Scrolling shooters have been around for a long time, since the older days of arcades. Some of the more well-known games in the genre include Xevious, Gradius, and R-Type. Some of these games see the player moving along the screen and dodging bullets and enemies here and there. Others though are a lot more frantic. Your skills have to be sharp and your reflexes tight. One wrong move can result in a stray bullet hitting you and your ship going up in flames, and there are a lot of bullets that want that opportunity. One such series of games is the Raiden series and today I’m taking a look at the latest game in the series: Raiden V: Director’s Cut.
While I do enjoy vertical scrolling shooters, it has actually been a while since I’ve last picked up a Raiden game, specifically way back with Raiden Trad on the Super NES and Raiden on the Atari Jaguar, so I’m going into this with a somewhat fresh mind as things have changed over the years. The stages are divided up into sections with a boss waiting at the end. Something that did surprise me (and it was a very welcome surprise) was that your ship is no longer destroyed in one hit. Instead, each of the three ships you can select from has various ratings for power, armor, and speed, with armor denoting how many hits they can take before the ship goes down in flames. Once your energy runs out it’s game over, but you can at least take several hits before that happens which is nice.
While there’s not really any customization in terms of making your own ship, you do have three ships to choose from. Each ship has three types of weapons you can equip, and each type of weapon has three choices to choose from. During the course of a stage you’ll occasionally come across an item that lets you change and power up your weapons. All weapons start at level one and can go up to a max of ten. Naturally the higher the level the more devastating the weapon. When you start playing, whether it’s from the beginning or via the stage select, you can re-choose your ship and weapons so if you find out you don’t like one type of weapon you can choose one of its alternatives. You can even choose which of your three chosen weapons you begin the game with. Once you begin the game it plays somewhat like past Raiden games in that it’s a vertical shooter where you shoot down whatever comes in front of you. However, if you’re like me and haven’t played a Raiden game since the 90s, you might find things a bit different.
An addition to Raiden V is the cheer system which took me a while to understand and I’m still not sure I fully understand it. From what I’ve researched it’s a way to get a temporary damage increase via friends who also play the game. However, no one else on my Steam friends list has Raiden V so I can’t confirm that. Even still though, you can get the temporary buff for a few moments once or twice per game as long as the blue meter in the lower-right corner of the screen is somewhat filled up. You’ll also notice as you play that the screen is divided into three sections with the center being the main play area. The right side has a radar in the lower-right corner which I hardly ever look at (and I’ll get to why in a moment) and some on-going story elements in the upper-right. The left panel can actually be changed between three different panels with the press of a button that shows info such as weapon info, advice on various enemies, and your overall play stats. I tend to leave it on the stats for a particular reason.
After each stage you’ll get a rank…which, from what I can tell, you don’t actually see and this is something I had to look up. The rank you get depends on the percentage of enemies you take down. A high enough percentage (at least 98%) will increase your rank, a slightly lower rank (90% - 97.9%) maintains your current rank, and anything less than 90% lowers your rank by one grade. I’m not sure if that number refers to your rank for a particular stage or your overall average rank for the game which you can see in the upper-left corner of the screen when that panel is on the red stats slide. So what does rank do? If you look at the stage select screen you’ll see that after the first stage and other than two missions where you earn medals and bonuses while destroying a ship, each stage has two to four variations. The stages themselves remain the same, but what you find in terms of ships and how they attack can be different depending on which version you’re in. In fact, you won’t really know until either the end of the stage or if you pause and back out to the main menu, then look at the stage select screen.
These was something I was going to complain about in terms of the game’s difficulty, but after doing some more research I really can’t complain much about it. The game has six different difficulty levels ranging from Practice to Very Hard and, as with the ships and weapons, you can change your difficulty by going back to the main menu and choosing stage select. The default difficulty is Normal and, naturally Hard and Very Hard will increase the amount of fire you have to avoid as well as how fast enemy ships will fire at you. Easy will decrease that a bit, Very Easy makes it so you can destroy most enemy bullets, and Practice dumbs the difficulty down so much that enemies don’t fire at all, meaning you’ll only take damage via colliding with enemy ships. I even just sat my ship in the bottom-center of the screen on the first stage and did nothing until the boss and never got scratched.
This alone isn’t the problem, but the fact that the game will progress regardless of what difficulty you’re on, including ranking up. If you have the patience this is a fairly easy way to open up each alternate path. My original complaint was that this made it way too easy to fully explore the game and the story…except that it doesn’t. Yes, you’ll experience the story (by the way, if you want to experience the story as you play, go into the options, crank the Voice volume up to 100 and turn down the music and sound effects, otherwise you can’t understand what anyone is saying), but the game has multiple endings. One thing I can’t find out is what exactly triggers various endings, though I’d speculate that difficulty has something to do with it as well as how many credits you use. Once your ship goes kerplooey the game ends, but you have unlimited continues and you can pick up right where you left off. However, I’m guessing that also contributes to the ending. If I had to guess, I’d say that ranking up as high as you can for each mission and finishing the game on at least Normal difficulty without continuing once will likely unlock the best ending. The ending I got was definitely the bad ending considering what happened to Earth.
The only other complaint I have is kind of a big one, but it could also be something that doesn’t affect everyone. A lot of the time the stage scrolling can become pretty fast in certain parts of a stage and that, sometimes along with the colors of the background and the rate of enemy fire, can make it difficult to even see shots coming at you. On top of that it does tend to hurt my eyes a bit with how fast the screen scrolls. However, my eyesight isn’t the best; I’ve been wearing contact lenses since I was a kid and my right eye isn’t too far off from being considered legally blind, so this may be something that only affects certain people such as myself. What doesn’t affect just me is the fact that with all of this going on it can be hard to pay attention to anything else that’s going on, including the aforementioned radar in the bottom-right corner of the screen. It took a few stages in before I even realized it was there.
Still, Raiden V: Director’s Cut is a solid game. Beyond the main story mode you can also take on a bunch of different boss challenges once certain conditions are met. The challenges mainly include taking down one or multiple bosses within a set time limit, but the catch is that it’s really tough to do so as the time limits are rather strict, meaning you better be hitting something on the enemy every second you can. Still, it makes for a nice challenge for new and veteran players alike. Beyond that I was initially put off by being able to beat the game on Practice difficulty (thinking that it wouldn’t let me progress until I went to at least Very Easy), but I’m okay with having to improve my skills to see the true ending of the story on higher difficulties. That might take a while as vertical shooters aren’t my strong suit, but I do enjoy them enough to want to try and improve myself. If you’ve enjoyed previous games you’ll likely enjoy this outing, though just be warned that if you haven’t played a Raiden game in a while you might find things to be a bit different than you remembered.
It had been a while since I last played a Raiden game and Raiden V: Director’s Cut was pretty enjoyable after reacquainting myself with the series, my eyesight issues aside. The fact you can beat the game on any difficulty can seem a tad off putting, but this is actually a good concept for newer players so they can experience the story then increase the difficulty when they start to improve so they can get a better ending. That combined with the boss challenges give quite a bit of replayability to the game and being able to take things a stage at a time makes it great to play in short bursts. Overall a pretty good entry for the series.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.