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 Post subject: Thunder Force VI (PS2): The Definitive Review
PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2014 9:05 pm 

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Time to give a complete and perspective review of Thunder Force VI, so sit back and enjoy reading it!

The gameplay follows the tradition of the previous games, mostly from Thunder Force V since we can only select three stages rather than 4 like in TF IV. You can also select which ship you can use, but that's only when you unlocked them, otherwise you'll play as one ship; the RVR-00 "Phoenix".

After watching the "Take Off" cutscene and starting the game you might feel disappointed of being unable to play as the Phoenix Brigandine, If you're a TF V aficionado you'll probably say "that sucks" but hey, the Thunder Force series made a superb job in their gameplay without needing a Brigandine. It was fun back then in TFV due to the Hi-scoring madness, but on the higher difficulties you only became a huge target. Also, in the opening it is revealed the Phoenix Brigandine is TWICE as larger than the RVR-02B due to it's two "Sub Unit" composition, while the original Brigandine was a "Single stage" booster, so that would mean problem, a larger ship on screen will obviously result in a much larger target, and obviously that would ruin the gameplay, so that explains why the Phoenix Brigandine isn't playable, after realizing this we might not miss using the ship, so let's go to the game.

As the RVR-00 you'll start with your CRAW and all your five weapons, you'll probably think that giving the player all the weapons only reduce the fun factor but let me tell ya, it doesn't. Because as you climb on the difficulty level, YOU WILL be needing those weapons, and its good for practice (in case you're a beginner on shmups and/or Thunder Force), because when you play as the Rynex-R you will have to pick the items, and learn when it's the appropiate time to use them, because most of the times you'll have to stay on the default ones because if you die you'll lose your weapons and you have to get them again.

One of the main changes in this game is the Over Weapon, which unlike using the "Controlled Blast" from Thunder Force V, it uses the traditional "Bomb Format" like any other shmup, but it introduces a cool new feature: Powering up the Over Weapon blast. When you fire the Over Weapon, you can tap the Over Weapon button again to increase its firepower, but for do that you'll need to fill two or more gauges, six to be exact. To fill the gauges, you have to pick the green energy particles released by the defeated enemies, it kinda reminds me of the Newalone particles from Metal Black. So, instead of consuming the CRAW, you use a Energy Gauge thingie which is useful to get rid of the bosses quickly. However, there's one major problem with the Over Weapon: Forced Slowdown. Everytime you use your Over Weapon, your ship is forced to reduce it's speed to 25%, a very negative Side Effect which only makes the gameplay more difficult. Side effects aren't new in shmups. In Thunder Force IV, the Thunder Sword pushes you back, but that was easily solved by pressing and holding right on the D-pad. I really don't know why they decided that, because i saw prototype pics of the game where the ship was flying at 50% of its speed and using the Over Weapon, implying "Zero Slowdown", so it begs an explanation. So you better have to learn and remember WHEN AND WHERE to use the Over Weapon because most of the times, using it could be the equivalent of saying "Here i am, kill me". But hey, let's try to find positive points on this flaw, one of them is being able to move through narrow spaces caused by an obstacle or a bullet pattern, this can be learned in Stage 3. I could suggest you not to use it but you have to if you want to multiply your score. Yeah, the score multiplying feature from Thunder Force V is back, so you've better be quick killing those enemies, so this adds difficulty to the fun factor as the game gets trickier and trickier.

To survive in this game here's my strategy for survive as the Phoenix, in this game your most powerful weapon is the Wave, that's right, the weapon strength was changed, Remember how the Free Range worked on TFV?, the closer you are to the enemy, the stronger will be. In Thunder Force VI, no matter how far or close you are, it seems to have the same strength, during boss battles you can't get "stucked" to use one weapon, you need to know what weapon is more effective. For instance, when you fight Gargoyle Perfect, to destroy its first form you'll need to use the Free Range, because the wave and other beams (and their Over Weapons) will not pass through the boss. Switching one weapon to another is a must that requires practice and mastery because as things get tough, you really have to be quick on the weapon switching.

Admist the good things, there's some bad ones, i've already mentioned the Over Weapon slowdown, but that's not all. Because some boss battles are way too easy, even on Hard and Maniac, "Crystal Clear" examples of this are the three forms of Vasteel Nocht and the ORN Emperor, just use the Free Range and the Wave Beam and that's it. The third flaw is how to Rank In on the Name Entry. As a first timer, you always increase the number of lives to the max, and if you die you'll continue until you beat the game, but when the ranking screen appears you can't enter your name for some reason. Well, let me tell you how to enter your name. To do that, you have to play with the default number of lives (03) and not using a single continue. In a nutshell, if you die, better pick "NO" or else you'll not be able to enter your score. I know they wanted to add challenge to the whole game, and give some motivation to encourage the player to finish the game in one clean shot, but why they had to make the name entry a science project thing?, a little advice to know what's up would be good.

But clearing a game in a clean shot isn't just the reason. Something that's not mentioned in the game is that the remaining lives add bonus points at the end of the game, the number of points depends on which difficulty you're playing. Kids gives you 100 points for your ships, Easy 1.000, Normal 10.000, Hard 100.000 and Maniac 1.000.000, so that explains perfectly the reasons of not increasing your number of lives beyond the default setting. Also, the game also rewards you for each unused Over Weapon gauge on each stage, giving you 100.000 points per gauge, so you can get 600.000 points in a stage. So you could have 8.000.000 points in a No-miss run on Maniac plus the hundreds of thousand points for your over weapon.

UPDATE 10-09-2017: There's extremely easy ways to kill the bosses in no-time, Here's some screenshots and hints.

GARGOYLE PERFECT: With the RVR-00 and Syrinx, it's all about using the Wave, while Rynex-R requires having the Blade. The first form will require to have the shield because you'll have to take a hit (same for Rynex-R). As you fire your regular Wave/Blade shot you'll get your "x16" or "x15" on the first form. The second form is much easier at this point, just get close to its stomach/core and unleash the Wave Over Weapon. In Rynex-R's case a Level-1 Thunder Sword (Twin Shot Over Weapon). CONGRATULATIONS!, you've got your boss score multiplied x16!

BIO FLAME - TWIN VULCANS: It requires a Level 2 Back Shot / Rail Gun Over Weapon to kill both of them.

FLAME MAIDEN: With the RVR-00 and Syrinx, the strategy involves using a Level-2 Back Shot Over Weapon. First, as soon as the boss appears, go to the right and fire the Over Weapon, with Rynex-R the Thunder Sword is all what it takes to do the job.

ORN FAUSTS (STAGE 6): As the Syrinx (remember, the RVR-00 is transformed if you play with it), get behind the Faust on the left, and just use the normal wave shot. If you have the shield, then it's way too easier as you only have to worry about not getting hit.

Now, let's go to the graphics. Although the game is an horizontal scrolling game, there's times where the camera zooms in and out, makes an angle kinda like an isometric view which adds depth and more perspective to the scenery, even something as simple as the ocean becomes interesting, and also you just not only aim to the right, in stages 3 and 5 you'll be facing backwards, aiming to the left, like Darius II and U.N. Squadron, that's the interesting thing of Thunder Force, scroll and perspective changes, just like in the old games, but with new twists.

The ship designs are good too. The RVR-00, despite its number designation, it really looks like the successor of the RVR-02 "Vambrace", and so the Syrinx does, the former Fire LEO-05P from the cancelled Dreamcast Thunder Force VI makes its debut with a little change; it becames the transformed RVR-00 due to ORN assimilation. There's a mass produced version of Rynex called Rynex-R. The enemies and bosses make a homage to the entire series, from small enemies to the bosses. Gargoyle Perfect, which combines Gargoyle Diver from TF IV and the original Gargoyle from TF III in one design, there's the Cerberus battleship, the ORN Fausts, and even oversized versions of the ships from the previous games. There's also room for new, original designs like Flame Maiden, Cherub Purple and B3 Barbaric-Berserk-Beast. Flame Maiden borrows elements from Iron Maiden (in a more insectoid design), Cherub Purple is the ORN successor of Deep Purple, and B3 combines the concept of Armament Armed Arm with the transformability of Guardian's Knight, along with its "final beam" attack.

But the greatest part of the game are the cutscenes and the great visual details "in-game" like the lighting of the weaponry, the ruined cityscape inside a space colony, underwater battles, space fights in orbit and during the atmospheric reentry, and the best of all, when a boss explodes it makes a Gradius V / Raiden III style slow motion explosion which makes the whole screen tremble, basically, an enemy's death makes a great shaking.
Using an ancient language like the Tangut script is something to be applauded, because not everyone uses it, and it's an interesting and original feature that not just adds an extraterrestrial feeling, but also a mystical one, pretty much like Touhou Project or Ikaruga.

Admist all this good things, there's still one thing that i didn't like of this game, the ORN Emperor, it looks like something you'll see on a Contra game (like Shattered Soldier) or The House Of The Dead, but actually is based on a character from Zolge Ichizo's manga Yokozuna Dai Shacho, while the original character was a ghost/devilish like entity, it was changed into an embryonic creature.

The music in this game its a change from what we've heard from Thunder Force V and mostly of all the series, changing it's hi-energy, hard-rocking electronic paces in favor of a more calm rhythm. The opening song is a slow-paced vocal song, in the purest style of the beginning of a sci-fi epic, a prelude to the war to come. There's also many themes from the previous games along with new original themes, the new songs might not sound like Thunder Force, but it has a "Sega Intensity and Feeling", if you're a long-time "Shmup-head" like me, you will surely know what i'm talking about: Agressive, Rushing, "Feel The Heat", "Get Loud", "Make Some Noise", Nonstop Fast-paced beats from games of the good old-school Sega era such as After Burner II, Galaxy Force II, After Burner Climax and even the Sonic Adventure games. Yeah, i said that. The most clear examples of that are "Take Off" (Phoenix launch theme), the Title screen / Phoenix-Syrinx transformation theme and the Stage Clear theme. It was nice to have that, specially if we notice how in Thunder Force V, the boss theme was still playing when the "Try To Next Stage" message appeared and your ship heads to it's next battle, so that's another point in favor to this game. Also, when you pause the game you can still hear the stage/boss music, which is a nice feature in my opinion.

Most of the music is quite calm but energetic. For instance, the "Phoenix" version of stage 2, called "Bio Flame" it might not sound fast paced but it's still being a good track to hear while you're flying. Being also composed by Tamayo Kawamoto (RayStorm) it's no mystery of how its possible to use relaxed music on a shooter and make the whole thing sound good, this is when speed and rhythm goes on a sweet balance, "Ever Blue" and "Ruined Green", feel like the spiritual successors of "Aquarium" (Old Gaul City) and "Geometric City" (Albion D.U.). RayStorm fans will surely love the soundtrack used on the RVR-00.

Rynex-R and Syrinx have an "Alternate" soundtrack with different themes. There's two songs in the game that sound more like Gradius rather than Thunder Force, that's because Motoaki Furukawa also contributed to the game soundtrack. "Stage-05B" is actually "Burning Heat" from Gradius II, and "Stage-06B" which is an original song for this game it still has a very notorious Konami / Gradius influence.

But the most badass theme of all is B3 (Barbaric-Berserk-Beast), the stage 4 boss, it's fast paced, hard rocking and adrenaline rushing that really deserves to be called "Pure Thunder Force", and it's really impressive if we count that the song was composed by someone who never worked on the TF series: Go Sato (Raiden series). Speaking of Thunder Force, the Stage 5 boss is a remake of the title screen and opening themes of Thunder Force III, IV and V. Seems like Kaneko Tsuyoshi (Segagaga) made a homage to the classics if you want to call it like that, specially "ORN Gauntlet", which keeps the kick ass spirit of the original "Beginning of War" by Tsukumo Hyakutaro. Yeah, Tamayo Kawamoto, Kaneko Tsuyoshi, Go Sato and Motoaki Furukawa, an interesting team-up of veteran shmup composers which made a satisfying job. BETTA FLASH was the group which made the Opening and Ending themes for this game. I missed Tsukumo Hyakutaro and Toshiharu Yamanishi's works, but to be fair everybody has a chance to give a try on the music department, and a team-up of shmup composers is a good decision after all.

If i had to criticize something about the music is the theme "ORN Emperor" which its first 30 seconds has an uncanny resemblance to "Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle" by Dethklok, and i'm not joking or trolling about it, if you don't believe me listen both songs and see it for yourself.

But the main problem with the music lies on the short length of the stage, because at the moment we're enjoying the music, it abruptly ends and the boss theme begins. It's the same problem as in RayStorm.

The use of Tangut (Galaxy Federation) and Mongolian (ORN Empire) languages was an original and interesting touch to the game, like i said on the use of the ancient scripts, it adds an extraterrestrial and mystical feeling that manages to put your ears out of this world.

There's some unlockable features on this game to keep you playing. I've already mentioned Rynex-R and Syrinx as hidden ships, but also there's two new modes: Neo Style and Time Attack. Neo Style is basically the same game, but the enemy bullets can be destroyed by a specific weapon, that's indicated by a the bullet color. To destroy a bullet color you have to select the right weapon; Red bullets can be destroyed by Twin Shot, Purple ones require to switch to Back Shot, Yellow means Wave/Blade, Green is for Free Range and Blue is for Hunter. There's only one enemy that requires to switch a specific color, and it's the missiles at the beginning of the Ocean Stage, unlike the normal game where you could use any weapon like the Hunter or the Free Range, in Neo Style the missiles are quickly destroyed with Back Shot. Think of this mode as a simple but fun puzzle element included in a shoot-em'-up. In difficulty levels like "Kids" to "Normal" it's fun and it requires a little learning and quick weapon switching, but if you want something beyond "Hard" and "Maniac" difficulty and you're an expert, this game mode is just for you. As for Time Attack, this mode was simplified and changed its gameplay mechanics from what we saw on Thunder Force V Perfect System, if you played TFVPS, the Time Attack goes like this: Select the order of the 6 bosses, then pick your ship and defeat them in the fastest time possible without commiting any mistakes, dying means 15 seconds less as penalty. In Thunder Force VI, you only select your ship, and fight the bosses. There's no Vasteel Nocht in this mode, and B3 doesn't use his "Mega Tank" mode, also there's no stage change for the bosses, everything takes place on the ORN base descending tunnel prior to the ORN Emperor. Along with the game modes and extra ships, there's reports that explain more about the plot of the game. It'd be great to have a CG gallery and a 3D model viewer like in Perfect System's "Digital Viewer".

UPDATE 10-09-2017: Did you know you can clear Time Attack on Kids level in less than 22 seconds with Rynex-R? The trick involves the mastering of the Thunder Sword and commiting suicide in a controlled manner. If you think i'm joking, here's my results in Time Attack so you can check i'm not lying to you.

Final toughts: It may have a few flaws here and there, but to be fair and honest it's a good Thunder Force game, and with the ending teaser of a Thunder Force VII, let's hope they can bring us a great title for the next generation console.
Remember what Sega said on some of their old commercials?: "The Challenge will Always be There", Sega now has a new challenge: To fulfill the promise of making Thunder Force VII and not allow that "To be continued" become a forgotten sequel like Konami's "Axelay 2". In a nutshell, Thunder Force VI is among the best shooters in the PlayStation 2 library.

UPDATE: With the news of Sega's retire and shifting into Mobile games, this could mean a tragic nailed coffin for Thunder Force VII, and with other shmup developers like Milestone, Irem and Warashi gone, we can only hope for MOSS or Compile Heart (formerly Compile) to pick the Thunder Force rights and develop TFVII and don't abandon the promise in the darkness like Konami did with Axelay 2. Only time will tell...

Thunder Force VI's Final Score: 9/10
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