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Review #186

Castle Shikigami 3
Publisher: Aksys
Developer: Alfa System
Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Release Date: 05/13/2008

The first two entries into the Castle Shikigami series failed to impress me. The first one was butchered when it was brought over as Mobile Light Force 2 and had the heart and soul of the game ripped out. Awful example of localization right there if you ever find it.

Castle Shikigami 2 was an underwhelming and also under-produced shooter on the PS2. It’s wasn’t a BAD game. It was just a boring shooter that tried way to hard to be the Guilty Gear of bullet hell games.

So you may be wondering why I picked up the third one for review. Well, there are several reasons…

1) I buy every shooter that hits US shores just to support this genre. It’s not my favorite, but it’s in my top three and we get so few of them stateside these days that every purchase counts.

2) It looked a hell of a lot better than the first two games

3) I don’t have enough shooters for my Wii (even if my Virtual Console is filled to the brim with them…)

Aksys offered to send me a beta copy for the Wii, but alas it never got to us. (Hint hint Aksys as I know you’re going to read this) Being the devoted connoisseur of the bullet hell genre that I am, I sally forthed to the nearest purveyor of electronic entertainment and brought it home post haste to devour until I found the game worthy of being the first Wii shooter to stay in my collection, or if this would go in the slag pile along with the reprehensible Star Soldier R

So how was it?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Earlier I commented that CSII was the Guilty Gear of shooters. With that in mind CSIII is without a doubt the Southland Tales of the genre. After having beaten the game with two different characters I have to say that I have no bloody idea what the plot is about save for people flying through the skies and blowing the ever loving hell out of everything. (Although the odd thing is, I figured out the plot of Southland Tales 30 minutes into the film and convinced myself halfway through that there’s no way they’d go that way with the plot. Oops)

But just because the game is confusing, abstract and vague with the story, doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, it’s quite good. if you like surreal literature of European existentialism, you’ll probably have fun with this.

There are ten playable characters , each with their own unique story about why they are on this mission and what their end goal is. Each character is fully voiced acted and quite odd to say the least. The characters range from boring generic main protagonist Kohtaro to middle aged Fox Mulder-esque Gennojo to Sasami ripoff Nagino (right down to an ultra powerful rabbit sidekick). The story generally does make much sense regardless of the character you play as, but the dialog is often amusing and sometimes can make you laugh out loud, such as the first end boss shrieking “YOU SUCK” when you kill her.

Even better is the Dramatic Shift Mode, which lets you play as two characters as once. Each combination of characters gives you a completely new and unique story (My favorite was Undead Sasami clone teamed with time traveling cop who secretly wants to be a female Moriarty, Reika).

So, even though the game might not make much sense as to where your characters are (Alcaland) and why they are going through five stages of genocide (Find some…missing people?), it never fails to be an amusing and enjoyable ride.

A extra point of positivity for the sheer amount of stories you can make with this game. it’s like one of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

The visuals for CS3 are definitely last generation. Even then I can think of more visually stunning shooter from that last generation of consoles, like Gradius V

The level designs are fairly straight forward as it’s just a vertical shooter with little to no navigation. This changes with stage 3 however, as that level is both bullet hell and specific maneuvering challenges at the same time, which is generally considered a huge faux pas to do with this genre.

Enemies are pretty generic looking as they’re flying alien space ship type creatures or winged thingies. I wish I could be more descriptive, but the games visuals don’t really allow for that.

Where the game does look quite nice are with the character portraits. Each character has multiple portraits expressing a range of emotions. As well, both the mid boss and end boss designs are interesting and quite fun to look at, even if you are dodging a hundred or so bullet from them every second

This isn’t what I’d call a high quality visual game, even compared to other Wii titles, but the graphic are passable.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

This is easily the strongest area of Castle Shikigami 3. The game has some pretty well known voice actors and actresses…if you’re an anime fan. For example, the first boss is voiced by the same actress who plays Mihoshi in the Tenchi Muyo! series. I recognized for that a few voice actors in the game, but unfortunately, Aksys didn’t include a list of who played who in the manual and I don’t want to go by off who they SOUND like in case of being erroneous.

Still, this is easily the best voice acting cast ever assembled for a shooter. Take that for what you will.

Sound effects in the game are quite well done. You’ll be able to tell how you are doing just by the sound, which is rather impressive There are different effects for each type of enemy fire, depending on if it hits you or not. Same with all of your attacks. Every attack stands out from each other, which is again VERY impressive for a shooter.

The music score for the game is quite nice. Astute players will notice that the name of the song is given in the lower right part of the screen when the track changes. I suppose this would be helpful if they released a CS3 soundtrack, but we all know that won’t happen. You can by the import version for a hair over $46 on Amazon.com though. Yay?

Finally, there are two very different scores to choose from. You can listen to the original Japanese tracks or a set of remixed music. Both are excellent and a lot of fun.

It’s been an amazing year for the audio aspects of gaming, and Castle Shikigami 3 is right up there.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control and Gameplay

This is actually a complicated little shooter with some neat new innovations. Like all shooters you dodge enemy fire and blow the crap out of whatever gets in your way. The type of your main firepower differs by which character you use. Some are awesome. Some are ass. When you choose your character you can pick from one of two shikigami attacks. This will be an alternate to your main attack. Again some suck, while some are better than your main weapon. Generally a character will have an amazing Shikigami but a crap main weapon, but Reika has both. Newbies, use her first.

There’s also a bomb attack, but you only have a limited supply of these. Each bomb differs in power and type depending on character. Again, go with Reika if you are new because her bomb is a time stop that freezes everything but her on the screen allowing you to fire away at will and also maneuver out of the path of now frozen gunfire.

When you kill enemies, you’ll be collecting coins that fall from them. Coins merely raise your high score, but that high score then can raise your life and replenish your bombs.

The big thing (for people new to the series) is what the game calls its “Tension Bonus System.” A lot of gamers like to stay towards the bottom of the screen in shooters, as it affords you more room to dodge bullets. CS3 however rewards you for getting close and being somewhat suicidal. Basically the closer you are to an opponent, the more damage you inflict, with the max being 8 times normal damage. You can also raise the rate by collecting coins that fall from a shikigami based attack. When you have the TBS ratio maxed out at 8X, your attack damage goes into overdrive, and your rapid fire attack speeds up even more. Nice!

The other option you have in CS3 that might stand out to shooter fans is the High Tension Max system. Here you can trigger HTM with the press of a button in exchange for one of your special attacks. HTM can give you anything from temporary invincibility (Yay!) to extra coins (Boo!). My personal favorite is that you can have the Tension Bonus System maxed out to x8 for a limited time REGARDLESS of how far away you are. This is super helpful, especially to new gamers. However, depending on who you are playing as, you might want to save that special attack.

The controls on CS3 are superb, but I strongly recommend using the classic controller, as the Wiimote or the Numchuk configurations are a but awkward. Remember to always use the D pad over the analog stick for a Shoot ‘Em Up, as the level of control is drastically in your favour this way.

There’s no noticeable slowdown, which is a make or break for shooters, so that’s another plus in the game’s favour.

All in all the game plays better than either of its predecessors and makes for a great little Wii shooter.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Now only do you have ten characters to choose from, but you can unlock gallery snapshots and replay any story pieces that you have already cleared. Not bad! With the aforementioned Dramatic Shift mode you can mix and match character and easily get more replay out of this game that you would most shooters.

The game also picks up with the Ikaruga style of limited continues. You start off with only a few continues, but you earn an extra one for each hour you play. Once you have played CS3 for ten hours, you unlock unlimited continues, which is a nice reward for the less skilled. Most shooter enthusiasts will have beaten the game long before then though. Beating the game also unlocks extra options for you to monkey around with.

There’s also many different ways to play Castle Shikigami 3. There’s normal 1P mode, alt 1P mode where you use the 2P colour scheme, Dramatic Shift mode which we have already covered, practice mode where you can try a stage over and over again to get a feel for it. Finally there is Boss mode, where you fight all of the game’s bosses in a row. Ouch.

Even then it doesn’t end as there are different difficulty settings and you can also set the game to play like it did with the original Japanese arcade version of the game, or with the director’s cut home version where supposedly multiple changes have been made. That alone is worth taking a look at to see what’s different between the two modes (I didn’t notice much, if anything).

There is an amazing amount of replay value in this title, especially for its $29.99 price tag. If you’re a shooter fan, you can spend an exorbitant amount of time with this game without being bored. Even if you aren’t, the options alone just might make you a convert.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

Here we have the biggest flaw in the game. There is no such thing as balance. Some playable characters are practically worthless due to the speed and spread of their shot, while others are insanely powerful.

There’s no balance with the levels either. Even if you are playing on Very Easy for your difficulty setting, the game is quite hard for gamers that aren’t avid shooter fans. Factor in the fact that you can pump up the difficulty by changing the speed of your enemies fire (You can only make it FASTER) and you can add in enemies getting one last return volley off at you when you kill them, and the game will make casual games forsake the Ninja Gaiden remake as the hardest game they have ever played.

Level design gets bizarre quickly. Stage’s 1, 2, 4, and 5 are all pretty simple and easy to deal with. Stage three involves a lot of dodging puzzles and immovable objects that kill you if you touch them. Of course, one hit kills are not something unusual for a shooter, but stage 3 is pretty much the old Atari classic River Raid and it’s sure to vex even long time shooter fans because of the complete change in mindset you have to have for this level. Thankfully River Raid is one of my favorite shooters so I was able to adapt quickly.

It’s nice that you can monkey around with the difficulty, but remember that very easy on CS3 is HARD compared to most other games and it gets only meaner and crueler from that starting point. This means a lot of people will be frustrated with the difficulty.

I should also point out that the game itself admits it’s unbalanced and purposely so. Play as the main character and watch the first end boss’ comments about the balance of the game for a cute poke at itself.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

The game is a much improved version of Castle Shikigami II, but there’s very little new material save for the story, stage 3’s level design and High Tension Max. Other than that, you have your basic run of the mill vertical bullet hell shooter that pales in comparison to say oh, Ikaruga.

It’s fun, don’t get me wrong there, but it’s pretty devoid of any innovation or originality. I did have a lot of fun with Dramatic Shift mode, more so than the normal game.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

One of the things that really helps to make gamers come back to this game is the ability to earn an extra continue for each hour played. Sure some gamers will pout and quit early on because it’s so bloody hard, but the ability to earn unlimited continues is a nice reward for those who aren’t the most skilled, but have the determination to see things through.

There’s also a score board for those of you who are into that sort of thing. It gives stats for each character on each difficulty level AND each pair of characters per difficulty level in Dramatic Shift mode. Not bad.

What kept me playing was trying out all the different characters’ stories, even in spite of some characters being utterly broken. If this CS3 lacked any story, I’d have probably just played and beaten the game once and never touched it again. Now though I’m trying to win it with each character just so I can see who is the most screwed up of them all.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

Do you have some of the best hand to eye coordination on the planet? Are you quite good at make split millisecond button presses and D-pad movements with your controller? If so, then congratulations, for you are a Shoot ‘Em Up style of gamer.

Shooters have fallen to the side in the US for the last few console generations. It’s to the point where casual gamers erroneously call FPS games shooters. Why? Because the games require a great deal of concentration, skill, and quick wits. Even more contributing to the decline of shooters in the US is the difficulty. Since the onset of the first Playstation, games have had a sharp decline in difficulty and so what we now call a “hard” game is actually akin to an easy or average game from the 8 and 16 bit eras. As such we have a crapload of gamers that don’t want to work for their win. They want to just play and coast through their titles.

If you’re one of those whiny gamers that sits on message boards complaining that games aren’t difficult anymore, then here’s the title for you. Prove yourself and your would be disdain for easy games and add one more to the sales total for Castle Shikigami 3. Put your money where your mouth is and eventually developers will take notice and give us quality games that give you a sense of accomplishment when you beat them. (Not to be confused with games like Baroque which are easy to play, but the game gives you no direction of what to do or where to go. That’s not a hard game, that’s purposely being an asshole to your consumer base.)

Those who love shooters or a challenge, grab this game. Everyone else, look elsewhere.

Appeal Factor Rating: 4/10

10. Miscellaneous

Bonus points for bringing Reika back to modern day gaming. For those of you who are unaware for this character, Reika, the time cop, made her first appearance in a laser disc game called Time Gal. It was very similar to Dragon’s Lair in play style and eventually got ported to the Sega CD (awesome version) and later the PSX (horrible version). Fun little game, and this was a treat to long time gamers I hope gets noticed by other fans of the older title.

I was very happy with all that came with this title. Ten playable characters that can interact with each other was a great touch and $29.99 is a great price point for this sadly neglected genre.

Although it’s not the best shooter released in the US in 2008 (I’d have to go with the HD remake of Ikaruga or the “Thank you Jesus for being real and heeding my prayer even though I played a boat load of money for the super underprinted Dreamcast version of the game last year” release of Trigger Heart Exella, both of which can be purchased from Xbox Live.

If you don’t own a 360 though, this is probably your odds on favorite for the system right now. It’s also far superior to the first two titles from the Shikigami franchise, so Shoot ‘Em Up fans should be running out and buying this game while they can still find it.

Thanks for bringing it over Aksys and changing my mind on the series!

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores
Story: 7
Graphics: 5
Sound: 10
Control and Gameplay:8
Replayability: 10
Balance: 3
Originality: 3
Addictiveness: 6
Appeal Factor: 4
Miscellaneous: 7
Total Score: 63
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME)

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