got me interested in trying others from the series. So Trapt from the following generation seemed ideal... until I started playing and was somewhat unimpressed. It's not bad, but it's just so average.
Let me start with the one thing that definitely did improve and discuss the graphics, though honestly I would have been surprised if this had been worse. Character models are vastly superior which have a much smoother appearance and plenty of intricate details to avoid the flat polygon look. The designs are also pretty impressive and take full advantage of the extra processing power, though I must confess that Allura's choice of costume is outright weird and is obviously done for fanservice (case in point it looks like it has chunks of fabric missing in the oddest places). The interaction between hapless victims and traps has a step up as well. You can still expect an action cam that zooms in to show the damage, but it looks more like you just impaled that sap onto the spiked wheel instead of pressed the model hard against it.
The environments all follow a pretty similar tone of dark drab castles, halls or other such locations, which do get broken up by things like the waterways room or the castle gardens which, while still dark and gloomy, give off a bit more of an individual feel to them. The tone does help to offset the bright luminous markers that signify where your traps are set though, helping in your cause to inflict great damage. Detail wise it's pretty impressive, especially when you see the special things like the water and fire.
On the audio front it's about the same as before with one exception. The game does make much more use of voiced dialogue for ths main storyline content. All in Japanese and I can't really say it's emotionally moving or anything like that but it's not bad so it is nice to have it all the same. Death cries and verbal threats are in here as well, though after a while it may be tempting to button press past the deaths as their dying words do tend to take a while.
Elsewhere the arrangement of music tracks is of the suitable but forgettable variety, as they play in the background with tones that rely the impending threats of the assassins that seek Allura's head but I wouldn't sing any praises over it. Sound effects are what you would expect, with convincing enough sounds of blades slashing through bodies or large rocks crushing anything underneath.
The story focuses on Princess Allura, who gets framed for the assassination of her father the king and is forced to flee the castle with her maid. The pair take refuge in an abandoned mansion but enemies are out for her blood. This is where the Fiend speaks to her and grants her the trap powers to fight back in exchange for the souls of those she kills going to him.
There are a few twists and all but overall it's fairly poorly handled. A good part of this is down to the poor translation, where apparently no lessons were learned from the previous games and still makes things hard to follow. Even then, some things just make no sense whatsoever. Without giving plot details away, Allura does something at an early stage that seems to contradict something from beforehand. It's not helped by the poor cast of characters, the majority of whom have very little development and are just not interesting to me.
The core gameplay is more or less the same. Allura herself can equip up to nine personal traps with 3 from each category for each level, and she can set one from each category in a single room at any time. A welcome change from before is that you can now set traps in any room without physically being there, letting you set them up well ahead of time should you feel the need to make a run for it. Traps consist of floor, wall and ceiling traps and you have a lot of freedom over where to put them with only a few limits (like you can't place a ceiling traps where a floor or room trap is). All traps have a charge time before they become usable which varies by trap but is never too long. From there it's just a press of the relevant button to trigger them and catch the enemies in them.
In addition to the personal traps are the environment traps. Any given room excluding the transition corridors have a variety of local hazards like an active waterwheel, a drawbridge, falling chandeliers, columns that can be knocked over and spinning spiked columns, to name just a few of them. There's a good selection on offer and as you move through rooms and levels you'll find more to play with.
Of course, the point isn't just to hit them but to hit them a lot and in combos. Striking with combinations, such as clamping an assassin in a bear trap, firing an arrow into them and then slashing a pendulum blade into them is not only more satisfying but also benefits from much better damage output. Mixing these with the environment is the key to scoring high too and there is definitely some fun to be had in flinging their bodies around and seeing that your hard work has paid off. Suffice to say that all this trap setting requires patience though.
This is where my first disappointment steps forward though. As before, you have the option of creating and then equipping new traps by using the warl you earn from hitting enemies with traps and clearing levels in the story mode. Deception III had a very impression customization aspect to this that let you preview the effect and a variety of options including element, ring and orbs. Trapt removes all that and gives a more barebones system that isn't anywhere near as much fun. Now you can only buy traps without all the extra features. Worse still, you have to buy the early traps to unlock later ones, and there is absolutely nothing that lets you figure out what unlocks what. Want that vacuum floor? Good luck trying to find out how to even get it to appear in the buy menu.
As well as traps you also have to buy keys to unlock rooms in the different levels, which feels like a very cheap trick. So now, instead of having the full levels available to you as soon as you reach them you have to sacrifice warl just to open them up fully, and even then you might find yourself buying a room key only to find yourself in a different location the very next level and it also limits the starting points for Allura, since the game apparently can't be sure if you've purchased a certain key or not.
My next problem lies more with having already played the last game and thus doesn't apply if you're new to the series but worth mentioning all the same. There is very little new here in the trap selection. Bear traps, large rocks, pendulum blades, arrows... we've seen all this before. I've slaughtered so many with these things that it's just not as fresh as I had hoped. Environment traps seem to suffer a similar issue. Spiked caskets, falling columns, falling chandeliers. Yeah, all too familiar to me as well. There are some nice new ideas in here, like launching opponents into a spiked wheel, which proceeds to roll down the stairs and drop victims straight onto electric chairs, but certainly not enough to avoid feeling a bit stale already.
The enemies cover a broad range such as basic villagers who think a knife is enough to veteran knights in full body armour and even a few mages that prefer to lob spells at you from a distance. As well as bringing various weapons to the party different classes also possess various immunities to certain kinds of traps, like being able to avoid getting caught in pincer devices or managing to evade any projectiles you might throw at them. Character status screens will helpfully list all these so as to avoid guessing games and it does attempt to encourage more varied trap setups.
The game still only puts in two enemies at a time, though even this can prove challenging enough when they are travelling together, and the behaviour still manages to be humorously predictable, which as before is both good and bad. On the plus side it avoids seeing too much frustration as enemies happily walk straight into your wonderful traps and lets you revel in the sadistic notion of mass pain, which seems somewhat necessary given the slow pace of things. On the other hand it makes things a bit easy as there is little reason, immunities aside, to try much different. Even the odd trait when a projectile user won't fire across a clear gap or across a waist high barrier is still here.
The controls seem to have gone up and down. Analogue control now makes Allura much easier to control her direction than earlier games so there is no real concern of navigating around hazards. On the other hand, the camera can be awkward at times when trying to move it around. It's also worth noting that Allura seems to run fairly slowly, which might make her role more believeable but can lead to trap runs lasting longer than they need to.
The ingame subscreens have received a bit of a facelift but generally serve the same kind of purpose. Information on the enemies currently in the stage can be reviewed here and a map of the whole level, including optional zoomed in views where you can set traps, can also be accessed. THis map is useful for seeing where enemies are too.
Unfortunately, there seems to have been a downgrade outside of story mode too. While Deception III was hardly overflowing with game modes it had enough to work. The only other game mode now is a basic survival, which tasks you with killing off enemies with traps as fast as you can while trying to stay alive. It's OK but lacks variety as it feels so much like more of the same anyway. It boggles the mind because they already had good modes in the last game that should have been carried over. There's no indepth tutorial mode and the expert mode that set up actual goals to hit has also been stripped out. The worst offence though is the complete lack of a free training option, which forces you to get used to the levels during normal play and does not grant you the freedom to simply have unrestricted fun in the levels.
To sum it up, the latest entry in the series hasn't tried much different from before, and most of what it does do differently it does so poorly. There's still a sense of satisfaction in luring enemies into intricate trap combos, but I've done it all before and some of these elements simply don't integrate into the product particularly well. Might be worth a curious go at a very low price but there are plenty of other PS2 titles vying for your cash that will be more worth it in the end.
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