Yen Hau, product marketing manager at Rising Star Games, was kind enough to set the record straight about Cave's shoot-'em-up Akai Katana, which came to North America in mid-May (we awarded it an 8/10). If you're feeling a little lost when it comes to the genre or you're not sure whether this particular shmup is right for you, our interview should help get you started. Just consider it Akai Katana 101.
GameZone: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview! How would you describe Akai Katana, and what makes it a good choice for North America?
Yen Hau: Akai Katana is the ultimate bullet hell shooter. Its beautiful graphics will draw in fans of anime and manga artwork, its easily recognizable mechanics ensure pick-up-and-play familiarity with casual gamers, and, most importantly, its complex scoring system provides a challenge that no player can master in a single play-through.
It’s perfect for any territory, not just North America, because it is simple to play but incredibly challenging.
GZ: Tell us a little about the story and characters, both playable and non-playable.
YH: A tyrannical empire has discovered a powerful new weapon, the devastating blood swords. Requiring human sacrifices to unleash their immense power, the empire is using these swords to crush neighboring countries. However, all of the bloodshed and power gained through sacrificing close family members has made some of the swordsmen think twice. With new fighter planes and powered-up swords at their disposal, this small band of rebels now fight back against those they used to call comrades.
GZ: Someone who’s never played a shmup before might feel a little overwhelmed at everything happening on screen. Can you break down the different elements players need to watch for when starting the game?
YH: The main thing to keep an eye out for is the hit-box. This is the small flashing box at the center of the fighter. Bullets can pass through any other part of your character, and you won’t take damage if they don’t touch your hit-box.
The key to success is watching the patterns of bullets. Don’t worry about dying; it’s all part of the learning process. Once they have learned the patterns, players can then work on improving their score.
Don’t get sucked into shooting the bad guys over other objectives. Plan your attacks!
GZ: What’s the difference between the three modes?
YH: “Origin” is the original arcade mode up-scaled to the Xbox 360. “Climax” is Origin mode with tweaked mechanics and the scoring limit removed. “Slash” is a completely new mode with its own scoring mechanics.
GZ: What kind of offensive/defensive items and tactics are available in the game for players to use?
YH: Players can collect orbs when they kill an enemy. When they collect enough orbs, they will be able to switch to Phantom mode. Here they will summon the spirit of the blood sword, the one who made the sacrifice, and will be immune to certain attacks. Playing in offensive or defensive mode will change the characteristic of the fighter, allowing players to build up significant scoring or survivability opportunities. In offensive mode, players can also collect Steel Orbs and Katana (depending on the mode), allowing them to unleash some very powerful shots.
GZ: What makes the scoring system in Akai Katana different from that of other Cave games? How would you explain the basics of scoring to new players?
YH: Every Cave game has its unique scoring mechanic, and with Akai Katana, they have created one of their most complex systems ever. The addition of Phantom mode, Steel Orbs and Katana have given the player a new way of building up points, and the new Suicide Bullets add an extra dimension for survivability.
The basics of scoring really boils down to two points: a) collect as many orbs as possible, and b) don’t die — losing a life takes the score back to zero!
GZ: A gamer unfamiliar with the genre might have never experienced phenomenon of “slowdown” before. What triggers that to happen, and can players use it to their advantage in any way?
YH: Slowdown happens when there is a particularly complex bullet pattern unleashed by an enemy. It is a mechanic put in place in the original arcade versions to assist the player and is seen as an important feature of all Cave shooters, allowing players a little extra time to avoid those nasty bullets and find a way through.
GZ: What are some essential tips for beginner players?
YH: Don’t be scared off by the number of bullets on-screen. You will die a lot, but it is all part of the learning process. Eventually you will be skilled enough to reach the fabled "1 credit complete" — finishing the game without losing a life.
GZ: Are there any common mistakes newcomers tend to make when playing a shooter of this type?
YH: The most common mistake new players is focusing solely on killing enemies and missing the bullet heading straight for them. These types of games get pretty hectic and players can get anxious, blasting away without really taking note of their surroundings.
GZ: Once players feel comfortable with the game, are there any secrets in the stages they can try to expose? If so, can you hint at where to find them?
YH: Not yet!
GZ: What distinguishes an expert player from a novice? How does the game experience change as players continue to get better?
YH: A novice player will focus on killing enemies and getting to the end. An expert player will focus on gathering enough orbs and swords and putting up the highest score possible. As a player becomes more familiar with the game and its various scoring systems, they will naturally focus less on surviving and more on scoring.
GZ: Can you describe the pictures and themes contained in the four DLC packs for Akai Katana?
YH: There will be a selection of artwork from the game, characters, and ships in each theme and picture pack.
GZ: Does Rising Star, with Aksys, plan on bringing any other Cave games over to the US?
YH: We will see what happens. Right now we’re enjoying Rising Star Games, Inc.’s first launch in North America. We now have an exciting title in Akai Katana to lead the way, press feedback has been fantastic, and we’ve seen plenty of great review scores hit over the past week or so. It’s been a real pleasure to bring such a great looking game to the US. Enjoy, everyone!
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