The name Final Soldier makes me think that this is going to be a Contra-style run and gun, but the spaceship on the title screen says 'shoot 'em up'. One thing I'm pretty sure about though (if series like Final Fantasy, Final Fight, Final Zone, Final Lap etc. are anything to go by), is that this wasn't the final game in the franchise by a wide margin.
In fact this is the third game in Hudson Soft's long running and popular Star Soldier series, which lasted from the NES all the way until the Wii. Popular enough in fact to be featured in their "Hudson All-Japan Caravan Festival" tournament, which toured the country each year letting players compete to see who could get the most points in a set time limit on specially modified versions of the games.
Personally though I've never had much interest in getting high scores (or playing shoot 'em ups for that matter), so forgive me if I drift off after five screenshots or so and start rambling about something else without realising it.
VGJunk tumblr for instance [random free advertising]); it'll be entirely made up of looping animated launch scenes from classic shoot 'em ups.
Either that or floppy disks from Amiga loading screens.
STAGE 1: FUTURE ZONE.
It's all very fast and slick and playable, it's just hard to capture in a still image.
Collecting one 'V' mounted diagonally firing bullets on the front of my space fighter and collecting a second 'V' added some onto the rear as well. I can't wait to find out what the 'L' gives me!
I also found a 'M' for homing missiles, plus I grabbed a few helpful option pods along the way as well, so they're following me around and joining in now too.
Oh right, I totally forgot to mention that I've reached a mid-boss! He fired green lasers at me and then my bullets made him explode. So I carried on automatically scrolling up the level.
Hang on... didn't I have a whole lot more firepower a second ago? Oh I see what it's doing here, my weapon upgrades are pulling double duty as hit points! I don't lose all my power ups when I die, I lose all my power ups and THEN I die. It's an unusual way of operating, but I'm not complaining about having hit points for a change.
STAGE 2: DESERT ZONE.
Actually he really isn't all that challenging to fight as long as I don't get cocky and swoop in too close to the flames. I'm going to stay well out of his way and try to make some of my bullets connect when I can.
Damn, I just noticed the happy face on the front of it. I'm going to see that every time I look at the thing from now on.
In case you're not familiar with any of my other shoot 'em up articles, I should probably point out that I am not a good shoot 'em up player. In fact it wouldn't be unreasonable to say that I am rubbish at them, so the fact that I'm making it through these stages and boss fights with no deaths on my first try is kind of unusual.
STAGE 3: OCEAN ZONE.
The ol' TurboGrafx may have not have been the graphical powerhouse of the 16-bit console era, (in fact it's arguably not even 16-bit), but it shines when it comes to shoot 'em ups and I think it's doing alright here. The game definitely moves fast enough, even while throwing around all these... enemy sprites. There really are lot of enemies in this game, trust me, they're just a bit camera shy (and fragile). It gets so busy in fact with all the bullets around that I can barely see what I'm doing a lot of the time.
The good news though is that I just reappeared again exactly where I was destroyed, so I have a second chance to kick his ass.
Also he's brought a friend along, so I suppose that counts as bad news as well.
Everything sure goes to shit fast in this game if you ever lose your maxed out firepower.
Its routine involves launching those two pods either side of it, which then shoot out darts to try to catch me in a crossfire. Once I figured that out though, I just made sure to blow up the pods first before concentrating on the ship itself. You know I say a lot of shit about boss fights, but they actually seems pretty reasonable in this. They have their patterns to figure out, but they're not cheap.
Well okay it's dodgeable if you know it's coming, which I didn't. There's a little warning light on top of the ship to let the player know when it's charging up its laser, but there's no way to know what that means except through harsh experience. I bet that if I had just one life left though I could've probably used this information to defeat it. Oh well.
Hang on, why is there a set-up option here? There wasn't a set-up option on the title screen. What could that do?
I can also change the difficulty level, which seems like the kind of thing to put at the start of the game as well, but whatever. I like how it goes from 'Hard' to 'Expert', with 'Normal' in the middle, as it literally means that I've been playing on one step down from 'Expert' mode this entire time. Sure they're almost certainly just in a weird order, but there's always that slim chance that they're not!
Choosing to continue put me right back at the very start of the stage I was on, so now I've got to get past that asshole enemy again with only two lives instead of six.
SIX MINUTES LATER, ON STAGE 4: URBAN ZONE.
I have to be honest, I wasn't enjoying this a great deal when it was effortless and I'm not any less bored now that it's putting up some resistance. But like I said, its not really my genre, so I guess you'd expect that. It certainly seems to be a step or three above Apidya, which brought me nothing but misery a couple of months ago.
Also this stage's music is so catchy: youtube link. Actually that's a link to halfway through a video of the entire soundtrack, so you can just leave it running afterwards. I know I will. In my head. All next week.
... which I then lost at the end to this Cylon bird's razor sharp steel feathers. It wasn't my fault, they kind of drift erratically in the breeze. Avoiding erratic things is actually kind of difficult! I did make it through in the end though, with just a single life remaining.
STAGE 5: OUTER ZONE.
On the plus side, I wasted so many continues getting back up to here time after time that I'm reasonably certain now that I have infinite of them. So at least I learned something here.
But seriously, this game doesn't have a difficulty brick wall, it has a difficulty ramp pointed right towards a pit of spikes. Spikes guarded by... sharks, somehow. I dunno, maybe there's a foot or two of water down in the pit as well for them to swim around in. Only instead of water it's actually some kind of corrosive acid. I guess in this analogy the sharks are acid resistant, I dunno.
What I'm getting at here is that I flew through the first four stages so fast that I wasn't prepared in the slightest for what I was speeding into. The worst thing is, these guys are just the stage five mid-boss!
22 MINUTES LATER.
So I actually did manage to make it past the robot space station things in the end! Then I survived for 14 seconds afterwards before losing my final life.
So there you go, there's an accurate measurement of my shoot 'em up skill level. You can compare this number to your own score to judge my worth as a person who talks about video games.
I also found the set-up screen hiding there as well, so it turns out that it is possible to change the difficulty without dying first.
Okay here are some thoughts I have about Final Soldier:
The game seems like a very polished, fast, well designed and mostly fair shoot 'em up with great music and appealing visuals. I say mostly fair, because it does pull a few bullshit moves occasionally, like enemies racing in from the bottom of the screen and attacks that will likely catch a player out first time around. But you respawn immediately where you died and you get infinite chances to replay a stage, so it's not a huge annoyance.
There are two issues I had with it though during the hour or so I played. Well okay three issues, but don't pay too much attention to the last one.
- It's too easy. Not a huge concern for me, but more talented players might be frustrated about playing through four whole stages with nothing much there to challenge them except beating their last score. Of course raising the difficulty might help with that, but that leads to problem #2.
- It's too hard. Turning it up to Expert mode becomes less enticing when you know that there's a difficulty spike pit waiting for you on stage five. Plus even the easier stages can suddenly become a struggle if you screw up and lose your firepower, as it also doubles as your hit points. Those lives you've been accumulating can disappear in seconds when you die in one hit and can't protect yourself from enemies fast enough any more.
- I, a person who is often bored by shoot 'em ups, found the game boring. It does the shoot 'em up thing pretty well, but I feel like I've done all this before in a hundred other games. It didn't really do anything special to make it stand out to me.
If you have anything you'd like to say about Final Soldier, game franchises with 'Final' in the title that refuse to ever end, my article, how my crappy excuse for a rating system has failed yet again, or anything else approaching relevance then leave me a comment!