Capcom’s space opera side series saddles up
I previously reviewed Plasma Sword, the sequel to Capcom’s 3D weapon fighting game Star Gladiator. I played Plasma Sword and really liked Capcom’s approach that combined elements from Star Wars with elements of anime and fighting games. Years later, having played games like Soulcalibur, I wanted to play a fighting game with weapons. I’m glad I got my hands on the first game in the series, Star Gladiator — Episode 1: Final Crusade.
In Star Gladiator, in the year 2348 humans have explored space for centuries, allowing for regular peaceful and trade relationships with various alien lifeforms. Unfortunately, some alien species have made threats against Earth, resulting in a defense project created by Dr. Edward Bilstein that uses energy of the human mind or plasma power. Once the project became known, Bilstein gained fame and profit. However, the Earth Federation uncovers that Bilstein engaged in unlawful human experimentation during plasma power research and imprisoned him in a satellite. Four years later, a federation base was attacked by disciples of Bilstein known as the Fourth Empire. With the Fourth Empire’s attacks toward Earth continuing, the Federation’s hopes rely on a project allowing plasma-powered users to activate their gifts on a whim. That project’s name is Star Gladiator.
Star Gladiator is a complete departure from usual setup for fighting games like Street Fighter and Darkstalkers. Instead of using a six-button scheme for punches and kicks, Capcom used a four-button setup that resembles Soulcalibur. You have buttons assigned for kicks, defense, and weapon attacks. I found this simple and easy as I did not struggle with fight mechanics.
You also have use of two counter moves called Plasma Reverses: One is called a Plasma Reflect, which allows blocking of an opponent’s move and stunning them for a brief period. The other, Plasma Revenge, allows you to counter an opponent’s fast attack while you unleash your own lighting attack. Star Gladiator also introduces the Plasma Combo System, which allows you to setup rapid attacks that, with the right timing, can result in a technique called Plasma Final that inflicts major damage. Finally, another standout feature in Star Gladiator is the plasma strike ability that lets you deliver heavy damage, if timed perfectly on the opponent.
Keeping with the mechanics, let me deliver a safety warning: This game has a rotating and hovering arena that may cause motion sickness. With the rotating arena, if you are knocked out of bounds, you will lose automatically. I learned a hard lesson about using the Plasma Reflect and Plasma Final techniques: Like any other weapon-based fighter, your timing must be accurate; otherwise, your character will be open for a ring-out attack or Plasma Final that will end the round before you can blink. And, for those who see the Plasma Strike as an easy use anytime weapon: Plasma Strike is an impressive move; however, it can only be used once per round.
The graphics and music are top tier for a 3D fighting game from the era it was released. It looks good and tries hard but without being over the top. The replay value is strong and is a great showcase for the start of the 3D weapon fighter genre.
Star Gladiator is a classic 3D fighter that showed how fighting games transitioned from the arcade to the home market. I commend Capcom for thinking forward and not relying on the same formula. Star Gladiator is an example of Capcom’s brilliance in the fighting game arena and the series is long overdue to return. There’s certainly room for it in today’s space.