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 Post subject: Natsuki Chronicles (XBOX One - PlayStation 4 - PC)
PostPosted: Wed Jan 01, 2020 6:00 am 

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Joined: 11 Oct 2008
Posts: 268
Location: Autobot City, Sugiura Base
My first review of 2020, and my first time with Ginga Force related stuff. So, here's my review of Natsuki Chronicles.

The Main Menu gives us two modes: Chronicles Mode and Arcade Mode.

In both modes, the gameplay was changed, rather than taking the Vertical Scroll of Ginga Force, Natsuki Chronicles is an horizontal shooter with a very basic, yet easy to learn and functional control. The ship uses three types of weapons: The Main Weapon which is your frontal shot, the Sub-Weapon can be your back shot or a support wide shot. You can use both at the same time, but doing this will reduce the power level of both weapons, just like in Darius Force/Super Nova. The Special Weapon is the Option-like Satellite that only protects your ship against bullets and very close targets, unleashing the special attack will require to stop firing the other weapons, forcing you to go fully defensive. However you can unlock an Option type that will make them chase your enemies like the Psy Bit from R-Type Leo.
The game gives you two speed configurations: Having two speeds, giving you the option to adjust how fast or slow you want your speed settings, or a "Hold" option like in Thunder Force IV and Thunder Force V. The life settings are similar to Jaleco's E.D.F. Earth Defense Force/Super E.D.F. that means there's no extra lives if you're killed. Die once and the mission will fail (while playing in Chronicles Mode) or it will be Game Over (in Arcade Mode).
What makes this shooter quite unique is the use of the Bullet Trajectory Display, which allows you to see the flying path of the enemies attacks. The enemies are now tagged as formations using the Greek alphabet, killing an enemy is one thing, but eliminating an entire formation adds bonus to your score total and increases the final percentage of destroyed formations.

This is (Not) Seaside Front from Air Buster.

Chronicles Mode is the Story Mode of this game, continuing where the Natsuki battle in Ginga Force left off. As we jump 3-4 years before the events of the original game, we can learn about Natsuki's days with the Rapid Deployment Force and Mitsurugi Security Service. The first thing we notice is the game's mission/timeline structure which acts as a continuity. The best part of this mode is that unlike Cybernator, Giga Wing and Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced where the gameplay was interrupted to unfold part of the game's plot, Natsuki Chronicles has an uninterrupted gameplay while the story unfolds, just like in Otomedius Excellent, Silpheed: The Lost Planet and any of the Ace Combat games, they can talk all they want while you're focused on blasting the bad guys out of the skies, and that's for the best because the least thing that you'll want is to be interrupted.

Great Scott!, We've traveled back in time.

Chronicles Mode features a Timeline that begins before the "Turning Point", which is where the boss battle with Natsuki in Ginga Force takes place, but this time you will be playing as Natsuki Sugiura. Before reaching the Turning Point, you'll unlock missions that happened prior to the events of Ginga Force and what happened after that decisive battle between Natsuki and Margarette (along with Alex). REMEMBER: After Clearing Mission 6, make sure you played Ginga Force before or at least watched a longplay for understand the story of Natsuki Chronicles on its entirety.

When a shmupper performance is evaluated by a Top Gun instructor. It gives you an idea of how strict and demanding the SFTI program is.

The game demands the utmost of player's performance just like Ginga Force, from not letting a single enemy escape and that also means eliminating the enemy formations (groups, for example "Beta Group") and avoiding any hits, getting a perfect score grants you the S+++ Rank. Clearing a mission gives you higher rewards, like leveling your Stage Study up, which grants you Ex. Shields for your ship (you'll have to repeat a stage 15 times to unlock the Ex. Shields for that difficulty level), unlocking weapons after meeting level up and/or stage clear conditions, even colorschemes for your ship, along with the credits in your "Troop Budget" to spend on buying upgrades. Think about this game as the enhanced and enlarged version of the gameplay structure of the SNES port of U.N. Squadron, minus the jet buying part.
Clearing a level also unlocks a new difficulty level for it (Unlocking Hard difficulty Stage 1 after clearing it in Normal for example).

"Hey 'pops', could you put some Sidewinders into my pylons?"
- Mickey Simon (Area 88)

Before taking off, you can select different equipments by buying Weapons, Sub-weapons and Special Weapons. You can also purchase alternate colors for your ship, unlocking all of these will require to increase your Player Level by playing and replaying missions and clearing a stage in a specific difficulty. You can adjust your speed settings and even the number of Ex. Shields that you want to use in your playthrough.

"Hey Shin!, Glad you've made it back safe. Say, i have some Sidewinders for real cheap. ¿Interested?"
- McCoy (Area 88)

Buying a weapon and equip it is not just part of the replay value, its a strategy maker because some stages will require a specific weapon (Stage 4 is much easier if you have the Wave Shot)

While in Easy and Normal is fun and challenging enough for any kind of player, Hard and Extreme are simply "bullet hell gone wrong" as sometimes you'll be hit by a sudden cheap shot, or pelted with bullets with very few time to react, and most of the times the Special Weapon couldn't be enough to avoid getting hit. 9 of 10 times you'll feel that a Mission Failure wasn't your fault, but because of cheapness. With strategically cruel disadvantages and screwed situations like having the screen filled with bullets, Homing Lasers and more resistant enemies, playing Natsuki Chronicles in Hard and Extreme makes the 6th stage of Blazing Star and the Arrange Mode of Triggerheart Exelica look tame. One of the worst examples of this can be found in the second Training mission, where you can't get Ex. Shields unlike the other levels, so you'll be in a big disadvantage where you'll get defeated no matter what you do unless you do the "Pause-Unpause-Move-Pause-Unpause-Move" trick of pressing the Menu Button non-stop until your fingers get hurt. Hard and Extreme are basically a "How familiarized you are with the pause button" and that, is not fun or challenging.
Even if you are a super player who eats Touhou Project for breakfast, conquers Strikers 1945 III blindfolded with the F-22 on its weakest power level and like his bullet-hell shooters to be tough as nails, these two difficulty levels will teach you the real meaning of the word "Pain". They will break that Top Gun attitude of yours, making you cry for your mother. Yeah, Hard and Extreme would make a crybaby out of the fiercest of all pilots ¿Are you Maverick enough for Natsuki Chronicles, eh, flyboy?.

I could say "avoid playing in Hard and Extreme" but guess what?, you have to complete the game in all the difficulties to unlock all the four epilogues. So, be proud of yourself if you get the Mission Complete with Rank B or C on those two difficulties 'cos there's no human way possible to reach Rank S+++ there. The last two difficulties will either crush you down or turn you into a steel-nerved pilot who learns about patience and strength throughout adversities. So, if you can make it to the end regardless of which rank you get, "CONGRATULATIONS! YOU ARE AMONG THE ELITE, THE BEST OF THE BEST. YOU ARE TOP GUN!".

The Ex. Shields have also a flaw; you can't carry your accumulated Ex. Shields to the next Mission or even a higher difficulty level, because of the Stage Study level up feature. Thus, you'll be repeating the same missions again and again and again and again, pretty much like Sandlot's Earth Defense Force series. However, repeating levels is the key to gain more credits for your Troop Budget and increase your Player and Stage Study levels.

I've readed comments about the game crashing, i had two crashes since December 25th, but i think it's because the game is still in Version, so its just a matter of time until Qute brings an update to fix any bugs and flaws.

¿Is just me or this stage reminds me of the first mission of U.N. Squadron? ¿Where's the F-14 when we need it?

Arcade Mode (also called Natsuki Chronicles -Arcade Mode-), unlike Chronicles Mode, omits all the mission diagram thing and focus on a more linear, plotless shoot out action focused on the pure zen of blowing things out of existence, so it omits Stage 7, resulting in a 9 stages long game. The gameplay mechanics are different here. Instead of gaining money for investing on upgrades before starting the stage like U.N. Squadron, the game uses an item picking system like Phalanx and Raiden. However, you can get 10 upgrades 'cos they're also the Ex. Shields of your ship: 2 Special Weapons, 4 Main Weapon, 4 Sub-Weapon. The rating system is still present like in Chronicles Mode, but the gameplay seems to take a hit with the power-down after taking a hit from a projectile because for some idiotic reason, the Weapon Power Ups are the Ex. Shields, compromising the player's power levels. I can understand the idea of losing firepower due to a collision with another ship like in Strikers 1945 III, or because i died and re-spawned like in any other shooter. But because i was hit by a bullet without dying?, is total nonsense regardless of the game mechanic you've had in mind, specially since the boss battles requires to be powered up to stand a chance which may result in sure death.

Try to Next Chance.

At first you'll start with no continues, so that means you will end up getting killed in your first try, so make sure you give the game some of the best flying it had seen to date, right up to the part where you got killed. The further you progress in the game, you'll get more credits to continue your mission as you climb up in the Operator Level. I've got 3 extra credits for reaching Stage 5's boss.

It nice to see a shooter making cutscenes with the game's graphics rather than still images. Learn from that, Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced.

Graphically, this is more than "Ginga Force 1.5", its an ode to the shmup genre. Since the game, while using planet Seven Tier as its battleground, it features scenery that evokes classic shooters like Air Buster (Central City -> Seaside Front), U.N. Squadron (Canyon -> Desert Stage), Border Down and even the Thunder Force series. The enemies are not excent of this old-school homage. The second and third stages feature walking cannons that resembles the Duckers from Gradius, and Stage 8's boss battle reminds me of the Wolfpack stage from the SNES U.N. Squadron (the 3 F-117 bosses), pure old-school shooting references.
The character designs were improved compared with those of Ginga Force. While keeping the everyone's favorite anime style, the artwork looks brand new, and it feels like if a different artist drew them. But guess what?, Yukino Umesato made the character designs for this game, but they look different from what we've saw on Ginga Force. Old characters like Margarette and Natsuki look younger than the previous game, while the new cast of characters fits quite well. However, my only complaint is that there's no full body artwork like in Ginga Force (the "VS" portraits before starting a stage), along with the lack of a gallery to learn more about the game.

The sound department re-uses some tracks and sounds from Ginga Force, but also adds new themes that evokes the anime styled atmosphere like Blazing Star, Megaman X and the Gradius series. The voice cast from Ginga Force is back along with new seiyuus for the new characters. Something that i've noticed is that the voices of Margarette and Natsuki changed as Yumi Shimizu and Natsue Sasamoto re-worked their voices in pure Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced style (Kozue Shimizu / Crueltear to be exact). An example of this voice changing can be found in Ginga Force, Natsuki was an adult-looking characer with a young voice, while in Natsuki Chronicles she is a young looking girl with an adult voice. I could complain about the lack of an english dub of the game's voices, but after remembering the horrible dubs of KOF Sky Stage and Megaman X4, i think not having an english dub is for the best.

- The game began its development in December 4th, 2015. Four years stucked in "Development Hell".
- The game's original name was "Natsuki Chronicle" (Chronicle in singular, God knows why they've changed it to plural.)
- While most people would pronounce her name as "Nat-soo-kee", it is actually pronounced "Nats-kee".
- Despite her young appearance, Natsuki is 24 years old.
- She's 1.57m tall (5.2ft).
- She's the only female character, protagonist/antagonist and second character in the Ginga Force universe to have a japanese name.
- The acronym of Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) shares the same acronym of another RDF, the Robotech Defense Force from Robotech.
- The illustration for "Let's Tweak Some Parameters" achievment is actually from the Amiami shop exclusive bonus for Ginga Force as it features Nina Lynn.
- The game doesn't decide how to name the planet because in Stage 1 is written "Seventier" and for the rest of the game is "Seven Tier".
- The colorscheme of Garm (Stage 7's playable vehicle) is different from what we saw on Ginga Force.
- The stage bosses names are Todd (Stage 1), Sarah (Stage 2), Hershey (Stage 3), Magenta (Stage 4), Bill (Stage 6) and the unnamed pilot of Stage 8 is simply called "The combatant".
- Magenta wears the same red shirt and yellow tie like Tini Memoril. It is unknown if this implies they're related or if its an uniform of some sorts.
- You're gonna need 1,732,000CR to buy everything in the game in one shot: 598,700CR for Main Weapon, 749,000CR for Sub Weapon, 325,000CR for Special Weapon and 59,300CR for Body Color.

UPDATE March 4th, 2020: It draw to my attention that this game, along with Ginga Force will be released on the PlayStation 4 and PC by Rising Star Games. So, any XB1 player will be making the switch to the PS4 'cos missing all the Seven Tier fun is a no-no.
It's too bad that Eschatos or Judgment Silversword weren't re-released.

Natsuki Chronicles is a game that feels more like a "Ginga Force side-campaign expansion" than a sequel in terms of story and plot. But the gameplay is indeed the "U.N. Squadron for the New Generation", dethroning other candidates for that title that i've reviewed before. Also, it's a relief to have a great game after all the junk shmups that are plaguing the XBOX One nowadays, and one great game that was worth the wait after being stucked four years.

"Chill factor number nine, you made my heart go blind.
You act so cold but you still look so fine."
Fan of Transformers, Shmups and Anime-styled Girls. You're teamed up with the right pilot!
Bringing you shmup reviews with humorous criticism.

STG Wikias: Thunder Force Wiki - Wikiheart Exelica - Ginga Force Wiki

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