Something I've been having a lot of trouble with while writing reviews in this website is doing so for games I love or really respect, partly because I feel like I wouldn't be doing them any justice whatsoever, or simply due to not being able to convey my feelings and experience properly (and honestly, there are reviews out there that are so good that it just feels like anything I'd write down would be inferior in every capacity).
However, this game, which also happened to be the 200th game on my profile, motivated me enough to at least give it a go.
"Even the sweetest treats get bitter with each bite."
I first stumbled upon this game when buying the itch.io Ukraine Bundle, and a friend telling me the game is amazing and "the Undertale of shmups" made me give it a go...
...and I ended up liking it so much I bought it on Steam not long after, if that's any indicative of how much I enjoyed it.
There are many things I could say about this game, but first things first, this game is a blast. It would be unfair to say other shmups aren't (i.e. CAVE games are amazing), but this game in particular shows it's been carefully thought of for years, and the sheer passion of the devs bleeds out of the game uncontrollably.
The controls feel snappy, it never felt unfair to me, the music is amazing, and so are the two-palette graphics. On top of that, it's really accessible to people who haven't played shmups before with its somewhat lenient continues/lives system.
...but most of this can be said for other shmups. What makes ZeroRanger stand out?
"You've entered a vicious cycle of life and death."
For starters, the game won't be a cakewalk. As is a staple of the genre, you will die. A lot. But your determination shall not waver, and even the game helps in this endeavour by progressively making it smoother with more continues the longer you play. The beautiful landscapes and scenarios this game presents while you shoot down Green Orange's forces will feel nowhere as unique and vibrant on your subsequent runs, but even so, you might feel compelled to keep pushing through despite the several adversities on the way (trust me, there are many).
"As you cling on to this cycle, your desires poison your mind"
With the actual progression system as your true companion in this journey, you will slowly gain the power to get through what this game has to offer, and even despite the aforementioned adversities, your rewards for your struggles will be there in the form of your runs lasting longer, and getting deeper and deeper into this everlasting cycle.
But it has an end to be put to. And the game seems so heavily insistent on the idea of reaching enlightenment. Maybe that's what's waiting for you at the finish line?
You may ask what that is, but I'm not one to say or decide. You can play this game and reach your so desired response, or lack thereof, but I'll keep this as vague as I possibly can.
"Ignorance. Attachment. Aversion."
The story and symbolisms that this game carries forward are top-notch, despite most of the storytelling being either very vague or just implicit. I will not talk about this much as I want to keep this spoiler-free, but when you reach the ending, the experience just clicks together, and makes the journey and the countless hindrances so much more satisfying in hindsight.
If whenever you finish the game you're confused, which you might as well be, there's a lot of discussion about this game and its story/topics online that may help on that front.
At this point in time, which is only a few days after having finished the game, I still don't know if I get what it tries to say in its entirety, but what I can grasp makes it a simple, yet meaningful story.
"Feeding these unwholesome thoughts will only lead to more suffering."
This game is probably one of the best experiences that are awaiting you in this entire genre. Maybe the game might not seem appealing to you, and that's fine, but if there's even one shred of doubt or interest, I strongly recommend giving it a fair shake before giving up on it. The game is a piece of art, but it's hard, and it will do what it possibly can to remind you of that fact of all times, so you know what you'd be getting yourself into.
Perhaps when you finish it you won't think the same way I do, or you may just think it's good but nothing amazing, but you never know, so give it a chance, I don't think you'll regret it.
Shall you get to dedicate some of your time to this game, remember these words:
Do not give in to Despair.
May you attain Enlightenment.
And if you do,
I hope you can carry this Power with you.