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Video Game / Thexder

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Thexder is a 1985 video game, the first title ever released by Game Arts. 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.

Fortunately, there were ways to increase and replenish Thexder's energy reserves - primarily by killing the right enemies.

Originally released in Japan for NEC's 8-bit computer, the PC-8801mkIISR, Thexder became a smash hit and Game Arts responded by porting it to other computers, including the MSX. The then-obscure company Squaresoft took note, licensing Thexder for a port to the Famicom, their very first game for Nintendo; 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 advertised Thexder as an "arcade game" though it never appeared in arcades; Sierra also misleadingly claimed that the game was "created for second-generation computers with 16-bit processors.")

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 remake 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:

  • After-Combat Recovery: In Fire Hawk, defeating a boss typically yields a large Energy reward (about 100 units or so). And even if your energy's still low after that, the first thing you'll encounter upon arrival in the next mission is usually a stash of energy-yielding enemies to shoot.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • The original Thexder never explained who you were or what you were supposed to do before dropping you right into Level 1 (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 map and 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.
    • Fire Hawk also includes a manga establishing the backstory inside its manual, since the in-game opening cutscenes were not included in the US release.
  • 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.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Your auto-targetting laser divides its firepower between all targets onscreen — including ones that are hidden or behind walls — so it's entirely possible to be attacking a swarm of enemies when suddenly your laser tries to burn a hole in the floor. Homing missiles in Fire Hawk have a similar behavior, with your target lock focusing on the nearest onscreen enemy. (Be especially careful with this during Mission 6-2)
  • Auto-Save: In Fire Hawk, every time you complete a mission the game creates a save file so you can start with the next mission at your current status (energy levels, items, etc); press F7 to bring up the list of available saves.
  • 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, Thexder 95, and Thexder Neo.
  • Bullet Hell: There are ... a lot of turret emplacements in the Mission 5 boss area. Fortunately for you, you can easily pick up an ECM before entering to jam them up and allow you to move around without getting continuously pelted by fire.
  • 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 trivial amount that if it makes a difference, you're already doomed.
    • 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 minority, if not a boss outright. On the flipside, when your shield is active, enemies take collision damage from you (at least until the shield runs out).
  • Contractual Boss Immunity: Bosses in Fire Hawk are immune to Stoppers, EC Ms, and Flashers (though the smaller enemies accompanying them are not). Other weapons are still effective, but depending on the boss's movement, it may be difficult to land a hit with anything other than your laser.
  • Copy-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. An no, the backstory manga included in the manual isn't part of its page count.
  • Deflector Shields: Thexder's (and Fire Hawk's) only defense if anything gets close enough to cause damage. Its exact nature is never explained, but at least it works, right?
  • 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.
  • Energy Weapon:
    • 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).
    • The Mission 3 boss fires large beams of energy that travel fast and inflict significant damage compared to its other shot (capable of punching through your shield in just two or three hits).
  • Goomba Springboard: If you hold the Jump button, your mech will leap into the air at every opportunity, including if it happens to land on an enemy floating in mid-air. (Not that you can't just transform into a jet and start flying at any time....)
  • 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 (including bosses) in a single blast.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: Destroying Nediam's fuel tank at the end of Mission 7 is said to cause a sharp rise in local temperatures, enough to damage Fire Hawk (aka, your energy depletes continuously until you escape the area or die trying). The MSX version even throws in some chaotic flashes in the background color to remind you to get out and fast.
  • Mecha-Mooks: Virtually all enemies are mechanical in some form, though some appear less mechanical than others.
  • 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 echoes about half the first level from the original game before diving into caverns below it.
  • Offscreen Inertia: Generally, the moment an enemy is offscreen they cease moving or pursuing the player; this is often a viable method to break up a swarm into smaller groups that are easier to deal with. Note that in the original this only applied to the left and right sides of the screen, while in Fire Hawk it applies to all four borders. Also note that Fire Hawk's bosses continue to move through their attack patterns while offscreen.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Enemies in the first level are destroyed at the slightest touch of laser power (making it possible to take down a large swarm effortlessly), but this quickly ceases to be the case once you reach level 2.
  • 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).
  • Remake: 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 (most notably, the ability to retry the current level after dying).
  • Smart Bomb: Fire Hawk's "Flasher" subweapon releases a burst of energy that damages every enemy onscreen ... oh, but you won't recover energy from energy-yielding enemies destroyed by it.
  • Space Friction: In Fire Hawk, Mission 5 involves taking out Nediam's engines, and Mission 7 involves blowing its main fuel tank, yet Mission Control is is surprised that neither of these fail to so much as slow it down ("It's still going? What's powering her?") from its collision course with Earth.
  • Time Stands Still: Okay, so the Stopper subweapon is technically a blast of temperature so cold that it causes all enemies in the area to stop moving, but for all practical intents and purposes it may as well do this, since anything but you is an enemy of some kind.
  • Took a Level in Badass: While originals still appear, the Fire Hawk mecha is an upgraded version of the original Thexder prototype, featuring a redesigned flight mode, a supply of homing missiles, and a satellite for storing subweapons.
  • Tragic Monster: Nediam, though the reasons why are explained in the Japanese original only.
  • 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.
  • Videogame Flight: Transforming into a jet allows you to fly in any direction with no restrictions. This is balanced by generally claustrophobic level design, wide open areas filled with swarms of enemies, and the lack of auto-aim when firing your laser. (Hint: Don't blindly fly in to any wide-open spaces. Ever.)
  • Zerg Rush: The tactic of choice for most enemies. Sure, red Tribars may be a One Hitpoint Wonder, but can you survive a swarm of 20 closing in on you simultaneously?