Mythologized by American magazines of the day, but released during the final days of the Saturn's life exclusively in Japan, Radiant Silvergun has been the stuff of legend for more than a decade now. Known as much for its insane value on eBay as its complex, methodical gameplay, a modern port of the game has been one of Treasure's most requested titles ever since the developer first announced its support for the XBLA platform. Now, at long last, Treasure's classic arcade shooter has finally been dusted off and spruced up for the modern age.
Radiant Silvergun is one of the deepest, most original, and most challenging arcade shooters around.
A bit of a new direction for the developer, Radiant Silvergun marked the first time Treasure had attempted an arcade game, and the first time it tackled the traditional shoot-'em-up genre. Nearly all of its prior games had been side-scrollers, but this was to be the passion project of Hiroshi Iuchi, a background artist and founding member of Treasure who had left the company in the hopes of finding greater creative freedom. To lure him back, Treasure handed him the director's chair and told him to make the game of his dreams.
Inspired by classic weapon-switching shooters like Image Fight, Radiant Silvergun completely did away with the idea of power-ups, bombs, and bonus drops, and put the focus of the game on offense. Your small ship packs a whopping seven different weapons (derived from combinations of three primary weapons) that can all be accessed at any time. This diverse palette of destruction gives you a degree of flexibility seldom found in the genre.
All of these weapons are completely unique, ranging from frontal fire to homing shots to lock-on lasers and directional attacks. The most unique weapon of all is the Radiant Sword, a short-range melee attack that is able to nullify certain pink projectiles. Cancel enough of these, and you can unleash a huge, crashing scissor attack that renders you temporarily invulnerable.
As you might expect, this complexity means a much steeper learning curve than most arcade shooters. It doesn't help matters that Radiant Silvergun is notoriously hard. Not just hard in the way shooters are normally hard, but genuinely ruthless. Like many of Treasure's games, bosses aren't rationed out for the ends of levels. Giant, screen-filling, multi-part bosses are the status quo, appearing once every minute or so, and the game accosts you with a seemingly endless barrage of new and unique attacks, lending an almost puzzle-like layer of strategy to the game. An RPG-like leveling system for the weapons means that players who ignore the game's color-coded chaining system will feel like they're throwing sticks at giants. Couple this with the game's epic length (about double most arcade shooters), and you have a serious challenge.
While Radiant Silvergun falls a bit shy of a true remake, Treasure's new hi-def treatment does indeed look very nice. Ships and enemies have brand new HD sprites that perfectly capture the look and the feel of the originals without the jagged edges. The blocky 3D bosses and enemies remain largely untouched but look a bit better rendered in high resolution, and the nasty mesh transparencies of the original have been replaced with new alpha blending effects that make explosions and bullet clouds look infinitely nicer. Treasure has included a ton of graphical options allowing players to pick and choose which graphical enhancements they like and tweak the screen layout. Oddly enough, for all of this effort, the programmers neglected to include proper support for 4:3 TVs, leaving the game letterboxed on both the top and the sides in its native format. It's a strange oversight for a game that has seemingly every other graphical option you could hope for.
It seems visual enhancements were Treasure's primary focus, since the game contains little content beyond the Saturn original. The original arcade mode is present, alongside the Saturn Mode (now renamed "Story Mode"), which contains expanded story bits with voice acting, an anime intro and ending, and the ability to build up your ship's level across multiple plays, making the game gradually easier with additional play. Unlocking credits is now based solely on play time, but not much else has changed. Those that also own Radiant's pseudo sequel Ikaruga on XBLA are treated to an extra mode that features a scoring system more similar to Ikaruga's, where players can switch colors between chains without breaking. This is a welcome, if small, addition that really should have been made available to all players.
At 1200 points, Radiant Silvergun is 50% more expensive that Treasure's other offerings on the platform, including its upcoming treatment of Guardian Heroes. One can't help but feel like the premium price is based more on the game's reputation and price with collectors than the amount of content present in the port itself. This is pretty much the same game it's always been with a visual spit shine and a long-overdue English localization.
But all these years later, Iuchi's masterpiece is still one of the deepest, most original, and most challenging arcade shooters around. It represents one of the last of its kind to rely on precision and strategy over negotiating through clouds of tiny bullets. Those who still hold on to their Saturn copies may have to weigh if the visual upgrades alone make it worth purchasing again, but any self-respecting fan of the genre owes it to himself to play the game in one form or another.