Ketsui Kizuna Jigoku Tachi - Cave / AMI

Ketsui Kizuna Jigoku Tachi
Cave / AMI, 2002

Reviewed by Chris.S.

Story | System | Fighters | Gameplay| Graphics
Sound & music | Final words | Screens

We are all, as fans of the shmup genre, very lucky - very lucky indeed. Not only did Cave bring out a ripping sequel to one of our most treasured shooters Dodonpachi, but they also released another fan bloody-tastic shmup on the side; Ketsui.

Ketsui Kizuna Jigoku Tachi - which approximately translated means; Ketsui [cutting] the bonds of hell - is a manic shmupfest that will keep your eyes sore and bleeding for a long time to come - if, that is, you can find a place to play it. I first spent some time with this game in Japan earlier in 2003, but I did not have the time or resources to give it a real bashing. Now I have my very own copy to get intimate with, and it has not been a disappointing relationship to say the least.

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In 2054 the world is flooded by global warming, and the new changes in the continents have caused a range of new warring factions to develop. One evil entity in particular is the EVAC corporation who are heavily involved in weapons manufacturing, much to the chagrin of the United Nations. In response, the UN demands a stop to all weapons manufacture, but of course the evil folks at EVAC refuse, and a plan to shut them down is called for. The UN's great idea is to fly in a special strike fighter and sabotage the corp's weapons base. The catch is though, whoever takes the job can never return, but will be freed thereforth from the world and its worries (or something like that) if they survive. With the call to arms in the wind, along come four young punks who sign their lives away to go head to head with the evil and ridiculously well armed EVAC corp.

Once again we see a group of young, rebellious and obviously gifted young kids taking on the evil corporate world. It is a bit washy, but I loved it in ESP.Rade, and I love it here too.

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Basically, your fighter has two firing modes, aided by a set of invincible slaves that trail behind you; tapping the A button (or holding the C button) fires your standard shot, while holding the A button down causes your slaves to lock on to an enemy and pound it with lasers. This also causes your fighter to fire a thick and fast laser directly out in front. Combined, this does a lot of damage. Your lock will automatically select the closest enemy in a direct front line from your fighter, so there is no control over this apart from moving left or right to line up with the object you want to sight. Your lock can target more than one object, however it's range is decreased if more than one enemy is locked. Your ship also slows down when holding the A button - just like, well, you know those other games.

Of course, hitting B lobs out a bloody huge bomb. You start with three bombs, and collect more as you go, as well as powerups to increase your weapon power. Initially you have only two slaves, which increases to four as your weapon power grows. There are 5 powerup levels.

The scoring system is fairly straightforward however I have not figured out exactly how the maths work, cuz' it is all moving so fast. The idea is to collect numbered boxes that are released from dying enemies to increase your multipliers. These boxes are numbered from 1 to 5, and are sucked into your ship as you shoot, so you don't have to chase them down. The closer you are to an enemy when you kill it the higher the box value. Each box you collect adds to your score multiplier, which in turn adds to your total box score for that level. This final box amount counts down as you fight the end of level boss, so the idea is to blast him as quick as you can. Once the level ends, this remaining box score is then racked up to get your final score, along with any bonuses for having full lives and full bombs.

The chain system works on repeatedly getting high numbered boxes from slain enemies. For example, if you kill a baddie up close and it pops out a fiver, your chain goes to 5, and a chain timer counts down from 55 (or 60, my eyes are too slow). The higher the counter each kill, the higher the box you get. The idea is to keep this pumping because it acts as a multiplier to your multiplier (as far as I can tell anyway).

I have not found any secret items like medals or bonuses as yet. That does not mean they are not there though, and I would be surprised if there wasn't the odd secret in there. Please mail me if you know something that I don't.

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Fighters (well, choppers to be precise)

There are only two types of fighters in Ketsui, which is no more and no less than is needed.

The Type A is called the Tiger Shwert and is piloted by two kids named Alice Blackburn and Lloyd Evansman. This little beasty has a wide shot and moves at a medium pace. It's shot is a little weak, but once it is fully powered it is a great screen clearer. The Type B is named the Panzer Jager and is piloted by two other kids named Steele Yurec and Yuma Nanase. This chopper is faster, but it only fires a linear shot, which is a bit stronger than the Type A. The wide shot of the Type A can be good for clearing out the enemies at the sides, which is handy for survival if nothing else, but the Type B's speed makes up for its lack of peripheral reach.

So, which one is best? Don't ask me. All I know is that the Type A is better for survival, whereas the Type B is much more fun to fly. Basically, both fighters are pretty close, and their lock-on lasers are of equal strength. A hare to a rabbit...

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I would have liked to have been able to write this bit without making references or comparisons to other Cave shmups, but this would be like trying explain the color green without referring to the colors blue and yellow. Sure, it is a Cave no doubt, but Ketsui has a style and appeal all of its own. Firstly, it is a hell of a lot faster than any other Cave shmup I have played, with exception maybe to Dangun Feveron.

*not that I have not played DDPDJ to any great extent as yet.

At first sit down at Ketsui I freaked out and knocked over the ashtray, even though I had spent the last few months embedded in DDP. It may not be particularly harder than DDP, but it sure comes at you quick. Secondly, it is much simpler - as far as I can tell so far - than the others. The scoring and shot systems seem very basic, but this is not a bad thing at all. There can be so much happening at any one time that you will be far too busy hooting with mad relish to worry about points.

Ketsui definitely has all of the the manicness of DF and DDP. Some of the bullet spreads are very reminiscent of DF bosses, with cluttered, rotating and staggered bullet mazes that do no less than short-circuit your brain - don't be surprised if you lose command of your native language for a few minutes after playing! Come to mention it, it is of a very similar pace to DF, however with more bullets (you don't have to chase down score items either). You can see the influences from both DF and DDP quite clearly.

Oh, and it scrolls backwards in some places, like when you descent into the EVAC base, which is a nice touch.

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Ketsui has a great illustrative graphic style. It reminds me of Strikers a little bit, especially the bosses. The background art is sensational, as is to be expected from the Cave team. The fighters, enemy bullets and enemies are like DDP; pink and blue (the bullets I mean). Your fighter shots are big metal slugs, similar to DDPDJ. The Type B fires huge, well, brass rockets. Very destructive.

I read that the artwork, like so many other great shmups, was created by Junya Inoue (or Joker Jun, as he is known to most).

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Sound and music

Ketsui's music is very good. There are some really nicely composed tracks in there with good beats to get you involved. I am not sure who composed it, but you can buy the soundtrack at the Cave website. Each track is nicely placed in the gameplay without being too fast, slow, quiet or loud. Most of the music has been in my head for the last 5 days, but I guess that's what happens when you hear it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The sound effects are chunky and satisfying. Just what they need to be. The Approach your target and attack! dialog is there too. Nice.

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Final words

Ketsui Kizuna Jigoku Tachi is very much a game that you learn how to beat, while still demanding enough skill from the player to keep it challenging, even when you know all the patterns and perils. While to most it will seem a little simple compared to it's contemporaries, it is overall a freaking blast to play. The lock-on system is simple but very satisfying, and the pace keeps you constantly immersed until the final bang.

Manic shmup fans get their yens worth for sure.

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Sorry for the blurry pictures. I guess these screens kinda show the movement better, even though you can't really see whats going on too well...

Tank with a trailer >>
This is actually the level 2 mid-boss. The orange bits are my lock on lasers. Pretty easy; kill the trailer, then the truck.

For lock-on situation like this either fighter is best, but the Type A can be good if a bunch of nasties rush in from the sides.


<< Our heroes
Here are the choppers. The top is Type A, and the bottom is Type B. Oh, and those are the dudes that fly them.

Shipyards (level 3) >>
This level is awesome fun, with planes and battleships to whack. The Type A is handy here, cuz it gets pretty crowded. Of course, the Type B can cover the screen pretty good too with it's speed.


<< Whoa! (level 2 boss)
This is about where I spilled the ashtray. The pink blobs you see hurtling across the screen are actually coming from the bottom left and moving up. A weird feeling.

Level 3 boss>>
This guy has some pretty funky attack patterns. Lets dance!


<< Mother ship
This is the level 3 mid-boss; a big monster ship with heaps of gun turrets. Kill it quick as soon as it's core opens. If you destroy all of the sections of the level 3 mid-boss (the big battle ship) it pops out a 1-up. Surely there are other things like this around but I ain't seen em yet.

Level 4 boss >>
The best approach to these situations is to lock-on to the guts of the boss and focus on dodging as best you can. It is ideal to stay directly beneath your target, because the combined lock-on laser and ship laser does the most damage. This, however, can be very difficult to do.


<< Level 4
The level 4 mid-boss is a big spider like tank that rolls along the walls of the cavern you are flying down. Some of his bullet patterns are actually quite beautiful, don't you think?

Type A full shot (level 5) >>
Here you can see the full spread of the Type A standard shot. Good for clearing the screen.


<< Level 4 boss
Transformers, more than meets the eye.

The end >>
Can't really tell, but it looks like another not-so-happy ending for our young heroes.


<< Level 5 boss
Not surprisingly, the final boss gives you real hell. Learn the patterns, and hold your breath. Die EVAC!

There is not much info around about Ketsui, but here is what I have found.

The official site:

Some reviews, previews:

Not up yet, but keep an eye on the Ketsui section of the Sheep's Cave of shooting.

Malc: Thank you LOADS Cris! I've had this tentatively on my want list for a while, but its still too much money really. Can't wait til it comes down a little in price and then I'm going to NAB IT!


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie