Several years ago on the small island nation of Horai, one of the most powerful men of the nation, Tenro Horai, discovered the Ubusunagami Okinokai ----- the Power of the Gods. He began conquering world after world with his followers ?in the name of peace?. Meanwhile, a freedom federation called Tenkaku emerged to challenge the Horai, but all their efforts were in vain. Miraculously however one man survived. His name was Shinra.
Ikaruga is a truly unique and elegant shooter from Japanese developer Treasure. The game originated in Japanese arcades in 2001 and was then ported to the Dreamcast (Japan Only) in September of 2002. After what seemed ages the game was finally released in North America via the GCN. The game consists of 5 varying chapters each with their own boss and occasional mini-boss. Every chapter even has its own name by which to identify it. Ch.1 is Ideal, Ch.2 is Trial, Ch.3 is Faith, Ch.4 is Reality, and Ch.5 is Metempsychosis. Each chapter will contain a varying number of stages which in turn add up to a total of 18. Overall the game is quite short, but I guarantee you will not complete it within your first 4 or so hours of play.
The polarity system of Ikaruga is new to the genre and implicates great strategy. All enemies in the game will be composed of either white or black polarity. Your ship has the ability to change to either polarity with a press of the A button. When attacked with an energy blast of the same color polarity as your ship, it will be absorbed and added to your energy release meter as well as gain you 100 points. If you are shot with an energy blast of the opposite color polarity as your ship, you will be destroyed. When you have gathered enough energy, you have the ability to use an energy release with the press of the R button. When more energy is gained, more blocks will be filled on your energy meter (up to 12). When the energy is released, a series of missile-like attacks will emerge from your fighter. This is helpful when groups of small enemies come in to attack you, seeing as you can destroy one for every block of energy that you have stored up. Another thing is that when you destroy an enemy of the same color polarity as your ship, energy will come flying toward you in a kind of desperate attack to finish you off. If you change polarity to quickly after defeating an enemy of the same polarity, you will most likely be destroyed in the process.
The chain system in Ikaruga is well-done and requires tremendous skill to master. The chains come in increments of 3 (White, white white ; Black black black). After each chain the point value will double (1 chain is 100, 2 chain is 200, 3 chain is 400, etc,etc). This keeps doubling until you have reached a max chain of 25,600. From then on all chains are worth that amount. If you die your chains restart back at zero. If you break the chain, (White, white, black) it will also restart your chains. This system is where you will obtain most of the points you will earn. If you truly appreciate a game like Ikaruga, you will want to master the chain system, which makes for huge amounts of replay value, as well as frustration.
The audio in Ikaruga is rather touchy and in my honest opinion blends perfectly with the the level atmosphere, giving you good sense of what it would be like if you were actually in the Ikaruga fighter. The music is simple, yet elegant. Definitely one of the best soundtracks for any game, much less a shooter.
The visuals in Ikaruga may not be jaw-breakingly real ala Resident Evil or Panzer Dragoon Orta, but they more than get the job done. The explosions are candy to the eye, and look very smooth. The 3-d also look great and are extremely detailed. The one problem with the explosions (bosses only) is the huge dip in framerate for about 5 seconds or so. This is probably the only major problem with Ikaruga aside from the insane difficulty.
Their are a plethora of modes and options in Ikaruga, though they are somewhat limited. There is the regular story mode, conquest mode, practice mode, arcade mode (Challenge and Prototype), extras, options, tutorial, and ranking. Here is a quick breakthrough of each mode. Story Mode - Start a normal game on any one of three difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, or Hard) or play a Trial mode of chapters 1 and 2 (You will have unlimited lives in Ch.1). Practice - Mainly used to practice an entire chapter through to the end with unlimited continues for Story Mode. Each chapter can only be unlocked after reaching it in Arcade mode. Conquest - This mode is common for use practicing chains combos for high scores. It consists of normal play (regular speed), slow play (slowed version of play), and demo play (watch pre-rendered video of an expert Ikaruga player through the stage). Arcade - This mode is used for the web-ranking system of Ikaruga. Challenge mode is mainly Story Mode with only 3 lives and no continues. You can gain extra lives at 3 million points, 5 million points, and every 5 million points afterward. Prototype is a much more difficult mode than Challenge. You must also unlock this mode first. Your fighter has a limited amount of bullets, and 120 bullets is used for each and every Energy Release. On easy mode you will have 500 bullets, normal 300 bullets, and hard 100 bullets. You can accumulate ammo by gathering energy of the same color as your fighter. Extras - Extras are unlocked by playing many hours of Ikaruga. 5 hours for the first unlockable, 10 for the second, 15 for the third, and 20 for the fourth. Options - These are your everyday gaming options ; controls, audio control, etc, etc. Tutorial - This short video teaches you the basics of Ikaruga scheme. Ranking - This shows your rank overall in Arcade mode(as well as for each chapter) in every difficulty as well as co-op rankings.
There is another fighter that you can use called the Ginkei fighter piloted by Kagari in 2 player co-op or by putting your controller in the second socket. Kagari was a Horai assassin assigned to kill Shinra, but was shot down and rescued by Shinra himself. After this twist of fate Kagari decided to join Shinra in his fight against the Horai.
After all the tense moments, after finally haven beaten Ikaruga in Story Mode, and practicing day in and day out, I can clearer say that Ikaruga is easily one of the best games I have ever had the privilege to own, let alone play. This game is remarkable in every sense, from its outstanding visuals, to the awe-inspiring audio. If you like top-down shooters, don?t think twice before picking up this game. I would like to caution people not into the genre to pick up this game. It?s over-the-top insane difficulty can drive you crazy at times, so try renting it first. Personally I found Ikaruga really enjoyable, and I will definitely be playing this game for many years to come.
Gameplay : 10 / 10
Visuals : 8 / 10
Audio : 9 / 10
Value : 9 / 10
Fun Factor : 9 / 10
Overall : 9.2 / 10
I'll be posting some of my latest reviews normally around here. I work for GN, so I don't see why I can't give you guys my opinion as well :D