Interview: Getting to the core of Otomedius Excellent

Last week, Konami released the inscrutable Otomedius Excellent in North America. You might have missed the release, as it was delayed until the absolute busiest game release season of the year, allowing it to fly into retail undetected. It's a Gradius-inspired side-scrolling shooter for Xbox 360 starring anime girls dressed as spaceships. It was released in both standard and limited editions, the latter including your very own Otomedius pillowcase.

Naturally, we had questions. Questions like "Pillowcase?" and "what?" After the break, Konami staff, including producer Koji Igarashi -- who you may know from a certain other whip-smart Konami series -- help us understand Otomedius Excellent.%Gallery-139092%

Despite the polygonal graphics and "moe" artwork, Otomedius Excellent has more in common with classic shooters like Gradius than modern "bullet hell" shooters in which players are forced to dodge screen-filling curtains of projectiles. In fact, the name is a portmanteau of "otome" ("maiden") and "Gradius."

"The previous title, Otomedius Gorgeous, was more like a 'bullet hell' type of shooter, but we adjusted Otomedius Excellent to be more "retro' style," producer Koji Igarashi told Joystiq. "Nowadays, we don't see that many 'retro'-type shooters, so this will be familiar for old fans as well as be a new experience for the side scrolling shooter genre." Associate brand manager Pearl Lu calls it a "highly accessible shoot-em-up." While the game may be accessible, the look gives it an unmistakable "niche" quality. Otomedius series character designer (and Sgt. Frog creator) Mine Yoshizaki explained the playable characters and their outfits -- parts of spaceships like Gradius's Vic Viper, worn as clothing by flying, shooting anime girls.

"Their costumes are front-line battle uniforms," Yoshizaki told us. "But since they are ordinary girls when they are not fighting Bacterians, their tastes are taken into consideration when it comes to their costumes. So they are not too austere."

Yoshizaki provided further narrative justification for the outrageous costumes, showing a surprising amount of forethought about them. "The reason why the costumes are more exposed in the front is because that part has a lot of life energy called 'chakra,'" he explained. "To make the distance between their chakra and space as close to zero as possible, unfortunately, they must wear some revealing costumes." They may look revealing or embarrassing to us, but that only proves our ignorance of the logistics of space battles.

If you buy the Special Edition, you'll be able to see these entirely practical outfits on the characters in an artbook, as well as on ... a pillowcase. "When we were thinking of putting together the Special Edition," Lu said, "we were trying to come up with things fans would like. We had this beautiful artwork with Mine Yoshizaki, so we wanted to do something interesting and fun that would show it off. Also, one of the Japanese special editions comes with a bedsheet, so our super hardcore fans can have a full bed set." See? Practical through and through.

That physical release, coming at a time when many shmups are going digital, was a risk for Konami, Lu said -- as was the more extravagant special edition. "A bunch of us put a lot of time and effort into making this release a reality stateside," she added. "We all hope people enjoy it!"

This article was originally published on Joystiq.