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 Post subject: Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced: 10th Anniversary Review (PS2)
PostPosted: Fri Dec 27, 2019 1:10 am 

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Joined: 11 Oct 2008
Posts: 268
Location: Autobot City, Sugiura Base
My last shmup review of 2019, and I wanted something special this time (also, the original review was moved to Shmups Chat). So here's my "10th Anniversary Review" of Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced.
Yeah, it's been 10 years since I've played this game for the first time, and even with the XBLA version on my XB1, I still revisit this game once in a while, along with Gradius V, Raiden III, Taito Legends 2, Activision Anthology and Thunder Force VI.
Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced is also one of the reasons that made me reconsider the idea of retiring my good ol' PlayStation 2 (thanks xxx1993 for suggesting me that: "Don't. PS2 has more"), and I'm sure they would make you reconsider to retire your PS2.

For a more in-depth analysis of gameplay, check the XBLA review.

Like the Dreamcast port, the game offers different game modes. Like in the XBLA, the Arrange Mode is not included, so the game features two modes: Arcade and Story.
The Arcade Mode is different here, because unlike the Dreamcast version which uses the original arcade game, the Enhanced version simply re-takes the restructured XBOX Live Arcade version which uses the ending mechanics of the Dreamcast Story Mode to give us Normal and True Endings if we used a continue or not. The only difference with the XBLA is that the battle with Faintear Imitate in stage 5 is unlocked if the player didn't used a continue and unlocked the previous battles with her in Stages 1 and 3. It still lives up to the title of "Arcade" since the game makes emphasis on the pure zen of shooting and throwing things against your enemies rather than having a plot.

The PS2 re-includes the Story Mode from the Dreamcast version and greatly improves it, as the game fills a lot of the gaps within the Triggerheart lore and solves many things from the story that both the Dreamcast and the XBOX left unsolved such as "We know the Triggerhearts ended up on Earth and they considered it as a haven, but how did Exelica and Crueltear learned how to live on Earth?", Warashi's answer was "They're adopted by an old man called Skiltall and lived together as a family" this version fills the voids and puts unused concept ideas into the game which complete the storyline like the Triggerheart's transport ship C'rna_dyne, implying they're weren't transported by their own. It also made focus on Faintear Imitate's origin and why she's evil (something that was briefly explained in the Dreamcast Story Mode and further explained in the XBLA port with the Control Core breakage). However, while the game fills the gaps, it made new ones and left them unsolved like "How did Faintear escaped from her captivity?" or "Who made the ship where she appears in the prologue and how she got in?", or the biggest mystery of the game "What was that light in Exelica's hands?" (Three console ports and that remains unanswered).

Unsolved mysteries like these makes me think Triggerheart Exelica is the Neon Genesis Evangelion of shmups as we have a puzzle of questions and mysteries (even more than Thunder Force V) just like Hideaki Anno's anime masterpiece. My only complain of the Story Mode is the in-game interruptions which unfortunately are more frequent in the game, being the boss battles the worst of all as unlike the Dreamcast port where you only fought as much as your Item Bonus allowed you to, in the PS2 you're forced to fight all 3, 4 or 5 forms of the boss and the battles with Imitate in Stages 1 and 3, and each form is interrupted with character dialogue. Also, the use of Event CG is debatable for me since the game already had an animated opening, and this implies the game had the potential of making a fully animated Story Mode (think Megaman X4's cutscenes for example). While Kazuhiko Kakoi's (GRA) artwork is beautiful, it still begs the question of why they didn't used animated sequences.

If you've played the Arcade, Dreamcast and XBOX Live Arcade versions, i'm sure there's no need to explain too much about this shooter. It's an unique shooter that makes emphasis on capturing objects and use them as a projectile or a shield to protect you. Using captured enemies as shields comes in handy as the bullets generate "Score Items" that increase its value as long as we hold the fire button. The Item Bonus structure is more based on the Arrange Mode of the Dreamcast version and revised on the XBLA port (Example 2522 x11.5 is now rebalanced as 2522 as the divider was removed).
While the anime introduction and the Event CG are among the game's new features, the real feature of the PlayStation 2 port is the TH44, the original Triggerheart Faintear, which is now fully playable and is the exclusive feature of this game.
Also, she's the hi-score specialized character because her Laser shots makes the enemies drop even more Score Items when they're destroyed by them rather than using the Anchor function, combined with a speed faster than Crueltear, Faintear requires a technologically minded player to fully exploit her potential (think of the Aryustailm in Blazing Star) because fast speeds in bullet hells could be difficult. So, here's a hint to "control" speed: Fire the Anchor making sure it doesn't hit anything and hold the button so your Triggerheart reduce her flight speed. For the sake of Faintear's inclusion, the game adds a "Stage 0" which is exclusive for the TH44, making her Story Mode a 6 staged game. In a curious twist of fate, Stage 0 can be accessed in Training with any Triggerheart, only to be sent to Stage 1, allowing the player to practice in two stages instead of one.

The game's overall speed is slower than its previous versions, while this is useful for first timers in "danmaku" (Bullet Hell), for any Triggerheart fan it will be a slow and too easy game.
So here's one word of advice if you've played this version first and you're going to play the XBLA port for the first time: Better re-learn the game starting on Easy, 'cos if you play the XBLA like the PS2 port you'll get killed. I've learned that the hard way.

Graphically, the game is better than the Arcade and Dreamcast, but if we compare it with the XBLA, they're inferior. A good example of the graphic downgrade is in Stage 5, where the rotating background was replaced with a fast vertical scrolling one, just like Human Road in Thunder Force V Perfect System looks graphically inferior in the PlayStation when its compared with the Saturn version. Also, the re-used XBLA wallpapers and the Stage Clear result screens of Exelica and Crueltear are of lower quality. Speaking of Wallpapers, the "Wallpaper 2" of the XBLA port was removed in favor of including a new one for the original Faintear. Despite the loss of in-game visual quality, the art quality got even better than the Dreamcast version in the cutscenes and is the first time we can see how the Triggerhearts would look in a fully animated introduction.

One last thing: ¿Remember the "Censorship" of Crueltear's ending in the XBLA?, the PS2 decensors the ending making it faithful to the original arcade game, a point in favor if you ask me. If that was Microsoft's "Censorship", i don't wanna imagine what would happen if Triggerheart Exelica was released on a Nintendo console.
For those who like the illustrated cutscenes, the game gives us an unlockable gallery that allows us to watch each one of the Story Mode illustrations, however you'll have to "navigate" through the whole cutscenes to unlock those images and even unlocking both Normal and True Endings to complete the gallery.

The music gives us another twist with the introduction of the game itself, featuring Ayane's song "Gravity Error" which was made for this game. Some of the in-game songs we're changed and added new themes for the cutscenes, as for the rest of the game, it retains the same BGM of the XBLA version. Unlike this port, the PS2 omits the option of switching between the arrange and the Arcade/Dreamcast original. But on the bright side, it uses one of the unused tracks featured in "Sound Anchor", the song "When time flows" is now used as the Gallery theme.

You know, that in twenty years or more.
You still look the same, as you do today.
You'll still be a young girl, when I'm old and grey.

Unlike the XBLA which reused the Dreamcast voice samples, the PS2's voice samples were re-recorded so they can match the voiced narration in the cutscenes. While Shiho Kawaragi's voice as Exelica hasn't changed too much from the Arcade and Dreamcast, Crueltear and Faintear Imitate went through notable changes. In Crueltear's case, Kozue Shimizu re-worked her voice since the Drama CD Parallel Anchor changing the TH32's "adult" tone of voice using a much younger one that fits the character much better, she also made the TH32 more expressive, hearing Crueltear laughing (6:24 on this video) in Story Mode is just heartwarming for any fan of her.

Unfortunately i can't say the same for Faintear Imitate, since the voice change comes from an actress change. For some reason, Yuko Ishibashi didn't reprised her role, so the task was given to Natsuko Kuwatani (Suiseiseki from Rozen Maiden and Yuki Nagato in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) and the result is simply unfitting; in Arcade Mode (with Exelica and Crueltear) she sounds like a spoiled brat rather than the villain she's supposed to be. That "Teba no yo neee" from Stage 1 was the worst i've heard, felt like an injury to my ears. I'm not trying to demerit Kuwatani's work, but simply a villain like Faintear Imitate was too much for her and i think Yuko Miyamura (Asuka from Evangelion) would be better for that. Ironically, Kuwatani also voiced Ver'mith Ennda and she made a good job there giving her a much more sinister voice than Ishibashi did. Like Yuko, Kuwatani's role as Ennda was also uncredited. The game included famous seiyuus like Nana Mizuki, who voiced Faintear, Misato Fukuen as C'r_na and Yuji Ueda as Skiltall. Seems like Warashi wanted to say goodbye to Exelica with style with this cast along with all the new features, and from my perspective, they succeeded.

- Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced was the last console port of the game.
- It was also the last shooter made by Warashi since the company disappeared in 2010.
- It is also the lone entry featuring a fully animated opening and Ayane's debut in the game.
- This was the lone game where the original Triggerheart Faintear was introduced and was fully playable.
- This was the only game where Natsuko Kuwatani voiced both Faintear Imitate and Ver'mith Ennda.
- The PS2 version is the only console port to feature an unlockable Gallery.
- C'r_na is the smallest of all the characters, since she's around 17cm tall.
- Like in the Arcade and both Dreamcast and XBLA versions, the director Hirune was credited as "Hiruned".
- Noriyuki Takasaki, Warashi founder and director of the Shienryu series and Sengeki Striker was the original executive producer of this game, while Shigenobu Urano was the exec of this port.
- Warashi once joked with an anime of Triggerheart Exelica in an April Fools prank. However, the joke became real when the anime introduction of Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced was revealed.
- The wallpaper of Crueltear from Warashi's official site was later reused by Microsoft Studios for the XBOX One Backwards Compatible re-release of the XBOX360/XBLA version.
- Although Warashi and almost all of the staff involved in both Exelica and Shienryu called it quits, only GRA (Kazuhiko) is pulling an effort on keeping Exelica alive in a series of doujin books called Triggerheart Exelica RE:Anchor, which are concept ideas for a possible Triggerheart Exelica II.

While the interruptions in Story Mode are far worse than the Dreamcast and the gameplay is slower than the Arcade and XBLA, Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced still keeps the title of the most complete version of the game as the additional content greatly increases the already addicting replay value of the original game.
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STG Wikias: Thunder Force Wiki - Wikiheart Exelica - Ginga Force Wiki

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