Knight Arms: The Hyblid Framer has a lot that makes it stick out from most shooters on the X68000. It alternates between Space Harrier-style rail shooter levels and 2D side-scrolling shmup stages, sometimes in mid-level. The side-scrolling levels are a bit different, as they only scroll when you move and even allow for backtracking. Knight Arms was a technical masterpiece on the X68000 with huge, detailed sprites and catchy music throughout the whole game.
The story is pretty standard. There is an evil organization called CIPHER that is making powerful weapons and using them to overthrow the galaxy. The Galaxy Knights, pilots of giant robots that fly around in space, are the only people that can stop them. Knight Arms involves tracking down their hidden bases and destroying the powerful weapons inside. Interestingly, not all of CIPHER's weapons are machines. Some of them are living monsters with robot parts attached to them.
Can you guess her nickname?
The rail shooter segments are pretty simple. You move with the arrow keys and fire with the X key. The side scrolling levels give you a few more options. You can hold Z and press left or right to change your facing. You only fire straight in front of you, but when you change your facing, you can shoot forward, backward, or even into the background. This is very useful for taking out annoying enemies that like to sneak up on you from behind. There are only three power-ups in Knight Arms. The first is a very useful repair that regains health. They come fairly often and can be hidden pretty well in the side scrolling levels. The second is a shield that makes you invulnerable for a set amount of time. The third is unique. It's a satellite that is only in the last level. It doubles your firepower and can protect you from enemies that try to ram you. Once you get it, the satellite stays with you for the rest of the game.
You get a pretty long health bar and unlimited continues in Knight Arms, which can partially alleviate the uneven difficulty. The first level is one of the harder ones and has three bosses, while the second level is easy. Continues return you back to the start of the level and refill your health, making it a little more manageable. Knight Arms does not keep track of score, so there really is no consequence to continuing. Even with unlimited continues, it's still a pretty hard game. The rail shooter segments fill the screen with projectile happy enemies that will be placed in hard to reach areas. The side scrolling segments throw so many bullets at you that the powerful (for the time) X68000 will actually experience slowdown. Your health does not get replenished between levels either, so that huge health bar is a lot shorter than it looks.
Levels tend to be very long, consisting of multiple mini bosses, sometimes multiple bosses, and lots of enemies for you to destroy. Bosses are huge, usually bigger than the screen itself, and are by far the most challenging part of the game. They have multiple forms, huge health bars, and they spew out gigantic clusters of slow moving bullets in simple patterns that fill up the screen. Knight Arms could be considered a proto danmaku, as the huge patterns of bullets and slow speed can make it feel like one. The problem is, Knight Arms was made back in 1989, a time before reduced hit boxes and screen-clearing bombs became the standard. The crowded screen can be very overwhelming and you do not have a lot of room for error. Sometimes the patterns themselves are not very well designed and have spaces so small that they become unavoidable. This can lead to some very frustrating situations. The boss of level three comes to mind, a giant lobster-like monster. One of its bullet patterns cannot be dodged, meaning that the only way to defeat him is saving up health through the level, dodging what is possible, and damage him faster than he damages you. He changes forms after a while and shoots a more fair pattern later on, but it's still the only time the game feels outright cheap. The rest of the game is more of the "difficult but fair" variety, rewarding skill and reflexes over memorization.
Katsunori Yoshimura, the same man behind the first Thunder Force game, designed Knight Arms. He would also later go on to help plan the game Omega Boost. In 1985, he left Technosoft for Arsys to make Knight Arms. Unfortunately, Arsys would churn out only a few more games before going out of business shortly after producing Battle Zeque Den on the Super Famicom. The music in Knight Arms is notable, as it was the first video game soundtrack to be composed by Toshiya Yanmaka, who is better known for his work on Treasure's Sin and Punishment. Arsys released some music from Knight Arms on a compilation CD called Arsys Best Selection, which bundled it together with music from Prince of Persia and Star Cruiser.
Knight Arms was published by NCS, the same company behind many cult classics such as Gleylancer and Cho Aniki. After Knight Arms, they never worked with Arsys again.
A quick review of the game.
Videos with some of the game's soundtrack. The site is in Japanese.