Shikigami No Shiro II - KSG/alfasystem

Shikigami No Shiro II
KSG / Alfasystem

Gamecube version reviewed by Malc

Hi Shmuppers!

Has anyone noticed I've nearly finished porting all the mkII reviews over yet? Not many left to go! To break up the monotonous monotony (and the boring boredom as well) I decided to review the game I am playing the most right now. That's right, here's Pokemon Sapphire! Eh, no, sorry, here's Shikigami No Shiro II (Or Mobile Light Force 2 if you are playing the bastardised US PS2 version, the less said about that the better.)

My preferred weapon of choice is a jap Gamecube, slotted into a tate'd pc monitor, with one of those tidy little Hori-pads. It's one of those games that needs accurate control with a decent d-pad, and your eyes to be bang up close to the screen. Which I have, so I'm sorted.

Ignoring other recent GC additions, I've been leaving Shiki II plonked in the console, and with a flick of a switch, I have it ready to play on my desktop, ideal for those 10 minute shmups as a work break. This state of affairs has lasted all through the marathon shmup review port-fest I've been engaging in the last week, and I'm not tired of Shiki II one bit. In fact, I've grown to love it more, having appreciated its lovely level of production values, the alternate soundtracks, the absorbing cutscenes - although I can't understand a word - and most of all the subtleties and nuances of the gameplay and scoring mechanisms.

Now, I'm not going to throw lots of screenshots at you here, and there won't be in depth analyses of the characters, because other people have done this already.

So if you want a faq, go here and if you want lots of pics and other lovely stuff, go here for the alfavision site on Shiki II.

Notice for once the amount of pages alfasystem has devoted to the game, together with the fact its also on DC, PS2, Xbox, and Windows PC too, you can tell that this isn't just a throwaway title for them. I do think there are also hiscore boards up there too. Very nice.

So in the time honoured system of breaking down reviews into chunks, here are the broken down chunks:

Pressing start and diving in past the options (ooh, look, extreme mode, I'll try that some day) - you are presented with 7 characters to choose from. Each has an alternate mode for the secondary weapon too, which change the way you play with that character quite a bit. I'm still experimenting with them all, but I like the chappy with the large whooshy swords - they are pretty much all-powerful, and even though most people don't seem to like him, the bloke with the Madness suit on and with the ciggy hanging out of his mouth gets me quite far on in the game (read: level 3). I'm trying really hard to play on a credit, and although a couple of times I have succumbed to continuing, I generally don't do it as I'm enjoying my personal score battles - all scores being saved for future plays, handily.

Weapons are a mixed bag, you will come to really hate certain characters as their weaponry will just not suit you. But each has its own strengths depending on how you want to play the game. For the casual blaster, who just wants to shoot his way through the game, there are characters with a strong main weapon - this will effectively clear the screen of enemies, but provide little opportunity for coin bonuses. If you are chasing these coin bonuses, you really want to use your secondary weapon, which automatically reap in coins when used.

And the closer you are to bullets or enemies, the larger value on the coins - which reaches a maximum of 8x when you are almost about to be hit. Many more coins are available when using a secondary weapon too, so as well as being automatically raked in, the amount of them vastly increases as well. There are actually deeper coin mechanics going on than I have described but I'll let you find out for yourself.

In addition to your dual weaponry, you carry a stock of bombs, and each chara has their own type. Some of them can be quite useless in fact, and others can completely wipe off all of a boss's life bar.    

    However, proximity to enemy bullets also upgrades your main weapon too, also known as scraping in shmuppy circles.

Scraping bullets will temporarily put your main weapon into a hyper mode, just when you need it. But scraping does not have any effect on the strength of your secondary weapon. I'm not going to go into anal detail about weapons and scoring systems here, use that link above, but I will say that having the choice of what amounts to 14 different weapon systems extends the life of the game immeasurably. With my two favourite characters, I can with one get both extremely good scores (for me at least) and further into the game with the other.

Graphics? Super highly detailed, but all a little DULL. Possibly being dull helps see the neon coloured bullets more, so no real complaints. But put it beside its closest cousin - which will be ESP Ra.De. - and everything has a grey or brownish hue. Lots and lots of 3D trickery going on on the backgrounds though, some of the surreal environments are astounding, but the real life style backdrops do seem a little bland. Maybe further into the game things pick up a bit - the theme of JapRetroCyberspace probably describes it best. If indeed there is such a theme. Lots of blasting explosions on bosses, kind of like Ikaruga has, but without the size and scale of the actual bosses themselves. Most of the bosses so far are not much bigger than your own character, being flying manga people. I'm sure their scale will pick up later!

Soundwise there are two scores offered, the first is my favourite - with orchestral arcade sounding sweeping tunes, with rock elements and sadly, a Saxophone. The second is much more dated techno inspired, and does get wearying on my ears quickly. Often I turn off the music in the options, and play some really fast Hard Trance over the top of it, which I think works quite well. But that's just me.

So, I'm now really enjoying the game, I got it quite a while ago but never got into it properly. It isn't a terribly fast or exciting game though, I have to admit. Bullets fire aplenty, with lots of whirly and fizzy bits, its more sort of slow bullet-hell than something fast and whizzy like Feveron sports. Early levels are now getting quite tiring, but the quest for coins and score pads them out well, and are good practice for later levels. Levels are broken up into two parts - and the hardest by far is level 3 part one. I often get here with all 3 lives intact and lose them all on this level alone. Fortunately, this is what the practice option is for!

In actual play, movements are more planned and relaxed than intense bursts of dodging. Lots of patterns - both familiar and new, with some shootable bullets - some of which can also be wiped out with certain character's secondary attacks too. Enemies float gently onto the screen, bullets swirl narcotically, bosses thrust and sway with their own rhythms. And its just downright good fun too.

Recommended? Oh yes, Shiki II offers a pleasant and enjoyable romp around, without the forced play of Ikaruga (which I still have not got the hang of, I have to say) and lets you just blast away for 10 minutes if this is all you want. Longer, repeated plays bring out the strengths in the gameplay design, and the title becomes more-ish - almost unable to put down and demanding extra playing. Production values of the game are very high, the whole package exudes a polish and wealth of options you wouldn't really expect these days. The developers have been proud of producing this game, I can tell you that.

SCORE: 9/10

So, on with the pics - sorry I tried to take some but they turned out mince so here are a few I nicked from various sources:

Level 3's Crossfire >>

The normal enemies now become much more of a pain from about level 3 onwards, with giant patterns of lasers.

This is level 3-2, which in fact is much easier than my most hated level so far, the one immediately preceding it: 3-1.


<< Not sure which level it is

A typical early boss fight, with a small girly known as Arala Cran (I think) throwing clumps of normal bullets your way. Notice that in most cases, engaging your secondary weapon results in your char slowing down, ideal of navigating these bullet sprays.

A bomb, yesterday >>

Even the bombs require careful play, positioning and using each at the right time.

This one shown does most damage on the diagonal blasts.


<< Level 1's boss

Extreme mode in play I think, because he isn't normally as fierce as this. In a clever move, the game shows a bright point of light over your char, showing the hit nugget, which is brilliant I think.

Powering up >>

Some scraping in progress, and the temporarily enhanced main weapon in use... often this comes just in time for when the screen really needs it - covered with bullets and enemies!


<< Coining up!

You should just be able to make out the bunch of coins grabbed using a secondary weapon here, with the multipliers (x6, x8)


Lastly, honourable mention must go to the production values on the box too - I have the limited edition or whatever it's called with the game and a wee cat model inside, a small thing I know, but it pleased me. Then again, I'm easily pleased.

Don't forget those links! - if you want a faq, go here and if you want lots of pics and other lovely stuff, go here for the alfavision site on Shiki II.


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie