From the arcades of the past! Games of yesteryear – Gaiapolis

Gaiapolis Title Screen

Gaiapolis had a neat intro sequence partly thanks to the stirring track behind it.

Gaiapolis, Entopous, or “Gaiapolis – Koganedaka no Ken” (Gaiapolis – Sword of the Hawk) as it was known in Japan, is something of a quiet, relatively unheard of arcade classic from Konami’s stable of beat ’em ups.

Out in 1993, Konami’s top-down action fantasy had plenty of simple, smash up pugilism layered over RPG elements such as leveling up, collecting weapons and loot, and a huge story. The last is no exaggeration – compared to how stories were generally handled by similar arcade games of the day, Gaiapolis’ tale and the animated pixel art panels backing it were something that you might have found instead in an embellished console port.

The game had twists that were natural for a storied fantasy coming out from Japan, themes that would be reflected again and again in titles such as Sega’s Panzer Dragoon series years later on the Saturn. It featured two-player co-op and you could pick from three different characters with slightly varied abilities – a dragon warrior, the fairy fighter, and a knightly prince. All three are friends on a quest to save the land from an insidious empire seeking to awaken a terrible weapon from the distant past.

Gameplay used a top-down perspective, similar to Data East’s Dark Seal in 1990, and controls were button-mashingly easy to master. One triggered whatever spell you picked up for super damage, another did the bashing or slicing, and another sent your guardiant out into the fray when you picked one up.  Movement was handled with the eight-way stick, though special combat combos could be triggered with it in combination with the melee attack as well.

Drops consisted of loot for scoring to guardian “eggs” that gave you a follower that tagged along. Special shields can also be collected hidden away in each level to add to the passive defense you have and levels added more health to your character as experience accumulated with every attack. Both the prince and the dragon warrior  slashed with swords while the fairy bashed enemies with her tonfas, but otherwise, there was no real disadvantage to picking one character over the others other than looks. Personally, I thought the dragon guy was the coolest out of the bunch. As for baddies, they ranged from fierce fighters to a mix of demons, monsters, and steampunkish bosses like transforming tanks or a giant bronze fish.

There were around 17 stages that would be explored to recover three keys that would take the party up to Gaiapolis. Some of these would be only boss battles, while one is actually a round trip back to one of the starting areas in order to unlock a vault of weapons. All of these were filled not only with action, but optional rooms that you could enter if you found them, all filled with extra goodies making them worth the effort. One stage towards the end even put you on a floating saucer racing down a futuristic highway.

Twists began revealing themselves when the game switched to a “world map” cutscene to show where the group would be heading next. Progressing through the game, coastlines approximating Asia, India, and North America slipped into view with the dawning realization that the story’s setting might not actually be taking place on another world. Cutting across the southern half of what might have been the United States is what seemed to be a thousands mile long scar inflicted on the surface of the planet by something unspeakably powerful.

More was revealed when players made it to the city of “Atlantica” where, in another cutscene, they met a robot built by humans that had been waiting for them. In the distance, the towering spires of a mighty, ruined city, loomed long shadows across a vast graveyard as the machine related the tale of a terrible cataclysm in the past – war – that ultimately destroyed civilization. Countless years had apparently passed for a medieval one to finally rise up from the ashes, though with obvious differences. The dragon warrior and the elfin fairy were probably mutants, but it’s not told to the player – only implied. Their ultimate destination was a floating city named Gaiapolis which was apparently a super-weapon from the ancient days that survived and where the final fight would take place.

The graphics weren’t bad for an arcade game in the early 90’s and featured artistic flourishes like animated story panels and other dramatic effects during gameplay including synthesized voice samples and a fantastic soundtrack. One of the stages, the Dark Corridor, took place in a seemingly bottomless, 3D-ish chasm with walls on both sides decorated with art apparently inspired by Mesoamerica. Gaiapolis and any associated tech seemed to have that direction ingrained within most of their pixels.

A password feature allowed players to pick up where they might have left off which was an unusual option to have in an arcade game as it was something that might have been more at home in a console port. Unfortunately, Gaiapolis is a Konami classic that has never found its way into a collection or a cartridge – at least, not through legal means. Thin Chen Enterprise, or Sachen, was a Taiwanese company that created games for Nintendo’s Famicom. The thing was, they weren’t licensed to do so but they made the games anyway (and even borrowed a few pieces from existing ones made by others) and had even ported a few titles…like Gaiapolis…also in the early 90s which are considered to be pirate ports for the same reasons.

It’s disappointing that there’s really little else aside from screenshots and scans of the operating manual, but it also illustrates the problems that preservation efforts continue to face. Right now, the only way to play the game is to either find your own arcade hardware (And on this page, the kanji seems to translate over as “Search of the Golden Hawk instead”), grab a copy of Sachen’s Gaiapolis port for your Famicom (which differed from the arcade version as a number of others did in those days), or resort  to MAME where the ROM has been preserved and emulated. Other than that, it’s a relatively unknown title that not many may ever hear about. And that’s too bad. Gaiapolis isn’t the best or most awesome beat ’em up on the block, but as an epic fantasy adventure blending action and RPG bits together within a halfway decent story as far as arcade games go, it’s unarguably unique.

And a lot of fun.

6 responses to “From the arcades of the past! Games of yesteryear – Gaiapolis

  1. Most of the video games from back in the 1980’s were the best and most iconic gaming platforms ever. The simplicity alone made many of those classic video games very “family” friendly. Today’s video games are a little more complicated, which may exclude certain members of the family. Yes, Gaiapolis was one of Japan’s finest games ever, but not too many people heard of it here in the States!!!!

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