Terra Feminarum is a new shooter that is based around Finnish mythology. It was developed by Polar Night Games (their first release) and follows a classic bullet hell style of game play. There are gorgeous hand-drawn graphics and a soundtrack that jumps from symphonic metal to Northern European waltzes. It's a difficult game–even within a notoriously difficult sub-genre– and will require a lot of patience and skills to overcome. There are multiple characters, special abilities, multiple game modes, and upgrades that all add to the adventure and set the game apart.
Unlike a lot of shmups, this game utilizes a full screen. There is always a lot happening on screen, and the player moves vertically, dancing around the swarm of bullets on screen.
Terra Feminarum can be purchased on Steam for $9.99.
Though the plot in Terra Feminarum isn't the selling point, it is unique in that it is based around Finnish mythology. The northern lights are fading and three powerful shamans from "The Land of Women" seek to investigate the dilemma stop whatever force is behind it.
All the protagonists are female and each character has a different personality. Dialogue plays before/after stages and before boss battles. The dialogue varies slightly between characters, but it's mostly skippable to be honest. I read it during my first play through and enjoyed some of the mythological elements (such as one evil shaman who seduced men then had the forest swallow them), but like any great shmup, the story was better told by the environments,foes, and my personal experience with Terra Ferminarum.
Terra Feminarum is a vertical shmup that continuously moves up as enemies fly on screen from all sides. Killing enemies does stop some bullets from spreading, but more often than not, the screen is loaded with multi-colored bullets that form a curtain of death. The bullets themselves take on unique shapes an colors; for instance, the forest sends out razor-leaves, while the aurora shoots out adorable stars that prove fatal upon impact. The player will be forced to dance in and out of waves of bullets to survive, and the gameplay revolves just as much around evasion as it does shooting foes. Most of the time I was playing, I just held down the fire button as I focused on not getting hit by projectiles.
While the gameplay was immersive and exciting, it can almost feel in slow motion at times because of just how much is happening on screen. Sometimes I felt mentally numb as I was simply trying to process what was happening. It's a lackadaisical stress that's both tense and allows/disallows the player to roll around bullets and marginally escape and swerve through fire.
The levels are pretty straight forward. Each stage is a different Finnish environment that include forests, ponds, the realm of the dead, and the aurora. The levels are about four to eight minutes apiece and end with a boss fight. The bosses themselves are different shamans and spirits that are up to sinister deeds or don't wish for the player to continue. These fights are difficult, stressful, and feature much crazier attack patterns than the levels themselves. They are especially tense if you make it to a boss with only one or two hearts remaining. The fight could be over in seconds, forcing the player to survive the level and try again. You will have to retry MANY MANY times to beat the stages and the bosses.
There are a couple power ups available to assist the player. There is a meter that is filled by collecting white entities that get dropped from defeated foes. They add to the meter, and when half full, the player can create a shield that protects the player and nullifies enemy fire within its radius. If the meter is fully charged, the player can unleash a powerful attack that seems to double the standard attack fire for about ten seconds.
There are seven levels in the game, and each truly feels like its own environment. Luckily, if playing story mode, you can start from any level you have already completed. This means, you can safely playing and be able to resume from the latest stage. This is a lifesaver since the levels are so grueling despite their relatively short length.
Game Modes and Upgrades
The story mode has seven stages, each with dialogue, and upgrades/challenges. The player will watch one of the character's tales unfold. There are three characters with slightly different ships to choose from. There ships attack with different angles and firepower, and each character has a unique special and elemental attack. One character can freeze projectiles with a ring of ice while another can add flames to her standard attack.
The story mode also gives the players a choice of one of three upgrades after completing a stage.
Extra Life–adds an extra heart and the ability to withstand one extra hit
Elemental Orb–adds another attack orb around your ship increasing attack power
Boots–increases your mobility and elemental abilities
Each upgrade can be chosen a few times, and it will depend on the play style and ability of the player. Upgrades carry into later stages and do help a lot, though it's still very challenging, even when fully powered up. On top of upgrades, each stage has special challenges such as not taking a hit, destroying certain enemies, or collecting a certain amount of items in a stage (some levels have special pickups that add to the player's score).
There is also an arcade mode which allows players to play through the stages for fun and for points. In this mode, you cannot choose your level and always start from level one. This mode is fun if you just want to practice or care about racking up high scores.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics and sound in Terra Feminarum are the zenith of the experience. The beauty of this game, whether it be the hand drawn backgrounds, the details in enemy spawning and deaths, or the myriad colors splattering my screen, never ceased to amaze me. They pull the player into the universe an immerse them completely. Projectiles dance, pulse, and swirl in a symphony of dazzling destruction, almost seeming to move in tempo with the music; it gives the game a cadence that can make the stress and agony of dodging enemy weapons with precise movement feel like either a waltz or an adrenaline filled fight to the death.
Watching dead enemies disintegrate into dust in "Land of the Dead" was immensely satisfying, and the graphics greatly assist in giving the Finnish environments and folk tales a sense of existence that the plot never succeeds in doing.
The sound is just as great as the visuals. I am a huge fan of European metal, and many of the boss fights reminded me a lot of Finnish/Swedish folk metal. The music is incredibly diverse, however; Elfish acoustic tracks proceed elegant piano waltzes and charged metal guitars, and each is essential to the level they represent. For example, the pianos ring the deadly flowers, with their lovely but deadly vines, on screen and the intertwining of the soundtrack embodies all the elements of a great shmup and the uniqueness of Finnish culture.
It's truly rare to see a game with this precise and magical a visual style and soundtrack. It was as exiting and fun as it was narrative and able to fill in the gaps between Japanese shmups and Finnish culture.
If Terra Feminarum has one big fault, it would have to be the difficulty. Indeed, shmups and bullet hell games are hard by definition, but I don't joke when I say I could barely beat level one on normal difficulty. You have three hits until your dead–before upgrades–, and the screen is often flooded with an abundance of moving projectiles that take extremely precise movements and laser-like reflexes to avoid. It is definitely frustrating, and a five minute level could well take you over and hour or two of practice to overcome; later levels, especially bosses, have such calamitous attacks that you will need perfect maneuvering and knowledge of each attack pattern to survive.
There are three difficulty levels:normal, hard, and brutal. I couldn't beat the second stage on hard difficulty, and this game will absolutely be painful and joyless for many whom aren't used to shmups or really difficult games.
I want to say that Terra Feminarum is an amazing game and one of the best shmups ever made because there was just so much love and effort put into this game. The world is utterly beautiful, and no detail is overlooked. The soundtrack is completely unique–with a ton of Finnish influence–and rivals that of any shmup to date. When it comes to the aesthetics and upgrades in this game, it's nearly flawless.
However, the problem arises with the difficulty. A difficult shooter in this genre is to be expected, but this game exceeded a difficulty level that I thought was possible. I struggled to survive and beat the very first stage, and while it definitely feels rewarding to overcome an onslaught of enemy projectiles or defeat a tough boss, it's intimidating, and only the fittest shmup players will be able to overcome this game without cheats.
If your curious about this game, there is a demo, and the game is marked fairly at $9.99. It's definitely a game that will require a lot of patience and memorization of attack patterns, but there is a beautiful and unique experience to be had here. The ability to start from any level you have already beaten instead of being forced to begin at level one helps greatly. If the difficulty doesn't frighten or deter you from trying Terra Feminarum, pick it up and give it a chance.
|+ Beautiful graphics||– Difficulty is VERY extreme|
|+ Amazing soundtrack||– Controls require extreme precision|
|+ Finnish folklore||– Plot is largely forgettable|
|+ Upgrades and cool abilities|