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Thunder Force
Thunder Force II

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Thunder Spirits
Thunder Force IV

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Thunder Force V
Thunder Force VI

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by Paul Brownlee - July 22, 2006; updated April 2013

From its humble origins in the Japanese computer scene of the mid-80s, the Thunder Force series managed to stand out among a plethora of other shmups, as the flagship franchise of Technosoft. After a brief computer stint, the series flourished on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, during the height of the scrolling shooter's popularity in the late 80s to early 90s. In the 32-bit days, the series was given an modernized look with the implementation of 3D graphics, while retaining the tried and true classic shooter gameplay. The most recent installment for the PlayStation 2 is very much in the same veign.

To be honest, besides its own little quirks (such as the overhead stages in the earlier games), there isn't much the Thunder Force series does to deviate from the basic formula established by forefather horizontal shooters like Gradius or R-Type, leaving them open for criticism as being too "generic." Regardless, their appeal lies simply in the fact that they're just well crafted and refined games. With their attractive aesthetics, intimidating bosses, relentless enemy waves, and quality soundtracks, they offer an experience that average, less inspired shooters often fail to match. This experience is also due to the fact that Thunder Force gives the standard Gradius/R-Type format an adrenaline shot in the chest, as the gameplay is generally much faster paced. The result is a harmony of the twitchy, reflexive gameplay commonly found in many modern shooters with the pattern memorizing/positioning emphasis in the classics. It is quite a rush to maneuver through Thunder Force's caverns and narrow passageways while dealing with enemies that seemingly come out of nowhere and throw gobs of fire at the player. There are no checkpoints either - when the ship is destroyed, another one takes its place almost immediately, sometimes before one can even figure out what got it killed in the first place. Losing all of the lives, however, sends the player to the beginning of the stage, provided there are remaining credits.

Most Thunder Force games have two default weapons - a regular, forward firing gun and a rear-firing laser. Since the ship is thus armed to fire in both directions, enemies often attack from both sides, forcing the player to switch back and forth. There are also several other weapon power-ups, which can be selected at any time. When dying, only the currently equipped weapon is lost, so one can build up a sizeable arsenal for sticky situations if one plays the cards right.

The basic plot of Thunder Force deals with an area far away from Earth, where the inhabitants of the Galaxy Federation are engaged in war with the evil ORN Empire. To defeat ORN, the Galaxy Federation creates iterations of their "Fire Leo" series of high performance fighter craft and sends them out to fend off ORN's forces. The plot generally follows this form until the fifth chapter, which puts an interesting twist on the story by moving the setting back to Earth. A chain of events leads earthlings to find one of the Fire Leo ships stranded in space (referring to it as the Vasteel), and by examining its advanced technology, Earth builds many machines based on its design, including a super computer named the Guardian. Unfortunately, something causes the Guardian to go haywire, and kill much of Earth's population. What's left of the earthlings retaliate by using ships meant to replicate/enhance the original Vasteel to neutralize the Guardian and its forces.

The series has six main installments, plus an arcade spin-off that was later ported to the Super NES, and two compilation packs for the Saturn.

Thunder Force II (Genesis)

Thunder Force VI (PlayStation 2)


Thunder Force (サンダーフォース) - MZ-1500, X1, FM-7, PC-6001, PC-88, PC-98, IBM JX (1984)

PC-6001 Cover

FM-7 Cover

PC-88 Cover

Not many Westerners have played or even know of the first Thunder Force, since it was released on obscure Japanese computers. The game format is completely free directional scrolling overhead stages where you fight airborne enemies and bomb ground targets in search of a set amount of hidden shield generators. Once all the shield generators in the stage are found and destroyed, the game shifts to a screen where you have to destroy a portion of a large fortress named the Dyradeizer. Once this is done, you move on to the next stage and repeat the process.

Each of the game's versions look slightly different from each other, but they're all very archaic looking compared to what followed. The gameplay is just as basic as the graphics, with the ship having an airborne shot and a crosshair for ground shots a la Xevious. Simple looking enemies and ground turrets attack you every now and then, and the stages are more or less all the same. Some versions add a few extra bells and whistles, such as the Sharp X1 version yelling "Thunder Force" out loud at you when you start a new game. Some versions also have actual BGM, in the form of Gioacchino Rossini's "William Tell Overture." Some releases also came with a construction set that allowed players to build their own levels.

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Thunder Force (PC-88)


Thunder Force II (サンダーフォースII) - Genesis, X68000, Saturn (1988)

Japanese Mega Drive Cover

American Genesis Cover

When ignoring the first Thunder Force game, Thunder Force II is the black sheep of the series, 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 and enemies/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/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 vise 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 and you'll probably start dying more and more. 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 a good game, just underrated because of the overhead thing.

The two initial versions of the game have significant differences, as the X68000 version is the more "complete" one of the two. Two of the stages, an overhead one and a side scroller, 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 ship is small 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 X6800 version is also much harder. Like in the Genesis version, the difficulty increases gradually, but at a much higher rate. 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 decided to re-release previous Thunder Force games on the Sega 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 pretty much the same as their original counterparts. The only minor issue is some shifty sound emulation.

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  • Osamu Tsujikawa

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Thunder Force II (X68000)

Thunder Force II (Genesis)

Thunder Force II (Genesis)

Thunder Force II (Genesis)

Thunder Force II (Genesis)


Comparison Screenshots


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