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Forgotten Franchises: Chakan
By: Ken Horowitz
"He came for me that day on a misty plain, and even now, an eternity later, I still hear his words:
"You have served me well Chakan, and sent many souls to me. But, you have grown too strong and powerful. I've been summoned to slay you this night."
He smiled, then said, "To a man of death from Death himself, a wager? If you win, Chakan, you shall live forever: if I win, your soul is mine to do with as I wish."
In my vanity, I foolishly accepted."
Originally based on a series of graphic novels by Robert A Kraus, Chakan: The Forever Man followed the story of an unbeatable warrior whose arrogance led him to challenge Death himself. Whether he won or lost is unknown but he did receive his wish: immortality. There was a catch, however, as Death cruelly changed him into a twisted mockery of his former self and forced him to battle supernatural evil throughout the world. Only when said evil was eliminated would he be set free. The books were sold at conventions and through distributors and did very well for an independent publication.
Sega released Chakan on the Genesis back in 1993 and it also sold well enough, knocking gaming on its collective ass with its excruciating difficulty. Developed by Ed Annunziata (who also did X-Men, Ecco the Dolphin, Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin, and 688 Attack Sub), the game continued where the graphic novels left off, ending with Chakan's victory over earth's evil foes. Believing he has filled his part of his bargain with Death, Chakan demands his freedom, only to be told that he has solely ended evil on one of many planets and must now seek out and eliminate it on other worlds.
Seems like the perfect set up for a sequel, right?
Annunziata's company AndNow was set to work on an exclusive Chakan sequel for Sega's late and great Dreamcast console. Development began in 1998 and the title was slated for a 2001 release. Twelve levels of intense action would take the player through all types of environments, including the River Styx (six levels were reported to have already been completed). The in-game engine would further the story (a la Legacy of Kain) through real-time cut scenes, finally giving the series the opportunity to flesh out (no pun intended) all the intricate details about who Chakan was and how he dealt with his horrific existence. You would be able to move the camera during these story sequences, offering a great new option of how best to view the story as it unfolded. These cut scenes would offer the gamer subtle clues about Chakan's next foe and how best to defeat him.
Moreover, the gameplay was to receive a shakeup by shedding its hack-and-slash Genesis roots and opting for a more action-oriented style. Observation would be a key element in that as you progressed through each area, enemies would respond differently to your movements. Moreover, what you saw in the cut scenes would be vital in aiding you find those foes. Remember that tree from the vision about your next enemy? You'd know he's around and about when you actually saw it in the level. The environments all had some sort of interactivity that could affect how you faced your foes.
Annunziata summed it up this way:
"Say your enemy has very good hearing, and each step you make can be heard by it from anywhere in the level. Make too much noise and your dead. But, the battle takes place during a heavy thunderstorm. When lighting crashes, make you move, or maybe you can find a surface that isn't as loud as your boots sloshing though the mud. Hopping from rock to rock might be another way to get to him."
The main character himself was also to be a tremendous source of information about what was going on in a level. Chakan would scan the surrounding area with his eyes, fixating on something of interest or impending danger. Players would have to watch his movements and learn to recognize and interpret his body language.
Another change to the previously established gameplay formula was that Chakan would no longer be limited to just his standard dual swords. As the game progressed, new weaponry becomes available including those of both the single and two-handed variety. Spiked clubs, axes, hooks, even laser guns would have been new tools of the trade.
Being an alchemist, Chakan depended on potion mixing in the first game to make his power ups. The Dreamcast sequel was to retain that feature. Flaming swords, and invisibility are only a couple of the supposed 65,000 possible combinations the game was to have. AndNow was even considering incorporating a VMU feature for your magic, allowing you to trade combinations with friends.
Seriously, this game was shaping up to be something awesome. Unfortunately, fate would conspire against the Forever Man and send him back to development limbo.
It is currently unknown exactly what caused Chakan to be cancelled. AndNow's web site literally hasn't been updated in years and information regarding the game's demise is virtually non-existent, while Jadedgamer.com reported that their efforts to get a developer response to their online petition fell on deaf ears. The closest there is to an actual press release from AndNow is an IGNDC article from October of 2000 wherein Annunziata stated that the game was in a "state of flux" (?) and that they "will NEVER give up on the game or the Character. AndNow is committed to our vision and we intend to see the game complete. Nothing can stop us (but some things can slow us down...)".
Could the game have experienced problems while in development? Maybe. A more likely scenario is that AndNow took a look at their calendar and realized that they would be putting out a product after the PS2 was to be released and right when 3rd party companies were abandoning the DC in droves. The only problem with this theory, of course, is that it doesn't answer the question: why not then release it for PS2? With Sega's strong support of the platform, it would have made sense to transfer development there.
Even more logical would have been to send the game to Xbox. Former Genesis heroes Toe Jam & Earl made the jump to Microsoft's green beast when it became clear that the DC was done for. Non-mainstream titles like Panzer Dragoon and Otogi: Myth of Demons, as well as Sega console favorites such as OutRun and House of the Dead have also made the Xbox their home. To simply erase Chakan from existence makes no sense, unless it was turning out to be less than the developer had anticipated. A lot of the gameplay changes were pretty drastic and may not have worked out as well as planned, leading to a quick and silent demise.
Whatever the reason may have been, seeing a game with as much potential as Chakan be cancelled is always unfortunate. It would have been nice to see another Genesis classic given one more chance on today's platforms as well. Still, there are always the graphic novels and the great Genesis game. Those will have to tide us over until the Forever Man claws his way back from whatever plane of development hell he was banished to three years ago.
Want to see what could have been? Check out this video of Chakan in motion!
Chakan character model animation
MPEG format, 8.96 megs.