XP Arcade: Dangun Feveron
What if a shmup was about disco? In spaaaaaaace
This column is “XP Arcade,” in which I’ll focus on a game from the arcades, or one that is clearly inspired by arcade titles, and so on. Previous entries in this series can be found through this link.
One of the wonderful things about M2’s ShotTriggers series — which focuses on bringing some updates and quality of life touches to classic shoot-em-ups — is that titles many people have never had a chance to play are suddenly out there either again or for what amounts to the first time. Dangun Feveron had a North American release at one point, but it was known as Fever SOS and was only available in arcades: the 1998 STG stayed very much in 1998 for years, until M2 dusted off this Cave classic and released it on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One in 2016.
Basically, to have played it before the previous console generation, you had to have (1) known it existed at all (2) played on an actual cabinet or (3) also have been a person who both knows what MAME is and is able to use it. Those people certainly exist, but still, it’s more convenient for everybody that M2 decided to give it a second life, and that they didn’t just release it on iOS or Android or whatevever, but instead gave it the full console treatment.
Dangun Feveron stands out from other shmups for a few reasons, but the most obvious one is its soundtrack and audio vibes. If the giant disco ball in the logo didn’t give it away, well, just know that Dangun Feveron owes a real debt to the 70s and disco:
I can’t overstate how much the game centers its audio around this concept. Visually speaking, it’s pretty standard stuff for a shoot-em-up — it’s not like you have a disco ball cannon option or anything, this is lasers and autofiring wide beams and missiles and such. On the audio side, though, between the soundtrack and the announcer, there is a certainly a vibe going on here, and while that lighthearted bounciness is an odd pairing with the game’s absurd difficulty and what it demands of the player in order to achieve a high score, the two work well together. You need to feel upbeat to keep going in a game that does not want you to succeed.
Anyway, here’s stage two’s theme, Hello Mr. Cyborg:
The whole soundtrack has this kind of energy, whether it’s disco-themed or moves into harder guitars for the boss fights, and it’s great. Which is good, because there are just the five stages, and you’ll be hearing the same themes again and again as you restart again and again in order to try to achieve a high score on a single credit.
What makes Dangun Feveron difficult? Two things stand out. The first is that this doesn’t play like Cave’s bullet hell shooters, as you’ll find you’re pumping out far more shots than your enemies are during your playthrough. There are bullet patterns to avoid, sure, and the waves grow larger as the game goes on, but the main thing here is the speed of these shots: they’re coming right at you, as enemies are aiming for you instead of just firing waves off that you slowly maneuver around (or, in the case of some bullet hell games, purposely do not move away from because your hit box is so tiny that staying still works better for you). It’s less thinking and more feeling when you play Dangun Feveron, reacting instantaneously to the new wave of enemies that have popped up and the bullets they’ve fired at you, prioritizing your dodges and your own shots to maximize destruction while avoiding your own.
There’s another wrinkle in the game’s difficulty, though, and it’s the scoring system. Enemies are worth just one point each, and yet, you need to score 2 million in order to even crack the local leaderboard. You don’t need to defeat two million foes to get there, but instead, you need to collect the little cyborgs floating around the screen. These cyborgs, presumably, just want to dance, and are being held captive and kept from doing so by the enemy. This isn’t Sonic the Hedgehog, though, where the animals run free once you defeat the robot. No, in Dangun Feveron, how quickly you defeat the enemy ships and weapons is what matters: more cyborgs — or any cyborgs — release the faster you defeat an enemy, and clearing a wave quickly also opens up space for additional waves to enter. Each collected cyborg increases the score for defeating an enemy by one point, so you need to collect hundreds and hundreds per stage in order to see that score climb in a meaningful way.
It’s not as simple as collecting them, though: you also can’t fail to collect any cyborgs! The total number of cyborgs saved per stage is a continually climbing figure, but the ones tied to your score are just all of the cyborgs you’ve saved since the last one you failed to collect. So, if you nab 150 cyborgs in a row, but one hits the bottom of the screen, bounces back up, and then “escapes” through the upper bounds of the screen, you’ve failed to rescue them, and your multiplier resets. Which hits you hard twice, as your end-of-stage bonus is also a massive multiplier based on your current streak of saved cyborgs. We’re talking the difference between hundreds or thousands or points and hundreds of thousands of points here, so, don’t miss those cyborgs.
At least they turn yellow when they’re rebounding back toward the top of the screen, so you can quickly adjust your path to reach them instead of continuing to go after additional red-hued cyborgs, and if you use one of your limited bombs, you also freeze all of the cyborgs on screen, allowing you a chance to collect them. However, any enemies defeated with the bomb will not release additional cyborgs, and being a Cave STG, bombs are pretty limited unless you keep dying and resetting your count that way, so this is more of a last-ditch move to save your multiplier than it is a strategy you can always rely on.
Here, let’s see what the game looks like in motion before explaining further:
The ShotTriggers series’ signature Gadgets are what you see in the letterboxing of the screen: they’re loaded with information to help you learn the game you’re playing, or help you prepare for what’s to come. Things move pretty quickly in Dangun Feveron to the point that it’s tough to steal glances at much of this — I use the actual in-game info for lives and bombs since it’s less distance for my eyes to travel to discover it, even if the numbers are quicker to read in a vacuum — but there’s usable info here. The Gadgets let you know whenever a cyborg is out there free floating, waiting to be rescued, and how many points you’re scoring per kill is prominently displayed in the top right, which lets you know how many cyborgs are currently in your little streak. That can be useful for knowing just how dangerous you should let things get in your quest to save each and every cyborg, or if you need to toss a bomb out there to maintain your streak, and so on. You can see if you’re close to an extend, where you are relative to the stage’s end and within its sections, as well as detailed information about your total scoring to this point in your credit’s run.
You have your choice of three ships at the start of the game, each with a different firing spread — focused, wide, and wider (the wide shot, ship B, is featured in the above video). There are also three power shots to choose from, which each ship can use: the lock-on sawblade beam, which is exactly what it sounds like, the slow-moving missile shot, and a charge attack which can penetrate foes, but being a charge attack is not always firing like the lock-on beam. Each has their weaknesses and strengths — the lock-on has a mind of its own and is powerful, but only in comparison to your primary cannon, the missile will obliterate everything it touches but takes a lot of practice since it’s like firing off rounds to be used later, and the charge, that was already pointed out. Experimenting is worthwhile, though, to figure out what you prefer. The lock-on is shown in the above video, the missiles (and ship C’s wider shot) in this one:
In addition to the options for weapon and firing types, you can also select a speed for your ship, which ranges from basically crawling to zipping around in a way only an expert at the game should probably try. I tend to choose one of the middle options, so I have plenty of maneuverability and quickness but am not at risk of losing myself in the action — zigging and zagging at high speeds is good and all until you accidentally end up right where a brand new bullet is going before you can change course.
Regardless of your speed of choice, you’ll find yourself moving a bit to the beat of the game’s music while swooping around trying to collect the cyborgs, which helps you get both into the and into a rhythm. It’s a good little tendency to have, as Dangun Feveron is not a game where you want to stop moving for very long, either because cyborgs will escape you or death will lock-on.
You can make things quite a bit easier for yourself in the ShotTriggers version of the game, at least. There’s a Super Easy Mode which does a few things to make the game playable for non-obsessives and masochists, like reducing how many shots are fired at you, and creating a safe quadrant at the bottom of the screen: if you take damage within that, instead of losing a life, you’ll sacrifice a bomb if you have one. Extra lives also make quite a few appearances in this Super Easy Mode, enough so that a one-credit clear should be achievable by basically anyone if they give it a go with that goal in mind. In the standard arcade mode, there is one extend to get, because you need comfortably over 2,000 cyborgs rescued for it to appear, and it’ll take the majority of the game for you to have found that many. Just a slight difference in approach there.
Another way to think about the difficulty difference is this: as of the last time I checked (i.e. less than a week before this writing), I completed a 1CC of the Super Easy Mode, and earned a ranking of number 174 in the world in the online rankings. Not bad, yeah? In the standard arcade mode, my highest score came from playing about 99 percent of the way through the game’s first two stages (of five) before being forced to choose to continue or upload my score against the stage’s boss. That score ranks 74th in its respective online rankings. You don’t find a lot of people completing huge chunks of Dangun Feveron’s default arcade mode before uploading their best score, is what I’m saying. The Super Easy Mode has opened things up for more people to experience a version of the game at all, which is neat, especially since it’s not like anyone is forcing you to play it. I might be the kind of person who is going to spend time trying to get into the top 50 or better of the standard arcade mode even though the game is trying to kill me, but not everyone wants to be that way.
In addition to the newer reduced difficulty version, the Time Attack mode is now available to play without having to know what code to input. It’s pretty caravan-esque, with three minutes to score as many points as you can, in a stage especially designed for the mode. It’s not easy to do fantastically well or anything, but much of the pressure that exists within the default version of Dangun Feveron isn’t found here, which the three minute limit is largely responsible for.
Dangun Feveron was basically a lost classic, the kind of game that’s not even completely known by fans of Cave’s shooters since it had just the arcade release way back in ‘98 and then nothing else. It didn’t receive sequels or mobile ports and revisions like DoDonPachi, or end up published by someone huge in the industry like Capcom, so it just kind of existed in a moment of time that had passed by, unless you were really into Cave’s games and aware of how to use MAME to your own benefit. Now, though, M2 has revived this STG, and it’s been available on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One for a few years now, which also means it’s available on current-gen, backwards-compatible systems. Not every ShotTriggers game gets a North American release, you know — The Aleste Collection, ESP Ra.De, both Toaplan Garage releases, and Mahou Daisakusen are all Japan-exclusive, and the last of those is hidden behind Sony’s much more annoying workarounds for downloading Japanese games when you don’t live there. Dangun Feveron, though, is just sitting there waiting for you to buy with United States currency on your North American video game console. So, if you have any interest in a weird, challenging STG, spend the $35 and enjoy.
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