As much as I have enjoyed the Darius games over these past decades to be completely honest the first few entries were merely solid games, more notable for their use of a triple monitor setup in the arcade than any interesting mechanics. Darius Gaiden changes all of that as it introduces a host of new features and could be considered the first truly great game in the series. If it weren’t for the ridiculous difficulty it might have been one of my favorite shooters. While it is a great game only the truly dedicated shooter fans need apply as the challenge borders on insane.
There’s been a bit of a shift in terms of the level design. While previous games have had an expansive grid of levels this is the largest to date at 28. However with that many stages they have become far shorter as a result. You can look at the brief intermissions between boss battles as a simple means to power-up for main event but in truth the relentless enemy swarms are just as intense as the bosses themselves. But in truth every boss is an event unto themselves and where the real meat of the game lies. These battles last as long as the levels themselves and right when you think it’s over the bastards transform and have an all new pattern of attack.
To help you deal with these threats the power-up system has finally been given a much needed overhaul. Rather than simply upgrading the useless missiles as in the prior games now your main cannon, shield, and missiles can be raised multiple levels. This is a huge boon in dealing with the aggressive enemies, especially your main guns. Power-ups are dropped frequently enough so that you are rarely left at default power and in addition death only sets you back one level of power.
The fun doesn’t stop there either. Every level has a miniboss with a special circular ball located on its body. If you are quick enough and destroy you’ll “capture” them and they’ll actually fight by your side for a brief period. Trust me it’s hard to manage but at least worth trying as the boost in firepower is needed. Darius Gaiden has probably my favorite smart bomb of all time, a giant fucking black hole that sucks in everything on screen before exploding in a shower of lightning. If it sounds overpowered it is, at least against standard enemies. Your stock of 3 bombs is replenished when you die; do not be afraid to use them!
That’s because even with the new additions to the weapons system it still doesn’t feel like enough. Darius Gaiden is one of the most brutal shooters I have ever played and unfortunately the high challenge is a bit of a turnoff. There is some intricacy when it comes to the difficulty; collecting too many red power-ups will increase your rank and the game scales to match which kind of defeats the purpose of even having higher powered weapons. It makes little difference though; enemies attack from all sides and their appearances are so sudden that it feels a bit cheap. The boss battles feel like a war of attrition as they cycle through multiple forms and attack patterns and they either eventually go down or you run out of continues. Speaking of which you have a measly 2 credits to work through the game. 2! Thank god there are cheat codes but even with that only the best shooter fans will ever see one of the game’s multiple endings.
The ones that manage to soldier on and learn the game’s intricacies will be rewarded with the rare shooter that has a ton of replay value. The standard Darius level grid is present and has been massively expanded to cover 28 levels. One run will only cover seven of these so you are looking at six or seven separate runs to see everything the game has to offer. Granted some bosses repeat and there are a few stages that are only a slight variation on others but as an overall package there aren’t too many shooters that have this much content.
In light of the 3d games that were starting to hit the market and the exquisite artwork of In the Hunt Darius Gaiden’s visual impact was slightly lessened. But even then this was still a pretty game. The 26 zones don’t feature the prettiest backdrops but every so often there will be a scaling or line scrolling effect that is particularly eye catching, such as Zone O’s line scrolling corridors. The massive screen filling bosses are certainly the visual highlight; you probably won’t ever see sea creatures rendered this good ever again. For my money the soundtrack is the true star; Taito’s Zuntata sound team have created a score that is both epic and somber in tone which sounds like it would be out of place in such an intense shooter but fits perfectly.
Next to G-Darius this is the best in the series. While I wish the game were a little easier (even easy mode will kick your ass) I still think the game is great. Both the Saturn and PlayStation versions are excellent ports of the game. The Sega version is easier to track down and cheaper but in my opinion you can’t go wrong either way.