It’s interesting to see how the Raiden series has evolved over time, what with it being one of the longest-running series of shoot ’em ups that is still relevant today.
Raiden V is probably the biggest “reinvention” the series has seen since its inception — and consequently may take a little adjusting to for series veterans in particular — but it’s still very much recognisable as an installment in this classic series.
For those less familiar with shoot ’em ups — or those interested in getting involved in the modern side of this challenging, fascinating genre — Raiden V is certainly something of a trial by fire, but it’s a very rewarding journey to take.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Raiden V and its numerous predecessors is the fact that the main mode of the game now has a fully voiced narrative. This has seemed to be quite a fashionable thing to do for Japanese shoot ’em ups for a few years now; other notable games in relatively recent years that include a prominent narrative component include Cave’s DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou (sadly only available in Japanese, so good luck understanding what is going on if you don’t speak the lingo) and Edelweiss’ excellent Astebreed.
Your feelings about the fact your entire playthrough has people talking over the top of it may vary according to how much of a shoot ’em up purist you are, but the dialogue carries a few benefits to the game experience as a whole. Firstly, it provides some enjoyable context to what you’re doing thanks to a colourful cast of characters, and secondly — arguably most importantly in a game like this — it provides another source of audible “cues” to help you learn the levels and attack patterns throughout the game. If you do happen to find the narrative aspect annoying, you can’t turn it off completely, but the game does at least provide the option to adjust the volume of the voices independently to the music and sound effects, so you can mute it to make it less obtrusive.
The story mode also features branching stages according to your actions, and a number of different endings, at least one of which is incredibly depressing. Along the way, the polygonal backdrops and ship models make for a spectacular ride, with the game maintaining its traditional top-down perspective throughout, but varying in speed, intensity and even zoom level as you progress through the various setpieces. It makes for a thrilling, highly dynamic ride that will keep you gripping your controller rather more firmly than you perhaps need to.
In mechanical terms, Raiden V takes a number of cues both from its predecessors and some other popular shoot ’em ups from over the years. The ability to stop firing and “suck in” powerups is right out of a Cave title, for example, while the series’ iconic ability to switch between three different weapons by collecting coloured powerups dropped by special enemies is still present and correct, as is the beloved “toothpaste laser” plasma weapon.
There are now three different variations for each weapon, however, chosen before you start a new playthrough; the Vulcan cannon can fire in its standard spread or in two more dynamic, adjustable formations, while both the powerful blue laser and the aforementioned bendy plasma gun have alternative configurations that adjust how they can be aimed. Of particular note is the blue laser’s option to fire it into a prism and reflect hot death over most of the screen, though to balance things out this one is most effective while you’re sitting still.
An interesting twist on the traditional formula of a lot of modern shmups comes in Raiden V’s use of bombs. Whereas many recent games in the genre regard bombs as primarily defensive in nature, in Raiden V they are very much an offensive weapon, eminently useful for clearing the screen of powerful enemy formations or even finishing off bosses. You’re still pretty strictly limited in how many you’ll have access to over the course of a playthrough and thus will have to time their use effectively, but it’s nice to play a shmup in which bombs are more than just a “last resort”.
Complementing the bombs is Raiden V’s major new mechanic, the “Cheer” system. This takes the form of a bar in the corner of the screen that gradually charges up, and when it is full you can unleash a “Cheer Attack” (sometimes also known as a “Yell”) in which you temporarily gain enormously increased firepower in one of several different configurations. A fun twist if your console is connected to the Internet is that the Cheer bar fills as a result of you completing various tasks and having other players “cheer” you on, similar to a social media “like”. Likewise, as you play, a readout in the corner of the screen indicates when other players have accomplished various tasks, and you also have the option of “cheering” them on with a simple button push. You can turn this functionality off if you find it obtrusive, but it provides quite a fun sense of quasi-community, so you may well find it appealing to leave it activated.
Another twist on the standard formula is that Raiden V doesn’t use lives; instead, your ship can take a number of hits, taking damage to its shields each time. Recovering shields is very difficult, but not impossible, and the advantage of this system is that you no longer drop all your powerups the moment you get hit. In fact, you don’t even lose your powerups if you use a credit to continue, meaning you won’t find yourself stuck in a later stage with no firepower if you’re just attempting to credit-feed your way to the end.
Raiden V also varies things a little over the course of its complete runtime with a couple of bonus stages, during which you fight against a boss that drops medals of various denominations for as long as you continue to damage it. Taking damage in these stages doesn’t cause you to lose shields; instead, you drop a significant number of medals you’ve collected. At the end of the confrontation, you’ll get a chunk of bonus points according to the grade you built up the medal meter to; it’s a nice change of pace.
For those who like to improve and refine their performance, Raiden V features a number of built-in tools to analyse how you play. While it appears to lack a dedicated replay function, it does have extensive stat-tracking and score graphs to allow you to keep an eye on your progress. At the other end of the experience scale, those less confident at the game can switch the left on-screen panel to a display that provides tips and strategies on how to deal with the upcoming challenges and bosses — a really nice touch that helps make a notoriously challenging genre a whole lot more approachable, especially when combined with the wide array of difficulty levels.
There’s plenty to do besides clear the story, too. A series of tiered boss rush missions challenge you to defeat the game’s toughest foes under various conditions such as within tight time limits or with limited firepower, and these not only provide formidable challenges for veteran players, they act as a good means of training your skills and practising specific encounters.
The whole thing is tied together with one of the most spectacular soundtracks I’ve heard in any shoot ’em up. Taking in a variety of musical styles and nicely reflecting the “character” of each stage through instrumentation before making some extremely effective use of leitmotif in the final areas, the audio-visual experience of a Raiden V playthrough makes for one of the most striking shoot ’em ups of all time.
While some of the changes to the base formula — particularly the addition of the narrative along with the tweaks to how you take damage and suchlike — may give series veterans pause, Raiden V is an immensely solid shoot ’em up and deserves a place in any genre fan’s library. It provides a stiff challenge even on its easier difficulties, and for veterans there are plenty of ways to prove your skills besides just 1CCs or no-miss runs.
Best of all, though? You can get it on a disc. A shoot ’em up with a Western physical release in 2017! The perfect complement to a certain puzzle game with a Western physical release in 2017, perhaps… who says these games have to be digital-only? Certainly not me!
More about Raiden V
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