[Editor's note: Monthly Musings aren't the only things that get promoted around here! Zulu took a look at Ikaruga and what it means to him. -- CTZ]
In a day and age where the majority of videogames have based their purpose solely on having us breeze through an experience, Ikaruga was there to throw us back again; back to a different time and period. A time when practice, consistency, discipline, and dedication all needed to be applied to complete a game. A time when videogames were merely all great tests of skill.
Rocky, The Mighty Ducks, Rudy, The Replacements, When We Were Kings, all movies, but why, why am I listing these movies? Well, looking closer, these movies have a tendency to push back and move beyond their medium's curtain. They move beyond the state of motion pictures, they become and stay as small glimpses into our society's infatuation of taking on and following the role of an underdog. Overcoming enormous obstacles has become quite the common staple and cliche in the entertainment world. Not only does the story of Ikaruga adopt this, but the interaction with the game and player outside the interactive realm does as well. Pursuing Ikaruga's completion takes commitment. Except this time, there are no training montages.
After listening to RetroforceGO! maybe one too many times, I decided to finally put some metal to the grindstone, and slay this beast name Ikaruga. Although, I was extremely late discovering this gem, I instantly fell in love with it. The moment I turned on the game, I knew that I finally found something that not only would keep me excited and on my toes, but a game that I would have welcomed long ago in terms of the difficulty and dedication required. I smashed some booze on my Wii as a form of christening, and my adventure as Shinra, a passionate and courageous young man, finally began.
I went in expecting this game to be unrealistically hard; I was definitely not wrong in my assumption. Ikaruga is brutal. Since the day I fired up the game to now, I have always played on normal mode with defaulted options. My first day with this game, as sad as it may sound, I could barely get past the first stage. It took me a few days just to to hit level two. Even after mastering a level or boss, it is still always too easy to lose a life. Memorization, quick reflexes, and luck are all key here.
As hard as Ikaruga may be, it has never frustrated me. My heightened expectations for the difficulty may have been the cause. I tend to believe that it wasn't frustrating for me, because I truly had fun playing this game. After performing the same runs and rituals time and time over, nothing seems to ever fall stale. Pulling off perfection in a level is where some of my motivation comes from. Mastering certain areas of each level are extremely rewarding. Whatever the reason be though, Ikaruga has hooked me and many others like myself.
I may not be completely devoted to this game yet, as others have, but I do fire up Ikaruga to try my best. With less lives, I fight to move further. Trying to master each boss, area, and to beat my recent score. Every advancement, no matter how small or minuscule it be is rewarding. I generally find myself struggling, practicing, and really putting in buckets upon buckets of sweat in my attempts to bring down Tenro Horai's army. I haven't experienced a game like this since the age of Battletoads. Then again, until I played this game, I haven't ever really been into shumps.
Ikaruga, unlike many other shmups, has a pretty decent story and overall vibe to go along with the game. The story helps tie you in with your own struggles with the game. You are Shinra, a sole survivor of a federation of freedom fighters called the Tenkaku. The Tenkaku failed in their attempt to bring down Tenro Horai, his followers, and his overall conquest to take over nation after nation. It was a conquest that came as a result after Tenro discovered the power of the gods.
From a remote village named Ikaruga, locals pulled Shinra from the salvage remains of the Tenkaku army. Shinra later regained health, and eventually took matters into his own hands. The locals gave him all the help they could, since most of them were forced into exile by Horai's conquests. They gave him a fighter plane named after the Island itself, the 'Ikaruga'. It was the first of it's kind to integrate two polarities. Shinra, was set to take on an the impossible. Strapped into his new ship, no matter what got into his way, or what he could potential lose in the process, he was determined and ready to take down Tenro.
This same struggle exists on the other side of the screen as well. From the time you boot up the game to the time you end it, you are in fact Shinra. It is your responsibility to take down Tenro's army, and to save the world and it's future from the grasp of this mad mad man. The character Shinra put his own life in jeopardy when he swore vengeance upon Tenro. Sacrifice and risk are what make heroes and saviors. You will do the same if you so choose; with the time, effort, and thought you must put in to complete the game.
Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Karnov. All big names to each of their given beliefs. There is one more individual to add to that small list of examples though, Shinra, the protagonist of Ikaruga. He delivered and saved his world from from evil. One man against a whole military of soldiers. Taking each down one by one; dodging, shooting, and risking it all for the future of his world.
Although Shinra is only a fictional character, his actions still can hold a heavy influence on the players themselves. Ikaruga is an example of a life fueled by dedication, discipline, and desire. Not only is this translated on screen, but in us, the players, as well. We can either take the lessons learned from the experience or we can simply move on. For the ones that look in and do take the influence, Ikaruga, much like the movies I posted above, has the potential to bloom beyond it's medium. It can inspire.