Title: Natsuki Chronicles
Release Date: February 18, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Most shmup fans know about the lengthy development of Natsuki Chronicles, which began in 2015 and wasn’t released until 2019 on Xbox One. Well, now players on additional platforms can experience the high-action shmup on other platforms. After playing the PlayStation 4 version, the only thing I was upset about was that I let it slip under my radar for so long.
Natsuki Chronicles is a shmup that has been designed by lovers of the genre. All the pain points that you think you may have had with previous shmups have been correct in this game’s design. Bullet patterns, progress even after a loss, and numerous ways to get further in the more challenging stages. This is all packed up in a not-so-interesting story that jumps from the past to the present.
The only problem with the narrative really is that I don’t speak Japanese, so I miss the in-stage dialogue between the characters and the boss of the level. It is translated in the top right, but good luck finding a second to read it while you’re avoiding waves of enemies. There are also cutscenes before each stage, and although they are way more fleshed out than typical shmups, it took me a while to understand the timeline of events and what I was fighting for.
The cutscenes are a nice touch, but this is all about gameplay, and Natsuki Chronicles has everything a shmup fan could want. In Story Mode, your ship will gain experience points based on what you accomplish in a stage. Whether you win or lose, you’ll get points. As you level up, you’ll be rewarded with more weapons than you can spend currency on to develop and equip your ship.
Your ship has a main and secondary weapon along with a special weapon. The main weapon is your frontal assault and comes in various choices such as lasers, spread shots, and homing bullets. None of them are particularly worse than the others, but you could complete the game without even touching the weapons you don’t feel comfortable with.
The secondary weapons are typically guns that shoot behind the ship, but you can also equip bombs and homing missiles. I found that each level seemed easier with the right secondary weapon, so it may take you a few runs to organize your loadout. Special weapons can be shields or a powerful attack that can take out a screen of enemies.
Natsuki Chronicles is exceptionally accessible. Not only can shields be regenerated over time in a stage, but if you lose, you gain level within the stage, which provides you with even more energy. That way, the more you die in a stage, the easier it can become since you gain a new bar of life practically every time if you get far enough.
Enemies are diverse and require some trial-and-error to understand. Clearing the screen as quickly as possible is the best way to avoid a massive rain of bullets. Enemies come from all angles and have a variety of attack patterns. Scores are based on clearing out groups of them and not letting them escape.
The developers include projectile lines that show you where you shouldn’t be, but that didn’t stop me from getting shot down. The game is challenging at times, but with rewards unlocking even after a loss, it’s tough not to just jump in and play more. One additional layer of customization allows you to switch between two different speeds of your choice, which comes in handy when avoiding large bullet patterns.
Natsuki Chronicles is a very colorful game, but the only setback is that sometimes enemies can be tough to spot, especially the smaller ones. Also, even playing on PS5, I did encounter some slow down during a couple of high-action sections. This wasn’t something that typically happened, though. The soundtrack flows well with the stage layout. Each level throws new obstacles at you that limit any repetition.
Natsuki Chronicles is a great shmup that was clearly developed by shmup fans. The game has a refinement to it that eases any pain points someone might have had with other titles in the genre. The accessibility of the systems and constant rewards creates a challenging but approachable experience. The only setback is a few hard-to-spot enemies and a frame drops, but you’ll probably be having too much fun to notice.
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