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Video Game / Akai Katana

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Akai Katana (2010) is a Bullet Hell Shoot 'Em Up by Cave, originally released for arcades on the CAVE CV1000-D hardware. It is Cave's third Horizontal Scrolling Shooter and revisits the concept of the pilot and gunner being different characters, such as in Progear and Ketsui. Programming was done by S. Yagawa of 8ing/Raizing fame. Music was composed by the late Ryu Umemoto.

Set in a parallel world resembling Japan's Taisho period, the people have discovered the powerful Blood Swords, the titular Akai Katana. Requiring human sacrifices to unleash their immense destructive power, these swords have been used by The Empire to crush neighbouring countries. However, all the bloodshed and power gained through sacrificing close family members has made some of the swordsmen reconsider. With their new "Shakevolt" fighter planes and the powered up swords at their disposal, this small band of rebels now fight back against the tyrannical empire.

  • Type 1 (Marigold, strong straight-forward shot)
    • Phantom: Sumire Asaka
    • Guide: Tsubaki Shinjo
  • Type 2 (Orchid, fast homing shot)
    • Phantom: Kikyou Saionji
    • Guide: Botan Saionji
  • Type 3 (Sakura, weak spread shot)
    • Phantom: Suzuran Sanada
    • Guide: Shion Kobayakawa

This game's unique gimmick is the ability to switch between the basic Fighter mode and Guardian mode. In Fighter mode, rapidly tapping the Shot button (or holding the Full Auto button) puts you in a Defense stance which features faster movement and ship firepower, while holding down the Shot button puts you in Attack stance with reduced speed while your tethered Attack Drone inflicts higher-damage shots. By collecting green Guidance orbs in Fighter mode, you build up the Guiding Gauge, which is needed to switch over to Guardian mode. While in Guardian mode, which slowly consumes the gauge, you are impervious to nearly all attacks and bullets will be repelled away from you as long as you are in Defense stance, while going into Attack stance removes this invincibilty and bullet-repulsion but fires a laser that, upon destroying enemies will also cancel nearby enemy bullets, which in turn create their own explosions that can create a chain reaction of destroyed bullets; cancelled bullets generate gold items that are worth lots of points. Deft use of Guardian mode is not only the key to high scores, but can also help survival-minded players out of a pinch in multiple ways.

The game has received several ports and Updated Re-releases:

  • Akai Katana Shin (JP) / Akai Katana (NA/EU) (Xbox 360 - 2011 in Japan, 2012 in North America and Europe), developed by CAVEPublishers  — An Updated Re-release of the game featuring two new modes, Climax (Zetsu in JP ver.) and Slash (Shin in JP ver.), and an arrange soundtrack. The Japanese version has a free 2-stage trial version.
  • Akai Katana Shin for NESiCA×Live (Arcade via NESiCA×Live service - 2012) — A port of Akai Katana Shin back to arcades.
  • Akai Katana EXA LABEL / Crimson Katana EXA LABEL (Arcade via exA-Arcadia hardware platform - 2021), published and developed by exA-Arcadianote  — Another arcade updated rerelease, featuring the content of the previous versions, as well as a new FM synth soundtrack, a new Exa Label Arrange Mode, and a new "Extreme" difficulty. It also introduces significant performance improvements over the previous versions.
  • Akai Katana Shin (Windows PC / Steam Deck via Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One — December 15, 2022 for Steam and Japanese consoles; June 29, 2023 for Western consoles), published and developed by City Connectionnote  — A port of the Xbox 360 version with a new arrange soundtrack and a few extra tweaks.

Akai Katana contains examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: The majority of the storyline or even how to play the game (properly) isn't shown in game. Rather, you have to look at the 29-page instruction manual, the tutorial videos, the official websites, and/or the artbook for information. In fact, most of the information regarding the characters on this page is taken from websites or manuals.
  • Archnemesis Dad: Emperor Basho Saionji is this to Kikyou and Botan
  • Arrange Mode:
    • The limited White and Red modes only available on a "Limited Edition" PCB has a stage select option and can only be played on Free Play mode. Additionally:
      • In the White mode, the option has a shorter tether, and bomb invincibility is reduced. In addition, while in Phantom mode, Gold, which gains its value from the HIT counter, is sucked in, as opposed to orbiting the phantom.
      • Red mode is a harder mode of White mode, with rearranged enemy placements and bullet patterns. In addition, the HIT counter only resets when the player is hit, instead of when the player exits Phantom mode.
    • Akai Katana Shin contains three modes:
      • Origin, which is the original arcade version.
      • Climax (Zetsu in the JP version), which serves as a "director's cut" edition, featuring widescreen compatibility, removal of the on-screen score item Cap, and increasing the number of suicide bullets fired. It also features a new stage between Stage 4 and the old Stage 5, for a total of 7 stages.
      • Slash Mode (Shin in the JP version) also removes the score item Cap, and disables the Phantom's invincibility when in Defense mode, but allows the collection of Steel Orbs and Katanas. Both can cancel bullets, and anything Katanas pierce create huge score items. Like Climax, this version of the game is also widescreen and 7 stages long.
  • The Atoner: All of the rebels.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: In-game, the 'human' half of the player's team appears larger than the plane half and the boss models are giants as well. This is not Gameplay and Story Segregation.
  • Battle in the Rain: Stage 5 in the non-Origin modes is set during an intense typhoon amidst defensive installments on a cliff.
  • Bigger Is Better: In an interview with director Hiroyuki Kimura, he states that “Having a giant ninja do battle against a giant battleship that has been summoned by another giant ninja looks normal and natural in this game though!"
  • BFG: The spirit ninjas carry big guns, even relative to the size of their bodies.
  • BFS: Part of some of the new game modes in Shin. Killing things while being in Ninja mode summons giant blades around your character that are unleashed when the player switches back to the plane (but not when the green bar runs out).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Emperor Basho is stopped in all of the endings, but...
    • Botan and Kikyou: Kikyou is mortally wounded, telling Botan to live on in his place, and kills himself with the Blood Katana. He gives her the ability to see, and she says that she can feel him next to her.
    • Sumire and Tsubaki: Tsubaki kills herself with the Blood Katana in order to bring Sumire back to life, but then Sumire decides to kill herself because she doesn't want to live without Tsubaki.
    • Shion and Suzuran: Suzuran crushes Shion to death so that she can have the Blood Katana all to herself, but she ends up losing her youth to it just like Shion had.
    • In the True Ending, all six of them destroy the Blood Katana together, and they all die for a better world.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: Botan Saionji is this for not just katana, but also piloting a fighter plane.
  • Boss-Only Level: The Final Boss fight against Emperor Basho is in its own level; after defeating the Stage 5 (6 in non-Origin modes) bosses and going through its results screen, the fight against Basho immediately begins.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Kikyou and Botan
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: Shumeigiku, the boss of stage 2, wears a butterfly in her hair.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Reaching the Final Boss Basho as his children Kikyou and Botan results in an exchange where Kikyou calls their father a "savage brute" while Botan pleads with their father to stop. The feeling appears to be mutual:
    Basho: Why do you stand in my way, you ungrateful children?
    Kikyou: Look at you, old coot! You're nothing more than a savage brute now!
    Botan: Father, please! Stop this!
    Basho: We're no family anymore!
  • Cast from Lifespan: Shion Kobayakawa, the pilot of the third set of characters, bonded with a Blood Katana but lost her youth in the process.
  • Climax Boss:
    • For Tsubaki and Sumire, it's the Stage 4 boss, Hiiragi, their former master when the pair were in the Ten Suns. Hiiragi brands his former apprentices as traitors and forces them into a Duel to the Death with him.
    • For Shion and Suzuran, it's the Stage 3 boss, Shakunage. He is in fact Suzuran's brother Aogiri, who had tried to kill her in events prior to the game.
  • Critical Status Buff: Taking damage will increase the Spirit gauge; more specifically, the space vacated by the life you just lost is reallocated towards the Spirit gauge. Fortunately, getting extra lives does not shrink the gauge back.
  • Cute Is Evil: All of the cute child-like characters are evil, including Suzuran.
  • Co-Dragons: Boss 5
  • Darker and Edgier: It might be the darkest game CAVE put out since DaiOuJou. Doesn't help that Treasure was involved in it as well...
  • Defector from Decadence: Tsubaki and Sumire, although they more or less agree with the Gekka Battalion's goals. Tsubaki left the organization due to its arrogant actions.
  • Diesel Punk: The game's setting has the visual aesthetic and technology level of World War II.
  • Difficulty Levels:
  • Drunk on the Dark Side: For starters Emperor Basho killed his own wife just to get his own Blood Katana. Shakunage also counts; his bloodlust causes him to try and kill his sister, Suzuran, for even more power. Suzuran kills Shion in their route in order to use the blood katana.
  • Dual Wielding: The final boss does it - one Blood Katana made from his wife, and one made from himself.
  • Dying as Yourself: Shakunage apologizes to Suzuran and Shion before dying, suggesting that he recovered his memories of them, which he lost after his soul was consumed by a blood katana.
  • Evil Mentor: Hiiragi is this to Sumire and Tsubaki.
  • Evil Overlord: Basho, the emperor of Japan.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Nazuna is in love with her mentor Hiiragi, Shumeigiku is in love with Shakunage, and Hiiragi has a wife, Karin.
  • Fanservice Pack: In the Slash edition, Boss 4, Nazuna, gets a Stripperiffic ninja costume.
  • Flower Motifs: The three planes are named after flowers. Marigold, Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) and Orchid. The members of the Ten Suns, as well as the Gekka Battalion (as they were former Ten Suns members), have flower names as well.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Shumeigiku hates Suzuran, the younger sister of her Love Interest Aogiri/Shakunage, since she always pesters him.
  • Guide Dang It!: Played with. Many a player have expressed their frustration online about being unable to figure how to play the game, only to be told that pressing B will give them a tutorial. Unfortunately, the tutorial was removed from the City Connection rereleases, instead being relegated to YouTube videos on City Connection's channel.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The True Ending.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja: Every Phantom is around fifty feet tall, flying around in ninja garb shooting lasers.
  • Human Sacrifice: The Blood Katana require these to be created.
  • I Hate You, Vampire Dad: Kikyou and Botan fighting against their Phantom father.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: When Botan and Kikyou engage Hiiragi in the latter's Stage 4 boss fight, the two siblings try to invoke this by telling him to come to his senses, but Hiiragi insists he's perfectly sane and knows what he's doing.
  • If It Swims, It Flies: Inverted. The Shakevolt fighters, which are clearly modeled after World War II-era fighter planes, can "fly" underwater without any effects on their performance or occupants, as demonstrated in the first act of Stage 4.
  • Important Haircut: Tsubaki makes one as she decides to live as a man to atone for her actions as a member of the Ten Suns.
  • Incest Subtext: The two holding hands in the cover, title screen and pretty much every picture? That's Kikyou and his sister Botan. Yeah...
  • Invincibility Power-Up: In Origin and Climax modes, entering phantom form creates a shield that renders you invincible to most bullets and Collision Damage and additionally repels them away as long as you are not in Attack mode (holding down the shot button); certain enemy attacks that aren't the usual pink and blue bullets will still ignore this shield, however. Even if you do get hit, it will just exit you back into fighter form with some of your Spirit gauge lost without any loss to your lives. As such, if you aren't concerned with score, you can just spend much of stages and boss fights in phantom form and stay invulnerable that way. Note that staying in Defend mode in phantom form also greatly reduces your damage-per-second, so you can't just cheese through boss fights with it.
  • It's Personal: Nazuna faces the protagonists after they kill Hiiragi, whom she was in love with.
    Nazuna: I don't care about the past! It's I who takes revenge for my master!
  • Katanas Are Just Better: As if the title of the game was not enough, all of the player characters also carry one inside of their airplanes.
  • Last Chance Hit Point: Taking a fatal hit while on your last life will empty your stock of Smart Bombs instead of killing you.
  • Life Meter: Heavily downplayed. Each life is represented by a yellow box, and most enemy attacks will simply take off an entire life. However, getting hit by a red enemy laser will instead chip away at that box, gradually turning it red from the right until it turns completely red and the player's fighter is destroyed if the player does not either move out of the way quickly enough or activate Guardian form, which grants invincibility against lasers (but also causes those lasers to inflict non-damaging pushback).
  • Market-Based Title:
    • The Western Xbox 360 version is simply called Akai Katana, rather than Akai Katana Shin like for the Japanese version,
    • Akai Katana EXA LABEL's title changes to Crimson Katana EXA LABEL if the game is set to English. However, this title is not used for the later City Connection ports, which instead just use Akai Katana Shin regardless of region.
  • Might Makes Right: Hiiragi believes in this. "Power IS justice! I will use any means in order to acquire it!" Leads to a My God, What Have I Done? moment. Also doesn't stop him from being defeated both times he's the boss.
  • More Dakka: This goes with the genre, but is made even more explicit in this particular game because the spirit ninjas also carry massive rotary cannons.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: War Deity Hiiragi (Boss 4) acquired his power through sacrificing his wife, Karin, which now plagues him with regret.
  • Navel-Deep Neckline: Nazuna, the boss of stage 5 (Akai Katana Shin only), wears an outfit with a plunging neckline.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Depends on how much you know of the story. In their background story, Shakunage tries killing Suzuran out of bloodlust, which is what leads her and Shion to join the Gekka Battalion. However, if you play as them and meet up with him during the third boss fight, he seems surprised that they're on the opposing side, and apologizes them when he dies. Based on the True Ending, Shakunage's calmer, more caring side is his real face, so his moment of bloodlust was OOC.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: These ghosts are humongous phantoms with massive weapons, including chainguns that are the size of trains.
  • Patricide: Playing as Botan and Kikyou means they kill their own tyrannical father Basho, who is the Final Boss.
  • Pinball Scoring: Maybe not on the same level as Giga Wing, but in some modes, it's possible to reach the first extend in Stage 1.
  • Recurring Boss: Hiiragi is fought twice.
  • Retraux: One of the official arrange soundtracks is an FM-synthesized arrangement of the game's soundtrack. It can be played in-game in EXA LABEL.
  • Shared Life-Meter:
    • If a boss character summons a vehicle, shooting the vehicle will also inflict damage to the boss as if you hit them directly, if it is not a vehicle that can be destroyed by itself.
    • Ran and Ayame share a lifebar in their Stage 5 (6 in non-Origin modes) Dual Boss fight; hitting either, or the large tank in their second phase, will take health out of the same meter.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Progear and Guwange.
  • Summon Magic: The bosses use this to summon mundane things like battleships, aircraft carriers, hordes of fighter planes, and so on. Nazuna in Stage 4 of non-Origin modes is a grand example, being able to summon massive submarines that are much wider than the screen!
  • Supporting Protagonist: The first pair of characters, the ones initially highlighted upon game start-up. The box art for the Xbox 360 port features the second pair of characters.
  • Tank Goodness: Yep, goes with the typical Cave enemy design.
  • Together in Death: Sumire decides to do this to be with Tsubaki.
  • Version-Exclusive Content:
    • The EXA LABEL version features a unique Arrange Mode not available in any other version of the game, not even the later console and PC release by City Connection (due to using the Xbox 360 version as the base rather than any of the later rereleases).
    • The City Connection edition of the game adds an optional screen border that places vital HUD elements outside of the play window, and also adds subtitles to scripted dialogue (dialogue for player-triggered actions like bombing, Soul Shift, and dying is not shown).
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Tsubaki Shinjo, who decided to live like a man to atone for her past.
  • Winter Warfare: Stage 3 is set amidst a snowstorm on a mountain.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: These seems to have happened to all of the imperial loyalists.
  • You Rebel Scum!: Most of the Ten Suns call the Gekka Battalion members this.
    Ran: I wonder what your faith is at all ...
  • Younger Than They Look: Shion Kobayakawa, who is only 17 years old but looks like she is in her 70s as a result of her bond with the blood katana. This also happens to Suzuran when she ends up with the same curse that Shion had.