|[ Writer ] = BAD
|[ 03/09/03 ] = ESP Rade
I'm not sure if my coverage on this game will actually do it justice. That is, this game is so stylish and so cool that I don't know if even the screenshots I have provided are capable of showing how good this game really is. In addition to reading this article and viewing the screenshots, I would recommend to actually play the game to understand the things that will be said in this article. An article can tell you a thing or two, and with pictures you can imagine what the game is like, but ESP Rade is one of those games where playing it first is almost like a prerequisite for understanding screenshots and/or an article. This may sound like an article geared more towards those who have already played the game, but hopefully this article will succeed in giving those who haven't played it a pretty good idea of what they are missing out on. And hopefully this article will keep those who have played ESP Rade nodding their heads in satisfaction.
ESP Rade is not only one of the best Cave shooters ever, or one of the best shooters ever, but it is also one of the best games ever. At first glance (especially screenshots), it's a bit difficult to tell exactly what's going on in the game, except the fact that there are a lot of things going on at once. Back in the good 'ol days when Gamest was around (circa 1998), I had seen screenshots and strategy for ESP Rade, but didn't really know what kind of game it was.
Looking at the unique character design and beautiful artwork, I knew one day I would have to play it, but I still didn't really know anything about the game. To the untrained eye, one could possibly mistake this game for some type of odd puzzle game, due to the rows and rows of bullets that seem to cover the screen more than just often. In fact, this is somewhat true in my case, where I was wondering if it was just some strange new kind of puzzle game that, back then, hadn't yet came from Japan to America. After some few days of screenshot examination, ignorance was lost and I had came to the conclusion that the game was most ikely one hell of a shooter. My convictions later proved to be right. Fast forward to the year 2002. After a long, long time, I had finally got a chance to play the game, and it was everything I had thought it would be, and more. ESP Rade Is a monster of a game. A killing machine, to say the least. Fast forward again to 2003, where I have finally played enough of the game to present to you the best coverage I can. Enjoy reading about Cave's wonderfully crafted masterpiece, ESP Rade. I enjoyed playing it.
ESP Rade throws you headfirst into a psychic struggle between the forces of good and evil. Yusuke Sagami ("17 Years Old"), J-B 5th ("Black Peter Pan"), and Irori Mimasaka ("Psychic Girl") use "Extra Sensory Perception" to fight against villians Satoru and psychic henchmen called "Yaksa," who also possess the same powers. The three psychic fighters you have control of are of the "gifted and talented" youth who each possess their own, unique powers. In addition to the aforementioned beyond imagination powers that the heroes have, the enemy utilizes a number of tanks, helicopters, ships, and other means of armory to kill. Other manic shooters put you against lots of big guns and other fun weapons of mass destruction; ESP Rade puts you against the same artillery, and in addition enemies who deal mass destruction from their hands. For those who have not played the game, can you imagine the immense firepower at hand? Get ready, because this is gonna be one hell of a battle.
ESP Rade uses three buttons; the A button is the Main Shot, the B button is a Power Shot, and the C button is a Barrier that releases energy. Like in other manic shmups, the Main Shot is the player's main tool of destruction, and each of the three characters have their own, individual Main Shot. Yusuke Sagami's Main Shot is a powerful straight shot, J-B 5th's Main Shot is the 3-way spread shot of medium power we've seen in a few other shooters, and Irori Mimasaka's Main Shot is similar to Yusuke Sagami's, but is wide and covers a bit more area. Each character's Main Shot can be powered up by grabbing green "P" icons that can easily be found after destroying enemies. The Main Shot can be powered up to a pleasant level of destructive capability, and unlike other shooters, if you happen to get hit, you lose some of the "P" energy you had picked up before, but in ESP Rade you do not lose all of your power-ups; it still a bit difficult at times to get back the power you lose when you get hit, but at least the game leaves you with some power to survive.
In addition to each of the three playable characters having their own Main Shot styles, the Main Shot itsself can also be used two different ways: Manual and Auto. In most shooters, the Manual shot system is used, requiring the player to press the shot button as frantically as possible to get off the flow of shots needed to down the enemy. However, in ESP Rade, both the Manual and Auto methods of usage have their own distinctive advantages and disadvantages. By using the Manual method of fire (twitch masters apply here) your character retains their speed but fires only as fast as your thumbs can tap the button. By using the Auto method of fire, your character moves slower with blue shadows that trail him/her, but can fire very quickly.
The Auto feature can also be used as an asset at times when the screen is drenched in bullets from every direction; usually when the Auto fire option is used, the game slows down a bit, and if you use the Power Shot simultaneously with the Auto Main Shot, the game slows a bit more, giving the you an opportunity to slide your way through mazes of bullets a bit easier. If you think you were a bit too hasty during the induced slowdown and made a mistake, right before you get hit by a shot, you can quickly release both shot buttons and your character will regain his/her normal speed, allowing you to pull out of the way at the last second. Whether or not Cave meant to have this slowdown in the game or not I cannot say (or judge), but I can say that the strategies involved with the different ways you can use the Main Shot are just awesome; it adds so much more to the game when you find out how to use the strategies.
Just like the Main Shot, each character also has a different Power Shot that re-charges automatically after usage, and can only be used when fully charged (each consists of 15 blocks). Yusuke Sagami's Power Shot sprays from left to right and covers a wide area, J-B 5th's is a straight-forward shot, and Irori Mimasaka's sprays similar to Yusuke Sagami's Power Shot, but instead covers on the immediate area in front of her. Although it is a bit slow, using the Power Shot works well up-close on bosses for dealing damage, and works especially well when smaller enemies or mid-bosses get too close. It should also be noted that both the Main Shot and the Power Shot can be used simultaneously. It may not sound like a big deal, until you see the massive damage that comes with using both shots together; we're talking damage on a large scale here (see left).
Each of the game's playable characters also have a Barrier that uses an energy bar at the bottom of the screen, and functions in different ways that are quite useful in bad situations. First, upon activation of the Barrier, the character is encased in an invincible sphere. From there, the Barrier can be used like the "Bomb" that other shooters have, enabling you to eradicate just about everything on the screen when things get tough by tapping the button and using it in a short spirt (minimum energy bar usage). Or, after the invincible start-up of the Barrier, you can hold the button and charge (energy bar usage varies depending on how long the button is held for) to absorb bullets, and when you think you've had enough, release the shot to use the absorbed energy in a longer-lasting beam.
It should be noted, however, that the Barrier should be budgeted carefully, as the energy can run out quite fast in later stages from overusage (in situations that probably could have been twitched through). Like Mars Matrix and Giga Wing, in ESP Rade there's nothing better than absorbing shots that pour out of the bosses to shove it back down their throats. Either that, or when the enemies think they've got you cornered, absorb a few shots and give 'em a beam. The second way to use the Barrier is more of a defensive method, rather than the offensive methods of destruction already explained. When the Barrier absorbs shots, it can also turn them into "P" or "En" power-ups! This is not only a cool feature, but ultimately a really useful one; even if you don't hold the Barrier for long, if you plan correctly and use the spirt in spots where there are lots of bullets, you can cash in on some good points or shot power-ups.
Moving on, ESP Rade also contains point multipliers in the form of "En" (Japanese Yen currency symbols), which do wonders for your score, and also increase your chance of getting an extra life. Like Cave's other titles, ESP Rade has a complex scoring system, but to no avail, I still cannot understand the game's scoring system enough to explain it fully. I have tried many times to find out exactly how ESP Rade's scoring system works, but there are just so many ways to get points that even after playing it for a year, I cannot understand the system. The Barrier "E" power-ups are offered rarely throughout the game and regain a bit of your Barrier guage (so that you don't have to actually die to get the energy for the Barrier charged). As for availability of power-ups, ESP Rade gives you plenty, but also gives you more depending on how you destroy your enemy, sometimes giving you so many power-ups that you can't even collect them all! Now that is what I call power-ups.
Now that we are past the ESP Rade system, on to the gameplay that makes this game a monster. For some, ESP Rade is a nightmare. A game that some will not even touch. Chances are, non-shmup fans will be turned off by the amount of bullets on screen, but shmup fans, and those looking for a challenge, will embrace ESP Rade for all it's worth. ESP Rade is a furious, fast-paced manic shmup with lots of destruction, lots of power-ups, lots of enemies, and lots of bullets. In ESP Rade, you blow up a plethora of tanks, helicopters, jets, trucks, ships, and various robots. You can also slaughter large quantities of psychic "Yaksa" henchmen, soldiers who shoot at you from the ground, and...Alice Clones. What are Alice Clones? Well, as shown in one of the screenshots, Alica Clones are, well, evil little girls in plentiful supply that are out to kill you with their psychic powers. There's nothing like mowing down 20-30 of these crazy bitches with the Barrier Energy for trying to kill you. ESP Rade also has its fare share of huge bosses, as well, ranging from crawling tanks, large helicopters, a death-on-wheels cannon, psychic madman Satoru, and a transforming vehicle of mass destruction that stands upright. ESP Rade is a great game particularly for those who like to blow up many kinds of enemies.
There are shooters where you dodge bullets, and then there are shooters where there are so many bullets you dodge and twitch your way through mazes of bullets (Mars Matrix, Giga Wing, and Strikers series). ESP Rade is of the latter, spirit-breaking breed of shooters. While ESP Rade doesn't have as many bullets on-screen as Mars Matrix, the game manages nonetheless to keep lots and lots of shots on-screen, as enemies often deal enough shots to kill you eight times over. Being a manic shump, the enemies of ESP Rade shoot at you in various pretty formations and shapes to ensure your death (as you may have seen in the screenshots). Some shoot in spread, circular, triangular, or diamond formations (to name a few), while others just send you globs of bullets to work with. And just as in other Cave shooters, bullets come in lots of different shapes, sizes, and colors (as seen in the screenshots). Fighting some enemies requires memorization of the patterns their bullets make at the speed they are traveling, while getting through some parts of the game require pure reflexes as bullets are sent at you with no particular pattern to be taken advantage of. Also, bullets travel at various speeds, requiring you to carefully watch and anticipate what bullets will hit where, and when they will hit, to prevent failure. In some instances (like boss fights), you have to work your way through about three or four different bullet formations at a time (without using your Barrier to bail you out).
There is a lot going on in ESP Rade; robots and tanks shoot at you as they enter, "Yaksa" henchmen glide around the screen shooting, jets hover and shoot, helicopters spray the screen with bullets, and soldiers run around and shoot from below. As if lots of bullets flying from every direction wasn't enough already, ESP Rade laces concentrations of enemy fire with veins of power-ups. The gameplay of ESP Rade ranges from bobbing & weaving through rows and rows of bullets, to absorbing bullets and using the Barrier charge to make the screen a living hell. Oh, and I forgot to say that this involves lots of dying (if you are not very quick on your feet in situations similar to that shown left). In other words, once your Barrier meter is empty, and until you find the power-ups to regain the energy, you have to fly your way through countless instanes where the screen is filled in enemy fire. A fast, frantic shooter with lots and lots of things going on at once, that is the gameplay of ESP Rade. Hopefully, through this description I was able to convey an image of ESP Rade's gameplay faithfully to those who haven't yet experienced it.
Does it sound difficult? That's one of the best parts about it! ESP Rade is a challenging game. There's just something so good about weaving through the many bullets of ESP Rade. The stages in ESP Rade may be short to some, but the fact is that the game keeps so many enemies coming, that a single stage can require so much dodging and simultaneous firing that it can seem like three stages. In addition to enemies, buildings and other structures can sometimes be destroyed, leaving the screen in absolute chaos (try the first stage of Yusuke Sagami's quest to see a good example). In some stages, the destruction rate has such a quick turnover that it is easy to lose your character in the plethora of enemy explosions, structure explosions, shots, and power-ups. Although the speed of ESP Rade isn't as fast as other Cave titles like Ketsui or DoDonPachi, the game moves at fast pace nonetheless. To those who don't usually make their afternoons or weekends swimming through seas of bullets, ESP Rade may seem overwhelming, but there's one thing that makes it a bit different from other manic shmups.
I'm not too sure if all of Cave's other manic shmups have this as well, but in ESP Rade sometimes after you destroy enemies, their shots disappear as they expire, making a bit of breathing room (see left, shots are just disappearing). I'm not sure if there is a distance limit or not on the expiration of shots after enemies are destroyed, but with mid-bosses and bosses there doesn't seem to be a distance limit. For example, when you kill a boss, sometimes you will hit him/her with the very last shot as you are dodging bullets, in which case the bullets all disappear and turn into harmless "P" icons (leaving you a bit surprised). In a lot of other shooters, after destroying enemies, sometimes they will get one last, very fast shot out and kill you (Gunbird 2 comes to mind); this happens in sometimes, but not as much in ESP Rade. I won't say it doesn't happen at all, but if it does, it doesn't seem to be nearly as evident as it is in other titles of the same genre. This fact alone is one of the biggest reasons why I think so many shooter fans like ESP Rade.
Also, I guess the last thing to address about ESP Rade's gameplay is the slowdown. As I mentioned before, I'm not sure if Cave meant to have the game slowdown or not, but I don't think it makes a difference. The slowdown, which is usually induced by using Auto fire and Power Shots, can actually be used as a tool to get through the bullet mazes a little easier. As in any shooter, I don't think slowdown means a single thing. Sure, some may want the game to go faster without slowdown, and they can do so by not using Auto fire. When Auto fire is not used, ESP Rade runs at a blazing speed that requires the best of twitching. In fact, the game runs so fast at some points, that I intentionally use Auto and Power Shots simultaneously to slow things down a bit so I can at least see what is going on. For reasons of controllability of the slowdown in ESP Rade, I cannot say if Cave implemented it intentionally, or if they didn't mean to have slowdown in the game. Sure, it couldn't have been planned as being such a crucial part of the gameplay, but since you can actually control it, it's hard to say. Nevertheless, with the amount of animation and effects ESP Rade pushes on-screen, even if they didn't mean to have the game slow down, the game is still a solid shooting experience.
As with all of Cave's other titles, ESP Rade is powered by Cave's own custom hardware, and presents some clean visuals. Perhaps the best part about ESP Rade is the stunning attention to detail all throughout the game. The characters and enemies in ESP Rade look fantastic, with nice texturing and design. The game has some of the best 2-D graphics I have ever seen in a shooter. Some of the most intricate detail is in the bosses; the machine-based mid-bosses and bosses are so detailed that through the way they were drawn and textured you can imagine how these fictional machines work! Take a look at the crawling tank screenshot; just look at the beautiful design of this mid-boss combined with nice texturing. Absolutely fantastic. I almost have a hard time destroying this mid-boss when I play the game because I don't want to be the destroyer of something so skillfully crafted. Not only bosses, but even normal enemies like planes, ships, and tanks, have some cool-looking detail on their guns and/or motors. There are also nice-looking details with the main characters, whose clothes ripple smoothly in the wind as they use their powers to fly. Other details in ESP Rade include soldiers that are thrown from vehicles and land with a crack on the pavement, as well as soldiers that splash in into water after falling from burning wreckage. It doesn't end there, though, soldiers also squirm after being launched into the air from explosions.
As for stages, the psychic battling takes place at a high school (Yusuke Sagami's I think), a shopping mall, the Bay Area (99% sure this is supposed to be Tokyo), a subway (don't think this is supposed to be Tokyo), and the final scenes at the "Yaksa" stronghold. In the high school stage, bystanders are nicely rendered, and watch as a teacher is kidnapped; in the shopping mall, stores and shops are lit well, as cars outside of the mall speed by; and the subway battleground looks great, with trains that run through the tunnel during the battle taking place. Just like the characters and enemies, the stages have some cool details, from the structure of the high school to the layout of the shopping mall; some of the most unique backgrounds in a shooter can be seen in ESP Rade. The immense detail in the game makes a big difference. All of the style and attention to detail that Cave put into ESP Rade makes the game even more fun to play. If you have a great game already, and give it even more style, you've got yourself an even better game than you started with, and this is exactly what Cave's wonderful designers and programmers did.
In addition to some great detail, ESP Rade features some cool effects as well. As in their other titles like Guwange and DoDonPachi, Cave put some pretty nice effects into the deaths of enemies in ESP Rade; "Yaksa" henchmen explode violently upon expiration, soldiers and Alice Clones topple after being hit, and boss Satoru gushes waves of blood bigger than your character. Not to say that the only reason a game is cool is because of its blood content, but ESP Rade has the physics of anime, and lots of fun explosions topped with a dash of blood to make it a night (or two). Another effect I look forward to seeing every time I play the game is how the aforementioned crawling spider-tank appears as distorted and transparent until it appears slowly in the middle of the screen. Awesome. Who would have ever thought of not only a crawling tank, but a crawling tank that can turn invisible at that? Answer: the brilliant staff of Cave. Some other cool effects touches to conclude with are the many explosions and shrapnel that occur after bosses have been hit enough, or how the bullets in ESP Rade actually resemble the weapon or psychic power the enemy is using. There are some great effects in ESP Rade; those who take fondly to anime will love the game.
With such nice detail and effects, one would have to wonder how this game animates. Well, compimenting the nice detail and flashy effects, the animation in ESP Rade is also nice. The main characters themselves have some of the coolest animations, since they are actually flying, rather than piloting ships. For example, my favorite animation is when Yusuke Sagami dodges shots (shown left); he pulls away from the shots as his body forms according to the laws of anime physics. Those who watch a lot of anime will have an idea of what this looks like, but for those who don't, I'll just say it looks cool. The human enemies in ESP Rade also have several different aforementioned death animations, from falling into attack formation to squirming in the air after being thrown from explosions and/or vehicles. Also briefly mentioned, the character's clothes (bosses and main characters) ripple nicely in the wind, the crawling tank animates like a real creepy crawler, tanks and other heavy weaponry move about the screen as their guns track your movements, and the falling debris from explosions and wreckage animate smoothly in fiery glory. I love the way the main characters move, but probably the coolest part in all of ESP Rade is when the boss pictured left grows two big wing-looking psychic arms that first pop out of her back, curl about her body and shake before stabilizing for battle. Awesome. Hopefully the animation of the bosses doesn't distract you to the point of losing a whole credit.
The sound effects and music in ESP Rade are also of Cave's distinct quality. Enemies explode thunderously, shots char human enemies, bullets make whizzing sounds when they come out of barrels, and machine enemies have the sounds of a working machine. The many explosions, shots, and other sounds of battle in ESP Rade all compliment each other nicely. The character's voices are also good, from Yusuke Sagami's "Yarou!" when he gets hit, to Irori's "Shitsurei!" when she fires a Power Shot. The bosses say some cool stuff during fights and/or death; in fact, the voices in ESP Rade are somewhat echoed, making them sound a lot cooler (and stronger). For example, when Satoru dies, he spirals to the ground in a bloody frenzy, his cries of death echoing; without the echo effect, the experience just wouldn't be the same. In general, Cave got some pretty good voiceovers for this game, as every character matches their voice perfectly.
The music in ESP Rade is pretty good. Each stage has its own theme music, ranging from anime-inspired "hero" tracks, to subtle and aggressive techno that keeps you fighting dilligently on your quest. The fantasy-style character select and energetic boss fight tracks are also good. The most amazing of ESP Rade's audio, however, are the ending tracks that wrap up the game's story. The last part of the game sounds so mournful that it will almost have you wimpering in tears of sorrow. Only when the game is finished, can you truly realize that playing ESP Rade is an experience. Again, I am not sure if my descriptions do the game's nice audio justice, so you might want to play the game to get the full effect.
In all of the goodness that Cave created with ESP Rade, one would think that the game has to have some quirks, right? Well, to be honest, ESP Rade is a great game. Nothing I could find in this game is enough to even classify as a quirk. Cave did a great job with ESP Rade, and those who have played it will tell you the same. However, the game does have one crucial drawback; rarity. Some claim this game isn't so hard to find, and can be obtained by going through the right sources, but generally ESP Rade is a bit hard to come by just as other Cave shooters are. Finding this at an arcade is pretty much impossible for those living outside of Asia, and playing it at a friend's house is also pretty hard if your friends aren't into going out of their way to find games.
This game is fairly common in Japanese arcades, but not nearly as common as Cave's flagship DoDonPachi games, which can be found at just about any arcade in Japan. Can't say which Cave gem is more rare, ESP Rade or Guwange, but I do have to say that I have personally seen ESP Rade at two out of every five arcades I have been to in Japan. Pretty good average for a game whose developer seems to purposely produce their titles in painfully limited quantities. Rarity, compared to other shooters, is the only strike against ESP Rade; chances are, those reading this article who have never played the game will most likely not see it anywhere, and probably won't even know where to start if they want to buy it. Even with the searching power of the internet, it took me a while to track down this shooter gem. Too bad Cave's games don't get the larger distrubution and production they deserve.
ESP Rade is a great title for shooter fans and newcomers alike. The game has what it takes to appeal to newcomers (flashy effects, lots of explosions, big weapons, easy to pick up), while also having elements of deep gameplay (scoring system, Barrier and Auto Shot strategies) that attract veteran fans of the genre. While the game is easy to pick up and play, there's lots to do for those who want to complete the game, as well as for those who want to dissect the game. If you are afraid of lots and lots of bullets, play Gradius or R-Type. If you are ready for a white-knuckle psychic battle, pick up ESP Rade and never look back. If you like anime, give ESP Rade a shot. Even if you aren't into manic shmups, or shmups at all, for that matter, try the game out if you get a chance; I've seen people who don't even like shooters embrace this game! All in all, of all the shooters I've played over time, ESP Rade was one of the most unique titles I have ever played. With good gameplay, great character design, and nice animation, ESP Rade is yet another quality shooter from the minds of the Cave staff.