In the past, I haven’t shied away from the fact that the 2D shoot ‘em up genre is my favorite dying genre. Whether it be R-Type or Gradius, the genre could always be counted on for bringing both intense action and fantastic designs to gamers. With the death of the arcade, though, the experience just hasn’t caught on with the general public, despite several excellent entries over the years. Like a mechanized phoenix rising from digital ashes, though, Taito’s classic Darius franchise has returned.
Outside of mobile ports and compilation inclusions, the Darius franchise hasn’t seen a “new” entry since the release of DariusBurst for the PlayStation Portable back in 2009. In order to make up for the lost time, DariusBurst Chronicle Saviours not only features a massive brand new quest, but also includes a full remake of the previously released DariusBurst Another Chronicle EX. Developer Pyramid has spared no expense in making sure the franchise’s first entry on home consoles since 1998 lives up to the lofty standards set by past entries.
As mentioned, the title is broken up into two distinct pieces. The one most gamers would be familiar with is probably the AC, or Another Chronicle, mode. Another Chronicle is the section of the game that houses the traditional Original mode, as well as the Original EX and Chronicle modes. The other portion of the release, Chronicle Saviours, is a new, single-player only expansion. Both Original and CS modes technically have storylines, but CS is the one where you’ll actually notice it.
For those that need a refresher before they jump into some of the deeper modes, Original serves as a good place to begin. If you are at all familiar with the Darius franchise, or really any shoot ‘em up, you should have a good idea of what to expect. After picking out your ship, which is cool because the ships pull from the history of the franchise, you’ll blast assorted fish like enemies, and ultimately wrap up a level by downing a massive boss. Over the course of each level, you’ll be able to grab different power-ups by destroying certain-colored enemies. Red enemies drop pellets that increase your weapon, while blue foes drop arm level power-ups and green baddies drop bomb level boosters. Pyramid does little to prepare you for what unfolds on-screen, so it’s probably for the best that you at least have some grasp of the mechanics of the genre.
Since DariusBurst is a shoot ‘em up, I suppose it’s not surprising to say that the game is ball-bustingly hard at times. It’s not quite as bad as a bullet-hell shooter, but there are plenty of scenarios where you’ll need to be absolutely dialled in in order to make it out alive. Having the ability to toggle unlimited lives is a good way of making sure you can actually beat the game, at least. Having a massive laser beam to call upon, depending on which ship you choose, also tends to improve your chance of survival. Besides looking cool, it’s also fun to experiment with different strategies with the burst laser. Depending on where you position it, and at what time you use it, you can extend the lasers lifespan, and yours in the process.
While Original EX is just a tougher version of Original mode, Chronicle mode in AC is a nice twist on the familiar genre. Chronicle mode is a massive endeavor to undertake, as it tasks a cabinet, which is a group you get sorted into upon launch, with clearing 3,000 different missions. Each mission is comprised of several smaller levels, and typically have modifiers attached to how each one is to be completed.
Some can only be completed with multiple players, while another may only give you one life to finish the mission with. Despite the fact that it is technically just chunks of Original mode split up, Chronicle feels fresh because of all the different tasks you have to deal with for each level. The idea of slowly clearing 3,000 levels with a group of dedicated players is also a neat idea, but it depends on how well the title sells, I suppose.
The final main mode, Chronicle Saviours, stands out as the best part of the DairusBurst package. Similar to Chronicle mode, CS has you traversing across the galaxy, blasting your way through several different missions. Featuring over 200 missions, CS mode provides another small tweak to the traditional formula of the genre. Instead of granting you unlimited lives, like the modes seen in the AC side of the game, you are only given a set amount of lives per batch of levels. Pyramid balances this out by lowering the difficulty a little bit, but the fact that you can run out of lives makes each level a tense endeavor. The sparse storyline itself is forgettable, but the satisfaction that comes with successfully completing a mission certainly isn’t.
As good as the core gameplay and mode variety are, there are a few baffling design decisions implemented by Pyramid here. Specifically regarding the AC section, the presentation of this mode is horrid. The screen is designed to look arcade perfect, but this means that there is a ton of dead space leftover from the letterboxing. And instead of perhaps putting in detailed scoring information in this space, it is all crammed into the tiny box, thus making everything look minuscule. I actually had to get up and stand in front of my TV in order to read about the different ships or what a specific modifier was for a Chronicle mission.
On top of that visual nightmare, the fact that you can’t back out of AC mode once you select it is baffling. The only way you can get back to the main menu is by either quitting the application entirely, or by starting up a mission, then hitting quit from the main menu. Instead of taking back to the AC menu, like you think it would, it takes you back the start screen. It’s just a very odd and terrible design flaw.
Designed for the hardcore fan, DariusBurst Chronicle Saviours is the best entry in the storied shoot ‘em up genre in years. The game is packed with content, with hours of playtime coming from both AC and CS modes, and runs silky smooth. However, let it be known that this set is not for the newcomer. The price tag is relatively steep for the arcade-like experience, and Pyramid offers little explanation for gameplay mechanics and franchise lore, outside of a sparse digital manual. If you’re looking for a steep challenge, and willing to put in the time, though, DariusBurst should sate your needs.
This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which we were provided with.