It seems fitting that what seems to be the final Dreamcast game be about a (half) angel. Enter Karous (Crow) the semi-sequel to Milestone's cult hit from last year, Radirgy. The two games are very similar in game play and graphical style, but widely different in atmosphere; while Radirgy was bright and vibrant; Karous is bleak and colored in dark shades with lots of gray. It's a funeral in shooter form. Like I said, it's very fitting.
The game does make changes from Radirgy beyond the color palette though, in particular is the power-up system, which slightly resembles the horrible bell system from Konami's Twinbee. Hold on, before you stop reading and decide to not buy the game based on that comparison, it's much improved on that idea of choosing your own power-up. Instead of Twin's horrible shoot the power up to shift it method, you hit the power up with your sword to switch it. You can choose to power up your shot, speed or how much damage you take. Allowing the player to keep shooting without messing up the power up is why this power ups system works great, and if Twinbee ever returns, Konami should take note from Karous.
When the power begin to add up you become damn near invincible, which I found to be a nice change off pace from the usual yen sucking games that have you dying every minute if you aren't really, really good. Now, while the ridiculous amount of powering up you can do is a key player in the ease of the game, another perhaps more important reason the game is that the control are extremely accurate, you'll find your yourself easily worming yourself out of tight spots with your nimble half angel thing. I suppose it also helps that the bullet hell is less intense then some games, but I have to hand it to the perfect controls. Note that the ease is even out by the game restricting you to 3 lives.
The difficulty ramps up at a very forgiving pace as well. Some games, like say Star Soldier, have a ridiculously easy first level then BAM all of the sudden after you beat the first boss, you're expected to be awesome at the game, and if you don't have prior experience with the title you don't get much further for a while. Karous slowly adds more and more bullets at pace that even a shooter beginner can handle. Soon the screen is as packed as every other shooter, this is the giant red magic incantation thing comes in (It's a big red circle with patterns like you see in magic anime, I have no idea what it's actually called). Anyway, this shield is powered up by how many of the enemy bullets you've shot down (Like many shooters, some bullets can be intercepted). A meter on the left side of the screen shows how much you've absorbed, once you've filled you can unleash the big red thing. This becomes crucial during the boss fights, many of which seem to leave literally no were to avoid fire. Since bullets blocked by the magic spell count towards your meter, you can fling yourself around enough and make so you can almost instantly reactivate the shield, rendering yourself invulnerable for as long as you can keep up the chain.
While you are nimbly trying to save your self, you may note that your character looks odd, even for a CEL shaded title. Apparently, if you have a have human, half angel kid, she will have big crow's feet (Hence the title?) Speaking of the CEL shading, while I support the use of CEL and anime style in games, I really don't think the art style here is appropriate for the subject matter, it's basically the same goofy style from Radirgy colored bleakly to try and give the game a goth feel. I think that they could have made a stunning looking game here if they simply improved the detail over the purposefully low detail Radirgy, but they didn't and that's their artist choice and I guess I can't argue with vision. I can't complain too much, even if it DOES look like goth for children, everything is well animated and everything blows up nicely without major slowdown.
Inline with the minimalist graphics is the sound, more specifically the music. The sound effects themselves are the standard fair, nice forceful explosions, listening to the same sound for an hour as you hold in the fire button. Actually, the bullets sound nice when added onto the BGM, which I think is notable, the two sounds were obviously designed around each other. The music is very fitting, a very good dramatic score plays in the menu to the sight of feathers falls slowing on a blank background. This setups the mode well for what's to come. Once you're in the game you are given a very minimal BGM, I guess the closest thing it could be related to is club, but it's quiet and slow. I normally bitch about sound effects, but this is good stuff.
This game is being billed as the last Dreamcast game ever, and many of you will buy it for that fact. Do be wary however, while SEGA is ceasing GD-ROM production soon, the makers of Trizeal (Triangle Service) have confirmed that they have snuck a last NAOMI game in at the buzzer. There is a chance that we could see Exzeal on the Dreamcast later this year. But all of this aside, put aside the drama, put aside the hope that your copy of Karous could be worth something in a couple years. This is a good game, not revolutionary, but certainly an improvement over Radirgy (I realize I scored it lower then DG's Radirgy review). I recommend that you open your copy and play it, not lock it in a plastic bag to preserve value.