GAMES - Article
12:44 - 30th March 2012, by Martin Mathers

Q&A - Akai Katana

If our review of Sine Mora tickled your tastebuds for some bullet hell action, then you're going to love Akai Katana - the latest crazy shoot-'em-up from the experts at CAVE. Keen to learn more, we requested an audience with the game's director, Hiroyuki Kimura, and peppered him with bullet-shaped questions until he could take no more...

NEO: When we first saw footage of Akai Katana's vintage aircraft, we immediately thought of Progear. Was this an intentional design choice by Cave, and what inspired Akai Katana's vibrant world?

Kimura-san: The reason why you thought of Progear is probably because the same person is behind the designs of the background of both titles. At CAVE, a man called Tanaka has always been designing the background and as you might agree there's a significant amount of detail and depth in his designs.

The concept of this title is the 'vibrant years of post-war Japan'. We have heavy machines throughout the game to depict the developing post-war time, and we used falling petals effect in several places to make things more colourful and vibrant."

From what we understand, the story revolves around the discovery of a dangerous new power source, a kingdom in the midst of civil war and a rebel force called the Shake Volts. What more can you tell us about this intriguing plot?

We created a rather intricate world for this title and while we would love to talk about it, it would take up way too much space so we'll just focus on the Shake Volts!

The ships of the Shake Volts are based on a real Japanese aircraft Kyushu J7W 'Shinden'. 'Shake' is a straight translation of 'shin' which means just that, and 'volt' we got from the unit used to measure electricity since 'den' means electricity.

Kinsenka is a well-balanced aircraft made for beginners. It has a simple attack system that fires straight ahead so it's good for training and getting used the game. Kochoran has a rather tricky option moves so it may take some getting used to at first, but it will give you a huge advantage if you learn how to use it properly. One of its notable features is that it can fire in multiple directions. Yaezakura's attack has a wide angle while having the ability to fire all your bullets at one point when you summon your phantom, so it's specialized for really powerful attacks.

One of Akai Katana's most interesting features is the Ninja Mode that lets you transform into human form, which is similar to Espgaluda. How does this system work and what are the advantages of being in Ninja Mode?

We wanted there to be some sort of rewards for the effort you put in in the form of more power to your attacks. You collect energy items to summon your phantom, and steel orbs to create katana. You use the items once you summon your phantom and launch powerful katana.

Dodging bullets and collecting items may be seen as enduring hardship, and launching katana can be releasing the frustration that you have built up. You'll also be rewarded by getting tonnes of items after hitting the enemies with katana so it's really exhilarating. We'd love for you to experience this feeling yourself.

It might be of use to remember that you won't immediately be damaged when you get hit while in phantom form. If you have any little bit of energy and are about to get hit, just summon your phantom and you won't even need to deploy a bomb to overcome the obstacle.

Summoning your phantom can both boost your attack and defence, so use it effectively and beat the game!

Having seen the Japanese demo of Akai Katana in action, we know that the first two stages end in a showdown with a human boss - one who can summon a battleship and another who can summon a large bomber. How many stages will the game feature and what other challenges will the player have to face?

Stage three and onwards will be just as challenging as the first two! We have armed locomotive, aircraft carrier, airship, tank, and many other obstacles to block your way. Please do play the game and see them all for yourself! There are seven stages in total. It's surely enough to keep you busy for a while.

The Shake Volts and bosses are all named after plants. Why is this?

We named the characters after plants to make them have a Japanese feel to their names. The scenario of Akai Katana is based around the concept of 'fight to win, even if it meant death' which is kind of similar to what's behind seppuku, the ritual suicide by Japanese warriors back in the day. Just like the sun rises in the morning and falls in the evening, there's an end to everything with a beginning. It's really hard to explain but I hope you get the idea.

Cave has a reputation for making bullet hell shooters that can quickly overwhelm an inexperienced player. How difficult is Akai Katana compared to Deathsmiles and DoDonPachi, and have any concessions been made for shoot 'em up beginners?

Akai Katana has a rather complicated game mechanics but once you get the hang of it, it should be easier than the other titles. You can summon your phantom to overcome obstacles.

For those who still find it difficult, there's Novice mode that lets you easily perform pro-like moves. Master the steel orbs and katana and you'll be ahead in no time!

There are three versions of Akai Katana: the original, Akai Katana Shin and Zetsu Akai Katana. How are they different from each other and will they all feature in the European release?

Of course everything in the Japanese version will be featured in the European release!

The Origin mode is the port of the original game created for arcades in Japan, and it has the phantom function that blocks enemy bullets in defence mode and extinguish enemy fire in attack mode. Climax (Zetsu) mode is the tuned and refined version of the Origin mode with the compatibility with widescreens. Slash (Shin) mode was created especially for Xbox 360 and its game mechanics are a more simple version of that of the Origin mode, with major changes to how summoning your phantom works and extra strategic elements with use of steel orbs and katana.

As we understand it, the Shin version has a unique mechanic that lets you shoot katana projectiles. How does this work?

Katana appears when you beat enemies using the steel orbs while in phantom form, and collecting a certain number of them will give you the ability to shoot them at enemies. It is a very strong weapon that penetrates through enemies and also gives you huge bonus points.

What other game modes will Akai Katana offer? Will there be a two player mode?

I'm afraid there are only those three modes available. But we are proud to say we are offering you our best effort and we would really love you to play this game for a long time. There is a two player in the Origin mode, but Climax and Slash modes are solely for one player.
We had initially planned two player mode for all three modes, but we had to scrap the idea in order to make as many items appear in one screen as possible.

We assume that Akai Katana will have online leaderboards, but is that the full extent of the Xbox Live integration?

You can upload your play movie and watch other people's too so exchanging infos with other players could really help you improve your skills. The game also has several challenging achievements for players to unlock.

What's the most interesting thing you can tell us about the development of Akai Katana that nobody outside of CAVE will know?

It would have to be the battleship that the first stage boss summons. It actually was not intended to come spinning towards the player and initially we were more than surprised to see it do that, but it seemed to work. I'm sure we have all seen enemies that come charging at you but we bet there was never one that throws battleships at you.

What's been the hardest thing about developing Akai Katana?

Creating the setting and back stories of each character and choosing the weapons that bosses use. It also took us a significant amount of time and effort to come up with and create the whole 'phantom' mechanics as well.

Finally then, as a Japanese developer in an increasingly global market (thanks to things like digital distribution), how much attention do you lend to the western market and the differing tastes of gamers around the world?

Different markets may have different languages and cultures, but as long as they play our games we will always do everything we can to give you the best we have to offer. We would love for more people around the world to play our games and we will continue to try to create great games for our fans.

Akai Katana for Xbox 360 is due for release by Rising Star Games in the first half of 2012.

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