Going into Natsuki Chronicles fresh off the tail of some already decent shmups of late, Honor Runs and Bezier, was great, but it couldn’t be more different than the two, despite being of the same genre.
From the Ginga Force universe (delivered by Qute and Rising Star Games), you take part in ten different missions with the RDF (Rapid Defense Force?) as they thwart… well, we aren’t here for the story; just worry about dodging all the bullets and beating the bosses.
Also available on Steam, this experience was based on the PS4 version, played through a PS5 using witchcraft. With the PS5 setup (and the PS4 Pro), Natsuki Chronicles runs at 4K at 60fps, and it feels like it too.
Natsuki Chronicles PS4 Review
If you’re unfamiliar with Ginga Force, the brief introduction you’ll get from me is an anime-inspired narrative that is a little peripheral to the gameplay. Sure, it’s nice to have a thread going on, but let’s face it: we’re here for the bullet hell.
You play Natsuki, following her rise to being a top pilot as the story covers a few timelines. The reason I say this is peripheral is due to the chaos going on at one time. Unless you’re fluent in Japanese, you’re likely to miss the subtitles in English.
My Japanese is usually ‘good enough’, but redundant here as it’s too hard to pay attention and probably best to get someone else to play while you get up-to-speed. It’s not necessarily the language either, as if it were in English, I’d personally struggle to focus on it.
That’s a compliment to gameplay, however. Natsuki Chronicles is ruddy brilliant that the characters could have been drawn in crayon and narrated by a croaking frog munching on pistachios, and it would still be incredibly immersive and nutritious.
Natsuki Chronicles is a side-scrolling shoot ’em up, spanned over ten stages with training sessions to fine-tune your skills along the way. Jumping back and forth to locations already unlocked is encouraged, as it increases your stage proficiency and potential for upgrades.
The main mode is the Story which has an upgrade path to new weapons, whereas the Arcade mode is almost like a survival game as you have zero credits to begin with, steadily unlocking more with your attempts. There’s a leaderboard too, where you can ground yourself with your abilities when you see the numbers other gamers have achieved. Crikey.
Unfortunately, Natsuki Chronicles PS4 is a one-player game. It would have been nice for a two-player in a ‘take turns’ mode, but it’s not the end of the world. The story alone is well worth the purchase, so having the additional arcade mode is excellent.
One of the many highlights of the game is its encouragement. Early on, you can unlock trophies for merely showing up, but those who stick with it will get a justified platinum, an accurate assessment of ability. But it’s the key mechanic to the story mode that rewards players with improvements to give them a push to a better experience if struggling.
Reading that sub-heading is often a slur on something being negative. Not in this case. The difficulty curve in Natsuki Chronicles is as organic as as a carrot. Erm… While you have many difficulty levels to choose from, starting with Easy, the game will throw you lifelines if you still struggle.
With the nature of progress, you’re making improvements – whether that be marginal increments or slaying it. In terms of gameplay, I would often make silly mistakes. Sure, getting to the boss each time was easy enough, but along the way, I would bash up my ship to the point where one hit would kill me.
To counter this, Natsuki Chronicles would award additional EX shields specifically for that level the more you play it. With games such as Dark Souls, you have a degree of achievement as despite the deaths, you get marginally better stats. That applies here too. If that’s not your bag, just head to Arcade mode.
I’ll Level With You
But what makes it even better is the shield buff is relevant to the level. Say stage three has you gasping for air, and your shields are level seven or similar; perhaps stage eight is easier (nope!), and you finish first time every time. In that case, your shields will be lower as you don’t have as much experience playing that level – you don’t need the added shields.
It isn’t just shields but the vast weapons and unique skills that you can customise based on your play style (including an adjustment to your ship’s speed). With a bit of experimentation, you hone in on what’s best suited to the way you play. For me, rear homing missiles were perfect, while the starting gun, albeit upgraded, is surprisingly versatile.
Perhaps my weakness is one of Natsuki Chronicles biggest strengths: the special ‘weapon’. Pressing R2 unleashes this, and in the madness that endured at the beginning, was expecting a devastating nuke. Instead, it’s an indispensable shield that I seldom used.
Shielded From The Elements
The problem with the shield is you have to let go of your attack buttons. This is fine for boss battles as you devise a strategy, deflecting hits from the front, top or all over, but it’s better suited to the bulk of the stage so that you go into the boss fight with maximum shields.
Due to the bullet hell, it’s impractical for the gung-ho way I play, and consequently, a stumbling block in getting anywhere. Ten levels don’t seem like much, but due to the various difficulty settings and incentives to get new stuff, there’s so much replay value here.
Any good shmup needs online scoreboards, but it’s even better when you enjoy playing the game. While the 3D backgrounds played havoc with my eyes and couldn’t play for extended sessions, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. The levelling system cushions the blow each time you die, starting the next attempt fractionally better prepared.
Natsuki Chronicles PS4 Review Summary
With a customisation level that isn’t solely cosmetic for once, Natsuki Chronicles is a shooter high up on the recommendation list. The music is a little like City Hunter in places, and the narrative is corny, but it undoubtedly delivers when it comes to gameplay.