I confess, despite being a space shmup fan, my experience with the long-lasting Darius series is quite limited. The only one I’ve played before is Darius Gaiden on the Sega Saturn. That said, I have an interest in the franchise, so I was curious to see what I’d think of DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+.
Quick fun fact: DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ is an enhanced port of an expanded port, of an expanded version of an arcade version, of a PSP game called DariusBurst; so a long name for a long history, I suppose!
Upon booting up the game, you’ll quickly notice the unique aspect ratio: 32:9. I can’t say I was fond of it at first as it does make everything pretty small, but I got used to it rather quickly, and it does give a lot of room for gameplay. The only real problem is with text; even playing on the big screen, some text in menus is hard to make out, especially the ship descriptions. And speaking of ships, there’s nine of them. Each has its differences in weapons, with some playing quite differently from others. Some of them are taken from previous Darius games (including Gaiden), which is a nice addition for Darius fans.
All ships are equipped with an upgradable shot, bomb, and shield. Most also have a form of Burst Beam, a powerful weapon that has a refillable gauge. Bosses also have a Burst Beam, which you can counter with your own for big damage. But the timing is really precise, and missing practically guarantees a hit or two, making for a fun risk/reward scenario. The ships that don’t have a Burst Beam typically have a different unique weapon: For example, the one from Gaiden has the ‘Black Hole Bombs’ from its respective game.
There are numerous modes to pilot your ship through. Both original and EX Modes are from the arcade versions, having the typical branching path layout Darius fans are used to. The stages themselves aren’t anything special, but the bosses are fun, with quite a few unique patterns they cycle through. I thought I’d spend a good chunk of time on these modes, but they’re only three levels long! There are branching paths for replay value, but the length of gameplay per playthrough feels unsatisfyingly short.
Also not helping are the unlimited continues. The game is actually rather difficult, with tons of enemies and a large variety of enemy fire, but it’s hard to appreciate. With how short each playthrough is, I wish they would cap you off at one credit unless you picked the unlimited lives option. It feels rather pointless to choose between unlimited lives or unlimited credits.
Event Mode contains 21 score and time attack missions that are either new to this port or were previously timed exclusive events in the arcade. This, too, allows for infinite continues but doesn’t seem to mark the event as cleared unless you beat it in one credit; much appreciated from me. The missions are enjoyable, though mostly made up of recycled content from the arcade modes. Big Darius fans will probably appreciate the inclusion.
Chronicle Mode is where the meat of the game is. There are 14 planets to liberate with 500+ missions to beat (I did not have a chance to play all of them). Each appears to be composed of stages and bosses from the arcade modes, with some slight tweaks here and there to try and shake things up.
Each mission lets you pick from a select number of ships and has its unique stipulations. Some have your weapons fixed at a certain upgrade level, and some require you to beat it with one credit (all others give you unlimited continues). Some annoyingly (and pointlessly) require you to play with a specific number of people. While multiplayer is a welcome option (and available in all modes), I didn’t enjoy it as lives are shared between everyone. And, if you run out, you can’t get back in until everyone else blows up). My time playing it often had one person playing alone while others patiently waited for them to explode.
Oddly, progress in Chronicle mode is tied to a server. You can choose between eight different ‘Cabinets’ which functionally are like eight save files. If someone beats a mission in your ‘Cabinet,’ then it’s cleared for everyone. While I am thankful I don’t have to best the multiplayer missions this way, I’m concerned about longevity. How soon will all of them be beaten in all Cabinets? There’s plenty still uncleared as of writing, but with their being anywhere from two to six stages long, they don’t take too long to beat. You can go back and go for high scores in each mission, but it feels empty to play already cleared missions, perhaps unless you’re a diehard fan.
Overall, the gameplay in DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ is rather fun. While stages feel uninspired, they are enjoyable, and the bosses are a genuinely good time. The soundtrack enhances the gameplay as well, with a unique blend of styles accompanying your shmup-action. I only wish the game could have been laid out in a better way. The arcade modes feel too lacking, and Chronicle Mode has questionable choices that hinder enjoyment. For $39.99, the game’s on the pricey side, but big Darius fans will surely love it, and there’s enough good gameplay here to make a shmup fan happy.