3 Difficulty levels
Ship speed selectable
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Developed by Hudson Soft
Published by Hudson Soft in 1991
Another chapter in the Soldier series of shooting games, Final Soldier follows Super Star Soldier and thus keeps the franchise in the realm of the PC Engine console. There is a story going on involving aliens coming from the future to conquer Earth during the 23rd century and bla-bla-bla... That's the reason why the first stage takes place in what's called "future zone", which is then followed by our regular landscapes on the desert, over the ocean, in an urban area and then back to outer space and weird environments for the rest of the ship's mission.
Gameplay inputs consist of shot (button II), option explode (button I) and speed switch (SELECT, three settings available). Shot type is determined by the items you pick up from destroyed carriers, which include V (vulcan), L (laser), E (e-beam) and F (flamethrower), as well as auxiliary missiles (M) and options that provide extra firepower (a canister-like icon). What's specific to this chapter within the series is the fact that you can assign different behaviors to the L, E, F and M weapons in the SET-UP options at the start screen, prior to beginning the credit. So with the exception of the classic 5-way vulcan shot, the trademark of the series, each weapon can have three variations that work very distinctly from each other.
The process of weapon upgrading is very simple: just stick to the same item and collect two of them to reach maximum power. Every time you get hit the ship gets downgraded by one level, which means you die when shot at a default condition. While this is a very lenient scheme for a disguised health bar, dying in the busiest levels can be extremely aggravating because you're always respawned with the weakest ship configuration. That often leads to multiple deaths if you're not familiar with the area, leaving you close to a GAME OVER because the extend routine will "only" grant four extra lives throughout the whole credit, all of them acquired by the time you reach 600.000 points. Yes, Final Soldier can be considered one of the easiest in the series, but not due to excessive extra lives.
(courtesy of YouTube user narox)
(courtesy of YouTube user narox)
By pressing button I the player is able to sacrifice one of the options into a spiralling bomb with great destructive effect. It's an excellent way to deal with lots of enemies at once as well as inflicting damage on bosses. Speaking of which, they're preceded by one of more mid-bosses and are often quite large, making players move a lot around the screen. Some of them even offer several phases of resistance, such as the very last boss. He pesters the player during the whole final level while a seizure-inducing background scrolls by really fast as he comes and goes surrounded by a series of cannon fodder. And even though all boss fights are preceded by an ominous Darius-esque warning of ENEMY APPROACHING, I swear the announcer actually says AVIAN APPROACHING. Indeed there are a few bosses that can be categorized as "avian", but the overall game design does not emphasize this aspect at all.
Going all the way with maxed out weapons without getting hit and without sacrificing options is the key to achieving high scores the regular way. Each extra option collected is worth 1.000 points, and 2.000 points is what you get for an extra weapon power-up. Unfortunately the scoring in Final Soldier is broken: very early on you can exploit the first boss for his destructible projectiles, just kill the first mecha and damage the second one to the point he starts spewing lots of bullets, then park your ship on either side with a weapon of narrow reach or short range capability.
Even though there's nothing funtamentally wrong with Final Soldier besides the broken scoring system, there's no doubt the game suffers a bit from lack of character. On the outside very little seems to have changed from Super Star Soldier, except for maybe a little more color. Of all weapons available my feeling was that the best one for pretty much all situations is still the good old 5-way shot; the laser is too narrow and all flame variations are just too slow, but at least the e-beam can still be of some use due to its bending nature. As positive points, stages are of considerable length and the soundtrack certainly shines in the second half of the game.
Wiper electrical rings, lettuce flavor
For those who care, the HuCard includes the famous 2-minute and 5-minute Caravan modes, complete with those endless stretches of colored tiles and lots of staggering orbs like the ones seen in GunHed and Super Star Soldier. These modes are actually so different and detached from the game itself that I can't help but wonder if Hudson Soft just wanted to throw out another yearly Soldier game in order to fuel their Caravan tournaments, instead of actually putting a little more effort into the main product.
Is that perhaps why I've always considered this series so mundane? I never tried to hide my indifference for caravan variations, and I still hope this franchise is able to deliver more than what I've seen so far (the next chapter is Soldier Blade). Damn, I hope Hudson Soft learned something from their brief collaboration with Compile, which was probably the company most akin to them at the time and was certainly able to sustain a steadier level of diversity in their Aleste games, for example.
My weapons of choice while playing on Normal difficulty were all the defaults: short (L), wiper (E), burner (F) and homing (M). And my best 1CC result with no milking at all is shown below. See you next in Soldier Blade!