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Post-Mortem Dreamcast Shooters

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Border Down
Psyvariar 2
Shikigami no Shiro II

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Chaos Field
Trizeal
Radirgy

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Last Hope
Triggerheart Exelica
Karous

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by Kurt Kalata - March 19, 2007

It's hard to pinpoint, exactly, when the Dreamcast died. Some would tell it was the day the PlayStation 2 was announced. Others would say it officially happened right after the first Christmas in competition with Sony's behemoth, when they announced they would stop production of the consoles.

To me, the Dreamcast died with the release of Ikaruga. It's the last new Dreamcast title I bought, and is, at least in my eyes, the last truly big title for the system. But this was in 2002, and over five years later, there's still been games released for it in Japan. A good number of these are crappy anime/dating sims which are easily ignorable, but there have also been a substantial number of shoot-em-ups. The biggest reason for this probably has to do with the popularity of the Naomi arcade board, which is essentially the same as the Dreamcast and thus easy to port titles for the home audience.

Sure, most of these titles ended up being ported to other platforms, but it's cool to see publishers cater to specific audience by releasing on games on obsolete hardware, if only so it can spark fanboy arguments like "The Dreamcast outlived the Xbox/Gamecube/whatever!"

These shooters come from different companies - three from Milestone, two from G. Rev, and a handful of others. On the surface, they share some minor things in common. Most of them are pretty sparse, graphically. Most of them feature huge, slow motion explosions, undoubtedly inspired by the dramatics of Ikaruga. Most of them are overheard shooters, but set themselves apart by containing unique weapon or scoring mechanics. A few games star anime-style characters as pilots - lately, this has become more common in shoot-em-ups in general, as it not only adds a human aspect to all of the destruction, but tends to pander to the otaku audience by featuring attractive female designs.

Trigger Heart Excelica (Dreamcast)


Border Down (ボーダーダウン) - Arcade, Dreamcast (2003)

Japanese Dreamcast Cover

Japanese LE Dreamcast Cover

Border Down was created by G.rev, which consists mostly of former Taito employees. This is their first true shmup, although they aided Treasure with Ikaruga and Gradius V, and most recently published Senko no Ronde for the arcades and Xbox 360. It's a futuristic side-scrolling shooter that feels a lot like the Darius games, though without the aquatic overtones.

The title refers to the unique level progression system. Every stage has three "borders", or variations. You start out on the Green border, and if you get killed, you get moved down to Yellow, then to Red, then to the Game Over screen. Each border is a different path in the same level - you usually end up seeing the same parts of the stage but with different enemies and or modified background. It's a really cool concept in theory because it lends a lot of replayability. Border Down also uses a rank system, which means that the difficulty is reduced whenever you get killed, which means you sometimes might be tempted to suicide in order to play certain areas that may be too hard otherwise. The final stage, as well as the ending (of which there are four) are determined by the amount of time spent in the various borders.

Border Down

However, when you get killed, you're sent back to a checkpoint, similar to R-Type and Gradius. Since you're placed on a different part of the level every time you die, it's impossible to get a grasp on the enemy patterns without playing it a whole lot. The only exceptions are boss fights, where you'll be resurrected immediately. Regardless, the game is tough - it's a much faster-paced game than most checkpoint-based shooters, and death can come all too easily. That's the big flaw of the Border system, which is really frustrating considering you don't start out with any additional continues at all. You get them slowly through repeated play, but it's a bit aggravating in the beginning few hours.

The "border" system is usually this game's claim to fame/infamy, but it also utilizes an interesting weaponry system. If you hold down the fire button, you'll shoot rapid fire bullets, but if you tap it, you'll fire homing missiles. You also have a power bar that fills up as you destroy things. This determines the strength of your ship's primary weapons, but also powers your super death ray, which is the same gigantic beam of destruction found in G Darius and Metal Black. If a boss fires their megaweapon, you can whip our your ultra laser, cancel it out, and reflect all of the energy right back at them. However, if you use your laser too much, you lose strength for your main weapons. It's an interesting system, especially since your skill with it helps determine whether you can switch borders when you complete a stage. There's also a strange bonus determined by the boss timer - the closer the timer is to zero when you kill the boss, the more points you get.

Despite a few cool backgrounds, the visuals are generally on the bland side, but Border Down does have an interesting premise. You're a test pilot strapped into a virtual reality simulator called RAIN, remote controlling three different ships through various enemy hordes as a military experiment. Each life is interspersed with creepy white static snow as the simulator switches between the three ships, and there's a unique Game Over picture for each level, complete with some odd Engrish describing your failure. Border Down's soundtrack mostly consists of bizarre upbeat synth jazz rock, composed by ex-Zuntata member Yasuhisa Watanabe. It's strange at times, but remarkably catchy once you get used to it.

Because of the rather high difficulty and unique level system, Border Down is pretty popular with the hardcore shooter contingent. This, combined with the fact that it was never ported to any other system, has resulted in the price skyrocketing on the secondary market. It's a bit tough to recommend at that price, especially due to the difficulty, but given the huge number of level variations and endings, it's definitely worth checking out. A limited edition was also released, which included a different cover and a bonus music CD.

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  • Hiroyuki Maruyama

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Border Down (Dreamcast)

Border Down (Dreamcast)

Border Down (Dreamcast)

Border Down (Dreamcast)

Border Down (Dreamcast)


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Psyvariar 2: The Will to Fabricate (サイヴァリア2: THE WILL TO FABRICATE) - Arcade, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox (2003)

Japanese Dreamcast Cover

Japanese Xbox Cover

The first Psyvariar games appeared in the arcade and on the PlayStation 2, although the sequel showed up on several platforms, including the Dreamcast. They're developed by Korean studio Skonec, who also made the overhead shooter Homura. Much like the original Psyvariar, Psyvariar 2 is a vertical scrolling shooter featuring huge anime-style robots. In addition to your usual lasers and bombs, you can command your mech to twirl around by moving it back and forth quickly. When it's spinning, it darts around much quicker, and it's usually easier to dodge bullets.

Which is especially important, since it's practically the core of the gameplay. The Psyvariar games are known for the "buzz" system, where you're rewarded by scraping by the side of bullets without getting killed. By shooting enemies and buzzing bullets, you'll increase the power bar at the top of the screen. When it fills, it'll give you a short period of invulnerability, which usually lasts about a second, depending on the situation. During this quick breather, you can continue to rack up points and hopefully fill up the bar again, and again, and again, resulting in a constant stream of invincibility. It's remarkably challenging, since it's hard to tell where your mech's hit box is, and it's all too easy to charge into bullets when you're invincible, only for its power to wear off at the exact wrong moment. It's also practically required to survive some of the more insane bullet patterns that bosses will throw at you. Watching an expert play the game is pretty amazing - trying to do it yourself is frustrating, at least until you get over the massive learning curve. There are two pilots in Psyvariar 2 - Kei and Yuhei. Yuhei's ship encourages buzzing but has generally weak firepower, but Kei is suited for more traditional play.

The big problem with Psyvariar 2 is that you pretty much NEED to get good at buzzing, or else you won't enjoy the game at all. As a package, it's pretty barebones - the graphics are unremarkable, the techno music is generally acceptable but not spectacular, and the stages are shockingly brief, even for an arcade shooter. Buzzing is also the only way to increase the firepower of your ship, and only by increasing it the highest levels will you be able to reach the true final stage. Psyvariar 2 was later released for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and includes a few additional modes.

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  • SKONEC Entertainment

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Psyvariar 2 (Dreamcast)

Psyvariar 2 (Dreamcast)

Psyvariar 2 (Dreamcast)


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Additional Screenshots


Shikigami no Shiro II (式神の城II) / Castle Shikigami 2 / Castle Shikigami II: War of the Worlds - Arcade, Dreamcast, GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 2, Windows (2003)

Japanese Dreamcast Cover

The Shikigami no Shiro series was designed by Alfa Systems, who created several older PC Engine shooters like Download and Psychic Storm. Shikigami no Shiro II is pretty much the same as its predecessor - similar to Cave's ESP Ra.De., you control humans who can apparently through through psychic abilities. The landscapes are all 3D, but the ships and enemies are made of a combination of sprites and polygons. It was never a particularly remarkably game, but it uses a system similar to "buzzing" from Psyvariar - whenever you get close an enemy bullet, your character's own firepower will increase dramatically. However, rather than this being the focus of the gameplay, like Psyvariar, it's simply something you can take advantage of to win boss battles quicker.

There are a total of seven selectable players, each with drastically different powers and weaponry. By holding down the fire button, your character will slow down and activate a special attack. One character will summon a spirit, which will dash all over the screen and destroy enemies before they get close - another will produce a targeting cursor, which you can aim anywhere on the field. You can use these attacks anytime you want, which will usually obtain more coins to increase your score multiplier. There are also limited "bomb" attacks, which can either destroy all of the enemies on the screen, or grant temporarily invulnerability, again depending on the character. Each player also has their own story mode, where the hero and bosses exchange taunts before fighting. The different playing methods lend a lot of Shikigami no Shiro's appeal, although the game requires that you play through the game as a single character, forbidding you from switching after dying.

Shikigami no Shiro II was originally released in the arcades, first ported to the GameCube, then later released for the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC. Each version had different limited edition packages - the DC version included a soundtrack, the GameCube version had a figure of a cat, and the PlayStation version had a figuring of the Witch, Fumiko. Only the PlayStation 2 port made it outside of Japan, under the name Castle Shikigami 2, courtesy of XS Games in American and Play It in Europe.

Now, for a bit of background - in 2003, small budget publisher XS Games licensed two Japanese shooters for American release - Gunbird for the PlayStation and Shikigami no Shiro for the PlayStation 2. They dubbed the games Mobile Light Force and Mobile Light Force 2 respectively, and used identical cover artwork featuring three Charlie's Angels-like females running away from an explosion. This had absolutely nothing to do with either of the games, and is generally regarded as a laughing stock by pretty much everyone. Gunbird had all of the cinemas and bonus material hacked out, plus some of the characters names were changed to staff members of XS Games. Shikigami no Shiro also had the plot removed, and all of the Japanese voices redubbed with indecipherable speech which appears to be English. Both also had their tate options removed. Still, they were both released dirt cheap ($10 for MLF1, $15 for MLF2), so even though they were butchered, they were still decent buys for starved shooter fans.

Anyway, XS Games got the license for Shikigami no Shiro II, but this time treated the game with far more respect, as most everything is faithful to the Japanese version, and the tate option was left in. However, I'm pretty comfortable in saying that this is one of the worst translations in the history of video gaming. The story scenes were left in, but none of it makes sense, at all - presuming that the dialogue was Babelfished is an insult to online translators everywhere. Furthermore, the voiceovers are all done by people who obviously have no acting talent whatsoever, and seem to be confused that what they're reading is even English. At least the in game voices were kept in Japanese. Purists will definitely cringe, but it's definitely worth checking out for the comedy value alone. Plus it was released new at stores for $10, making it another bargain. Unfortunately it seems like these were all excised completely from the European release.

For a more comprehensive look into the Shikigami no Shiro series, please read our series article.

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Castle Shikigami 2 (PlayStation 2)

Castle Shikigami 2 (PlayStation 2)

Castle Shikigami 2 (PlayStation 2)

Castle Shikigami 2 (PlayStation 2)


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<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Border Down
Psyvariar 2
Shikigami no Shiro II

Page 2:
Chaos Field
Trizeal
Radirgy

Page 3:
Under Defeat
Last Hope
Triggerheart Exelica
Karous

Back to the Index