When AGTP announced they’d finished up their fantranslation of the first, I was completely nonplussed. What is even Cyber Knight? I was a younger person than I am now, obtained the materials to play it, and did. It actually became one of my favorite concepts of all time. Note that I say concepts and not “games” - The game is flawed. Horribly so. The 6x6 grid is not the greatest way to fight it out, the high damage/high evade nature of fights make them either trivial or tedious and ultimately the story takes a weird turn around the end of the game but even with all that, it remained enjoyable.
First, I should just talk about what the game even is as few have ever heard of it. The game summarizes what it’s about with the first four minutes - You’re in a spaceship, you’re headed back from a mission, Space Pirates attack (as they do), taking out your shields and engine as well as firing off an EMP that knocks out your computer, your cloning codes and kills your captain. The only way out is to warp, but you might end up in the middle of nowhere. You punch it...
And the inevitable happens: You’re far flung from Earth’s solar system, and you have no way back. Only 23 people survived, you can’t clone the dead, and among those 23, only 6 people are equipped to use the battle modules. You have to get back to Earth.
All that context in a 4 minute cutscene at the beginning of the game. You get nothing else.
This JRPG plays a lot more like a P&P RPG than anything else. You get to pick stats for the Commander/Captain (You get 6 bonus points to place in 3 stats, starting with 8) and a combination of stats and skills influence RNG for everything that calls for it. Much like D&D, the stats will never change - they’re locked in for both you and your crew. Skills, however, will grow per level depending on your class. The Commander/Captain has access to all skills - Fighting, Medicine, Mechanics and Science - while the rest of the crew will specialize in one or the other.
I mentioned above that fights are often trivial or tedious. Often times, you’ll find yourself 6 turns deep in a fight that won’t end even though there’s only one enemy left because for some reason, your crew keeps missing their attacks. That’s the nature of the beast and something that you need to deal with when playing this game. Doubly so when you consider that the only way to improve modules are random NeoParts drops from certain enemies and you’ll learn to curse RNG as I have... as soon as you can get out of the random encounter gauntlet, of course.
The P&P inspiration behind this game makes sense when you consider who developed this title. This was developed by Group SNE - they of the Forcelia campaign setting of which spun out a little anime series called Record of Lodoss War (Ryo Mizuno was credited for Game Design on this title). Maybe you’ve heard of it. (You should definitely take the time out to see what else Group SNE has developed if you’re a Pen and Paper fan, there’s some stuff there that blew my mind.)
Graphically, the game isn’t great - It was released in 1992 for both the PC Engine and the Super Famicom. While the Super Famicom version runs relatively well, the PC Engine version seems to struggle both in graphics and audio. The set pieces are better on the PC Engine, but the game does not flow better and the interface is even more bare bones.
Where the game shines is with its concepts and story - At the beginning, you encounter a planet filled with humans with a technological level of 1992. You wonder why and then find out they’re the descendants of a ship that had Jump Missed, same as you. In your travels, you’ll find a group of sentient peaceful scorpions, machines that evolved from a silicon-based life form on an entirely different planet, profit obsessed pink bunny traders, an extremely scientifically advanced tribe of extreme pacifists and their offshoot that denied that doctrine, a living planet (because of course you do), More Space Pirates, and of course, your antagonists - the Berserkers.
Even with its flaws, it remains a good enough game to play if only to say you’ve played Star Trek but with mechas, which is the most accurate way of describing this game and a concept that really should happen more often.
I won’t spend too much time on Cyber Knight 2 because it is essentially more of the same, but where it is interesting is that it takes the questions the first game poses and spins them in a very interesting direction. Which is kind of too bad because as far as the story and atmosphere are concerned, that’s the only good thing this game does. The game feels a lot more on rails than the first (They do explain the inevitable loss of all your badass suits, though - Kudos for doing that in the 1990's!) - Whereas you had an idea somewhat of where to go, you were left to explore at your leisure. Not so in this game. Since you are actually within the vicinity of Earth’s Solar System, it concentrates more on giving your playable crewmates more backstory, at the expense of the exploration of the first.
It is a much more complete game and I’d recommend playing it if you loved the first one as other than atmosphere and story it is a vast improvement. More interesting module selection, everyone is involved in fighting (There are now 3 frontline modules and 3 support modules, with some modules being retrofitted to Support like the Sherrif) unlike before where you could only bring 3 people at a time, and there’s even moments where your crew will have to fight without modules!
A lot of the additions to the game in 2 are welcome, but they’re unfortunately hampered by a game that’s much less a joy to play than the first. It’s also somehow longer due to the additional battle animations. Still, if you enjoy the first, play the second. I wouldn’t advise playing the second if you didn’t enjoy the first as it directly picks up where the first game left off and that may be detrimental to your enjoyment of it. It’s hard to care about the backstories of the characters when you didn’t spend the time with them.
Chances of this seeing a remake : 0% - Tonkin House as a publisher is dead as far as I know, and while Group SNE might want to do something with this universe, it never caught on like Demon of Laplace (which got a P&P release at one point, and they are even selling a tile card game with a similar name on their website) or Lodoss (which kinda became its own thing). They also seem to have completely abandoned the video game market and are concentrating on localizing board games for the Japanese market and making their own, which is cool in its own right, but I’d sure want to revisit this in a more modern light.