This is it, folks. This is the end of Fantasy Shooter Month! For all who’ve been reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed the made-up celebration I concocted. I had fun revisiting old favorites and discovering new ones. This has actually been a big undertaking for me, considering I’ve been hitting some major milestones at work. I’m glad I had the discipline and determination to write up all this content because I really do love creating it. To finish this month-long event, I wanted to send it off with one of my favorite games: Lords of Thunder.
Game: Lords of Thunder
Console: Sega CD/Sega Mega CD
Developer: Hudson Soft and Red Entertainment
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Release Year: 1995
The Sega CD box art for Lords of Thunder is pretty awesome for a couple reasons: 1). It has a He-Man action figure shooting lightning and fire out of its hands as a volcano erupts in the background (because fuck volcanoes! I’m too hard for that shit!), and 2.) It makes no sense. The game revolves around a flying knight in magical armor taking down a fascist, militant regime and its evil god. This dude on the cover is very much not wearing armor, essentially making him as effective as an Abercrombie & Fitch model.
I’ve played Lords of Thunder A LOT growing up, and there’s a reason it’s one of my favorite games. It combines the greatest things in the universe: Heavy Metal, Fantasy, and shmups! When starting the game, the first thing you see is a lightning storm, and the first thing you hear is a screeching guitar and a worthy bass (because, in Metal, who really cares about the bass? Unless it’s double-bass drums we’re talking about, of course). You’ll be so impressed by how incredible the introduction is that you’ll blankly stare in awe until the opening cutscene begins. It’s an anime-style cutscene that goes about 3 frames/second, but you won’t notice because the soundtrack is building up to rock your face off!
Here it comes!
The cutscene also comes with a voice-over that tells you the plot I outlined earlier when talking about the box art. Sounds good to me! Let’s get started!
But wait! There’s another opening cutscene! WHAAAAAAAT!?
You know the game’s going to be amazing when it gets two opening cutscenes! The second scene shows close-ups of all the main enemies and ends with Duran, the game’s protagonist and titular flying knight in magical armor, confronting a giant, dark, and obviously evil monster. It’s pretty bad ass, even if I’m not in junior high anymore.
You start the actual game by selecting your armor. There are four armor types: Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water. There’s no Heart because this game was made before Captain Planet. Also, Heart is stupid.
You’re stupid, Mati. I hate you.
Contrary to logic, armor in this game dictates what your weapon will be instead of actually protecting you. It’d have been cool if armor had strengths and weaknesses to other elements, but that’s neither here nor there. All you need to know is Water armor is what you want. It’s the only armor in the game that shoots behind you. Because apparently magical armor has the same dumb qualities as spaceships when it comes to turning around.
Each armor is unique and has different attack ranges, strength, bombs and blah blah blah. Just go with Water. It’s how you win.
After picking Water armor, you then visit a very sexy and breathy shopkeeper whose prices are as steep as her cleavage. Here, you can stock up on bombs, heal yourself, power up your weapon, buy force fields, and get continues. You purchase these items by slaughtering your enemies and collecting the gems they drop, presumed to be their crystallized souls. It’s disturbing how addictive and fun it is to murder countless beings and collect their gems. It’s my favorite thing about this game, even though I hardly ever buy anything.
Leaving the shop will take you to the level select screen, though there’s no reason to have it. You gain no advantages from beating bosses or stages in a particular order like in Mega Man and Mega Man X, but I guess it’s cool to at least see the world you’re saving. Or slaughtering, considering the body count Duran accrues.
I’d play that game.
So, go ahead! Pick any level! It doesn’t matter. Whichever one you choose, you’ll immediately have to hit pause as its music forces you to produce tears of joy, obstructing your vision. It’s okay and completely natural. Sometimes music is just so Metal and beautiful that girly tears come of their own volition. Just let the terrible feelings of happiness and the awful tears run their course. You’ll soon make up for your uncontrollable lapse of woman-ness by mutilating and decimating hordes of dragons, monsters, and all manners of wizards.
But seriously, the music in this game is phenomenal. I always wanted it on a CD as a kid, but we just didn’t have that kind of technology. All I could do was go to a level and pause the game to listen to its music, which is why they made the level select screen I bet. And the music always fit the atmosphere of the environment. The best example is Dezant, the desert level. The lead guitar plays a tune that sounds Middle Eastern, or at least what I picture as Middle Eastern thanks to Aladdin. Anyway, go check out all the music in this game. Every main level track is amazing and over 4 minutes long without looping. It feels like a lot of time and effort was put into these tracks, despite the generic drums. But I actually like the lackluster and repetitive drums in these tracks. After all, I did grow up listening to Metallica.
I got you good, Lars!
The environments are thoughtful, and they definitely captured my imagination as a kid. There’s the aforementioned desert level, a tower, flying fortresses, volcano fortresses, and underwater castles that defy physics. Because Fantasy game!
Water doesn’t just stop when bricks happen! How unrealistic!
But what good are all these great environments without things to kill. Well, don’t worry. LoT has lots of things for you to murder. You can deal out your death and destruction by shooting things with your weapon, blowing things up, or being a true warrior and cutting things down with your sword, regardless of how big they are. The sword is insanely powerful and insanely satisfying to use.
The enemies in this game range from tiny, unremarkable and trite to gigantic, detailed and unique. My favorite has to be the sea monster. It quickly pops out of nowhere and gets all up in your face. Seeing that as a kid simultaneously scared the crap out of me and vindicated my purchase of the Turbo Duo.
Another enemy that blew my mind as a kid was the flying turtles with spear men on their backs. It’s just fucking awesome, and having to tell you why would only lessen its inherent greatness.
Not all the enemies are great on the virtue that they’re cool. Some are great because they’re just down-right stupid. For instance, this guy:
He just falls from the sky on some machine, misses with zero effort on my part, and then explodes. It’s just outstanding. The bosses are excellent as well. Most fill the screen and have easily discernible patterns to overcome, making them fun to look at and defeat. It’s nice to see them in their tiny human form before they transform into the screen-filling abominations they truly are. The final boss has three forms (because what final boss doesn’t?), and his last form is just a giant head. All I did was chill in his mouth and swing my sword at the back of his throat until he died. I was like Steve Martin as the Dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. Yeah. I made that reference. You can suck it if you don’t like it.
After killing the Dark God, peace returns to Minstrel (I’m pretty sure that’s what LoT‘s world is called. I refuse to research shmups). The clouds part to let the sun shine on the newly liberated land, the mystical armor fades away, and Duran gets the girl. What girl, you ask. Who fucking cares. It’s Metal to get the girl, and Duran is Metal. All this is done with a kick-ass ballad crooning in the background. It’s all very 80’s Hair Metal, but that only makes it better.
With hair like that, what’d you expect?
Kicking the final boss’s ass so easily was odd. I remember this game being pretty tough when I was younger. I even played it about 3 or 4 years ago and remember getting my ass handed to me. The game was never the hardest shmup I’d ever played, what with it’s multiple hits before you die and resurrection potions, but I most definitely remember it not being a pushover. The only difference is I played the TurboGrafx-16 version in the past, and I played the Sega CD version for this playthrough. The only logically conclusion is that the TG game was made for aspiring lumberjacks and ninjas while the Sega CD version was made for your mom.
Deal with it.
Although they’re pretty much the exact same game, the two versions have their differences besides difficulty. The Sega CD version doesn’t seem to be as bright as the TG version, and I feel like the music was much crisper, or at least better, on the TG. I do like how the Sega version’s opening has the narrator telling the story. The TG opening was just the cutscene without the voice-over. They’re the same cutscene, but at least now I knew what the story was. Of course I had the manual, which probably has the story in it, but who in the hell reads the instruction manual, especially for shooters?
I’m pretty sure all the names were changed in the Sega version as well. I don’t recall the dark generals’ or the sorcerer’s names, but I remember the protagonist being Landis (he just so happened to share the name with a kid I hated at school). The knight’s name in the Sega version is Duran, as in Hungry Like the Wolf, which is VERY un-Metal. Compounding the Sega version’s un-Metal-ness is Duran’s flinch animation. On the TG, Landis would grunt incoherently and flash invulnerably for a second when taking damage, but he’d keep moving. Meanwhile, Duran gets hit, grunts, flashes, and trembles like a chihuahua. Un-Metal, Sega.
Regardless of which version you pick, you’re going to play an excellent game. From its incredible music to its bright colors and great enemy designs to its tough but fair default difficulty (TG version only. I suggest choosing a higher difficulty for the Sega Version ), I just love everything about this game. It’s as if the stars and planets aligned perfectly to provide the inspiration needed to make this God among games! Play it even if you don’t want to!
Thanks for your playing! With that, I now close the book on Fantasy Shooter Month. I had a lot of fun writing these entries, and I played a lot of great games (and a terrible one). As is tradition for the final hours of FSM (despite having only recently made it up), I must now go driving around town with my windows down (or up with the heater on full blast because this is Ohio, and Ohio is cold), blaring LoT’s soundtrack loud enough for the gods on high to hear it!
Stay Metal, Internet! You know Landis/Duran and I will!