|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players simultaneously|
Star Gladiator Episode I: Final Crusade (Japanese: スターグラディエイター Hepburn: Sutāguradietā ) is a 1996 weapon-based 3D fighting game released by Capcom for the PlayStation-based ZN-1 arcade hardware. It was Capcom's first polygonal fighting game, preceding the original Street Fighter EX (which Capcom co-produced with Arika) by a few months. A PlayStation port was released in November 1996. It was followed by a single sequel, Plasma Sword, in 1999.
The control of Star Gladiator is unique from some of Capcom's own past fighting games. Instead of the usual six-button configuration system seen in past fighting game series such as Street Fighter II and Darkstalkers, Star Gladiator utilizes a Soul series-esque four-button configuration system, which consists of two attack buttons for a character's weapon, a kick attack, and a guard defense. The fighters are able to battle upon a limited 3D plane field and a ring-out victory is possible for a fighter if they're able to knock their opponent out of the field.
Characters can initiate unique tactics seen from within this game. Plasma Reverses are two special guard moves that can be unleashed at any time from within a battle. A Plasma Reflect enables a fighter to deflect an opponent's incoming move and stun them in an instant, leaving them vulnerable for a few seconds while a Plasma Revenge enables a fighter to counterattack an opponent's incoming move and strike back with their own fast attack. Characters can also use a Plasma Strike, which can cause huge damage to an opponent if it connects on sight, but a Plasma Strike can only be done once per round.
Star Gladiator also introduces the Plasma Combo System. Through a specific string of attacks, a fighter can combo their opponent in a relentless manner, even if the opponent themselves are blocking. If a character is able to string together five hits and press a specific button from within the end of the combo, they'll be able to initiate a Plasma Final, which'll enable them to unleash a powerful technique that'll cause a strong amount of damage to be inflicted upon their opponent. This system would later be discarded in the game's sequel, Plasma Sword.
The arcade mode of Star Gladiator consists of 10 fights. Depending on who the player chooses as their character, they'll fight against a specific set of opponents from within the game. Gore is always fought at Stage 9 and is considered a sub-boss before Bilstein, who is fought at Stage 10 and is considered to being the final boss of the game. Depending on how the player got to Bilstein from within a specific time limit, the game either ends with a false ending or it continues as the player is then taken to a special battle against an unplayable computer-controlled final boss named "Ghost Bilstein". Losing to "Ghost Bilstein" results in both a bad ending and a game over while defeating "Ghost Bilstein" results in the full completion of the game and seeing your character's own true ending.
In the year 2348, humans have been exploring space for the past four centuries, and have established contact with various alien civilizations. People now emigrate from one planet to another, and life is generally good. However, some problems arise with a couple of alien races, so the Earth Federation begins its research in creating a Plasma weapon to help protect the Earth from any possible outside threats. Dr. Edward Bilstein: a Nobel Prize-winning 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 an energy source he calls "Plasma Power". The specific Plasma weapon is built, using mental power as its basis and that Bilstein is able to gain fame and fortune for the invention, but it is soon discovered by the Earth Federation that Bilstein had experimented on innocent people during his research on Plasma Power and that he's immediately arrested and exiled from Earth, being imprisoned in a satellite orbiting Planet Zeta. Word of Earth's possession of a super weapon immediately spreads throughout the galaxies and that it instantly reduces hostile confrontations while the name Dr. Edward Bilstein is completely forgotten from within the minds of everyone. However, four years later, a report from Zeta states that an Earth Federation army base from upon the planet was attacked and destroyed by a small group of rebels calling themselves the "Fourth Empire" and that Bilstein, who had built himself a powerful cyborg body and managed to escape from the satellite prison on Zeta, is the one who's leading this group of dangerous individuals. With similar reports coming from nearby planets and realizing that the specific pattern of attacks is leading right back to Earth, a panicked Earth Federation has only one recourse: to find people who could utilize Plasma Power in their own accord and attempt to stop Bilstein in a last, desperate effort before the mad genius can invade and conquer Earth and the rest of the universe with his nascent Fourth Empire. All of Earth's hopes rest in the project codenamed "Star Gladiator".
- Hayato Kanzaki: The main protagonist of the series who wields a Plasma Sword in battle. He is a rebellious young Japanese bounty hunter living on his own and caring about others – especially the children living in the orphanage in which he was raised from, and his close friends June, Saturn and Gamof. Hayato's noble love and determination for his friends is the driving force that prompts him to go up against Bilstein and the Fourth Empire. Hayato is the only character in the series to cross over in another Capcom game; in this case, Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Hayato also makes a cameo appearance in Tekkaman Blade's ending in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars. His Plasma Sword, when activated, makes a sound similar to the Lightsaber weapon of Star Wars fame.
- June Lin Milliam: One of the most talented rhythmic gymnasts in the world who uses a Plasma Ring to fight with. A British-Chinese girl of mixed race descent (her scientist father, Michael Milliam, was English, and her mother Cantonese) who battles to avenge the death of her father by Bilstein's hands (she is unaware that her father is in fact Rimgal). Even though she has a happy-go-lucky outlook, June hides deep within her soul the pain of having to lose the people that she loved the most. After Bilstein's defeat, June felt that she had nothing else to live for and tried to commit suicide, but Hayato stopped her in the end and reminded her that he and the rest of their friends had cared very much for her. With this emotional revelation, June realizes that she still has much to live for and is determined to spend the rest of her life in peace with Hayato and the others. June makes a cameo appearance in two of the background stages in Super Gem Fighter: Mini Mix, as well as the Shanghai stage in Capcom vs SNK 2. She also makes a cameo appearance in one of Hayato's win poses in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. She makes a cameo appearance in Hawkeye's ending in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as a member of the new West Coast Avengers. She can also be seen in Deadpool's ending.
- Saturn Dyer: A green-skinned cone-headed alien who has an eccentric personality towards those that meet him. He is somewhat of the comic relief in the hero group, with a clown-like attitude and a perennial ten-mile-wide smile on his face. Saturn fights with a set of Plasma Yo-Yos and is named after the planet where he comes from (but not the one present in this Solar System). Upon coming to Earth in order to enjoy his personal hobby of theater, Saturn learns about the threat of the Fourth Empire and decides to join the Star Gladiator project to help protect both Earth and his home planet. Saturn makes a cameo appearance in one of Hayato's win poses in Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
- Gamof Gohgry: A brown-furred alien who is possibly inspired by Chewbacca of the Star Wars series. He hails from the forest planet of De Rosa, where he works as a lumberjack to help support his family and fights with a Plasma Axe. When his job as a lumberjack is compromised at the hand of an Earth microbe virus that destroys nearly all of De Rosa's forests, Gamof decides to become a reluctant bounty hunter and eventually meets up with Hayato, becoming good friends with him in due time. When Gamof learns about the threat of the Fourth Empire, he decides to join the Star Gladiator project along with Hayato so that he can protect both his home planet and his family.
- Franco Gerelt: A Spanish matador who fights with a Plasma Rapier, Gerelt is a forced ally of Bilstein. Seeing the strong potential that Gerelt has within his fighting skills, Bilstein had kidnapped Gerelt's wife and daughter and threatens to kill them unless Gerelt follows his direct command. Making sure that he also had Gerelt's willingness, Bilstein had implanted a bomb in his chest, forcing Gerelt to commit horrible crimes against mankind for if he refuses, the bomb would be triggered and go off. All that Gerelt wants is to be free to save his family.
- Vector: A killer robot created by Bilstein, whose only directive is to seek and destroy every single human being while using his Plasma Gun. He makes an appearance in Roll's ending in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All Stars, where Roll reprograms the heartless robot, along with Huitzil from Darkstalkers, into a caring and loving individual who not only helps out with Dr. Light (Roll's Creator), but also, in the Japanese version of the game (known as Cross Generation of Heroes), displays a newfound affinity for human children.
- Rimgal: June's father, the former scientist Michael Milliam, turned into a dinosaur who wields a Bone Club after Bilstein experimented on him, mixing his human DNA with dinosaur DNA. He fights to try and control his transformation. However, he ultimately fails, and fearing his primal instincts will overtake his human sensitivity and end up having him kill his daughter, he kills himself in the end. He is the only regular character not to return in Plasma Sword (along with Kappah, who is a secret character).
- Zelkin Fiskekrogen: A blue humanoid bird-like man that comes from the Planet Klondike, and wields a Plasma Claw in battle. Zelkin fights alongside with Bilstein because of his loathing of humans, who nearly destroyed his humanoid bird race in a past war. He is also an old acquaintance of Hayato.
- Gore Gajah: A member of an unspecified alien race and a genius magician who wields a Plasma Mace in battle, Gore seeks to gain much knowledge about Plasma Wizardry and joins Bilstein's Fourth Empire in order to advance his own studies into Plasma Power itself. It is to be noted that his profile states he hails from Indonesia, even though he is clearly not an Earthling.
- Dr. Edward Bilstein: The main antagonist of the series who leads the Fourth Empire and wields a Plasma Broadsword in battle. He once stumbled upon a research document left behind by one of his ancestors. It described Plasma Power and how it could be derived from human emotions. Bilstein was driven by his ancestor's evil will because they were unable to complete the project and that Bilstein himself had decided to carry out their work and build the unknown Plasma weapon. However, before Bilstein could realize his evil plot, he was detected by the Earth Federation and was then arrested for violating human rights, using actual human bodies in his experiments. After escaping his prison and forming his "Fourth Empire" organization, Bilstein now seeks to conquer the entire universe and establish a new order under his own rule. This form of Bilstein, who would later be known as "Ghost Bilstein", would make a cameo appearance in Tekkaman Blade's ending in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars.
- Kappah Nosuke: An unknown turtle-like green-skinned alien that comes from Planet Kappa and wields a Plasma Spear in battle. He is based on a Japanese legendary creature known as a Kappa, which is a type of water sprite that usually inhabits various ponds and rivers throughout most of Japan. Kappah and his race are known for having a military and war-like lifestyle on their home planet and that all of them despise peace and friendship, living only for war and fighting. Kappah himself has a bitter and belligerent nature and personality, that lead him to join Bilstein and the Fourth Empire, who in turn would promise to defend his home planet from any potential outside threats. A sub-boss and secret character. He plays very similar to Gerelt barring a few specials, although the characters are in no way related. Also, he does not have a character select screen portrait in favor of a zucchini pair image instead.
- Blood Barbarians: A young man of European descent who wields a Plasma Broadsword in battle. He was taken in by Bilstein at a very young age, due to the fact that his parents were killed by the villain on account that Blood had the highest amount of Plasma Power stored in his body, and that Bilstein had wanted to use his potential on his Plasma research. Also a sub-boss and a secret character. He plays in similar respect to Bilstein, barring a few specials.
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- Star Gladiator's vocals are unique in a sense that it uses both English and Japanese voice acting. This unique vocal feature is also present in its sequel.
- In an interview with Destructoid.com, Capcom's Seth Killian mentioned that Star Gladiator was supposed to have been a Star Wars game.
- Star Gladiator at the Killer List of Videogames
- Star Gladiator 2: Nightmare of Bilstein at the Killer List of Videogames