Final Blaster

Namco were one of the few third parties to support the Turbo Grafx-16 with a variety of software.  Final Lap Twin and Dragon Spirit are two great games but I’m actually they were lacking with their shooter output.  I would have loved to have received Dragon Saber in the US as I never saw it in the arcade.  More than that though Final Blaster is unique enough that it would have stood out in the system’s library.  Although it has flaws it is a pretty good game but stay away if you can’t handle extreme frustration.

If I had to use one word to describe Final Blaster it would be inconsistent.  It’s a description that applies to nearly all facets of the production.  There is plenty to like however for every one positive there is another design choice that is baffling.  At its best moments this is a fantastic game but at its worst it will make you rage like no other.  I liked it overall but I would also be lying if I didn’t say my opinion tends to swing wildly depending on the level.  Still this is a pretty good game but not one I would recommend unless you are an ace at the genre.

The number of weapons is few but they are pretty versatile.  Your ship has a regular cannon but holding down attack will power up your charge shot which takes the form of a giant phoenix.  This is the most powerful attack in the game; get used to it, you will be using it a lot.  Weapons come in two flavors: blue pods give you a set of options and evolving lasers that can be set in different ways such as following your ship or as a rotating shield.  Red pods increase your basic firepower.  Lastly you can detonate your options like a smart bomb at the cost of downgrading your weapons.  This is not a wise maneuver as you need all the help you can get to survive.

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Throughout the game’s seven levels you will notice the relentless assault of enemies as they come from all corners.  It’s incredibly unfair and even with frequent item drops it’s a struggle to stay alive longer than ten seconds.  That is taken into account in terms of the game’s structure.  Final Blaster has dynamic difficulty scaling that can both help and hurt depending on your performance.  The end level map might give you the impression this is like Darius but it is not.  From the second level onward you are basically ranked and sent to an appropriate version of the following stage.  The number of power-ups you retain, options, and total deaths all play a factor in how you proceed.

Technically you can game the system by purposefully tanking your performance prior to the harder stages and make things simpler.  Ideally.  The truth is that the scaling is unfair.  Yes you are entering a new level with numerous power-ups but it isn’t as though you are invincible.  Once you die (and you will) you are stuck on a hard variant of a level without a pot to piss in.  Luckily if you need to continue it sends you to the easiest variant.  I like the idea of it but the implementation leaves something to be desired.

The reality is that Final Blaster is balls hard no matter what.  Most of this comes down to your weapons which outside of the charged shot aren’t very powerful.   Annoyingly there are enemies that can only be destroyed by the charge shot and when coupled with the number of other on screen enemies can quickly lead to disaster.  Depending on the version of the level you are on it can be an absolute nightmare.  Levels three and six in particular are egregiously bad in this regard; if you die it is almost impossible to come back.  And this is with the generous number of power-ups.  Those that persevere and see this to the end can take pride in knowing they accomplished something great because this is not easy.

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The game does have its moments visually but it is inconsistent (there’s that word again!).  This is one of the few vertical scrolling shooters for the system to have layers of scrolling and it adds depth.  On the other hand most of the backgrounds are composed of empty space and few sparse elements.  There is some heavy sprite flickering and slowdown when things get too intense which is pretty often.  The bosses are the visual highlight, particularly stage six’s evolving plant monster.  The soundtrack is not particularly memorable in my opinion as I struggle to remember even one level theme. 

In Closing

In spite of the game’s flaws in the end I really do like Final Blaster.  It at least tries to do something different unlike the vast majority of shooters on the platform and largely it works.  Ignoring the scaling and you still have a good game with decent production values and a solid foundation.  I wouldn’t recommend it over the Star Soldier series but it is a solid B or C tier title.

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