From the company that gave us Herzog Zwei, Technosoft is also responsible for the shooter franchise, Thunder Force. Debuting on Japanese PCs in ’83, the series eventually made its console debut on the Mega Drive with “Thunder Force II”. The series has continued to surprise fans as it tries to reinvent and improve itself with each new iteration while keeping many of the core gameplay features intact. “Thunder Force V: Perfect System” is the latest chapter to have come out in the series. And it may be the last.
The review focuses on the translated version as released by Working Designs.
Discovery in Deep Space
The previous four centered around the struggles between the Galaxy Federation and the ORN Empire. Fortunately, you don’t have to have played any of the previous titles to appreciate this one. As with most shoot ’em ups (or “shmups”, if you prefer), the backstory has usually consisted of nothing more than the text on the back of the box. But TF5 has taken the time to create a pretty involved backstory in this case. In the fifth installment, the title takes place on and around Earth thanks to an unexpected discovery made in deep space by a probe. The discovery happens to be the ship that was left behind at the end of Thunder Force IV.
Taking the vessel back, it is far more advanced than anything that Earth has ever seen before. Eventually, the technology is called ‘Vasteel’ and huge strides are made in developing this alien discovery. This eventually culminates in the construction of an artificial island that also doubles as a Vasteel research center. From there, fleets of ships and other technological wonders are created. The Guardian, an AI, is also built to help monitor and control the island. Without warning, the Guardian suddenly declares war against humanity and uses the fleet that was created from Vasteel against the Earth. As battle breaks out, the Thunder Force is called into action to stem the tide of annihilation. With fighters built using the Vasteel technology, they are the only weapons that stand a chance against the Guardian and its own Vasteel forces. Guess who is leading the charge?
Weapons and Fighters
Technosoft’s presentation has created quite an experience with both the interface and in the action. Quite a bit of backstory is included for the player to review along with a great sound test utility and options laid over a mock operating system called REFFI. These little details help set the stage for the player and for the shooter action that follows. A save feature is also implemented allowing you to keep your greatest scores and settings for the game. When you start the game off, you get to choose how you want to approach the first three stages. Will you attack the City? Plumb the depths of the Forest first and the beasts within? Or will you dive into the deep Blue and strike at the Guardian’s forces there first?
The shooter is played from a side scrolling perspective with 3D effects scattered throughout the creatively rendered stages. Several large enemies, most notably the bosses, show off their polys with the backgrounds and effects also making good use of the 3D. Having played the import version of this for the PS1, not a whole lot of this was changed when Working Designs brought this over to the States although the action does feel a bit more aggressive if not somewhat predictable. Although the graphics aren’t the greatest especially when compared to the shooters that have come after it, they still do a good job in making the action hectic but not /[too]/ cluttered as you fight through waves of enemies and avoid their shots.
As for the audio of the game, the sound effects do a decent job in thudding out the explosions and adding to the devastating cries of each weapon. Although the voice overs are a little hard to make out, they do what they need to do for the presentation of the title. But the music is where the audio of TF5 really shines. In addition to the regular soundtrack that is heard throughout the game, there are also one or two pieces that hearken back to music from the previous Thunder Force series. Fans will find themselves with quite a bit to listen to in the game while the new tracks do an excellent job in keeping the action exciting. And if you just want to listen to the different tracks, the options menu of the game allows you to listen to every sound effect and track that the game as to offer.
Overall, the controls are easy enough to grasp with a little practice. Speed plays a key part in the gameplay experience as it can be all that stands between you and the concentrated fire of a boss’ superweapon. This is easily adjusted with the flick of a finger and several set speed grades are available to the player allowing them to change with the conditions of the battle raging around them.
As for weapons, in addition to the default ‘dual cannon’ forward firing weaponry that you start out with, you also get a rear cannon. As you advance into the game, several other weapons can be collected such as from Thunder Force’s famous “Hunter” weapon that spits out homing spheres of death to the devastating “Range” weapon whose flickering laser system lays waste to anything that it touches. To further complement your ship, you also get CRAWs which resemble glowing orbs that orbit your ship. Three of these can be collected adding to your overall firepower and helping to deflect some of the bullets that are heading your way. They also allow you to make use of an ‘Overweapon’ option, superpowering your chosen weapon in a brief but brutal barrage. The CRAWs are drained after this and can be destroyed by incoming fire, but given time they can recharge themselves.
When you die in battle, you’re immediately put back into the fight and have a chance to get the CRAWs that were released from your clutches before they float permanently off the screen. And instead of losing all of your weapons, you only lose the one you were using at the time. You never lose your defaults, although losing one of the other weapons can definitely make things a lot more difficult especially in later stages when the enemy is a lot more stingy in what it leaves behind for you to pick up.
The game’s difficulty provides a pretty good challenge even at normal settings. Veterans can increase the difficulty and even tweak some of the other settings such as how many ships you can start the game out with, how many continues you are allowed, and what speed you’d like to enter the game at. As you progress from stage to stage, bonuses such as art and boss background information become available. Not everything is unlocked when you finish the game, either, adding to the replayability value of the title for those that want to challenge themselves in opening up all of the bonus material.
Each stage of the title offers its own set of challenges ranging from jungle inspired dangers such as deadly spores and beast-like machines to high tech threats in the form of flying force field projectors and laser satellites that come in from the background. Other weapons include transforming planes, rockets coming in from the foreground, or cybernetic worms that spiral their way across the screen. There are also titanic machines that fill nearly half the screen threatening to destroy the player with a variety of means ranging from massive beam guns to streams of rockets. The variety of enemies that confront the player in the game and the directions that they come at the them throughout each of the stages ensures that slacking off at the stick is the surest way to find your ship blown to pieces. While not insanely hard especially once you get used to anticipating some of the enemy attacks, the varied challenges still work to keep you on your toes and keep the game fun making getting to the ending all the more satisfying. And finishing off the game rewards the player with a welcome ending instead of just a few choice words of congratulations.
To Stop the Guardian
“Thunder Force V: Perfect System” is still a great shooter especially for the price it is now found at in bargain bins. The presentation and the action found here is worth a look by shooter enthusiasts while fans of the Thunder Force series will definitely find a lot to like in what may be the last title of the series. Although there were rumors of a sixth Thunder Force when the Dreamcast had come out, nothing more had been heard of what may have become of it. An mpeg that was found floating around and a released track created for the title by Noise who were also responsible for the tracks in TF5 are all that remain from that particular rumor that I was able to dig up.
Although it might not be the latest and the greatest shooter available on any system, it stands as a piece of shooter history that shouldn’t be overlooked. It might not be ‘Perfect’, but it’s still a lot of fun.
– World 1-1