It’s difficult to leap in to this review without making it first obvious that I am a massive, near-on obsessive fan of the Darius series of video games. From posters to Laserdiscs, to tote bags to model kits, to soundtracks to VHS tapes to the games themselves. You name it, if it’s Darius-related, I’ve either owned it or it’s currently in my collection. So when Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours was announced for the PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, you could say I was mildly excited upon reading said news.
The Darius games have always had a reputation for being a bit ‘out there’, a bit, y’know, ‘that little bit more’ than anything else around. In 1986 upon release of the first game in the series, fans flocked to the arcades in droves just to lay claim to have witnessed the new three-screen-beast cabinet from Taito. Fans would soon be treated to more ultra-widescreen antics with Darius II et al right up until the mid-point of the last decade with the release of Darius Burst. The same principles applied. Big screen, big soundtrack, big bosses, big entertainment. The Darius series appears to have evolved from an unusual, ultra-wide shooting game that took the game centres of 1980’s Japan by storm, to, well, an experience. The most recent incarnation to hit the arcade was Darius Burst Another Chronicle EX (or, DBACEX) in 2011. It is this version of the game that has been brought to the PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, along with a whole new Chronicle Saviours (CS) mode. The Vita Limited Edition is the version that will be looked at here.
Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours has so far seen a physical release for the PlayStation Vita platform in Japan only. Two flavours are available. The Standard Edition, which comprises the game card in a standard PlayStation Vita game case, and the Limited Edition, which comprises the game in a standard case, a 90% colour 10% black and white Darius Odyssey book (tagged CS Ver. on the cover) and a special Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours Arrange Album CD. The arrange album is only available with the Vita Limited Edition and contains some wonderful remixes from Space Harrier, Rayforce, Night Striker, Fantasy Zone, Metal Black and Galaxy Force II. This leaves me somewhat unsure as to where the Darius element fits in to all of this (Metal Black aside), but nonetheless this is a wonderful pack-in to the Limited Edition and also a bit of an exclusive seeing as it’s unavailable anywhere else. If you want the actual VGM OST, you can get it from your favourite importer, or better still, from Amazon Music for a mere £7.99. The Darius games are renowned for their out-there, eccentric, pulsating technorchestral (did I just make up a word?!) soundtracks, and Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours doesn’t change the winning Zuntata formula. From the wonderfully off-key Freedom, to the mesmerising Shining Eyes, this really is a video game soundtrack that will appeal not just to gamers, but to anyone that loves music.
The Darius Odyssey book is on its third printing with the latest CS Ver. print packed in with the Vita Limited Edition (and also available digitally on Steam so long as you already own the Steam PC version of the game). This edition of the book adds an extra 16 pages of content to cover the latest game in the series, Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours. The book was previously available with a white cover and packed in with a Darius Odyssey soundtrack in December 2009. A second edition followed (minus the soundtrack CD) with a black and gold cover in November 2013. Store-specific pack-ins were available, including a Darius WARNING!! graphic novel and clear stationary folders featuring wonderful colour boss art on them. This edition of the book is still in print and also available digitally in Japan. The wonderful blackoak at Shmuplations has translated some material from the Darius Odyssey book in to English too.
So what of the game itself? What does Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours bring home from the arcade, and is it worth your hard-earned cash?
Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours comes in two portions. AC Mode, which is the full-fat, full flavour arcade experience. Secondly there is CS Mode. CS Mode differs in that rather than putting stages in to zones, a la the arcade game, stages are compiled in to individual missions. To put a twist on this, some missions may feature solely boss rushes and nothing else. Others may comprise one stage or one boss. Missions can become quite complex, mixing in time attacks, boss rushes and full stages. This can be across one or several segments that all come together to form one single mission. As you clear each mission a new portion of the CS Mode world map is revealed. So far I’m several hours in (at last count maybe 40 or so missions cleared) and have only revealed about one third of the CS Mode world map. That is to say in CS Mode alone, there is tens if not hundreds of hours of game play stuffed to the gills of a little PlayStation Vita cartridge. If that wasn’t enough for you, CS Mode has another gorgeous trick up its sleeve, the ability to buy and upgrade all of the Silver Hawk player ships that have featured in every Darius game. From origin to burst, gaiden to assault and more. Ships can be purchased by collecting ‘Get Points’ from clearing missions. Collect enough points and you’ll unlock one ship. Collect them all to earn a trophy. It’s not as simple as it sounds though and you will inevitably need to grind for a good while to amass enough points to unlock them all! Once unlocked, ships can also be upgraded, giving you options for a powerful ship to clear tougher missions. However upgrades come at the cost of points and are only good per mission. Spent all your points upgrading your ship and you fail a mission? You’ll need to collect more points in order to upgrade to that level again. This adds an additional layer of grinding to CS Mode, which can teeter on tiresome. On reflection I think it was a wise move from the developers and stops the game from becoming far too easy. You don’t have to choose a custom ship though. Presets are available for each level, and will certainly become the ship of choice as you go on the hunt for more points to bank.
One of those rare occasions where you’ll likely benefit from a PlayStation TV
AC Mode brings the arcade experience to your handheld, in all its super dooper ultra-wide glory. This is where Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours veers toward Marmite territory. In my own humble opinion, the decision to keep the full aspect ratio was a wise one. Crop it down or start adding zoom features a la Darius II on the Sega Saturn and you’ll end up with a game that resembles more Darius R and an utter fiddle to play. I think the AR just about works. Sometimes the screen can seem a little small and bullets, enemies or stage artefacts can easily be missed. I think the Vita has a screen that just pushes it over the line in terms of being playable. This is one of those rare occasions where you will likely benefit from a PlayStation TV. It is certainly an option I am considering in the future. AC Mode brings in both the original and AC EX modes as well as a truly enormous planet mode. Upon selecting the planet mode, you are presented with a gigantic map of the Darius solar system. Select a solar system and within it are more planets. Select a planet and you are presented with masses of individual levels. This is all rather similar in style to CS Mode. It is truly massive in scale and just adds even more value to an already packed game.
Mechanically the game follows the premise of a traditional shoot ’em up but with a few extra twists. This varies from ship to ship. Some will require the perfection of the burst cannon, an enormous laser beam that in some modes can counter an enemy laser and also reward with massive scoring. Others require looking at bombs, shields, building up your ship stats through a stage and so on. On top of this there are rewards for completing stages with no damage and also for not losing any ships. You also have much-loved score multipliers, silver orb score bonuses and so on.
Even in a super squished down letterbox form, Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours AC Mode impresses visually. Taking visual cues from the excellent PSP port of Darius Burst, Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours takes the visuals to the next level with some wonderful stage details and truly massive stage bosses. However it is under the hood where the project as a whole shines for me. The arcade experience is known for assaulting the player with huge waves of enemies, all on the screen at the same time. It is a testament to the development team as to how they could quite literally fill a Vita display with squillions of fast-moving enemies and achieve it with little to no slow down. I will take this moment to note though that the game, at least in my experience, did not appear to be free of glitches. So far I have experienced error messages appearing at random intervals followed by the game crashing out entirely. One other issue I noticed was in CS Mode where upon you may clear a mission and are returned to the world map. At this point the Vita console does not freeze, but the game becomes unresponsive. The only option is to reboot the console. Thankfully the game appears to save your cleared mission status. These are a few niggles I have with the game but could very likely be sorted out with an update patch.
Sonically Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours is truly wonderful. As aforementioned, these games are synonymous with the beautiful work of Zuntata and here the game excels yet again. Not only are we treated to a beautiful original soundtrack, but tracks and sound effects from every single Darius game past and present feature throughout. Even to the point where some stages use the original insert coin sfx. Something that brought a smile to this old man’s face!
I’ve given this a lot of thought and was originally unsure I wanted to say it, but I will. I think Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours is the definitive Darius game. Of course every other title in this long-running series holds special candles to different individual’s hearts, but the sheer size of this game, the attention to detail, the little nods, cameos, references. It all feels like one giant ‘letter’ to a game series we may never see the likes of again in this day and age of demand for only AAA blockbuster titles. In some respects Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours almost feels like a love letter. To the series, to the fans, to the immense history and nostalgia of a title that has spanned well over three decades and is still loved and revered by many to this very day. It doesn’t matter what platform or what price you pick this game up for, even the most casual of gamer will get a lot out of it. But to the diehard fans, the real shooting game fanatics, this is Taito’s love letter. To you. And hopefully not a swansong. Make the most of it while you still can and buy this wonderful game.