For as long as games have been ported over from Japan, they’ve been changed for Western audiences. In the time frame we are most interested in here at The Pre-Sonic Genesis Institute of Semi-Academic Chronological Gaming (PSGISACG), this was often done as a form of censorship to remove nudity, gore, cusses, and other such moral caltrops from video games to keep them suitable for what was perceived as largely a children’s hobby. While I’ll leave the implications of this up to the reader (I’m relatively apathetic towards it; I don’t think pixilated gore is going to irreparably corrupt a second grader, but sincerely doubt the artistic vision of Last Battle was unduly compromised by replacing the gory Fist of the North Star license with a loose adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses), the fact is that many games saw drastic changes in their journey across the Pacific. The early line-up of the Genesis has so far managed to avoid this. With the exception of the melted faces of Arnold Palmer and Tommy LaSorda garnishing their respective title screens, very few things were changed in games for their US release, the previously mentioned Last Battle aside. Somewhat surprisingly, this trend continues for the most part with today’s release, Mystic Defender.
That isn’t to say there aren’t considerable changes to Mystic Defender, but most of them are related to the license. In Japan, the game was released as Kujaku Ō 2: Gen’eijō (The sequel to the game released for the Master System here as Spellcaster) and was the second game based on the anime and manga series Peacock King. Given that the main character a) wears a traditional robe that also resembles a wedding dress, and b) is Lucifer [re]incarnate, it’s understandable why things were changed up for the international release. What is more surprising is how little the rest of the game has changed. The antagonist of the original release was Nobunaga Oda, Japan’s would-be conqueror and favorite video game villain, and Kujaku is renamed Joe Hayate and given a much more generic outfit, but beyond that the core game remains relatively untouched. The only major bit of censorship in the original release of Mystic Defender is that the naked babies birthed out of gaped, bloody anuses in the second level were turned a lovely teal color so as to make the fact that they are pulped into mobile piles of twitching gore when shot slightly more palatable. Given that I am a mentally sound and well-functioning member of society, I’d say this is a positive change.
Which brings me to the major draw of revisiting Mystic Defender this late in the 21st century: it is absolutely insane. This insanity may peak at the second level sewer babies, but this is the first original game since Osomatsu-kun that really flexes the graphical prowess of the Mega Drive. Even the first level, a generic forest affair, is littered with four-armed ninja monks and a new boss every few minutes. The second level is some sort of nightmarish sewer system filled with the aforementioned demonic babies but also zombified four-armed monks that can summon giant moths and also turn into horribly misshapen bald heads and roll around, all bottled up by a Gregorian monk that can fly around and summon clones of himself that turn into giant robotic spiders in a later level that resembles a giant demon’s spine. The third level blatantly copies the works of H.R. Giger for a giant biomechanical maze full of undulating tentacles and even his famous Alien heads, repurposed here as flame throwers. And so the game goes, until you slay Nobunaga (curiously wearing what resembles Crusades-era plate mail, a design decision I will only assume makes sense within the original context) inside what appears to be a space station overgrown with cartilage (again, this almost makes me want to seek out the source material) and face the final boss: A giant phallic monster that shoots semen with shark teeth from its exposed heart and keeps a tight tentacle wrapped around the obligatory damsel in distress, whom is naked even in the original western release.
The game itself is actually fairly breezy. The gameplay is nothing special, and even though you are given a pretty wide array of spells, their utility is limited to certain situations to a degree that the default charge shot will see you through the majority of the game. The game is also fairly short, due to a surprisingly lax difficulty level: it would be difficult to spend more than an hour or two to power through the game on your first try, even if you are as awful at video games as I am. But beyond the Giger maze being palette-swapped for a later level, it’s a very entertaining hour or two. In fact, I’d say that Mystic Defender is probably the best action game for the system at this point, and certainly one of the few games so far that I can whole-heartedly recommend revisiting. Sadly, this is one of the few first party Sega games from this era that hasn’t seen a rerelease or port, probably due to a combination of the license and the fact that you are setting babies on fire in the second level. But as far as action games on the Genesis go, it’s difficult to get much better than Mystic Defender anywhere in the Mega Drive’s life.