When ignoring the first Thunder Force game, Thunder Force II is the black sheep of the series, as it’s not really as popular as its successors. This is mainly due to its free scrolling overhead stages, which people tend to dislike. Taken and updated from the first Thunder Force, the overhead stages have bases scattered around, which the player has to find and destroy via targeting their cores. The look and feel are very similar to Compile games like Aleste and Zanac. While the stages are unique, they also are a bit cumbersome. Since you are continuously moving, it’s easy to crash into walls, enemies, and bullets as you attempt to make passes through the bases or dodge around obstacles. After destroying all the bases, you move on to the horizontally scrolling part of the stage, which contains the stage’s boss at the end (except the final stage, which is overhead only).
Thunder Force II introduces the standardized Thunder Force weapon system that is used in every episode from here on. Your ship starts off with a few default weapons: a twin firing shot, a front and back shot, and a ground shot for the overhead stages. Collecting items enables it to use a number of additional weapons, enhancing its firepower. You can also collect CLAWs, satellites that rotate around your ship acting as additional turrets and bullet shielding devices. However, anytime your ship is destroyed, you lose your CLAWs and additional weapons, reverting back to the defaults. Weapons on the side scrolling and overhead stages are independent of each other, so losing them in one part does not affect the other and vice versa.
Thunder Force II starts off fairly easy, but is unique from the rest of the series as its difficulty increases gradually the further you get. By the time you reach the later stages, things start getting rough. The soundtrack is not quite as good as in the later games overall, but the better tracks, such as stage 1-1’s “Knights of Legend“ and 1-2’s “A Ray of Hope“, are decent enough to still make it an enjoyable listen. Despite its hang-ups, Thunder Force II is an okay game, as long as you can deal with the overhead levels.
Thunder Force II originally debuted on the Sharp X68000 home computer. This is actually more complete than the Genesis version, suggesting that there were either issues with the cartridge ROM space, or it was rushed to make the console launch.
Two of the stages, an overhead one and a side scrolling one, found in the X68000 original were removed for the Genesis version. The X68000 version has a handy map feature for the overhead stages, and has noticeably better graphics (the resolution is lower but there’s a lot more parallax scrolling) and sound (there are more voice clips, and they’re a lot clearer too). Amusingly, the game even curses for you when you lose your last life. However, the X68000 version is also much harder. Autofire is also disabled by default. Finally, some weapons in the Genesis version are different from their X68000 counterparts.
A little bit before Thunder Force V was released, Technosoft re-released previous Thunder Force games on the Saturn, and bundled them together in two compilation packs along with a few extras, such as CG sequences. The Genesis version of Thunder Force II is contained on the first Gold Pack, along with Thunder Force III. Both are the same as their original counterparts, just with some slightly odd sound effects.