It's hard for me NOT to rate this game a 5. Keep in mind, I'm comparing it to a long line of Cave shooters: Guwange, Ketsui, Mushihime, ESP Galuda, Deathsmiles, and the DoDonPachi series. If you like any of those games, chances are you'll like this one even more. Compared to the games already mentioned, it's relatively easy to stay alive. It offers a nice balance in the difficulty department, so you won't find yourself getting killed every 3 seconds. As far as the graphics and music, well... there are online videos for that. However, if you like Deathsmiles, I will say that AK completely surpasses it on every level. It's that simple. Personally, I love the scoring systems, and find them to be clearly outlined and well-refined. Like Ikaruga, there is a definitive set of rules to follow if you want to achieve ultra-high scores.
And that's where the real challenge comes in. Akai Katana demands that you challenge yourself to learn the scoring system and achieve new high scores. What does this mean exactly? Well for the casual shooter fan, you may find that after completing stage 1, you have a score of 2 or 3 million. But once you learn how to power up and utilize your power, you can actually reach scores around 80 million. That 100-million mark for your 1st extra life is there for a reason. Anyone who understands and practices within the system will eventually get there. Casual shooter fans won't be able to reach that mark even by accident, since there is a sequence to using your powers and a time limit in which to do so. Playing casually and constantly bombing will simply not reward you in any way, and I doubt you'll ever play the game again after your first 15 minutes. However, those who dig deeper will find that this is surely one of Cave's top tier games. I've spent several months simply replaying levels 1 and 2, over and over, to reach new high scores. When that gets old, there is a second game mode, with a significant change in scoring mechanics and gameplay -- in which you can expect to reach scores of 600 million or more. For purists and collectors, the disc also includes a third mode, an arcade port in standard 4:3 format. Again, this mode is complete with different game mechanics and the arcade soundtrack. Cave designed this game with 16:9 HD home-gaming in mind, and it shows. Beautiful hand-drawn artwork like this (sprite-based) is extremely rare, but hopefully will never die. Overall, I would expect this title to become a massive hit in the shmup world. Now that Cave has shifted their focus to hand-held gaming, be sure to pick up this rare gem.