Thursday, 18 December 2014

Hi no Tori Hououhen (MSX)

I'll admit something here before I start: despite all the critical acclaim it gets, I've never read or watched any version of Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix series, upon which this game is based. In fact, before playing this game, the most contact I'd had with it was the cameos in the excellent GBA game Astro Boy Omega Factor. But from what I gather, the series is some kind of great philosophical work. Though none of that gets through into the game, which is a vertically scrolling shooter, it's still pretty unique in its own right.

The unique factor is that Hi no Tori adds an element of exploration to the mix. Exploration in a scrolling shooter might be hard to fathom, but it does work fairly well. The stages only scroll upwards, but they do loop vertically, and there are exits to the left and right at certain points, essentially making each stage a collection of interlinked sub-stages.

The player spends each stage seeking out stone tablets, each marked with kanji, which open gates marked with the same kanji, until one of those gates leads to the stage's boss fight. Boss fights take place in their own seperate, non-scrolling stage, a cool-looking cave made of skulls. The game looks pretty great in general, easily one of the best-looking MSX games I've seen, up there with Aleste 2.

It's technically sound, too, with your shots coming out pretty much as fast as you can press the fire button and Takahashi Meijin-esque displays of button-hammering prowess are a skill worth developing for this game, as a fair few of the enemies are mild bullet sponges, while others might be weak, but attack in thick, aggressive formations. Most of the power-ups are typical of shooting games of the era: improving the range of the player's shots, increasing the player's movement speed, etc., but one odd point is that there's two different kinds of invincibility item: one that causes enemies to die on contact while in effect, and one that doesn't.

Hi no Tori is a pretty good game, that's unique and it looks great, though it is very difficult. Not to the sadistic level of Evil Stone, but its difficulty definitely lives up to the stereotype carried by late 80s shooting games. I'd say it's definitely worth a look if you're curious.


  1. My experience with this game spans 15 years!

    I originally found a gif of the title screen back in 2000, no idea how our why. I thought that it looked beautiful. Around 5 years later I had it as my cell phone wallpaper for a while after I found it on an old hard drive. Then 10 years passed.

    A few weeks ago I remembered it. Maybe it was when I was reading the MSX issue of SCROLL. Probably. Anyway, I googled some phrases and managed to find the image again. I read the history of the game on Wikipedia and then watched a trilogy of anime based on the story.

    Still not played the game! But I'm going through the MSX library at the moment so will make time for it. I'm currently playing Nyanpi by Compile.

  2. oh, and title screen I remember has Japanese characters spelling out: Hi no tori