Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Radiant Silvergun Review

Developers: Treasure (Original), Live Wire (Switch)
Platform: NS
Price: $20

Radiant Silvergun is one of those legendary games you always hear about, but not a lot of people have played. It's probably better known for being expensive than it is for being a good game. It was a Saturn exclusive and it only came out in Japan, so that's understandable. It's by Treasure, makers of Sin & Punishment, Gunstar Heroes, and Ikaruga. They were always known for great action games, but this was their first shoot 'em up. It plays very differently from Ikaruga, but I see how one led to the other. While Ikaruga is about simple ideas inspired by traditional shoot 'em up mechanics, Radiant Silvergun is about complexity, breaking genre conventions, and a heavy dose of RPG elements.

Radiant Silvergun is unlike any shooter I've ever played. There's no Gradius style upgrade system, you don't get screen clearing bombs, and it's not about shooting everything in sight. In some ways, this game is as complex as learning how to play a fighting game. I actually watched YouTube videos on how to play it.
Unlike in most shooters, you don't pick up items to switch your shots in this game. There are no items at all. You start out with 6 different shot types and a bullet soaking sword attack. In the original arcade release, there were only 3 buttons, so you pressed them in different combinations to do different attacks. They're all mapped to their own buttons in the Switch version, but you can still play with just 3 buttons. Curious about how this control method worked, I busted out my arcade stick, remapped the buttons, and learned to play like that. Now I actually prefer to play that way. It was confusing at first, but it eventually became second nature. It just makes sense when you're playing. I think it's much easier than remembering what each of the 7 buttons do.
Your 3 main buttons are A, B, and C. Those refer to the buttons on the arcade and Saturn versions, and not the buttons on a Switch controller, so that's another thing that confused me when looking for info online. They are B, A, and R on Switch by default. These buttons are used for your vulcan, homing, and spread shots. Pressing 3 different combinations of 2 of those buttons will do the backwards, homing plasma, and homing spread shots, which count as alternate shots of A, B, and C. You can also press all 3 buttons at once to use the Radiant Sword, which is used to soak up pink bullets. You have to dodge all other attacks. All these different types of shots come in handy in different situations and are sometimes required to do damage to certain enemies. The homing spread shot can also be used to find secret cats hidden in the game.
Instead of upgrading your shots with items, you level them up by killing enemies with them, like in an RPG. You actually gain XP from killing enemies and it goes into the shot type you used. The Radiant Sword doesn't level up, but soaking pink bullets with it fills up a meter, which you can then use for a powerful giant sword attack when it's full. That's the closest thing you have to a bomb in this game.
But like I mentioned earlier, this is a shooter that isn't about shooting everything in sight. Every enemy is colored either red, yellow, or blue. Killing an enemy of one color starts a chain, and killing 3 enemies of that color without killing any enemies of the other colors completes it. The more chains of a single color you complete, the higher your score/XP will be, so the fastest way to level up is to only kill enemies of one color. The best color to go after varies, but it seems to be red most of the time. Of course, this is easier said than done. All enemies are going to attack you, it's hard not to kill enemies in your way sometimes, and you lose your chain progress when you die. The only way to get better at this is to play the game over and over again and memorize it. That's a lot to keep track of, huh?
The funny thing is, you don't have to be a chaining master to complete the game. I'm not sure exactly how the game unlocks credits in this version, but it keeps giving you more and more the longer you play. After playing a certain amount of time, you can unlock free play in Arcade mode and 99 lives in Story mode. There's also lots of difficulty levels and a training mode, so you can practice without life limits. You can even pick what level you want to start on in training mode. Eventually, you unlock so many lives that some modes simply stop being challenging, so then the challenge comes from playing the Score Attack mode, trying to get the good ending in Arcade mode, and playing the higher difficulties in Story mode.
The main difference between Arcade and Story modes is that Story mode lets you save your shot level progress from game to game. You also only get 1 credit, but you can unlock up to 99 lives. Story mode feels impossible at first since you start with 4 lives, but it becomes more manageable the more you play. Story mode also has all the cutscenes and dialogue, which are not in the Arcade mode at all. They're all in Japanese with English subs; though, so it can be hard to follow along at times.

What can I say about the graphics? This is a 3D Saturn game. It looks rough even by 1997 standards. The polygon models are very basic, there's no antialiasing, and the textures are so pixelated it almost looks like a 2D game. The framerate looks like it's solid 60fps, at least. There are some filters you can turn on to smooth out the pixelation, but I don't think they look good. There is one option to use alpha channels for transparencies instead of dithering and that looks OK.
The music is much better than the graphics. It has a very orchestral sound to it, and it gets very dramatic and intense at times. It makes me think more of high fantasy swords and sorcery settings than sci-fi. It reminds me of music from an RPG. It's definitely different from what we got in most other shoot 'em ups from the 90s.

Like with Castlevania Rondo of Blood, Seiken Densetsu 3, Monster World IV, and so on, sometimes the reputation of these old import-only games takes on a life of its own and they become almost mythical. There's no way they can live up to the hype. Radiant Silvergun is a great game, though. It's not my favorite Treasure game, but it's definitely up there. I love the 3 button controls, the RPG elements are something different, and the boss designs are awesome. The game is definitely not for everyone, though. I think most people will die within a few minutes and give up on it. It really pushed the limits of my reflexes. I don't think I'll ever beat the story on anything higher than normal. The patterns are just too difficult, and there are way too many bullets for me to dodge.