America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 24th May 2021 | 1,591 views
Perhaps the lasting lesson of R-Type is never force yourself into a corner with game titles. The 2004 PlayStation 2 game R-Type Final was designated as the last of the franchise, but it was not to be. R-Type Tactics launched on PSP three years later, and the paradoxically-named R-Type Final 2 arrived on a host of systems late last month. More R-Type is never a bad thing, of course, and so this latest installment of the legendary horizontal shooting series is reason to celebrate — even if it's a little rough around the edges.
R-Type Final 2 takes place after the "Last Dance" military operation in R-Type Final. The objective of the current mission is to compile the military history of the long war between humanity and the invading Bydo, and pass down that information for future anti-Bydo weapon development.
Like so many games in the series, Final 2 is a horizontal scrolling shoot-em-up, or shmup. Players control one of many small, inter-dimensional fighters across 11 outer space levels, fighting Bydo creations both organic and mechanical. Each stage is relatively short but dense with hazards and nasty enemies. Overall, the game plays true to the original arcade R-Type and its descendants, which means deliberate gameplay focused on spacing and memorization, a layer of tactical depth provided by the Force appendage, and a steep, punishing level of difficulty.
Much of the game's personality comes from its special satellite, the Force — the signature conceit of the franchise. It's a glowing orange orb that pilots can attach either to the front or back of the ship, or jettison to attack independently. Importantly, the Force absorbs enemy shots and deals damage, so it can be used as both an offensive and defensive tool. Indeed, the game encourages players to do just that, since absorbing bullets and downing Bydo ships increases your score and accumulates energy, which is then used to activate Dose Break, a screen-clearing special weapon.
As a result, there's an engaging risk-versus-reward element to each level: do you get up close and personal to raise your Dose gauge and rack up high scores, or keep your distance to protect your valuable lives and continues? Despite any conservatism in terms of tactics, however, you won't hold on to those lives for long.
Final 2 is an especially difficult game, even by shoot-em-up standards. There are a few reasons for this. First, the title leans a little too heavily on trial-and-error gameplay. There are some enemies and hazards that appear out of nowhere, and the game in general does an unreliable job at signaling what things will and won't harm you. You'll simply need to memorize a few patterns to see the campaign all the way to the end. Second, and more frustrating, is the checkpoint system. When you take any sort of damage, you will perish and then return to the most recent checkpoint, powered down considerably — which in turn makes it even harder to clear the next section. Not only does this make Final 2 feel unduly harsh; it also hurts the game's momentum.
If you don't mind a lot of stops and starts, there's a decent campaign inside Final 2. The levels are thematically different — some are deep-space forays with large capital ships while others are cramped, pulsing nightmares — and the boss battles are fairly interesting. There's a fun amount of movement too; your ship will turn corners, descend and ascend, and even move backward. Pro tip: don't be afraid to detach your Force and affix it to the back of your ship, to protect your blind side.
While the majority of levels are fixed, there's a sneaky significant juncture in level five, from which you can access one of three different paths, which turns what would be seven levels into a possible 11. This helps increase replay value considerably. Final 2 is a short game, after all; one that could in theory be finished in a single sitting.
The true value of Final 2 isn't found in its campaign, however, as unlikely and counter-intuitive as that sounds. The really fun part is the meta-game. This includes purchasing over 50 ships (with more to come) in the R Museum, customizing those ships with color schemes and decals in the Hangar, tracking enemy stats in the Bydo Lab, viewing art in the Gallery, unlocking new difficulty options, shooting for high scores, and, in general, leaving your personal stamp on the game. Indeed, once you beat the game on any difficulty setting, you earn the right to change the game's title. Don't like R-Type Final 2? What about "R-Type Reborn" or "Space Legend Tactics"?
Don't sleep on this aspect of the game, particularly the R Museum with its dozens of unlockable ships, each with a unique loadout and aesthetic. Experimenting with the roster, playing around with weapon types, and finding the right vessel for the job can be very rewarding.
While Final 2 offers a lot of stuff to collect and research, it falters a bit in graphics and performance, particularly on Switch. The game targets, and mostly achieves, 30 frames per second, which is fine although not ideal (post-launch patches have helped in this department). Regrettably, in order to achieve this FPS goal the resolution on Switch has been pared back, lending the game a somewhat indistinct appearance, in both docked and handheld modes. Aggravating this issue is the fact that the graphics lack consistency: some elements, particularly the 50+ player ships and a few enemy designs look great, while others lack texture and personality.
Music fares better. The opening cinematic is paired with a synth tune that brings to mind Vangelis, while the level three track, which starts plaintive and turns triumphant, is outstanding.
More R-Type is never a bad thing, even if it comes in a scrappy package like R-Type Final 2. While the game could use some contemporary quality-of-life adjustments and more polish overall, it's still a decent shooter that successfully honors the legacy of the beloved shmup series. Where the franchise goes from here is anyone's guess, but one thing's for sure: it still has plenty of potential left to unlock. And that's final.