There were basically three Star Soldier releases for the PC Engine/Turbografx-16 system, not counting the cute 'em up spin-off Star Parodier. Two of those releases, Super Star Soldier and Soldier Blade, saw a release in the US while the middle of the three releases, Final Soldier, was only made available to the Japanese gaming audience. Now, through the Virtual Console service, US gamers will finally get a chance to experience Final Soldier in all its PC Engine glory. So how exactly does the game stack up against the other games in the Star Soldier series, not to mention against the other great shooters already available on the Virtual Console service?
Final Soldier looks and plays very similarly to the other Star Soldier releases. If you've played any of them, you should feel right at home with this title. You basically take control of your space fighter and you've got to blast your way through each of the game's seven levels. You'll face off against a mid-level boss that won't put up much of a fight, but in truth this is only a warm-up for the much tougher boss you'll have to face off against at the end of each level.
The core game play is simple. Holding down the fire button will allow you to shoot off your ship's cannon fire. You can even pick up various energy pods that will allow you to add a variety of firepower to your ship. If you pick up another energy pod of the same type, it will increase the range and strength of your cannon fire. Some types of firepower are better and more useful than others, and it can be tricky sometimes to avoid the less useful pods when the screen becomes littered with enemies and enemy fire. You'll also be able to pick up smart bombs that will cause a spray of fire to swirl around your ship that will damage anything it touches. These will come in especially handy for the boss fights or those times when you become overwhelmed with enemy fighters.
The control in Final Soldier is extremely responsive and you can even adjust the movement speed of your ship to tailor it to your personal preference. While the difficulty level is still on par with what you'd expect from a Star Soldier release, Final Soldier does tone things down a bit from the brutal difficulty fond in its predecessor Super Star Soldier. Just don't expect to breeze through the game, because it's still tough in places, especially in the later levels.
Visually, Final Soldier is extremely similar in look and feel to the two other Star Soldier releases for the Turbografx-16. The visuals aren't overly flashy, but they get the job done. There's a lot of detail in the backdrops and the Turbografx-16's large color palette is put to particularly good use. The bosses, while nicely detailed, aren't very large, which might turn off some shooter fans expecting the screen-filling boss fights found in some of the other Turbografx-16 shooters. As with most Turbografx-16 shooters, there's very little slowdown to be found, even when the action gets intense, another testament to what a fantastic shooter platform the system truly was.
The music in Final Soldier is a mixed bag. On one hand, there are some great musical tracks, but the entire presentation sounds very NES-like at times. Maybe we've all just become a bit spoiled with the booming CD-quality soundtracks found in many other Turbografx-16 shooters. There are still a few standout musical tracks, and the digitized speech that will sound off from time to time is also a nice touch. It might not be the best sounding Turbografx-16 shooter, but Final Soldier has it where it counts and is easily on par with the other Star Soldier releases on the console.
It's safe to say, if you're a fan of the Star Soldier series, you'll definitely find a lot to like with Final Soldier. It's a shame that this game was never released outside of Japan the first time around, but it's nice to see Hudson giving the game another chance on the Virtual Console service. Shooter fans will appreciate the smooth play control system and solid challenge the game offers up, and if you were perhaps overwhelmed by the high level of difficulty of Super Star Soldier, you might find Final Soldier a bit more manageable. It might not be the best shooter the Turbografx-16 has to offer, but it's still a very enjoyable shooter experience.