|Raiden V: Director’s Cut
|Moss Co, Ltd.
|UFO Interactive Games
|October 10, 2017
|ESRB E 10+
I review a lot of space shooter games for this site, whether they be top-down, vertical, side-scrolling, or of the bullet-hell variety. Likewise, there has been a wide variety. From the fairly widely known Cave shooters to the very small indie studios, like my most recent shooter review, Ghost Blade HD. One common thread throughout this sub-genre is that instead of a few pillar studios making these games, there has instead been increasingly smaller studios making them, even a couple going so far as having 1 or 2 people making an entire game. That being said, even though Konami has entirely abandoned this genre, there are a couple of the really old school names still kicking around. The classic Raiden series may no longer be a Tecmo product, but here we are in 2017 and a Raiden V: Director’s Cut has been released on our major home consoles (and PC). The only shooter series that I can think of nearly this old and still being made is the Darius series, with its recent DariusBurst Chronicle Saviours. That is of particular note because I consider Raiden V: Director’s Cut to be that games direct competition, even though Raiden is a vertical shooter and Darius is a horizontal, and so I will come back to it later in the review when it comes time to evaluate how far this series has progressed over time.
Even though I’m such a huge fan of the shooter genre, I have not played a Raiden game for many years. It has been since the PlayStation 2 era since I played one, and the primary reason for that is because the series moved to being primarily an XBox franchise. After several console failures on the XBox 360, I decided that I wasn’t going to spend any more money on that company and have had not enough reasons to go back this console generation. So I’ve missed the last couple iterations of this franchise. In fact, the series still is primarily attached to the XBox brand, the original version of this game was exclusive to XBox One for almost the past 2 years. That being said, even with such a long layoff from the series there are still a few emblematic things that I recognized immediately coming back. The first thing to notice is that the Raiden Fighters have not changed hardly at all since the very first game in the early 1990’s. Not every version of this franchise has had 3 different fighters, but all 3 of them have that iconic red look and fighter jet form. You can choose between the Azuma from Japan, the Spirit of Dragon from the United States, and the Moulin Rouge from France. There are some minor differences in Attack, Armor, and Speed, but they are very minor. And there is absolutely no difference in the bombs, which struck me as a little odd for a space shooter and I seem to remember previous Raiden games had different bombs for different fighters. Now the only major difference between them is their SubShot, and while all 3 are pretty good, it’s a good idea to choose main weapons based around the sub-weapons of that particular fighter (for example, you already have a homing weapon for the Azuma) for the best combinations of spread and firepower.
You will have a choice of 1 for each of the 3 classic categories of weapons. The orange type are the Vulcan spread weapons, the blue are the Laser focused weapons, and the purple are the Homing weapons. Potentially there are 27 different weapon combinations, and when you combine that with the different SubShots with each Fighter there are potentially 81 different ways of going through the game. But, as I said, the Weapon Select matters a lot more than the Sub. You can gain weapon upgrade crystals during each stage and potentially raise each weapon up to Level 10. You will gain enough of those crystals in a typical run through the game that you can raise all 3 weapons up to level 10, but in order to do so, you will have to switch weapons frequently. Unfortunately, if you choose a weapon class that you end up really not liking or does not suit your playstyle, you may want to instead just focus on skipping that upgrade crystal color. Like many other shooters, the crystals change colors after a few seconds, so you can just wait it out while you focus on not getting hit by the surrounding enemies. Sadly I felt that there was not nearly enough difference between level 1 of each weapon type and level 10, let alone the individual levels between. On any of the difficulties, but especially the higher ones, I felt that the weapons were all rather underpowered compared to other modern shooters.
Unfortunately, that issue with very little change does transfer over into the difficulty selection as well. It may seem at first that there is a lot of choice with 6 different difficulty levels, several more than you would typically find in a shooter. But realistically there are really only about 4 real difficulty levels. You won’t find much difference between Normal and Easy or Normal and Hard, so that is effectively one difficulty level. Very Hard there is a noticeable change as well as Very Easy, but the largest change is Practice which the enemies will not fire on you at all. But that’s not something that I’m going to knock the developer for, even if there is not much difference between the levels. At least if you really want a major challenge it is there in Very Hard, and if you want your hand held you can choose Very Easy or even Practice. The other reason you may want to lower the difficulty is because the one major innovation in this game is how much story there is while you are playing it, so being able to just pay casual attention to the flying bullets while you enjoy the story is a nice feature.
As you can see in the above screenshot, that is an extremely busy UI. With the text at the top of the screen and repeated in the right window, and with the characters in the top right, you are given the story of the game as you are piloting. Very new for a shooter is not only having a real story but also having a lot of voice acting. Granted, you will need to turn down the default music and sound effect volumes to catch everything that they are saying, but it’s worth taking the time to do so. Once you’ve heard it a couple times it’s safe to ignore again and turn the volumes and the difficulty back up. While it was difficult to get used to having so much information on screen, I was able to become accustomed to it over time. The story was the most important innovation for me, but it wasn’t the only innovation, there is also the real-time tracking of your game performance as compared to the online leaderboards and your own personal bests (the graph chart above) and then there is the cheering links to PSN.
Whenever you accomplish a variety of feats or pick up special items, it will ping that achievement across a set number of people also playing in the game. They are given the opportunity to Cheer that accomplishment and thereby earn you Game Cheers (the 19 you see above). As you gain more Game Cheers, your Cheer Call meter (in the lower right of the game screen) will build faster and when full will allow you to call in a Cheer Support fighter which will briefly cancel out all shots on the screen (not quite as long as a bomb clear) and then for a time add a major boost onto your weapons. Effectively you will gain about a 10 second period of superpower where you can obliterate any enemies on the screen fairly easily. It is rare to find bomb pickups, so it’s actually a good idea to use Cheer Support as your first option to get out of danger. Because there are a lot of bullets on the screen at many points (especially on bosses), and your ship is a lot larger than those in a typical bullet hell shooter, you will want every opportunity to clear the screen of bullets. You also gain some Cheer Call meter by Cheering the accomplishments of others. So, in general, it’s a good idea to always keep a spare eye on the top left of your screen, which is where the notifications for a Cheer come in.
The character art for the story is actually pretty good, so the Gallery pictures that you unlock in the game are a nice addition. However, that art quality does not extend to the enemies, they are extremely generic compared to other modern shooters. Likewise with the backgrounds as well, it really looked like they cut a lot of corners in that department with this game. Where they did not cut corners, is in having full voice acting for all the characters and with some fantastic music. Especially on the later levels where the music gets a really heavy metal tone, I thought this is one of the strongest shooter soundtracks I’ve heard in a while. But worse than the art style of the enemies is the laughably absurd sound effects in the game. The ship explosions and bombs aren’t too bad, but that’s about it. The Fighter weapons fire and the enemy weapons fire are all some of the worst I’ve heard in a shooter. Honestly, you are better off, in my opinion, turning them almost all the way off and just enjoying the music and the voice acting.
But here is where I want to compare this title to its contemporaries. And when it is compared to very small studios, it doesn’t do too badly. The addition of a real story is quite a robust attribute to have compared to its peers. Where it really falls behind though is compared to what I consider it’s primary peer, DariusBurst Chronicles Savior. The problem is in selections and options and replayability. This game does have multiple versions of most of the 8 stages that you engage in, however, there are very little differences between the stages other than you can only fight the real final boss and get the good ending if you go through S Rank. Worse, the only way to access those different versions of stages is by killing a certain percentage of enemies during the stages. That can be frustrating to try to get the exact correct percentage of kills that you want in order to try to get a different stage. My first time through on Normal it was very easy to get the full S Rank, but after that, it was quite tough to get down into the A, B, and C range. And even when I did the stages were not much different. But for anyone who has played DariusBurst you know that there are a huge number of stages with very wildly different enemies and bosses and even backgrounds. So while this game does pretty well against some very small studios, they are playing catch up to that other larger outfit.
That said, it was still worth playing and worth a port over from XBox One exclusivity. The story addition is something that I would like to see other developers of shooters take on, as well as having voice acting in a game of this genre. Granted, the very small studios are very unlikely to be able to go quite that far. But that’s why I’m glad that old school series like Raiden are still around. Ideally, the larger companies should play around with tools that are a little out of reach of the smaller companies until it becomes less cost prohibitive for it to reach them. And while I would not call this a classic shooter, there have been better ones out this year, it was still worth paying the $34.99 price for if you are a serious shooter fan. But for those who really aren’t into shooters, you may want to wait for a sale. The only major replay value in the game is in chasing high scores and leaderboards, and that’s really only something that serious shooter fans do. But at least this one does have a story that even casual fans can pick up and enjoy.
Review Copy Provided By The Publisher