This evening (or morning, if you are in Japan), news broke out that Sega has purchased video game development company Atlus (well to be specific, the parent company that now goes by Index) for only 14 Billion Yen ($141 million USD). I kid with the ‘only’ part but the news had me thinking about their history. Atlus is known for various console games – the Persona series is a big one, they dabbled in medical games with their Trauma Center games and games they publish have been in the news recently, such as Dragon’s Crown. They have a much larger library than that but time will tell what direction the company will take under Sega / Sammy’s command.
Atlus does have some history with arcade development, from the 90s until now, although it is not as extensive as some other development houses. Most of the games were intended only for Japan, so that also may limit exposure of their brand name in arcades elsewhere. Let’s take a brief look at what they have done and who knows, under Sega’s direction perhaps a few more of their titles could come our way. I imagine this would open up the doors for them to fill up their ALL.NET + Multi service in Japan to offer stronger competition to Taito’s NESiCA; Code of Princess or Dragon’s Crown would certainly make for some welcome additions to the brawler genre which has been all but forgotten in the arcade realm these days.
Anyways, back to the history. The company was founded in 1986 and they would produce or publish games for every major system on the market, with some affection towards Nintendo. In 1991 one of their games from the NES would show up on arcades through the Nintendo VS. system, the forgotten-by-time Rockin’ Kats. That must have done well enough for them to start considering the arcade market as the following year they released a scrolling shooter by the name of BlaZeon. There were a lot of scrolling shooters on the market at the time, fueled by the popularity of R-Type but this was no mere R-Type clone. They major feature this game boasted was a ‘capture’ mechanism that allowed the player to freeze then manipulate certain enemies to use against the hordes. This was ported to the SNES, albeit with some differences.
In ’93 they ramped up arcade development with two titles – a cutesy Columns style puzzle game called Oh My God! and a fighter called Power Instinct. The PI games would prove to be the most useful creation for their arcade division, with the game getting a couple of sequels through 1997. It was their answer to games like Street Fighter II, initially looking to add more technical elements to the mix particularly with the throws. It would evolve to take a humorous approach to the genre, which was a smart way to go about throwing your chips into a market that was crowding up like congested sinuses.
The company would also produce another puzzle title in 1994 called Naname De Magic! and a 3D fighter in ;96 called Heaven’s Gate, although neither title would really drum up the business needed for Atlus to go completely head-first into arcade development.
Perhaps their most unique game for arcades in these times would be Princess Clara Daisakusen, an isometric platformer/shooter game that could perhaps be best described as Zaxxon meets Gate of Doom topped with an overabundance of cuteness.
Also in the 90s Atlus had a relationship with CAVE and was involved in a publishing role for some of their popular scrolling shooters at the time including ESP RA.DE.,DonPachi and DoDonPachi as well as Guwange. As pointed out in the comments, DoDonPachi was given an official kit release in the late 90s.
With the downturn in the late 90s/early 00’s the company pulled out of arcade development, only to turn in the late 00s. One of the first titles to bring them back was Arm Spirit, which we reported on back in July 2007 – back in our early days. Looking back at it now, this looks very similar to Andamiro’s Over The Top, perhaps Andamiro rebranded the game for a launch in the US.
We also reported on a game-in-development by Atlus in 2007 called Vulcan Wars but as far as I know, this was never released. It involved an airsoft machine gun where players would shoot real pellets at a projector screen and the huge enclosure worked to recycle the pellets back into the gun. It was a neat idea for fore-feedback but probably proved too awesome/expensive/cumbersome in the end.
One game that would make the cut was a return to the Power Instinct series, Power Instinct 5 in 2009. This would maintain the 2D look of the series but with some special effects and better animation to spruce things up.
Most recently some waves were made when Atlus and Arc Systems Works announced the development of Persona 4: The Ultimate In Mayonaka, which was released through the NESiCA download network in 2012(Japan-only for the arcade version). This was a departure for the Persona series which was primarily an RPG series; through console ports P4 has gained some attention overseas albeit not above anything like Street Fighter.
That pretty much wraps it up; as mentioned their arcade history was nowhere near as extensive as some other companies but given their library and talent who knows where they can go from here and whether any parts of the company with interest in arcade gaming will be integrated into Sega’s AM departments. I am sure most of the changes, when they do come along, will be geared more towards their home console creations. The deal won’t finalized until November so it will be a wait-and-see situation for some time.