ESP Ra. De.
by sunburstbasser



ESP Ra.De is a vertical shooter which may have a plot involving blowing stuff up. A brief narrative is provided between each level.

ESP Ra.De (that's Raging Deicide) marks the first Cave shooter which is not military or science fiction themed. Instead of controlling a super vehicle, you control a person who has incredible psychic powers. Before Ra.De., shooters with people as the player avatar were either cute-em-ups like Cotton or run and guns like Ikari Warriors or Contra. The success of ESP Ra.De. seems to have had an influence on other developers, as both Psyvariar and Shikigami no Shiro use psychic people instead of machines. Cave has since used numerous themes along with sci-fi military, such as insects in Mushihimesama and fat chicks in Muchi Muchi Pork.

Cave came up with a fairly detailed plot, some of which does come through in game. The evil overlord is a psychic woman named Garra Ono, who effectively controls Japan and it's army. She has her own army of psychic soldiers called ESPers as well. Her nefarious plan is to replace the citizens of Japan with clones of herself. Garra's actions have pissed off three teenagers who also have immense ESP powers, and each one vows to stop her for their own reasons.

The control scheme is easy, but flexible. Tapping A will fire the standard shot. Holding A is a full auto shot, and reduces your character's speed for precise weaving. The B button fires the Piercing Cannon, which fires a cluster that sticks to enemies and is the primary aspect for scoring. The C button uses the barrier, which absorbs bullets while C is held and fires four powerful beams when released. This is the bomb attack of Ra.De., though due to how the game handles the energy bar quick taps can allow more than three uses per bar. P items dropped from most larger enemies will power up the shot and give more rounds to the Piercing Cannon.

Each character has their own shot, cannon, first level and back story so let's take a look.

YUSUKE SAGAMI


Yusuke is a high school student who witnesses Garra's men killing his best friend. Rightfully miffed he takes off to kill them and take care of Japan's population problems. His shot is a concentrated forward shot like Type A of DoDonPachi, and his Cannon spreads out even when he is still. He starts out at Houoh High School.


J-B 5th


A psychic assassin trained by a secret Russian agency, J-B 5th fights not for personal vengeance, but because his mission is to kill Garra. His mission starts by assassinating a general by literally smashing him. He has the spread shot for the game, becoming a nice 5-way shot at full power. Unfortunately, his bullets seem weaker than the other characters. His Cannon fires straight ahead and is easiest to control. His first stage is the Shopping Mall at Night.


IRORI MIMIKASA


Irori is the daughter of a family opposed to Garra. When missiles start landing on her home, she raises a psychic shield just in time to protect another woman and takes off to end the persecution. She has a wide shot, like Type B in DoDonPachi but without the rotating options. Her Cannon's direction can be rotated to fire anywhere on screen. She attacks from the Bay Area.


I seem to have the best luck with Irori. Try all three and use your favorite. Like DoDonPachi, each one is capable of high scores and clearing the game.

Scoring and powering up are tied to each other. When an enemy is hit with a shot from the piercing cannon, the bullet will stick. After a moment, the center opens up and the bullet will evaporate. The trick is to hit an enemy with as many bullets from the piercing cannon as possible, then when the bullets open up finish the enemy with the shot. Each bullet that is opened up acts as a score multiplier, from x2 to x16 at full power. At full power, instead of dropping P icons enemies will drop gold boxes worth 100 points. Your multiplier will also count towards these boxes, making them worth up to 1600 apiece. Once the box count in the top left reaches 200, enemies will release green energy pods that refill your barrier. I've never noticed any bonus for not using barrier, so if it helps you live use it and get it recharged. The box counter will count down, and next time it'll go to 300, then 400 and so on. The timing for big bonuses isn't too hard to get down, fire the cannon, wait a moment and fire your shot and you'll be getting x11 and higher pretty easily. It may sound complicated but in practice the timing isn't too hard to get down.

The graphics in general look like DoDonPachi but more metallic. The landscape isn't as desolate, as the cities are still intact and people can be seen milling about in the subway stage. Unlike DoDonPachi, ESP Ra.De. has a large number of humans, all with very fluid animation. Your chosen character does not just bank when moving, they reposition their limbs and dive to the side. When using the Piercing Cannon they all put out their arm. Enemy soldiers fall over and pilots will fall out of destroyed aircraft. Cave also uses some very nice scaling effects, most noticeable when J-B 5th starts the game by smashing a guy in a bloody mess and the Bay Area boss which rises from it's platform to fight you.

The music is similar to DoDonPachi in composition, but replaces the electric guitars with synthesizers. I'd argue that most of it is still rock, but it has electronic music mixed in. It's pretty good, but a slight step down from DoDonPachi. The sound effects are excellent. Your character screams quite painfully when struck by a bullet, and the engines and rotors of bosses create background ambience that mixes nicely with the music and the deep sound effects.

The first stage depends on the character chosen. The next two are the opening stages for the unchosen characters (sans intro), then the fourth stage is the subway and the fifth stage is the assault on Garra's headquarters. Once the headquarters have been breached you play a mini stage before facing Garra herself.



Houoh High School has easy scoring right at the beginning. On the left are a pair of glass panels. Hit them with the Cannon then Shot to get some items. The level is full of buildings, many of which have enemies on them. One enemy that throws out quite a few bullets will actually take the roof with it when destroyed which reveals a cluster of tanks in the building to kill for quick points. The most memorable part of the level is the midboss, a spider-like giant robot. For the first phase, it fires bullets in aimed arcs and predictable patterns. Don't get caught between arcs and you'll be OK. When damaged enough, the top portion explodes and it starts making a strange sound. The nice patterns are replaced by little pink dots moving at various velocities and directions, though in truth I find this easier to dodge than the first phase. When destroyed the spider drops a ton of items, you should be fully powered up when he is dead.


The boss fight starts over a church. Several peons fly up and are quickly beat down. Watch beneath and you can see the real boss possess the body of Yusuke's murdered friend. Notice the boss health gauge at the top of the screen is subdivided into three, four or five sections depending on when you play the High School. Between each section, he throws out some robots that I usually take care of with the barrier if they don't die fast enough. His attacks get more powerful with each section. He has three primary attacks. For the first, he will swing his arm in an arc and fire bullets that cover a wide portion of the screen. The best way I've found to get through is to aim for the gaps between streams and move diagonally. His second primary attack is a bullet spread. He stands still, holds his arms out and starts firing bullets in unaimed clusters. The clusters get denser if the High School is done as stage 2 or 3, but the basic tactic is the same. He can hit you if you sit on a vertical line straight in front of him, but I was able to weave to the sides about a bullet's width and remain safe. His last primary attack is a few straight streams of bullets that should never hit you on Stage 1. If the High School is Stage 3, he takes a cue from Gradius and gets an option for the fifth life segment. The option doesn't directly mirror him, instead using one attack while he uses another and firing bullets from a different angle. Besides this section, I typically don't have too much trouble with this boss.



The Shopping Mall at Night features a large number of psychic soldiers as well as military vehicles. The bullet sprite from the psychic soldiers is a hand instead of a circle, a nice touch. This shopping mall must be the size of Delaware, as there is enough room for flying air conditioners with gun turrets in it. Those air conditioners (that's what they look like to me) are a good place to get a x16 multiplier. Shoot them, and when they catch on fire unload the Piercing Cannon and get as close as possible while shooting. I routinely get x14 and higher on these guys and there are several in a row with few other enemies interfering. Enemy foot soldiers can be seen below you and if hit they do leave a bloody mess and the bodies don't disappear. It doesn't get as messy as Guwange.

The boss fight is against a huge tank on a highway behind the mall, I assume. Blast some civilians in their vehicles for points just before the boss fight begins. The tank consists of five main sections. Only the middle part needs to be taken out but taking out the pair of front and rear legs makes the going a lot smoother. Get up next to one front leg and hit it with the Cannon and Shot as hard as you can when the fight starts and you can get it to catch on fire before the bullets really start flying. Once they catch on fire they are nearly gone. The front legs fire bullet spreads that overlap with the aimed bullets from the central turret, getting rid of them is mandatory. The central turret itself fires aimed spreads. It can fire both directly at you and fire a wider one with an open center. You'll also need to contend with the bombs being flung around which aren't particularly deadly but do stop bullets meant for the tank. When the front legs are destroyed the rear legs activate and send blue arcs all over while the turret uses the same attacks. These spreads are thicker than those from the front legs, get rid of at least one leg quickly for your own sake. Once those legs are destroyed you can concentrate on the turret. It will actually explode before the boss dies, revealing a dome. The dome can fire spread blue bullets that come in tighter spirals on each volley. It follows this up with pink bullets in a circle pattern and vaguely aimed blue bullet spreads. Move from one side of the boss to the other and try to get away from the blue bullets, and the pink ones shouldn't cause much trouble.



The Bay Area is similar to the Houoh High School, taking place outdoors and being full of tanks. This level has a few large flying enemies that look somewhat like the Flying Pancake fighter plane prototype developed during World War II. The Bay Area has fewer buildings than the High School, but tanks will roll out from under parking structures. The stage doesn't have a real midboss, but when you reach the dock an actual battleship is mooring and fires a ton of bullets your way. Like most large enemies in ESP Ra.De. it needs to catch on fire before being finished off. Behind it is a smaller vessel which also needs to be destroyed. Reaching the other side of the dock, two big brown helicopters swoop in firing vertical bullets. These guys take quite a bit of punishment so go ahead and use the barrier to soften them up or maybe destroy one.

The boss has a cool scaling liftoff sequence. The boss is a giant helicopter with tons of gun mounts all over. First off, go for the turrets immediately left and right of the cockpit. They fire straight bullets that can really cramp your space. The four turrets on the body fire aimed pink bullet sprays, and from each side you'll get blue bullet sprays. If you see a hatch open on top of the vehicle, get ready for pink bullet spam. Destroy the cockpit, and for the second section the pink bullets fire in large, layered patterns while a chin turret fires blue bullets in roughly your direction. Eventually the boss will fire off some blue arcs that cover about half the screen while the pink bullets cover the rest. Hold the A button, keep hurting him, and try to kill him quickly. If you have some barrier left, this is a good time to use it.



Once those stages are finished, Stage 4 is Wangan Station. This is a loose variation on the Giant Battleship level. Beneath you is a very cool looking subway train, with enemies crawling on top and flying along. Very shortly in, you'll face a stealth bomber that fires hundreds of bullets all over. The patterns are dense but not aimed. Once he dies, you'll actually get to see the platform and the people on it. Strangely for a Cave game, you can't kill these civilians for points. Right after the platform, another train joins the chase. This one is the Giant Battleship, a train loaded with turrets trying to kill you. It's pretty cool, but not as much as Cyvern's first boss. After a while, both trains fall behind and you need to deal with individual cars with splash turrets mounted on top. The enemy count isn't too high but most of them are rather durable and have thick attack patterns.

The boss is a giant robot. The first thing I noticed about this guy was his green shurikens. These are actually destructible, and you would be doing good to kill them as they fire bullets at you. The spread patterns here generally involve at least two overlapping sets of bullets. Pink bullets tend to fire in spreads, while blue ones are straight. He can mix these up, like spread pink bullets along with aimed straight bullets. At one point, I counted no less than three simultaneous sets of bullet spam all emanating from this bastard. I had pink straight bullets from the left side, spread ones from the right, and blue spam from his shoulders. At a quarter health, he opens up and fires blue arcs that I had to use barrier to get by. He also has more spammed bullets thick enough that they cover the middle of his sprite.



The fifth stage is the assault on Garra's headquarters. Look at the background early on and you can see walls and towers that look like medieval castles. Only evil people see fit to sleep in this type of architecture. Very early on, you'll see a large tank on the left side of the screen. It'll be tempting to forget it and destroy the enemies on the right, but this tank fires huge aimed spreads along with unaimed spam, and you'll be doing yourself a favor by killing it. All of the enemies in this stage have graduated from single bullets to streams of fire. In particular, two yellow vehicles open up and fire pink bullets all over while also firing aimed blue streams. I had to resort to judicious use of the barrier to make each life last as long as possible to get through here. Amusingly, this level has a pair of tanks that fire straight aimed bullets. However, the bullets are fired from a different section than they are aimed from, and by sitting still they can't hit you. Unfortunately the blue spam can.



The boss of this level is Garra's royal guard. Snipers on the room, psychic soldier, splash turrets and a rainbow barrier that prevents you from damaging her. Flying across the very top of the screen will let you take out those snipers. From there, concentrate on the turrets. The psychic soldiers themselves don't pose much threat. The bullet count is high, but if you move constantly around the screen the soldiers won't hit you. The mass of trucks that pile around are more deadly, but overall the bullet numbers aren't as high as the subway mech. Once the barrier is destroyed, Garra runs back through the new hole you've just installed in her fortress.



This last mini stage is actually pretty fun. You are assaulted by hundreds of little girls, the 10 year old clones of Garra. They all fire aimed bullets, so edging around the screen will help keep you safe. When killed, they squeal in a sadistically delightful manner. The other main enemy is the mechanical turtle tank. You'll find a few more of those tanks that can't hit you with aimed bullets but after child genocide that just isn't cool. Some of the girls even bounce around, perhaps from an influx of sugary treats.



Garra herself is perfectly relaxed when you find her, kicking back on the head of a giant statue which promptly comes to life and starts raining bullets everywhere. The head's attacks are mostly spiral bullet patterns, and tend to emanate from the left portion of the screen. You can move to the right to get a little more breathing space if needed. Eventually the boss will begin laying multiple spirals on top of each other, but by this point it has little health and if you use the barrier you'll likely kill it or carve a hole in the bullets big enough to finish it.



Of course, the statue isn't the last boss. Garra is. Like the boss from Houoh High School she has a segmented life bar. Each segment has unique attacks. In the first phase, she fires pink spreads with small gaps to fit through. Once this attack is done, she fires more pink spreads with a gap right in front of her. She fills the gap by conjuring blue bullets out of thin air. Stay low, give yourself time to move.



For her next segment, she grows butterfly wings. She will keep these for three segments. This first elaborate set consists of blue straight bullets and aimed pink streams. The gaps are pretty big and I didn't find this portion as challenging as the rest.



On the third segment, the wings shrink a little and start firing blue arcs while she fires aimed pink bullets at regular intervals. The dodging room has been greatly reduced here, but you can use the barrier to cut a hole if needed.



The fourth segment has smaller wings yet again. This time, they take turns firing huge globs at you. Each glob consists of a central aimed portion that is very large and a few smaller bullets that spread out. The globs are fast, you won't get far on twitch skill if you don't know what's coming. She alternates between the left wing and the right wing (your left, not hers). When she pauses, she'll fire two per wing. Stay away from the sides or she will pin you.



The final phase loses the wings. She now dashes off screen if you use the barrier attack, so you can't just fudge your way through. She now fires huge streams of hand bullets at you. She will fire a salvo with one hand, reposition and fire a salve from the other hand going in the opposite direction. I did OK by flying behind her, reversing direction, and pelting her for a while but to do damage you will need to lure the bullets away from her and sit in front of her when you get the chance.

Once she dies, you get a little cutscene with your character. Using J-B 5th, he lands right in the middle of a police force. Instead of giving up, he lets loose with a flash that stuns all the cops. I haven't gotten the other endings yet.

While DoDonPachi made Cave shmup superstars, I personally find ESP Ra.De. to be my favorite Cave game. Using psychic children instead of machines is a fresh idea even today. The game is at least as hard as DoDonPachi, but like that game it is also winnable on one credit with enough persistence. This game has unfortunately never received a home port or a sequel and is only playable via MAME. Some of the ideas did show up in Espgaluda, but it is a spiritual successor more than a straight sequel.

Go ahead and give this one a play. And in case you were wondering, the "Deicide" portion of Raging Deicide means god kill. Garra is a bit of a goddess, I suppose.

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