Played through Final Soldier [PC Engine].
I actually cleared a space-shooter on normal difficulty without save-states - this is EXCITING!!! Final Soldier is Hudson Soft’s second Star Soldier game on the Japanese PC Engine (which, unlike Super Star Soldier and Soldier Blade, never got localized to the North American TurboGrafx-16). And while it may not garner the same acclaim as its brethren, I think it shines equally bright as a solid representative of the broader 16-bit vertical shoot-em-up genre.
Final Soldier treads a very delicate middle-ground between reflex-shooters (like Compile’s) and strategic-shooters (like Irem’s). And it does so with a unique feel that perfectly transitions the early arcade-style roots of NES Star Soldier into the refinement of the 16-bit era. There’s plenty of weapon-variety (with configuration options for each brand of powerup), an inspired graphical presentation (in colorfully mechanical early-90s fashion), engaging enemies (active ground-turrets, classic airborne formations, and well-implemented mid-bosses), and buttery-smooth controls (sporting rapid-fire by default and speed that can be adjusted on the fly).
My favorite part of Final Soldier is definitely the Bubble-Laser upgrade, which sends its fatal rounds spraying in all directions from your ship - reliable as both a perimeter-defense and as a powerful means of damage to stage-enemies and bosses alike. I also liked how the final boss slowly transforms from a spaceship into a creepy, fleshy monster as the battle goes on. My only holistic complaint with this title is that, in its middling design approach, it isn’t very memorable. Yet even as a “stock” 16-bit space shooter, it lies in the highest echelon of its “by the book” contemporaries. So I can’t fault a game for being such a well-rounded example of not only its franchise, but its entire niche in classic gaming.
This is one of the first PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 Hu-Card games in my collection - and I’m glad I made the addition, as this is a title ripe for replaying (at least until level 5, where things get a little too hectic for my casual tastes).