Chakan: The Forever Man earned its reputation in blood and bones. Brutally difficult, it tells the story of a man trying to reclaim his lost humanity. It leads you down a cruel and unforgiving path, refusing to hold your hand or guide you when things get tough, which they do from the second you push start.
Dark Souls did the same almost two decades later. Unflinching in its difficulty, like Chakan it punishes the simplest mistakes with swift, terminal vengeance, refusing the player any respite, and teaching them that death lurks around every corner.
These two games, which are separated by a monumental technological gap, define the masochistic urge that drives gamers on perfectly. Rather than teach with tutorials, knowledge is earned through failure. Every death is a pattern to be remembered and avoided, every incorrect footstep a mental mark on a map already littered with skulls and gravestones.
If anything, Chakan is the tougher of the two. Fish will kill you, creatures burst out and attack with no warning, leaps require pixel perfect timing, and death leaves you languishing back at the central hub where all of its levels begin from.
For a legendary warrior, you arsenal of slashes and leaps seems a little flimsy, with your twin swords often useless against the enemies that attack from all sides. New weapons are earned in the first section of the first four levels, but you’re always inadequately armed, and hopelessly outnumbered.
Boss battles are ridiculously hard, and there are no retries or continues, just teleportation back to the hub world and another slog through seemingly insurmountable odds. Later levels are filled with creatures that can kill you with a single touch, and traps that suck you to your doom.
Potions can be mixed to restore health and aid you in your battles, but you need to find the components first, and the vials to contain the liquid once you’ve mixed it. Nothing is simple, nothing is easy, and every completed level feels like a victory of Herculean proportions.
Even the ending of the game is a battle of attrition, with a boss fight against a Giger-esque beast that you only get one shot at, followed by a fifteen minute wait to see a single line of text appear on screen declaring that it’s ‘not the end’.
Chakan remains one of the most difficult games ever created. It’s relentlessly grim, dragging you through dungeons filled with flame, skulls and vicious creatures that would love nothing more than to snack on the marrow inside your immortal bones. Chakan’s struggle echoes through the console generations, finding resonance in Dark Souls’ gloomy, death filled catacombs.
Both games are beyond the powers of most gamers, both try the patience as much as the dexterity and both transport you to a hellish afterlife where every turn is laced with horrific danger and impending death. Few mainstream games can conjure up quite such an affecting aura of unease as these two maudlin classics, and few games of any kind can dole out the same level of repeated punishment while still holding on to a passionate fan base.
These are games that chew you up and spit you out, and it’s fair to say that Dark Souls’ infamous tag line can be applied to both. Play either of them, and you should definitely ‘prepare to die’.
By Harry Slater