Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours
Developer: Pyramid, Chara-Ani
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Vita
Release Date: December 8th 2015
Links: Official Website
Reviewed by Oliver Jameson (@MinusWorld)
Almost 30 years have passed since Taito‘s Darius series first made its way into arcades across Japan, bringing with it its bizarre mix of robotic sea life, ridiculously memorable soundtracks and challenging shoot ’em up gameplay. In 2009, developers Pyramid sought to reinvigorate the ageing franchise in a world where, regrettably, shooting games of a more traditional variety were beginning to go out of fashion. Taking pride of place as a cult classic amongst fans of the genre, Dariusburst launched on PSP, giving the series a new lease of life and a new lick of paint to go with it. Whilst offering something quite unique, Dariusburst has received numerous iterations and expansions, making use of innovative arcade technology to offer immersive and compelling experiences that stay faithful to the original Darius concept but with more modern and individual execution.
Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours is undoubtedly the most comprehensive revision to Dariusburst to date. It’s absolutely jam-packed with content, featuring a wide variety of different game modes that let you play the Dariusburst series in all its forms; the arcade original release with branching stage paths, as well as its revision Another Chronicle EX are both included in the game’s ‘AC’ mode, which uses arcade-accurate scaling to accommodate for the way the original game was formatted, on a dual widescreen arcade cabinet. Whilst the PC release takes better advantage of this due to support for a dual-monitor setup, which when in action looks truly spectacular and is notably the only way to get an arcade-faithful experience in your own home beyond importing a cabinet (which for most people is likely out of the question. For those who do have this as an option, I envy you). When playing on the PS4 and Vita versions (or if playing using a PSTV), AC Mode is instead portrayed in a zoomed-out format that allows everything to fit onto your TV or handheld screen. Whilst it’s nice that this mode is still present, since it adds significantly to the game’s content and longevity, the execution feels like something of a last resort; it really shows that this game wasn’t made for home consoles and you can forget getting any use out of the on-screen HUD (although it’s debatable as to whether or not you’ll be able to draw your eyes away from the action itself), but it was likely the only option for bringing the arcade experience to home consoles without causing detriment to the experience.
AC Mode really does make use of the widescreen display to great effect; swarms of enemies bombarding you from every direction, carefully navigating asteroid fields and taking on humongous aquatic-themed battle-stations are truly breathtaking sights that no doubt would look even better across multiple screens. Having such a far-back view of the battlefield can become a little troublesome when particularly large waves of baddies are circling you, leaving you in a tough position if you struggle to keep track of your relatively small ship’s on-screen position. Luckily, the Dariusburst series’ ‘Burst’ mechanic makes it easy to clear yourself a path, giving you access to a versatile laser attack that can be fired either as a straight projectile – even clashing with bosses respective laser attacks to perform deadly counters, something that’s truly a visual spectacle to say the least – or in a more ‘satellite’ format in a fixed position, allowing you to concentrate Burst fire on one particular target whilst moving around the battlefield freely.
As mentioned, one of the great points of appeal of the arcade conversion game is the inclusion of the Another Chronicle EX revision, which features a mind-blowing 3000 different level variations as you move from system to system, some even designed specifically with multiplayer in mind. This’ll likely keep you occupied for quite some time if you plan on capturing every system; you’re certainly getting your value for money. Having this many stages does mean that some elements, such as backgrounds, bosses and enemy formations are reused, some stages serving more as ‘variations’ as opposed to brand new levels, but if you’re looking for something to pick up and play in short bursts (something the Vita version in particular benefits from) or simply wish to engage in the core shoot ’em up gameplay, it’s quite the ideal mode of choice.
Luckily, the core gameplay holds up as well as it does in previous Dariusburst titles. Your ship, despite being small, is highly versatile, and along with the mentioned Burst mechanic a wide variety of different shot types can be accessed through upgrades and the plentiful supply of power-ups scattered amongst enemy waves. A number of different craft are available to unlock, including models from past titles such as G-Darius, which retain the unique attacks and modes available in their original games (as opposed to just Burst mode), each with a more incredibly bizarre name than the last. Fans of the older titles in the series will be happy to see these inclusions and the addition of extra unlockables is certainly an appreciated feature, although inexperienced players will likely have a hard time squiring the points required to unlock them, even with generous enemy distribution.
If the prospect of AC Mode’s 3000 levels is slightly too daunting for you, you’ll most likely be interested in the main new attraction CS Mode (CS standing for the titular Chronicle Saviours). CS Mode offers a hefty package on its own, with over 1000 stages, each divided into sets of missions featuring both levels and boss battles. Certain levels have varying objectives as opposed to simple progression, such as defending allies from oncoming enemy waves, or even time attack-style levels that require you to rack up a certain number of points in a fixed time. These add nice variation when playing through the ‘campaign’ that break up the traditional shooting missions.
As you progress through the game’s sectors in CS Mode, you’ll be treated to peculiar, space opera-esque tidbits of story. Whilst it’s hardly the focus of the game and it’s unlikely many will be playing this title for its story, it’s surprisingly immersive and helps build up a strong atmosphere around each of the game’s missions. As a matter of fact, for a game which centers around shooting robotic fish in space, Chronicle Saviours is quite an atmospheric title on a number of levels, be it the unique enemy designs, impressive backgrounds spread across the game’s wide display that use great mood-invoking lighting, or the utterly fantastic soundtrack composed by Zuntata, Taito’s house band consisting of a number of developers who have worked on soundtracks for the entire Dariusburst series, which features musical pieces ranging from haunting choral displays, fast-paced, tension-building house tunes and most importantly, ‘Freedom’, the game’s catchy theme tune which has unintentionally comedic vocals but fits incredibly well with CS Mode’s opening stage and will likely grow on you.
One thing that has to be said is that regardless of the mode you choose, Chronicle Saviours is not an entry level shoot ’em up. It’s very tough, at times merciless, and the requirements for unlocking things are hardly generous if you’re out of your element playing these kind of games. AC Mode offers a gameplay variation with infinite lives which can be invaluable for those looking to practice their shooting technique (although your score won’t be recorded, understandably), but for the rest of the game, you’ll have to rely purely on skill. However, it’s safe to say that considering the niche franchise and high price point for this title, die-hard genre fans are the most likely to be interested and will likely be pre-prepared with some understanding and expertise on how to play shoot ’em ups.
Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours is a very unique game, in presentation, in concept and on a technical level. It’s clear that it was never intended for home consoles, designed with a format in mind that simply can’t adapt comfortably to use outside of its intended environment, the arcades. However, this is a shoot ’em up that really gives you your value for money. Literally thousands of stages, a nice and varied selection of modes, enjoyable co-op for up to four players, online leaderboard support, and unlockables to boot; it’s a highly complete package with almost everything you’d want from a shoot ’em up title, not to mention with praiseworthy gameplay and fantastic presentation to boot. It’s undeniably the best version of Dariusburst money can buy, and a fine modern shoot ’em up in its own right that should not be missed by fans of the genre.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. This review is based on the PlayStation 4 and Vita versions of the game.