R-Type Final 3 Evolved (PS5, 2023) Review

2019 saw the unexpected announcement that the classic shooting franchise R-Type was going to be back with R-Type Final 2. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign and finally released in 2021 the game was originally met with mixed receptions. Lackluster graphics, glitches, an almost broken Switch port and people waiting for their backer rewards (including digital download codes for the game they had helped see the light of day). A number of patches, downloadable extra stages and an expansion later the game is still not out of development in 2024, but has come a long way. Fortunately I skipped playing R-Type Final 2 when it was fresh and got to experience the whole package of its expansion with all its extra content in one go.

The original R-Type Final from 2003 was notorious for its slow pacing, unbearably strong slowdowns and terrible approach to scoring. But it made up for its shortcomings with an atmosphere that was one of its kind, countless playable ships and creative ideas involving branching story paths. Despits of its many problems it's not a game I'm bitter about in hindsight. Its original ending also made a fantastic curtain call for the series that still gets under my skin when I watch it.

As much as I liked the atmosphere and storytelling of R-Type Final, I really wasn't looking forward to more of its slow gameplay and absurd completion conditions. Fortunately Final 2 and its subsequent content brushed up on those issues. There's comparatively little downtimes or dead air and ships are now unlocked via currencies that players obtain by just beating stages. No more leaving your PlayStation running over nights to unlock new ships, and no more crashing out repeatedly on stage 3 because its slowdown and many stretches of dead air cause you to lose focus.
On the downside R-Type Final 2 lacks in its presentation. Graphics and music are mixed bags. Many parts of the game look like placeholder assets, others downright awful. The best graphics featured in this game are locked behind the DLCs and expansion. As its title suggests its mostly inspired by its immediate predecessor. Instead of the series' early catchy tunes or an epic soundtrack like it was carried by R-Type Delta, Final 2 moves on like R-Type Final with ambient sounds accompanying most stages. Only the atmosphere is not really there. There is no real story either. The forbearing short poems that made R-Type Final stand out are also a thing of the past. All in all R-Type Final 2 comes off as a little bleak with little pay-off early on. Fortunately it gets better. Stages become increasingly less bland and more creative as the game goes on, culminating in fantastic endings with stages 7.0 and 7.2. Stage 7.1 may feel like it was ripped straight out of the original Final as it features way too much dead air, but fortunately it's an optional stage. As if the developers needed time to warm up to their new and latest development technologies the stages only get better from the DLC homage stages to a couple of the new Evolved stages. The difficulty also increases a lot with the DLC and beyond. While Final 2's campaign was ideal for newcomers (on normal difficulty settings anyways) the later stages give veterans the experience they had come to expect out of the franchise.

Finding someone to compete against for score is as hard as it was with R-Type Final. The game doesn't feel like it was balanced around beating it with one sole ship and encourages players to swap out their spacecrafts to meet the situation. In the end everybody plays their own custom game that is hard to compare with what others are playing. But this is also R-Type Final 2's strong point. With a pool of over 20 stages, over 100 ships and the custom course feature anyone can customize the game to their liking. I'm not a master of the genre and still had a lot of fun obtaining the no miss on a campaign I was comfortable playing with my favorite ship. R-Type Final 2 and beyond also feature a long list of collectables for players that are not interested in playing for score or challenge. The stage select screen offers at least a minimum for ambitious players to practice individual stages.

All in all I'm very pleased with what I got. R-Type Final 3 Evolved isn't one of the best shooters around, but the entire package is solid and features a variety in customization that is unmatched in its genre. It may not look like much at first, but the game grows on its players as its stages become better and better (for the most part anyways).

Now here's hoping this is not another Final as the title suggests and that there will be another successor in the future. Something I noticed in hindsight, after having revisited several previous R-Type games, is that Final 2's controls feel a little stiff in comparison. Hopefully future titles will play as smoothly as older games in the franchise did.