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Thexder is a 1985 video game, the first title ever released by Game Arts (better known nowadays for the Lunar and Grandia series). It is possibly one of the most fondly remembered shooters of the 1980s.
The game's premise is fairly simple: the player takes control of a "hyper dual armor" and has to find his (or her) way through, depending on the version, either ten or sixteen levels of enemy-filled mazes, eventually reaching the facility's power core. Thexder's only weapon is an auto-targeting laser (at least, auto-targeting in mech form); its only defense is a short-lived defensive barrier. Both the laser and the shield draw on Thexder's limited power supply, which is drained even faster by enemies running into you - and there are a ton of them.
Originally released for the PC 88, Thexder became a smash hit and Game Arts responded by porting it to other computers, including the MSX. Squaresoft took note, licensing Thexder for ports to other systems, including the Famicom; Sierra On-Line also took an interest, and was responsible for the rest of the world finding out about this pleasantly unique Japanese game. (Sierra even advertised Thexder as an "arcade game," which it never properly was.)
Four years after the original release, Game Arts returned to their debut title with Fire Hawk: Thexder the Second Contact, expanding on the original game's story (not that there was much of one) and improving the character's choice of weapons, while simultaneously upping the ante with more missions, more enemies, and plenty of bosses along the way. Sierra On-Line also distributed this sequel.
Given Thexder's popularity, Sierra On-Line decided to make their own spin-off for Windows 95, informally called "Thexder 95," without Game Arts's involvement. With the rise of retro remakes, though, Square Enix shepherded the R Emake Thexder Neo to market as a downloadable game for the PSP, resurrecting Thexder for a new generation of gamers to discover.
The Thexder games provide examples of:
- All There in the Manual - The original Thexder put you at the start of the first level's labyrinth and never explained who you were or what you were supposed to do, unless you looked at the manual, and there was scant explanation as to "why" (none at all in the American PC release). Only when Fire Hawk came out did the story behind Thexder's mission get explained.
- The US release also included a complete walkthrough of the game's first level, with pictures/names of (almost) every enemy appearing in the game.
- Fire Hawk's manual also included brief descriptions of each mission area, including equally brief descriptions of each boss.
- Attack Its Weak Point - Every single boss in Fire Hawk could only be damaged by hitting a specific spot. Most of them were obvious. At least one wasn't.
- Boss Battle - The original game occasionally presented the player with a group of enemies encased in stationary fortifications, challenging the player to figure out the best way to destroy or disable the enemies in order to pass. Actual bosses were introduced in Fire Hawk.
- Zereo also added precisely one boss (a final boss) to Thexder Neo.
- Cast From Hit Points - Firing the laser or activating the shield costs energy. Given that getting hit costs more energy, wise use of the shield is a necessity; unwise use would leave you too low on power to survive.
- In Fire Hawk, even moving required energy, though such a small amount that it was rarely noticeable.
- Thexder 95 was the exception, the unfortunate side effect being that it was possible to run out of ammunition for any weapon including the default laser.
- Chest Monster - Mission 5 in Fire Hawk featured enemies disguised as Energy Generators; they could be distinguished by your homing missiles identifying them as targets. An area in Mission 6 has a section with a lot of enemies disguised as ordinary walls, and you're specifically warned to be careful when you use your laser lest you wake them up. Again, they can be identified by switching to your homing missiles and watching for targetting icons.
- Also note that even stationary, energy-restoring enemies are still enemies, and will inflict Collision Damage if you land on top of them. There are even a few energy-restoring enemies that move around (rather quickly, too).
- Collision Damage - The only way to receive damage in the original, as enemies didn't begin firing actual projectiles until Fire Hawk, and even then they were a strict minority, if not a boss outright.
- Cut and Paste Environments: In the PC original, levels 9 and 11 were exactly the same save for which enemy sprites were used. The second set of cavern levels (13 through 15) had similar layouts to the first set (5 through 7), but with some retooling to increase their difficulty.
- Copy Protection - The US release of Fire Hawk required players to input a specific word from the manual when starting a game.
- Crowning Music of Awesome - The original Thexder background music is still fondly remembered - despite being the only music in the game except for the (slightly different) opening and the Moonlight Sonata. Fire Hawk gave you different songs for each mission (especially the tune for Mission 8); Thexder Neo started by remastering the original theme, then made more tracks.
- Deflector Shields - Thexder's (and Fire Hawk's) only defense if anything gets close enough to cause damage. Its exact nature is never explained.
- Difficulty Spike - Level 1 was populated with swarms of One-Hit-Point Wonder Red Tribars, and other enemies fought in small groups at a time. Level 2 ambushed the player with a swarm of two dozen enemies in a wide open space.
- Downer Ending - According to Fire Hawk, both Thexder and its pilot were destroyed.
- Endless Game - The U.S. release of the first game wrapped back to level 2 after finishing the final level, continuing until the player either gave up or died.
- Frickin' Laser Beams - Thexder's only weapon, and Fire Hawk's main one. One of very few games to give the player the laser (and an instantaneous laser, as opposed to a Painfully-Slow Projectile).
- Goddamned Bats: Enemies had a variety of movement patterns, but the vast majority were swift, diagonally-flying foes who rarely appeared in groups of less than 4 at a time. If you were unlucky enough to become surrounded by several enemies, the Collision Damage would be multipled per enemy, and this would usually be fatal. The only safe way to engage multiple foes was to retreat into a tunnel, trap them against the terrain, and slowly take them out one at a time with the jet mode laser.
- Heart Container - In Thexder, destroying certain enemies and finishing a level would raise your maximum energy reserves. Fire Hawk played this more literally, requiring you to find "Energy Generators" which did the same thing.
- Kill It with Fire - Fire Hawk's napalm bombs were the strongest special weapon, able to eradicate almost any ground-based enemy in a single blast.
- Mecha-Mooks - Virtually all enemies were mechanical in some form.
- Most Annoying Sound - When the shield ran down or Thexder's energy was low. The latter usually meant "you're doomed".
- Nintendo Hard - Oddly enough, it's remembered fondly for this, despite that the original featured no save points, extra lives or continues.
- Nostalgia Level - The opening of mission 2 in Fire Hawk.
- Public Domain Soundtrack - Thexder is famous for its inclusion of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata". Thexder Neo pays homage to this, if you know where to look.
- Reactor Boss - Thexder may have been the first of these; Thexder Neo made it explicit, twenty-four years later. Fire Hawk gave you a couple (every mission related to either crippling Nediam's systems or clearing the way ahead).
- R Emake - Thexder Neo, a 2.5D recreation of the original with polygon graphics and a completely redesigned Thexder ... and a few subtle changes to the difficulty curve.
- Tragic Monster - Nediam
- Transforming Mecha - The original (and remade) Thexder and Fire Hawk could change between mech (humanoid) and cruiser (flying) modes at will. (Thexder 95 didn't let you transform until later in the game, although it added a land-cruiser mode.)
- Trial and Error Gameplay - The original Thexder had no continues, so you were on your own to remember which enemies would restore energy, where to find them, and how to gun down enemies without taking too much harm in the process. Fire Hawk and Thexder Neo's easy mode were more forgiving.
- Video Game Flight - With no restrictions. This is balanced by some claustrophobic level designs, wide open areas filled with swarms of enemies, and the auto-aiming function restricted to humanoid form. (Hint: Don't fly into wide open areas. EVER!)