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The 16 year quest to unlock R-Type Final’s 101 ships


The truism that the longer something takes, the more satisfying its completion isn't always applicable to videogames. Many of my joyless grinds have ended in a bitter sense of relief rather than waves of joy. But when that game is R-Type Final and the grind is unlocking the full ship roster, the little ding that announced I'd unlocked the final of Final was a profoundly personal moment of deep satisfaction. 16 years in the making, it's probably the longest grind I've ever undertaken and alarmingly it only took 40 hours of gameplay to achieve, which tinged the whole thing with a weird sense of guilt. I should have done this a lot sooner. But nonetheless, the deed was finally done and my instance of the glorious R Museum is now resplendent with a complete catalogue..

It started easily enough. I bought the game on the 26th March 2004, nabbed a princely dog tag (of R-9DV2 Northern Lights) and embarked on R-Type Final's unusually affecting and funereal challenge. I've written about Final's air of its own finality before, and this sense of the end of an iconic series being played out as a deliberate farewell grew as the first few stages were cleared and the grand unlocking began. Reliant on a mish-mash of flight time, game progression and serial releases of cascading variants, the unlocks come sometimes as regular dribs and drabs, sometimes flying out like popcorn. Towards the end, they come with great gulfs of time between them and depending on your preferential route through the museum, this means a lot of stage clears in ships that aren't that much fun to shoot Bydo with. It's a lumpy journey, especially when broken into three major chunks over a decade and a half.

On the 30th March 2004, I reached the first milestone that R-Type Final records – 20 fighters developed. That's just four days after starting, so I must have had a very R-Type weekend. I clearly remember wanting to unlock the ship that was on my dog tag, the Northern Lights. It was the 33rd ship in the roster, so I set about following its path and it popped out on the 31st March. I was more than pleasantly surprised to see the Northern Lights' colourway of green body and orange canopy evoked less the Aurora Borealis and instead reminded me more of a certain herb I encountered in the 1990s. I remember being less than satisfied with its wave cannon. But by then, I had bigger fish to fry. I can vaguely recall chasing the R-9D Shooting Star lineage to end up at the 31st ship, R-9DH3 Concertmaster, which I unlocked on the 7th June 2004. This easily made up for the disappointment of Northern Lights as it's a towering colossus in the 'best wave cannon ever' stakes.

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