Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Raiden Series (Seibu Kaihatsu/Moss)

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Raiden (pronounced “rhy-den”, not “ray-den” like in Mortal Kombat) doesn’t really need an introduction, as an arcade game that came out worldwide in 1990 many people are probably familiar with it, but for what it is it’s perhaps best to take a second look.  You see, it’s probably the first game in the famed “bullet hell” genre (or danmaku), although since you’re more dodging bullets rather than weaving in and out of them it may be an archaic example.  This doesn’t make the game any less fun, though, it basically takes the conventions of the vertical shmup that started with titles like 1942 and integrates much more bullets.  This title also supports co-operative play and respawns instead of checkpoints.

The reason I like this particular series is that it rides the “just good enough” wave on so many levels.  It’s not particularly hard, although the gameplay footage below makes it seem far too easy compared to when I play it.  It doesn’t have much of a power-up system, so the concept of a single life playthrough is not necessary.  It also has a ton of non-shooting enemies, big blinky ships and massive bosses that don’t do much to feel like a true powerhouse, especially when compared to the short lifespan of most bullet hell titles.

Like most titles in the series, it’s the not-too-distant future (2090) and aliens (in this case the Cranassians) have invaded Earth.  Our only hope is the Raiden Supersonic Attack Fighter, a secret weapon of the military, to take out the enemy forces.  Although the attacks are alien, the things you destroy are definitiely mechanical and you can expect tons of explosions.  The term Raiden, meaning “thunder and lightening” in Japanese, is most likely a reference to not only the ship you pilot but homage to the World War II fighter plane.

Ports

Like so many other shmups of the era, this game released in almost every major Asian marketplace as well as North America and Europe.  Ironically it wasn’t ported to all that many home consoles and microcomputers.  It released on the Amiga, Atari Falcon, Atari Lynx, Atari Jaguar (didn’t Atari just love this game or what), PC-Engine/Turbografx-16 and MS-DOS.  All attepted, and for the most part succeeded, to replicate the original and all 8 levels of play.

An alternate version of the game, Raiden Densetsu (Raiden Trad in US) was released on Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Super Famicom/Super Nintendo.  Some noted changes for the Genesis version are weaker laser weapons, lower volume for explosions and a secret stage unlocks after level 8, but otherwise it remains faithful to the arcade game.  The Super Nintendo version, on the other hand changes things up quite a bit.  It has fewer bullets overall, some moving bosses remain stagnant, when a player dies they are immediately given a random weapon and the number of continues is now limited.  Many believe that these changes were more to work to the lower processing power of the Super Nintendo and attempt to avoid the slowdown curse that plagued most shooters.  Whether it worked or not, Raiden Trad plays doesn’t suffer slowdown like other shmups such as Gradius III.

Again?

I really hate to dog a series, but the most significant game is definitely Raiden and its follow-up Raiden II is so similar that my friends and I call it “Raiden Light” or “Easy Raiden”.  The story is the same – the Cranassians are still trying to take us out on Earth – the ship is the same and the levels are pretty darn close to the same.  One major change, however, is the introduction of the lock-on plasma weapons (purple to those playing the game).  It basically fires on a constant basis and you control it until it hits an enemy, at which point it locks on and keeps attacking a ship until it’s dead no matter how you move.  This makes the game pretty much a breeze because the consistent beam allows you to lock onto big ships and bosses while sweeping the screen for smaller enemies.  It broke the challenge for me.  That’s not to say the game still isn’t hard, the later levels still make me grind my teeth, but I was displeased with the difficulty settings as well.  It has two: normal and beginner/training; unfortunately the beginner level ends the game at stage 5, which is right about where the game gets difficult.  I didn’t understand why it wouldn’t let me complete the game on beginner, but then shortening the campaign for the easier difficulties is a staple of shmups to help you memorize the levels, not beat the game.

This game was basically just an arcade sequel in 1993, but it did make an appearance on Windows 95 and apparently this is a very popular version (it also runs great in Windows 7 compatibility mode I hear).  A few years later it did receive a PS1 port in the form of The Raiden Project, which contains both the original and this game on one disc.

Raiden DX also released on arcades and the PS1 in Japan, and sadly I can’t seem to find much of a difference still.  It integrates a new single stage mode that provides a really long first stage with only one boss.  Other than that, the beginner/training 5 level campaign and normal 8 level campaign modes from the sequel are also included.  I skipped this one after about 10 minutes.

Much Needed Haitus

After DX the series seems to disappear for more than 10 years, the next iteration not premiering until 2005 in Japan with Raiden III, now developed by Moss.  With a 3D rendered fresh coat of paint the series seems revitalized by more large scale enemies, destruction in the background and amazing explosions.  I can still see similarities to the previous games (but trust me those are only in the intro levels), but the upgrade in graphics and gameplay made the series feel fresh again.  The game is a bit longer with 10 levels now, 3 of which move into outer space with impressive backgrounds.  I also can’t deny that the multiplyer and point flashes on screen is an intriguing addition for me.

Ports

This game was ported from Japanese arcades to the PC and Playstation 2 in 2006, although this was only in Japan and Europe.  With the relative difficulty of getting the game to play in MAME – not even sure it has ever worked – having the console and PC releases also outside of the US made fans angry.  Originally it was to come out in Fall 2006 and with no explanation it never released over here.  Eventually, in April 2007, the game released to the US market on the Playstation 2 to extremely poor sales.  If you need any greater proof of the weakness of import shmups in America, just realize that Japanese and European copies ofRaiden IIIcan go for anything from $70-$200 online whereas tangible copies in the US go for around $7-$15 and it’s available for digital download on the PSN for $10.  Most noteable about the PS2 version in any region is that it is one of the first shmups to allow both ships to be controlled by a single controller for fans of that play type.

Raiden IV Goes Modern

Although the graphics have seen a major overhaul, to the point that contemporary consoles are the home for the port, Raiden IV has the look but not the gameplay that it began.  It’s basically like a traditional shmup these days, Moss carrying on the tradition that begun back in 1990 and creating a game that sits graphically in the same vein as Ikaruga and other Treasure shmups.  While there may be some frantic battles and you’ll be weaving your fair share of bullets in the end, I don’t know that this qualifies as a bullet hell shmup at this point.  That’s not to say it isn’t hard, this title is a higher priced and brutal shmup that is as fun as it is difficult.

Ports

Having only a Japanese arcade release, this game came out on the Xbox 360 in both Japan and the US.  It suffered poor sales because modern gamers don’t much appreciate the staggering difficulty nor the fact that the game contains much less content than heavy hitters like Call of Duty and modern RPGs at the same price.  Still, it’s a solid title if you prefer your arcade perfect shmup ports, but it sits around $40-$60 at most specialty shops and there isn’t a huge number of Xbox Live players or enough extra levels to justify the price to most contemporary gamers.  This version also contains (finally!) muliple difficulties and even a boss rush mode.

Well that wraps up the Raiden series, a shmup that I feel had much more influence in its infancy than more modern versions, but for those that just can’t get enough shmups, the modern updates are impressive.  Stay tuned tomorrow when we present the only SNES shmup that doesn’t suffer slowdown: Axelay.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

Tagged with , ,

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