What I’m about to say likely won’t surprise anyone, but the Xbox platform—the Xbox One family of consoles in particular—has been woefully lacking in Japanese side-scrolling shoot ‘em up love for a long time now. While the lack of “shmups” in recent years can undoubtedly be attributed, in part, to Microsoft’s traditionally poor sales performance of its game consoles in The Land of the Rising Sun, there was a period of time in the Xbox 360-era where Microsoft’s best-selling console was the exclusive home to many Japanese shooters.
They were lovingly crafted for that region alone, including Ketsui: Kizuna Jigoku Tachi EXTRA by famed shmup developer CAVE Interactive, and Caladrius by MOSS. The 360 also saw a healthy share of Japanese shmups make their way stateside, including Raiden IV, Radiant Silvergun, Sine Mora, Ikaruga and more, cementing that console’s status as the preferred shmup platform of the time among purists. Of course, several of the shmups in the latter group are available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S via backward-compatibility, but more recent entries in this genre (new or classic) for Xbox have been criminally thin on the ground, and the overall trend is looking to continue unabated into Gen 9.
Despite all that however, when R-Type Final 2 was announced to be coming to Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles during Microsoft’s Tokyo Game Show 2020 Digital Showcase last September, I was immediately given a sense of hope. To put things into context, this game is as symbolic as a deep-cut can get as far as new shooters are concerned. The game’s predecessor, R-Type Final, was released in North America in 2004 exclusively for PlayStation 2, and was originally intended to be the last mainline entry in the franchise. Meanwhile, the only R-Type game to ever see release on an Xbox platform was 2009’s R-Type Dimensions, which was a 3D enhanced collection of the first two games, R-Type and R-Type II.
R-Type Final 2 is the first game in the franchise to grace North America in well over a decade. With such a long time having passed, and R-Type Final never seeing release beyond the PS2, the Xbox platform seemed like the least likely candidate for a new R-Type game, but thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, Unreal Engine 4-powered game development, and…well I’ll just say it, the unparalleled generosity of developer Granzella Inc., here we are. I’m loath to jinx it all by asking why. I’m simply happy that R-Type Final 2 for Xbox and PC exists.
But is this a case of being careful what you wish for?
On paper, R-Type Final 2 is the ideal sequel game for fans: 99 unlockable ships, gorgeous alien environments in which to do battle, seven stages with branching routes to alternative endings, and Score/Time Attack modes. All of that backed by a killer sci-fi soundtrack, that ranges from heart-pounding techno (very Tekken-ish); to eerie, orchestral numbers that will remain etched into your memory long after you put down the controller—or toss it out the window in frustration.
“R-Type Final 2 is hard on any difficulty, and the minute you start believing that it isn’t is the moment that a stray bullet or collision with a two-bit enemy will instantly destroy your ship”
Oh, and did I mention the insane difficulty? Full disclosure: There are five levels of difficulty, with the least-challenging tier being “PRACTICE”, which grants the player a maximum of 99 continues—although, after beating the game once, infinite continues will unlock for all difficulties. After having my soul chewed up, spat out and crushed on “NORMAL” for about 30 minutes I decided to bust myself down to PRACTICE for the sake of my sanity as well as getting this review done in a reasonable amount of time. It took me a while to get over the humiliation of knowing the next difficulty tier was labelled “KIDS,” but unless you are a professional R-Type player, none of these titles matter.
R-Type Final 2 is hard on any difficulty, and the minute you start believing that it isn’t is the moment that a stray bullet or collision with a two-bit enemy will instantly destroy your ship, end your run and bounce you back to the last checkpoint. The game doesn’t quite reach the insanity of your modern bullet hell shooter, but the term “bullet prison” is definitely appropriate in how the game’s slower pace but gradually overwhelming difficulty is designed to trap players in its deadly spider web.
On the bright side, Granzella Inc. has wisely chosen not to fix anything with the R-Type formula that wasn’t broken, rather focusing to enhance the solid mechanics that were already there. Players launch into battle with one of four initial R-Type craft, each with its own unique loadout—a propulsion rocket capable of three flight speeds, an indestructible orb drone called a “Force” that can be mounted to, or detached from the front or back of the ship; and a powerful Wave Cannon blast that can be unleashed by holding down the fire button and then letting go once the weapon is halfway, or fully charged.
Each R-Type variant also has special offensive and/or defensive capabilities that are awakened when the R-Type comes into contact with Red, Blue or Yellow power-ups that are dropped by certain enemies upon their destruction; and become more powerful when additional powerups of the same colour are absorbed. In addition, up to two smaller, stationary Force orbs called “Bits,” as well as heat-seeking missiles can occasionally be picked up during a stage to further strengthen an R-Type’s offense and/or defense, and each R-Type is equipped with an ultimate, screen-filling special attack called DOSE, capable of killing all minor enemies on screen and causing major damage to stage bosses, but in exchange requires a great deal of energy to fully charge.
In a twist of delicious irony however, DOSE can only be recharged by destroying enemies and/or absorbing certain types of enemy fire directly through physical contact with the Force orb, requiring players to adopt risky strategies in order to survive and dispatch tougher enemies effectively. For example, in a stage where enemy fire or weak, one-shot enemies are abundant on one side of the screen, a smart strategy is often to mount the Force orb to the front or back of the R-Type like a shield and nimbly pilot one’s craft forward or backward into the hail of bullets, clearing the narrowest of paths for one’s ship while charging their super-weapon at the same time. It’s a gamble, as just grazing an enemy or bullet with any part of the R-Type means instant death, but without it players will find overcoming certain chokepoints in the game nigh-impossible, and the exhilaration when it actually pays off is almost reward enough in itself—provided you don’t get too excited and die because you stopped paying attention.
Meanwhile, when facing up against a boss, slow-moving mini-boss, or stronger multi-hit enemy; players can use the A Button to launch the Force Orb ahead of or behind the R-Type like a passive, invincible wrecking ball or a secondary satellite gun. When used correctly, the Force Orb can “get stuck” next to or inside large enemies or obstacles, causing lethal chip damage that can often destroy the enemy/object on its own, not to mention rapidly charge the DOSE meter to full.
Naturally though, there’s a catch: Once the Force orb is launched, the R-Type is completely vulnerable to all forms of attack and can only rely on its main gun and Wave Cannon for direct offense, since secondary POW fire originates from the Force orb. The Force orb can be recalled at any time, but as it lacks intelligent AI, is slow-moving, always takes the most direct path back to the R-Type, and requires the player to deftly pilot the craft while under fire to reattach the Force Orb to the front or back; putting the R-Type in this highly exposed, “Force-less state” inevitably leads to countless hairy life-or-death scenarios. But, as you’ve likely gathered by now, it also opens up several creative and unconventional avenues for attack as the Force Orb is pulled back towards the ship. It’s all a delicate balance of risk and reward, and players will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they start to grasp the steps to the deadly tango of each stage.
“Better yet, the performance never buckles, delivering a merciless, white-knuckle shooter experience that veteran R-Type fans have no doubt been waiting for.”
Visually, R-Type Final 2 is a bit of a conundrum. The alien lairs of the evil Bydo Empire and their multi-eyed inhabitants have never looked better than they do now, thanks to the power of Unreal Engine 4. Glistening with grotesque detail and unsettling, insect-like movements, the Bydo will command fear and respect from players the instant they appear, either crowding the screen with their overwhelming numbers and bio-bullets, or striking terror in gamer’s hearts when the game’s massive bosses make their entrance only to smash one’s R-Type to pieces with a glancing shrug moments later. Likewise, the various R-Type weapons and the impact of their impressive sounds, animations and alpha effects solidify this game an unprecedented visual tour de Force in the franchise. Better yet, the performance never buckles, delivering a merciless, white-knuckle shooter experience that veteran R-Type fans have no doubt been waiting for.
Sadly, it’s not all Bydo-coloured sunshine and rainbows. Comparatively, the stages that take place amongst fleets of federation spaceships or inside them seem a bit lackluster as opposed to stages where the Bydo infestation runs rampant. While it’s logical to expect lots of clean lines and surfaces in a sci-fi space battle, these areas lack the finer details and complex geometry required in order to make them look good up close, making those dramatic fly-bys of a capital ship’s rocket engine or command bridge look like they were built on tech from two or more console generations ago.
Speaking of fly-bys, another problem of note is that while R-Type Final 2 is effectively a side-scrolling, 2-D shooter built completely with 3-D assets, the game does a poor job of distinguishing for the player what elements of the stage can be passed through, what elements are non-interactive obstacles that must be navigated around and most critically, what parts can the player crash into.
The general rule of thumb is that any element that is not part of an enemy or enemy fire is “safe”, but there are several difficult areas in this game where players will likely find themselves going insane trying to dodge enemies, avoid crossfire and moving obstacles, all in a narrow space only to learn much later that one of the walls of that space was actually just background decoration, or that the R-Type could have run right along that wall without taking damage. This collision confusion is further complicated by the game’s occasional 3D-panoramic flourishes that involve enemies and enemy fire, where said hazards are only harmful when they are on the same 2-D plane as the player’s R-Type…except when they suddenly don’t have to be and are dangerous at any given angle. The game’s finale when taking the default path is especially notorious for this.
If you can get past these above issues however and genuinely crave shooters that offer an extreme challenge, R-Type Final 2 might just offer up enough replayability to justify its $54.99 CAD price tag. As mentioned earlier there is an abundance of ships to be unlocked (though it should be noted that several of them are locked away behind passwords that were awarded to backers of the game’s Kickstarter campaign, so buyers of this game will probably need to look up an online cheat-sheet), and there are practically countless cosmetic customizations that can be purchased with in-game resources earned through multiple playthroughs. Players can even view their personalized ships up close in the R-Museum, and bizarrely, they can even change the name of the game on the title screen if they want! Clearly, this game was made for R-Type lovers. If you’re not in that select group though, or can’t look past the aforementioned issues, R-Type Final 2 is a much tougher sell.