Raiden IV location test
By Alex Kierkegaard / October 17, 2006
Yesterday was the final day of the second Raiden IV location test, which had been taking place since Saturday at two Tokyo game centers: Hey in Akihabara, and Taito In Game World in Shinjuku.
The first location test was held at Hey in late July, but unfortunately I missed that because I was out of the country. Since then, however, I have had the opportunity to play the game for about an hour and a half at the AM show in September, and I can confirm right now that whatever changes Moss has made in the meantime, if any, must be minor, because I didn't notice them.
That is not a bad sign. Raiden IV has issues, yes, but they are not of the kind that can be fixed within a couple of months, at such a late stage in the game's development. But before I go into detail on how the game is shaping up, I want to get out of the way something that's been really bothering me.
At the Hey location test, which I attended, they naturally had Raiden IV installed in the kick-ass Egret 3 setup of which I've written before (formerly an Egret II), the one hooked up to a custom speaker setup. But as you'll notice if you watch the videos on the right, the sound is barely audible over the din of the surrounding cabinets.
Now if you've watched my videos of other location tests at the same arcade (namely those of PinkSweets, Ibara Kuro and Mushihime-sama Futari) you might have realized that that cabinet is capable of drowning out every other sound source within at least a 15-foot radius if it wants to, but I was standing right next to it and still couldn't hear fuck-all. So basically the guys at Hey didn't give two shits about Raiden IV, and/or they assumed that players didn't give two shits about Raiden IV (not an unreasonable assumption, mind, as hardly anyone played it and there was never a line), and so they didn't bother to turn up the volume to the eardrum-busting levels which they apparently reserve for Cave's shooters.
Ok, I got that out of the way. I am not a big fan of Raiden IV, or even of the series in general, but this just doesn't seem right to me. Now that I think about it I should have simply asked them to turn up the volume, instead of just standing there and fuming. And I reckon they would have probably done it. Oh well, next time.
Moving on, my impression so far of IV is that it's certainly a better game than III was, and that Moss has been getting better at making shooters in the meantime.
The biggest improvement is in the graphics, with better-designed and more detailed enemy ships, much better backgrounds, and better explosions that even top the spectacular ones seen in Under Defeat. Plumes of smoke rise up from the ground units you destroy, and every time you bomb you feel as if you've dropped a nuke.
Most impressive though are the bosses, which are these huge and really cool mechanical contraptions (the first one looks like a spider and the second one is a really striking spaceship), modeled with a fuckton of polygons, moving with an appropriate sense of inertia and, overall, looking absolutely brilliant. In addition, there are many little details (such as reflections, shadows, etc.) which you only begin to appreciate when you sit back and watch other people play.
The second biggest improvement is that the game is a bit harder overall. The first time I played Raiden III I managed to get to the 4th stage, but with IV I am lucky if I can get to the 3rd Stage boss after playing about a dozen credits. And that's only in Original mode. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Raiden IV introduces three difficulty levels (Light, Original and Strong), though take note that I've only played Original, so I can't comment on the other two. Anyway, yeah, the game's harder -- which is a good thing -- but beginners can still play around in Light mode. It's the same thing that Mushi did, and it's a good way to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
Not much else has changed in the game. The scoring system remains as dull as it was, and the only other difference I noted is that there are now two versions of the Laser weapon, and you can choose between them at the start. The Plasma Laser wraps around enemies and locks on to them, while the Proton Laser fires three beams which more or less cover the whole screen, or can be focused in a tight beam with some deft stick-wiggling. Nothing to write home about, but a nice little addition nonetheless.
I said at the beggining that Raiden IV has issues, and it certainly does have... well, at least one. Its main issue is that it's not really a modern shooting game, as the ones that Cave, G.rev and MileStone are making. Raiden IV is a decade-and-a-half old shooter dressed up in modern 3D graphics. So I guess you could say that it is, if nothing else, faithful to the spirit of the series.
And let's face it, the original games were competent but unremarkable shooters, and that's exactly what the Moss sequels are. Though I wouldn't spend more than a few coins to play Raiden IV in the arcades, I will certainly buy the port once it comes out, and have a few enjoyable hours with it -- which is more or less what I did with the previous Raiden games. I am not complaining, and methinks neither should you. I would give my right arm for someone to make new Super Shinobi and Actraiser games, with the exact same gameplay but modern graphics, instead of having to replay the old versions over and over and over again, in order to get the same feeling I had when I first played them. Raiden fans should be happy (as were the few Japanese fans who bothered to play the game these past few days), and every one else would do well to stop the bitching.