Review #1 by Michael Motoda
- Shana Alexander, 1966
And rightfully so. Squaresoft, whose name is synonymous with that of high quality and Final Fantasy itself, has been branching out as of late. Instead of sticking to RPGs and action-RPGs as they have for the past several years, they've tackled some of the most volatile and ruthlessly unforgiving genres out there, and they have done it with a style that is all their own. Earlier this year, along with Dream Factory, they managed to create what is arguably the best 3D home fighting game of all time, Tobal 2. Whether it was the incredibly clean 3D models (flexing muscles, realistically-moving clothing, etc.) or the demanding gameplay, Tobal 2 delivered what other companies could only dream about. Next, along with key members of Quest, they released Final Fantasy Tactics, a well-planned grid-based tactical combat game reminiscent of Tactics Ogre, a Super Famicom game from the same development house. In the US, this past September, gamers across the country finally got to experience Square's most ambitious title, Final Fantasy VII. This was a game that broke the mold from standard RPGs and showed just how far Square could push their tried and true RPG formula on the virtually limitless CD-ROM medium, while inspiring millions across the globe at the same time. And now, they have decided to take a stab at the shooter genre; a genre that has been previously ruled by prestigious companies like Konami, Seibu Kaihatsu, Technosoft, Taito and Capcom, to name just a few. From the beginning, Einhander sounded promising - a side-scrolling shoot-em-up with a 3D engine running at 60fps, lots of weapons, big bosses, and a cyberpunk-style atmosphere. And as usual, it's just another day at the office for Square - they've delivered yet another winner.
The last time a 2D-turned-3D shooter succeeded was with Taito's seminal follow-up to Layer Section, RayStorm. RayStorm was essentially a 2D shooter dressed up in a sexy 3D engine, possessing some of the fiercest bosses and radical special effects that had ever been seen on the PlayStation. In that same respect, Einhander can be thought of as the next logical step in the side-scrolling shooter genre. It sets a new level of graphic prowess while still delivering a white-knuckle shooter experience.
You begin Einhander with a selection of 3 different ships. Each of these ships varies greatly from one another in terms of how many weapons they can carry and how powerful their primary weapons are. In terms of gameplay, Einhander sticks to tried and true elements while also introducing some new ones. Your ship has multiple levels of speed control (a la Thunder Force III and IV on the Genesis/Saturn), and you can swap weapon positions on your ship. For example, if you're carrying a missile rack on the top of your ship and a cannon underneath, you can swap their position so that missiles are now located under your ship and vice versa. The best part about this is that depending on a weapon's position on your ship, it will have a different effect when fired. Let's say you have missiles armed under your ship. They will fire in a straight line and do quite a bit of damage. And then, if you switch it to the top, your missiles will do less damage, but they will now have homing capabilities, able to hit enemies in the foreground, middleground and background. Some weapons will fire in back of you when armed in a certain position, and some will not. It takes some time to get used to the weapons' characteristics, but that's all part of the game's fair learning curve.
Einhander also introduces the point multiplier system to shooters, similar to that of Sega's Virtua Cop. The more enemies you hit in succession, the more points you will gain, up to a multiple of 16. At this point, your score soars to new heights as your multiplier slowly drops down to one again. This adds a sense of urgency and addiction to the gameplay that is a nice new element of this genre. Additionally, your score after each level will be compared to the best score of that level by other registered players in the game. Nice touch.
Graphics in this game are phenomenal. You would be hard-pressed to find graphics this good in any other shooter out there. This is on the same level as RayStorm, except in Einhander, there is way less slowdown, and the textures/models are a bit cleaner, which is a definite plus. The action moves along at a silky-smooth 60fps, and there are tons of things to look at and admire. Square has implemented a dizzying amount of background animation in this game. For example, in the first level, you fly through a city straight out of Blade Runner. When you look deep into the background, at first, you might think it's simply a static piece of artwork. Upon closer examination, you'll notice that the spotlights shooting into the sky are actually moving! Most people would not even notice this sort of thing, but that just goes to show how much Square cares about detail and presentation. Every ship is a 3D creation exhibiting a high level of detail and animation. Police air-cars swarm around you, sirens blazing and lights swirling. Lighting effects are used liberally, and add to the overall ambiance of the experience. The environments themselves deserve special mention as they draw you into the game and surround you with sights never before seen in a shooter.
In the area of audio, Einhander also delivers. The music pumps with futuristic techno, trance, ambient, acid and deep/progressive house tracks. It's similar to the music in Sony's Ghost in the Shell, only quite a bit more melodic and varied. Additionally, the music changes several times through each level, adding a distinct flavor to each section in the game. The boss music is especially notable, sounding like a track lifted directly from Ridge Racer's cutting room floor. Great stuff. Sound effects are also top-notch. Booming explosions, clean voices and crisp weapon effects round out an already stunning aural experience.
Speaking of Einhander's bosses, these awesome creations will not disappoint. A lot of them have a very threatening appearance to them. They give you the same feeling that you'd feel if you were the one standing in front of Emerald Weapon, Alexander, Knights of the Round or Super Nova in FF7. They are truly menacing foes that will leave you breathless the first time you see them. Remember the big, gold boss in Dracula X? That was nothing. In addition to the end-level bosses, each level is interspersed with one or two mid-level bosses, all of which are just as dangerous as the end-level boss. As a result, what you get are long levels that last around 5-10 minutes a piece depending on how good you are, which is no small feat as far as shooters go. Bosses also attack you with a multitude of different attacks. I've noticed that a boss will attack you with different patterns each time, adding a very real sense of randomness and anticipation to each encounter.
Control is dead-on shooter fare. Your ship's movement is very tight and responsive, and the button layout is exactly how you'd expect it to be.
Einhander does have a few flaws, however, but do keep in mind that these aren't inherent flaws; they are simply gameplay elements that I didn't care too much about. As someone who has grown up with shooters since their conception many, many years ago, there are certain things that Square did with this title that are considered different. While lots of gamers may very well like it, it's something that isn't what I would consider normal for a shooter, and may detract from the inherent quality of what makes shooters so much fun in the first place. Primarily, your weapons can't be powered-up at all. What you see is what you get, no matter what ship you're flying. Remember how you felt while playing games like Raiden II, seeing just how much firepower each weapon could deliver? Remember how awesome it was getting the plasma laser to its maximum power-up level? Unfortunately, you can't do that here. You can stock up on weapons, but their effect is rendered the same. In addition, your ammunition is limited, and with one of the ships, you basically have no choice but to use your limited ammunition weapon (the other two ships allow you the luxury of using your unlimited main guns). I've always found power-ups to be an integral part of shooters, especially since enemy attack waves become more difficult later in the game. To compound this problem, your weapons just don't seem to fire fast enough or do enough damage to keep up with the waves of enemies that come your way. This was a problem in Capcom/Ocean's X2, but thankfully, the problem isn't nearly as bad here.
On the positive side, what this does is present an incredible challenge to even the most seasoned and savvy shooter fanatics. It forces you to rethink your instinctive ways of playing shooters and learn something new. To its credit, it does work and delivers a fresh perspective on the shooter genre. While I don't necessarily agree with the choices made above, I can deal with them.
All in all, Einhander is a game that no shooter fan or Squaresoft fan should miss. It's filled with incredible visual and aural thrills while also delivering a solid and challenging shooter experience. If this is what Square can do on their first try, I can't even imagine what kind of shooters they'll be delivering in a few years from now.
+ Amazing 3D engine running at 60fps. + Lush color palette, beautiful shading and texture design. + Clean, highly-animated 3D models. + Dramatic perspective changes. + Classy menu design. + Above-average CG FMV opening movie. + Smooth, fadeless transitions from level to level.
+ Energetic and pumping musical score. + Seamless transitions from song to song. + Clear voice samples. + Loud explosions and immersive ambient sound effects. + All main dialogue and menus in English (some German, due to the nature of the title), with Japanese subtitles. - Some of the sound effects are a bit weak.
+ Tight control, intuitive and challenging design. + New gameplay mechanics new to the shooter genre. + High replay value with score/performance comparisons. + Great point/score multiplier system. - Limited ammunition and lack of multilevel power-ups kind of hurt.
One of the nicest surprises of the holiday season, this deserves a place in your collection and should keep you busy until Cotton 2 appears on the Saturn or R-Type S surfaces on the PlayStation sometime next year. Next stop, Square's Parasite Eve.
Review Copyright © 1997 by Michael Motoda (email@example.com). Please feel free to email me with your comments, questions or criticisms about my review. Thank you very much for your time.