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Gradius III (Arcade)

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Title Screen

Gradius III

Also known as: Gradius III: Densetsu kara Shinwa he (JP)
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platform: Arcade (Custom)
Released in JP: December 11, 1989
Released in AS: December 1989

GraphicsIcon.png This game has unused graphics.
MusicIcon.png This game has unused music.
RegionIcon.png This game has regional differences.

PrereleaseIcon.png This game has a prerelease article

The first two games were difficult enough, but Gradius III goes out of its way to make its stages more hair-pullingly hard than ever before, and not even in a balanced way!


Read about prerelease information and/or media for this game.
Prerelease Info

Unused Graphics


There are eight Edit Mode icons in the game's ROM for power-ups that were cut, some of which previously appeared on the spin-off games. Unfortunately, none of them seem to have been properly coded, so the icons are all that's left of them.

Power-Up Previous Games Notes
Gradius3ArcHoming.png Salamander (MSX)
Nemesis 3 (MSX)
Would home in on enemies, naturally. This is the only scrapped power-up that has unique graphics in the ROM:
Gradius3ArcMine.png N/A This would drop floating mines behind the player ship instead of missiles. A similar concept was used ten years later in Gradius IV.
Gradius3Arc3Way.png N/A Standard three-way shot. This could've been an early version of the Spread Gun (which can be upgraded to a three-way shot) or an entirely different power-up.

Since there's no telling exactly how this power-up would work, an icon can't be properly constructed.

Gradius3ArcFOption.png Nemesis 3 (MSX) Options would surround the ship in an arrow formation. This was later implemented in the SNES port.

There don't seem to be any graphics for this icon left in the game besides the name of the power-up.

Gradius3ArcROption.png Nemesis 2 (MSX)
Gradius II (NES)
Nemesis 3 (MSX)
This would make Options rotate counterclockwise around the ship. Another power-up that made its way into the SNES version.
Gradius3ArcPileUpField.png N/A The shield in the icon looks larger than the normal Force Field graphic. Maybe you'd be able to stack multiple fields?
Gradius3ArcRShield.png N/A The last cut power-up that was later added to the SNES port. The shields rotate. Whoa.
Gradius3ArcSearchShield.png N/A An interesting concept that never made it to any Gradius game: these Shields would actively home in on and destroy enemy bullets.


New Enemies

This design is used in-game, but the used version lazily spins and floats around the screen. This unused variant looks like it would actually go after the player.
Again, this design is used, but the version used in the final game flips horizontally, not vertically.
A typical vertically-flipping enemy design.
There's an enemy in the final game that flies in from the right, opens up to shoot at the player, then flies away. This looks like a similar enemy, but it would just start floating around instead of firing anything.
Very similar to a used enemy; the only notable difference is that the bullet hatch splits open instead of retracting.
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemy7.gif This looks like an organic version of the ubiquitous Hopper enemies. This design actually appears in the ROM of Salamander, minus the shooting animation, but it wasn't used there either!
This scrapped enemy design starts out looking like a bullet before transforming into a ship. Kinda cool.
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemy9.png This is stored in the ROM right next to the large enemies that give the player power-up capsules before the boss rush starts, so it might've been an alternate design for those enemies. If so, it seems like this design wouldn't have been able to shoot diagonally.
In the final game, there are two different enemies that come out of the silver hatches in the final stage. This third enemy design didn't make the cut.
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemy11.gif Having a relatively impressive 18-frame animation count wasn't enough to keep this spider beetle-looking thing in the final version.
Used Unused
GradiusIIIArcZubUsed.gif Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemy3.gif

A new design for the "Zub" enemies that appear in large numbers on the last stage. The final game reuses the design from Gradius II.

Returning Enemies
Enemies from previous Gradius games and spin-offs. Most of the graphics are ripped directly from those games, and it's not clear whether or not they were actually intended to be used in the game. The only exception is the small Moai head from the Japanese Life Force re-release of Salamander, which has new graphics and was probably meant to appear somewhere in the game proper.

Enemy Name
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemyG14.gif Iron Maiden
Salamander / Life Force (US)
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemyS1.gif Phalanx
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemyS5.png Thunder Mu
Iron Maiden
Amka Kemdomira
Fire Geist
Life Force (JP)
Gradius II
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemyG21.gif Rgolist
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemyG22.gif Carst Ducker
Gradius3ArcUnusedEnemyG23.png Death Mole


In-game Full
Gradius3ArcTitle.png Gradius3ArcTitleFull.png

The title screen image is 320×240 pixels, but the game's resolution is 320×224, so the last 16 lines of the image get cut off.

The blue screen-clearing power capsules seen in previous Gradius games are conspicuously absent in this one. They did make it into the SNES port, albeit as a palette swap of the power-up capsules instead of having a separate design.

Gradius3ArcUnusedHatch1.gif Gradius3ArcUnusedHatch2.gif
Two unused enemy hatch designs, both of which have the same retractable base.

Two unused rock designs for use in Stage 3's underground section. Even though there are three different designs, the final game only uses one of them. Kind of a waste, eh?

Gradius3ArcSmallBoulder.gif Gradius3ArcBigBoulder.gif
Small and large boulders, likely meant to be used in Stage 3's digging section. Even though they both have special falling animations, the final game still uses the same rock design used everywhere else in the stage, which isn't even animated!

Gradius3ArcSmallPillar.png Gradius3ArcMedPillar.png Gradius3ArcLargePillar.png
Rock pillars of varying thickness. Could have made good obstacles in the underground section. Maybe they could have dropped down from the ceiling or jutted up from the floor or something? No such luck, though.

Gradius3ArcSmallShrivel.gif Gradius3ArcBigShrivel.gif
Small and large vines shriveling up, which would have been used after the Choking Weed boss is defeated. In the actual game, those vines just explode like everything else does.

Gradius3ArcBigCrystals.gif Gradius3ArcCrystalShards.png Gradius3ArcSpinningCrystal.gif
A whole mess of non-cubical crystals. Similar, less-detailed crystals appear in Stage 3 of Gradius II as destructible objects. At one point in development, the Crystal Maze might have been more closely based on Gradius II's Crystal stage.

The palette for this object is loaded during the "flying big crystal cubes" section of the Crystal Maze, so it might have been meant to appear as an added obstacle there. Dig that 12-sided die!

Gradius3ArcShipG1.gif Gradius3ArcShipS.gif
The ships from the first Gradius and Salamander are in the ROM. The Gradius ship uses the default ship palette, while the Salamander ship actually has a custom palette loading during the Salamander stage (palette 16) that's not used by any other object in the game.

It's plausible that in the Gradius and Salamander stages, those ships would be used in place of this game's standard Vic Viper design. It would certainly explain why the player loses all of their power-ups after being transported to either stage.

The volcanic rocks used in the previous Gradius games. Uses palette 1B in the Gradius stage, which, again, isn't used by any other object. The developers might have originally planned to keep the volcanic eruption that prefaced the Big Core boss fight in the first game.

Gradius3ArcSmallPlasma.gif Gradius3ArcBigPlasma.gif
Small and large blue plasma balls in the same style as the energy balls shot out by Bacterion at the end of the game. Purpose unknown.

A strange metal disc. No clue on this one, and that's probably not even the correct palette. Weird.

These filler tiles are in the Cell stage tileset. アキ means "empty".

In the international releases of the previous Gradius games, the "Option" power-up was called "Multiple". Since this game was never released in Europe or North America, this graphic was never used. Oddly enough, though, this game's announcer always only says Multiple when selecting the power-up.

High Score numbers from Gradius and Gradius II, respectively. Gradius III has its own, larger font that it uses for the High Score table, making these graphics superfluous.

In Gradius II, players could enter their gender and age in the High Score table. This feature was taken out in this game, which instead uses the differently-gendered heads and horoscope icons from the first Gradius, but the differently-aged heads from Gradius II are still in the ROM.

Used Unused
GradiusIIIArcSandLion.png Gradius3ArcFireLion.png

This lion enemy is used in Stage 1, the Desert level. However, Stage 7, the Fire stage, has an unused palette that matches up with the lion design perfectly. Considering that the dragon enemy is used in both Stage 1 and Stage 7, they might have planned to reuse this enemy as well.

Gradius3ArcCubeColors.png Gradius3ArcCubeColorsFG.png
While the Crystal Maze stage in the final game only uses blue crystal cubes (seen on the bottom right), there are palettes for at least four other colors: green, purple, yellow, and gray. The cubes on the left are the sprite-based cubes, while the cubes on the right are the tile-based cubes.

In-game Unused
Gradius3ArcSmallVine1D.png Gradius3ArcSmallVine1E.png

The small vines that the Choking Weed sucks up actually use the wrong palette! Palette 1D is used by the Choking Weed's bulb, while palette 1E is totally unused in-game and fits the vine graphic a lot better.

Unused Music

The IDs listed here are internal track IDs and don't match up to the ones used in the game's sound test.

ID Track Notes
This is the dogfight theme from the original Gradius. In the actual game, the Gradius stage starts right after the dogfight section of the original Stage 1, so this is never used.
This is the track from the High Speed stage in Gradius II, but updated with this game's instruments. There was originally going to be a High Speed stage where the path was created by debris and other junk flying at you as you went along; this idea developed into the Crystal Maze stage seen in the final game. A High Speed stage was added in the SNES version, but based on the one from Gradius II, and with its own music.
The original ranking theme. According to the game's sound director, this was rejected for being "too short and too bright."
(Source: Gradius III – Gradius Portable Guidebook Interview)

Regional Differences


Gradius3Arc1985.png Gradius3Arc1986.png Gradius3Arc1988.png
The Japanese version goes through a pictorial history of the Gradius series (the arcade games, anyway) before transitioning to this game's title screen image. In other sets, the intro remains the game's title image the whole time, but the sequence is the same length, leading to an odd experience in non-Japanese sets where the game just stays on a static image for almost a minute before the music ends.

Title Screen

Japan/Asia World
Gradius3ArcTitleJP.png Gradius3ArcTitle.png

World sets remove the game's subtitle, 伝説から神話ヘ ("From Legend to Myth").

Beginner Course


Select Difficulty
Beginner (Intro to game)
Ends after 3 stages.

The Japanese sets have an additional mode selection before the Weapon Select screen. The option on the left is the normal game, while the option on the right is a special Beginner mode that ends after Stage 3. Apart from the limited stages to be played, players gradually lose whatever power-up they have equipped with each death as opposed to the series' traditional die-and-have-nothing that is also present in the Normal mode: first, the players lose all their "Option" orbs, and then the rest of the power-ups that preface that one in the meter (Laser, Double, Missile, and Speedup).

Despite the fact that non-Japanese sets don't have this selection and the player is thrown into the full game directly, the gradual power-up losing routine from the Japanese version's Beginner mode is present in them and is in it throughout the whole game, making them the slightly (big emphasis on that word) easier versions of this game.

Gradius3ArcPracticeEnd1.png Gradius3ArcPracticeEnd2.png
You've cleared the beginner course.
But the world of Gradius is much more
than just that. Now try challenging
yourself with the technical course!!
We pray for your success...

After defeating the boss of Stage 3, a special message appears.

(Translation: Bast)
(Source: Original TCRF research)