You may be wondering why I’m reviewing a game I’ve never mentioned in any post before, especially a First Impressions. Well, that’s because I just got it today from Gamefly & have already played through the bulk of it. That’s what happens when you put a game in your GameQ list without really reading through the description. But before these comments send you running, Akai Katana Shin isn’t a bad game. It’s just not what I expected.
The plot driving the game is that it takes place in an alternate Japan where a unique type of steel has been discovered that is used to make Guiding Swords. However, in order to unlock the full, terrifying power of these swords, the wielder must sacrifice someone close to them, soaking the sword in their blood (hence the title, which translates to Blood Sword). But as war rages on using these powerful Guides, three rebels emerge, filled with guilt over the lives lost. With the Phantoms of their lost family in tow, they take to the skies to take down the other Blood Sword Guides, & eventually the leader himself.
Akai Katana Shin is what’s known as a “bullet hell” or “manic shooter.” These are fast-paced, side-scrolling shooters where the screen is literally full of enemies & flying projectiles. They’re also known as Danmaku in Japan, meaning “curtain fire,” which is an apt description. Akai Katana Shin is a console port of an arcade game named simply Akai Katana, which was released in Japan in 2010. There are three modes: Slash, Origin (a direct port of the original arcade game) & Climax. Each mode allows for one or two players & allows you to save your replays & post scores to an online leaderboard. There are three different Guides to choose from, each with their own plane that controls slightly differently. Combat is fast & frantic, as enemies attack from all angles. Your own plane has a standard attack, auto-fire, bomb (which destroys everything on the screen but is very limited) & Phantom (summons your Phantom, which has a defensive mode to block shots & an attack mode). In order to survive & get a high score, you’ll have to learn to dodge the many shots coming at you while making the best use of both plane modes.
Story: … how do I put this delicately? You know the description of the plot I posted above? I only know that because I had to look it up on the internet after playing the game. Yeah… the game doesn’t explain anything. No matter what you mode you start in, there’s no opening cinematics or explanation of any kind. There may be something in the instruction manual that comes with the game, but since this was a rent I didn’t have access to one. The only real semblance of a story is the epilogue slideshow that briefly shows what happens to your character. It doesn’t help that the dialogue in the game is completely in Japanese, so I can’t even understand what they’re saying. It’s a shame, because the characters themselves seem pretty interesting, like the blind pilot who is the daughter of the head general. I get that in these type of games the story is usually an afterthought, but I’d at least like to know what I’m fighting for here. Score: 1
Gameplay: I am happy to say that the gameplay is much better than the story. This was my first time playing a Bullet Hell game, but I found it surprisingly easy to pick up & have fun with. That’s not to say I was any good at it at first. I died a lot. But true to its arcade roots, if you die during a stage you can continue right where you left off. This only seems to affect your score, which is purely for bragging rights rather than any practical purpose. The controls are simple, with each type of attack relegated to a single button. I highly, highly recommend watching the tutorial video to get a full understanding of the mechanics of the game. Because even though the controls are simple, there’s actually some pretty strategic moves you can pull, which I think will appeal to hardcore gamers. For example, if you attack in plane mode, you can gain Steel. Switching to Phantom mode will forge this Steel into Katanas, which can be released in a devastating super move by switching back to plane mode. My only real complaint about the gameplay is that the three modes are the exact same thing. Same six levels, same enemies, same bosses, everything. The only difference that I noticed is that you get different achievements. So overall, gameplay is fast, fun, easy to pick up but with enough depth to keep people playing, but lacking in variety. Score: 4
Visuals & Audio: The graphics in the game are very anime-esque. Bright, colorful & stylized. Thankfully, the missiles are easy to see with their bright blues & pinks. I also liked that each level has its own unique look. I particularly like the level that starts underwater. There’s also a nice variety in the enemy types, ranging from your standard helicopters to giant, cannon-firing pagodas. And although you only get a slideshow in the end, the art is still well done. I mentioned before that the dialogue is all in Japanese, so I can’t really say much other than it sounded fine. Nothing really hammy as far as I could tell. But the soundtrack to the game absolutely rocks! The hard rock soundtrack automatically gets bonus points in my book (I love rock). The scores were composed by Ryu Umemoto, who passed away last year after making a career out of composing music for these types of games. The experience shows, because the music fits the game so perfectly & keeps your adrenaline pumping throughout. Score: 5
Replayability: In general, I’d say fairly high. There are only six levels per mode & they’re not very long. The game relies heavily on learning enemy attack patterns, which requires repetition. The game seems to lend itself toward perfecting a few short levels rather than drawing things out. That being said, I personally won’t be playing the game much longer because it doesn’t hold that much appeal to me. Score: 3
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Games like Akai Katana Shin are very niche games. If you’re a fan of these types of shooters, or want a good game with an old-school feel to it, there’s a lot of like here. If you’ve never tried this type of game before, I’d recommend at least renting. It’s a lot of fun, even if for only a brief time.
Title: Akai Katana Shin
Rating: T Developer: Cave
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Release Date: May 15, 2012