Go Blue Sky Crimson Lotus Corps!
Soukyugurentai isn’t typically held in any great regard, and never really has been. Released in arcades to little fanfare in 1996, it was ported to Saturn and the PlayStation shortly afterwards. It was considered something of a poor person’s Radiant Silvergun on the former and widely-considered a bad port of a poor person’s Radiant Silvergun on the latter.
Despite a consistently low price point and wide-spread availability of the game – a plus point in a genre famed for its sky-high prices and general rarity – Soukyugurentai actually has some real pedigree behind it. Eighting/Raizing are neither strangers nor slouches in the genre and have a formidable library of titles that deserve to be played by any shmup fan. Dimahoo, Battle Garrega and Armed Police Batrider are all from the same stable as Soukyugurentai; they also had ex-Musha Aleste (widely regarded as one of the Mega Drive’s finest shmups) staff on board too. Oh, and let’s not forget that the soundtrack was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto! If that name doesn’t ring a bell perhaps his work will – Radiant Silvergun, Vagrant Story, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy XII and many more notable titles spanning generations of video game hardware.
There’s quite a lot of confusion about the game, the various ports, and exactly what version got which extra, so here’s a brief overview to try and clear things up:
Released in arcades in 1996. Had a US arcade release under the name “Terra Diver”, this was the only non-Japanese release the game got.
Soukyugurentai (蒼穹紅蓮隊). Released in arcades in 1996. Had a US arcade release under the name “Terra Diver”, this was the only non-Japanese release the game got. The title translates as “Blue Sky Crimson Lotus Corps”.
Soukyugurentai (蒼穹紅蓮隊). Released 7th Feb 1997 on Sega Saturn. A port of the arcade game with a few optional bells and whistles, such as the score attack mode. This version shows garbled text if played on a US/EU Saturn via a convertor as apparently vestiges of the English “Terra Diver” arcade translation remain on the disc. The official website still exists here.
Soukyugurentai Otokyu (蒼穹紅蓮隊 御徳用). Released Dec 18th 1997 on Sega Saturn. “Tokyu” means “Economical” with the “O” being an honourific prefix. This version fixes the aforementioned text bug and adds a Battle Garrega demo disc to the box. There are no other confirmed differences between this and the original Saturn port.
Soukyugurentai Oubushutsugeki (蒼穹紅蓮隊 黄武出撃). Released Dec 25th 1997 for the PlayStation, with a later budget release in 2003. “Oubushutsugeki” means “Yellow Officer Sortie”, in reference to the new player ship. The PlayStation port was graphically inferior and hampered by some additional slowdown when compared to the Saturn port, although it made up for it by having an exclusive “Special Mode” that includes both a unique extra ship and an extra stage at the very end as well as some new story-related sequences. Although long gone, the archived version of Data East’s Soukyugurentai website does explicitly state these new features.
Last but not least the game had a somewhat downgraded mobile phone port in 2005 (Japan only, as you’d expect) as did Battle Garrega and Mahou Daisasuken. There’s not a lot of information out there but the official 8ing mobile page does show a few screenshots.
Descent Into The Clouds
That’s the full history behind Soukyugurentai, so I suppose now would be a good time to talk about the game itself.
There are in essence two games at work here, just as there is with any other good shmup.
There are in essence two games at work here, just as there is with any other good shmup. There’s the “pew-pew-blow-things-up” game where you take one of three ships (and a second player, if you have the pleasure of a shmupping partner) through six vertically scrolling stages blowing up enemy craft using a regular forward firing shot, a targeting “web” to take care of multiple enemies simultaneously (officially called “N.A.L.S” – “No blindspot All-range Laser System”) and the occasional bomb; then there’s the “nothing-but-score-matters” game where you spend far too much time online researching rank control, points multipliers and learning to avoid the bomb button at all costs.
Thankfully Soukyugurentai suits both player dispositions well. For the more laid-back gamer the game has a total of eight different difficulty settings in the options menu (with five being identical to the arcade), starts you off with a generous five credits and allows you to continue from exactly where you died, which keeps everything flowing smoothly even for a first-timer.
This train of thought even extends to the extra options menu – every single bonus (ranging from interesting control tweaks, unlimited continues to the ability to listen to the Battle Garrega, Mahou Daisasuken and Shippu Mahou Daisasuken soundtracks) can be unlocked either through a high score or passage of time, so if you want that bomb adjust setting but scoring 15,000,000 points seems like an impossible task, you can simply wait 14 days (real days, remember the Saturn has an internal clock!) instead.
Those playing with score in mind will need to take the time to become familiar with the unique qualities of each player craft’s N.A.L.S web – each one has two different shapes with a different total lock-on (and therefore, point multiplier) amount – and use this knowledge to squeeze every last drop from each enemy. Oh, and did I mention that powering up your main shot increases rank? So while everyone’s natural urge is to rush straight for the power ups, it’s actually a double-edged sword here; you’ll find yourself facing tougher enemies that really want you dead, but of course the flipside to this is that more enemies means more points… so long as you can survive long enough to kill them!
Ignition, Lift Off, Ejection
There’s really not much more you could ask of this game; it’s cheap, readily available and neither the Saturn or PlayStation are difficult to modify for region-free gaming. And if that doesn’t suit, capable emulators exist for both that accept retail discs. The game itself has a selection of varied and striking stages with players finding themselves passing over cities at night or diving through thick cloud to chase a tank-like vehicle across a desert. Even when the game does fall back on the usual space setting it’s either against the backdrop of an azure-blue Earth or a dense asteroid field, not a single black starfield in sight. Last but by no means least the wealth of options, separate score attack mode and the rank system mean it can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be – and you can even bring a friend!