Genre: Shmup Developer: Taito Publisher: Taito Players: 1 Released: 1991
Sometimes I really hate to eat fish, the type of fish you buy at Wal-Mart and put them in the oven and such. All the time they had that horrible odor which makes you want to puke. Luckily I can kill all the fish I want with just a Genesis controller! Sagaia (Darius II outside of America) was the port of the arcade game by Taito. You pilot the famous Silverhawk fighter ship and must go through many levels of fish-shooting madness! You’ll be shooting at mechanical fishes, lobsters, octopuses, and many more sea creatures! But when it’s all set and done, is this arcade port worth a purchase?
The gameplay in Sagaia is very easy to learn, but also very interesting. There are many weapons icons that you’re going to pick up throughout the game and they’re in many different colors. For example, the red icon increases the main weapon level for more powerful firing, and the blue icon gives you the shield, but keep collecting more blue icons and that’ll raise your shield level so it can last longer (shield level increase by aura color). The scoring system in Sagaia is very simple: many enemy groups are going to be together trying to fire at you. If you destroy the whole enemy group, you’ll receive extra points (you can tell if you received extra points when a number appears after you’ve destroyed the last enemy in the group).
Famous in the Darius series is the level branching system. First seen in Outrun, Sagaia has in total 28 levels, but you can only fly in seven levels at a time. When each stage is completed, you’re given the option to choose the next level. As you keep playing, the levels you choose will let you pick certain other levels until the end. This results in one of many different final areas, including a specific final boss confrontation. Most of the stages in the game have a different boss, and most of them are very challenging. In one stage , for instance, you fight a mechanical crab, whereas the other will have you battling a mechanical sea urchin. This gives Sagaia some very high replay value because you can always change the level path each time you play. The only flaw in the branching system is that its “quantity over quality.” Most of the levels are either rehashes of earlier ones with harder enemies or have very boring level design.
The graphics in Sagaia are good, but not excellent. The first stage near the sun is great with the background showing how hot it’s supposed to be, but after that the remaining stages are completely average. Most of the good graphics must have been used in the enemy designs, because they’re really great! Enemies throughout the game look very nice and are greatly detailed. The best-looking foes are definitely the bosses. There’s a multitude of them in Sagaia, and they all look great and original. It shows how good the artists in the Taito shooters were in the early 1990s. After playing Sagaia, you’re probably going to remember the bosses more than the game itself!
Where the visuals were plain and dull, the music is just weird. Taito’s famous Zuntata band composed the score , and it’s just hard to explain how good or bad it is. I can tell you that you’ll remember some of the tunes in the game, but most of the music is just forgettable. The sound effects are decent, like the explosions and icon pickups, but the effects from your weapon can be annoying at times.
You should know that in the options menu you can choose the two different ships that are available. Go to options, Player Ship, and press left to change ships. Both ships are different in some ways, but the differences are minimal and don’t change the gameplay at all.
If you want to import Sagaia, the game is almost completely in English (just the intro screen is in Japanese, and the title screen says Darius II), there are no territorial lock-outs, and it will work on all Genesis models. It’s not a rare game in Japan so you should be able to purchase Darius II for little money. The English version is even cheaper, however, and if cost is an issue with you, then there’s no reason not to stick with the domestic version.
For just an arcade port, Sagaia does a fine job of playing on the Genesis. The branching system gives the game its nearly unlimited replay value, despite the lack of any good level design. The music and graphics are good for the most part, but don’t expect anything spectacular. Aside from its few flaws, Sagaia is a good game for any Genesis gamer.
SCORE: 8 out of 10