Monday, December 5, 2022

Raiden III (Playstation 2)

Checkpoints OFF
7 Difficulty levels
7 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Moss
Published by UFO Interactive in 2007

In the gaming world eleven years is certainly a long time. Video game generations fade and give way to their successors during such a period, and even though new chapters of old franchises seem to be frequent these days it wasn’t really common in 2005. That’s exactly when Raiden III was released in the arcades, more than a decade after Raiden DX. Rising from the ashes of defunct developer Seibu Kaihatsu in the form of new company Moss, it was an important step ahead for the series not only because it reignited a flame that seemed to have faded, but also because it dared to update the formula into a more streamlined experience with sleek 3D visuals.

Even though many diehard fans weren’t receptive towards this third installment, claiming the series had peaked with Raiden DX, in my opinion Raiden III holds up nicely on its own. The game bears a distinct vibe, with gameplay differences that make it more approachable and friendly when compared with either DX or the spin-off Raiden Fighters franchise, whose last entry Raiden Fighters Jet had already been out for seven years. Come to think of it, “more friendly” might be indeed the key qualifier for Raiden III, especially after the overcomplicated or simply brutal nature of the other games mentioned in this short paragraph.

After debuting in the arcades, Raiden III soon found its way to the Playstation 2. The North American version took a little longer to arrive and is curiously known for the inversion of the well-known confirmation input button of Western games. Instead of using ×, everything is only registered if you press ○, as is common with Japanese releases. I’ve even heard of people returning the game to the shops believing it was broken!

Boss of the 4th stage hard at work

When resuming the battle against the evil crystals of doom you can choose either the red (player 1 side) or the blue ship (player 2 side), which behave exactly the same this time around. Gameplay basics are unchanged, with carriers that release color-cycling power-ups used to activate/upgrade all weapons. Main weapons consist of vulcan (red, default), straight laser (blue) and piercing proton laser (green), whereas missile subweapons can be of the nuke (M), homing (H) or radar type (R). The piercing green laser replaces the toothpaste purple laser of Raiden II / Raiden DX, while the brand new radar missiles move forward like the nukes with the added ability of seeking the closest targets ahead. In a nutshell, the green laser sucks and the radar missiles are awesome, easily surpassing the original nukes when it comes down to sheer destruction power.

Other types of items to pick up are extra bombs and the ground medals/orbs. There's no optimal timing to collect medals, which are all worth 500 points. Bombs are of a single type only and have panic function, meaning you can trigger them at any time to escape hairy situations. Their behavior is one of the main elements of departure from the preceding games in the series, seeing that previously you had to time your bomb blasts in order to take advantage or their protection radius. It’s one of the details that make Raiden III much more approachable than Raiden II or Raiden DX.

You can also find two hidden extra lives (1UPs) and two hidden fairies that grant you a bunch of power-ups upon death. The fairies are worth 10.000 points and are quite easy to uncover in stages 1 and 4, but the 1UPs require some work: the first one is obtained by destroying all cranes in stage 3 (not only the final four!), and the second is found by obliterating all turrets in the three rotating rings on the tower prior to the 6th boss. Finally, a small car passing over a bridge in the 1st level gives you 10.000 points. And that’s it for secrets, with no miclus to be found anywhere in this chapter. As for the precius P for maximum power, it appears only after you continue.

New to the table in Raiden III is the "flash shot" technique that applies a multiplier of up to ×2 to the base value of an enemy the quicker you're able to destroy it. It adds a new layer of risk versus reward that kinda leads the player into memorizing enemy spawning routines while looking out for faster kills whenever possible. Abusing point blanking is a key element in achieving this but you have to be careful the longer you go without dying, after all the game has rank. Rank is reset when you die, but so is a large part of your score depending on where it happens. Each medal collected since your last death is worth 10.000 points at the end-of stage bonus, a reward that also grants 10.000 points for each life you still have and 5.000 points for each spare bomb.

My 1CC run

Besides the new panic function provided by bombs, other tweaks have also been applied in order to make the gameplay less cruel and punishing. The most important one is probably the reduced hitbox of the ship, which also starts with a default vulcan shot that has a 3-way pattern instead of a single straight shot. Another very cool change of Raiden III is in the upgrading process not requiring players to stick to the same power-up color anymore. You can switch colors at will and the weapons will still be upgraded, which means full power is pretty much guaranteed whenever you die and collect the item shower from the fairy. Power-up cycling times are also fixed, so you can always trust you won’t be screwed when you decide to pick one up right after it's been released. Make no mistake though, if you're not fully alert the wrong power-up can quickly end a perfect credit.

Raiden III is definitely easier than Raiden DX, but that doesn't mean it's a pushover. Since the game doesn't loop, it tries to make the most out of its seven stages with a challenge progression that's remarkably balanced (the first three levels take place on Earth, the remaining four sees you flying into outer space). The game alters its pacing every now and then and never slows down, except during boss explosions. By the way, boss fights are fun and often benefit from switching to laser so that you can take them down faster. No strict routing is needed because the horizontal span of the screen is fixed, which means you can't be sniped anymore by enemies popping up right on your face. Nevertheless bullet herding, crowd control and the expected combo of tapping and well timed sweeps become more and more important the closer you get to the end.

The porting job for the Playstation 2 is excellent. By pressing △ in "Game Start" you can play the arcade course in three ways: Solo, Dual (regular co-op play) and Double. Double is one of the most interesting game variants I've ever played, a very fun and challenging mode where both ships are controlled by one player with 3 shared lives and a single score. "Boss Rush" is self-explanatory, while "Score Attack" lets you play individual stages you've already reached in a single credit. All game modes can be used for practice because you're able to select the starting stage in all of them. High scores are fully tracked across all modes, TATE mode is available and replay saving is possible, even though saves are accomplished by levels only (just press △ as soon as you see the message at the end of the level). Finally, in "Replay & Gallery" you can watch replays and prerecorded clips, as well as see special artwork for the game, ships and enemies.

My final 1CC result for Solo mode in the Arcade difficulty is below (the default difficulty is Normal). On a final assessment, I commend Raiden III for taking the necessary steps to steer the series towards a new direction. This new direction is further refined in Raiden IV, which I intend to play soon, perhaps after I've tried the Raiden III x Mikado Maniax late port on the Playstation 4. It supposedly addresses the only feature in this game that pales when compared with the previous chapters: the soundtrack. The sound design is great and the music is punchy enough to escort the action, but it somehow lacks the appeal of old/classic Raiden.

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