Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Espgaluda (PS2)

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espgaludaConsole: Playstation 2 (Japan Only)
Released: 2004
Developer: Cave (original arcade design, port by Arika)
Publisher: Arika (PS2 version only)
Difficulty: Moderate
Price: $60-$100 (used, unknown new)
Digital Release? No

Aside from its Japan only status and the incredibly difficult pronunciation, Espgaluda (pronounced “esu-pu-galuda” in English) has so much going for it. A second generation shmup from Cave, the development studio responsible for DoDonPachi, this is when the studio began to think outside the box and expand its audience to the masses. This game is made easier than most titles in its genre with the slowing of bullets and shields to assist the player in getting familiar with the danmaku (bullet hell) genre. Wrap it all together and it truly is a shame this title has never made its way stateside because it’s much more approachable than the titles we have received.

The roots of Espgaluda stem from the arcade (and Japan) only title ESP Ra.De. (pronounced “esu-pu-rye-do”) about a group of young girls with super human powers. It all takes place in the not-too-distant future (2018) on a remote island called Tokyo-2 off the shores of an overpopulated Japan. It appears the Japanese police force is hunting down these “ESPers” that are capable of psychic powers and the story takes place over a 24-hour period of time for three escaping females. None of this matters all that much since the game was only in Japanese (not localized on the MAME versions I’ve found), but the game is notable for several reasons. For starters the fact that you control a flying girl instead of a ship or vehicle will be the first thing you notice, and given the 1998 release of the title it’s quite possibly the first time this type of character is used in a shmup. Each girl has a barrier power, which allows them to temporarily absorb the power of the bullets coming at them and then release that energy back at their opponents. Aside from that the game is relatively a standard vertical shmup with plenty of explosions, bullets to dodge, and massive boss battles.

Espgaluda is a spiritual member of the series and acts as a prequel of sorts, but you have to give me a little slack because I don’t speak Japanese and I’m piecing together a plot and game that aren’t often covered. From what I can tell it explains the story of a queen of a small and peaceful village that has special powers incredibly similar to the ones we saw in ESP Ra.De. and the king has begun experimentation to extract and implement her powers in others. At the core of this are his two children whom he infuses the powers to at a young age for the sake of conquering. Trouble begins when a senior scientist moves the kids away to an isolated location in an attempt to give them a normal life. Eventually they are found, the scientist father figure is killed for his treachery, and the kids attack the town of their father with newfound powers unleashed.

espgaluda_1This is the world you are dropped into with Espgaluda, which is unlike many shmups of its type. First of all most of the enemies are organicand the whole world has this steampunk feel of technology fused with semi- medieval aesthetics. Like its spiritual predecessor, the barrier system joins the ranks allowing you to protect yourself against oncoming bullets, especially when those crazy danmaku patters explode across the screen. The barrier may be less necessary than you think, though, because the game has a power mode that slows down its pace and enters a sort of slow-mo or “bullet time” mode when you get bombarded. This is great for those newer to the genre that need to get used to the pattern weaving required to succeed in bullet hell shmups. Not only that, but your barrier automatically absorbs bullets, unleashing a mighty auto-attack once you soak up enough, and your attacks get super charged. It’s one hell of a mode to say the least, especially because you change genders completely (although with all the Japanese I can’t understand the explanation is lost on me and it doesn’t look like the brother turns into the sister or visa versa but perhaps that’s what it is).

Either way it’s a new take on a classic genre that truthfully is a great place to start if you’re not big on shmups or are tired of not making it past the first level. Of course the tragedy is that the game was only released in Japan, but if you’re into importing or know how to access a MAME copy you should be good to go. While I must admit that it doesn’t diverge too far from a Cave shooter across the board, I like the lush and vibrant colors of the game and the training wheels its various options support. Hardcore shump fans don’t need to worry too much, though, because there are many difficulties and the game is still tough as nails even with these various options in place. I must admit, though, that with this title in the back pocket it shocks me that much more niche shooters like Otomedius and even Cave’s Deathsmiles made it to the US and Espgaluda (and its sequel on the 360) have remained locked away in the East. Perhaps the vertical perspective that wastes a large percentage of the screen is to blame?

Written by Fred Rojas

March 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

One Response

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  1. this game is great


    July 5, 2016 at 8:17 pm

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