Star Gladiator Episode I: Final Crusade is one of the lesser-known fighting games in Capcom's long list of fighters, notable for being Capcom's first attempt to make a mark in the 3D world of fighting games like Virtua Fighter, Battle Arena Toshinden, Tekken, and the Soul series in the 90's. Capcom did try hard to make the game different from the others by using a different hardware for the original PlayStation, similar to the Street Fighter EX series and the first Rival Schools game on the same build. Star Gladiator has a Plasma Gauge, similar to most Capcom fighting games at the time, but what set it apart from the others was the fact that different command inputs (via a specific fighting combo) were required in order to make the Plasma Strike (super move) work.
The story of Star Gladiator takes place from within the future year of 2348, in which intergalactic travel is very common and that mankind is able to interact with many different alien species. Dr. Edward Bilstein: a Nobel Prize-winning German-American prestigious physicist for the Earth Federation, uncovers the secret to humanity's "sixth sense": a technique for capturing the energy of the human mind and discovers how to use it as a new type of energy source called Plasma Power. While Bilstein is able to gain fame and fortune for his discovery of Plasma Power, the Earth Federation initiates a private investigation into the matter and is shocked to learn and discover that Bilstein had used actual human bodies during his Plasma Power experiments. Through this horrifying revelation, Bilstein is arrested and exiled from Earth for his heinous crimes, being placed in a floating prison satellite that orbits the Planet Zeta. Four years later, Bilstein, who is now in a cybernetic body, escapes from the prison and gathers his own cadre of fighters and forces, calling his new group "The Fourth Empire" and declaring his personal conquest of the universe. Realizing that Bilstein must be stopped at all costs, the Earth Federation decides to gather people who are able to use Plasma Power from within their own given right and attempt to destroy the Fourth Empire before they're able to conquer Earth and the rest of the universe.
The character roster is rather small but somewhat memorable for a fighting game and Capcom did a good job to make an effort in giving the series some depth, similar to that of the Star Wars franchise. This game introduced us to several unique characters with their own unique weapons.
Despite the effort on the PlayStation with the other Capcom games, Star Gladiator did not set the benchmark for 3D fighters like Street Fighter did with 2D fighters. However, Star Gladiator did manage to warrant a sequel for the arcades in 1998 and later ported to Sega Dreamcast in 2000, which was called Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein (originally Star Gladiator 2 in Japan). Plasma Sword had dropped the first game's Plasma Combo System in favor of the traditional Street Fighter-esque method of unleashing super moves, which was called the Plasma Strike System, and also introduced fourteen new characters to the series, though ten of them (aside from their character designs and original stories) mirrored most of the original cast in terms of weaponry and movesets.
While the series hasn't seen another entry since, a few characters from the series have made cameo appearances in various Capcom crossover games (Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, Capcom vs. SNK, the SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash series, Capcom Fighting Evolution/Jam, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Project X Zone 2).
This work provides examples of:
- 20 Minutes into the Future: Despite much of the fantastical futuristic wonders and capabilities humankind of the 24th Century have to offer, not very much has changed in terms of human psychology or society:
- Hayato's backstory deals with capitalist economic disparity and the societal effects of corporate monopolization, including child abandonment and a rise in crime due to unfair practices and unequal employment. Neo Tokyo soon becomes a true Blade Runner-esque city upon being bought out as a solution to Japan's economic recession by a foreign megacorporation, and it's implied that Hayato's parents, among others, were forced to abandon him due to the job disparity. Further exacerbating this is Japan's stigma against orphans, and how this still continues into the future. Hayato was even framed for an act of murder he did not commit when he was a street urchin.
- June's backstory deals with racial and political discrimination, and how even in the future, it's still lonely at the top, and how everyone is still cold and distant to each other. Although June's life was easygoing, fair, and privileged, it's implied that she had little, to no friends, due to her half race heritage. Even if she did have friends in Hong Kong, the few of them would probably never see her again because of the die hard fervor for a "new age China", along with the potentially horrifying events that would occur with a Second Cultural Revolution. Even fleeing to the UK the years after, racial tensions would be probably at an all time high due to the refugees into the UK, and June would likely be forced to keep herself distant to not risk being found as a former Hong Kong national, or worse and most likely, was harassed due to this. Even being a celebrity is not without the pain of being seemingly distant on a pedestal in the 2300s, as June presumably went through all of the motions of the less than glamorous days of stardom. Upon her parent's deaths, she loses the few people in her life she truly loved in this tumultuous time, and she even considered killing herself before even joining Star Gladiator and after hearing of the prison escape of Bilstein.
- Gamof's backstory deals with how human gluttony and negatively affecting new civilizations still continues into the future to alien races. Although his race's first contact with humankind was peaceful, the criminal underworld soon found a new drug in the defensive ecology that outclassed even morphine and heroin. Soon into corrupting his government and overharvesting it because of the large amount of money it drew in, this destroyed De Rosa's forests and Gamof's own livelihood as a lumberjack.
- Gore's backstory shows how abuse and unloving families, and their far reaching effects, still exist into the far future. For the literal want of a nail, Gore was abused and harassed by his large family for simply being seemingly mentally handicapped. When Gore manifested his Plasma Magic powers that had soon outclassed his father's own and eclipsed his previous fame, his father had then sought to seal his powers and potentially kill Gore out of jealousy. Because of this lack of love, Gore killed his father and was led into becoming Bilstein's assistant after he searched him out. Gore may be evil due to the path he took, but it would say leagues otherwise should his family had not been the abusive and uncaring horde they were.
- Bilstein is probably something of a literal lampshade hanging of the issues of Star Gladiator at its core. Operation Paperclip was a real US covert operation that hired Nazi scientists to continue their work for the potential of space exploration and flight, and German American Bund communities were a very real thing into the time of World War II. Bilstein is also the example of why mad scientists and individuals who like to imitate Darth Vader are not your friend: they likely have very questionable ethics, or little to none of them, they are sociopaths and serial killers in a different way, have severe mental problems, and are an example of how science can be abused in the favor of evil people.
- Plasma Power itself is not without its issues, and is practically an indirect cause of the series' main scenario. Plasma Power itself was derived from Nazi experiments on concentration camp internees to find and correlate the source of magic, and was implied to be not just a superpower exploited into a weapon, but evidence of the "supreme Ayran godhood and superiority" that the Nazis prided themselves on. Into the future where Bilstein unearthed it after a few centuries, it's also documented that rather than mankind be at the threat of alien races that were belligerent and malevolent and to demonstrate a strong self defense deterrent, Plasma Power was to establish mankind with the bigger and badder weapon should no race subjugate themselves to its demand.
- Amazing Technicolor Battlefield: The Plasma Vortex stage of the final fight against Ghost Bilstein in the original Star Gladiator.
- The Cameo: Ryu makes a surprising cameo appearance in Gantetsu's true ending from within Plasma Sword. Of course, it could either be a cosplayer or Ryu's own descendant from within the ending itself.
- City Planet: The said fate of Earth after the events of Plasma Sword. It has been said it was so bad, those wanting a glimpse of nature would have to travel to other planets to experience its beauty again.
- Dramatic Thunder: The Top of the Fourth Empire's Flying Fortress stage of the last battle against Bilstein in the original Star Gladiator.
- Dummied Out: The first game featured a few unused models for combatants, the most of amusing of these being a MS-09B Dom.
- The Empire: The Fourth Empire
- The Federation: The Earth Federation.
- The Force: Plasma Power.
- Laser Blade: Everyone and their mother uses weapons composed of plasma.
- Moveset Clone: Ten of the new characters who were added in the sequel have the exact same moves of the 10 returning characters.
- Multiple Endings: Both games use this particular trope. In Star Gladiator, the player must beat the game from within a specific amount of time in Arcade Mode so that they can go on to fight the True Final Boss of the game or else they'll get a false ending when they defeat Bilstein. In Plasma Sword, whether or not you get enough Battle Ability points from within Arcade Mode determines your character's ending. If they don't have the specific amount of Battle Ability points needed when you get to Stage 8, they get an abridged (false) ending, while defeating the eight opponent and having the specific amount of Battle Ability points grants an extra special battle against each character's True Final Boss, which yields the extended, true conclusion of that person's storyline.
- Whole Plot Reference: To Star Wars, natch. The characters use lightsaber-esque weapons, and Hayato and Blistein are respectively the expy of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, minus the familial ties.
- A Winner Is You: Sort of in the first game. Should you not be able to defeat Bilstein from within a certain time limit in the game, you would end up getting a generic text scroll epilogue that quickly wraps up the plot. However, if you're able to succeed in defeating Bilstein from within a certain amount of time in Arcade Mode, you would then be taken to a True Final Boss fight against Ghost Bilstein and be given a one chance opportunity to defeat Ghost Bilstein and see your chosen character's own true ending.
- Zeerust: Not exactly in technology per say, but June's backstory has it, as her Hong Kong was still under British rule. The game was released nearly a year before the official transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong on July 17th, 1997.