Rockin’ Android are known for bringing a ton of awesome unique Japanese games to the West that would almost assuredly not get picked up and brought stateside. If you frequent our site you’ve probably seen our Cloudphobia review, also from Rockin’ Android. And as it was a unique Shoot-’em-Up (also known as a shmup) with some interesting game design choices, so too is the game we’re talking about today, Diadra Empty, developed by Frozen Orb.
Normally a game review will start off with the story, but this is a shmup! So let us jump into the nitty gritty. Unlike most games of this genre, instead of autoscrolling levels where enemies are flying at you, each level is a large 2D arena where you have the freedom to go where you wish within it’s boundaries as enemies come at you from all directions. You start off with 2 weapons at your disposal (you can only choose your weapons at the start of the game) as your main and turbo weapon, and you unlock more of them as the game progresses. Exactly how I’m unsure, as I unlocked weapon 6 before weapon 5. Not only do you have weapons to choose from, but you also have “options” and I’m not talking about a settings menu. In shmup terminology an option is a secondary weapon that stays near you shooting when you shoot. Your “option” options start off with the TRACE flightpath which follows the path you take and the generic shot WIZARDSPIKE. As with your weapon choices your option choices expand as you play the game.
Once you get into the game the controls are fairly intuitive with some twists on the norm. As this is an open level style of shmup instead of the side scrolling variety there is a “turbo” button which gives you a short burst of speed in the direction you’re going. Holding the turbo button also switches your weapon to the weapon you chose for your turbo shot before the game started. Like many shmups there is a bomb button, referred to as an S.S., and you have a limited amount. You can restock these between levels by using the green coins you collected during the levels to upgrade your abilities, adding more options to your team, upgrading your weapon and your turbo dash to straight up flying faster. There is also a leveling system that ties into collecting yellow coins, as well as health pickups from blue coins. And as you are free roaming you can control your strafe with either a hold or a toggle (selectable in the config). This makes it so you can fire while moving backwards, for when hundreds of enemies are flying straight at you. This happens a lot.
This is a bullet hell shmup. While playing I felt more lucky than skillful as I weaved through the walls of bullets and enemies in later stages. At first I felt like something was wrong as I was somehow escaping certain doom. It turned out the game wasn’t going easy on me, I was just barely scraping through as I soon learned. The force was with me, but when I started feeling less tense the mistakes came in droves and I quickly fell to the hail of glowing death coming from the enemies. Diadra Empty harkens back to an earlier age of skill and dedication. You have 3 credits, and if you use them all up it’s game over and you are ushered back to the title screen. This makes the later bosses all the more dangerous and terrifying, but it makes beating them hold a much greater sense of accomplishment. Going through the different weapons and options opens up new ways to play making some levels easier and others harder. Midway through the game there is a boss which attacks you while moving at very high speeds. As it’s many times your size and trying to ram you, it’s quite difficult to defeat using the DRAGONSCALE weapon which is a melee attack.
Once you get through the game, you unlock “True Level” mode which is the hard mode of the game. For completionists, this will bring tears to your eyes as beating the game on Natural mode is challenging in and of itself. I only had a chance to see the first few levels of True mode, but it features more enemies that shoot more bullets, and new types of harder enemies. Definitely a challenge for even the most skilled shmup player.
I said at the beginning of this review that we were saving the story til later. Now is that time. It’s a fairly simple story. You play as Nyalra, and you ride on the back of your dragon Minimi. You’re following the traces of your sister battling through hordes of monsters searching for her. The story itself isn’t very deep, though the presentation of the story and the monologues and dialogues are very well written.
On to the area most important to “hardcore” gamers. The graphics! I jest, but the game has some interesting designs to say the least. You’re a small girl on the back of a dragon, firing energy attacks at monsters who are firing different energy based attacks at you. The effects themselves look fairly spot on, though I noticed in some situations I could see the outline of the transparent “box” around certain effects and bullets. One of the issues I had with the effects was that in some areas saturated with them, it sometimes became impossible to see incoming enemy bullets through my own outgoing bullets, which led to taking damage where dodging was possible but I didn’t know I had to. There isn’t a lot in terms of animation of the characters, though what little there is is done well, and the backgrounds range from simple to beautiful. As a 2D game it definitely has a nice level of polish.
The music in this game is beautiful and very fitting. The last stage in particular is excellent for setting the mood, though it is very “Japanese” in the way that instead of having very heavy “let’s fight!” music it aims for musical beauty, and it’s aim is true. The sound effects are also on point making it easier to tell if you’re hitting an enemy, skimming the edge of bullets or taking damage yourself.
All in all I’d recommend this game to anyone who like shmups because you know what you’re getting into, and this game provides an excellent unique take on the genre. If you’ve never played a shmup before, this might not be the best entry point as the challenge level really cranks up in the later stages, but if you’re a gamer who loves a challenge, then by all means, throw yourself headfirst into this game. If you prefer a more relaxing casual experience this might not be the game for you, though the music may suit your tastes very well. And if you love music, you might want to test your gamer muscles on this if only to hear and see the audio-visual excellence this title provides.