R-Type is the series that says goodbye to everyone at a party twice


R-Type Final (2004)

A performer needs to know when to bow out. There’s nothing worse than seeing an aged, washed-up athlete who just won’t admit it to themselves that they have reached ‘The End’. Their legs have gone, mentally they’re no longer that vital step or two ahead, they can no longer last the distance. No matter how prime an athlete they once were, time eventually caught up to them, as it always does. They just haven’t accepted that cruel fact yet.

It’s not just the sportspeople either – it seems all of show business suffers from a reluctance to accept that their day in the sun is long over. This has to be true, otherwise the Rolling Stones wouldn’t have embarked on their sixth Worldwide Farewell Tour. They even came to Ireland, for God’s sake. And as my grandad always observed, they only come here when they’re finished.

At least R-Type Final knew when to call it a day. As the name would obviously suggest, this was to be the last game in the R-Type series of horizontal space-shooter games. I’m sure there’s been a number of arcade ports since, and I think there was even some wayward R-Type Tactics game. But in terms of progressing the pulp space story and delivering a dedicated, no-nonsense shooter, this is the denouement of the series.

Or so I thought, when the fates conspired against me in the cruellest possible way. Alright, that’s a touch dramatic, but consider this – I wrote this piece a few months ago, before a new R-Type title was quietly announced. Its name? R-Type Final 2. You’re joking, aren’t you? How unlucky can I get?

The PS2 game has ‘Final’ in the title. And not in the same way that Final Fantasy became a running joke, because once Final Fantasy II came out you knew where you stood with that one. The in-game text for Final even made more than one reference to this being the last title. One of the ships was called ‘Curtain Call’, and another ‘Grand Finale’, for God’s sake. I suppose Final meant Final in the same way that Brexit means Brexit.

It’s a shame for the original Final (…) because I really got a kick out of them naming it like that. It’s a bit sad really that at the time, they thought this would be the end, but at least they made no bones about it. And now a sequel comes along and threatens to make R-Type Final look stupid. The devs just better hope the game turns out good, or I shall hunt them down and throw them into quicksand – your cards are marked.

The R-Type formula didn’t change much over the years. Maybe that was its downfall, but how much can you change a simple enough space shooter? You control an R-Type spaceship, which predictably can take a whopping one hit before disintegrating into so many pieces of space clag.

The unique selling point here is that you get a Force module, a little device that gives you additional firepower and which you can install at the front or rear of your ship or send it firing off into independent flight, destroying enemies on contact. The enemy is the Bydo, the hive-minded alien species intent on enslaving and/or destroying mankind. Aren’t they all?

But here’s Final’s hook – whereas in previous R-Type games, you usually only had one ship available, or even as many as four in R-Type Delta for PS1, here in Final you can go on to unlock a whopping 101 ships in total. Now that sounds incredible, and in a sense it is. But there’s only so many ways you can differentiate these ships, since they all serve the same purpose of shooty-shooty-bang-bang, whoops-I’m-dead-from-one-bullet type of setup, so it does get samey.

You’ll never get all of the ships, either. It’s an impossibility. Unlock requirements differ for each, and the in-game descriptions are left deliberately vague. Oftentimes you’ll need to log multiple hours of flight time in one particular ship to unlock its successor. Now, you can beat these kinds of shooter games in a half-hour, and that’s if you’re flawless, so making you use one ship for four hours is a fairly tedious requirement.

If you’re not flawless, and I assume this will apply to you unless you’re some sort of demi-god that can see through pixels, then you’ll be dying every second and you’ll never get that time built up. Just put in an invincibility cheat and leave the game running, if you’re that desperate. I did that plenty and I still only got 81 out of 101.

Great that it’s got oodles of ships, different Wave Cannons (that is, different shooty-shootys), Bits for protecting your ship and Missile combos. And you can customise all of these fully. But the big problem with R-Type Final is that, having lovingly polished and washed and prepped your glorious ships in the hangar, there isn’t really much game to take the ship into.

Part of this is because the levels just don’t seem to be appealing, but I reckon two major reasons for this are the graphics and music. The graphics in Final are kind of drab and uninspiring. It’s what I call banal PS2 – it’s 3D, and not ugly-blocky like PS1, but there’s not much character in the aesthetic.

It just comes off looking dull. R-Type Delta on PS1 had some great, not over-the-top 3D that still holds up, unlike many other 3D games on that system. The arcade’s R-Type Leo and the Super Nintendo’s R-Type III have some wonderful spritework. Final, unfortunately, is made to look poor by comparison.

The music isn’t exactly the rocking stuff of R-Type III either, nor is it the wonderfully bassy, early-90s dance of Super R-Type. And nor indeed is it the God-knows-what genre of R-Type Delta. Final’s music direction is more atmospheric for the most part, or just relegated to background noise, which is a shame.

The sound effects suffer a similar fate, but it’s great when you unlock the Giga Wave Cannon, charge your beam a scorching seven times in a row and unleash a pulverising white nuclear blast with a sound that shatters your room windows and makes God squirm. Other than that, I’m wondering if they couldn’t have given each of the Wave Cannons different sounds, in the same way F-Zero GX had different booster noises for each vehicle. Perhaps I’m being overly demanding.

Despite all of these protestations, and despite me being overall rubbish at the game – and I am rubbish, since I really cannot see enemy projectiles coming at me properly unless they’re massive, yellow lasers with a caption underneath them screaming “I am coming to kill you” – I like the game. R-Type Final just about breaks even.

You could call it good, you could call it okay, maybe even fair, but certainly not average. To get to this conclusion, we have to turn a bit of a blind eye to the bland graphics, the soundtrack that’s lower in quality than its predecessors, and reckon ourselves with the fact that although there are a bunch more levels, not many are memorable.

Whatever about all that, it was a touch of class from the boys and girls at Irem to sign off like this. There was no beating of a dead horse, no guff, no overindulgence or self-onanism. Just a mutual recognition that the horizontal- and arcade-shooter genre had come to its natural conclusion, leading to a hearty farewell and a parting of the ways. It didn’t stay past its sell-by date and sour memories of the glory days. It just gave us a farewell wink, a cheery goodbye, and roared off with satisfaction towards the infinite black yonder, leaving us wanting no more or no less. Until R-Type Final 2 reared its head.

25 June 2019

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