Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Darius Series (Taito)

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Of all the shmups I mention this month, the toughest to actually play the way it is intended will be Darius (pronounced “dah-rai-us”).   This title premiered in arcades in 1986 by developer Taito and featured a super wide 3-screen arcade cabinet.  The first monitor would be centered like you’re used to, but the other two would be at slight angles on either side, using mirrors to create one straight wide view.  As a result the way you play the game is completely different because there’s a lot more to see coming and going around you.  Nowadays you could do a decent job emulating it on widescreen televisions, but no one has decided to do it yet.  Because of this visual mode it doesn’t work all that great on MAME and I highly recommend trying one of the home ports or later arcade ports, which were designed around 4:3 televisions.

Sample screen from original arcade format of Darius

Darius isn’t only significant for having a super wide screen resolution, otherwise it would have died in obscurity as a one-off coin-op.  It breaks the mold of the traditional shmup in many ways, including the fact that the player picks which level to play next.  Much like Castlevania III it is impossible to see all 28 levels in one playthrough, in fact you will only see 7 in any one completion, but eventually you can piece together every level.  Seafood haters out there will also note the interesting crustacean look to the enemies in the series.  Your ship, the Silver Hawk, comes equipped with a cannon, bombs/missiles for ground attacks and a force field, all of which are upgraded by, you guessed it, power-up items dropped by destroyed enemies.  Each level ends in a boss battle, although the size of the bosses isn’t quite the scale as I was used to with other shmups.


This title was ported to the Amiga, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum and of all systems, the Game Boy.  I have honestly not played these versions so I cannot tell you if they remain faithful to the arcade or not.  On Gameboy Advance a re-release of this title, Darius R, did come out and was a stripped down version of the arcade game, so I’m guessing the same can be said at least for the Gameboy port.  The most significant port of this game has to be the PC-Engine ports (we didn’t get Turbografx-16 versions here in America) Darius Plus and Darius AlphaDarius Plus is a port of the original that includes a few unique bosses, but is really just the original game.  Darius Alpha is a boss rush mode version of the game, combining all 26 bosses back to back – this title had a very small print of around 800 copies and is thus rare and expensive in the wild.  These two ports are also significant because they contain updated graphics and sound if used in the SuperGrafx upgraded console version of the PC-Engine.  These two titles don’t see much improvement to me, but they do expand the SuperGrafx library from 5 to a whopping 7 games.  The PC-Engine Super CD also saw another port, Super Darius, added unique bosses to the original and fuses a Boss Rush mode similar Darius Alpha into the main menu.

Darius+ Controversy

A simple 5 level/boss version of Darius, named Darius+, was released on US microcomputers, which may or may not be the ports of Darius listed above, I couldn’t find evidence.  This is not really a port of Darius and is described as more of a simplified version of R-Type by players.  It’s not considered part of the series or cannon.

Name Change

Since Darius was limited, for the most part, to Japan it was actually given a different name when the sequel released to North America.  The arcade version, released only in Japan as far as I know, retained the 3-screen format of the original.  It basically kept the exact same formula from Darius save for two detriments by fans: your weapons would be completely lost upon death (like a traditional shmup) and bullets would not pass through destroyed enemies (in the original you could upgrade your bullets so that they pass through multiple enemies in one shot).  Instead of power-ups being dropped by specific enemies, they were now found after defeating a cluster of 8, much like Gradius.  Fortunately the branching level system remained intact and now sub-bosses were added to each level, which were the original bosses from the first game.

Complicated Ports

Japan didn’t see too many ports of Darius 2 other than a straight arcade port on the Saturn in 1996 that allowed you to switch to widescreen (although I don’t know if it’s optimized anamorphic for 16:9 televisions).  The PC-Engine Super CD did see a Super Darius 2 port that, like the first Super Darius, included unique bosses.  Sega produced versions for the Mega Drive/Genesis and in Europe and the US for the Master System that added a new boss, Nehonojia, in Stage X and removed two bosses, Steel Spine and Killer Hijia, in Venus stage.  In Japan the title is known as Darius II but in Europe and the US it was renamed to Sagaia, which is how we know the series.  Gameboy also released a game called Sagaia, which is a stripped hybrid of the first two games.

Twin Famicom

The Super Nintendo/Famicom received its own game in the series, Darius Twin, now completely optimized for full screen televisions.  At this point the story and bosses are recycled from the series, mostly from Darius II, but the “plot” acknowledges this as the third game.  Although there are branching paths, the final level will always be the same and each of the four endings simply depends on factors.  Because it ditched the naming system we were familiar with in the US and was its own unique title, it fell to wayside as a SNES shmup.  It is available on the Virtual Console if you want to check it out and works as a solid and inexpensive one-off of the series.

Darius Force later released on the Super Famicom, coming to America as Super Nova and yet again making for a naming system that completely removes it from an obvious Darius title.  If you play the game, however, it is extremely clear that this is exactly what it is – this title even contains the Silver Hawk from the original and second Darius title as well as a new custom model.  This game follows the power-up and battle system of Darius II and although it contains mild branching paths among 15 levels, each level leads to another so it’s more like 3 paths than branching levels.  Each path, however, contains its own final boss and ending.  Unlike its predecessor, it is not currently on the Virtual Console.

Return to Arcades

In 1994, the Darius series returned to arcades in Darius Gaiden (originally planned to be Darius III) and employed the graphical style of the early 90s with a bit of polygonal play common to early Playstation-era title.  The power-up system received a facelift but is pretty much the same and it retains the branching level system.  This time around it is possible to turn the sub-boss against your enemies by destroying a little ball on it instead of destroying the creature itself.  You can also collect a black hole bomb that does massive damage to everything on-screen.  Unlike its arcade predecessors, it goes back to a traditional full screen visual format, compacting the space much like a traditional shmup but very different for the classic Darius player.  It was ported to the Saturn, PS1 and PC in Japan but only managed to make it on the Saturn over here.

In the fourth and final Japanese arcade installment, G-Darius, the series finally makes the full shift to 3D polygonal graphics in 1997.  Ironically it released only on PS1 but did receive a North American port – so, technically you have to own a PS1 and a Saturn to enjoy both ports in America.  That is, of course, unless you pick up the inexpensive Taito Legends 2 on PS2 in the US, which includes both Darius Gaiden and G-Darius on the same disc – the best way to enjoy the modern versions of the game.  By the end of this entire series you will definitely be in the mood for sushi.

That about wraps up the Darius series, a relatively obscure but fun shmup that graces almost every console but stays loyal to none.  For a lazy Sunday we have a great lazy Sunday shmup chock full of tons of explosions and cult infamy: M.U.S.H.A.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

3 Responses

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  1. This is a very strange article… is this site some HG101 spinoff?

    1. In Darius II, you’ll eventually get to fire blue spheres that can go through enemies if the sphere still has some “energy” left.

    2. The “Sagaia” version of Darius II arcade was only released in the UK. The only game named “Sagaia” ever released in the US was the Mega Drive port. Sagaia is not really a name known in the US, because of Gaiden, G, and occasionally Twin.

    3. Darius II actually has the second most ports, after the first (and most of the Darius ports were made in the 2000s).

    4. Article doesn’t even attempt to mention Metal Black (and thus Border Down), which had been planned as Darius III before it was given its own title.

    5. “Ironically” on PS? Aside from that odd claim, the arcade version of G-Darius uses PS-like hardware (the mid-’90s was when arcade games *really* started using console-based hardware). Also, there was a PC port published by the same group responsible for Darius Gaiden PC.


    January 13, 2015 at 3:34 am

    • Of course I’d forget the one thing I started writing that comment for…

      For the Mega Drive version of Darius II, what actually happened is that Alloy Lantern no longer carries bosses. Killer Hijia was removed, but Steel Spine became the boss of every stage 4. Red Crab became the boss of half the stage 6s (along with Grand Octopus).

      I also just remembered that Syvalion absolutely needs a mention in a Darius article.


      January 13, 2015 at 3:43 am

    • Clearly there were some oversights with this article, I tried the best I could in 2012 to do as much research and play as many of the games as I could before posting and it appears my research failed me for the incorrect info and there was info missing. I will speak to a couple of these items directly:

      Is this an HG101 ( spin-off? No it is not, although I will praise Kurt Kalata for his fantastic site. Originally Gaming History 101 was a blog I wrote on the Video Game Outsiders forum and someone suggested I just start a blog for articles. It wasn’t until after starting up the blog and securing the domain that I was made aware of Kalata’s site via Retronauts (I started the GH101 blog in 2007). In hindsight it would have been good to better differentiate, however there is a vast difference between the two sites. Kalata runs HG101 as a business that he has fortunately been able to sustain with traffic, staff, and resources I simply don’t have. Perhaps you won’t like this reasoning, but just because someone else is doing it – and in some cases doing it better – doesn’t discourage me from doing my own thing. I’m no stranger to similar names given that a teenage boy swooped in a year after this site went live and registered Gaming History 101 on twitter, twitch, youtube, and Facebook while refusing to speak with me about the same name. So as a result he does his thing, I do mine, and we peacefully coexist. I don’t think Kalata knows of my site and I would like to think he wouldn’t have a problem with it even if he did.

      As for Darius, it was a series I didn’t know much about and did my best to consume myself in research before writing the article. I had played plenty of the games in the series along with respective ports, but that has nothing to do with history, development, or hardware statistics like you describe. I also was either not good enough to get the blue spheres or didn’t notice them when I played. These were early attempts and I try to get the best information I can, but yes, there will be incorrect info from time to time as I try my best to get the most accurate information I can. I have also since stopped doing articles on series or topics for which I do not feel confident about my knowledge of. For what it’s worth, your information does make this post better so I thank you for sharing it.

      Fred Rojas

      January 13, 2015 at 1:00 pm

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