In Depth Review: Radiant Silvergun [SATURN]
With a name like Radiant Silvergun, Treasure's famed shooter will probably get strange, puzzled looks from the average gamer. With the types of screenshots you'll see -- that of a 2D, vertically scrolling shmup -- you'll probably get the, "who cares?" reaction. Is there no more room in today's world for an arcade shmup?
That's a bit overdramatic, but with 3D-worlds and cinematic fluff polluting consoles nowadays, I would guess it to be difficult to get today's gamer interested in trying out Radiant Silvergun. Factor in its near-zero availability unless you're willing to spend two hundred dollars on it through eBay, and you've got a game that will barely be appreciated in this day and age.
It's a shame, because Radiant Silvergun happens to be one of the finest shmups ever to grace videogame history -- second, in my opinion, only to its spiritual successor, Ikaruga.
I Got Guns That Go Br-r-r-r-rat
Long story short, Radiant Silvergun looks like a typical vertically scrolling arcade shooter. There are no powerups, and there are no smart bombs per se. Instead, your entire arsenal is afforded to you right form the start, and the only collecting you'll be doing of enemy bullets.
The Radiant Silvergun ship comes equipped six projectile weapons, each with its own uses. In the original arcade machine, I think you had three buttons; a combination of two button presses equated to another weapon, but on the Saturn pad there is the luxury of six discrete buttons for the six weapons. The arcade setup more accurately depicts the "nature" of these weapons -- the three main buttons each fire one of the three primary weapons: vertical vulcan, homing plasma, and a 45-degree angle shot. The three "combination" weapons are the rear-firing vulcan, a lock-on electric bolt, and homing missiles that acquire their targets via a scanning mechanic.
There is a seventh short-range weapon, activated by pressing the R-button on the Saturn pad (or all three primary buttons). The result is a pretty cool-looking wireframe "sword" that swings out from the body of the ship. Hold the sword out, and it will trail wherever you move (i.e. move up, and the sword will cover your rear). The sword also absorb special types of enemy bullets. Similar to Ikaruga, collecting these bullets builds up a special meter at the top of the screen. When full, activating the sword results in a massive wireframe "scissor" attack that spans a lot of the screen, something Chosen1 affectionately refers to as the "THUNDERCLAP!"
Take all these weapons together and you've got a formidable arsenal. What makes this so great is that you have the answer to a given situation at your fingertips; now you've got to recognize those situations and make decisions based on them. You also have the ability to "level up" your weapons based on how frequently you use a particular gun, a mechanic which I thought was a unique twist on the power-up motif.
I will say that I didn't agree with the resultant unbalance due to people playing favorites with certain guns. I found myself pounding on the straight-up Vulcan fire the most, and that got me into trouble when I was faced with situations where the 45-degree bolt was supposed to work most efficiently. There I was sitting with a puny un-leveled weapon. I suppose that's a backwards way of providing incentive to use all your weapons.
Another questionable side effect was that your weapons get pretty powerful pretty quickly if you play in Saturn mode, as the weapon level-ups actually *get saved* across games. You can start off a new game with all weapons at level 10. Good for those seeking a challenge? Not really, which is why I would sometimes turn on Arcade mode. But it definitely helps the suckier gamer (hi, that's me) see the whole game. It never gets *too* easy.
That's because, no matter how strong your weapons are, there are always tons upon tons of sh1t flying at you from every angle. This is a Treasure-developed game, so know and understand that you will get pwned, to quote the vernacular. My superior firepower is useless when I crash into a hail of pink bullets after trying to dodge homing missiles that follow massive vulcan bursts from all across the screen.
This is possibly one of the hardest games I've ever played, along with the Gradius series, Ikaruga, Mars Matrix, and the Ninja Gaiden series. With the exception of the very first stages, every enemy formation has taxed my reflexes and decision making in trying to find a path through the horde of bad stuff that comes my way. You think you're a pro? Play this game on Arcade mode, which doesn't offer you the luxury of keeping your weapons leveled up across play sessions. And, beat the thing on two credits.
True to Treasure form, the game's not content to just throw fireworks at your ship and call it a day. No, they've got to make all their bosses big, beautiful and b@stardly. Bosses come in all shapes and sizes -- well no, not all sizes, they're all effing huge.
All of the bosses have many segments to them, with many different patterns of bullets, missiles, lasers, and reindeer (no not really).All of them are more complex than the simple aim and fire -- these are phenomenally fun boss battles we're talking about here. Hiding behind columns that shield you from laser blasts, pulling some Strider-iffic acrobatics inside the coils of a Strider-iffic mechanical dragon, firing away at a totally wireframe boss, a boss that switches four lanes screamin' money ain't a thang (yes it switches lanes, no it doesn't rap) -- there is not one element of this game that doesn't scream Treasure.
Even with the viciously masochistic hail of bullets and beehive swarms of enemies and crazy obstacles during each level, the boss battles are easily the highlight of this game -- and the highlight of the Saturn's entire existence. (And for those not in the know, that actually is saying quite a bit -- the Saturn had some great titles that no one cared to investigate.)
Now, remember the remark about the screenshots of a 2D shmup? This is a game that needs to be seen in action to be appreciated. All of the environments in the game are constructed in full 3D, in addition to all of the bigger enemies. (The smaller enemies and the Radiant Silvergun are 2D sprites.) Surprisingly, the textures are far less pixelated than one would expect.
The game in motion looks absolutely amazing. The entire thing runs at an unwavering 60 frames a second, and with the amount of structures, objects, special effects, the twisting twirling zooming backgrounds that bring the screen to life -- let me stop before I start drooling.
Simply put, Radiant Silvergun shows the 3D power of the Saturn at its fullest. In fact I would say it is one of the best looking fully 3D games between the Saturn, the Playstation and the Nintendo 64. In fact I'm not even sure the same results could have been pulled off on the Playstation -- on the Nintendo 64, I'm willing to bet that the textures would look muddy and the entire thing would be a blur-fest.
Opera in Space?
And the hits keep on coming. Radiant Silvergun's got it locked on gameplay and graphics. The music is no different. Composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, of Final Fantasy Tactics / Vagrant Story fame, the music was described as "opera in space" by some loon a few years ago. Hardly, although the sound samples used *are* orchestral in nature. The heroic theme heard in the first stage is retooled and repackaged in the later stages -- and not just mere remixes, mind you. Each tune has music of its own flavor, that somehow incorporates the theme in an entirely artistic way.
Bottom line, if you've heard Tactics and Vagrant Story, you know the aural bliss that awaits you. With Sakimoto's dramatic, symphonic, sweeping pieces providing backdrop to the sweeping visuals and frantic action on the screen, the soundtrack is the last piece that helps the entire package come together so naturally. (A great soundtrack review lives on Chudah's Corner.)
It's such a shame that Radiant Silvergun never made it to the states. It's the definition of what the Saturn represented, and the pinnacle of its library. One of Treasure's finest work, this game required unparalleled dexterity and reflexes. It combined the wonderful gameplay with sweeping aesthetics. It even provided fully animated Anime cutscenes to explain the somewhat complex and deep backstory for those who wanted it.
There's no way I can convey the sheer joy I get from playing this game without writing a review of Ikaruga-length proportions, something I'm trying to cut down on. All I can say is you need to make friends with an owner of a Japanese Saturn and find some way, any way, to get this game into that machine. If you're not a fan of 2D shoot-em-ups, I'll make the same plea I did with Ikaruga. Sit down with it. Give it a chance. Give it the attention that it never received. And then wish it had been brought over to the States. It's a true underappreciated masterpiece.