Laser beams & motorbikes that change into armoured suits–it’s Harukaze Sentai V-Force!

When Ving weren’t busy pumping out cat-covered ringtone creators and quality Saturn ports of Taito arcade games they also made a few original SRPGs, the first of which was Harukaze Sentai V-Force. The game was apparently envisioned as an FM-Towns game at first before switching to Playstation at some point before its release in November 1996. A Saturn port followed in June 1997 as well as a PC release at what I assume was around the same sort of time, but as precise information on that is rather hard to track down that’s just an educated guess on my part. The screenshots shown below are all taken from the original Playstation version of the game, but after a quick play with the Saturn port I can confirm that there’s really no difference between them in content or quality, so if you’d like to try V-Force out for yourself after reading this just go for whichever format suits you best.

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FMV-heavy games aren’t normally anything to shout about, but V-Force does its best to buck this unfortunate trend by effectively being a playable 90’s OVA that never was, it’s trio of bright-haired sisters with complimentary names (Natsuki, Mitsuki, and Hazuki) tasked with defeating the evil bad guys from space through the medium of the good old SRPG. It’s pretty much what happens when all of 90’s Japanese anime and gaming is distilled into three CDs, and your enjoyment/tolerance for the game will largely depend on how excited that idea makes you feel.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the FMV is of incredible quality for the era, with the frequent cutscenes all filling the screen and being reasonably well animated, with only a few brief repeated shots to save on costs. Character and mechanical designs are interesting enough if not outstanding and reflect the near-future sci-fi vibe of the setting well enough.

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Game progression follows a linear plot/battle/plot/battle routine with your only freedom inbetween being the ability to customise the weapons and items your three (occasionally four) Blue Marines members will carry in to the next skirmish. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the SRPG sections aren’t playing second fiddle to the lush FMV early on, but the FMV is very good and while the SRPG is on the simpler end of the gaming spectrum that certainly doesn’t mean V-Force hasn’t got a nifty trick or three up its sleeve.

You technically only have three permanent party members, with the rest of your forces for each stage comprised of an uncustomisable selection of ground, air, and backup units. While this may sound like an anathema to fans of Tactics Ogre, Fire Emblem, and probably a lot of other SRPG series what it means in practise is that regardless of the weapons you picked for your favourite Blue Marine or whether you chose the range increase over the offensive boost three maps ago you still have a realistic chance of successfully completing the mission and moving the game along. If anything you could argue that this approach means V-Force is one SRPG where your personal skill decides the outcome of a battle over your ability to create game-breaking skill sets or saint-like patience for grinding, but you’d probably be shot for saying so and as such I advise against it.

Anyway!

Every unit type behaves in its own distinct manner, with the slow but powerful carriers acting as both deadly missile launchers as well as health/ammo refill stations for airbourne troops and land units having to consider terrain as they make their way across the map. This is further enriched by an attack system that notes both the target you’re firing at as well as the type of ammo used – air-to-air missiles are completely useless against ground forces, and while your beam weapon may seem weaker on paper it’s a better choice if the enemy’s resistant to standard missiles. These things doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to reward strategic choices without bogging the game down in endless pages of statistics.

All battle sequences are shown as FMV clips, which has the very real danger of feeling cold and unrelated to what’s really playing out. However while there’s no denying that these scenes do become repetitive they’re really no better or worse than the sprite-based animation routines you find any other SRPG, and as the short FMVs alter depending on the weapon type fired and correctly showing sky/space depending on your current location it’s a lot better than it could have been and does maintain the feel of the rest of the game.

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Harukaze Sentai V-Force didn’t see any direct sequels itself, but it did well enough for Ving to return to the FMV/SRPG formula in 1998 with the two-part BackGuiner series, again on both Playstation and Saturn (and possibly PC too). For those fans in need of more V-Force in their lives a drama CD and light novel were released in 1997, alongside the usual guide and art books.

V-Force isn’t a particularly long or unique SRPG, but it makes up for every potential flaw by aiming high and making everything look so flippin’ pretty you don’t really care. It may be lacking in substance but it’s definitely not completely bereft of it, and the style it has is very stylish, making this an entertaining if not innovative addition to anyone’s gaming library. Being so linear and visual-lead means it’s also relatively import friendly regardless of your level of Japanese, and it’s neither difficult nor particularly expensive to track down either – at the time of writing it costs around £10-£20 including postage for either console version of the game. If you’re in the mood for a 32-bit SRPG and would like to venture off the beaten track you could do far worse than this.

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