Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire

Hudson Soft
Arcade CD-ROM

It'd been a while since I'd last played this highly sought-after vert. Every now and then, I'd take it off my game shelf and toss it around my house just for the hell of it, but today I remembered that it's an excellent shooter and that throwing discs around is the act of a madman. So I played it and reacquainted myself with its awesome action and visuals.

I'd forgotten just how incredible the bosses and midbosses and plain old BIG-ass enemies are. You never know what this game's gonna throw at you next. In one area, a ring of dark mages summons a gigantic rock monster who breathes fire and hurls enormous boulders. In another, you meet a bizarre monk who transforms himself into a dragon amid a dreary downpour. This is right after you've dealt with a giant laser-firing phoenix and a mechanical serpent.

And none of those things are actual bosses. The boss mecha are multiform BEASTS who leave you little room to maneuver with their impressive attack methods.

People complain that, at a length of five levels, the game is too short; but hell, it delivers enough visual variety and remarkable enemies to serve multiple shooters, let alone one. And it makes for a brief experience only if you credit feed and bomb your way along like a baby. If you leave the default settings alone and try to 1CC the game, you'll find whole new layers of depth and strategy. You've gotta conserve your bombs, memorize enemy blast patterns, and counter the mega-attacks launched by your stout adversaries. To me, the effort seems like a successful melding of 16-bit-era aesthetics and level concepts with modern manic action and strategy elements.

Still, there are those who complain that the four selectable ships are too slow. Well, this certainly isn't a problem with one of the machines, and it really shouldn't be an issue with two others. Heck, I played through the game with the slowest craft and had a blast, and any other player who welcomes challenge will appreciate the alterations in strategy called for when using said craft. When it comes right down to it, if you know what you're doing, the ships don't feel slow because you understand where you need to be and how to make it there.

The only thing I don't like is the wailing music--the end-credits "solo" in particular is high-pitched cacophony. Fans of Lords of Thunder's soundtrack will love it, though. And even I dig the crunchy boss-track riff.

It's kind of pointless to ponder whether or not this famously expensive game is "worth it." I spent a lot of money on it, but I'm very glad I own it, and I've had plenty of fun with it. Weighing things objectively, I'd say Sapphire is the best vertical shooter of its time.

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