Note: This review was made on actual Turbografx 16 hardware with no emulation. This game is imported from Japan.
It is Final Soldier! Is it an enduring classic? Will it keep you coming back for more? And most important, does it earn the ever elusive Malstrom Award, the highest award any game can obtain (for it takes DECADES for a game to even be ELIGIBLE for it)?
The Soldier shmup series started on the NES with the game Star Soldier (a very mediocre shmup in every way except the gameplay). After the breakout success of Blazing Lazers which started the shmup love-fest on the PC-Engine, Hudson made Super Star Soldier, Final Soldier, and Soldier Blade. The three games comprise what is called the Soldier Trilogy.
Above: Final Soldier has fantastic music.
On a system full of shmups, it is easy to think the Soldier Trilogy is ‘samey’, but it is not! Each game has a different power-up system, for example. There are more differences:
Super Star Soldier is the challenging one.
Final Soldier is the accessible one.
Soldier Blade is the cool one.
Final Soldier is looked down as ‘the weak link’ in the trilogy by shmup snobs because ‘the game is too easy’. Well, coming off from Super Star Soldier, a challenging shmup, of course it is. But none of these shmup snobs say that after playing the game on the two higher difficulty settings (which I doubt they are even aware).
When Final Soldier starts, you press select, and you will change what you can do. You can play the game as normal, the 2 minute mode, the 5 minute mode, do a Set Up, or a Sound Test. The 2 minute and 5 minute modes are high score trials (also found in the other two Star Soldier games). The Sound Test lets you listen to all the sound effects. But the Set Up lets you change the game’s difficulty (Normal, Hard, and Expert) and it allows you to change what type of power-ups you get.
Above: Great review of the game without the shmup snobbiness.
The power-ups you get come in different letters/colors. E (green) is for energy. You can set it up where it shoots giant green discs, small green discs, or a flurry of green discs. When you get multiple power-ups of the same type, it powers it up more and more. The F (red) is for fire. You can set it up to be a flame thrower, shoot exploding lava, and something else. The L (blue) is the laser. You can set it up for a giant ass laser beam, many small beams, or fill the screen with bubbles(!). This screen, itself, gives the game replay value. However, I think some power-ups are better than others. “The bubbles! They do nothing!” But it also gives ways to make the game more ‘interesting’ and ‘challenging’ if you are a shmup snob and think the game is too easy (but too chicken to raise the difficulty setting).
Other power-ups include option like items that follow your ships. Using the other button will destroy one that makes an explosion that fills up the screen. So you can blow them up at enemies.
Select transforms your ship (alters the speed). There are three speed settings. There are no speed power-ups, you can modify the ship to be whatever speed you want it to be and can change it on the fly.
The game plays as a classic shmup. You fly around, shoot stuff, get power-ups, and kill a big boss at the end of the stage. There is no one shot death in the game (unless you fly into a wall or a giant boss laser). Getting hit just weakens your weapons (but you will die if you have no weapons).
There is tremendous amount of value in this game. Aside from the Normal Game (and the replayability of different power-up settings) and being able to play at harder settings, you can also play the game in Arcade Mode which changes the screen resolution to be tall. There are also two additional game modes of score attacks. There is 2 minutes mode and 5 minutes mode. You basically play a special level where you go through it and get a score. You try to keep besting your score. Is it fun and addictive? Yes. This is the arcade magic that makes this game so replayable and fresh decades after it was released.
The way how I ‘review’ these games here, as compared to how every other review is, is that I judge games based on one parameter: does it keep me coming back to play it. Good games, classic games, legendary games, have me keep coming back to them. The reasons why may even escape us. There is an irrationality to it. I cannot tell you why Pac-Man is fun, but I can tell you that I keep coming back to play Pac-Man through the decades. Love, an irrational element, cannot be expressed in words.
Above: Off TV footage of non-famous youtuber. Notice his genuine enthusiasm about how good this game is
I see Final Soldier dumped all over the Internet by all these ‘shmup snobs’. Part of the reason why Final Soldier is so underrated is because the game isn’t like the other shmups. It is not as challenging as Super Star Soldier. It is not as flashy as Star Soldier. It is not as cute as Coryoon. It is not as expensive as Magical Chase. It’s nonsense. All I know, is that when I come home after work, I look forward to an enjoyable session with Final Soldier. Many times, I do not want to have my balls busted in a R-type or Salamander. Sometimes, I just want to play and shoot stuff. Shmup snobs are more in love with being a snob than they are in being in love with shmups. When confronted, they acknowledge their snobbery and admit, “Yeah, Final Soldier is an amazing game.” Great music. Great gameplay. Replayability with the power-up systems. It even has laser bubbles!
Due to how often this game keeps calling me back, and how thoroughly I enjoy it every time I play it, this game gets a Malstrom Award. It is a fantastic game, and it is still extremely fun today no matter how often I play. What a great game, Hudson.
Above: Final Soldier gets the Malstrom Award
Disclaimer: The ‘quality’ is gauged only by how often I return to the game. TG16 games are not isolated; they are compared to every other game out there. A game can be ‘bad’ and keep me coming back. A game can be ‘good’ that I never want to touch again. Irrational addictive-ness, which defies quantification, is the only element examined here.
-TG 16 Games Reviewed So Far-
Malstrom Awards: (Addictive and Awesome even today, they refuse to age. Score of 10)
Devil’s Crush (Imaginative sound and gothic theme. You’ll keep coming back to this one.)
Galaga ’90 (Purest shmup I have ever seen. This will still be played 50 years from now.)
Gradius (Four options can cause slowdown, but this arcade port remains difficult and legendary.)
Final Soldier (Good music and polish, easier difficulty, multiple powerup options. laser bubbles! Consistently fun.)
R-type (Never gets old because it can never be beaten. Fun to try here and there.)
Honorable Mentions: (Good games that are flawed or gameplay has suffered aging. Score of 6-9)
(8) World Court Tennis (Most interesting RPG on the TG 16. Seriously.)
(7) Alien Crush (Interesting, addictive, but flawed. Good to play as a break to Devil’s Crush)
(6) Bonk’s Adventure (Meh platformer oozes incredible charm)
(6) Boxy Boy (Solid puzzle game, but it gets stale fast. Contains level editor.)
Don’t bother: (Not fun to play today. Score of 5 and below.)
(5) Military Madness (Overrated, dated gameplay, repetitious, dull colorless setting of the moon)
(5) Neutopia (boring, bad game design, can’t hold a candle to Zelda, fire wand is only thing going for this game)
(4) Bomberman (dull and boring, totally surpassed by its sequels on this system)
(4) Ninja Gaiden (Compared to NES: worse sound and controls, terrible parallax scrolling. Nothing to see here.)
(3) Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition (2 button controller is terrible for 6 button game. Good luck getting a 6 button controller.)
(1) Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (The 16 bit version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.)