Sora might look like an ordinary girl, but she was born with a power for fighting. This makes her a valuable asset on a planet that has been embroiled in a war for so long that nobody even remembers who started it anymore. Despite everyone around her being happy about her power Sora was not. Not even knowing the meaning of her fight, she is sent to the battlefield to fight in a war where nothing will be left even if it is won.
Sora is a bullet hell shooter with a pretty bleak storyline, but plenty of fast paced action. Suguri fans should feel right at home with this game as it is actually the third in the series. However, seeing as it is a prequel story wise newcomers won’t feel lost either. Taking control of Sora, an enhanced human, players must take to the skies and destroy hordes of enemies in a struggle to protect what is left of a fading world.
Players who are unfamiliar with the series will find that Sora does a couple of things a bit different from typical bullet hell shooters. For one, there are no power-ups or upgrades and instead players can take three different weapons into battle. These are split into “main,” sub” and “special” categories, with new options for each one unlocked as players progress. The initial selection feels a bit weak, but eventually players gain access to quite a formidable arsenal. Sora is not an easy title, so players who find themselves struggling even on the “Easy” mode will be glad to hear that new weapons are also unlocked through repeated playing even if no progress is made. Taking the right weapons into battle is essential for taking down the end of level bosses who are all girls like Sora who have their own special powers. In total the game features more than 20 weapons and while not all of them are great there are a couple of very nifty ones to unlock.
Controlling Sora efficiently takes a bit of practice as the game is not all about analyzing enemy attack patterns. Instead, Sora can fly around at a normal pace or use a special “Dash” move to quickly zip out of harms way. The dash move actually renders Sora immune against enemy attacks like beams or lasers, but causes her heat level to rise. High heat means greater damage when Sora is hit by a solid projectile, such as missiles, which makes dashing around wildly a risky endeavor. Sora can take multiple hits before dying, but only has one life. In “Arcade” mode death means having to restart from scratch, but “Story” mode allows players to choose any level that they have previously reached.
Each of Sora’s three weapons is mapped to a different button and are useful in different situations. In addition to typical guns and bullets Sora can also perform close range attacks if equipped with a sword or leave traps for enemies with the right weapon. Some bosses can feel almost impossible to defeat without the right weapons, but with enough perseverance and practice any of the weapons can be deadly. Something that takes a while to get used to is the fact that shooting her weapons usually causes Sora to remain static and vulnerable. Players must learn the art of cancelling by dashing or firing another weapon or else Sora will be a sitting duck. Until this skill is mastered the character can feel tricky to control, but it teaches players not to simply hold down the fire button constantly in the hope of hitting something as in many other shooters.
Sora does have a “lock on” feature that makes it easier to hit targets, but a combination of slow weapons and fast enemies prevents it from being a walk in the park. While using the dash move Sora leaves rings in her wake, which not only looks pretty, but serve a practical purpose as well. Any enemy projectiles that pass through these rings causes the “Hyper Attack” gauge to rise. This gauge can also be charged by attacking enemies and when activated causes Sora to unleash a devastating attack based on whatever weapon she is using. The hyper attack also activates a temporary shield around Sora, which makes it very useful in tricky situations and boss battles.
Visually Sora is a step up from the other titles and this English localization features new high resolution graphics. The character designs are as cute as always and the lighting effects in particular look great. Most of the levels take place in the darkened skies of the war torn planet, but a few take Sora to new heights and depths. Purists can play Sora in its original aspect ratio, which results in black bars on the sides or select “Fit to Screen” for a full-screen experience. Most of the normal enemies are typical shoot ‘em up fodder, but there are some big foes to take down and the bosses, while the same size as Sora, look great. The game even allows players to save their replays after each level if they are particularly proud of how they fared.
Sora doesn’t feature any voice acting for the characters, but makes up for this with a rocking soundtrack. The tunes are all really good and the soundtrack can be purchased in a package along with the game or as separate downloadable content. The sound effects are decent enough and the volume can be adjusted independently from the music which is always nice. Sora is definitely best played with a controller, but the keys are fully configurable, so those who prefer using a keyboard should be able to customize it to their liking.
Although Sora doesn’t feature a lot of stages, it is not the type that you will be able to breeze right through without breaking a sweat. Even on the easiest setting it takes practice to complete levels, let alone do so with a decent ranking. This doesn’t mean that the game is unfair as it is actually quite forgiving compared to other bullet hell shooters. Overall Fruitbat Factory did a great job localizing this title and the translation is miles better than the previous botched attempt at doing so. Fans of Orange Juice, the developer of Sora, will also be happy to hear that owning this game unlocks a free bonus character for their other Steam title, 100% Orange Juice.