Few have heard of Radiant Silvergun, but not many have played it. It’s high cost and Saturn exclusivity saw to that. All that changed however with the release of the Xbox Live Arcade version, which effectively introduced the classic shooter to a whole new generation of gamers. Here, Masato Maegawa tells us how the astonishing shooter came to be.
Is it possible to write about Radiant Silvergun without mentioning how much it costs? Apparently not. But there’s a reason for that. Those high prices – anywhere from £100 to £150 for an original copy on eBay at the time of writing – have undoubtedly cemented the game’s reputation as a highly sought-after collector’s item. Yet they have also obscured its true value as one of the most inspirational videogames of all time.
You can pick bosses apart to score more points.
As much as they have granted the game cult status, those high prices have also limited the number of people who have actually played it, and fuelled suspicions that this was one of those games that only acquired its reputation on the back of limited availability and Japanese quirkiness. In the 13 years since the game’s release, first as a coin-op cabinet and then as a Saturn conversion, more people had heard of Radiant Silvergun than had actually seen a copy. But with the recent release of the Xbox Live Arcade port, it is, finally, a game that can be loved for the right reasons: as a towering test of both speed and intelligence, a reinvention of the shoot-’em-up genre, and a stern test of your ability to find hidden dogs.
The original coin-op version of the game was put together by a team of just ten people in the slightly dingy, unprepossessing offices of tiny gaming powerhouse Treasure, the mad group of geniuses responsible for other cast-iron classics such as Guardian Heroes, Sin And Punishment and Bangai-O. But when it came to the Saturn release, fancy anime-style interludes were added courtesy of animation studio Gonzo, accentuating the importance of the game’s story, which was unusually prominent for a genre that tends to give only the merest nod to any sort of narrative framework.
Radiant Silvergun, by contrast, takes a luxurious – for shoot-’em-ups – hour or so to scroll through a story that takes you on a voyage through the very fabric of time and space. It’s a tale that loops right back to the beginning of mankind and culminates in a showdown with a karate-kicking polygonal giant boss, Xiga, capable of unleashing waves of bullets while kicking, punching, leaping and running around a moody, thundercloud-clad background that lurches in all directions, years before Rez paid tribute with its running man boss.
All great shooters have amazing explosions and
Radiant Silvergun is no exception.
So how did Treasure feel about that homage when it appeared a few years later? Masato Maegawa, the president and founder of Treasure, who has had a hand in all of the games the company has produced, displays nothing but enthusiasm. “I thought it was great!” he says. “We had actually done a running man boss before in Gunstar Heroes – it was like a recurring motif for us – so when we first saw it in Rez it wasn’t like we thought they were copying us or anything; it was just a nice confirmation that someone else thought it was a good idea to have a running man boss in a shooting game!”
But Radiant Silvergun’s running man was just one highlight of a sequence of dramatic boss encounters, each one demonstrating the game’s impressive visual panache and superb use of 2D sprites and 3D spaces. Prefaced with just a stark message across the screen – ‘WARNING, NO REFUGE’ – bosses would swoosh around the screen before settling into their attack formation, whether that was a wireframe starship or a phoenix-shaped attack craft, each one typical of Treasure’s fearless inventiveness and endless ideas.
Just one of Radiant’s superb main weapons.
But exactly where did those ideas come from? One commonly quoted source of inspiration for Radiant Silvergun is Irem’s Image Fight, a coin-op shooter released about ten years earlier, but as Maegawa says, if it hadn’t been pointed out, the connection wouldn’t have been entirely obvious. “The producer of the game, Hiroshi Iuchi, really loved Image Fight, and always mentions it,” he laughs. “But when I saw the finished game, it was totally different. I don’t know what it’s got to do with Image Fight.” Pressing him on any other sources of inspiration proves to be slightly fruitless: “I don’t read comics, I don’t watch anime, I don’t watch movies or TV, and actually my colleagues are often telling me off for not being up to date.” And its genesis didn’t even have much to do with any other games, either. “Even at that time people were saying that the shoot-’em-up was a dying genre. And we had the idea for the game design a long time before it was released, so it wasn’t really influenced by anything around at that time,” says Maegawa.
Indeed, Radiant Silvergun was quite unlike anything that had gone before. “We were very happy that shoot-’em-up fans liked and supported the game,” continues Maegawa. “But it’s not just a standard danmaku [bullet hell] shooter where you have to navigate through a screen full of bullets. It’s almost more like a puzzle shooting game. So we think we created a new category of puzzle shooting games, and that genre has been supported by other shooters, and that’s what we’re most happy with.”
There is certainly an element of bullet hell to Radiant Silvergun, and like many Treasure games, a fairly brutal learning curve – precisely because it takes a little while to get your head around those unprecedented puzzle elements. But the game – and, arguably, the entire genre – was transformed by the innovative game mechanics, which borrowed more from puzzle games and RPGs than other shooters. Those sorts of game design quirks are commonplace now, whether it’s collecting jewels to activate slowdown in Espgaluda, using spell cards in the Touhou series, or grazing bullets to rack up your tension bonus in the Shikigami No Shiro games. But at the time it was revolutionary: Radiant Silvergun dispensed with the smart bomb and escalating weapon pick-ups that characterised the genre up to that point in favour of an elaborate, dizzyingly complicated framework with which players could unleash a coruscating, creative range of death, destruction and high scores.
Although it’s not a bullet hell shooter, Radiant can still be quite testing.
The basic structure underlying that framework was the chaining system: killing enemies in sets of three according to their colour – red, blue or yellow – racks up progressively high scores. This means, unusually, that it’s actually in the player’s interest to ignore the majority of enemies. But on top of these basic chains of successive enemies of the same colour, there were also super chains, weapon bonuses, colour bonuses, and even hidden dogs – 30 of them to be unlocked with your lock-on laser to achieve the rank of Dog Master. Indeed, choosing the right weapon at the right time was another element layered on top of the traditional danmaku techniques of memorising attack waves and grazing bullets.
Unlike conventional shoot-’em-ups, all seven of the game’s weapons were available from the very outset, and players could switch between them at will: standard fire, weaker homing projectiles and wide-angle lasers mapped to the controller’s three buttons, while different combos would produce close-range shots, lock-on lasers, rear fire and the Radiant Sword – capable of absorbing enemy attacks and unleashing a special, invulnerable retaliation. What’s more, in the Saturn version of the game you could power up these attacks as you played, and use them in later games to level off the treacherous slopes of the difficulty curve. And all this set to music by Hitoshi Sakimoto, better known for his work on Square titles but here responsible for a rousing, electronic, orchestral accompaniment.
You can read the rest of our Making Of Radiant Silvergun in issue 96. Buy it now from GreatDigitalMags.com
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