Taito’s Darius shooters are among the forerunners of the shoot-em-up genre, with the original title being released to Japanese arcades in 1987. Subsequently, the series has seen multiple sequels and spin-offs, with DariusBurst, which was originally released on PSP in 2009, being the most recent. DariusBurst was then released to Arcades early 2010 as DariusBurst: Another Chronicle, and this release reprised the dual widescreen presentation at 32:9. These large screened cabinets (which come with vibrating seats, mind you) were designed for 4-player co-operative action.
DariusBurst: Chronicle Saviours is essentially a re-packaging of BOTH of these releases, with the Arcade emulated in its entirety as “AC Mode”, and the PSP’s Chronicles mode repackaged as “CS Mode”. Again, the game can be played solo, or with up to 3 companions, both local and online.
AC Mode represents what could be considered an Arcade-perfect conversion – selecting the mode essentially boots into the arcade, with planet of new splash screens and menu options. On top of this (and perhaps most importantly), it also retains the 32:9 aspect ratio, which may not appeal to those with small screens to play on (and keep in mind this was also released on PlayStation Vita). while this ratio only tends to use a third of your given screen real estate, it results in high clarity, and for a title with such grand, cinematic environments and bosses as those which feature in DariusBurst, it would be remiss to make a change in this regard. Still, it takes some getting used to.
AC Mode lets players choose between original and EX (a.k.a., expert) level layouts, with several different paths that players can choose to take; 24 levels to choose from in total. The whole game takes around 20-30 minutes to play through, and, of course, provides unlimited credits in order to achieve the desired goal. Of course, this doesn’t sound like much, but the appeal of Arcade Shooters is not in the time it takes to play through, but in the time it takes to get good enough to play through on a single credit, not to mention the fact that there are multiple routes to the final boss, in addition to more difficult variants of each level.
CS Mode is where much of the meat of the game resides. Essentially a story mode that takes players through a campaign, CS Mode has 200 set levels, each of which contain individual stages and bosses and apply certain modifiers to change things up. While things start out relatively easy, the difficulty scales quickly, and it becomes evident that the best way to play through CS Mode is with a friend. Playing through the levels rewards players with points that can be used to purchase up to 9 ship variants, each with their own look, feel, and artillery; there’s quite a lot of content on hand. In fact, the original Arcade’s Chronicle system is still intact (not to be confused with CS Mode), with players able to work together to unlock up to 3000 stage variations (once one player unlocks a level, it is made available for all), each with their own applicable ruleset, such as “Two Players Only” or “Fixed Equipment”.
Visually, CS Mode does not employ the same 32:9 aspect ratio as AC Mode, with the action instead filling the screen. This results in images that are somewhat blocky and lacking in the intense detail that seems present in AC Mode. That said, it’s likely that the assets used for CS Mode came from the PSP original, while the assets for AC mode were from the Arcade itself, which may explain the difference in graphical fidelity.
All of this said, the modes play the same, for the most part (depending on the ship variant used and whether or not any modifiers are employed); it’s a side-scrolling sci-fi shooter, with boss types based on Oceanic Creatures. While not necessarily a bullet hell shooter, action can be quite frantic, and players may find themselves in a sticky situation very quickly if they aren’t vigilant.
Weapon upgrades come in three flavours – red (missile), green (laser), and blue (wave), and because these can have differing effects depending on the mode and ship variant, it pays to play around for a little while to discover your preference. It always sucks to collect too many of one powerup only to find that you’ve just switched your firing mode into something you’re not used to – and the boss is just about to show up. There is depth, however, as different firing modes can cancel out similar enemy projectiles (that is, missile attacks can destroy other missiles, and so on), so it’s best not to get too comfortable with any one firing mode.
Where DariusBurst differs from its predecessors is in its use of the Burst System, which allows players to fire a large beam for massive damage. The beauty of this system is that it can be used to fire in different directions, and is recharged by destroying enemies. This means that the attack could be aggressive (i.e., fired directly at a boss’ weak point) or strategic (i.e., used as a shield, as the beam destroys most enemy projectiles). In the heat of the moment, I found this quite difficult to pull off, but with practice, I can see how it would be an enjoyable tactic. On top of this (and something I learned far too late in my playthrough), players can use the Burst system to “duel” bosses – essentially, when a boss charges their Burst laser, players can fire off theirs as well.
In addition, the developers have gone even further in including something called Darius Odyssey, which is a detailed history of the Darius series, featuring lots of artwork. The biggest issue here (and this issue also affects the AC Mode’s basic instructions screen) is that everything is in Japanese. It would have been nice to have read into some of the background, but given it looks as if the Darius Odyssey is a copy of a physical book, this may have been counter-effective financially.
While there is a lot of content in DariusBurst: Chronicle Saviours, it is important to note that it’s not a simple shoot-em-up. While you could play this while somewhat distracted, you won’t get very far. As a result, it’s really only the super dedicated that are going to get a lot out of this new title. That said, it is highly enjoyable to play. From my perspective, it plays a little sluggishly, but this is a personal preference, as I tend to enjoy shooters that move quickly. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and for fans of the genre, it couldn’t come more highly recommended, but realistically it’s not very friendly to the casual or less dedicated amongst us, given the overwhelming options on hand and the lack of clarity around it all within the game itself – much of which is hidden within the complex menu system… Definitely check it out if you are a diehard fan.