Tuesday, February 18, 2014

5th Blog Anniversary!

Welcome, dear readers!

Even though the day I started this feels like yesterday, I can't help but sense the weight of time on my shoulders. I've seen very good blogs die in less than five years, maybe even months, but I'm still here. Why is that, I wonder?

Back in 2007 I started buying video games in order to put them on a shelf and play them sparsely, so I was primarily a collector. After a few months doing that, reason began replacing the enthusiasm and something that always lurked in the back of my head started taking shape. This collecting hobby demanded something more of it, it couldn't be just about piling up game after game and eating away the available space in my room.

I needed to come out of the closet.

My Xbox 360 collection, exactly 5 years ago

Figuring out the concept of the 1CC changed the way I saw video games. In fact, it changed my approach towards them forever, eliminating whatever I had left of appreciation for casual or mainstream gaming - that part of the industry that involves video games with excessively long campaigns, unlimited save points and time-based completions. Titles that lacked scoring systems or offered almost no real challenge suddenly sounded bland, lifeless to me. Factor in aspects of real life, less available time to play, personal aesthetical taste and you get the picture.

I began getting rid of almost all games I owned that weren't shoot'em ups, and the collection started anew. With it came the notion of keeping track of my performance in each one of these games, and a few months later this blog was born. I was a noob then, and even though I still feel like a noob now I believe I have learned how to play these games a little better over the years.

Looking back in retrospect, I like to think of it this way: what started as a collection of a particular genre of video games kinda shifted into a collection of trophies in that particular genre of video games. A hobby with no boundaries except for the ones I set myself, no grinding away in achievements poorly established by developers from the latest video game generation. It feels good, it feels clean, it's in line with the existing standards of an awesome niche community. Above all, it keeps the love for my hobby and my collection alive. However, I'm 37 and some people would probably tell  me I'm too old to dedicate myself to such a childish hobby.

With that said, I must say I will not be doing this anymore, or at least for a long time.

Years go by really fast, and even though five years seem like a very long time I think it's a reasonable interval for you to rejoice and celebrate a particular accomplishment with friends and readers.

As a response for suggestions made over the last months, I have enabled a menu on the top of the blog containing links for a few dedicated pages with rearranged information on cool shmup readings and all the stuff I wrote so far.

I'm really thankful for all the feedback, encouragement, challenges and ideas received during these wonderful five years.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sturmwind (Dreamcast)

Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
16 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Duranik
Published by redspotgames in 2013

If there’s something positive to be taken from the long gestation period of the independently-developed Sturmwind, it certainly has to be the anticipation created by the dazzling, beautiful screenshots released in 2010. Three years later the game finally arrived to the eager hands of Dreamcast fans all around the world in two variations. Mine is the meatier one, a nice longbox with magnetic lids containing the main disc, a remixed soundtrack CD, a booklet with pics and info on all bosses and an odd miniature of the spaceship from the game (it seems to have been made from spongy plastic in a 3D printer). It’s a pretty cool package that hints at how much independent development love was dedicated to Sturmwind.

So how well does it fare as a game then?

Whenever a project’s ambition overflows from inside the walls of the developing studio into media domain, expectations rise proportionally. Style over substance becomes the main critical dilemma for everybody, and somewhere in between this spectrum most games end up falling short. Unfortunately, like many other indie instances in the past, this is also the case of Sturmwind. It is really beautiful to look at, with crisp, fluid animation applied to gorgeous graphics from start to finish. There's always something happening with great detail in the backgrounds, all of them extremely varied and dynamic (look out for some weird appearances, all of them "explained" in the game's ending). It isn’t a difficult game by any means, and the little difficulty that can be found is more due to design oversights than actual challenge. A few gameplay resources get botched by their own nature, which is a pity considering the noble intentions behind their essence.

Everything about the game and its story is expressed in German, from the narration in the animated intro to all names of stages and bosses (Sturmwind corresponds to Storm Wind - the rest of the names aren't so easy to translate though). Your mission consists of invading 16 locations in order to find "Mother", the planet of your living ancestors. Normal mode is where you'll play these 16 levels, whereas Arcade mode picks 6 of them for a much shorter ride, without any difference or gameplay addition whatsoever. It aims at being an arcade-like alternative to a relatively long game, but I only see it as redundant and unnecessary. For whatever's worth, in Arcade mode you can't continue and progress is not saved, two resources naturally built into Normal mode, which also offers the ability to start at any stage previously reached (good for practicing). All 16 stages are unevenly spread across seven worlds, some of them have just bosses and a few boss fights are timed. If you time out you lose a life and the fight is restarted.

Meet LaserlÀufer!

There are lots of control inputs (all customizable) in Sturmwind. By default: shoot with A, bomb with B, cycle through available weapons with R, activate charge shot with X, switch shot direction with L and switch drone shot direction with Y. If you take out the charge mechanic and the switching inputs, this gameplay scheme owes a lot to Konami’s 16-bit classic Axelay, an influence that’s also clearly noticed in the brown weapon, a dual vulcan spread whose opening angle can be controlled by the shot button in 180Âș above and below the ship. The other weapons consist of a forward shot (green) and a conical wave laser (blue), all of them upgraded by collecting the corresponding power-up color for the weapon that’s currently in use. This means that taking a blue while brown is activated has no effect at all – a very faint sound cue will tell if the pick-up was useless.

A single power-up item is released every once in a while with a tag of 1.000 points inside it. Shoot in order to cycle the item across all weapon colors: 1.000 points → brown → red → blue → brown → ... (the thousand point bonus appears only once). The first two upgrades applied to a weapon add two drones/options for a little extra firepower, and these drones can also have their shot direction inverted (button Y). They behave differently for each weapon and disappear after receiving too much damage (just take more power-ups to renew them). Other items that appear more rarely are extra bombs, 1UPs and bonus points (by hitting hidden spots). Bombs are independent of life stock, so it's advisable to not bomb-spam out of desperation expecting to get more bombs with a respawn.

Shooting and taking the desired power-up requires a bit of practice and timing, especially when you notice that weapons also serve as health. Upon getting hit you just lose the current weapon, dying only if you get hit while using the last remaining one. Sturmwind’s catch is that it’s possible to reactivate a lost weapon by taking its corresponding power-up color, thus reestablishing the ship to its original status and prolonging the current life. Granted, the recovered weapon is powered down a bit, but here’s where the gameplay starts falling apart: a weapon’s power level can only be seen in between stages (not while you play), it takes lots of power-ups to reach 100% and upgrading them beyond the pair of options is pretty much useless. All enemies, including bosses, will yield pretty quickly with whatever weapon you use, even at their default power. Even more useless than powering up is the charge shot, an attack that’s executed in two steps and makes you lose the weapon if you let the second energy gauge fill up completely. Yes, weapon overheating leads to ship damage and weapon loss... Why in hell haven’t those outer space engineers installed a safety device on those cannons? This is by far one of the most stupid gameplay ideas I’ve ever seen in a shmup.

Sturmwind's launch trailer
(courtesy of publisher and YouTube user redspotgames)

The basis of the scoring system in Sturmwind is killing complete enemy waves. When this happens a WAVE BONUS message appears, and by destroying all its characters a star is added to the multiplier in the top counter – be quick, sometimes the characters disappear quite fast. The multiplier is confined to each stage and is reset when you die, but what’s most unfortunate about this straightforward and simple mechanic is that it’s made irrelevant by a broken scoring system: during the confrontation against the fifth boss (stage 2.1) you can milk his small fireballs indefinitely. Sadly, both Normal and Arcade modes are affected by this.

Sturmwind boasts an excellent use of color, with sections containing prerendered graphics that create great-looking 3D backgrounds. However, no matter how accomplished it is, the design lacks finesse in how it treats boundaries. There are times where collision detection becomes a nightmare, with deaths happening when you least expect and boss fights taking longer simply because you don’t know where you’re allowed to move. It all leads to unnecessary frustration and really affects the overall fun factor. Strangely enough, this issue is less critical in the levels where the spaceship is seen from the top instead of sideways, as if it was a rotated top-down vertical shmup. This is rather unusual for a horizontal shooter but it works. Also curious are the swift effect of the ship taking off at the end of the stage and the fact that the screen fades to black every time you die, despite the game having no checkpoints whatsoever. Considering that Sturmwind is full of mechanical apparatus and large, intimidating multiple-part bosses, the sound effects are rather disappointing. One would expect all sorts of clanks and metallic sounds, but we only get a gallery of subdued muffled pants. At least the soundtrack is a little better, as it tends to grow on you with repeated plays.

As I mentioned above, style over substance is the main culprit of Sturmwind's faults. In a nutshell, the game just isn't as fun as it looks. Beautiful visuals are the saving grace, but the easy challenge, the gameplay blunders, the slightly abusive loading times and the broken scoring system all serve to undermine the game's lasting appeal. My 1CC high score on Normal is below. Note: Hard difficulty offers more bullets (still slow though), stronger enemy resilience and only 1 life to start the credit.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sea of Dreamland (NES)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
5 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Mega Soft
Published by Gluk in 1992

Last of Mega Soft’s original unlicensed games released for the NES, Sea of Dreamland’s most common (but still rare) incarnation is the one that goes by the name La Gran Aventura Submarina, which came out in Spain and translates to something like “The Great Underwater Adventure”. However, if you’re familiar with Mega Soft and other related obscure aliases such as NTDEC and Caltron, you’ll certainly assume and conclude that there’s nothing great or adventurous about this game at all. In fact, from what I’ve seen so far it might just be their worst effort.

A young seahorse named Abby is in search of Silas, the bad “uncle” of the sea. Silas is the one who stole the mirror of hope from Dreamland, thus draining the joy and warmth from its waters. The strangest thing about this, according to the instructions written in the back of the box, is that Abby is supposed to be a male seahorse. I understand that people tend to re-gender many names (Cameron, Alex, Taylor, etc.), but Abby? It doesn’t really matter though, because even an infant seahorse could handle the hazards found in the sea of Dreamland (no, I’m not implying women are less competent than men). The first stage is the only one capable of giving trouble to unaware players – once a few power-ups are taken you practically enter powerhouse mode, gliding through the rest of the game with no trouble besides the risk of falling asleep.

I'm really playing this... Am I dreaming?

Abby is able to shoot (tap B), fire a charge shot (hold and release B) and attack with his tail (A). The charge shot is cumbersome to use and definitely not as effective as tapping, especially with an upgraded shot (a turbo controller is recommended to get proper autofire). The tail attack is just a short melee move directed downwards, good for those crabs and also for blocking slow bullets. The problem is that you can't use it together with the regular shot. As you get hit Abby’s color changes from vivid green (maximum health) to white (lowest health), and when in this condition any further hit means death. Don’t bother trying to check your life stock or your score, the only moments you’ll be able to see them is when you complete a level or when you get the GAME OVER. During gameplay the START button is merely for pausing, and a notable quirk about pausing in Sea of Dreamland is that it comes with a slight delay. In all these years of video gaming this is the first time I see a delayed pause function.

Anyway, this game is very limited in many ways. Five or six different sea creatures compose the whole enemy gallery: a crab, three types of regular fish, a stonefish, a pink jellyfish and a static seaflower. Stages change from a deep blue ocean to backgrounds with green murky algae, and then a few caves split in the middle by rock formations. If only the game had more enemy bullets coming your way or if later levels actually increased the challenge somehow the game wouldn’t be such a yawning experience. Bosses are wimps and get increasingly easier... I was so powered up I didn’t see the shark in stage 4 fire a single bullet against me! And Silas, the ultimate villain in Dreamland? Nothing but a sorry joke of a three-headed dragon who can’t see an inch up or down!

It takes just three power-ups (P) to put Abby in an overpowered condition. With six Ps you’re shooting almost at all directions with a very effective frontal wave cannon. Power-ups are released by clamshells on ground level, just like the other items in the game: LIFE (partial health recovery), S (speed-up), 1UP (extra life) and a lightning bolt (invincibility). Sea of Dreamland is extremely unbalanced with item distribution, clear examples are the first speed-up appearing only halfway the second stage and the plethora of health recovery and extra lives unnecessarily laid out in the last couple of levels. Why make such an easy game even easier, I wonder? Was the defunct NES bound only for kids back in 1992?

Hello, I'm Abby and I'm a badass seahorse
(courtesy of YouTube user Kylin69)

As far as unlicensed shooters go, Sea of Dreamland can be considered bottom-of-the-barrel lackluster material. Mega Soft's own Magic Carpet 1001 and War in the Gulf are also poor but more accomplished in their simplicity. The music in Dreamland comes out as particularly dreadful, but only when you're actively shooting. Refrain from pressing those buttons and notice how the sacrificed layer of music resurfaces. Even though I've seen this happen before, here the audio loss is really heavy and makes a pitiful soundtrack even more pathetic.

Sealing the whole package of mediocrity, once Silas is defeated you're simply treated with the GAME OVER screen. There is no fanfare for Abby's heroic duties, not even a "congraturation" message to reward the player's brave enterprise. I beat the game on a single life and here's what I got in the end:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Gate of Thunder (PC Engine CD)

Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
7 Stages
Ship speed selectable
- - - - - - -
Developed by
Hudson Soft / RED
Published by Hudson Soft in 1992

Gate of Thunder is often subject of two types of conversation topics as far as shmup fans are concerned. The game is frequently mentioned as one of the best PC Engine CD shooters while at the same time being pinned as a Thunder Force III rip-off. Well, after playing it for a few days all I can say is that the first affirmation is purely relative to taste. As for the associations with Thunder Force III, they’re positively valid but not in a derogatory way. After all, the secret of a well-made video-game is presenting a whole new experience built with ideas that worked well in previously successful games, hence the reason to face the nod to Thunder Force III as a compliment. NEC and Hudson Soft must’ve held the game in high regard as well, seeing that it was included as a pack-in title for the TurboDuo release in North America.

I’m a sucker for good music in my shooters, so watching the introduction to Gate of Thunder quickly instilled that warm feeling of impending awesomeness. This intro does a pretty good job at granting you the mission to stop an invading army from taking over the planet. You’re Hawk, you’re in control of a spaceship named Hunting Dog and you’re escorted by a cargo ship named Wild Cat, whose pilot is a beautiful girl called Esty. She’s the one responsible for bringing power-ups and shields during the seven missions/stages of Gate of Thunder. The rocking arrangements and the crisp sound of the CD media instantly remind you why the soundtrack to this particular game is so praised, even though it gets engulfed by the sound effects during the actual gameplay – a characteristic that unfortunately plagues many PC Engine titles.

First stage of an awesome ride
(courtesy of YouTube user Demiath)

All items brought by Esty initially float from right to left before disappearing on the bottom of the screen. All shot types must be first activated with the correct item before you’re able to select them using button I. Firing is accomplished with button II, while SELECT enables the choice between three different flying speeds. The very first weapon item also generates two pods/options above and below the ship besides granting the respective capability: blue (straight lasers), green (wave shot) and red (side/exploding shot). It takes two of the same items to achieve maximum power for each of these weapons, and it’s possible to see their level below the color indication in the HUD. Other items brought by Esty include chasing guided missiles (three for maximum power) and shields (green = 3 hits left, blue = 2 hits left, orange = 1 hit left). With the exception of the shield, whenever you are fully powered in a specific weapon the next corresponding item will create a vertical bar that crosses the screen from left to right, damaging enemies and melting bullets.

If you die you can say goodbye to the weapon you were using. The ship is respawned with the basic pea shot, so you’d better get a new color power-up fast to get those options back. Options block regular bullets and retract vertically as you move left and right, closing in automatically when pressed against a wall. Now here’s what’s really cool about them: you can shift their shooting direction by performing a quick tap on the fire button! I didn’t know about this during the first couple of credits, and had to do a little research when I accidentally made it happen… I guess most of the game can be played without shooting backwards, but at certain spots it certainly helps to kill bosses or clear the screen faster. By the way, unless you’re trying to milk destructible bullets that’s what the gameplay in Gate of Thunder is mostly made of: fast scrolling, fast enemies and bulky bosses that should be dispatched as fast as possible.

In most shmups the huge battleship (R-Type, we love you) often appears from stage 3 onwards, but not in Gate of Thunder. Here it happens in the first level, as if the game wanted to dazzle the player as quickly as possible with fancy graphics and several layers of parallax. Later the art design leans towards the insides of bases with lots of walls and metallic enemies but the occasional organic motif is still around, unexpectedly showing a feeble bit of influence from Insector X. As for the alleged Thunder Force III inspiration, it’s there indeed – not only in the way a few weapons work, but also in the design of several enemies and stages.

For its emphasis on darker tones and a somewhat tamer diversity in the level design, in my opinion the game is good but doesn't surpass the astonishing work done by Technosoft on the Mega Drive. Stages feel kinda samey after a while, and some of them drag a little when compared to others.

I always thought green looks pretty cool for any type of wave shot

Due to the generous assortment of extends (at 50, 120, 250 and 500 thousand points) and hidden 1UPs, beating Gate of Thunder in the default difficulty is a rather easy endeavor. Some tricky sections can cause deaths during the learning process, as well as a few bosses where you need to shoot a weak point that's exposed for a limited amount of time in between patterns. When the game is completed each life in reserve is converted into 25.000 extra points. The ending animation and accompanying music are just as cool as the intro, and once the initials are entered they get properly saved in the console's internal memory. In higher difficulties enemies arrive in bigger numbers and bosses decide to get considerably more aggressive with their attacks, but unfortunately all difficulty levels share the same high score board.

Gate of Thunder is definitely a favorite among PC Engine fans for some of the reasons stated above, and rightfully so. It's exquisitely put together, with steady action from start to finish, a simple albeit tight scoring system, a killer soundtrack, clear voices for weapons and items and surprisingly short loading times for a PC Engine CD title. A few years after it came out RED and Hudson Soft released the equally acclaimed Lords of Thunder, but even though there's no relation whatsoever between these games you still see them referenced as being part of the same "series".

My final 1CC high score on Normal is below, having cleared the game on one life. Afterwards I had an extra go on Devil difficulty (Very Hard) and lost my pods before reaching the 4th boss, getting quickly raped by his attacks... For now I'll be leaving Devil for a future opportunity!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Shikigami No Shiro II (Dreamcast)

Checkpoints OFF
5 Difficulty levels
5 Stages
Ship speed fixed, selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by Alfa System
Published by Alfa System
in 2003

By 2003 the Dreamcast was officially dead, yet it was graced by Alfa System with a port of Shikigami No Shiro II, joining a private little club also composed by the Gamecube, the Xbox, the Playstation 2 and Windows PC. The Dreamcast didn't receive any version of the first game, so this must have happened because the second one was originally built on Sega Naomi hardware. I admit the whole idea behind this particular shooting franchise isn’t that enticing to me. However, just like in the experience I had with the first chapter I was hooked and deeply involved by the time I was almost clearing Shikigami No Shiro II. You can’t really judge a game by its cover, and the whole process of learning and fluidly playing a game like this is nothing short of fascinating in several levels, from the choice of the character to all those stages and bosses that seem to be impossible at first sight.

Of course glory mode in Shikigami No Shiro II is much more than just achieving the desired 1CC. For those not familiar with them, these games belong to the bullet hell subgenre that involves “grazing”. In a nutshell, scoring higher is directly proportional to how close you get to the danger (bullets, enemies or scenery). Play safe and score peanuts, play risky and inflate your score. It’s that simple. And the basis of the so-called TBS (Tension Bonus System) is this: the closer you are to the danger the higher the multiplier applied to destroyed enemies (from ×2 to ×8). This is directly inherited from the gameplay of the first chapter, and while Shikigami No Shiro II tweaks other features in the game the general atmosphere remains the same. People are flying and battling other people, as well as all sorts of magical creatures.

According to Wikipedia, in the beginning of the game a giant castle appears from above the city of Tokyo, prompting mankind to initiate a battle against the gods (the Dreamcast port came out only in Japan and all in-game text is in Japanese). Normally the start of a level and every boss encounter are preceded by spoken phrases and dialogue interactions showcasing the chosen character’s (or characters’, in 2-player mode) story. I assume it might be fairly engaging for those who care about this, but I always set dialogue to OFF as soon as I press start to play.

Two against the mid-boss of stage 2

Shikigami No Shiro games are remarkable for having one of the most varied character rosters in the history of shmups. Even though they share the same inputs, the behavior of their powers changes drastically from one character to the next. Basic inputs consist of shot (A), rapid shot (R) and bomb (B). Shot overrides rapid shot, and holding it slows down the character while activating the shikigami attack. Very important: both shot and shikigami get a generous boost in power whenever your TBS multiplier is at ×7 or ×8. Two variations of the shikigami attack exist for each character, which must be chosen during the character selection screen and are commonly referred to as type 1 and type 2. The game keeps track of your performance in each of the two sections in a level, so you always know how well you’re doing as the credit unfolds.

Besides the TBS multiplier values, scoring is also intimately related to coins. Enemies release free-falling coins when destroyed with shot, but if they’re killed with the shikigami attack all generated coins are automatically sucked into the character. Provided you don't get hit, coin value increases from 10 to 10.000 points in each stage (good news: missing a coin has no negative impact in coin value). Keeping higher multipliers results in more coins, more points and better bonuses when you finish the section of a level. Most important to scoring is the fact that having a ×8 multiplier during the moment the coins are taken adds them to a special counter called "×8 action", which is probably the biggest contributor to the overall score in the game. This is easier said than done, especially on bosses and their bullet cancelling nature when one of their forms is destroyed.

As a departure from the first Shikigami No Shiro, here there are no power upgrades at all. You’re fully powered from the get go and there’s no power down punishment when you get hit. Getting hit has two consequences besides losing a life: (1) you reset the coin value and (2) gain an extra bomb. Unrelated to coins and scoring, the relation between life and bomb stock is quite distinct from the regular shooter. Bombs are independent of life count and have a maximum number of five (no such thing as 3 bombs per life). At any moment you can have up to three lives and five bombs only, any extend or extra bomb gained when you're maxed out is lost. Besides being granted with a bomb when getting hit you also get an extra bomb when you reach an extend mark, which comes with 400.000 first and for every 700.000 points afterwards.

In Shikigami No Shiro II time isn’t such a constraint anymore since only boss battles are timed. Remaining time after a boss is defeated is converted in score, but of course milking applies in certain cases. Milking, however, has to be carefully planned out because of the devil cycle: if time runs out the screen is quickly flooded with invincible little demons that swarm around you. The fourth boss (Yukari Horiguchi) can be particularly annoying with this, because if you fail to kill her last form before she fires the three groups of lasers she’ll recover half her health and the fight will be pretty much lost.

My 1CC run with Kohtaro Kuga, type 1

One of the things I love most about this game is how the Practice Mode helps to give a sense of improvement as you play over and over. Each section is unlocked only if you reach it on a single credit. Sure, the game eventually overrides the limited continues with free play, but if you care about playing a shooter properly you'll know what I mean. When the bullet clouds get denser and seem to be overwhelming, look out for the glow inside the character identifying his/her hitbox. Careful positioning and a good herding strategy often help finding optimal paths amidst the chaos, then it's all about focus. On a side note, the absolute lack of ground enemies makes it impossible to pay attention to what's going on in the backgrounds while you're playing, and I just wish things were different in that regard. The focus is always on the trajectory of bullets, whenever I try to figure out what's going on down below I get fried easily. Graphics are there merely as a visual complement.

At certain moments I felt this sequel wasn't as tough as the first game, but then I remembered I had played Shikigami No Shiro with the "wait" option set to OFF (it eliminates slowdown). There's no such option in the Dreamcast port for Shiki II so I can't really compare both of them now. Shikigami No Shiro II is also a lot less schizophrenic with its enemy gallery, which isn't nearly as surreal as the gallery from the first chapter.

By default the game offers the player two distinct modes for regular play: Normal and Easy. Easy is just a watered down version of the main game with only three stages. The Dreamcast port adds an Extreme Game mode where, on top of being a harder version, every defeated enemy will release a certain amount of suicide bullets. In all of these modes it's possible to select between the original and an alternate soundtrack, this last one being just a slightly rearranged take on the soundtrack of Shikigami No Shiro. Other options included are Story Recollect (where you can watch the dialogue sequences again, but only if they were seen at least once during gameplay) and Gallery Mode (with tons of artwork unlocked by playing with multiple characters). Interesting additional tweaks can be applied for fun with the extra options (unlocked with free play inside the regular options menu), which allow changes to game/bullet speed, bullet size, TBS range and patterns in the Extreme mode. Of course TATE orientation is there as well.

Included in the Limited Edition of the Dreamcast port is a soundtrack CD, a set of trading cards and a Japanese telephone card. My copy is the regular one but I did get the OST separately later, even though I don't think it's a standout in any way. The tracks do get better as you get closer to the end of the game though. I played it on TATE (Normal) and decided early on to go with protagonist Kohtaru Kuga, type 1, final result is below. He's got a straight shot and his shikigami seems to be an elderly ghost that homes on enemies. When I play the game again on the Playstation 2 I'll choose a different character!