Review by johannhowitzer

"Both overappreciated and underappreciated"

I've read a fair amount of reviews on this game, and I've also played it extensively. Most reviews swing one way or the other - they either praise the game like it's liquid heaven, or they denounce it as a failed continuation of a stagnant franchise.

It is neither.

It all depends what you want a game to bring to the table, in my experience. Different gamers want different things out of the games they play. I am not unique in this respect, but I decided to step back a little and examine the differing viewpoints in the interest of bringing to light how YOU, with your preferences, will experience Gradius V.

Those who denounce this game usually complain about its close resemblance to past Gradius titles, especially the upgrade system. A standard complaint is that whenever you die, like previous titles in the franchise you are reset to zero upgrades, making it nearly impossible to get back on your feet. I would agree with this statement about past Gradius titles, but it does not ring true with this one. Those who make this complaint probably haven't used the options menu much. Normally on death, a Gradius game would black the screen out, and start you from scratch at a checkpoint. Gradius V gives you the option to have the game continue seamlessly when you die; the screen keeps scrolling, all minor enemies and bullets are destroyed, and your multiples fly ahead a bit. They can be picked up if you move quickly, which allows you to get back almost all of your power.

That said, the game does have the same upgrade system as before. Speedups, missiles, doubleshot, lasers, multiples, and shield. There have also been concerns raised about the speedups being a no-win situation (too slow is obviously bad, too fast means you're out of control), but this is again false. Remember, folks, this is a PS2 game, and this game allows use of the left joystick for movement. Even at maximum speed, you can still move slowly if you tilt the joystick only a little. Those who make this objection are no doubt using the D-Pad. Bad idea. For one thing, you don't always want to be moving in one of the eight cardinal directions.

This game does bring an incredible new item to the franchise, that is mentioned extensively in other reviews: the ability to control multiples. Of course, each formation has strengths and weaknesses. Most players I've spoken to (as well as myself) prefer the Freeze variant; while the others may be better for beginners, Freeze are the most adaptable. They can even help you with the areas when you travel backward if you don't have the tailgun upgrade. With two players, the versatility is increased. One player could adopt Rotate for coverage while the other picks Directional for sniping, for example. The multiplayer mode emphasizes teamwork, a good thing.

Now, to the standard categories of evaluation here on GameFaqs. I won't mention story since it's not a major feature of shmups, and shouldn't color the overall rating.

Graphics: 8/10
Sure, it's mostly the same stuff, but it's still dazzling. There are ways the sparklies could be better, sure... I mean, all the bosses explode in the same way. The advantage, I think, is that the graphics are very nice while still not being overly distracting. That's as it should be. There are some bits that will wow, but for the most part it's pretty standard and nothing over the top for the PS2.

Sound: 7/10
Not including music here, so don't be shocked. The sound effects fade into the background quite a bit. Standard explosions, that sort of thing. Again, nothing distracting, and who ever bought a title for the amazing booms and crackles?

Music: 10/10
Top of the line symphonic techno. I'm a musician and a composer, and I absolutely LOVE Hitoshi Sakimoto, who also did the music for Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. This isn't his greatest work, but I still give it 10. The music fits the stages like a glove, and while some tracks are fairly repetitive, you don't care because the repeated bits are still so well-written. I got the soundtrack for Christmas. Tracks of special note are "Something Green" (from the green "flood" level) and "Battleship" (from the "two Vic Vipers" level). Might not be for everyone, but for those who like techno or symphonic music, this is a major selling point. Really, I play the game as much for the music as the gameplay. Maybe more.

Difficulty: 8/10
It's no Gradius III challenge-wise... well, it's close. The detection box on the ship is smaller, I've squeezed through some really tiny spaces (you might have to sometimes), but that doesn't matter because there's so much flying around. You really have to keep destroying stuff or you'll run out of room fast. I still haven't beat the game without using a continue; the seventh level is a monster, harder than its counterpart from III. Stuff before that is mostly easy, it gets pretty tight when you first see asteroids and ramps up fast. Final boss? What final boss? The end is a joke, very anticlimactic, and most bosses are pretty easy. It's the stages that get you. As for those who say, "enough with the shooting of the obvious weakpoint," they somehow fail to mention that that's pretty much all shmups can DO! Try to come up with an alternative, I dare you. What makes a shmup boss isn't how you destroy it, it's how it tries to destroy you. And Gradius V bosses have plenty of ways to do that.

Gameplay: 8/10
It's not terribly ground-breaking, and the replay isn't amazing. Still, the multiplayer mode offers great party fun, and I've even gone back to the game many a time to try to go further and score higher. One of these days I'll cruise through the whole thing without the game telling me I'm just more space debris. I will say that I don't often play it more than twice in one sitting, and I go for decent periods between play sessions usually. But it does keep me coming back.

Overall: 8/10
A VERY solid title. Don't be dissuaded by those who claim it's just another Gradius, they've ramped it up enough. I mean, they did away with a lot of the annoyance factor with a few simple tweaks! The not-starting-from-scratch has been a long time coming, and the multiple manipulation is a great breath of fresh air. However, most people won't find this to be everything they've ever dreamed, unless they haven't played many shmups. It's a very fun introduction to the genre.

Buy or rent? Well, that depends. Do you want to cruise through a game with tons of powerful, universe-destroying weapons? You want your missiles and lasers to fly all over the screen and blow everything up at once? Then maybe rent. If you like the simple pleasures, just a few simple upgrades with which to defeat an enemy with many more tricks up ITS sleeve, then buy. It's not the Chrono Trigger of the shooter genre, it won't blow your socks off, but it's very fun. You should be able to get it for around $20 at most stores if they still carry it, and online vendors should be about the same... I'm not an addict and I'd pay that much for it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/08/08

Game Release: Gradius V (US, 09/14/04)

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