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Arcade Archives: Raiden (PlayStation 4) artwork

Coming off the sales failure of Dynamite Duke, a Cabel-style auto-scroller where you control a one-man army, Seibu Kaihatsu opted for something different for their next project. What they conceived was a shoot 'em up called Raiden, a... a vertical auto-scroller where you control a one-ship army. The game would become synonymous with the genre for some, right up there with such names like R-Type and Gradius. It launched a series of sequels and spin-offs, with later titles receiving more exposure due to multiple ports and accessibility through digital stores. The original title hasn't seen such treatment in recent decades, with the closest thing being Dotemu's Raiden Legacy collection that features weird gameplay enforcement and numerous issues surrounding the game. So once again, it took the crew of Hamster to provide a legitimate release with their Arcade Archives port.

What's the deal with Raiden? It looks like a typical shoot 'em and when you start hearing descriptions about the game, it'll really start sounding like one. Once your highly-advanced "Fighting Thunder" ship launches from a carrier, you're tasked with repelling an alien invasion for eight stages above farmlands, cities, across the sea, and eventually space. Along the way you must strengthen your ship to stand a chance against a legion of tanks and aircraft that enter the vertically-scrolling screen from the top... usually in groups! Within your arsenal of attacks are projectiles that can be changed and upgraded between two styles through power-ups: a spreadshot or a concentrated beam. And when things get overwhelming, you can unleash the devastating force of your bombs, wiping away enemies and projectiles with the press of a button.

Nothing particularly exceptional stood out from that paragraph, did it?

Raiden doesn't really have anything that "pops." Gameplay is set up like a million other shooters and nothing visually sticks out, with the backdrops and most enemies having a dominantly tan color scheme, perhaps intentionally giving the game a bleak style. Notably, too, it was made on a small budget. The only thing that really comes off "cool" is the sleek, advanced look of the two Fighting Thunder aircraft at your disposal, red for most players and blue for a co-op buddy. But the most interesting thing to point out is the fact that, at its core, Raiden is very similar to the company's prior title, Dynamite Duke. Both games feature a protagonist that is literally being bombarded by enemies and bullets on screen. They both share the thought process of "this is how hectic the action is, deal with it."

The difference here is that Raiden takes it up a notch and that just might be its standout feature.

Try getting through all eight stages on default settings and you will likely be at your wits end. Raiden is ruthless because it doesn't give you much chance to breathe and constantly invades your craft's personal space. There's the usual flow of enemies spilling in from the top ceiling, your ship providing crowd control with bullets while dodging the occasional stray enemy projectile. However, the devs really like to yank "control" away and see how you handle the stress... and it doesn't take much! One moment you're destroying everything raining down from above with a powerful ship, but a stray tank will appear inches away at the bottom-right with little warning, immediately firing a speedy projectile. You're forced to move and, due to the tank's position, you have to fly into a very compromising location with everything now shooting at your ship; a ship that can be destroyed in one hit.

The devs love using this trick so much, that you could consider this maneuver the real antagonist of Raiden. They especially love screwing your momentum when it comes to encountering speedy tiltrotors that literally speed to the bottom of the screen in groups, with just enough space for you to stay underneath and destroy them. This changes in later stages when they just flat out touch the bottom floor, practically mocking you for not destroying them in time; considering you have to deal with everything else happening on the battlefield, this turns into a real hassle. Hilariously there's a final variation of this tactic in the closing stages, where a new enemy formation comes zooming out of the sides, basically rubbing shoulders with your ship while performing a drive-by shooting.

All this doesn't even take into consideration that there's two editions of Raiden that drastically change how the game has to be played. When you die in the Japanese version, not only do you lose your power-ups, but also have to restart at a checkpoint. It's pretty harsh for a game with this much calamity. The International version is more forgiving in comparison, allowing players to spawn in place after losing a life, regulating checkpoints to when resuming via a continue screen. So which version does this port have? If you're never touched the Arcade Archives series, then the good news is that Hamster has provided both versions to choose between. Granted, those not wanting to absolutely master the ins and outs of the game will gravitate towards the latter, but it's nice that you're given a chance to try the other one.

That's the most important thing to take away from this port: choice. As you've likely come to realize, Raiden isn't exactly a "fair" experience on its default settings. But that has more to do with it being a product originating in the arcades; it has that aggressive coin muncher mentality in order for the company to make a profit. But this home release has made it so that, if chosen, you can make a potentially infuriating session more bearable when fiddling with the traditional set of Arcade Archives settings; whether it's turning on rapid fire and maxing out the number of ship lives, to selecting easy difficulty and picking through a million scanline filters, it's in here. Crazily, the game is still challenging even after you change all of those values.

With all that being said, the original Raiden may stand as a classic for some, emphasis on "some." If you're looking for a shoot 'em up that isn't so straightforward and aggressively punishing, the AA library or even the PlayStation Store as a whole has many more oldschool shooters to pick from.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (August 04, 2022)

Rules of nature.


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honestgamer posted August 04, 2022:

Excellent review. The Raiden series has always kind of interested me, and I have the newer installments but not this one yet that I can recall. I will probably try to get it at some point, but your writeup does a good job of tempering expectations. The stuff Moss crafted sounds a lot better in most respects. By the way, when you go to insert your screenshots, you might want to revisit this sentence: "Raiden is ruthless because it doesn't give you much chance to breath and constantly invades your craft's personal space." That should be "breathe" instead of "breath." Thanks for the review!
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dementedhut posted August 04, 2022:

Thanks for pointing out the error! I was going to change it, but then the site went down right before I was heading off to work, heh.

I've been curious about the Raiden series for some time myself, but never put aside time for it. A few years back, I even got the Raiden Project compilation for the PS1 with the intention of diving in, but again it escaped me... I never flatout said this in the review, but I will say: I still don't get the appeal of the first game. I can see with the following titles, but everytime I look back on the first title, I'm like, "This started a series?" But money talks, I guess.

Thanks for the comments!

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