July 23 1998 was a rather unspectacular day to most people. While most were content with playing this day out as just another 24 hours until they drop dead, a small number of people were remorseful over the death of Alan B Shepard, the first American to ever travel into space. An even smaller number of people took note of a controversial article published in Young Scientist magazine over the declining role of religion in science. However, an even SMALLER number of people took note of this day as the day where what could be regarded as Treasure Software’s magnum opus came out to critical acclaim. I was one of those people.
Ever since seeing screenshots in a video game magazine, I wanted to find out more about Treasure’s Sega Saturn masterpiece. Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy and Alien Soldier were some my favourite games ever at the time (Gunstar is still in my personal top 3) and the, at the time, recent release of Guardian Heroes for the Sega Saturn made me hopeful that I would soon be content playing Radiant Silvergun with my own controller. This dream never came true as Radiant Silvergun was doomed to never receive an English release leaving many Treasure fans of my generation bitterly disappointed… Until last Wednesday. To celebrate the rebirth of Radiant Silvergun on a modern console, I, GrimsChild, Official TSG Writer extraordinaire will discover whether this game lives up to a 13 year hype, or whether it’s legacy will only be remembered as a quasi Duke Nukem Forever period.
Now that I have successfully convinced you to click “Read More” with my rambling self inanity, allow me to re-establish the paragraph by stating that I have indeed been one of a few lucky people to play Radiant Silvergun before last Wednesday. When I first played the game a couple of years ago, I didn’t really know what to expect. At that time I’d spent every waking hour playing Touhou to the point where I could play the game using a DDR dance mat and still remain morbidly obese. While I did like Ikaruga a lot, I was skeptical whether Silvergun could match it, especially considering it would be a bit outdated compared to Ikaruga. It became apparent when I first pressed Start button on my controller that’d I’d been thinking like a complete moron.
So the game starts up with a rather lengthy animé opening explaining the premise of the story. First of all if you are seriously playing Radiant Silvergun or any SHmup for that matter due to story then I’d advise you to look else where (say, my Panzer Dragoon Saga retrospective approximately two weeks from now), that being said, spoiler warning.
While the story could be described as a convoluted version of Neon Genesis Evangelion (including everything else coming out of Japan during that decade), it does a really good job of setting the scene for the main bulk of the game. The premise of the story is that a ship stuck in the earth’s orbit discovers “The Stone Like”, a stone like object (See what I did there?) capable of a devastating amount of power that is not only used to show off the impressive visuals that still hold up quite well for a Saturn game but it also allows for the game to start off at stage 3, before being blasted back in time to stage 2, beamed forward in time again to stage 4 and 5 before finally destroying the Stone Like and being brought back to stage 1 to escape the implosion of planet Earth. Other than the intro and outro animé cut scenes, the details of the story are given through a narration at the beginning and end of each stage. This makes for a rather majestic entrance to the stage as Hitoshi Sakimoto proves that he deserves to be up there with the greatest video game composers of all time such as Masafumi Tanaka and Daisuke Ishiwatari.
On the other hand, Hitoshi Sakimoto could have been composing the most bombastic soundtrack imaginable and none of it would matter if it weren’t for the game play. When discussing the game play of Radiant Silvergun, thought needs to be given into what SHmups were out at the time that Treasure could have emulated from. SHmups had a reputation for being a genre that required quick reflexes, a sharp mind and fast hands in order to play. This was especially true when a previously unknown games company called CAVE eventually release a game called DoDonPachi, the sequel to their rather underwhelming SHmup DonPachi.
DoDonPachi is widely regarded as the first bullet hell shooter ever made and by a large minority as the best. However DoDonPachi’s biggest competition would come from Battle Garegga, a SHmup created by the legendary Shinobu Yagawa. Which title is the best is a hotly debated topic on SHump forums. Disregarding the irony of Yagawa eventually going to work for CAVE after his company, Raizing, changed their name to 8ing and started making awful Naruto game instead of good SHmups like CAVE does to this very day. These two companies were essentially at war with one another (and that’s not considering that both companies were products of the demise of the legendary Toaplan along with Takumi (Night Raid and Mars Matrix) and Gazelle (Air Gallet and… Air Gallet). So this begs the question, which one of these two companies would Treasure try to emulate?
The answer? None of them. The reason why Radiant Silvergun has remained a classic for so long is that Radiant Silvergun plays more like a puzzle game with boss battles. So while the semantics of DoDonPachi and Battle Garegga could be argued about for years to come, they still contained the same basic elements that have been put into action since Galaxian. You fly around, shoot anything that moves and collect power ups to get a better weapon. In Radiant Silvergun you are given seven weapons right off the get go, SEVEN! That’s even more than Thunder Force! There aren’t even any broken weapons either such as free wave. Progressing through the game, new situations will appear in every stage (or sub stage) providing the player with new opportunities to explore the potential of the huge arsenal they’ve been given. Some are obvious such as the backward vulcan missile cannon which can be used when you have a large swarm of enemies behind you or when you need you use the Soukyugurentai inspired NALS web that fires missiles past the shield that the current boss has up. However, some of the uses are more discreet such as getting up close to the boss and holding the Radiant Sword close to him to do a lot of damage, which is one of the best examples of Risk/Reward I have ever seen in a video game (let alone a SHmup). That or using the Toothpaste laser beam from Raiden to pick off two different parts of the boss at once.
I mentioned earlier that Radiant Silvergun could be summed up as a puzzle game interspersed with boss fights. It’s a premise that could be taken as repetitive at face value if it weren’t for the unique puzzle ideas and some of the greatest bosses to ever be animated in a video game. During the ‘puzzle segments’ the game allows you to increase your score through chaining. Chaining was a mechanic introduced in DoDonPachi where if you destroyed an enemy quickly after destroying another enemy, you’d be given a bonus depending on how long you took and how many enemies you’d previously chained. Radiant Silvergun reworks this method into a much more slower paced version. Throughout the game, enemies can come in different colours, red blue and yellow. By destroying enemies of a particular colour in a row, your chain builds up until you can get a million points for destroying a single enemy. Conversely, additional points can also be gained by destroying the enemies in patterns (red, blue then yellow or any other permutation of that) or filling a criteria with one of your weapons such as having your toothpaste laser locked onto two enemies for a long period of time or by finding Dogs, which are hidden in secret parts of the area that reward points for exploration.
The most interesting part of the scoring system without questions is in relation to the boss battles. Unlike any modern CAVE game where you hold the A button while pounding the directional buttons with all your other ligaments just to stay alive, Radiant Silvergun lets you be more creative than that (sorry CAVE). Each boss consists of different parts that can be destroyed. For example, the last boss of the first stage takes place on an elevator where the boss consists of a central laser head with a variety of sub weapons around him. If this were say, DoDonPachi, you’d aim at the laser head until you win and you’d get a huge chunk of points for being persistent. In Radiant Silvergun, you can target the individual sub weapons up until only the head was left. The battle suddenly becomes a lot easier now that he only has one weapon left. The game then comes up with a screen detailing the amount of damage you did to the boss, with the more damage being done resulting in more points (100 percent destruction rewards you with extra lives up till a point). This mechanic is used to great effect with the games 24 bosses including the aforementioned elevator boss, who turns the game into a surreal version of Geometry Wars.
People always ask the same tired question to SHmup fans when questioning the love of their hobby, “What’s the big deal about playing for score?” There are a variety of answers which mostly gravitate towards ‘personal satisfaction,’ however Radiant Silvergun actually gives the player a reason to play for score. Each of the three primary weapons (the straight shot, the spread shot and the homing shot) has a level meter. The more you use the weapon and the more points you get overall, the stronger the weapon gets. This is where the two modes that Radiant Silvergun offers come into play (there’s a third but I’ll get to that later): Arcade Mode and Story Mode. The differences between the two are pretty self explanatory with the exception of a weird stage selection in the Arcade Mode. However in the Story Mode, the levels for the weapons can stack when going through on a continuous save file. This means that you can “grind” levels in Silvergun to make your weapons stronger while getting to learn the patterns of the bosses better and henceforth gaining more points which goes back to adding strength to your weapons which then allows you to progress through the story if you’re interested (the cut scenes in this game are pretty awesome though, so it’s worth going for). This differentiates the Saturn port (and XBLA port which I’ll mention later) of Radiant Silvergun from its competitors which mostly offer arrange modes with different scoring system that may as well be different versions of the arcade game (they usually are). While Treasure realizes the separation between playing a game in an arcade and playing a game at home.
The biggest criticism that people have with Radiant Silvergun is the same reason that people are attracted to it in the first place: the pacing. People who have been weened in on fast paced shooters didn’t really find Radiant Silvergun’s methodical, slow paced game play that appealing. The bosses are usually considered exempt from this as SHumps are expected to drop in pace as there is now a single target to concentrate on. But during these non boss sections, the game play could be considered dull and uninteresting (This is a common complaint with most of Treasure’s output and while I don’t agree with it, I can see how it’s relate-able). This does bring up a big question though: “Why doesn’t this game have a boss rush?” I realize that Treasure didn’t really want to copy everyone else. However while most Boss Rushes in video games were usually considered a novelty where there placement was much less in number, surely one could suit Radiant Silvergun perfectly?
I suppose I could conclude this currently two thousand, three hundred and twelve word retrospective by talking about the recent XBLA port. People have criticized Treasure for simply slapping a coat of bloom on the graphics without redrawing the polygons from scratch (they included the Saturn graphics for anyone who complains that much) but for me the experience of flying your Silvergun down into the post apocalyptic landscape remains as memorable as it did back then. If I were to have one criticism of the port, other than the continued lack of a Boss Rush mode (I can dream), it would be regarding the Ikaruga mode. I appreciate that Treasure is a very small company whose recent output hasn’t been that profitable (looking at the sales figures for Bangai O Missile Fury makes me depressed and weep for the gaming medium) however I think that charging an extra 800MSP for a game that people might already own in order to get a unique gaming mode that was given as one of the major selling points in the original trailer is a bit silly. In fact, it’s because of this that I haven’t talked about the Ikaruga mode at all, which is a shame as I’d have like to have seen that in action (people who complained about Radiant Silvergun’s chaining seem to be more positive towards this new mode as well). I plan to update this article when I do get a chance to get Chain Mod. However for now, stay tuned for my Panzer Dragoon Saga retrospective which should be ready in about a fortnight from now.