Vasara 2 Company: Visco


2001, Visco

Reviewed by O. Hakubi.

On June First of the year 1582 one of Oda Nobunaga's generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, declared independence from the Oda faction and lead his army from Kameyama to the temple at Honnouji with the intent to slay Nobunaga. The next day Nobunaga awoke to the sound of gunshots and took up arms, leaving the temple to personally take part in the battle. After receiving several wounds he retreated back into the temple, now set aflame by the Akechi army. When the flames died down not a trace of him was found.

Well, yeah. That's because he flew his giant robot out of the place. I mean, duh, right?

As you may have guessed from the exposition above (or not, depending on how much you know about feudal Japanese history), Vasara 2 takes place eighteen years before the first Vasara. Oda Nobunaga is poised to conquer all of Japan and four people with the ever-present Shogunate-era flying bikes aren't too keen on his current domestic policy, so it's up to them to fly to Honnouji and stop him. Of course you're going to encounter a lot of resistance in the form of anachronistic tanks, jets, railway cannons and giant robots, but it wouldn't be much of a game without them, now would it?

Vasara 2's cast of characters consists of (or is at least inspired by) people who were around during the time period, which is par for the course in the ever-popular fictional historical shmup genre:

The young man in red would be Takeda Nobukatsu. The warlord Takeda Shingen's last will was to have Nobukatsu become the successor of the Takeda clan. In reality he committed ritual suicide in 1582 as the Oda-Tokugawa alliance overran his homeland. In Vasara 2 he's not dead so much as really, really angry. His ship fires off formations of sword-like missiles (or missile-like swords) and Nobukatsu himself wields a sword that for all the world looks like Strider's cypher.

The yellow craft is piloted by Momochi Sandayu, of the Momochi ninja clan. You know, the ones from Iga that weren't the Hattori... oh, you didn't know? Shame on you for not knowing your feudal ninja clans, you ethnocentric American! Like all proper ninja she's fast, tosses shuriken and spins a giant shuriken in front of her.

Fun fact: There were actually two Momochi Sandayu... and both were male. Yeah. Well, they needed to get a hot chick in here somehow...

In the blue is Akechi Mitsuhide himself. Most people speculate that the reason he betrayed Nobunaga was due to a conflict of beliefs, but the real reason remains unknown. Actually, most betrayals are due to conflicts of beliefs, aren't they? Anyway, Mitsuhide's methods of attack involve short-ranged energy balls that behave like bombs and a rapid slashing attack.

Zuifu Seiryubo pilots the green feudal Japanese skycycle (now there's something I never thought I'd type). I'm not quite certain why he has a beef with Nobunaga, but it isn't as if many people were fond of the guy in the first place so it's largely irrelavent. Being one of those monks who spends his time learning how to kick ass, Seiryubo's capable of firing homing spheres as well as knocking ships out of the sky with blurringly fast staff thrusts.

Finally, there's a super-secret hidden character - Saika Magoichi. Sadly, he's nowhere near as cool as his Samurai Warriors incarnation or even his Onimusha 2 incarnation, serving as little more than a port of the Saika girl from the first Vasara. This means that the burning fan spin and homing fans are now the property of someone far less attractive and, in wielding said fans, far creepier.

Like its predecessor, Vasara 2 is a two-button game. There are, however, a few changes. The primary button still fires a steady stream of shots, which can be powered up by picking up the floating ovals with red "P"s on them.

Holding down the button for a second causes the character to ready his or her weapon, swinging it in front of or around themselves to deadly effect when the button is released. Aside from being more powerful than the ship's pea shooter, melee attacks are the key to one of the game's scoring systems (discussed later) and are also capable of swatting away most errant projectiles. I say "most" because this game introduces purple versions of the regular orange-red shots, which cannot be cut down. The bosses like tossing them into their attack patterns to keep things from getting too easy. Regardless, this shot-negating ability is extremely useful and necessary for your long-term survival. More so than in the first Vasara, even: In later stages enemies are spamming bullets so rapidly that swatting them out of the air with your melee attack is, short of dying, a

The secondary button, once used for a pretty generic bomb, now manages the character's Vasara attack ("Vasara" being Japanese for "sweet Christmas, that's a lot of slashing"). Vasara attacks are earned by picking up blue gemstones dropped by enemies, which in turn fill up one of the blue meters at the top of the screen. Once a meter is full, you can perform a Vasara attack at any time.

At first I thought this was pretty nice - being a little, uh... unskilled, I tend to bomb fairly frequently, and it was nice to have a system that catered to that sort of thing - but the more I thought about it it's sort of a bum deal: You really can't save up Vasara attacks for later, which means that no matter how good you get at the game you'll always be limited to three bombs and thus, three chances to save yourself/finish off a boss quickly. Compare this to other games like... well, like practically every other shmup ever, where being good enough to save bombs in the early game meant that you could panic bomb more often/kill bosses more quickly/boost your score with the end-of-stage tally. Here... not so much.

In terms of difficulty it seems a quite a bit more challenging than its already formidable predecessor: The curtains of bullets are thicker and the aforementioned purple shots tend to cause problems in the thick of things when your attention wanes, doubly so when you get to the later bosses who love hiding them within the normal, frangible shots. To top it all off, there's random bullet spreads. It's not Imperishable Night levels of difficulty (which, now that I think about it, didn't have many random shots itself, plus the characters had smaller, more defined hitboxes), but it's still pretty rough for the average gamer.

Graphically speaking, the backgrounds and ships are still prerendered and still looking great. Better, as a matter of fact: The backgrounds and enemies have been cleaned up some and I'm guessing a wider color palette was implemented, because the shading is smoother and less pixelated and the colors are a bit more varied as compared to the first Vasara. In a similar vein, the artwork for the non-rendered parts of the game (portraits, stage intros, et cetera) is a little more... dynamic, I suppose you could say. Basically, everything that could be improved graphically has been.

The music's just as good as the original, featuring an array of what can only be described as feudal Japanese instruments (taiko drums, koto, et cetera) playing modern shmup music that runs the gamut from the jazzy (the harbor stage) to the upbeat (the first fortress) to the ominous (boss fights). It's a little like Guwange in a sense except that Guwange was more of a "pure" traditional Japanese sound, whereas Vasara 2 combines both the classic and present-day. Sound effects are excellent as well, with a nice assortment of clanks, explosions, visceral slashes and voiceovers from enemy generals.

The scoring system is slightly different from the first Vasara; enough so that it warrants me going into detail about it for a couple paragraphs. Consider yourselves warned.

First of all, you can get a minimal amount of points by scraping bullets. Unless you're very, very good at the game this I wouldn't suggest doing it out of habit.

Secondly, you can get a slightly higher but still minimal amount of points by slashing bullets out of the air with either your melee or Vasara attack. Even though I say "minimal" the sheer amount of stuff flying at you results in this adding up relatively quickly.

Thirdly, there's "prestige" kills: Frequently you'll meet up with enemy generals and tougher versions of normal ships (usually identified by the banners on the back of the ships). When you shoot them down you'll see their portrait (for the generals) or a blood-splattered banner (for the grunts), and at the end of the stage you'll recieve a bonus based on how many you killed. You get more points for them this time around, but due to the scoring rate increase it's a smaller percentage of your total score. Still, you were probably going to shoot them down anyway, and hey, free points.

Destroying buildings, fortifications and some land-bound enemies will usually reveal gold bars worth 500 points. However, if you pick one up when the "shine" on it is at its brightest (similar to the medaling system in most Psikyo shooters) the bonus goes up to 2000 points. There's also stacks of gold bars worth 5000 points (or 10000 with the shine), but these tend to be tucked away in slightly more durable locations.

Last and certainly not least is the new melee scoring system: Starting with the third enemy destroyed in a row with a melee or Vasara attack, you will recieve bonus points equal to the number of enemies destroyed times 100. Getting the chain up to x100 would result in a total bonus of over a half a million points, so you can imagine how important this is to getting a high score. The chain ends if you whiff an attack, get shot down or end a stage.

Ultimately, Vasara 2 is a step forward in presentation and a step back in gameplay. While it does offer a greater challenge, it did take a hit with the change from the first Vasara's gameplay style. As such, it gets an 8 out of 10. Oh, don't get me wrong; it's still a great game, just... not as good as the first one.

Seven Samurai >>

...actually applies this time, provided you add in the cast from the Vasara. And ignore the hidden character.


<< Serect Difficurty

Right off the bat you'll be asked to choose between the two difficulty levels: "Easy" (one loop) and "Difficult" (two loops). Of course, seeing as this is a manic shooter the words "easy" and "difficult" tend to be very relative.

Feudal Japanese Railway >> a mini-boss, announcing his presence. There's more of them compared to the first Vasara, plus you need to defeat them more quickly since they're liable to leave if you dawdle.


<< Quick Explanation

The first four stages of the game are arranged in a different order depending on which character you choose, with this one being a moderately-sized ground fortress that segues into several hovering fortresses. To the left are some gold bars ripe for medaling, a named enemy, his dead buddy's banner and the beginning of the cumulative score counter. On the right are the little blue gems that pop out of defeated enemies (PROTIP: melee attacks cause enemies to drop more of them) and straight ahead...

Purple Shots >>

The first appearance of the soon-to-be-cursed indestructible purple bullets. Granted, they're not that bad right now, but just wait.


<< Perfect for Framing

...and after he's beaten you get a signed 8" by 10" glossy! Collect the whole set!

Introductions >>

At the end of the stage there is, naturally, a boss. In this instance it's Oda Nobutada, eldest son of Oda Nobunaga. After his father disappeared into the Honnouji temple, he fled to Nijo Castle and, after it was besieged by Mitsuhide, committed suicide. You ever hear of "suicide by cop?" This's suicide by warlord.


<< Bling-Bling

Right after the fourth mini-boss, blast the roof of the pagoda to reveal two stacks of gold bars. Yeah, there's only one there, but uh... well, the thing is that they're actually chocolate and I kinda got hungry, so...

Familiar >>

Yeah, didn't I see something like this in DoDonPachi? The bullet spreads, the giant missiles... fortunately it's a lot easier to survive, as you can shoot down the missiles fairly easily with no harm to yourself, or just fly right up between them and start slashing the boss if you're feeling lucky.


<< Assault

In the beginning his attacks consist of four-round shots with the side turrets at fixed intervals and tight aimed spreads from the center thrown in at a different pattern, with a purple spread every so often to throw you off (the shots are slow and telegraphed a bit, though). After you shoot off the turrets on the sides he busts out the gatling guns and missiles.

Bleeding Robots >>

...and you get a nice big wall scroll-ish deal when you beat him, along with gratuitous amouts of blood splattering on your screen. They do leave if you don't beat them fast enough though, so don't think that you can dawdle scraping bullets all day.


<< Onslaught

After he gets low on life he just drops all pretense of form and simply begins spamming you with bullets. Believe it or not, due to the way his gatling shots spread your best bet is to get close to him and use your melee attack whenever he fires from the center.

Hack the Rockies >>

Hey, coming up with taglines for these pictures is hard. Anyway, the second of the four stages goes through a mountain range, complete with mine entrances and what may be the spiritual ancestor of those railway turrets you see all over the place in other games.


<< Tally

In each stage there's eighteen named enemies, four mini-bosses and a general at the end, with a total possible bonus of 150,000 points for shooting them all down. Not too shabby.

Boss Time >>

Eventually it levels off into a sandy plateau and Shibata Katsuie makes an appearance. His history is long and boring so I won't cover it here. What I will cover is his attacks. Namely, he drops drone ships from those pods on the side and spams the screen with fixed spreads and the occasional sloppy semi-random aimed shot. Nothing fast, so dodging shouldn't be a major issue unless you're uncoordinated (like me).


<< Samurai Heads

Oh, and samurai head-shaped turrets. What is it with Vasara and samurai head-shaped turrets, anyway?

Lantern Heads >>

Stage the third takes you over a town at night, which would be pretty nice were it not for those flying rotating lantern heads spewing bullets everywhere. They're really durable, too.


<< Robot Time

After dishing out enough damage the sandcrawler turns into a flying robot (of course) with a fixed attack pattern: Fixed purple spreads from the hands, aimed wide spread, a long stream of aimed shots (shown), an aimed spread to either side of your ship, a wide fixed bullet spam and another aimed spread to either side. It's not too bad in the beginning but the weaker he gets the faster he goes, turning those shots to the side into flying walls.

Skull Ship >>

...and eventually a fleet of these things comes flying overhead. Odds are you won't be able to destroy them so you're better off not even trying. Really, the only purpose they serve is to block off parts of the screen and distract you as the small fry come in and shoot at you... which makes them a lot more dangerous.


<< Feudal Armor Double Zeta?

This is exactly what I'm talking about when I say that in later stages bosses start tossing purple shots in with their regular spreads. Once you get used to cutting through their shots... WHAM.

Stupid Bullet Tricks >>

After dealing enough damage, he opens up the butterfly wing-like things on the sides and starts pulling stuff like shooting streams of orange bullets with purples on the tips. This wouldn't be half an issue were it not for all those big, slow, random spams he tosses out. Curiously enough, he doesn't use his spear a whole lot. Not that I'm complaining, mind you...


<< "So GAY! For YOU!"

Uh... yeah. So anyway, Toshiie here is pretty fond of radial bullet sprays, trapping you in streams of bullets and shooting purple shots at you every so often. Nothing ridiculously difficult, mind you. That comes later.

Familiar? >>

Hey, isn't that ship...?


<< Deja Vu

The last of the four stages (provided that you play them in that order) takes you over and through a seaside fortification which bears an interesting resemblance to the one from the first Vasara, right down to the music.

Lobster Sticks to Robot >>

The giant flying crustacean at the end of the stage is piloted by Takigawa Kazumasu, loyal Oda general with a very spotty win/loss record. His MO is fairly simple: bullet spam. After you destroy both claws, his MO changes to purple bullet spam, with him firing curtains of shots from both of those smaller claws. This is basically the point in the game where things start getting ridiculous.


<< Crazy Prequel-Sequel Stuff

...yup, he's a boss in the first Vasara. Apparently doesn't die when you explode his ship in a shower of blood. Go figure.

Minkey Leesance >>

Hashiba Hideyoshi, AKA Toyotomi Hideyoshi, AKA "monkey." He did eventually unify Japan after Nobunaga died, but that's not as interesting as the fact that he had two thumbs on his right hand. I could try and sum up his attack patterns, but I think that it's just easier...


<< The Hidden Fortress

After the initial four stages it's off to a military encampment in the middle of a forest. As previously stated, things start getting ridiculous from here.

... >>

...what kind of crazy BS you'll be put through. Oh, and all those bullets are floating very, very slowly, plus the boss bounces around the screen which tends to smack you into the bullets and, well... you get the idea.


<< ... show you...

The final stage takes you to Honnouji and the final showdown with Oda Nobunaga. Needless to say it's the hardest stage in the game, plus if you have to continue you get pushed back to the beginning again. No pressure.

Visco: Man, how many mah jong companies that make shmups on the side are there, anyway?


Well, Huge Thanks Approaching, Mr O, for that fabulous review, which you sent in, ooh, April 2006. It's only taken me over 4 years to put it up. Better late than never? :) malc

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