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 Post subject: Triggerheart Exelica - A Retrospective (Arcade - Dreamcast)
PostPosted: Mon Apr 27, 2020 9:19 am 


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Joined: 11 Oct 2008
Posts: 250
Location: Autobot City, Sugiura Base
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It all started with this sketch...

I remember back in 2006, I was visiting Yakkey's site during his Rayging Blue's Conflict Warred days (can't post the link due to NSFW content, also he deleted the sketch already) and I saw that pic and posted on the comments: "Nice! Is she from a game?", and Yakkey only said "warashi.co.jp/exelica". What I've never imagined that the moment I clicked on that link it would become my "Starting Point" as a fan of this shooter. Yeah, I'm talking Triggerheart Exelica, one of my all-time favorites.

It's been almost 15 years since the arcade game was released. So, this time I'll talk about the original Arcade and its Dreamcast release. It was a wild journey for me, because it was more than just playing the game and becoming a fan of Crueltear.
Finding fan arts, official illustrations and posting them on the galleries of the now defunct HongFire (good old memories), and building the Wikiheart Exelica project 'cos I think this game deserves a good database.



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Your enemy, your brand new weapon and shield. Good old times.

Warashi was mostly remembered for the Shienryu series right after making the PlayStation 2 exclusive sequel Shienryu Explosion which was only included in the Double Shienryu compilation (Steel Dragon EX in Europe). However, Shienryu's popularity would be overshadowed by their latest (and last shooter). ¿What made Triggerheart Exelica the game it is and made Warashi to be remembered for this more than Shienryu?

For a more in-depth analysis of the gameplay, read the XBOX Live Arcade port review: viewtopic.php?f=10&t=57987
For the PlayStation 2 Enhanced review: viewtopic.php?f=10&t=65780


Before talking about the gameplay, I'll give you a quick rundown on the Triggerheart units for those who are newcomers.


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Now I'm alive. I'll show how I will rise.
I'll never fall, I'll never faaaaade.
I'll never bow, I will never breeeeeeaaaaak.



At first you might be asking "¿What is a Triggerheart?", "¿What makes them different from a normal girl?". Well, there's more to them than meets the eye. Triggerhearts are female humanoid fighters developed by C.H.I.L.D.A., an extraterrestrial faction similar to Earth's humans (think about the Galaxy Federation from Thunder Force). Unlike human beings, Triggerhearts possess enhanced physical functions. Due to requiring extraordinary powers that exceeded the adaptive limit of the average body, Triggerhearts were developed differently from standard models. Designated as command units, Triggerhearts control all weaponry for C.H.I.L.D.A. and its fleet. Part of the effort involving the development of units with anti-impact capabilities involved the implementation of internal thought vectors, giving them a strong sense of purpose. The heart of the Triggerheart units is known as the Triggerheart System, a mechanism where the artificial personality and self-preservation mechanism are installed. Triggerhearts are equipped with Extension Equipments which are connected and controlled by their bodies, they include companion ships and Anchor Units.

According to Warashi, C.H.I.L.D.A.'s decision to make the Triggerhearts female stemmed from the discovery that females possess higher anti-impact capabilities.



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The cute-looking protagonist.

TH60 TRIGGERHEART EXELICA (トリガーハート エグゼリカ): C.H.I.L.D.A.'s latest Triggerheart unit. She is also the youngest of all the Triggerheart units. Exelica is a "hard worker" who believes she must become the best and the brightest in her field. She is difficult to customize, and due to possessing an incomplete Anti-Aging mechanism, occasionally exhibits gestures that indicate she is insecure. She was developed by C.H.I.L.D.A.'s Development Team #7. Her weapons are the Semi-Autonomous Companion Gunner Ship A'rstear and the Semi-Autonomous Companion Anchor Fighter Ship D'rfend which is her Anchor Unit. In the game, she's the slow speed character equipped with a Spread Shot, which is useful for beginners who are new on this type of bullet hell shooters.

Shiho Kawaragi voiced the TH60 in all the versions of the game.



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The sexy and lovely Triggerheart unit.

TH32 TRIGGERHEART CRUELTEAR (トリガーハート クルエルティア): One of the old Triggerheart units, in fact, the TH32's was periodically updated, this resulted in a growth in size of the Triggerheart unit, giving her the adult look she currently has. Like Exelica, she was developed by the Development Team #7, giving her a "bloodline" link, making her much more of a sister unit for Exelica, along with her artificial personality as her sister. She is also a hot-head that shouts quite often. She uses the Gunner Ship C'rnBurn and the Anchor Unit C'rnBurn Vis. In the game, she's the fast-type character that uses the Linear Shot, a full-frontal vulcan fire and her speed is faster than Exelica, resulting in a good choice for average players who want a challenge from the game.

Crueltear was voiced by Kozue Shimizu in all the ports of the game.



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We had to wait three years and a PlayStation 2 release to finally know her.

TH44 TRIGGERHEART FAINTEAR (トリガーハート フェインティア) / FAINTEAR ORIGINAL (フェインティア オリシナル): She is the original Faintear mentioned in Story Mode and we will see her as a playable character in Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced as the exclusive character of the PlayStation 2 version. Unlike Exelica and Crueltear, she was created by a different C.H.I.L.D.A. Development Team, thus, she lacks of the "bloodline" Exelica and Crueltear has. She is equipped with the Semi-Autonomous Gunner Ship G'll_Tous and the Anchor Unit G'll_Quard. As the PS2 exclusive playable Triggerheart she uses the Laser Form, a twin laser shot of great power capable of inflict massive damages and generate more Bonus Items than any other Triggerheart weapon in the game, making the TH44 the High-Score maker of the game. She is also faster than Crueltear in terms of speed, requiring an expert skills to fully exploit her high-scoring potential. In a professional player's hands, Faintear knows no bounds.

Faintear was voiced by Nana Mizuki.



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Imitate is for Faintear what the RVR-01 Gauntlet is for Rynex: The "Refined Replica".

FAINTEAR IMITATE (フェインティア イミテイト): The Ver'mith copy of the original Faintear. Despite being a Ver'mith creation, she is a Triggerheart unit. Her first words were "I am a Triggerheart. I live as a weapon to destroy the enemy". The Ver'mith, realizing she still had a possible C.H.I.L.D.A. linkage due to the copied data from Faintear (who was captured prior to the events of the game), they created the Control Core (the jewel embbeded on her head) to erase her truest self and strengthen her dark personality as a weapon whose final goal is become stronger destroying anyone who opposes her. Unlike the Triggerhearts, she uses multiple pods called Fardotts which can fire laser weaponry or bullets. The larger ones, called "Fardott Nacht" can be captured by the Triggerhearts Anchor and used against her. In the Dreamcast and XBLA versions she was simply called Faintear because the game's lore wasn't complete at all and it was "backed up" with the premise of Crueltear thinking she was the original Faintear gone rogue (despite being entirely different from the original).

Imitate was voiced by Yuko Ishibashi in the Arcade, Dreamcast and XBOX Live Arcade ports, and Natsuko Kuwatani in the PS2.



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Capture and Throw. An exercise of shooting.

One of the main features of this game is the Anchor Unit, which allows the player to capture an enemy and use it as either a shield or toss it as a projectile by swing it in a specific direction and speed, implying centrifugal force, terminal velocity and force of impact. Very few times we see a shooter playing with physics and this game is one of them. Using a captured enemy as a shield is also another good strategy since you can use it to absorb bullets and get Bonus Items. By holding the button, they will increase their value. However, you can't wait all the time until they've fully reach their maximum value because they will go offscreen as the game scrolls. But still you can get a good bonus by calculating the time, because depending on how much items are on screen the longer they will take to increase their value. This game is an instance of bullet hell done correctly as the game relies on heavy patterns to make use of the captured enemies to generate Bonus Items and destroy enemies because some of them will take a lot of bullets to be destroyed (the box-like enemies in Stage 4) and you will have to change your firing strategy for an enemy throwing one. Captured enemies are also part of another bonus called "Weight Bonus", where the accumulated weight of captured enemies will result in an additional bonus at the end of the stage.

Item Bonus also play anoter key factor in the game as the accumulated total of Item Points play a part on the gameplay mechanic called VBAS (Variable stage Boss Attack System), which adds additional modes to the boss during a battle. For example, having an Item Bonus of 3,412 x24.1 in Stage 1 will unlock the 5 modes of the boss and the first battle with Faintear Imitate of the game, while having 234 x03.7 will only have 1 single mode, making this game a mix between tactical and technical that despite its apparent complexity is actually an easy to learn mechanic that greatly enhances the replay value, breaking with any known mechanic in shmups.

There's instances when the Anchor Unit can't capture enemies and that's the ground targets like the tanks or bosses, instead you will enter in a "Lock-On" mode where you will fire a vulcan shot at the anchored target, this mode is very helpful during boss battles like in Stage 4.



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Oh, Master, grant them eternal repose, give them your love.
Forgive them their sins, show them the true way...


While the game is incredibly addicting in gameplay, I can't say the same for the ending of the game, since it involves the apparent sacrifice of one of the characters (Crueltear if you're playing with Exelica), and the game doesn't bother to mention if she survived or not during the credits or after them, as the game sends you directly to the Game Over screen.



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The action takes place on anywhere: Forests, cities, the sky and even inside an underground base!

Graphically, the game looks convincing and well made on the 3D graphics, being more "brighter" in colors than Shienryu Explosion, which was a quite dark colored shooter. The best detailed stages of the game are Stages 2, 3 and 5 since we have this mix between modern and futuristic cities, the "rings of cannons" in the sky and that space elevator like thing with a rotating background that makes me thing the Ver'mith base is one massive moving complex. Something that I've noticed is that some of the boss parts "rattle" when they're hit, which makes me think Warashi had the initial idea of make them destructible part-by-part, rather than make all parts as a whole.



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"Chill factor number nine, you made my heart go blind.
You act so cold but you still look so fine."


Another nice move from Warashi was the use of anime styled characters, just like they did in the Shienryu series. This time, they utilized the popular Mecha Shoujo/Musume concept of girls with mechanical equipment and the common use of a swimsuit/leotard for the sake of fanservice (Triggerheart Spec Suit). In a twist of fate, the game holds a reminiscence of the 1986 cartoon Centurions: Power Xtreme, at the point of feeling like their spiritual successors, along with the 1996 anime Saber Marionette J as the Triggerhearts are artificial humans embedded with artificial personalities and capable of feel emotions just like Lime. At this point you can call Triggerheart Exelica "Saber Marionette with Spaceships" if you want.


As for the music, the most comment observation of the game's soundtrack is the very MIDI-like synthetization used in the game, mostly in Stage 1, which is the one that sounds the most MIDI-cheesy in its attempt to sound like an anime influenced soundtrack.

J-Manic wrote:
It sounds almost like Technosoft did the BGM.


Sounds like our shmups forum pal J-Manic is right, 'cos there is themes that have a Thunder Force feeling, starting off with Faintear Imitate's theme, which feels like a spiritual successor or Rynex's theme from Thunder Force IV, V and VI. The Arcade/Arrange Mode credits song has a piano song that slightly reminds me of "Last Letter" from Thunder Force V with a hint of "Ceramic Heart" from RayStorm and "Q.E.P.D." from RayForce. Other shmup references can be find in the soundtrack like the song "Courage and Faith" which has a fast pounding beat combining piano keys just like in Blazing Star.

If you have the Sound Anchor soundtrack, you'll notice there was unused tracks that deserved to be used. Track 27 "Am I Stronger?" sounds like a "You Win" Game Over theme and a possible evidence of that is that the Game Over at the end of Story Mode in both Dreamcast and later on the PS2 is silent. Track 28 "Those Children are Three Unwelcoming Eyes" had the potential to be used in Stage 0 on the PS2 port, but they've decided to re-use the Stage 1 theme instead. Track 29 "When Time Flows" had better luck because 3 years later it was included in Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced as the background music for the gallery. Track 30 "A Happy Pair" makes me think this song was intended to be used on the Name Entry screens of the Arcade, Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 ports, but for some reason they've decided to keep the ranking screen silent, that really needs an explanation.


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Now with fully voiced dialogue!

The first home console port of Triggerheart Exelica was on Sega's last console, the Dreamcast. Warashi decided to add things to give the players and fans a more complete experience. Starting up with the Story Mode, which adds some light to what can be called "the basics" of Triggerheart Exelica's lore, introducing us to the Ver'mith conflict in a more detailed storyline which the original arcade lacked, and added some light about why Faintear wanted the Triggerhearts dead. However, there was a small problem with Story Mode: The game was interrupted at the beginning of each stage to add those dialogues, and it was also interrupted when Faintear Imitate appeared in Stages 1, 3 and 5. Speaking of Imitate, Story Mode featured a fight with her in Stage 5 before fighting Ver'mith Ennda, the final boss of the game. Not to mention, the game has that annoying "countdown to unpause" which I consider useless and quite irritating. Another inclusion in the game was the "Auto Swing" where the game rotates the Triggerheart for you while you concentrate on dodge bullets and focus where and when to throw the captured enemy. It also gave you the option to choose if you want your character to rotate left or right.



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It's good to see they survived. Enjoy your free time!

A major feature included on the Dreamcast version was something that we've deserved on the original arcade: A Happy Ending, or "True Ending" where both Exelica and Crueltear escape alive, and in Crueltear's True Ending, the revelation that there is an original Faintear who Imitate originally considers her trusted friend along with Exelica and Crueltear now that she's free of the Control Core influence (the jewel on her forehead). Both Story Mode endings feature an entirely new staff roll sequence where the Triggerhearts are seen flying together followed by a post-credits epilogue.



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A tough bullet curtain, and that's only the first boss.

Another console exclusive was the Arrange Mode, which is an Expert-Master mode where the game's difficulty was increased exponentially as the bullet patterns are much more intense and demanding than before. Also, the original Arcade/Story adjustments were locked to a default of two availabe 1ups, two lives and two bombs and to make things even tougher, the continue function was removed, making this game much more harder than it should be, almost reaching the "Kaizo borderline". If you like your shmups tough as nails, even more than G-Darius, then this is the mode for you.



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Triggerheart Exelica: Setting a standard on the "You've wasted your time" type of endings.

If the extreme difficulty and settings weren't enough, the ending of this game is among the worst of them since it re-uses the original arcade ending where the unused Triggerheart dies, and to add insult to injury, the Congratulations!! screen features Faintear Imitate mocking at you before the Game Over screen. I guess what Warashi was trying to do in the post-credits scene of the Arrange Mode was something similar to Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth, where Duoss Core ver. 3.3C said "You're the greatest player" at the end of the Master Difficulty. But Faintear Imitate just pokes fun of the player rather than accepting the player did a great job finishing this mode, making the whole game unrewarding and a standard of "How not to make an ending". Something that would be dethroned years later by Super Space Serpent SE, Hovership Havoc, Stellatum and Inferno 2+ whose trash endings redefined the "You've worked hard for nothing" category.

To complete the bonus materials, the game adds a Training Mode where you can adjust the starting stage and even which power level you want to start. However, you can only play one stage and picking Stage 5 won't reveal the ending if you clear the stage. Like in RayStorm's Tanz Mix mode, the Arrange Mode features a Dreamcast-exclusive soundtrack which arranges the original 5 stages, with the exception of the Player Select, boss/Faintear Imitate battle themes, Stage Clear and the credits. Both standard and limited edition features the Material Anchor manual which gives the players some information about the game, characters and a few concept sketches. On the graphical aspect, the game adds optional wallpapers to fill the extra space left on the TV screen.



TRIVIAHEART EXELICA

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Three console ports and the orb mystery is still unsolved.

- The biggest mystery of the game can be found on Exelica's ending, as we see her holding an orb of light which she let go. After three console ports, this mystery remains unsolved (Even Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced left that unsolved despite filling gaps within the game's lore).
- The battle against Ver'mith Aragabis (1st boss) takes place in a never-ending runway just like Hell Moa, the first boss from Shienryu.
- The Ver'mith cores share similarities in design with the bosses from Shienryu Explosion, which could imply they might be related, but its more of a coincidence since Shienryu Explosion and Triggerheart Exelica were made by different teams.
- The game is also named "Trigger Heart Exelica". Both pronunciations are correct since Warashi's site used both, just like the "Seventier or Seven Tier" spelling on Qute's Ginga Force and Natsuki Chronicles.
- Triggerheart Exelica is the second and last shooter where Warashi used 3D graphics, being Shienryu Explosion the first one to do that.
- The Dreamcast version is the only port where the player can select if the Triggerheart rotates either right or left, while the XBOX Live Arcade and PlayStation 2 ports made the direction quite randomish depending on which side or direction you're moving when the Anchor is fired.
- It is also the only console port that has the original arcade introduction and demonstration on its Attract Mode, while the XBLA port omits that sending directly to the title screen and the PS2 features an anime opening and the Story Mode prologue.
- The gap between the numbers in the Triggerheart codes (TH32, TH44, TH60) were caused by missing numbers and reduplication by C.H.I.L.D.A.'s Development Team, in addition to treachery and counter-espionage.
- While the first four Ver'mith cores, sub-cores and other units are male, the fifth and last boss, Ver'mith Ennda is the only female core. This could imply that Ver'miths behave like a colony of ants where Ennda is the queen and the other cores, Sub-Cores and units are the workers, soldiers and drones.
- Although we know the heights of Exelica (1,59m) and Crueltear (1,65m), those of both Faintears were kept secret by GRA (Kazuhiko Kakoi), but it is possible that they're somewhere between 1,60-1,64m.
- The Dreamcast version of Triggerheart Exelica was the penultimate game for the console, being Milestone's Karous the last one.
- The Dreamcast port is also the lone console version to feature the Arrange Mode, and the original arcade game on Arcade Mode, since Triggerheart Exelica Enhanced re-uses the restructured XBLA port.
- It is also the first console port to feature the Story Mode.
- Another "lone instance" of the Dreamcast port is that the game keeps the original sound effects of the arcade, the XBLA changed all of them and they're passed to the PS2 Enhanced port.
- Putting the Dreamcast game in a PC will open a folder with wallpapers.
- Speaking of wallpapers, the Dreamcast version is the only port to feature 3 in-game wallpapers for each character.
- The original arcade soundtrack will be included in the XBOX Live Arcade port as the optional "Original" soundtrack since the XBLA exclusive "Arrange" is selected as the default.
- The inclusion of the True Ending was also added on the XBLA port, making the game a mixture between both Arcade and Story modes, or "The definitive Arcade Mode" if you want to look it like that.
- The Arrange Mode soundtrack would never be used in any other console port again.
- The last known port of Triggerheart Exelica was on the iMode which replaced the Stage 3 bosses with an entirely different one, and added other contents like wallpapers and a calendar for the iMode.
- Other Exelica-related iMode games were Kumash! which was a puzzle game where Faintear Imitate was fully playable, and Triggerheart Exelica: 15 Piece Puzzle.
- A game called Attakuma No.1 was meant to be relased on the iMode, but it was cancelled due to Warashi's closure.
- Warashi's constant releases of Triggerheart Exelica-related goods and items implies the game was meant to be "The Last Knight" of the company since they had a lot of merchandising plans for the game during its transitions from Dreamcast to XBOX360 and PlayStation 2, starting off with the phonecards from Amiami, Messe Sanoh and Medialand, the soundtrack album "Sound Anchor", the Artbook-Guidebook "Archive Anchor", the Drama CD Triggerheart Exelica - Parallel Anchor - and some physical goods like Alter's Exelica figure, a bag, sticker sheet and keychains by Dream Factory to promote the XBLA port. Ayane's "Gravity Error" single was the last Triggerheart Exelica official collectible released to promote the PS2 Enhanced version.




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Being popular means Competition and Knock Offs.

- The characters Ai Kannagi, Nagare Kuroha and Elena Misawa from Yumesoft's Densou Tenshi Valforce are rip-offs of Exelica, Crueltear and Faintear.
- Claire Harvey from the 2013 anime Hundred looks very similar to Faintear Imitate.




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A very familiar pose, and both posing at dawn/dusk. What a coincidence.

- Natsuki Sugiura's pose at the title screen of Natsuki Chronicles is very similar to Crueltear in her original ending as both characters have their right arm up as their hair is blown to the left by the wind.



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The TH32 knows how to strike a pose.

It is hard to believe it has been almost 15 years since the original Triggerheart Exelica was released, its just like in 2018 when it was Blazing Star's 20th Anniversary. TH fan or not, Triggerheart Exelica is one extraordinary game that I'm sure will become a favorite for any shmupper and it's on its way to become a classic for years to come along with RayStorm, Gradius V, Thunder Force V, Blazing Star, Ginga Force and Natsuki Chronicles 'cos it has earned the right of being a shmup classic.

To close this review (and the trilogy of TH reviews that I've wrote all this time), here's a re-drawing that the Ex-HongFire member hamtaro1113 did (Thanks for that one, dude. A lot of shmup fans will like it).

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*"Another Night (House Mix)" plays in the background*
_________________
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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