Gradius III is a scrolling shooter arcade game, developed and published by Konami in 1989 for video arcades.

The player returns as the role of the pilot of the Vic Viper starfighter to battle the onslaughts of the Bacterion Empire.


The story of Gradius III has changed over time, and it is questionable which is the intended original story, and why it changed. It is possible that the story has changed due to overseas translation and editing during its initial conversion from arcade to SNES.

The story from Gradius III: From Legend to Myth for the PS2 is as follows:

In the darkest reaches of infinite space, pure evil lies in wait ... The Dark Forces led by the god of destruction, Bacterian, prepare to launch a massive onslaught against the planet Gradius. Possessing unstoppable power, the Dark Forces threaten to plunge the Universe into total war and complete annihilation.

Their invasion force smashes the Gradius defenses, and the surrounding planets soon fall like dominoes. Now Bacterian's evil grasp reaches for the heart of the resistance...planet Gradius itself...

To counter the oncoming threat the United Gradius World Forces gather all their fighter craft. Half of them form a defensive net - the other half a strike team. But they are badly outnumbered and The Dark Forces easily tear through their thin frontline. No fighters survive the slaughter....

In a last gasp move, the United Gradius World Forces send out two fighters, previously considered too dangerous for combat missions: The InterDimensional VIC VIPER fighters.

The Fighters take off for the heart of darkness to join the fray that will decide the fate of the Universe...

Vic Viper 1989
In comparison, the story from Gradius III for the SNES is as follows:

In the darkest quadrant of space there churns a vortex of Bad Vibes. Bacterion, it has been called, is a malignant mass that has spawned all that is wicked in the universe. Feeding on the suffering of the innocent, it moves like a germ throughout the Galaxy, manifesting itself in unspeakably hideous forms. In the past, Bacterion has only had the power to rear its ugly head on a few isolated occasions. That is, until now.

Being a good Gradian, your history class in primary school was the first place you heard of the ancient Heroic Missions to fight Bacterion. You even got a toy Warp Rattler for your fifth birthday. Those were the days when it was just a chapter in your history book.

History is important to the people of Gradius, as is all the higher pursuits of knowledge, art and music. Gradius has reached a renaissance. Your people are known throughout the universe as a good and peace loving nation. Who could have known that it would come down to this.

After a heart wrenching journey through the Gradian Desert Lands, you have come to terms with your fate. It is your mission to save all that is good in the universe. You must defeat the diabolical entities that plague Gradius and the surrounding planets. Fare thee well, brave warrior.

Considering the odd composition of the story for the SNES, it is distinctly possible that the change in story for the PS2 version was simply an act of re-editing to make the storyline more closely fit with the series' mood and storyline.



In-game screenshot

There are a total of ten levels in the game. Stage 4 is notorious for being the first and only pseudo-3D level to ever appear in the Gradius series. In this mini-level, the player controls the Vic Viper in a third-person (behind the ship) perspective and must avoid colliding with walls. Though the level is completely devoid of any enemies, free floating power-ups are scattered throughout. There are also two hidden levels that are based on the early sections of Gradius and Salamander. The game contains the familiar weapons, level layouts, and enemies that have become trademarks of the series.

The game is known by fans as being considerably more difficult than its predecessors, so much so that it prompted Konami to pull it from arcades rather quickly. (The arcade version has no continuation feature; if a player loses all lives, the game will be over.) The Japanese version of the game contains a 'beginner mode' that allows the player to venture through the first three levels at a much easier difficulty. At the end of the third level, the game bids the player to try the game again at the normal difficulty; which can loop endlessly. The Asian and Export arcade releases lacks the beginner mode and retrospective introduction sequence, but reduces the difficulty overall.

The biggest addition to the game is the introduction of the "Edit Mode", which is a logical progression on the weapons system from Gradius II. Not only can players choose between pre-defined weapon schemes, but they can mix and match missile, double, laser, shield and "special" ("!") power-ups into their own custom combination. However, some of the weapons available in pre-defined schemes can not be used in custom schemes, and vice versa. Many of the redundant weapon variations from the different schemes in Gradius II were removed, in favor of new variations.


Super NES


A port of Gradius III was released for the Super Famicom in December 1990 and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991 with the option of reduced difficulty and additional armaments for the Vic Viper. It replicates the slowdown of its arcade counterpart and discards the pseudo-3D and Crystal levels. The Cell Level is also swapped to being the final stage instead of the sixth stage like in the arcade version, it is also given a new layout and soundtrack. It also introduces a boss called Beacon which awaits the player at the end of the new high-speed stage, which is a counterpart of the high-speed stage in Gradius II. Unlike any other version, the Super NES port is the only one that allow players to continue when they lost all their lives. Also, there are bonus areas that can be accessed by finding an entry point and fulfilling certain conditions. A harder difficulty called "Arcade" can be unlocked by inputting a code on the options screen, however, it is simply the same SNES game at a harder difficulty, and not an accurate port of the arcade version.

There were many term changes for the American release; for instance, instead of the ubiquitous Vic Viper, the manual labelled the player's craft as the "M.A.X.", or "Modulated Artillery Exalter". As well, many of the names of the bosses had been altered, such as the stage boss of the first level being called "Earwig Scorpion" rather than "Goliath".

This port was also released for Virtual Console on April 23, 2007. In Europe it was released under the Habai Festival label and costs an additional 100pts.

The changes from the Arcade version include:

  • Stage 5 becomes Stage 4.
  • Stage 6 becomes Stage 10 (the Final Stage).
  • Stage 7 becomes Stage 5.
  • Stage 8 becomes Stage 6.
  • 3D and Cube Rush stages removed. In their place is the high speed stage, Crystal Maze.
  • The final stage is split: The Boss Rush is at Stage 8, the Fortress Base is at Stage 9, the Cell Stage is the Final Stage (or known as Stage 10).
  • Some Bosses are removed: Gregol, Dogas and Vaif, Wyvern, Zub Rush Mk. II, Lizard Core, Shadow Gear
  • They are replaced with the ff. bosses: Beacon, Zub Rush, Shadow Gear MK II
  • New Bonus Stages.

PlayStation 2

In 2000, Konami bundled Gradius III and Gradius IV Fukkatsu together for release on the PlayStation 2 video game console, as Gradius III and IV. The port is based on the arcade version and has an unlockable Extra Edit mode, which gives the player the freedom to create a weapon array from all included setups and adds the F-Option, R-Option and Reduce II power-ups found in the Super NES port. The Reduce from the SNES port returns the player one step closer to the Vic Viper's original size when hit, giving it protection from two hits.

As the PlayStation 2 is technically more sophisticated than the game's original arcade hardware, the game as a result runs faster in situations that would normally impose lag. KCET implemented a "WAIT LEVEL" regulator as an option that can be adjusted from three levels at any point in the game, beginning from 0 to 2 (original rate).

There is also a stage select, with each stage unlocked after clearing it in the main game.

PlayStation Portable

Gradius III was later ported to the PlayStation Portable in 2006 as part of Gradius Collection.


Gradius III received positive to favorable reviews; IGN gave the game a score 8.5 out of 10 for impressive graphics and gameplay. However, as has been common with several installments in the series, the review criticized the intense difficulty of the game.


Arcade Version
SNES Version


Arcade Version
SNES Version


  • Gradius III takes place in Gradius year 6840.
Gradius III
Ships Vic Viper
Stages Sand StormAqua IllusionIn The WindHigh Speed DimensionEaster StoneDead End CellFire ScrambleCosmo PlantAccident Road (SNES exclusive)Crystal LabyrinthBoss RushMechanical BaseUnpleasant Cell (SNES exclusive)
Bosses GoliathBubble EyeIron MaidenBig Core MK IIIDogasVaifTwin Vaif (SNES) • GregolWyvernVulture DragonChoking WeedLizard CoreBeacon (SNES) • Zub Rush MK IITetranCovered CoreBig Core MK IICrystal CoreDeath MK IIDellinger CoreDisruptShadow GearShadow Dancer (SNES) • Big CoreBrain GolemBacterion
Gradius Video Games
Gradius series GradiusGradius IIGradius IIIGradius GaidenGradius IVGradius GalaxiesGradius VGradius ReBirthGradius: The Interstellar AssaultGradius NEOGradius NEO ImperialGradius Arc
Spin-offs Salamander (Life Force) (MSX ver.)• Salamander 2Nemesis (MSX)Nemesis 2 (Nemesis '90 Kai) • Nemesis 3Nemesis (Game Boy)Cosmic WarsSolar Assault
Parody games ParodiusParodius Da!Gokujō Parodius!Jikkyō Oshaberi ParodiusSexy ParodiusParo WarsOtomedius (Otomedius Gorgeous) • Otomedius X: Excellent!
TwinBee TwinBeeStingerTwinBee 3: Poko Poko DaimaōTwinBee Da!!Detana!! TwinBeePop n' TwinbeeTwinBee: Rainbow Bell AdventureTwinBee Yahoo!TwinBee Taisen Puzzle DamaTwinBee RPGTwinBee DungeonPastel Jan
Other games ScrambleFlak AttackA-JAXFalsionThunder CrossThunder Cross IISpace ManbowQuarthTrigonCrisis ForceXexex

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