One of my favorite things about finding ‘new’ games for old systems is how quickly they can transport you back to a specific time and place, even if it’s something you never actually played (or even knew existed) back in the day.
At least for me, the idea of finding a game I’d never played before, for a system that I owned at the time, can do a lot to recall the sensation of trying a new game back when that platform was still part of the current console generation. This sensation can almost be as important as the games themselves – being excited for some game you just read about in a magazine or on the internet (and probably begging your dad to rent it for you) is just as much a part of the “process” of playing video games as the actual playing can be, once you’ve gotten ahold of it.
So as happy as I always am to grab a new game for my Switch or my Series X or whatever, the idea of discovering a game for a beloved childhood console can be just as exciting. Existing games you didn’t play at release, unreleased games that someone finds down the road, games that were big in the import scene that you missed out on like Policenauts or Pepsiman – these games have a way of feeling ‘fresh’ and new even if it came out forever ago for a system you actually owned at the time. (Of course, if the game is also fun, all the better, right?)
The Rapid Angel is a great example of one of those games.
Originally released in 1999 and never leaving Japan (common speculation assumes that this was due, at least in part, to Sony’s restrictions on bringing over primarily 2D games), The Rapid Angel is, in its own words, a “high tension comical action game”, one of those charming genre self-descriptors that a lot of Japanese developers like to create – and a very true one, in this case.
A 2D action-platformer with shades of titles like Valis, El Viento, or a less-acrobatic Strider, The Rapid Angel puts you in the shoes of one of three delivery girls, given the task of delivering a very important document to the president of a major manufacturing concern. That premise could already have some legs, as things like Paperboy and Pepsiman have shown us how fun the simple act of trying to deliver something to someone can be, but (as one would expect) it gets a lot sillier from there.
The girls quickly find themselves thrust into the heart of a major conspiracy involving (as best as I can tell from clumsily Google Translating the dialogue) insider trading, financial improprieties, a wizard’s apprentice, a wandering swordsperson, a magical cat, and prototype military mecha. And yet, through it all, they remain steadfastly focused on their goal of delivering these documents, no matter how many baffling turns their adventure takes.
That description of the events therein should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. A lot of the game’s humor falls somewhere between Slayers and Excel Saga, where absurd things keep happening that you’re asked to take at face value, while the main characters get increasingly irritated with how convoluted their journey becomes. I’m sure a lot of the written dialogue is much funnier if you have a greater understanding of Japanese, but the sketchy, expressive art style is enough to convey the game’s lighthearted tone and get some laughs on its own, even if (like me) you’re not quite able to read the dialogue.
The game’s art style also does a lot to keep it looking graphically sharp, even compared to a lot of the more 3D-heavy games of the time that perhaps haven’t held up as well. The sprites are detailed without being distracting, the music is fantastic, and it employs some graphical tricks seen in certain 90s arcade games (or even something like Guardian Heroes) by being able to zoom in and out of the action at predetermined points to show more of the screen as needed, creating something of a ‘scaling’ effect like that of Space Harrier. While the reliance on 2D graphics might’ve been considered something of a ‘throwback’ even at the time (given as it released some 3 years after Super Mario 64 made us all decide that pointy polygons were the near-term future of gaming), it uses these graphics in a way that feels rooted in the tradition of 2D action games without feeling like a gimmick, the way a lot of ‘faux retro’ games do, both then and now.
So far, this all sounds very up my alley, as I know it does for a lot of you. A fun 2D action game on a system where that was a rarity (even when the ones that it had were still very good, like Mega Man 8), with a hilarious anime-inspired art style that isn’t terribly difficult or complex? I would’ve rented this game every dang weekend if I could.
And maybe that’s why the game made me so oddly nostalgic and emotional. It would’ve come out right around the time I was discovering how much I loved anime (and realizing how many of my favorite games also came from Japan), and considering how many beat-em-ups and platformers I loved when I was younger, this would’ve been a perfect storm of my interests.
Getting to play this on an emulator was a brief glimpse into a world where I saw this on the shelf at a Blockbuster, and being curious to see what this nice red-haired anime girl with the big metal punching hands was up to. Firing it up, hearing the amazing PSX startup noise, seeing all the late-90s graphical tricks and font choices, enjoying the wonderful anime art and expressive sprites – all of it transported me back to the Playstation era in a way that might not even be matched by games I actually played, because it felt so untouched by memories of me replaying it later, or seeing it re-released for PS3 or something. (Which, ironically, this totally was, I was just too shamefully out of the loop to notice.)
Even if it wasn’t fun, playing Rapid Angel was so weirdly comforting and sentimental for me that I would’ve loved the experience, but it’s also a great friggin game that could stand up on its own in any era. So I can recommend it to two sorts of people: anyone who loves underappreciated 2D action games, anyone who was reading both EGM and Animerica at the same time, or both.
If either of those apply to you, fire up an ISO of Rapid Angel (because a physical copy is way too much money right now, just like any game released before 2008 is), listen to a band you haven’t thought about since high school, and find yourself sent back to a much better (or at least simpler) time.
Just remember to use save states, or you’re gonna be there a while.