Looking at the cover of Mobile Light Force 2 for the PlayStation 2, you are bound to make a number of assumptions. The first might be that the game is some manner of 3D action game, where you assume the role of one of the three girls depicted on the cover and fight off a horde of evil robots with weapons such as shotguns, pistols, and assault rifles. Another might be that you are looking at the sequel to Mobile Light Force, which you may just not have heard of before. The last might be that, putting all of these elements together, you are holding in your hands a truly awful game that probably isn't worth your time.
If you made any of these assumptions, you'd be wrong, but thankfully that's a good thing. Mobile Light Force 2 is actually a vertical scrolling shooter that began its life in Japanese arcades under the name Shikagami no Shiro and later came home as an Xbox title in Japan. There are three girls available for play, as well as three male characters, but none of them are those depicted on the cover. They all have unique methods of attack, but not with modern firearms. All told, if you enjoy a decent scrolling shooter, well, that's exactly what Mobile Light Force 2 is.
The gameplay of Mobile Light Force 2 is pretty straightforward. Each character has three separate attacks: a standard rapid-fire attack, some manner of charged attack, and a typical screen-clearing bomb. While the characters deviate from the norm only in their style of rapid-fire attack--either covering a wider area of the screen or having homing capabilities--each character really shows its uniqueness in its charged attack. These can range from casting a man-eating demon out to devour the enemies onscreen, to swinging a double-bladed sword, to calling a satellite laser strike wherever an onscreen targeting reticle is placed. These charged attacks do considerably more damage than your standard attack, but they leave you more vulnerable--you move slower when executing them, and most of them require you to be very close to your foes. However, the risk pays off when the enemies you defeat with your charged attack release up to 10 times the number of coins than if they had simply been shot down. These coins are part of the weapon power-up system in the game, so if you collect enough, you will be raised to the next attack level, which strengthens not only your charged attack but your rapid-fire shots as well. What really gives Mobile Light Force 2 its unique twist is its tension bonus system. When you are in close proximity to an enemy or bullet, your score for defeating enemies is multiplied up to eightfold, and you will do twice as much damage as well.
The bomb attacks are fairly straightforward, but each character has a slightly different strategy when using these attacks. In the later levels, you will find perhaps that the greatest use for these attacks is their ability to clear the screen of enemy bullets. The screen can get really crowded, and sometimes you need that moment of relief to make it through to the next segment. There are five stages total in the game, broken up into three substages, though some of these are only long enough to contain a single boss fight. Longstanding fans of this genre might not find Mobile Light Force 2 to be a terribly challenging game and may finish the game within a few sittings. However, the gameplay is unique enough to grant some decent replayability, especially with the slightly differing strategies from character to character.
In the visual department, Mobile Light Force 2 lacks polish. The environments are made of simple polygonal elements with passable textures, but most of the enemies you will be facing, as well as your own character, are portrayed with poorly blended sprites. All told, the game could have been presented just as easily on the original PlayStation hardware. The audio is on the same subpar level. There's not much variance in the sounds of explosions, and most of your enemies sound the same. The characters each have a set of phrases that they say when they die, power up, or use their bomb attack, but these are pretty poorly sampled and said with very little conviction. The music is a fairly bland mix of synthesized instruments, not the driving overtures that have become the hallmark of the scrolling shooter genre.
Production values aside, there is a certain sense of charm to the presentation of Mobile Light Force 2. The game is clearly out of its time in a way that longstanding fans of this niche genre will appreciate. The enemies have a wacky and surreal design--you'll be fighting things like teddy bears, doll heads, and Shinto ceremonial stones. As mentioned previously, the characters spout off one-liners that seem as ridiculous as their context, such as "Hang it up, sucka!," "You damn fool," or "What a waste!" The manual itself reads like it was written by a committee that was in complete disagreement as to how much Americanization should be applied to the title. Characters are given completely throwaway back stories that end up being more amusing than they are informative. An excerpt from Yuuki Sato's story tells us that "she is 16, but because of her nature, she has never gone to school. She uses the Yata spiritual bird, and is a battle expert. She has left her town by train and has arrived in the Tokyo station." Another character, named only "???," is described as being "a very mysterious woman. Claims to have been to the seven worlds"--but there's no information about what the seven worlds are. Rather than holding the game back, these wacky elements really give Mobile Light Force 2 a weirdness that fans of this genre should appreciate.
In the end, Mobile Light Force 2 is a decent game. Better graphics and sound would have really helped the game to feel a lot more modern and be enjoyable to a wider audience. Scrolling-shooter fans should definitely give this game a look, especially those with only a PlayStation 2, since these games have been very few and far between on this system. The game's low price point may be all the justification you need, because this game can deliver a good deal of entertainment for a mere $15 or less.