rising zan: the samurai gunman

Confession: I spent all week trying to think of a topic to write a blog post about. Something that didn’t involve retro video games or fast cars. I wanted a nice change of pace. It’s now Tuesday, and I couldn’t think of shit. I am a one-trick pony. Here’s a post about a retro video game.

I recently joined a small retro games group on Discord. It’s mostly a chill group where people in my particular age bracket talk about cool games and things that affect our particular age bracket, without all these damn Zoomers running around talking about Fortnite dances or the iPhone or, God Forbid, Blaseball. One of the things this server does is we hold a vote for a particular old game to play, then we talk about it on a particular channel. You’ve undoubtedly put two and two together and figured out that Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman was the winner of the vote.

Rising Zan is a little bit different than previous games we’ve played, as I actually own this one. Wasn’t just something I loaded up in Retroarch and messed with for a bit. There’s a bit of a story to it, so allow me to tell you all about it.

This was back in 2004. I was 17, and my Junior year of high school had just let out for the Summer. One of those situations where I was trying to find some part-time work, as I needed money to buy things and to maybe save up and finally get the hell out of the shitty neighborhood I was living in. The problem was that all of the local businesses had no openings available, so if I wanted to make money, I would have to do odd jobs on the side.

One job in particular was to build a shed for a disabled neighbor. He was a one-legged diabetic who had just lost his leg a month prior, but was still pounding down shitty cheap beers like it was water. It was me, and another guy in the neighborhood: a recently out-of-work construction worker. Back in the day, this was code for being such a tremendous fuck-up that you got fired for being too drunk at a job where everyone else is already two bottles of Yukon Jack in before they finish building your bathroom. He was a friendly drunk, at least.

This job fucking sucked. I would have to wake up at six in the morning, and work in 100 degree weather until six at night. I was so badly sunburned, I had to spend the next month sitting and sleeping with a homemade “cold press,” a wet hand towel wrapped around an ice pack, constantly pressed against the back of my neck. I was in so much pain I could barely do anything other than attempt to work. I actually caught heat stroke from this gig! It’s mostly faded over the years, but I can still sometimes see the scar on my left palm from where I was nearly drilled through my hand. Oh, and in addition to building a tool shed, I would also have to drive this guy to the local Home Depot, where he would go into the bathroom and bathe himself using the sink. This despite living in a house with running water, and having people around to assist him in getting in and out of a bathtub. Did I mention this job sucked? I very well could have conceivably died doing this shit.

We eventually got the job done. The guy I was working with got a few hundred bucks. He was also gifted a new set of tools and a new grill.

What was my payment? Just barely enough to cover the cost of this game. Not even enough to cover the sales tax!

I got angry all over again writing this. You see, in my memories, I could have sworn that I was paid at least $20, which is already bullshit enough. But look at that image above. I was wrong! I misremembered just how badly I was exploited!


This piece of fucking shit took a 17-year old, worked that literal child nearly to death, twelve hours a day, then paid next to nothing while giving someone else thousands of dollars in goods! I moved out of that hellhole the next Summer. I have never seen or spoken to anyone who lived there since then. Fuck them. Knowing that guy’s diet of Budweiser, he’s probably long dead by now anyway. Good fucking riddance.

Anyways. This was supposed to be a write-up about a video game, right? I remember really liking this game a lot when I was younger. Thought it was charming, goofy fun. I have to assume that this was the result of me nearly losing my goddamn life, so any form of entertainment would have been the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.

Rising Zan fucking sucks.

Having replayed Zan, I don’t know what exactly I found so appealing about it. The controls are absolute dogshit, where inputting commands is a fool’s game. Zan moves with all the grace of a dehydrated teenager who should probably be in a hospital bed. The difficulty is already set to “unfair,” with enemies taking somewhere between 20 and a million hits to kill, and not being able to play it properly doesn’t help. Oh, and the hilarious, wacky dialogue is a bunch of South Park references.

And there’s a lot of “wacky” humor to be found, because that is all this game has. If this were made in the modern era, this would be called “stream-bait.” A game specifically made to be shown on Twitch because of how weird it is. Hey, a wild west gunslinger uses a samurai sword! He rescues cowboys in their underwear! He calls himself the “Super Ultra Sexy Hero!” You earn “Sexy Points” while fighting! It has a ludicrous theme song!

(ripped this from the disc myself, since the quality on YouTube is terrible)

It really ticks a lot of boxes on the “Weird Japan” checklist. I really wish it would stop, too, as I have used way too many quotation marks on individual words for this post.

You run around, fighting enemies at 15 frames per second, using a sword and a gun. Sounds like a slower Devil May Cry, I know, but DMC at least made sure that its game was actually good first. Eventually, you’ll meet a boss that speaks a version of fake Japanese that I would accuse of being racist had Rising Zan not actually been developed by a Japanese developer. Then you fight the boss, and also fight the camera.

playing rising zan, having the time of my life with a boss fight. the boss is just out of frame, fighting too.

It’s bad. It’s clunky as shit, even for its time. By the time Zan hit the market, Metal Gear Solid had already changed the world. Ape Escape was going hog-wild. There was already three Resident Evil titles. Megaman Legends was being quietly appreciated by the right people, with a sequel right around the corner. I owned most of these other games already! Action games on the Playstation were already at their best. I’m sitting here, a full-grown adult in 2020, wondering what I saw in this game. Was I really so easily entertained? Modern Me gave up after the second level, where I had to chase down an exploding enemy before it could blow up a building. Of course, along the way, enemies teleport in and cut off sections of the level until you kill them. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that I have spent a lot of time driving it into your head that the game controls like ass, runs terribly, and you can’t even see half the enemies because the camera actively works against you. After about five failures, I said fuck this and went back to playing Tenchu. If I’m going to play a weird, clunky game riddled with technical problems, it might as well be a good one.

the back cover tries way too hard. at least it’s not shadow tower with its “THIS GAME WILL LITERALLY RAPE YOU!” bullet point.

Rising Zan is a bad game. And it’s the kind of bad that’s not even the kind of bad that’s interesting. It may as well be something like Tai’Fu for people who still think tentacle porn and used panty vending machines are the height of comedy. It’s badly made, with mediocre design, and trying way too hard to have a quirky personality. It was not worth nearly dying over.

And I still have no fucking idea how to not get a “weak” finish.

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