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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Thunder Force

Thunder Force (also spelled Thunderforce) is a series of scrolling shooter type video games developed by the Japanese software company Technosoft (a.k.a. Tecno Soft). The games are known by fans of the genre for their hardcore appeal, pleasing graphics (for their time), and generally well composed Synth-rock based soundtracks.

The Thunder Force games have appeared on the Sega Megadrive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, Super Famicom/SNES, Sony Playstation, and Arcade gaming platforms. They have also appeared on the Sharp X1, Sharp X68000, Sharp MZ-1500, NEC PC-8801 mkII, NEC PC-9801, NEC PC-6001 mkII, and Fujitsu FM-7 computer systems.

The series currently consists of five games:

Note: Since Thunder Force II through V have multiple difficulty and gameplay settings, the following sections are written under the assumption that the games are operating on their DEFAULT settings.

Contents [hide]
1 Thunder Force
2 Thunder Force II
3 Thunder Force III
4 Thunder Force IV
5 Thunder Force V
6 Other notes
6.1 Gold Packs
6.2 Thunder Force VI?
6.3 Trivia
7 External Related Links
8 References

Thunder Force

Thunder Force
Thunder Force (in game)Thunder Force was released in late 1983 exclusively in Japan. Known versions of it exist on the following Japanese based computers: Sharp X1, Sharp MZ-1500, NEC PC-6001 mkII, NEC PC-8801 mkII, and Fujitsu FM-7. In 1984, an add-on was released named Thunder Force Construction for the Fujitsu FM-7, and NEC PC-9801 computers. The add-on allowed players to create custom made areas.

For the most part, the setting of the Thunder Force games (excluding the fifth) are centered around the war between the "Milky Way Galaxy Federation" (good guys), and the "ORN Empire" (bad guys). In the first Thunder Force, the ORN Empire has built a large fortress named the Dyradeizer to oppose the Galaxy Federation. In addition to its high firepower capabilities, Dyradeizer is supported by shield generators hidden in various locations by ORN, which render the fortress invisible. In retaliation, the Galaxy Federation sends their specially designed fighter, the Fire Leo, to destroy the shield generators and reveal and destroy Dyradeizer.

The structure of the game consists of overhead, free-directional scrolling areas and the player's ship is armed with main shot to shoot airborne targets and a bomb shot to shoot ground enemies. Gameplay consists of flying the Fire Leo over ORN occupied areas while destroying enemy base installations and turrets. Each area has a certain number of shield generators hidden under the ground based enemy targets; in order for an area to be completed, the shield generators must be found and destroyed. After doing so, the Dyradeizer will temporally appear, giving the player a chance to cause damage to it. Once a few minutes have passed, the Dyradeizer will disappear and the player will be taken to the next area to repeat the process.

Graphic and sound wise, Thunder Force is very crude and modest compared to its successors, and is the most obscure game of the series (at least from a non-Japanese perspective).

Thunder Force II

Thunder Force II
Thunder Force II (in game)Thunder Force II was first released in Japan during 1988 for the Sharp X68000 computer. A year later, it was ported to the Sega Megadrive/Genesis game console and released in Japan (under the name Thunder Force II MD), Europe, and the United States.

Soon after Thunder Force, the ORN Empire creates a powerful new battleship, the Plealos (a.k.a Preareos). Using this battleship, ORN once again attacks the Galaxy Federation. The outcome of the attacks result in the destruction of the Galaxy Federation affiliated planet of Reda, and heavy destruction on the planet Nepura (a.k.a. Nebula), which ORN eventually captures from the Galaxy Federation. Eventually, the Galaxy Federation learns that ORN houses Plealos deep below Nebula's surface when not in use and takes the opportunity to plan an operation to take it down. They send the next iteration of their "Fire Leo" series fighter craft, Fire Leo 2 "Exceliza", to destroy ORN bases on Nepura and eventually find and destroy Plealos.

Stages in the game were split into two formats: The free-directional scrolling, overhead stage format from the previous game (referred to in game as "top-view stages"), and horizontal, forward-scrolling, R-Type-esque stages (referred to as "side-view" stages). Each stage begins in the top-view perspective, where the player has to locate the cores of a certain number of major enemy bases and destroy them. After this is accomplished, the stage continues from the side-view perspective, which plays like a traditional horizontal scrolling shooter. After the boss of the side-view sub stage is defeated, the player moves on the next stage.

Building upon its predecessor, Thunder Force II introduced a weapon system that would become the staple for the rest of the series. The player's ship now has default arsenal of weapons which include a twin, forward firing shot(the "Twin" shot), a single forward, and single backward firing shot(the "Back" shot), and a bomb shot in the top-view stages. By collecting certain items, the default weapons can be upgraded to more a powerful level. Also, the player could obtain a certain number of new weapons with various unique abilities by collecting the weapon's corresponding item (the "Hunter", a signature weapon of Thunder Force, debuts in this game). Once obtained, the weapons can be switched between at the player's desire, but once the ship is destroyed, all weapons would be unequipped except for the defaults. Because of this, it is advantageous for the player to prolong survival. The top-view and the side-view stages have different sets of weapons; losing weapons in the top-view stages do not affect the weapons equipped in the side-view stages and vise versa.

Thunder Force II also introduced the CRAW add-ons. (Also commonly referred to as CLAW, causing some confusion as to what is the proper term.) The function of the CRAWs is to circle the ship and block (weak) incoming bullets and also to provide extra firepower by firing single, normal shots. The player could collect up to two CRAW's at a time, but will lose the CRAWs upon ship destruction. Exclusive to this game is an item which temporally increases their orbit speed, making them more likely to block bullets.

The X68000 version of the game has slightly better visuals than its Megadrive/Genesis counterpart. For example, some of the top-view oriented stage backgrounds have parallax scrolling/transparency effects which the Megadrive/Genesis version lacks. This can be most readily be seen from the water in the first top-view stage. The X68000 version has clearer voice samples, including extra voice effects such as the "Shit!" exclamation heard after player's last life is lost. The X68000 version also has an introduction sequence, and a top-view stage and side-view stage that is not found in the Megadrive/Genesis version. Finally, both versions have a few weapons unique from each other (for instance, "Sidewinder" in the X68000 version corresponds to "Nova" in the Genesis version).

Thunder Force III

Thunder Force III
Thunder Force III (in game)Thunder Force III was released in 1990 in Japan, Europe, and the United States for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis game console. During the same year, it was retooled into an Arcade game and released in Japan, Europe, and the United States as Thunder Force AC. In 1991, Thunder Force AC was ported to the Super Famicom/SNES, renamed Thunder Spirits. This port was released in Japan and the United States.

The setting of Thunder Force III takes place about 100 years after Thunder Force. Apparently, despite their successes, the Galaxy Federation has not been faring well in their battle against the ORN Empire. ORN has installed cloaking devices on five major planets in their space territory that conceal their main base, making it difficult for the Galaxy Federation to locate and attack their headquarters. In addition, ORN has built a remote defense system to protect itself named "Cerberus", which is especially efficient at neutralizing large ships and fleets. Knowing this, the Galaxy Federation creates the Fire Leo 3 "Styx"; a craft small enough to not be detected by Cerberus, yet equipped with the firepower of a large starfighter. The Galaxy Federation send Styx on a mission to destroy the five cloaking devices, infiltrate ORN's headquarters, and destroy ORN's emperor, the bio computer "Cha Os".

For Thunder Force III, the free-directional, overhead stage format featured in the previous two games is removed and replaced entirely by the horizontally aligned stage format. The horizontal format becomes the new standard for the following games. Gameplay wise, among the five major planets the player will travel to (Hydra, Gorgon, Seiren, Haides, and Ellis), the game let's the player choose which planet to start on. After the first five stages are completed, the game continues for a few more stages.

The weapon system from Thunder Force II returns in this game with some modifications. Some weapons from Thunder Force II are reused or modified slightly (the enhanceable Twin shot and Back shot remain the defaults), while others are completely new and exclusive to the game. This time, when the player's ship is destroyed, only the weapon that was currently in use is lost (unless it is a default weapon of course). CRAWs also make their return and have the same behavior and functions, except now when the player collects the CRAW item, the ship automatically receives its maximum two CRAWs (again, CRAWs are lost upon ship destruction). Also, when using most weapons, the CRAWs will mimic the ship and fire the same weapon (similar to the Options in Gradius). The final new addition is that the player's ship now has a speed setting, which can be increased or decreased across four levels at the press of a button.

The main difference between Thunder Force III and Thunder Force AC is that the "Haides" and "Ellis" stages in Thunder Force III are removed and replaced with entirely different stages in Thunder Force AC. Thunder Force AC also removed the option to choose a starting stage, as the game always begins on the planet Hydra. Besides these changes, both versions play about the same.

Thunder Force IV

Thunder Force IV
Thunder Force IV (in game)Thunder Force IV was released in 1992 for the Sega Megadrive/Sega Genesis in Japan, Europe, and the United States (published by Sega under the name Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar).

Taking place directly after Thunder Force III, the ORN Empire is thought to be defeated by the Galaxy Federation, but still suffers from increasingly frequent attacks from hostile forces. The forces are discovered to be the "Vios", an army made up of allies and residual forces of ORN. The Galaxy Federation discovers the location of their headquarters on the planet Aceria and attacks, but since the power of Vios has grown greater than the previous ORN Empire, the Galaxy Federation forces are initially defeated. Once again, they develop a new small yet powerful fighter spacecraft, the Fire Leo 4 "Rynex" to eliminate Vios.

The game format is mostly unchanged from the previous game (horizontally oriented and forward scrolling). However, many of the stages now stretch beyond the height of a TV screen, which allow the player more space to maneuver and dodge incoming fire. Also, the player now has the option choosing the play order of the first four stages, instead of just the starting stage like in Thunder Force III.

The weapon system is also similar to Thunder Force III. Featuring the same upgradeable defaults, and unique extra weapons that are either exclusive, or were in previous games (modified or not). Again, upon ship destruction, the weapon currently being used is lost sans the defaults. Naturally, the CRAWs return, and basically have the exact same function as their 'Thunder Force III counterparts. Like before, the maximum two CRAWs are received upon picking up the CRAW item and lost upon ship destruction. The speed setting also returns, although it is represented by a percent gauge from zero (lowest speed) to one-hundred (highest speed). Tapping the speed button will increase speed by 25 percent and holding it down will increase speed gradually by one percent.

The most significant addition to the ship arsenal is the "Thunder Sword", a very powerful lightning based frontal attack. At the game's halfway point, the ship receives an add-on part which enables the use of the Thunder Sword. From here, the one requirement of using the Thunder Sword is that the ship be equipped with CRAWs. When the ship is not firing any weapons, a charging noise is heard (followed by a chime when fully charged) and the CRAWs will appear to be surrounded with electricity. The next press of the fire button will discharge the Thunder Sword. The blast is stronger if charged longer and is at its strongest when fully charged.

Thunder Force V

Thunder Force V
Thunder Force V (in game)Thunder Force V was initially released in 1997 exclusively in Japan for the Sega Saturn with two retail versions, the normal pack which was just a standard release, and a special pack which contained a remix music CD of various Thunder Force series music (entitled Best of Thunderforce). In 1998, Thunder Force V was ported to the Sony Playstation in Japan and released as Thunder Force V: Perfect System. Shortly afterward, the PlayStation port was released in the United States via Working Designs.

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
The setting of Thunder Force V takes us away from the conflict between the Galaxy Federation and the ORN Empire and brings us to Earth in the future. At the very end of Thunder Force IV, the pilots of Fire Leo 4 "Rynex" were forced to eject from their ship due to a massive explosion caused by the destruction of their final target. The explosion damaged Rynex severely, but the remains of Rynex floated throughout space for some time until it was discovered by Earthlings. Upon analyzing Rynex, the Earthlings discover the technology Rynex (at this point, Rynex is renamed "Vasteel" by Earthlings and its creators are called "Vastians") is composed of is far more advanced than anything they had ever seen. Therefore, Earth scientists use the Vastian technology to build an island called Babel controlled by super computer named the "Guardian". Babel's purpose is to build ships, weapons, and devices that could utilize, or even enhance the capabilities of Vastian technology. However, a malfunction in the Guardian caused it to turn against Earthlings and use the devices it created to attack them, causing devastating causalities. In order to save themselves, the Earthlings built high-powered attack crafts that can replicate and/or enhance the abilities of the original Vasteel (called "RVR's" or "Refined Vasteel Replicas") and organize a strike force to take down the Guardian. The player takes control of a RVR-01 "Gauntlet", and later, a RVR-02B "Brigandine" and RVR-02 "Vambrace" to help accomplish this goal.

The stage format has the same horizontally aligned orientation of previous games and only stretch to the size of a TV screen as in Thunder Force III. The biggest change in the look of the game is the use of three dimensional polygons to model the game sprites and some of the scenery (instead of the two dimensional sprites in previous games). This change gives the appearance of 3-D objects scrolling against a 2-D backgrounds, which is commonly referred to as a "2.5-D" effect. Like in Thunder Force IV, the player can choose the play order of the starting stages, but now only the first three stages can be manipulated in this manner. The same speed gauge from Thunder Force IV is used, and is operated the same way.

The only difference between the weapon system of this game from Thunder Force III and IV is that there are not longer any items to enhance your default weapons (Twin shot and Back shot). Instead, they are automatically enhanced at a later point in the game and the enhanced versions become your new defaults. All the weapons have appeared in previous Thunder Force games, but a few have been changed radically (such as the "Free Range" weapon that was originally in Thunder Force IV.

The CRAWs have a few changes from previous games. They still rotate around the player's ship, absorb enemy fire, and act extra turrets for you weapons, but now a maximum of three CRAW's can be collected at a time. In addition, they remain on screen for a finite period of time upon ship destruction, giving the player a chance to recollect them.

A new feature in Thunder Force V involving the CRAWs is the use of the "Over Weapon". By pressing the appropriate button, the player's CRAWs will combine with the currently selected weapon to create a more powerful version of that weapon. Over Weapons can only be sustained for a limited period of time by using CRAW energy. As an Over Weapon is used, the CRAW will shrink in size and gradually change color from blue to red, indicating its energy is being depleted. Once all CRAW energy is depleted, an Over Weapon can no longer be used. CRAWs will recharge their energy automatically over time when not being used for firing the Over Weapon. Also, collecting new CRAWs will replace the player's existing CRAWs if they are depleted. If a CRAW is red, it will be destroyed by the next bullet it absorbs.

Graphically, the Saturn version of Thunder Force V is superior, as it features special effects not present in its PlayStation counterpart. A good comparison of the differences can be found in Stage 3 "Human Road", in which some extra graphical touches found in the Saturn game were removed when ported to the Playstation. However, the Playstation version features extra artwork, CG rendered movie sequences, game modes, and other easter eggs that the Saturn version lacks. As far as gameplay, the games have minor, if any, differences.

Other notes

Gold Packs
In 1996, Technosoft released the "Thunder Force Gold Packs" for the Sega Saturn exclusively in Japan, which contained re-releases of previous Thunder Force games. Two packs were released: Thunder Force Gold Pack 1 which included Thunder Force II and Thunder Force III, and Thunder Force Gold Pack 2 which included Thunder Force IV and Thunder Force AC. Each Gold Pack disc has exclusive CG animated introduction sequences and a few extra easter eggs, but the actual games remained mostly unchanged (although the slowdown present in the Megadrive/Genesis version of Thunder Force IV is removed in its Gold Pack version).

Thunder Force VI?
A video was made in 2000 which circulated on the Internet showing the intro sequence for Thunder Force VI. This video serves as evidence that Thunder Force VI was at one time being developed for the Sega Dreamcast console.
In 2001, a video game music album was released from the band "Noise" entitled Broken Thunder: Noise Image Soundtrack Volume 3 featuring music intended to be used in Thunder Force VI. The soundtrack is composed by Tsukumo Haykutarou, Noise band member and music composer for many of Technosoft's games (including Thunder Force V).
Internet rumors have been floating around that Technosoft, who has not been heard from since the early 2000s, are currently rehiring staff and planning to release Thunder Force VI in the fiscal year of 2006 for an unnamed game system.

The name "Thunder Force" comes from the project name the Galaxy Federation uses for the development of their Fire Leo series of small yet powerful spacecraft, which are then used for concentrated offensive operations against the ORN Empire. In Thunder Force V, the name is used (as "Thunder Force 222") to describe the Earthling strike team that fights against the Guardian computer.
The "Leo" portion of Fire Leo apparently stands for Little, Eternal, Operation as seen in the Thunder Force VI intro video (unsure what the meaning behind this acronym is).

12:27 PM


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