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Raiden V Director’s Cut Review: Fast and Frantic

Raiden V Director’s Cut delivers familiar frenetic action that will appeal to most people. Just don’t ask me what the story is about.

A worthy entry in the 25 year old Raiden franchiseRaiden V (MOSS Games Studios, Japan) gets its release on PlayStation 4 in the form of the Director’s Cut edition. It stays true to the original Raiden‘s roots of a frantic, vertical-scrolling shooter with a couple of new features thrown in for good measure. The standout addition to the Director’s Cut edition is the inclusion of local multiplayer – a feature that seems crazy not to have been included in the original release. New story missions are an added bonus too.

Raiden V caters to the hardcore as well as more casual players in equal measure. Initially, the game’s accessibility is a huge positive. My first playthrough took around two hours on normal difficulty, hitting a sweet-spot in length. Small branches in the story missions encourage replayability as you return to levels you missed earlier to complete the game in its entirety. In later levels, death comes plentiful for novice players, but it never gets frustrating as infinite continues make the game less stressful and more forgiving — especially if you’re not obsessing over building up your high score. The attraction for the more committed, completionist gamer is Raiden V‘s deep scoring system, leaderboards and at times, punishing difficulty. It shoots for the easy to pick-up but difficult to master approach and nails it perfectly.

The scoring system in particular leans towards the more hardcore genre fanatics. Destroying enemies as quickly as possible builds the multiplier and so does downing enemies in quick succession. There’s plenty to obsess over, such as memorising enemy attack patterns and placements. However, the game is just as enjoyable without worrying about maximum multipliers and rapid kill streaks.

Weapon customisation and ship selection together provide a decent spread of offensive and defensive gameplay options. There are three ships to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses: fast/slow, overpowered/underpowered. Each of the nine weapons belong to three archetypes: beam, homing and bullet. Your arsenal varies in the expected ways with a few interesting exceptions such as the homing beam that jumps from one enemy to the next, aptly named the ‘toothpaste laser’. I found the homing class to be my go-to for its constant stream of damage and ease of use. Though there are definite advantages to picking the right weapon for the right encounter, I never felt at a severe disadvantage due to my weapon selection.

The central gameplay mechanics will be familiar to almost everyone. It’s a winning formula that hasn’t changed much at all since the genre’s inception in the early 80s with games like Defender and Gradius. Essentially, it’s a simple case of dodging and weaving your spaceship through waves of enemies and incoming fire. Weapon powerups and special weapons in the form of bombs and ‘cheer’ are collected along the way to upgrade your ship and enhance your ever-powerful loadout. The boss fights are varied and add the right amount of challenge to make the player feel a sense of genuine achievement after defeating one.

What is almost unrecognisable however is Raiden V’s narrative. Much of the story takes place through dialogue exposition during missions, which forms part of the cluttered HUD. The story is almost impossible to follow, even though dialogue is fully voiced. Mainly due to the fact that the gameplay is so fast and demanding, being asked to follow the virtually incomprehensible story that would give some RPGs a run for their money is futile to say the least. It’s an interesting design decision but ultimately a poor one. The lack of comprehensible story doesn’t necessarily take anything much from the game, but it certainly feels like a missed opportunity.

It’s also possible that some players will find the game a little overwhelming at first. There is no obvious tutorial except for the option to change the difficulty to practice – removing all enemy fire. The HUD doesn’t help matters either. It’s a colourful mashup of stats, gauges and graphs that don’t ever really get explained. Due to the intense nature of the gameplay its very rare that you ever get a chance to avert your eyes to check your HUD which occupies the outer two thirds of the screen. The most useful HUD element is certainly the radar, whilst the rest of it seems a bit cluttered and unnecessary, especially to the casual gamer.

Although the game seldom strays from its vertical side-scrolling lineage, it does employ some clever use of its camera to vary the pace of certain sequences. The occasional switch from a vertical scroll to a panning motion allows enemies to attack from new angles and causes the player to change up their strategies. Different levels of camera zoom also change the scale of encounters, allowing for tighter, faster combat manoeuvres, to larger, more epic space battles.

Raiden V Director’s Cut is absolutely at its best when played with friends. As mentioned before, local multiplayer seems like a no-brainer and the decision not to have it in the original release is baffling. Taking down a tough boss is far more satisfying when you bring a friend along for the ride. By choosing complimentary weapon types you can form strategies that aren’t possible in single player as you destroy wave after wave with ease.

Raiden V features some basic online functionality in the form of its ‘Cheer’ system. Your achievements are uploaded to the server and can be seen by other players as they play. Players can respond to these events by sending you a Cheer, which in turn fills your Cheer meter. Once it’s full you’ll have access to the Cheer power-up that temporarily increases your ship’s firepower quite significantly. It’s an odd system that again, doesn’t really add anything of significance to the game. If anything, it feels a bit half-baked.

The soundtrack is a relative highlight, enhancing moments of intensity by ramping up the BPM of this classically Japanese, operatic metal soundtrack. It would seem totally out of place in most other games but it fits in very nicely here.

My main criticism of the game besides the narrative is its reluctance to push the boundaries of its genre. Although it does feature some departures from the conventions laid by previous iterations, there certainly isn’t anything groundbreaking. Many long-term fans may even scoff at the decision to opt for a shield meter as opposed to the standard x amount of lives. It’s another odd decision that may alienate the most dedicated fans of the franchise.

That being said, there is a lot to like here. Whether you’re looking for a casual, classically inspired fix of arcade action, or a hardcore, brutal scrolling shooter you’ll find the possibility of both with Raiden V: Director’s Cut. It’s a shame that lack of innovation and some strange design choices hinder it. However, it still remains an enjoyable experience for long-term fans of this almost three decade old franchise, or newcomers alike.

Raiden V: Director’s Cut is available on PC and PS4. We reviewed the PS4 version.