Star Gladiator Episode I: Final Crusade (スターグラディエイター 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 Arika) by a few months. A PlayStation port was released on 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 past fighting games. Instead of the usual six-button configuration system seen in past series such as Street Fighter II and Darkstalkers, Star Gladiator utilizes a 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 a specific set of opponents from within the game. Gore is always fought at Stage 9 is a considered a sub-boss before Bilstein, who is the 10th and final opponent 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 a bad ending while defeating "Ghost Bilstein" results in the completion of the game and seeing your character's 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, all of that changes when Dr. Edward Bilstein, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, uncovers the secret to humanity's "sixth sense" and discovers how to use it as an energy source he calls "Plasma Power". Within time, Bilstein develops ambitions of universal conquest and now seeks to conquer the entire galaxy in his own accord. After failed attempts to coerce other Plasma wielders to join him in taking over the Earth, Bilstein is captured by the authorities of the Earth Federation for his inhuman heinous crimes in experimenting on innocent people with his Plasma Power and he is imprisoned in a satellite orbiting Planet Zeta. Six years later, Bilstein has built himself a powerful cyborg body and managed to escape from his prison, gathering a cadre of Plasma mercenaries at his side. After making quick work of Zeta's defenses, Bilstein sets his eyes on Earth and hopes to conquer it in due time. 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 Earth with his nascent Fourth Empire.
- Hayato Kanzaki: The main character of the series who wields a Plasma Sword in battle. He is a rebellious young Japanese man 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. This care for people is the driving force that prompts him to go 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. There are, in reality, two different Hayatos: The real Hayato has black hair and wears a black sleeveless shirt with a white vest, black pants, black gauntlets, and red boots. The other Hayato: a clone presumably created by Bilstein, known as Black Hayato (B. Hayato), has light green hair, wears a gray long-sleeve shirt with black stripes, darker gray pants, red boots, and a metallic eyepatch. Regardless of cosmetic changes, The two versions of Hayato have the same fighting style and wield a Plasma Sword in their own right.
- June Lin Milliam: One of the most talented gymnasts in the world who uses a Plasma Ring to fight with. A British girl who battles to avenge her parents' death by Bilstein's hands (she is unaware that her father is in fact Rimgal). Though having a happy-go-lucky outlook, she hides deep within her soul the pain of losing the people she loved the most. After Bilstein's defeat, she 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 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. She also makes a cameo appearance in one of Hayato's win poses in Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
- 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). Saturn makes a cameo appearance in one of Hayato's win poses in Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
- Gamof Gohgry: A brown-furred alien woodsman who is possibly inspired by Chewbacca of the Star Wars series. He hails from the forest planet of De Rosa, where he leads a tribe of his kindred and fights with a Plasma Axe. Gamof decides to join the battle against Bilstein after one of his fellow comrades, coerced by Bilstein, threatens to destroy the woodlands.
- 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 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 humanoid bird-like man that comes from the Planet Klondike and wields a Plasma Blade in battle. Zelkin fights alongside Bilstein because of his loath 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 strange sorcerer who wields a Plasma Mace in battle, Gore has no side in the fight, thanks to his own twisted and deranged desires of overtaking Earth and destroying its people. 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 villain of the series who leads the Fourth Empire and wields a Plasma Sword 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. Bilstein makes 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 has a belligerent nature, that lead him to join Bilstein, who in turn would promise to defend his home planet. 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 Sword 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.
- 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 MobyGames
- 'Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein' at MobyGames
- Star Gladiator at Museum of the Game
- Star Gladiator 2: Nightmare of Bilstein at Museum of the Game