When we last left our heroes, a trio of games for the first Sony Playstation had reignited “Yamato Fever” after a fifteen-year dormancy. The rollout of Playstation 2 happened a good six months before the third PS1 game, Tracks of Heroes, appeared in September 2000. Right there in its art gallery bonus feature was the promise of more to come—new versions of mecha seen in Be Forever Yamato.
It was unmistakably the work of design veteran Kazutaka Miyatake, and it could only mean one thing: more Yamato games were on the way. The best-kept secret about them was not that only when they would appear, but exactly what they would deliver: a whole new branch of continuity that no one could predict—except for Leiji Matsumoto.
It was clear from a 1980 magazine interview that creative differences with producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki were starting to weigh on Matsumoto. Many of his ideas for Be Forever Yamato were tangential to the plot that was being developed by others, and from that point onward his role in the saga was reduced to that of a consultant.
During the production period of the Playstation 2 games, his position as a Yamato copyright holder was reduced to visual rights only, but his close relationship with Bandai ensured that Matsumoto would continue to consult for the game content. The result was a new trilogy that combined The New Voyage and Be Forever into The Dark Nebula Empire Series. Though not all of Matsumoto’s early ideas were applied to the story (it doesn’t take place 200 years in the future, for one thing), enough new twists were thrown in to keep the story fresh without losing the spirit of the original source material.
The expanded capacity of the PS2 platform had tremendous benefits; higher resolution made images sharper, faster processing speed added more gameplay options such as first-person shooter environments, and greater data storage did wonders for the CG marionette sequences. Add to all that an imaginative new take on a classic Yamato story and you have a recipe for greatness.
Game 1: The Reminiscences for Planet Iscandar
Bandai, October 2004
Shown above left is the standard version of the game. Above right is the deluxe version, which came in a slipcase designed to hold all three of the PS2 games. Also included in the case was a special DVD containing all the animated cutscenes from the first Playstation game (totaling about 25 minutes) and an 30-minute story digest for this new game.
Reminiscences expanded on The New Voyage in many interesting ways, transforming it into a 13-stage story with several new battle scenarios. In addition to this, the original journey to Iscandar was revisited in a four-stage bonus game that utilized the PS2 environment and gave fans yet another look at the original.
See a gallery of stills from the bonus game here
See portions of the bonus game on YouTube here:
As the main story begins, the cadets board Yamato and we are introduced to two new characters created especially for the game: female Cosmo Tiger pilot Shiina and bespectacled assistant engineer Tochiro Oyama (whose name should be very familiar to Matsumoto fans). The initial training cruise is far more elaborate than in the anime; a revitalized Earth fleet commanded by Captain Yamanami in a carbon-copy of the Andromeda joins Yamato for maneuvers near Jupiter. The fleet also includes a souped-up version of the Yukikaze (Mamoru Kodai’s ship from Series 1), which will have a role to play in later games. To everyone’s surprise, they are ambushed by a renegade Comet Empire fleet that somehow escaped the previous game!
Dessler and his remaining troops return to Gamilas in time to catch the Dark Nebulans doing their dirty work to strip-mine the battered planet, and a battle quickly boils up. As in the film, Kodai and company get the distress call from Dessler and this time it is Captain Yamanami who releases Yamato to answer. This sets into motion all the action of the movie and climbs to new heights when Yamanami’s fleet reappears later to even the odds against the enemy!
The story ends as it does in the movie, but the epilogue is now placed on the surface of a planet rather than the orbit of a red sun. Dessler and Kodai exchange their thoughts and observe Earth and Gamilas soldiers helping each other to recover, giving them greater hope for the future. But, of course, the future is going to get a whole lot darker in the next game.
See a gallery of stills from Game 1 here:
See the opening title of this game (with a cover of the Yamato theme) here
See a commercial and a 6-minute promotional trailer here
Above left: front cover of the instruction book that came with game 1. At right: Complete Guide for game 1, published by Enterbrain (Dec. 2004). Identical guidebooks were published for all three PS2 games. They are heavy on charts and maps, which makes them more utilitiarian than collectible, but in the absence of meatier fare, they provide a good look at the continued evolution of Yamato in this new format.
Game 2: Counterattack of the Dark Nebula
Bandai, January 2005
Shown above left is the standard version of the game. Above right is the deluxe version, which came bundled with a 54-minute CD containing music from game 1 (a mix of both cover tracks and new ones) and a 64-page art book. Measuring just 5.5″ x 7.75″, this mini-hardcover is the only published source for character and mecha designs from the PS2 games. Some of the art appears in the guidebooks from Enterbrain, but only a small percentage.
Counterattack of the Dark Nebula covers roughly the first half of Be Forever Yamato with a few new twists that help to expand the story to 12 stages of gameplay. There are only seven and a half minutes of newly-animated cutscenes, but the quality has never been higher. Like Reminiscences, it also contains a bonus game; a two-stage revisit to the Comet Empire story brings the Battle of Saturn and the showdown with Dessler to the PS2 platform, allowing everyone to enjoy an upgrade in both graphics and performance.
Right out of the gate, this game stakes out new territory with a first-person shooter format that fills out the entire opening stage; after the Dark Nebula’s invasion of Earth, various members of the Yamato crew fight their way through a network of underground tunnels on their way to a fateful rendezvous point that puts them on different paths for the rest of the story. The shooter format is a first for Yamato games and is relatively easy to play for those on the wrong side of the language barrier.
Yamato launches into action in stage 2, and from that point on the missions alternate between space and Earth. The Earth-bound missions feature the resistance fighters lead by the EDF commander as they conduct operations against Dark Nebula troops and gain information that will pay off later. Yuki figures strongly in this storyline, of course, and is joined by helmsman Kitano, who piloted Yamato in The New Voyage. Both characters are playable, along with a new Marine officer named Taku Yoshinoma.
There are a lot of new things happening on Yamato simultaneously. Mamoru Kodai is placed on a very different path—escaping from Earth and taking the captain’s chair on the bridge! Tochiro Oyama is back along with everyone else, and Sasha is just as enchanting as in the movie—even moreso now that her father is in command.
Captain Yamanami is still in the mix, this time running his own ship, a Mark II Andromeda-type vessel (now sporting THREE wave-motion guns) named the Shunran. He meets up with Yamato on its way out of the solar system and tips them off about the Dark Nebula supply ship, which they then attack while he gathers together the remnants of the EDF fleet to follow them. Yamato proceeds to its way up the enemy line toward the edge of the Dark Nebula itself.
Still following movie continuity, the ship pierces the border and our TV screens fill with the overpowering grandeur of the Galaxy of Light. But there’s no Warp Dimension this time—just a credit roll and preview of the next game.
See a gallery of stills from Game 2 here:
See a mix of footage from games 2 and 3 (with different music) here
Above left: front cover of the instruction book that came with game 2. At right: Complete Guide for game 2, published by Enterbrain (March 2005).
Game 3: Collapse of the Double Galaxies
Bandai, April 2005
The third and final PS2 game has no bonus stages or deluxe packaging, just 11 white-knuckle missions (with almost 27 more minutes of amazing cutscenes) that get you to the end of the Be Forever storyline. However, this is where the new elements that were built up in the previous games begin to pay off.
The resistance forces on Earth continue to undermine the Dark Nebulan occupation army with first-person shooter scenarios that get them back into EDF headquarters. Once this is achieved, Kitano and Yoshinoma escort Yuki all the way into the core of the giant Hyperon bomb for her dramatic confrontation with Lieutenant Alphon.
Yamato, meanwhile, has been rejoined by Captain Yamanami and the remaining EDF ships (including the new Yukikaze) and deals with increasingly more powerful foes as they all close in on the heart of the Dark Nebula Empire. There is also—at last—a first-person shooter mission set inside Yamato herself, which begins when signs are discovered of an intruder on board.
This required the building of a complete 3D interior, a complete walkthrough of which can be seen here.
Following that mission and others, Yamato arrives at the duplicate Earth and things get as serious as they did in the film. And this is where the twists take us in new directions. Following the branching concept that made the Farewell to Yamato PS game so intriguing, there are two possible outcomes to Collapse of the Double Galaxies. One is essentially the same as the movie, but with far more angst over who will actually pull the trigger on the Wave-Motion Gun. The other is very different indeed: Sasha gets out alive!
The key to this new option is the souped-up Yukikaze. It turns out to have been built by Tochiro, and specific events in the game cause it to crash-land on Mechanical Planet Dezarium. In the movie continuity, Sasha lowers Dezarium’s shields from the inside, but meets with tragedy as a result. The presence of the Yukikaze provides an alternative; using it as a catalyst, Sanada and Tochiro inject a computer virus into Dezarium that disables its shields, buying time for Sasha to fly the ship to safety before Yamato‘s Wave-Motion Gun takes the fatal shot!
All of this is depicted in the final cutscene; it’s the user who puts the Yukikaze into play (or not), which in turn decides Sasha’s fate.
In each branch, her father makes a decision of his own that plays differently depending on context. He will take to the sea of stars in Yukikaze, and Tochiro insists on coming along. In the happy ending, Sasha goes along with them. In either case, Leiji Matsumoto’s original intention is fulfilled: Mamoru Kodai is finally given the chance become Space Pirate Captain Harlock.
See a gallery of stills from the game here
See stills from the branching endings here
See the Game 3 opening title (with a cover of the Yamato theme) here
Above left: front cover of the instruction book that came with game 3. At right: Complete Guide for game 3, published by Enterbrain (May 2005).
Continue exploring the PS2 games…
Read an interview with the game producers here
A word about compatibility: Playstation game discs and consoles must be a matched set. Playing Japanese games requires a Japanese console (branded NTSC-J on the bottom sticker). Playing North-American games requires a North-American console (branded NTSC U/C on the bottom sticker). If you’re unable to purchase a Japanese console from a local retailer or mail-order company, giving a North-American console a reversible, non-destructive modification may be a viable option.
Bonus: Special Products
Limited edition DVDs: The first volume (above left) was a bonus item that came with the deluxe version of game 1. It contained all the animated cutscenes from the first Playstation 1 game (The Faraway Planet Iscandar) and a story digest for the first PS2 game. Total running length: 60 minutes.
The second DVD (above right) could only be obtained by purchasing all three PS2 games and sending in the proof-of-purchase cards. It contained all the animated cutscenes for the second Playstation 1 game (Farewell to Yamato) and a selection of promotional videos for all three PS2 games. As of this writing, the PS2 cutscenes have not been released on DVD. Total running length: 50 minutes.
Posters for all three PS2 games
Above and below: mini-flyer for the final game (2-sided foldout)
Special thanks to Bill Nessanbaum for material support.