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Akai Katana Review

by Diogo Miguel May 9, 2012

Cave is well known to those who have an interest in shoot ‘em ups. This has recently changed with the likes of Rising Star Games, publishing Cave video-games in the Western world. Akai Katana is the latest effort in this partnership, but will it prove as successful as the last two?

Akai Katana is a completely different experience from the other two Cave titles, released in Europe. The story for one is set in an alternate version of feral Japan. Certain individuals have access to magic powers, but it’s at the expense of sacrificing blood relatives.

The empire abuses these powers to rule with an iron fist, so it’s up to a group of freedom fighters, to free the oppressed population. It might seem like a lot but story is only mentioned at the end.

This is a pure shoot ‘em up experience and the story is used mainly to provide a setting. Fans of the genre will probably not pay much attention, but newcomers will enjoy the story. Cave shoot’ em ups tend to have a tragic story and Akai Katana continues this tradition.

There are three different modes consisting of Origin, Slash and Climax. Each one is played in a different manner and will appeal to a different type of player. Origin mode is a conversion of the arcade version. This means that it’s constricted to a native resolution of 4:3. It’s fairly easy to see what is going on screen, but it will obviously look blurry, if the player chooses to increase the play screen area.

This is the simplest of the modes and the one that is accessible to anyone. Players new to the genre should try to watch the extensive tutorials, since it will make it possible to see how the scoring system for each mode works. Akai Katana makes it possible to control two characters at the same time. It’s an idea that hasn’t been seen in any of the Cave titles published by Rising Star Games. The roles of these characters will change depending on the mode being played.

In Origin mode, it’s best to only use the secondary character(Phantom) when it’s really necessary. It’s tricky to use each character efficiently at first, since there are lots of enemy bullets to dodge at the same time. However, getting the hang of controlling both characters, will make it possible to literally transform hundreds of bullets into score points.

Using bombs is a good strategy to avoid being shot down, but it will come at a cost. There is a limited amount of bombs, so it’s best to use them wisely. Another way to avoid dying is to let the secondary character get hit. Secondary characters have a green bar(Energy Gauge) that will decrease, when the character is being used. This green bar will also decrease whenever the character is hit.

Destroying enemies will ensure that this bar is slowly filled up again. An excellent idea that will make it easier for players to get to the end, without resorting to continues. But skilled players will try to make the most of the tools available, to rack up impressive high scores. Slash mode will appeal to these players. It’s the best mode in Akai Katana, and the one that will keep players hooked. Slash mode makes it possible to quickly build up the hit counter, by making use of the light shot. Heavy shot(attack mode) will destroy enemies quickly but it’s not enough to only make use of it.

Switching between both characters at the right time will unleash a devastating swarm of katana swords. Basically, the main character uses light shot(defence mode) to obtain steel items. These are then used by the secondary character to create katana swords. They are thrown, and will transform enemies and enemy bullets into score points, when the player switches back to the main character.

It’s truly incredible to witness the massive amount of score points that get added to the total. These formidable attacks will only occur when both characters are used correctly. This might seem like a complex process, but it feels satisfying when it’s successfully replicated. The best part though, is that there isn’t just one way to improve high scores. Players are encouraged to try and improve on their own, by finding new ways to score big.

The mode that only skilled players will most likely master is Climax; which is similar to Origin mode. It includes the toughest bullet patterns to avoid and these also move at a faster speed. This is clearly a challenge from Cave to all the devoted fans out there. It’s necessary to say that this is the hardest Cave title published by Rising Star Games. Both Slash and Origin modes have a novice setting, but it might still prove challenging.

Don’t feel like it’s not worth playing Akai Katana though, since shoot ‘em ups are all about learning bullet patterns, and dying to keep improving. Obviously anyone that just wants to play it, will not mind using a few credits, to get to the ending. There’s three ships to pick from and each of them has a unique storyline and different abilities. This makes it possible for each player to stick with the one that fits a preferred play style.

This is one of the longest Cave titles released in Europe, but some might still find it too short. The whole point of a shoot ‘em up is to provide players with the tools to continuously improve high scores. Akai Katana easily passes this test by including an advanced scoring system. Each mode requires a different approach when it comes to scoring. There’s more than one way of trying to get high scores, which should motivate players to get creative

Those that aren’t turned on by the competitive nature of Akai Katana can still enjoy the trip it offers. Akai Katana’s setting means that Cave is able to include levels with a distinct rural Japanese theme. One level in particular, that takes place underwater, shows why Cave is still around.

Each level takes place in a completely different area. These levels look even better in Slash and Climax modes, since both are developed for high definition TV sets. The soundtrack is very different when compared to what is heard on other Cave video-games. All the music tracks are great though and fit in with the theme of rebellion.

It’s great to see that there is still a market for shoot ‘em ups in the current present. Even more when it involves superb new entries like this. This is not the easiest of Cave video-games to get into, but it will reward those that manage to get the hang of the scoring system.

Some will argue that it’s still too short to warrant a retail release, but the real reward comes from understanding and learning from any mistakes made. Akai Katana is another bullet hell masterpiece from Cave, and one more reason why Rising Star Games deserves the support of European gamers.

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