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CONSOLE: PlayStation DEVELOPER: Techno Soleil PUBLISHER: Techno Soleil
RELEASE DATE (JP): December 13, 1996 GENRE: Shmup
// review by SoyBomb

Zero Wing, meet another shmup with an unintelligible story.

I have to admit two things. Shmups come a dime a dozen, and I can't finish any of them. But what I just said is a lie, or at least part of it. I was able to finish Gaia Seed. And, considering my vastly inferior shoot-em-up skills, that's very telling of the difficulty level of this game. But it has given me the confidence I so sorely need for this genre. And that was the happiest day of my life.

The end.

...

...Oh, alright. Gaia Seed: Project Seed Trap was released in 1996 for the original PlayStation. Its developer, Techno Soleil, was still in its infancy when this game popped up. However, it very subtly crossed the radar of the Japanese gaming community, easily buried beneath a pile of more grandiose releases of the time (around Christmas time, too -- awww). No overseas publisher showed any interest, and as a result, Gaia Seed quietly fell victim to obscurity. But this isn't 1996 anymore. No, this is the new millennium and the digital age! It's far easier to get games distributed nowadays through the magical power of *drumroll* the Internet! So, fourteen years later, enter Monkey Paw Games, a new publisher whose mission is to bring retro gaming back and revive long lost Japanese games (for a reasonable price, no less). If you have at least two brain cells to rub together, you can tell that one of those game is Gaia Seed: Project Seed Trap, which was implanted onto the PlayStation Network in September 2010. Seeing a cool opportunity and taking it, I downloaded this one, just to see what all the hubbub is about.

I'd better get this out of the way, pronto: the introduction is pretty damn sad. Not sad as in tear-jerking and emotional. Sad as in pathetically awful. Although the game was developed in Japan and the introductory sequence has Japanese text along the side, the narration is in English. Well, it is and it isn't. Yes, the words that are being relayed are in English, but the narrator CLEARLY has never spoken a word of the language. He speaks slowly... quietly... as if contemplating how he will say the next phrase... But seriously, hire an English voice actor (or someone moderately fluent) for twenty bucks instead of making your product look silly. Gaia Seed is the spiritual successor to Zero Wing in a sense. Makes you wonder why Techno Soleil went out of business without any major hits.

There's really no better way to illustrate than to enjoy it for yourself:

But beyond the pathetically translated intro, which so poorly describes the plot that I couldn't summarize it if I tried, there lies a horizontal shoot-em-up, not unlike any other. As in other shmups, you fly a ship through barrages of floating objects, along with enemy ships and their seemingly endless wave of projectiles. Naturally, blasting them out of the sky and/or dodging to the best of one's ability is the only way to survive. Progressing requires some sweet shooting skills, so upgrades to your primary and secondary weapon are available through powerups that appear periodically (in different coloured variants for somewhat unique weapons). But, as I said, it's a very easy shmup; I was able to complete it with lives and continues to spare. Perhaps the reason for this lies within two principal mechanics.

First off, your shield (and thus, lifebar) constantly regenerates. So, even if the toughest of times comes your way and your ship has been pelted by too many stray bullets, if you can dodge them for a short while, your life will be refilled and, well, life will go on. That was a saving grace for me more than a few times. Secondly, Techno Soleil provided us with something called "Intense Fire", another meter on the bottom of the screen that recharges. Whenever it's full, you can whip out a wild attack that is very effective against pretty much anything on screen. Intense Fire is definitely good for getting out of jams. Together, these two features alone allowed me to survive all seven stages. Also, for some odd reason, every boss battle has a timer for you to either defeat it or survive its wrath. However, either killing it before your time runs out or letting it live (and subsequently combust on its own) makes very little difference, save for the final boss (leading to a better ending if you opt NOT to destroy it).


Wave your thrusters in the ai-ir.

For a PlayStation game, the graphics are pretty subpar, even for a game developed relatively early in the console's life cycle. Everything is done with sprites -- and not amazingly smooth or detailed ones. Granted, they do a heck of a lot with the sprites, making them rotate and resize at will (both in the foreground and background), but this is something that could have been created for the less-powerful SNES. It hardly demonstrates the abilities of the PlayStation. Was the budget really low, perhaps? Maybe that would explain the horrible introduction speech, too. Not all sound is bad -- the music is somewhat hip. The game will easily shift between funky dance music and more symphonic suites to suit its mood.

All in all, Gaia Seed is worthy of checking out if you're into the shmup scene, especially considering it never hit the shelves outside of its country of origin and, even then, it was obscure upon release. It's not the greatest game in the world of shoot-em-ups, but it's just interesting enough to be notable. I do wish they had provided English instructions with the download, however; a digital copy of the entirely Japanese manual does me absolutely no good. I also hope that Monkey Paw Games keeps up the good work and continues to flood my PS3's hard drive with more wackiness from the East!


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