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Videogame: Gradius
Destroy the Core!

Konami's Gradius (also called Nemesis in some incarnations) is one of the seminal side-scrolling Shoot 'em Up series. The player controls the Vic Viper, a small starfighter, and faces off against the forces of the Bacterions, and generally destroys everything. Its most recent installment is Gradius V for the Playstation 2 — there are many Gaiden Games, however, so the total game count is enormously larger than five.

The Power-Up scheme in Gradius is unusually involved, and was particularly so for its time — destroying an entire enemy wave (or special Palette Swap enemies) drops a glowing token. Collecting tokens advances a counter along a track. The player may elect to purchase the powerup currently pointed to by the counter, which resets the counter to the beginning. Essentially, powerups in Gradius are currency; this is in contrast to the system later used by R-Type, where there were multiple types of powerup each with a specific application; other shooters would typically copy one of these two systems. The traditional sequence is Speed Up, Missile, Double (a bidirectional cannon), Laser, Option, and Shield. It is because of Gradius that "Option" is often used to describe a powerup that provides the player with an Attack Drone.

The first Gradius was released in 1985, but in a real-life Retcon, the 1981 game Scramble was declared part of the series in Gradius Galaxies.

Compare Parodius, which is Konami taking this series and giving it a Cute 'em Up redesign. And pumped with enough LSD to drop an elephant. Also compare Otomedius, an anime parody series which has a lot of breasts and Fanservice.

List of titles:

  • Gradius (1985, arcade). Titled Nemesis outside Japan.
    • Ported to NES (which retained the Gradius name for its overseas releases), MSX, PC Engine, Japanese cellphones, PC88, X1, X68000, Spectrum (as Nemesis the Final Challenge).
      • MSX port ported to Japanese Saturn and PlayStation in Konami Antiques MSX Collection.
    • Ported as part of Gradius Deluxe Pack to the Japanese Saturn, PS, and PC.
    • Ported as part of Konami Classics to the DS.
  • Salamander (1986, arcade Japan/Europe)
    • Ported to NES, MSX, PC Engine, Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad, Japanese cellphones, X68000.
      • MSX port ported to Japanese Saturn and Playstation in Konami Antiques MSX Collection.
    • Ported as part of Salamander Deluxe Pack to the Japanese Saturn and PS.
    • Ported to PSP as part of Salamander Portable.
    • Life Force (American arcade version, with changed plot and some changed backgrounds)
    • Life Force (Japanese arcade version, with completely overhauled graphics and a Gradius-style power-up system)
      • Ported as part of Salamander Deluxe Pack to the Japanese Saturn and PS.
      • Ported to PSP as part of Salamander Portable.
  • Gradius 2 (1987, MSX; Nemesis 2 in Europe)
    • Ported to Japanese cellphones.
    • Ported to Japanese Saturn and Playstation in Konami Antiques MSX Collection.
    • Ported to X68000 as Nemesis '90 Kai.
    • Ported to PSP as part of Salamander Portable.
  • Gradius II: GOFER no Yabō (1988, arcade; not to be confused with Gradius 2). Titled Vulcan Venture outside Japan.
    • Ported to Famicom, PC Engine, X68000, and Japanese cellphones.
    • Ported as part of Gradius Deluxe Pack to the Japanese Saturn, PS, and PC.
    • Ported to PSP as part of Gradius Collection, for a proper North American release. After 18 years.
  • Gofer no Yabō: Episode II (MSX; Nemesis 3: The Eve of Destruction in Europe)
    • Ported to Japanese Saturn and Playstation in Konami Antiques MSX Collection.
  • Gradius III: Densetsu Kara Shinwa E (1989, arcade)
    • Ported to the SNES.
    • Ported to the Playstation 2 as part of Gradius III and IV.
  • Nemesis (1990, Game Boy)
    • Included in Konami GB Collection Vol. 1 (1997, Japan) for the Super Game Boy under the title of Gradius
    • Included in Konami GB Collection Vol. 1 (2000, Europe) for the Game Boy Color under the title of Gradius
  • Nemesis II: Return of the Hero (Game Boy). Released as Gradius: The Interstellar Assault in North America.
    • Included in Konami GB Collection Vol. 3 (1998, Japan) for the Super Game Boy under the title of Gradius II
    • Included in Konami GB Collection Vol. 4 (2000, Europe) for the Game Boy Color under the title of Gradius II: Return of the Hero
  • Salamander II (1996, arcade)
    • Ported as part of Salamander Deluxe Pack to the Japanese Saturn and PS.
    • Ported to PSP as part of Salamander Portable.
  • Gradius Gaiden (1997, Japanese Playstation only)
    • Ported to PSP as part of Gradius Collection, finally giving it a proper overseas release after 9 years.
  • Solar Assault (1997, Japanese arcade)
  • Gradius IV Fukkatsu (1998, arcade)
    • Ported to the Playstation 2 as part of Gradius III and IV.
    • Ported to PSP as part of Gradius Collection.
  • Gradius NEO (2004, Japanese cellphones)
  • Gradius NEO -IMPERIAL- (2004, Japanese cellphones)
  • Gradius Galaxies (2001, GBA). Didn't come out in Japan until 2002. Titled Gradius Advance in Europe and Gradius Generation in Japan.
  • Gradius V (2004, PS2) — Developed by Treasure.
  • Gradius ReBirth (Wiiware, 2008, 2009 in US)
  • Gradius the Slot (Arcade, 2011) not a traditional shoot 'em up, but a pachislot game where doing well in the slots affects how well you do in battle.


Destroy them all! The Gradius series provides examples of:

  • Attack Its Weak Point - "Destroy the core!"
  • Anime of the Game - The Salamander OVAs.
  • Asteroid Thicket - Gradius V stage 5 is the epitome of this.
  • Asteroids Monster - Numerous enemies. In 2 of the stages in Gradius III, they're predominant.
  • Attack Drone - the Options.
  • Awesome, but Impractical - The flame thrower weapon in the Nemesis series and Gradius V. Sure it's powerful, but it has such short range that you have to put yourself in harm's way to get the most of it, and it's practically worthless against Core bosses.
    • In Salamander 2, you could do rolls like in later entries in the Thunder Force series. And like in Thunder Force, it does nothing but look stylish.
  • Bandit Mook - Option Hunters/Thieves will steal away your options if they touch you or your options, but they cannot destroy you or be destroyed.
  • Battleship Raid - Stage 4 of Salamander 2
  • Big Bad - Bacterion in most games; Dr. Venom in Nemesis 2 and 3 on the MSX and in ReBirth.
    • Doom in Salamander 2.
    • The Lars Empire in Gradius NEO/Imperial.
      • For those who don't know, the Lars Empire is an evil human empire that has obtained the ancient Gradian and Bacterian technology in a time which takes place many years after the Gradius/Nemesis series. The only Bacterians in Gradius NEO/Imperial live in the wild, with no Hive Mind to guide them, and the Gradian Empire doesn't even exist anymore.
  • Boss Rush - Most of the games since Gradius II have had one of these.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu - Blowing up the Big Bad into pieces just winds up having each piece being able to develop into their own Big Bad. Each with their own attack force.
  • Bullet Hell - Many games on loop 2 and above, particularly the Treasure-developed Gradius V.
  • Catch Phrase - "Destroy the core!", also known as "Shoot the core!"
  • Classic Cheat Code - The NES conversion of the first game introduced the Konami Code, and the the SNES conversion of III was also first to subvert it.
  • Collision Damage - Arguably, this is more justifiable when one is flying a spacecraft. However, Gaiden has the Guard shield, which renders the player immune to terrain unless they wedge themselves into a space too small, or get smashed by two walls.
  • Continuing Is Painful - So you've spent 30-35 powerup capsules powering up your ship. Then you die. Then you die some more because your default speed is slow and your ship is completely ass-naked.
    • You do start with a single power-up on the bar (though this is only if you died with one on the bar). That's enough for a Speed-Up, which may be just enough speed to survive long enough to start rebuilding. If you're good.
    • Depending on where you died, you might have enough time to get over to your options, which drift offscreen rather than vanishing, and pick them up again.
    • Gradius Gaiden lets you rearrange the power meter, so you can, for example, get Options for only one or two powerup capsules each. Also, if you're playing a 2-player game and you die, you'll explode into five capsules.
  • Continuity Nod - Gradius ReBirth is chock full of references to Nemesis 2 and 3 on the MSX, to the point of being a de facto prequel. (The game is set in Cosmic Year 6664, 3 years before Nemesis 2).
  • Convection Schmonvection - In Life Force and Gradius II NES you fly between two solar surfaces and are totally OK unless you actually get struck by a flare.
    • Same thing with any lava-based stage.
  • Cool Starship - The Vic Viper, of course, along with its cousins, Lord British, Jade Knight, and Falchion Beta.
  • Cores and Turrets Boss - Potentially the Trope Codifier.
  • Cue the Sun - The ending for Gradius Gaiden
  • Demoted to Extra - Big Core MK.I is a recurring boss in the first Gradius games. By Gradius V, it's a generic mook which appears multiple times throughout the stages with the other enemies. Yes, it's more powerful than an ordinary mook, but it's still a mook.
    • A similar fate occured to the Japanese Life Force boss Gau/Gaw, appearing in groups before the start of the Bio stages of Gradius Gaiden and Gradius V.
  • Difficult but Awesome: Vertical Mine in Gradius IV. These can be thrown in any direction, the direction being influenced by what direction you're moving when you launch the mines. Clumsy at first, but once you learn how to throw mines effectively, you can easily hit hard-to-reach enemies and turn bosses into mechanical Swiss cheese very quickly.
  • Doppelgänger Spin - the Options.
  • Dramatic Disappearing Display: Oddly enough in the NES version of Gradius II, the HUD at the bottom disappears completely when fighting certain bosses, but not others. This may have been invoked because of the lack of free tiles for the boss and the HUD in those places.
  • Dub Name Change - In Gradius III for the SNES. Several bosses mayors get renamed: Big Core mkII to Ice Ice, Crystal Core to Monarch, among others. The Vic Viper itself is called "Modulated Artillery Exalter" (or M.A.X.). The NES version called the Vic Viper "Warp Rattler".
  • Early-Installment Weirdness - One staple of the Gradius series are of course the variety of big awesome bosses. Gradius 1 however features either invironmental hazards or an army of smaller sub-bosses, always followed by a Big Core MK I and the same cheery boss music at the end of every level. The only exception are the Stage 6 Nucleus boss and the Brain.
  • Eenie, Meenie, Miny Moai - Nearly every game has one stage full of these stoners.
  • Eldritch Abomination - Most of the Big Bads qualify, including Zelos, Venom, Gofer, and Bacterian.
  • Engrish - Gradius was originally going to be called "Gladius" (after the ancient Roman war sword). We'll forgive them.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You
  • Evil Is Visceral - The final boss in each game tends to be some sort of brain, or a head with a very big brain. The entirety of Life Force is also this.
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot - Life Force establishes itself to be set inside a giant alien life-form which is infected by a strain of bacteria. In the Japanese version, you must destroy a Planet Eater from the inside.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel - According to the Gradius Gaiden manual, the Vic Viper and its three sibling ships are capable of traveling at five times the speed of light. This could explain why they are completely unaffected by the black hole in Gaiden stage 7.
  • Follow the Leader - A great many shooters followed the Gradius powerup system, sometimes expanding it into a between-levels "shop" where points could be exchanged for powerups, other times using it verbatim.
  • Fly-at-the-Camera Ending - Played straight in the NES version of Gradius, Inverted in the rest of the games which show the Vic Viper or any other of the space fighters fly out of the camera and back to planet Gradius.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The final boss of Gaiden is named O.V.U.M. (Original Visions of the Ultimate Monsters).
  • Gaiden Game - The aptly-named Gradius Gaiden, though if you're looking for a real Gaiden Game, check out the MSX Gradius series (Salamander, Nemesis 2, and Nemesis 3), which has a completely different and more detailed plot from the main series, and introduces several features not seen in future games, save for a remake of Nemesis 2 called Nemesis '90 Kai.
  • Gas Chamber: The first-half of stage 6 in Gradius V have these.
  • Genius Loci - Many of the Big Bads, including Gofer, Bacterion, and Zelos. This trope also applies to the organic planets, which have Bacterians controlling the planets.
  • Get Out - In Gradius Gaiden, one of the messages you get for a Game Over is "Get out of here, forget about it!"
  • Guide Dang It - In order to get the good ending in the MSX version of Salamander, the players has to have a Nemesis II cartridge plugged into the second cartridge slot, get a item that randomly spawns in a set of different areas, and beat a bonus stage. To make matters worse, the bonus stage doesn't load properly on certain MSX2 models.
  • Gravity Sucks - In Gradius Gaiden's stage, On The Event Horizon, you are chased through a planet by a black hole.
  • Have a Nice Death - "You need some practice."
  • Hive Mind - Bacterion, Gofer, and Zelos in the Gradius Series. Venom has become one too in Gradius V.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight - The Shadow Gear(arachnoid Humongous Mecha) in most of its appearances.
  • Impressive Pyrotechnics - Treasure managed to include Ikaruga's characteristic tendency to have bosses blow up spectacularly into Gradius V.
  • Inertia Is a Cruel Mistress - Too many Speed Ups can lead to you running right into the bullets you're trying to dodge.
  • Invincible Minor Minion - The shrapnel fireballs in the Fire Stage of Gradius III AC, the mook-depositing floating Moai heads, the ice cubes in the Ice Stage, the mini-spiderbots in the Fortress, and the regenerating Blue Moais in Gradius IV. Also some of the Mook Makers used by bosses.
  • It Has Only Just Begun
  • Landfill Beyond the Stars - Stage 2 ("Requiem for Revengers") of Gradius Gaiden, complete with lots of boss cameos.
  • Large Ham - The announcer in Salamander 2 is really enthusiastic in his line delivery.
    "POUND through the ENTRAILS and SHOOT ABADON!"
  • Large Ham Announcer
  • Last Breath Bullet - On later loops, many bosses will fire aimed shots at the player during their death throes. Better not get caught off guard...
  • Leitmotif - The first game's boss music evolved into the iconic "Boss Rush" music. Whenever and wherever it shows up, Boss Rush time.
  • Load-Bearing Boss - The final bosses of the Gradius/Salamander Series. Certain organic bosses count too.
  • Malevolent Architecture - The Fortress Stage in each game consists mostly of this.
  • Mascot Mook - In the spinoff Cosmic Wars, the Moai represents the Gradian Empire, while Salamander's Brain Golem is the mascot for the Bacterians.
  • Meaningful Name: "Vic Viper". Consider its shape and how it is followed by the Options.
    • The mechanical robot walker of Gaiden (Just before O.V.U.M.) is a giant gear-like wheel named Sol (Spanish for "sun").
    • Aside the acronym O.V.U.M., the word Ovum means "egg".
  • Meet the New Boss - Bacterion, Gofer, Venom, and Zelos. All of them are Bacterion emperors who mastermind the Bacterian attacks. All of them are located in fortresses/planets. All of them want to destroy Gradius. They command strong armies, but they themselves are weak and very vulnerable. They eventually get destroyed by Vic Viper and explode into pieces. The pieces spread across the universe and grow into a new Big Bad.
    • Subverted for Venom at first. Even in Nemesis 2, Venom was a Bacterion emperor but unlike the others, he was That One Boss. But then Venom reappeared in Gradius V and in that game, now he's a brain that's no weaker than the other Big Bads.
    • Doom is an exception too.
  • Mook Maker - The ubiquitous enemy-spawning devices, some of which are indestructible. And many bosses, eg the Giant Moais, can do this too.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning - Said by the Anti-Climax Boss who is also the Big Bad and the Final Boss in Gradius V, to more or less some degree after he is destroyed.
    • In fact, it states that there is a whole lot of pieces of itself spread across the universe, with each one eventually becoming sentient and coming after the Gradians. Which leads to a horrifying thought: What if they ALL gain sentience AT THE SAME TIME?
  • My Name Is Not Shazam - The final boss music for Salamander 2 is named "Giga's Rage". The final boss itself is actually named Doom.
  • Nintendo Hard - The arcade version of Gradius III, especially. The SNES conversion and Gradius Gaiden, on the other hand, are possible exceptions.
  • Non-Linear Sequel - Played straight with most of the games, save for Nemesis 2 and 3 on the MSX and their prequel, Gradius ReBirth.
  • Now Do It Again Backwards - Nemesis 2 (and presumably Nemesis '90 Kai) does this.
  • Oddball in the Series: Gradius V features a number of deviations from past mainline titles:
    • It is the only mainline game to allow two simultaneous players.
    • It is the only mainline game to have a "respawn in place" mechanic. (You can, however, turn checkpoints back on if you wish.)
    • It is one of the very few Gradius games (and only mainline one) not to have a moai stage.
    • It is one of the very few Gradius games (and only mainline one) not to have a volcano stage. (Stage 5 could be seen as one, as it features asteroids and volcano-like rock formations, but said formations don't erupt.)
    • It is the only mainline game to be developed by a third-party developer (Treasure).
  • One-Man Army - Except of a few games like Salamander and Gradius V, even with multiplayer, each player storms the army of spaceships separately.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder - Partially mitigatable by the Shield, but only if it hits the shield instead of you. Then again, the first Gradius was originally an 80s arcade game...
  • Organic Technology - Most of the organic enemies as well as the Womb Levels are these.
  • Quietly Performing Sister Show - Thunder Cross, another series of horizontal shmups by Konami which reused musics and had similar aesthetics.
  • Planet Eater - Zelos from Salamander/Life Force.
  • Player Mooks - Gradius NEO Imperial has you playing as a rebel Big Core MK I
  • Precision F-Strike - In V, exactly two swear words are spoken: by the announcer upon dying after 7 stages ("What the hell?") and by the pilot at the end of stage 7 ("Damn. Nothing's denting it."). Oddly enough, V got a T rating...with the content warning having nothing to do with language.
  • Protagonist Without A Past - Heck, outside of the MSX games, the Vic Viper's pilot isn't even named, and it isn't until Gradius V that he ever finds it necessary to talk to anyone. And he's just talking to himself anyway.
  • Rail Shooter - Solar Assault
  • Recurring Boss - Oh god, where to start...
  • Recurring Boss Template: The final stage is usually a long one inside the enemy's base, with mini bosses in between: These vary, but two of them are almost always:
    • The first one is a "wall" with turret guns and Mook Maker pods. Depending on the game, you will have to destroy 1-4 cores to put an end to it and proceed onwards.
    • The second one is a strange walking robot or star-like machine where you will need to manoeuvre between its "legs". Depending on the game, it may or may not be destructible.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something - The 2nd player ship in Salamander is piloted by the prince of Planet Latis, the planet you're defending.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism - In Gradius III (SNES) and Gradius Galaxies, this comes in the form of entering the classic version of the Konami Code while the game is paused.
  • Sentry Gun - In so many places.
  • Sequential Boss - The first boss of stage 8 in Gradius Galaxies is this.
  • Shout-Out
    • The 2nd player ship in Salamander 2 is called "Super Cobra", a reference to the old arcade game of the same name.
    • Vic Viper is one of the Konami characters appearing in the special Purikura sequence of Mitsumete Knight R : Daibouken Hen ; it's also, in Tokimeki Memorial 4, Rui Nanakawa's third (and very effective) Limit Break, invoking it after playing the Konami Code's buttons on a Dance Dance Revolution board.
    • The Falchion Beta in Gradius Gaiden is an updated model of the titular ship from Konami's 1987 Famicom Disk game Falsion.
    • Many bosses in the Nemesis series are named after rock or heavy metal bands. Most of them have been renamed and given more generic names, with only Venom retaining his name.
    • The boss ship Deltatry from Gaiden is heavily inspired by the ship from Konami's Trigon/Lightning Fighters, complete with its giant laser and fire dragon summoning attacks.
    • Let's not forget Lord British
  • Smart Bomb - One of the items you can pick up.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance
    • Stage 4 of the Salamander arcade is hard as nails due to fast-moving rocks, volcanic eruptions, and enemies that come out of the background. The background music, on the other hand, is calm and relaxing. It is worth noting that most console adaptations of the game (including the NES Lifeforce) change this song's tempo to make it more upbeat.
    • Many final stage themes sound cheerful and almost holiday-like.
    • Aircraft Carrier was first heard as the boss theme in Gradius 1, and it has shown up as a remix in almost every game of the series since. It also has never lost any of its unsettling cheerfulness.
  • Space Base - Every level takes place on a Space Base, be it a Womb Level, a Mechanical fortress, or a volcano planet.
  • Space Is Noisy - As expected from a shoot'em up game where a large part of the events take place in space.
  • Spell My Name with an S - Are the bad guys called "Bacterions" or "Bacterians"? It's not clear, especially when Gradius Gaiden use both names in the same context.
    • Is it Lord British or Road British?
    • Is it Metalion or Metarion?
  • Spider Tank - The Shadow Dancer / Shadow Gear. In many of its appearances, it is invincible and must be dodged until it leaves.
  • Theme Naming - The bosses of the MSX Nemesis 3 are named after obscure American rock and metal bands.
  • Time Travel - In Gradius V, you encounter your future self in Stage 2 and cooperate with him to destroy a battleship that he took back in time with him. Then at the end of Stage 7, you encounter that same battleship and time-travel back to the events of Stage 2, because the battleship can only be destroyed with two ships.
    • One fun little detail regarding Stage 8 is that your past self plays exactly like you did in Stage 2 during the parts when both ships are shown, or all four if there's 2 players. If you skip Stage 2 using stage select, however, then the ships will follow a predetermined path, like your future self does on Stage 2.
  • Ultimate Evil: The Final Boss of Gaiden, O.V.U.M. (Original Visions of the Ultimate Monsters), according to The Other Wiki, may be "The power of ultimate evil condensed into physical form".
  • Unstable Equilibrium: Losing a life swipes all of your powerups, which against a stage or boss that is giving you serious trouble, translates to "give up and exit the game." There are a few exceptions, such as Gradius III (Arcade)'s easy mode and games that respawn you in place and therefore allow you to get your options back. As such, the best Gradius players aren't necessarily the ones who can complete the game on a single life, but the ones who can recover out of deaths from even the most hopeless-seeming of situations.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Gradius ReBirth — Select Type E, then get either V. Shot or Vector Laser and go into Stage 2 on higher loops or any bonus stage. V. Shot deprives you and your options of any forward-firing capability and Vector Laser cannot destroy destructible walls. Result: -1 life.
  • Video Game 3D Leap - Gradius IV was a presentation upgrade rather than a total upgrade.
    • There's also the Solar Assault sub-series, which is fully-3D Gradius, though it hardly got any attention.
  • Video Game Lives
  • Video Game Long Runners - The first game was ported to the NES, as well as many, many PC platforms. Then there's the many arcade releases and many, many console and (original!) PC releases.
  • Villain Protagonist - You can play as the Bacterians in Cosmic Wars.
  • The Virus - The Bacterion Empire is an example of this. They are composed of invasive and matter controlling cells that multiply every time the Bacterian Empire is defeated.
    • Subverted partly in the Salamander OAVs. Instead of cells, the Bacterians are living crystals that can turn into any kind of creatures. Maybe Bacterion is a huge Crystal lifeform that can transform into a cell or maybe the Bacterians are cells born in crystals grown on Bacterion's rocky shell?
  • Wave-Motion Tuning Fork - Near the end of the opening cutscene for Gradius V, the Vic Viper is shown shooting a beam from between its front fins. It pierces through and destroys the boss of the first level.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye - The Vic Viper pilot in Gradius V.
  • Wiki Rule - Yes, it has one.
  • Wham Line:
    • Gradius V, stage 2.
      "Warning: There is a space-time anomaly forming. Two objects have emerged. Ship identification code cannot be processed for the large craft. The other is Vic Viper T-301."
  • What the Hell, Hero?
  • Womb Level - Usually at least once per game, since the Big Bad does the invasive bio-goo thing. Cell-levels are also reasonably common. The premises for Life Force and Salamander make those entire games Womb Levels, but not every level within them counts as one.
  • Zero-Effort Boss - played straight for the most part, but heavily averted in Salamander 2 and Nemesis 2.
    • That's probably because the final level is usually the final boss; all the enemies are controlled by the Big Bad's pyschic powers.

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alternative title(s): Gradius; Salamander
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