Early shots of the game looked decidedly dull, the cel-shaded style being something of a novelty in the genre and one that was initially met with a sceptical reception. Some of the character designs (the player's mecha and some of the smaller enemies in particular) are unimaginative, even derivative, but seeing the game in the flesh proves that Milestone has produced something with a genuinely different look that works well. The graphics are sharp and clear and while the brash colour scheme might not be to everybody’s tastes, it chimes in perfectly with the cutesy feel of the game and, more importantly, the clarity and precision mean that the player does not miss a trick. Even in the most manic passages of the game every bullet is crystal clear; seldom does the player feel cheated by an unseen shot (a common complaint with Cave’s Ibara). Which is just as well. Don’t be fooled by the cute exterior - Radirgy packs a punch and spews out enough on-screen damage to challenge even hardened shmup fans.
As the game begins, the story is told by means of a series of somewhat intrusive pop-ups at the start of the level. Conveniently, these can be turned off by pressing X at the player-select screen.
As enemies are destroyed they produce blue tokens that fill the blue ABSNET gauge in the bottom left of the screen, but the gauge is filled more quickly when using the sword rather than the main shot. Of course, using the sword means getting up close to attacking enemies but it is this risk/reward mechanic that is key to achieving monster scores and really challenges the player to dive headlong into the action rather than sit back and rely on the main shot. Another use for the sword attack is to “bounce” tokens dropped by destroyed enemies. In doing this the value of the tokens, signified by their colour, can be changed from, for example, an ABSNET gauge refill to a power-up of the main shot. The sword can also convert cancellable bullets (easily distinguished from their non-cancellable counterparts thanks to the clear graphics) into blue tokens to fill the ABSNET gauge. When the gauge is full the ABSNET barrier can be activated.
The kicker comes as the multiplier gauge depletes if it is not being actively filled, meaning it is necessary to keep topping it up to achieve the highest scores. It is precisely this balance between sustaining the multiplier while refilling the ABSNET gauge as quickly as possible that makes the game compelling. Like in many good shooters, it is the interplay between risk and reward that gives Radirgy its irresistible hook. Unlike more conventional shmups, satisfaction comes not from destroying as many enemies as possible (several larger enemies prove very difficult to destroy before disappearing off-screen, and levels can be finished without the boss being defeated), but from racking up the highest score possible. In focusing on score, weaving through the bullet hell becomes second nature.
A criticism that could be levelled at the game is that the exploitability of the system robs the game of some of its challenge, but given the sheer amount of bullets flying around it would be difficult to argue that the game is undemanding. By no means is Radirgy in the same league of difficulty as, say, DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou, but it is no pushover either.
Not as sparse as some other Naomi ports, the game is rounded out by a decent set of options, including the obligatory TATE mode, and a suitably bouncy techno soundtrack that complements the overall style well.
Radirgy comes as a breath of fresh air in a genre that is so often lacking in originality, and this on a supposedly “dead” machine, something for which Milestone should be commended. The fact that this will be one of the last games to appear on the Dreamcast means that Sega fanboys and eBay touts will buy it regardless, but judged purely on its merits as a shmup, Radirgy is thoroughly deserving of a place in any shooter fan’s collection.
A review by Gareth Newhouse