Shikigami No Shiro 1 and 2
Publisher: Kids System
Developer: Alfa System
Release 12-19-02 (Shikigami no Shiro) 4-15-04 (Shikigami No Shiro 2)
Shooter games tend to follow one of two schools of thought: Either present the player with fast paced twitch action, Shown in such games as the Thunderforce series, or giving the player a slow methodical approach, oftentimes accompanied by a thick hail of onscreen fire. Games like Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga are prime examples of this. Very seldomly does a game attempt to meld these two styles together, and even more unlikely, is the favorable result when a game does such things. Shikigami No Shiro is one of these rare games that blends the two styles together, and is quite successful.
Shikigami No shiro is an arcade shooter by Alfa Syatem, who, up until then, had been virtually unheard of. Shikigami No Shiro 2 was released a year and a half later. Both games are direct ports from the arcade version (with an unlockable gallery as a bonus). Shikigami No Shiro is a shooting game with a few gameplay twists. For starters, your "ship" is not a plane. You are in control of a person, who is blessed with powerful psychic powers, Each with different playing styles and attack patterns.
Gameplay of Shikigami No Shiro is very much like any vertical oriented shooter. You have your "ship" and lots of things to shoot on the screen. Controls are easily managed, utilizing only two buttons. The first button has two purposes, a rapid tap is your standard shot, while holding the button down commandse ach character's "ability" Certain One character has a spirit eagle circling around them, acting as a shield of sorts, while another controls a cursor on screen, choosing where to detonate a powerful radius blast onscreen. The second button is your "bomb" attack, a big screen clearing special move. They are usually very powerful, and with 3 stocks per credit, must be used sparingly. Varied styles for each character means there will be someone in the game who fits your play style.
What sets Shikigami No Shiro apart from other shooting games is the Tension System. Encouraging daring and risky play, The Tension system gives players a temporary boost in firepower if they come in very close proximity with enemy fire. Shots cause double damage when your character is in tension mode. This adds a very interesting dynamic. Players will find themselves drawn to bullets onscreen rather than running from them. There is also physical tension. The closer you are to an enemy when you destroy it, you will get a score multiplier bonus or either x2, x4, x5, x6, or x8. Multipliers up to 6 can be acheived the closer you get to an enemy, however multipliers of 8 can only be had when you are in tension mode. Due to the large number of bullets on the screen, there will always be an opportunity for tension bonuses, and it is not unheard of for expert players to be in a constant state of tension during the game.
Enemies range from small planes to giant teddy bears and massive battleships. The bosses in the game usually pit you against similar foes; humans with the same spiritual abilities as you. Battles between these bosses are quite entertaining, as they usually have massive amounts of firepower vastly superior to your own, usually in a kaleidoscopic or spiral pattern. The screen will always be filled with firepower during these battles. Bosses have 3 life bars, and some can take quite some time to finish off.
Graphically, Shikigami is competent, if not fairly simple. Character models are fairly small compared to the rest of the environment, but are detailed enough so they are not just blobs on the screen. The backgrounds are fully 3d, and offer a small "tilting" effect as your character moves around on the screen. Sound effects are standard, offering explosions decent enough, but nothing amazing. Music is very interesting, having a jazz type feel to it. But it might not be for everyone. Each character has an array of voices during the game, from getting hit to executing their special attacks. This adds a nice touch of personality to the game. There are story mode scenes in the game, accompanied by voices and narration, although most players will problably skip those to get to the main game. At just six stages, Shikigami No shiro is fairly short, but most arcade games are about scores, and for gamers who know this. Shikigami No shiro will offer much replay value.
Shikigami No shiro 2 is more of an upgrade than a true sequel from the first game. The core gameplay remains the same, and The graphics are the same quality as the first game. Shikigami 2 adds more playable characters, as well as two different styles for each character. Some changes are small, while others are glaring. But these small changes can completely change how a character plays. There is much more dialogue than the first game, and the soundtrack has been changed in favor of a more techno-orchestrated affair this time around. Hitboxes have been tweaked, making it slightly easier to enter tension mode, and an extreme difficulty has been added. As a bonus, Shikigami 2 has an arranged soundtrack option, allowing you to use a remiux soundtrack from the first game. While i prefer the second soundtrack to the first, it is a small, but welcome gesture on the developers part.
If you can only get one of the two, pick up shikigami No shiro 2. It is everything the first one is, but more refined and polished. More characters increase the depth of the game significantly. At only 5 stages, broken up into sub stages, Neither Shikigami game takes very long to complete, but on harder difficulties, going through them in one credit is a challenging task indeed.
As one of the few vertical shooters for xbox, Shikigami No shiro 1 and 2 are definitely worthy purchases for fans of the genre as well as the occassional player.
With psyvariar 2 on the horizon (August release) Shikigami No Shiro 1 and 2 should do well enough to pas the time until then.