Sora – What We Think:
Sora is the sequel to Suguri (and its boss fight-focused spin-off, Acceleration of Suguri), and sees Japanese studio Orange_Juice expanding and refining their idiosyncratic take on the space shooter. Sora is a bullet hell, but it’s a lot more than that. And believe it or not, the additional bits increase the difficulty exponentially.
To Make a Heaven of Bullet Hell
In a classic bullet hell shoot-’em-up, all you have to do is shoot and dodge while the game flings endless, massive waves of projectiles at you. That’s hard enough – and Sora definitely is no slouch in the projectile-flinging department – but that’s just the beginning.
Instead of relying only on twitchy reflexes, you have a “Dash” to help you dodge. Hit your Dash, and you’ll go flying across the screen. There’s a catch, though: dashing lets you zip right through energy attacks, but you’ll crash right into anything physical, like missiles. And this game has a lot of missiles.
Dash Dash, Bang Bang
There’s also the shooting. In a typical Japanese shoot-’em-up, you can just bash away at the fire button and hope you’re in the enemies’ general direction. In Sora, your weapons target your enemies automatically, but firing a weapon freezes you for a second, so you have to make sure you’re not right in the line of fire before you shoot your own weapon.
There are ways around this, however. Fire and then dash, and you can “Dash Cancel.” You can also fire one weapon right after another – your character is armed with three – for a similar “Cancel” effect. Both of these methods let you get off shots a bit quicker, but they also raise your heat level. And the higher your heat level, the more vulnerable you are to enemy attacks.
Death Can Dance
If this all sounds surprisingly complicated, that’s because it is. But once you have a mastery of the various unique mechanics, they’ll become like second nature. Pure muscle memory will take over, your fingers flitting over the controller (you can play with the keyboard, but I wouldn’t recommend it) as you sink into a Zen state, dancing a deadly ballet between missiles and firing your cannon with willful abandon, enemies exploding around you almost effortlessly.
I assume that’s the idea, at least. If you’re like me, you’ll hammer away at the first level for days – weeks, if I’m being honest – before finally making it to the first boss. That moment of victory, needless to say, will be short-lived. Sora doesn’t suddenly get easier when bosses show up.
More Than Meets the Eye
At first glance, Sora looks like a stereotypical Japanese shoot-’em-up with its flying anime girls, walls of glowing bullets and racing electronic soundtrack. And if that’s all there was to it, it’d be a great example of the form. The storyline, such as it is – delivered via dialogue just prior to boss fights – is intriguing, if not particularly original. The art, thicker and more “cartoonish” than typical, like ’70s sci-fi anime instead of more contemporary stuff, is gorgeous, and the high-BPM techno makes for a perfect audio accompaniment.
It’s the twists on typical shooter mechanics that really set Sora apart, though. They’re not original to this game – they’re more like refinements on Suguri than new innovations – but still unusual enough to really stand out. While some players might be put off by the sheer difficulty on display, Orange_Juice’s take on the genre impresses even as it frustrates.
Sora is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Sora below: