Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thunder Force VI

So I bought Thunder Force VI a few days ago. This is a game I was really psyched for. I played all the previous entries (apart from the original home PC first installment) on the Genesis/Mega Drive and Sega Saturn.

As of this writing, the game hasn't been out very long, but I couldn't help reading opinions and semi-reviews on various sites from players who had the game sooner than I did. And much (maybe not the majority) is pretty negative.

I have my own opinion, but I think most of the criticism comes from two places, unrealistic expectations and a misunderstanding of what the intentions of the game designers. That doesn't mean I think everyone should believe this is a great game, but I think a lot of players... at least the ones blabbing on the web... aren't looking at the context of this game's creation.

To get it out of the way, I like the game. I think it does exactly what it is designed to do... and what Sega designed it to do. Be a basic, accessible (re-)introduction to a classic series. It doesn't have fancy Cave-esque scoring systems. It doesn't have divinely-inspired visuals or Treasure's flair for clever gameplay mechanisms. It is not an attempt to reach the next plateau of awesomeness in the same way Gradius V was. It is bright, loud, simple, fun, fast and an homage to all the Thunder Force games that went before. While mostly having gameplay and polygons in common with the fifth installment, it has the bright colors, and atmosphere similar to the earlier episodes. I'm enjoying it. It's simple, but it rocks.

Addressing some of the criticisms now, I get why many players think the levels are too short. Even for an STG where five to seven relatively short levels are the norm, Thunder Force VI doesn't last long if you are watching the clock. But the levels are not all the same length. After you get through the first three, the order-selectable ones, the length of time spent in each area goes way up. In fact level five (which is not the last level) goes on longer than most shooters I can remember. No, I'm not including Radiant Silvergun. But this game isn't supposed to BE Radiant Silvergun.

I also get why many players think the game is too easy. But um, y'know, pump up the difficulty. It isn't like the menus are in Japanese so you can't figure out how. Or turn down your lives and continues. Cripes. Accessibility. They are introducing a whole, new potentially much less skilled or experienced generation to shmups. Not every person buying this is going to be a 1CC Dodonpachi player. In an interview in Edge magazine game director for Thunder Force Tez says shooters, like fighting games, have grown 'too manic'. I agree with him. I'm all for bullet hell shooters-- I like my Mars Matrix and Mushihimesama just plenty, but there has to be room for all different styles. The idea is a fun experience, and winkling around between curtains of bullets isn't everyone's cuppa. Every now and then even an experienced bullet hell master might want to relax relatively-speaking with something not quite so fucking fussy.

I have also seen the bizarre lament that the game is too derivative of the old Thunder Force games. Hm. It has been centuries (in video game terms) since the last Thunder Force game came out. I'm not sure I would've expected them to do anything BUT closely reference the previous games. I'm guessing they were going for a balance between old and new that would show new players what Thunder Force is about while instilling nostalgia in older players. Some of the bosses are updates of old ones. The weapons all have previous counterparts. The levels are mostly polygonal remakes of areas we've seen before. But in this PS2 incarnation it is newer, brighter, faster, and louder. It is the first game after a looooooong hiatus. It kinda HAS to have that 'in our last episode' thing going on-- the talky narrative box at the beginning of any comic or manga-- only this is dosed along the whole game.

I've seen the occasional mention of somewhat unsophisticated visuals, not a lot of extras, or slowdown. Well, they work just fine for me, especially considering this project was an experiment for Sega, and as such has a really pared-down budget. Shooters are a tough sell in this age of dwindling arcades and players ravenous for RPGs(Japan) or FPS games (USA).

As detailed recently in Edge magazine, Sega bought a famous but defunct license and used it as the start of what Tez Okano hopes will be a revival of interest in shooters in Japan. In order to make that viable it had to be done economically. That meant developing it on the PS2 and not having the most wiz-bang visuals or masturbatory extras.

Realistic expectations, and a simple enjoyment of this game should equal support for it. And support for this game may help bring along more STGs.... of all types.

So yeah, I like Thunder Force VI. A lot. Sure as shit beats Broken Thunder or no Thunder Force at all.

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