Review – Star Soldier R


Star Soldier R

Developer: Hudson Soft
Platform: Wii (WiiWare)
Price: 800 Wii Points (Wii Points unavailable for purchase at the time of this writing)

With the Wii Shop set to completely shutdown in early 2019 and users being locked out of the ability to add more points to their accounts, this review couldn’t have come at a more pointless time. But if, like me, you have a few hundred extra points burning a hole in your digital pocket then this review might just help you decide which ‘Buy’ button to point your Wii Remote at. Especially if you’re looking for experiences that as of this writing are exclusive to WiiWare.

I don’t profess to being an expert of the shoot ‘em up genre but it has always been a part of my palate – an R-Type machine was right across the street from one of my usual summertime haunts and Space Megaforce was a staple of sleepover game rotations. But it wasn’t until the Virtual Console began releasing shooter after shooter after shooter than I understood the breadth and variety of the genre. The Star Soldier series, primarily released for the Turbografx-16, was particularly beyond my purview. Luckily my desire to grab just about anything from the WiiWare service that seemed remotely interesting led me to Star Soldier R and subsequently to the rest of the Star Soldier series.


Star Soldier R also has what looks like a moon, so bonus points from me

Even within the Star Soldier canon R is an atypical game – gameplay revolves primarily around a short main game designed to be played many times for a high score. The game is even split up into “2-Minute” and “5-Minute” campaigns. And yes, they are quite literally 2-minutes and 5-minutes long; regardless of where you are in the game’s two stages, when the timer runs out it’s game over. This length lends itself incredibly well to return sessions every few months or even years. Players are meant to spend the first few plays memorizing and then the next thousand plays optimizing. For people who find other “full length” shooters to be too intimidating or too much of a time commitment, Star Soldier R offers a bite-sized experience that begs to be replayed over and over.

For a game this slight of content, the amount of time devoted to story is kind of amazing. Waiting on the title screen long enough will trigger a series of still images and text that explain Star Soldier R’s place in the greater Star Soldier timeline and give context this ship’s particular mission. This is so wholly unnecessary that I can’t help by find it outrageously charming. The earnestness with which Star Soldier R presents its story perfectly captures the feeling of an arcade cabinet attract mode. Each stage is also bookended by short cutscenes showing the player’s ship taking off or moving on to its next destination.

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I tried to find more screenshots but Hudson’s old URL is now owned by an ENT in New York. So here’s this guy.

Mechanically Star Soldier R is pretty basic; there are two kinds of power-ups that operate linearly and simultaneously. Blue capsules create satellites around your ship that can be sent of to automatically target enemy spacecraft, while pink capsules enhance your main ship’s shot. There are no branching weapon types or alternate types of fire (beyond the aforementioned satellites). Taking a hit will knock the player down a weapon-level and destroy the player’s ship if at the base weapon-level. This combined with the fact that there are no lives and infinite continues means that anyone can get through a round of Star Soldier R provided the death count hasn’t led to too much lost time, particularly when fighting one of the bosses.

Star Soldier R is a difficult game to recommend logistically speaking – I can recommend it all I want but the chance that anyone is in a position to purchase it is incredibly slim. If you happen to be one of the five people left on the planet with 800 Wii Points to spare and a desire to pick up a short score-attack space shooter exclusive to WiiWare, then by all means, Star Soldier R is the way to go. There are dozens of other games that will give you more content for 800 points on the service but Star Soldier R is fun little revival of a series that is unlikely to resurface anytime soon. Give it a shot if you have to ability to do so.


The Best Place 001 – Luna (Tales of Phantasia)


The Best Place is a series about the Moon in videogames. Because the Moon has done a great job so far and it deserves it.

I don’t need to tell you why the Moon is the best place but I will. Without the tides, life may not have evolved the way it did. Tidal pools and the movement of the ocean facilitate some of the most complex and important eco systems in the world. Human society’s most important stories were inspired by it. Cultures all over the world have used it to justify weird gender stuff, sometimes empowering and sometimes subjugating women. That same weird gender stuff has been co-opted to justify new age philosophy and religion. Your aunt probably has a lot to say about the Moon. A race to it determined the political landscape of the latter half of the 20th century. Dogs bark at it maybe. The Moon has gravity. It has a pull so powerful that people confuse it for a lot things it isn’t.

Because it’s just the Moon. It’s perfect and just there. Quiet and mostly empty and sometimes light and sometimes not and it doesn’t care what you think it means. It doesn’t anything because it’s just the Moon. Your aunt is wrong.

Videogames do a lot with the Moon. And that makes sense because The Moon is the best. I hope this series will help you understand that.

The first videogame moon we’re going to look at is the personification of The Moon from 1995’s Tales of Phantasia for Super Famicom, Luna.

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That’s her up there. She’s a moon girl about to laser some ghosts.

Luna is the name of the Greek Goddess of the Moon. She is often depicted with horns on her head obviously because of the crescent moon, you see? The studio behind Tales of Phantasia, Wolfteam (wolves also are very much into the moon), decided this was dumb and instead made her into what appears to be some kind of child’s mobile. If you can find a gif or video you’ll see in her idle animation that the stars and moon around her swing slightly as if suspended from above by an unseen thread. This is super cute and Luna would already be great if this was all there was to her. But there’s so much more.

Tales of Phantasia was re-released several times and with those re-released came updated sprite art and character designs. None were more important than Luna’s.

In Phantasia’s lore there is a long-lost ancient city called Thor. While most of the locations the player visits are the usual fantasy JRPG fare, Thor is a decidedly modern-looking place with skyscrapers, computers, and robots. It’s completely abandoned when the player arrives but I like to imagine that Luna, with her “Eat-At-Luna’s”-style love for noble gas, was familiar with the city during it’s active period.

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Just look at her though. She’s having a blast. What a fun moon. The fact that her little neon sign WITH HER OWN NAME ON IT changes to announce the firing of her laser is about as charming as it gets. It’s not up for debate; Tales of Phantasia, you have given us a wonderful moon, full of life, love, and laughter.


I know we started things off with a real bang here — Luna is a treat and we’re gonna have a hard time following up this excellent moon, but please stick with me as we journey through the many many moons that videogames have to offer us. And please, remember…

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Every Pixel Perfect Review: FF DOT. – The Pixel Art of Final Fantasy –


Kazuko Shibuya is one of the most influential artists in game design and an unsung hero of the ‘videogame’ aesthetic. She created and refined many of the visual elements that have come to define the look of JRPGs . Her artwork for Final Fantasy on the Famicom captured the perfect proportions for expressive and detailed, but uncluttered character design. The default character sprites for the Warriors of Light are timeless and continue to be riffed upon, referenced, parodied, and pastiched in and outside of videogames. Much like coins or ‘? Blocks’ or a HI SCORE leaderboard, Shibuya’s 16×24 pixel figures are cultural shorthand for not just adventure games of a certain vintage, but videogames as the world sees them.

It’s fitting then that for the 30th anniversary of Final Fantasy, Square Enix has released a 288-page love letter to Shibuya, the pixel artists of the 8- and 16-bit era of Final Fantasy, and to an art style that continues to shape pop culture.


FF DOT. is absolutely a book that you can judge by it’s cover – minimalist, deliberate, clean, and a little bit whimsical. The content is exactly what you would expect. Blown up pixel art from Final Fantasy I, II, III, IV, V, and VI in chronological order with plain, often white or black, backgrounds to better highlight the sharp edges and bright colours of the art.

The NES/Famicom trilogy gets the most even representation across it’s three titles. Each section starts out with a detailed look at the playable characters sprites, often breaking down select sprites with both a grid to show the exact dimensions and a colour palette to show just how limited a colour range the artist had to work within. The character section for Final Fantasy III is predictably robust – being the first game in the series to have a job-change system a lot of real estate is taken up by showing off the dozens of different sprites created for each class. Having these character sprites from these three titles in such close proximity makes for a really interesting look at what changes were made to each class as the series progressed; I had never appreciated the subtle differences between Warrior(FFI), Firion(FFII), and Warrior(FFIII) until I compared their dedicated pages in FF DOT.


WARNING: Book contains a lot of guys that look like this.

But Final Fantasy is more than just the Warriors of Light. Each game also has pages dedicated to enemy sprites, battle backgrounds, items, towns (often breaking them down tile by tile), menus, and bosses. The layout does an excellent job at emphasizing key battle sequences by featuring certain bosses in two-page spreads, sometimes with key dialogue helpfully presented in both Japanese and English. In fact an interesting thing to note is that while this is a Japanese import book, all text is presented not only in Japanese and English, but localized names are provided alongside the Romanized Japanese originals. It’s a nice touch that shows this book was made with love and care for an international audience. It’s also a startling reminder that while Sabin is a bit of a goofy name, it’s infinitely more believable than Mash.

Speaking of Final Fantasy VI, the SNES/Super Famicom era is where FF DOT. falls on it’s face a little. Let’s talk first about where it succeeds. First of all the quality of the art itself is incredible. Any Final Fantasy fan can tell you that, sure, but to see the Phantom Train, Neo Exdeath, and the Four Fiends given the full page treatment really shows of the skill and artistry that went into these games. Two pages are given to the opera scene; one page shows the perspective from the audience, while the other shows the view from onstage as well as Celes throwing her bouquet from atop the set. These story moments captured in time are where the 16-bit trilogy section truly excels.


I love this layout so much. Someone had to sign off on this. This is brilliant.

Unfortunately the same care that went into meticulously presenting the character sprites of the 8-bit era seems to have been thrown out the window a bit for the 16-bit titles. Final Fantasy V, being the job-based game of this era, is the exception and ends up being represented exceptionally well. All five main characters get full spreads with all of their job-classes present (sans the jobs introduced in the GBA version). Much like the evolution of job design in the NES/Famicom games, comparing the minor differences in the way each FFV character interprets traditional jobs is a real treat – Bartz’ adherence to classic Final Fantasy style, Faris’ balance between masculine and feminine, and Krile’s upending of convention for the sake of cuteness. The casts of Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI however don’t get the same level of attention.

Throughout FF DOT. each major character is given a new idle sprite created by Kazuko Shibuya to reflect the evolution of her art. These new pieces are called the ‘2018 Version’ and they show up in each game’s character section to sort of show off what Shibuya’s interpretation of these characters might be today. They are a wonderful addition and wonderful way to show Shibuya’s passion for the series and the characters she helped to create. For whatever reason the character sections of Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI only show these 2018 reinterpretations. Some of the original sprites for these characters can be seen on other pages as parts of larger scenes but not all of them and often not in their standard idle battle pose. Relm, Strago, Rydia and Rosa are just a few examples of characters whose original battle sprites are nowhere to be seen. It’s a baffling decision especially considering I, II, III, and V all have sections dedicated to this very thing. An odd choice and the only thing that mars an otherwise brilliant collection of artwork. Luckily there are a couple extra sections that help make up for this oversight and really push FF DOT. into must-have territory.

The ‘2018 version’ treatment isn’t just limited to the two Nintendo trilogies – every main title in the series up to Final Fantasy XV gets a pixel art makeover. While this isn’t the first time all of these characters have been reinterpreted this way (Final Fantasy XV has pixel art versions of the main four cast members in-game, and Final Fantasy Record Keeper is a mobile game solely about presenting Final Fantasy characters from across the series in a retro style), it is the first time that Kazuko Shibuya has rendered many of them herself. Some entries in the series get more love than others (Kiros and Ward, really?) and there are some important characters left out of the action (XIV doesn’t have any representation beyond A Realm Reborn and even then, no Merlwyb!) but it makes for a fun look at an alternate dimension where the series never left the Super Nintendo. Ever.


Things have uh… changed for the cast of XIV since then.

And the finale of FF DOT. is almost worth price of admission itself; a ten-page interview with Kazuko Shibuya herself. Accompanied by black and white photos of her and her workspace, it’s a charming and insightful interview that I implore people read if they have any interest in the early days of Square and pioneer women of the games industry. It’s the perfect way to end such a great tribute to her work and the work of everyone who helped make the iconic visuals of such a ubiquitous franchise.

FF DOT. is the kind of book that I wish there were more of. Publishers like Dark Horse and Udon do a great job of localizing beautiful artbooks for all kinds of games with amazing illustrations and they deserve tons of credit for doing so, but these books are often physically large and dense with the same kinds of content. They are ultimately treated like any other merch that lines the shelves of comic shops and Gamestops for a fan to put on their bookshelf with a dozen other books just like it. FF DOT. takes a decidedly different approach to appreciating videogame art; it curates and recontextualizes in-game assets to create a compelling and well-paced journey through a revolutionary movement of digital art.

I highly recommend FF DOT. for anyone with an interest in pixel art, the history of Final Fantasy, and granular visual studies of videogame art and aesthetic.

FF DOT. is available now on the Square Enix official online store for $43.99 USD + shipping, for $52.99 + shipping, or from for 3,780 JPY + shipping. Amazon Japan worked out to be the best price for me.