Radiant Silvergun
by sunburstbasser

Radiant Silvergun is a vertically scrolling shooter with a story. The story is damn good, unique, and provocative. It has been translated as well, so no Japanese needed.

Treasure spun off from Konami in the early 90s when the developers got tired of making sequels. All of their games are hard and awesome, and graphically push their systems to the highest levels. Radiant Silvergun was their first dedicated shmup and their first arcade game.

The story has been translated with screenshots by Silver Translations. The story is only told in-game in the Saturn version, while playing in MAME (use version .128) or Arcade mode on the Saturn disc skips the cutscenes. In a nutshell, an object resembling two joined pyramids is dug up along with a robot (called a "robonoid") identical to one on the Tetra, your mothership. That object, dubbed the Stone-Like, is God or at least a demi- god of sorts and is pissed that humans keep destroying each other. So it WIPES EVERYONE OUT AT ONCE. The Tetra is in orbit and it's crew of three Silvergun pilots, a captain and a robot are the only survivors.

The Silvergun is a uniquely powerful vehicle, having access to seven unique weapons at any time. These can be accessed by pressing A, B, or C or any combination thereof. When starting a game, a handy guide is presented for you:

At the bottom of the screen in a box is a pink bullet. Slash these with your Radiant Sword, and you'll build up a meter. When full, using your sword will trigger a huge scissor-sword attack that acts as your bomb. In Radiant Silvergun, you have to earn your bombs and you won't be bombing your way to victory. On the upside, once you have a full charge, there is no penalty for using a bomb either so fire away.

Scoring and powering up are directly connected. Enemies come in either red, yellow, or blue. Destroy three of the same color, and you'll be give a score bonus. Continue shooting the same color, and the bonus will ratchet up to impressive levels. As you do so, your weapons will level up. A counter next to your score displays the level of your primary weapons. Level ups can add projectiles, make the radius wider, and increase damage. Learning how to chain is important in Arcade mode, as if your weapons are too weak some bosses will destroy you before you can kill them. Getting more points also builds extends, and you'll need them to beat this game.

The graphics are jaw-dropping. The Saturn and ST-V hardware had modest 3D capabilities and extremely powerful 2D powers. Treasure used both to their fullest. A background may be rendered as a 2D plane, but then twisted or rotated to give depth. Enemies can be sprites or 3D models, and all of the bosses (over two dozen!) are rendered in 3D and take full advantage of it. Several bosses actually surround you and force you to shoot your way out.

The music is damn good. Hitoshi Sakimoto returns for another shmup. It seems his name and good shmups really come up a lot together. For Radiant Silvergun, he focuses on "battle music," classic-oriented melodies and harmonies with pounding drums to give it a driving, pumping feel. Most of the music is made up of a few recurring phrases, but with the tempo and rhythm slightly altered. I have only two complaints about it, both fairly small. One is that due to the nature of the game, the music tends to repeat a LOT. Most of the tracks are actually the same length as a single stage track in Battle Garegga, but the stages take a lot longer to get through and there is no boss theme. The other complaint is that some of the sampled sounds are quite definitely sampled and lack some character. The string and percussion sounds are very well done, but the brass sounds are barely better than a cheap keyboard. Considering how good the samples sound in his other games, this is a little disappointing. The quality of the composition makes up for it, thankfully.

The stages are set up a little different from other shooters. They are ordered chronologically, but you start in Stage 3. In the arcade, you choose to tackle Stage 2 or 4 next, then you'll play 5, 6, and 1 in that order. Saturn mode makes you play all of them, you just get to pick to play 2 or 4 first. Each stage is divided into many subsections. Each of these short sections ends in a boss fight.

Stage 3 begins with your Silverguns launching from the Tetra. It has been one year since humanity was wiped out, and you are out of supplies. As soon as the Tetra enters Earth's atmosphere the defense systems of the Stone-Like activate to kill you. For about the first two subsections, this level is not too horrible and should give you a good grasp of gameplay and weapon usage. Each boss gets a warning screen, a little like Darius but I like Darius' screen better. The first boss dies in one charged sword attack. The second boss breaks up into several pieces, each with a different attack. Speaking of attacks, the number of bullets and beams that Treasure drew is around a dozen or so, compared to the four or five most shmups have.

The most interesting boss in the Stage 3 is the third one, Gallop. Gallop is a bit of a shout out to Irem, specifically R-Type. This is as close as you'll ever get to fighting a super-sized, fully powered R9. It has the bits on the sides, it has a rotating Force pod (that it will shoot at you), it has reflecting lasers, twisting lasers, homing missiles, and even the charged shots of the R9. The main body even slightly resembles the R9.

I selected Stage 2. Stage 2 is set right as the Stone-Like comes to life, and begins to wreak havoc on the world. The first boss is Kotetsu, fought with a full moon as a background. Kotetsu is an excellent example of doing something with a 3D enemy in a 2D game that would otherwise be extremely difficult. Kotetsu likes to circle you while firing gas, or cut off half the screen with his arm while shooting at you. You'll face Golets after him, a pair of high-speed aircraft. The first is fought while dodging through walls and corridors, and at one point it'll even drop behind you. The second part is fought in the open with the other one, which transforms into a giant robot.

The fights against Nasu and Daika 110 present an unusual format that has since become a Treasure trademark. These bosses surround you, and fire projectiles in all directions while you attempt to destroy the weak points. The Nasu fight does this just a little bit. If it surrounds you, it'll begin shooting pink bullets which can be used to power up your sword. A few of these will take care of it. Daika 110 is actually a shape-changing fence that shoots lasers at you while you are inside of it. I've played a whole lot of shooters lately, and this is the first instance of a vertical shooter with so many angles of attack that I've reviewed. This style is much more common in horizontal shooters.

If you play the fourth stage instead, you'll be treated to a mirror battle. You'll fight the Tetra's sister ship, Penta. The Penta has Silverguns of it's own, and they have variations on the attacks you have. This includes the charged sword attack.

Stage 5 is the attack on the giant battleship. Your robonoid wants to get some information from the E.D.A. headquarters, and you need to protect him. This battleship actually reminds me of the giant battleship from the first Thundercross game. The fight takes place between two arms that can open and close, with the weak point in the middle. I obviously need a lot of practice to beat this part, because my weapons were so underpowered that it timed out on me with over half a life-bar left even though I spent every life of every credit pumping shots into it. I didn't even get to see most of the boss. If you do better than I did, you get to fight another battleship after the first one. The Saturn has a cutscene here that is tragic.

The Stone-Like is supposed to be a sort of god. And for Stage 6, you fight it's body. I've heard of RPGs letting you fight God, don't think I've seen many other shmups do it. This is a type of Giant Battleship fight, as each section is it's own little stage and has a new attack pattern. At one point, Xiga will be chasing you, flying Superman-style while raining crystals on you and firing lasers. And if all the cryptic hints for the bosses before went over your head, the hints for Xiga are very clear.

Whether through timeout or victory, after Xiga goes down the Stone-Like will drag you into the past. You now must dodge curtain fire for a minute. You have no weapons. Have fun!

I don't think Radiant Silvergun is a perfect game. With so many weapons, it can take a lot of playthroughs to find the best weapon for any given situation. Building their power is extremely difficult if you don't know the enemy patterns. For this review I didn't focus too much on scoring, and ended up trying to fight Xiga with all my weapons around level 10. A good player will have all of them at least level 30 by this time.

The Saturn port actually fixes this complaint, in a sense. It saves your weapon level, which means on continuous playthroughs you can take down the very first boss in moments with a fully-powered arsenal. The Saturn version also has the cutscenes and dialog which are needed to make sense of some parts. For instance, during the Gedo-0 fight everything goes to wireframe. This is explained by being a recorded playback of the fight. Otherwise, it's just a nifty way to show off what Treasure could do with the hardware.

If Radiant Silvergun could be had for about $50 used, I'd recommend it. As it stands, I just don't think it's worth the asking price. I really have a hard time justifying spending $150 or more on a video game, but if I did (and if it was for the Saturn) I'd get Battle Garegga over Radiant Silvergun. MAME is OK for trying it, but MAME doesn't do polygons very well and ST-V emulation is a bit choppy on this game, more than on Souky.

Thankfully, Treasure has finally heeded the requests of fans (and Microsoft, perhaps) and the game is being ported to XBox 360. The released trailer looks very good, and it seems the energy beams got an upgrade graphically. In addition, the weapons now have experience bars and your chain status is now visible. A secret Ikaruga-style is teased in the trailer as well. Considering that a new Xbox 360 can be had for about the price of a copy of Radiant Silvergun and a Japanese Saturn, this is the way to go.

Many thanks to Silver Translations for making such a great story available to shooter fans everywhere.


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