Sunday, September 18, 2016

All you need to know: Sankyo's Symphogear slot machine

For the past month you've seen the videos and pictures floating around. Symphogear characters in new outfits, with new scenes and new dialog...all from a slot machine? Yes, the most recent development for the series may seem rather peculiar, but it's actually run of the mill here in Japan.

Ever since Symphogear G ended in 2013 there were rumors that the pachinko company Sankyo was developing a Symphogear slot machine. The rumors went on for years, and when GX came and went without any announcement I was convinced it would never happen. However, in June of this year a formal announcement came and just last month the machines were released all over Japan.


Upon looking at it most of us would probably think: Well, that's cool...but what exactly is a "pachislot" machine and why did they make one for Symphogear?

Let me start by explaining that this all begins with "pachinko," a popular mechanical game in Japan that's kind of like a pinball machine, but without flippers. Players buy small balls to put into the machine to play it. The balls drop down from the top and depending on if they fall into the right spot then the player can win tokens which can be exchanged for prizes. It's entirely a game of chance.

An example of an anime themed pachinko machine

Gambling is illegal in Japan, but these machines are the closest you can get (and often "prizes" can be exchanged for money depending on where you go). The popularity of these machines resulted in the construction of many "pachinko parlors" which are basically the Japanese version of a casino. However, a casino filled entirely with one machine would be boring and so that eventually led to the development of Japanese original slot machines as well, called "pachislots."

The Symphogear slot machine

Of course, when it comes to Japan one of the most effective ways to draw people to your products is by making it themed around something. It's not uncommon for pachinko and pachislot machines to be based off of a popular TV show, idol group, anime or even video game. Sankyo is a company that has been in the business for a long time (since the 1970s), and they've put out machines based on a number of properties: Macross, Aquarion, Ultraman, Evangelion, Infinite Stratos, Gundam and now Symphogear. You might notice that a number of those series were animated by Satelight, which is not a coincidence. Satelight is actually a division of a larger company, Sankyo Group, which of course includes the same company that makes these machines.

Before the release of the machine, Sankyo posted a promotional video that detailed the behind-the-scenes development of the Symphoslot, and there was quite a lot of interesting information. Firstly, they explain the reason behind their decision to make a Symphogear themed machine: because an employee suggested it. The development director explained that one of his staff was a big fan of Symphogear and they thought that Symphogear's music and style would match perfectly with a slot machine. So they drafted a proposal and sent it to their bosses. Since Sankyo and Satelight are under the same umbrella, they had no problem getting the necessary approval to make it a reality.

The design team went through a lot of trouble to make sure the machine would appeal to fans and non-fans alike. While not straying far from the basic design of a slot machine, they made every possible aspect of it themed after Symphogear, even down to the symbols that appear on the reels. They also made sure to include 37 of the songs from throughout the series.

The Symphoslot machine is a type they call an "ART" machine, which stands for "Assist Replay Time." Basically it means that in addition to regular play there are different "stages" that the game will enter, some of which assist the player in hitting the right symbols necessary to either win tokens or continue replaying. To enter these stages the player has to wait for a "chance" opportunity to appear and then hit the right symbols needed to succeed. Each of these "chance" opportunities takes the form of the characters attempting to do something and then either succeeding or failing depending on the player's performance.

Tsubasa: You should come to my concert tomorrow too, Yukine.
Chris: I hate singing!
Chris: Well, since she went out of her way I guess I'll hold on to it.
Chris: Hold she waiting for me?
Hibiki; Chris-chan!
Chris: I had nothing better to do, so here I am.
Hibiki: I'm so glad you came!
Chris: H-hey!
Hibiki: Let's go!
Chris: I've finally found a place where I can belong...!


Hibiki: Oh no!
Hibiki: There are people in trouble!
Hibiki: Hang tight, I'll help you!


Tsubasa: Where's my outfit!?
Tsubasa: It's not this one...
Tsubasa: There it is!
Tsubasa: I've got to hurry!
Tsubasa: That was a close call...
Tsubasa: There's a puddle here...
Tsubasa: That's not enough to stop me!
Tsubasa: I want to instill courage in everyone with my songs!


Once a player succeeds in passing one of these chance opportunities then they will be taken to one of the special stages. These include: "Song Battle," "Live Challenge," "Live Bonus," "Big Bonus," "Gear Burst," and "Symphogear Rush." During normal play there are two base stages: Lydian Music Academy and the Shopping Mall. Then there are 3 "buildup" stages: Div 2 headquarters, Noise Attack and Kadingir Ruins. During normal play there is also a music meter that builds up over time which can also push the player into a special stage when full.

Example of a Live Challenge

Example of a Song Battle

Obviously for a lot of this to happen it was necessary for Satelight to draft and animate new content. In the promotional video from Sankyo there is actually a brief behind-the-scenes look at the work they do in studio. They also mention that only a small fraction of the sound was reused from the show and the majority of it was freshly recorded just for use with the machine. According to the actors, the dialog for the slot machine was actually recorded before they even started working on GX!

During the "Gear Burst" segment of the game, some of Symphogear's iconic "special attacks" are displayed on screen. This actually also includes Hibiki who never had any official attacks in the show. According to the Sankyo video, the staff requested that Kaneko and Agematsu come up with some original attack names just for use with the slot machine. These include: "Hibiki Impact" "Hibiki Full Power" and "Hibiki Combination." Other characters have new moves too, such as Maria's "Black Shade." 

Pachinko and Pachislot is a popular hobby in Japan (or perhaps it's better to say addiction). A lot of people spent many hours in pachinko parlors and sometimes you can even find a few of the slot machines in regular arcades. Believe it or not, for some people this is actually how they are introduced to anime. There is a whole subculture of people who are attracted to certain machines because of the chances of a good payout. Sanko knows that not only is this an opportunity to attract existing fans into playing pachislot, but it's also an opportunity to get people from the pachislot community interested in Symphogear. They ran a pretty impressive ad campaign for the machine by sponsoring an official boxing match in Japan, where the logo was not only present on the floor of the ring, but also on the back of the shorts of one of the boxers!

If you're in Japan and want to try the slot machine, it's not difficult to find if you search locations via the official site. However, there are also plenty of videos on youtube you can check out if you want to experience it that way instead. Occasionally, popular pachislot and pachinko machine games are actually released as console games for play at home. This is true for popular franchises like Evangelion, Fist of the North Star, etc. So there is hope that one day in the future the Symphogear slot machine might see a console release so you can enjoy all that unique extra content.

I personally have not tried the machine for myself yet, I tried once but all 14 machines were already in use when I found them. Pachinko parlors tend to be super noisy and smell like smoke so they're not the most comfortable places to hang out in. Some day down the road I intend to try again just for the experience, but to be honest I don't expect to enjoy it very much. I'm always happy when Symphogear gets new content and more publicity, but I'm sad that so much effort went into something that most of us will hardly ever experience. At least it will help nurture and grow the fanbase for its future success, or at least that's what I hope.

1 comment:

  1. I wish there are more online slots with the anime themes!