Saturday, 7 March 2015

GROW - Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire

Review by Clint 'ThoRn' Thornton

PLATFORM   PC Engine - Super CD Arcade
DEVELOPER  CAProduction               
PUBLISHER  Hudson Soft                
RELEASED   24th November 1995         
GENRE      SHMUP                      
PLAYERS    Single & 2 Player Co-op    
MEDIA      CD-Rom                     

Every console released since the dawn of video games have had exclusives.  Some games could dominate the market to the point where they have the power to be able to sell a system just for that one game like Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  And then you have the other end of the scale, exclusives that make you wonder "What the hell were the programmers thinking and why on earth would I want to go out an buy a Atari Jaguar to play Cybermorph"...  My apologise to all you Jaguar fans.

The good news is that this review is one of those exclusives that not only showcases the ability of the console, but is also full of solid game play and will keep you coming back for more.  Strap yourself in to your fighter jet and join me as I nose dive straight in to this amazing shmup for the PC Engine Super CD, Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire / Galaxy Policewoman Legend Sapphire....

Due to the length of the name, I will refer to it simply as 'Sapphire' for the duration of the review.

Everybody knows that the TurboGrafx 16 / PC Engine had a plethora of exclusive top notch shoot em ups for the console, but for me Sapphire is the culmination of all those years of great shmups to grace the PC Engine.  Now I know there would be a lot of people out there who would disagree with me on this as it is not the most challenging, rewarding or even deep game on the platform but it's because of some of those reasons why I hold it in such high regard....  It's just a fun game that isn't too hard nor is it a walk in the park, it looks great and sounds epic!


You are an all-women police team called the 'Burning Rabbits' who follow a group of terrorist through time to uncover their hoard of weapons and other prohibited items that have been hidden in the past.

Sapphire is a vertical shooter that borrows from the bullet hell genre games like DoDonPachi and combines it with the slower paced pattern memorization games like the Star Soldier series.

You get to choose between four characters each having their own individual strengths and weaknesses.

Sapphire White (Blue Hair) - The 'hothead' leader who is your all round attacker.

Charotte  Syphon (Pink/Orange Hair) - The fastest ship but also the weakest fire power.

Helena Evangelin (Green Hair) - Slowest ship but does the most damage to enemies.

Jasmin Willoung (Purple Hair) - 2nd fastest ship with slightly more damage output than Charotte.

There are three different colored power ups to upgrade your ships weaponry and will effect each character differently as each ship has its own individual primary attack style.  The 'Red' power up is your spread shot, 'Blue' is a powerful straight laser and 'Green' is like a floating shot as it tends to move around in different patterns.  As you continue to pick up the power ups your weapon system will change and become stronger.  It might take a while for you to find what you are comfortable with when choosing what character suits what colored power up for your play style but in my opinion I enjoy experimenting with all the different weapons so for me this learning curve is all part of the fun.

As you make your way through the levels you will be greeted with sub-bosses and also navigational challenges similar to the way Radiant Silvergun makes you choose a certain narrow path to follow before the auto scroll catches up with you and corners you with no place to go except in to a wall.

Each level has its own unique style and gives you a variety of indoor, outdoor land and outdoor space environments.  Take note that each level you progress through is actually going further back in time.  Until the last level that is, when you fight the final boss in the current era of the future....  Make sense :P

I would have to say that Sapphire could quite possibly be the most striking PC Engine game when it comes to the visuals, but again many people might not agree with me as some retro enthusiasts out there don't believe in the following technique.  Sapphire was born in the mid 90's when the struggling 16-bit consoles were starting to use pre-rendered sprites to create 3D and polygon effects so they could live a little longer in the emerging 32-bit era.  And this is exactly what CAProduction did when creating Sapphire and I can't get enough.  They created an environment of both pre-rendered and hand drawn sprites which co-exist beautifully in this game.  This game could have easily found its way on to the Saturn without any changes and it still would have looked amazing.  

Although it might not be as colorfully bright as others games like Star Parodier and Magical Chase it still has a color palette that shows off the capabilities of PC Engine.  The PC Engine might have only had a 9-bit color palette of 512 colors but people tend to forget it actually had the capability to produce up to 482 colors on screen at once which is almost twice as much as the SNES could do natively. 

There are also some really neat visual tricks done I would not have thought possible on the  PC Engine.  In the first stage you will see some really cool holographic effects of morphing faces and in a later stage you will be required to fly through a dimly lit room but your ship enables a 'headlight' effect to light the way.

Like the music in Lords of Thunder?  Well, you're in luck as Sapphire has the same composer and doesn't let you down in the music department at all.  It's full of electric guitar and solid metal riffs.  I think hard rock / metal is the best music to accompany a shmup and this to me is the pinnacle of shmup music.   The sounds effects of the lasers can seem a little 'high pitch' at times but the music will always be there to pick you up again.  It simply is outstanding composition when it comes to the score.

The PC Engine wasn't exactly known for it's advanced controllers when it was competing with the Genesis and SNES.  But for a platform that was released in 1987 the only other console to compare it to at the time was the NES.  It might have only had 2 buttons but 2 buttons is all you need.  Shoot and bomb!  Controlling your ship is nice and smooth too, I have heard of some complaining it's not as responsive as other shooters on the platform but I certainly didn't have any issues adjusting to the game controls.

Sapphire was one of the few games that required the Arcade Card Duo/Pro to be able to play the game so simply owning a Turbo Duo was no longer enough to play all the games released for the PC Engine.  But that is not the only downfall any more.  This game can sell for an easy $500 these days if you want a CIB and even then you need to be very careful you are not purchasing a reproduction.  But on the flip side Sapphire was released on the PSP in Japan as part of the Galaxy Fraulein Collection compilation and will only set you back $30.

It's very unfortunate this game commands a high price as it is such a fun game to play.  So if you ever get the chance to play this gem, don't pass it up as it is one of those games that looks great, sounds great and most of all...  Plays Great!

Until next time....  Stay Retro.


  1. Great article Clint. I just gave this game a go in a emulator, and it's definitely one I'll have to give another go when I get the time. The graphics are nice, the soundtrack is awesome, the sound effects less so :-) I'll have to try playing it using my arcade stick as I suck at shmups with a gamepad.

  2. Damn.... this does looks sweeet. Been itching for a good shooter again and this may actually force me to get the TG16 emulator up and running. :)