An instruction manual for noobs and a treatise against the ruling elite
Welcome. Glad everyone could make it today. Friends, fans, and fellow citizens of culture and refined taste, you are all here for a review of Natsuki Chronicles. You may have been waiting a long time for this moment, or maybe you are just curious as to what Natsuki Chronicles is, or possibly you're wondering what makes it so fucking special anyway, huh?
I'm here to give every one of you what you want. In summation, Natsuki Chronicles is my Game of the Year 2019™ so obviously I like and recommend it. That's the easy part out of the way, so for those of you suffering with a low attention span consider this your warning. This is about to get extremely long winded, so you might be better off going to the Xbox games store and just buying the game right now, and conceding that if you actually would have read to the end the hypnotic, suggestive, subliminal and somewhat seductive power of my argument would have won you over completely.
I want to let you all know this review almost didn't happen. In fact I wrote a complete review back in January when the game was fresh and after careful deliberation I flushed it down the metaphorical toilet.
That review was brilliant, but ultimately it had to go. It was an actual novel. It was broken into chapters and featured several fully fleshed out characters. It starred me as a wealthy philanthropist much like Bruce Wayne and had appearances by my overworked butler Terrance, my wife Molly who was a former model currently strung out on designer drugs, my pet tiger Spot and more. The story revolved around a mysterious guest arriving at my mansion and my attempts at being a hospitable and gracious host. I offer my guest the finest aged whisky, Cuban cigars, I had a feast prepared at great expense by Gordon Ramsey. But the hospitality didn't end there, after allowing my guest to test drive my vintage race cars and shoot a few frames at my private bowling alley, the conversation turned to my collection of videogames.
Here was where I would pretentiously spring the M. Night Shyamalan style twist on the reader. I get chills thinking about it.
After testing several games my guest focuses in on Mushihimesama Futari. While the whole time he seemed visibly impressed as he played it, when he was done he spoke up for the first time that day and said "Bro, that's some crazy Japanese shit. How much did that set you back?"
I explained that it was $90 and that's a pittance for us men of culture who appreciate the finer things in life, as I let out a bellowing laugh and gave him a hearty pat on the back.... assuming we would see eye to eye.
"Bro, I got Purple Chicken Spaceman for $10, you got ripped off"
I stood in shocked silence unable to form a response, when we are interrupted. My guest receives an angry sounding cellphone call. I can make out some of the conversation. It seems his mother is demanding he return home and bring back his fathers tuxedo immediately. I follow my guest outside. I see him get in a rusted out 1998 Ford Fiesta, where he proceeds to pound back a bottle of cough syrup before rolling a cigarette from the leftover butts he kept in a used Wendy's cup.
The twist was that my guest was you, the reader.
Listen, I'm sorry. I just wanted to be straight up with you. You should know I'm not a nice guy. In fact I'm a cynical prick for the most part, but even I realized writing a 3000 word novel for the express purpose of calling the reader a cheapskate would go beyond a simple prank and cross into the realm of sadism. I came to a realization that It actually isn't your fault in the slightest. Instead this second review is my babyface turn. That's right I'm going to make amends by pointing the finger where the blame truly lies, straight towards the cancerous rectal tumor we know as mainstream game journalism.
Why am I the only reviewer you can trust?
The Urban Dictionary defines Jenkem as:
A highly hallucinogenic drug which results from huffing the fumes of your own fermented fecal matter. Users claim it gives an incredible rush, and that the taste of poo only lasts for a month.
That seemingly non sequitur definition is actually important. I can't look at every videogame website, so I've set my sights on just one, IGN. I'm not sure if it's politically correct to call IGN "low hanging fruits" but just in case I assure you I mean it in the lesser offensive way. I want to add the disclaimer that, with my IQ of 63 I am not exactly qualified to give an opinion on anything. However, looking at the #myxboxstory feature on this site I can tell you 33.2% percent of the games I've played on this platform alone are shmups. I'm not skill shaming, I'm no super player, just saying maybe I can tell the difference between the finer details. On the other hand I'm sure the writers at IGN graduated with a degree in English Lit at Berkley and can afford an editor, you decide who to trust.
Why IGN? Well someone left a comment on my RiME review that linked to the review standards page at IGN, probably as a convoluted way to tell me to fuck off. So I figure, lets shine a blacklight on the bottom of IGN's dirty mattress, see what secrets they have to hide.
What would you guess is the highest rated shmup on IGN?
In my search I didn't look up everything but I checked a few dozen reviews.
Ikaruga? Nope. Their frothing demand was worth just an 8.3 for the record
Gunbird 2? That's an 8.4 baby.
Deathsmiles? 7.5 not enough lolis.
Akai Katana? The reviewer could barely understand it so he gave it a 7.
The highest rated shoot em up was a two way tie with a score of 9.
First of the two was Sine Mora which is arguable at least. Now despite the fact I purchased it twice, I never felt like actually playing it, maybe I will some day. I guess It just seemed like a Hungarian fur affinity fan game with broken time mechanics, so if that's your fetish feel free to let me know why I'm wrong.
The second game is the real shocker. A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks. This I have played. It is complete garbage in every important metric that humans use to quantify games. Reviewer Colin Moriarty praised the game because you could purchase upgrades, choose your level "jus like Mega Man" and because it featured lame flash cartoons between levels. Oh and because it was cheap, sooooo why not?
IGN are like that crazy friend who tries to convince you not to buy a bottle of nice champagne for your hot date because you could get a better buzz from Jenkem for free. If that friend told you how they did it then hallucinated and passed out in the back yard for three hours, then they woke up in a pool of their own vomit, would you trust them? My advice to Colin Moriarty would be, if you actually enjoyed A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks enough to give it a 9, you should take that information to the grave to preserve your reputation. Also you have dried vomit in your hair still dude.
Why price doesn't actually matter
Every gamer needs one great shmup in their collection, but right now, in the present, I'm sure you have a budget. Money doesn't grow on trees right? Let me dispel that myth. In the past present and indeed the future, price doesn't matter, especially when it comes to quality.
In the past for instance, I want you to think back to 2009 when you were a wee baby. Your mom was buying you games. So when you wanted a copy of Gears of War 2 and you told her about that new exciting cover shooter that was totally rad, imagine your shock when she returned home with a copy of Eat Lead the Return of Matt Hazard. Now I hope after this incident you would have been respectful to your mother, but I'm sure you'd agree you wouldn't be thrilled that she saved $20.
In the future money isn't going to matter because it won't exist. When you want to purchase a new game in the technocratic one world communist government dictatorship, a robot will come to your front door and scan the microchip in your forehead. It will check your social credit score and as long as you've stuck to your vegan diet and haven't said anything offensive on twitter you will be entitled to one new game that month. Of course you will be limited by force to playing only one hour a day, however if you choose to be sterilized they will bump that up to 3 hours a day and they'll throw in a large daily ration of marijuana. In that case only quality matters in your selections because by age 50 they send you to the recycling plant to repurpose your body into soylent green.
That brings us back to the present. What I'm saying is there is no point saving your money. It won't matter. Unless you plan on buying storable food and ammunition, then I guess you should spend it all on stuff that'll make you happy.
As far as professional game reviewers are concerned, price doesn't matter either, because they don't buy their games. Rather they get them gifted by publishers or their editor in chief.
In IGN's review of Akai Katana, writer Daemon Hatfield concludes by stating the game isn't worth $50 because you can buy a used copy of Skyrim for that price. If reading that made you feel like you got stupider, then take comfort knowing that Daemon got stupider writing it too. He made a similar argument against Deathsmiles as well. When 2 years after this review I could find copies of both in bargain bins for $5, it kind of makes the point irrelevant. Also just for the record Skyrim has less than 1/100th of the bullets on screen as Akai Katana.
On the flip side, according to World Vision, $2 is enough to send a child in Zimbabwe to school for a day WITH a bottle of fresh water. So next time Colin Moriarty decides to recommend you buy garbage with that $2 instead I hope that weighs heavy on his guilty conscience.
So here's a new rule I want the pros at IGN to follow. If Nintendo were to release a new entry in the Legend of Zelda series, and it was a game changing, life altering, ten out of ten experience... but they were charging $1000 for it.... I expect IGN to just review the content of the game. Sure they can mention that they think the price is some kind of error, or strange glitch. The price though should generally be considered irrelevant to the quality of the product for the purpose of a professional review. Also try not to compare it to Tetris, morons.
Setting new industry standards
Alright, here is the part where I get to the actual point. Has there every been a perfect shmup? Probably. Was it Dodonpachi? Maybe, but a Japan only arcade release with 2 Japan only console releases, probably wouldn't have moved the needle with the western gaming press. Was it Mushihimesama Futari? Also maybe, however a further refinement of the bullet hell formula also probably won't convince Colin Moriarty.
So what I am going to do is set a standard objective scale they can all use for reviews. Consider it my one good deed, or a penance for calling them low hanging fruits.
First you should all play A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks to understand the baseline, the absolute dregs, the worst. Just kidding, don't actually play it. Maybe watch a video if you hate yourself or something. You can trust me if you're lazy.
At the top of the scale I propose Natsuki Chronicles, and finally, after reading this far, I promise I am going to explain why. Strap yourself in Sally, we're about to blast off.
What you say you want vs. what you actually want
The average person plays a game like this and wants a few simple things. To feel like a badass of course, a balanced difficulty and a sense of progression. Essentially if you asked them what they wanted they would describe Tyrian.
Tyrian is a PC shmup from 1995. Some people with no historical context claim this is the greatest shmup ever made. Now I understand where they are coming from, but that simply isn't the case even back then. It might have been the best shmup you could play on a 486 PC before MAME and other emulators made it obsolete. The reason normal people love Tyrian is simple, it had a story, you could customize your ship and upgrade your weapons.
Ladies and gentlemen, Natsuki Chronicles features all of that shit.
Most importantly it features all the things normal people, like you, actually want but never articulate. The important stuff that often goes missing from cheap cash grabs. Let me get this out of the way, it is NOT a bullet hell, rather it draws inspiration from 16 bit classics like the Thunderforce series. Natsuki Chronicles had a long development, it released over 5 years after it's announcement, where this shows most clearly when you play is in the impeccable stage design. Every one of the 10 main stages plays like it's own adventure, well thought out enemy placements and fun locations, sprinkled with a tiny bit of cinematic flair.
Graphically Natsuki Chronicles does not aim for gritty realism or raytraced reflective surfaces, it sticks to a barely textured lo-fi design that mirrors the best kind of anime look. It's aesthetically quite pleasing and plays at a buttery frame rate. The soundtrack is amazing, and most importantly it plays like a dream. No inertia or weird crap!
One cool thing you didn't realize you wanted... There are two selectable speed settings for your ship. The great part is you can adjust both those speeds on a slider to your liking, and if you'd rather not toggle speeds at the press of a button, you can choose a more orthodox setting that lets you hold a button to alter your speed. Brilliant stuff.
This game is the work of indie legend M-KAI, who made a name for himself with the spectacular Judgement Silversword on the Bandai Wonderswan. Every game since then he has improved and innovated within the space of the genre, and this is his masterpiece. If anyone could take the euroshmup formula and make it not terrible, this is your man.
Balancing difficulty for pros and normies
The biggest issue facing the genre in the eyes of the mainstream is how to handle difficulty. In a game like Ikaruga you start with one credit, then every hour you play the game gives you another credit, that's great. The problem with this is the amount of people who are going to give up before they even play for a single hour making the whole concept pointless and impenetrable for new players.
Let's look at how Deathsmiles handles this. The developers added some conceits to new players like being able to tone down the difficulty of stages so they can learn things at their own pace. That doesn't matter to the average player though because of one simple problem. Because the game is an arcade port, the developers assume you bought access to the machine and give you unlimited credits. So neophytes keep pressing start until they see the ending and think the game is easy and pointless. I've had this happen with nearly everyone I lent the game to.
Natsuki Chronicles does things right, for new players and for the experienced pros. For the pros they can jump into the well constructed and fun arcade mode when ever they please for a more traditional experience. The main course, and where beginners will have a blast, is the games Chronicles mode, which presents things with a heavy RPG coat of paint.
In Chronicles mode each stage has 4 difficulties ranging from easy to extreme, that the player must conquer in order. Upon completion of the stage, whether the player succeeds or fails, the game grants credits which can be spent to buy new weapons. It also grants experience increasing the stage study level, each time that increases the game gives the player another shield for the next stage, it also increases the overall player level which unlocks better weapons in the store. In other words Natsuki Chronicles encourages the player to keep trying, keep experimenting, success is always just around the corner.
Your ship has three types of weapons. A forward and reverse facing attack and a shield. Now as you play with customizing your ship you may find that isn't how it works, maybe your reverse weapon is actually another forward attack. The shield is another major tool to help new players succeed (and a hallmark of all of M-KAI's games), and there are a variety or shield configurations to play with. Some cover the top and bottom of your ship, some cover your front, some are actually more of a homing weapon. Find what works, you can succeed, M-KAI loves you... that's why he released this on Christmas day. You can do this soldier!
The FINAL word
Congratulations, and thank you. For those brave few who made it to the end we are now bonded for life. You probably know me better than your own twisted family. I don't know you at all yet, but our bond cannot be broken by mere technicalities. No need to thank me, you can owe me a beer! After all, we're homies now.
If I convinced even one of you to plunk down some money on this game feel free to send me a DM or comment below, after all we're like soulmates now. I care.
If you work for IGN and you need a new writer to help class up the joint... Hey, I can use a thesaurus to find innovative ways to insult your sister instead of using crass and vulgar four letter words. Trust me.
In the meantime, enjoy a quality shmup before the Chinese soldiers take you away in a van and turn your body into a digestible pill to feed the masses, after, of course, salvaging your valuable organs while you are still alive.
We've got a few years left at least... try and enjoy them.