Having enjoyed Qute's fantastic Ginga Force, I figured I'd play Natsuki Chronicles and I'm pleased to say that it's an even better shmup.
Natsuki Chronicles is both a story-infused shoot 'em up as well as an arcade shooter depending on what mode you choose. For starters, Story Mode consists of 10 stages that you can complete on 4 difficulty settings as well as a few training missions. As you play, you'll watch enjoyable cutscenes as well as have character dialogue occur during gameplay. This helps create an exciting driving force for the action although if you don't speak Japanese, you'll have to read the text which can be distracting. Anyway, there are RPG elements in that as you play, you'll earn credits and level up which allows you to extend your life meter via Ex. Shields as well as purchase and equip new weapons within 3 varieties that you can deploy simultaneously. This means that newcomers and genre veterans can enjoy the action.
Meanwhile, Arcade Mode is a much more hardcore experience as you'll start from the first stage as you attempt to complete the entire campaign in 1 sitting. Thankfully, you can continue and you'll unlock additional credits as you play. Also, this mode features a power-up system in lieu of purchasable gear which lends itself perfectly to the arcade feel. Whereas most shoot 'em ups will opt to have Arcade Mode merely be a stripped-down version of Story Mode, Natsuki Chronicles actually went all out in crafting 2 very distinct modes that are equally enjoyable to play. In other words, slowly amassing an arsenal of epic weapons in Story Mode as you level up is just as fun as surviving for as long as you can while utilizing all sorts of power-ups but enough about the modes; let's get to the gameplay!
At its core, Natsuki Chronicles is a standard horizontal shoot 'em up where you soar through unique environments while avoiding enemy fire and deploying 3 equipped weapons. Your primary weapon can be anything from a standard vulcan, laser, or wall-ignoring wave to a powerful mega beam, grenade launcher, or homing rings. You can also equip a secondary weapon which can either fire behind or in front of you and can be a bomb, homing laser, multi-directional rings, waves, or a standard rear-facing vulcan. Finally, your special weapon can be a shield that clears certain projectiles or powerful directional or homing attacks via a couple of satellite options. Experimenting with different loadouts is great fun and there are a ton of weapons to tinker with, too, which makes for plenty of clever configurations.
On top of the awesome weaponry, Natsuki Chronicles is a supremely challenging game at times, especially on the higher difficulty settings so if you want to put your shmup skills to the test; you'll love your time mastering the very unique and beautiful stages here. Speaking of which, I absolutely love the colourful graphics complete with retina-burning neon projectiles. It's the sort of shooter that you'll play then see projectiles whizzing by even after turning the game off. The voice acting and music are also excellent with a soundtrack that belongs in a Mega Man X game. From slick ship designs to lovely character artwork and gratifying audio; Natsuki Chronicles has it all.
Even though I love Natsuki Chronicles, it does have its downsides. One aspect that annoyed me occasionally is that you can enter a stage with weapons that don't really fit the level design. For example, you may have to have a wide shot or be able to shoot through walls in certain stages if you want to stand a chance and if you don't equip ideal weapons, you might screw yourself over. Last but not least, I wish there was more content to unlock. Although I loved unlocking weapons in Story Mode and climbing the online leaderboards in Arcade Mode, I still feel like having unlockable gallery items and such would have went a long way to add even more replay value.
If you love shoot 'em ups as much as I do then you'll have an absolute blast with Natsuki Chronicles. Its clever and vastly different modes make for top-notch shooting entertainment whether you prefer the steadily-paced story or action-packed arcade gameplay.
- + Super-tight shmup gameplay that's impressively challenging and very rewarding
- + Great presentation / oodles of cool weapons
- + The 2 modes offer distinct experiences
- - Going into a level with the wrong weapons can result in an unfair disadvantage
- - Could use more content such as unlockable galleries and the like