The Vasara games are two fairly unique manic shooters. They are set in medieval Japan, but feature giant flying robots, much like Compile's M.U.S.H.A. and Robo Aleste. It's actually quite a bit like a shooter version of Capcom's Sengoku Basara series ("Vasara" is simply an alternate spelling of "basara", as the kanji is the same), in that it uses stylized, reimagined versions of famous historical characters. Vasara, of course, predated Capcom's series by five years. The two Vasara games were developed by Visco, a company with a reputation unnotable games like Galmedes, Breakers, Andro Dunos and numerous other largely forgotten titles. In Visco's last years, after a whole decade of mediocrity, they somehow churned out these two outstanding games. They, too, have fallen into obscurity, although undeservedly so. They were unfortunately only released in Japanese arcades without any home ports.
One of the notable gameplay aspects of the Vasara series is that each playable character has a chargeable melee attack that can cut through enemy bullets. This ability is invaluable because, this being a bullet hell shooter and all, there can be up to (and usually over) a hundred bullets on screen at once with absolutely no slowdown. The bullet speed can depend on the attack, too. This means that some attacks are huge, slow moving, clusters of bullets that are easily avoided, but take longer to leave the screen and some attacks are small, fast, bullets that come out of nowhere.
Another notable aspect of the Vasara games is that characters (enemies and playable) do not die upon collision. You can crash into enemies all you want, and all they will do is knock you back. Don't let that fool you into thinking it'll be easy though, though because some bosses actively try to push you into their bullet streams. Part of the reason for this has to do with how you usually need to get in fairly close to get your charge shot to hit. This is an ingenious idea that really makes Vasara feel different from most manic shooters.
Vasara takes place during the Sengoku period during Tokugawa's rise to power. Despite taking place in the 1600s, Vasara is filled to the brim with giant sword wielding robots, skull tanks, flying battleships decorated with demon heads, and many other enemy types usually reserved for sci-fi shooters. There are three playable characters, each specializing in a different weapon and riding on a different hover bike. All three of them plan on crushing Ieyasu Tokugawa and his forces for their own reasons.
Yukimura Sanada, according to Visco's web site, uses trickery to fight in order to obtain peace. He is from the Toyotomi house, which was crushed by Ieyasu Tokugawa. Yukimura Sanada, like most of the characters was a real person that was recorded to have fought battles back in the Sengoku period. The game has an interesting take on history, to say the least. Yukimura wields a powerful sword as his charge shot that is surprisingly easy to use. His hover bike is also equipped with little homing kunai that do bits of extra damage.
Age 55. Keiji Maeda was also a real samurai from history. After his House Sagaki was killed off, Keiji Maeda promised himself to bring Ieyasu Tokugawa to justice. His hover bike moves the slowest, but has the smallest hit box. For his charge shot, Keiji pulls out his spear and repeatedly stabs into an area directly in front of him. This can sometimes hit bosses multiple times and if used right. It is the most powerful and crushing charge shot in the game. His hover bike is also equipped with javelins. The javelins fire directly in front on him, move very slowly, and does a lot of damage. The best part about this is that the javelins do not disappear or break upon impact and can strike right through multiple enemies before leaving the screen.
Age 15. Unlike the other two characters, Saiga Magoichi is not based on a historical figure and was completely made up just for this game. She is supposedly the daughter of Saika Magoichi, a real historical figure, but fictional characters may be the least of Vasara's historical inaccuracies when one of the bosses is a giant robot samurai that can transform into a larger robot samurai. It is best not to take Vasara's story too seriously. Saiga Magoichi's charge shot surrounds her in a circle of fire. This is very useful, as bullets come from all sides, sometimes at very fast speeds. Her hover bike also has fans that act as homing shots. The paper fans actually do more damage than Yukimura's kunai, which once again, is best not to worry about too much.
Besides the previously mentioned charge shots and sub-shots, each character also wields a screen clearing bomb that erases all bullets and heavily damages any enemies on screen, as well as a super attack called a Vasara that's a more powerful version of their charged attack. Vasaras are essentially more powerful bombs and can be used more often due to how they're replenished. Each time an enemy is damaged with a charged attack, it drops red gems. Picking up red gems makes your Vasara meter go up. Once your Vasara meter is full, the next time you do a charged shot, you will instead unleash a destructive Vasara, usually with the playable character shouting "Vasara!" to accompany this.
With the bombs, Vasaras, bullet clearing attacks, small hit boxes, and a generous extend rate, Vasara sounds like it should be an easy game. Even with all of these powerful weapons at your disposal, it really isn't. Visco obviously got a lot of its inspiration from Treasure games, as bosses are huge and take multiple forms. Smaller, mini bosses litter every level and to make things more troublesome, they come in groups and you usually have to fight two at once. Continues do not allow you to switch characters and start taking you back to checkpoints on the last level, disallowing you to credit feed. Lastly, if you want to earn a true ending in Vasara, you have to beat the game on one credit anyway and defeat Ieyasu Tokugawa, who is disappointingly just a powered up version of the fake final boss.
Each playable character starts off on a different level, with Keiji Maeda starting outside a snowy fortress, Saiga Magoichi starting in a harbor, and Yukimura Sanada starting in a grassy field. Once these three levels are done, you go through a strange pink cloud over a fortress at night, a hidden palace in the wilderness, and lastly, a barren battlefield covered in dead bodies. Most of the levels look amazing and are very detailed, including subtle things like swinging leaves in a breeze to little spider tanks bursting out of a palace to defend their territory.
Vasara's scoring mechanics are dubbed the "Prestige Kill System". When you kill enemies with your melee attack, they will drop a blood-soaked flag with their name on it. You shouldn't actually pick this up, because that flag stays on screen for a few seconds, giving you time to destroy another large enemy. The bloodied flags multiply your combo and you get a multiplier on how many points you earned based on how many flags showed up. Bombs do not count. Vasaras, however, do count as melee attacks, making them the easiest way to get huge points and awesome things such as x11 multipliers. Additionally, all of your bloodied flags are tallied up at the end and you are given a set amount of points for each one. Another way to get points is grazing, which is where a bullet passes through your sprite, but not your hit box, a feature borrowed from various Raizing games. This would be risky, except that Visco was nice enough to show you each character hit box on the player select screen, making grazing surprisingly easy in this game.
Besides the scoring, one of the best parts of Vasara are the bosses. The action will always stop dead in its tracks just for one of these powerful war machines to make its entrance. The pilot will usually taunt you in some way, usually sounding very arrogant in this process. If the boss is weak, then this is actually pretty funny because they go down so quick after taunting you. One of the more interesting fights is against a large battleship with claws, which splits into two once the first form is destroyed, resulting in an entirely different boss fight depending on which side was blown off.
The weakest point of Vasara is its final stage. Unlike the vibrant forests, busy fortresses, or bizarre pink clouds of the levels before it, the last level is a grim relatively dull and empty battlefield. The amazing set pieces such as giant robot samurai and overconfident generals are gone, leaving only popcorn enemies and some very easily memorized bullet patterns. The level picks back up for the big fight against the end boss, but the fake final boss is a pushover if you know what you're doing. Fortunately, the other five levels are all fantastic and offer some very good manic shooting.
One interesting note is that all of the cutscenes and dialogue are in Japanese with English subtitles. Even though Vasara never left Japan, Visco may have had plans to try selling them in other countries. Sammy bought Visco soon after the second Vasara game was released, and Sammy seems to have no interest in either of the games.
Visco's follow up to Vasara was their last game and came out only a year later. It made a few changes to the original Vasara while keeping the overall formula intact. It feels more streamlined than the first and offers more challenge, more bosses, and even more firepower.
One of the biggest changes in Vasara 2 was the removal of bombs. Vasaras were obviously far more powerful than bombs in the first game, but they did not come up as often. Vasaras completely replaced bombs and collecting the now blue jewels slowly filled up your Vasara meter. Unlike in the last game, Vasara 2 gives you three Vasara meters to work with, making them more functional to rechargeable bombs. You do not even have to charge up an attack to use them anymore, you just press the new Vasara button.
The story is also set before the first Vasara, making Vasara 2 technically a prequel. None of the characters from the first game return, though there are similarities. Each of the new playable characters has his or her unique feel that makes the game feel a bit different from the first. Oda Nobunga is the villain in this game and is aiming to take over Japan. It is up to five of the most powerful warriors to stop him.
He joined his father during the campaign. History says that he committed suicide following the Oda/Tokugawa invasion. Supposedly, he was going to be the next lord of Takeda. Takeda Nobukatsu pilots the red hover bike and wields a sword as his charge shot. The sword is nothing like Yukimura Sanada's from the first Vasara, giving Takeda Nobukatsu a completely different feel. Also, instead of small, homing kunai, Takeda Nobukatsu fires torrents of straight shooting knives. These knives move very fast and do a lot of damage, as opposed to the relatively weak homing kunai.
A ninja from the Momochi Clan. According to history, Momochi was actually a man, but Vasara is known for taking more than a few creative liberties. Momochi Sandayu was one of history's greatest assassins. He/She trained many other ninjas during his/her lifetime, but had a strict code of honor. Momochi uses a spinning bladed staff as her charge shot. It is very powerful and is good for taking out bosses that are horizontally shaped. Her normal shots are star shaped shuriken that tend to stick to enemies and do extra damage.
He used to serve Oda Nobunaga, but turned traitor. He has an emotional talk with the final boss before fighting him, adding a lot of drama to his storyline. His treachery led Tokugawa Ieyasu (the villain from the first game) to avenge Oda Nobunaga. Akechi Mitsuhide pilots the blue hover bike and wields a sword as his charge shot that is almost identical to Yukimura Sanada's. His normal shot fires powerful green circles that move slowly before exploding and do lots of damage.
Seiryubo is a monk. Not very much is known about him other than his hatred for Oda Nobunaga. He pilots the green hover bike and wields a spear very similar to Keiji Maeda's from the first Vasara. His normal shot is very different, though. Seiryubo fires powerful yet slow blue homing orbs. Seiryubo fires up to six of these and they do not go away upon contact with an enemy, making them very powerful, as they can register many hits on several enemies.
The grandfather of Saiga Magoichi from the first game. Unlike his fictional granddaughter, Saika Magoichi was based on a historical figure. Saika Magoichi also pilots a black hover bike and uses the same weapons as his granddaughter, a fire shield and fans. He is an unlockable character through activating a code or dip switch. When you have him unlocked, the game makes a big production of it by having his hover bike shine gold on the select screen. Saika also does not seem to take things very seriously, as he jokes with and taunts the final boss before fighting him.
One of the more noticeable improvements over the first Vasara is the retooling of the Prestige Kill System. Each level has a five bosses - the first four are usually subcommanders or powerful mercenaries and the last boss of each level is a general. The subcommanders each give you a large flag with their face on it, giving you a larger multiplier than the smaller flags acquired by using you melee attack on popcorn enemies. At the end of each level, all of the bosses killed are totalled up and you get a bonus depending on how many have been destroyed. This makes for a total of thirty bosses spread out across six levels. Their designs are varied, ranging from classic fortresses covered in turrets just waiting to be dismantled, to giant robot samurai, to powerful battleships floating through the sky. Even though the bosses in Vasara 2 are varied and common, you do fight a few of them more than once through the course of the game. Also, some bosses are only on screen for a few seconds before embracing cowardice and retreating. Missing an opportunity to defeat one can be very bad for your score, as Vasara 2 is all about killing as many bosses are you can in a level.
The large number of bosses in Vasara 2 results in standard enemies being relatively uncommon. There are not very many moments in Vasara 2 when you are not fighting a boss while plowing your weapon through storms of bullets. Additionally, there are new, purple bullets that cannot be broken, unlike the normal red ones. Vasara 2 is certainly more challenging than the first one. Another way Vasara 2 is more challenging than its predecessor is that it comes with two difficulties, the harder of which has a second loop. The last level still takes you back to a checkpoint if you wish to continue, as sort of a tradition from the first game.
Unlike the first Vasara's final level, Vasara 2s final level does not disappoint. All five of the bosses are challenging, including the penultimate foe. The level is full of amazing moments and culminates in the player's character having a brief but important talk with Oda Nobunaga. All of them say something different and what they say can range from comedic to emotionally charged. It adds a lot to the atmosphere and makes crushing the final boss feel like even more of an accomplishment.
The Vasara series is usually overlooked due to Visco's reputation for poor shooters. Just when it seemed like they were getting it right, Sammy bought Visco in 2001 and started work on games for the SSV arcade board (Sammy, Seta, Visco). Ten years later, Vasara is for the most part forgotten. They are very original games and are worth a look for anyone interested in a less conventional shooter.