puniher.jpgWhile bicycle riding, have you ever thought, "I really need a helmet to scare away girls?" Well, Japanese game developer Gust has just the merchandise for you. You can even get hers and his t-shirts designed make you look the part of the hero. And when you get slapped by the ladies, no problem, Gust's got your back with slime-branded bath salts designed to melt those cares away with hot water. That's not all!

At night, use your very own talking fairy to console you. With recordable messages, you can even make it say, "I'm the only one who loves you just as much as mom does!" As many small gaming companies do, such as Nippon Ichi, Gust offers a wide variety of overpriced merchandise to their hardcore to help them stay in business and produce all those fantastic-looking 2D games.

Just who is Gust, though? Their employees show up to work in furry hats and baggy pantaloons, playing pan flutes, lutes and bagpipes to their computers until a game pops out. Their office is a forest treehouse called Salburg (Japanese language link) where they frolic with the kind animals on lunch breaks.

Okay, Gust is known for making vibrant and unique, yet extremely soft and sweet console RPGs, usually of very high quality. They perhaps got off on the wrong foot with American gamers when their first game to reach these shores, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana was a calculated, by-the-numbers, mediocre RPG, having little of the individuality of their earlier titles. Luckily, they seem to be having a renaissance of sorts. Their January release in collaboration with Banpresto, Ar Tonelico (Japanese language link), an opera-singing battle maiden apocalyptic floating tower psychological dungeon hack, has left gamers effusive with praise for the title.

Better yet, their Atelier series of alchemy and shop-keeping PlayStation 2 RPGs seems to be getting back on the right track. The newest, Atelier Iris: Grand Fantasm, splits the narrative into two sides. On one side, there is Iris Fortner who runs the shop and does alchemy, making items. On the other side, there's a member of a mercenary group named Edge Vanhite who goes out on missions. These missions take our hero to the Ancient Grimoire Castle, a very Castlevania-esque beauty, as well as a variety of other worlds, whose exploration Gust claims is a return to the non-linear and open-ended style of the earlier titles. Edge always has a time limit in these other worlds before he must return to Ze Meles, a huge city where Iris concentrates on running that shop. The game will also bring back an emphasis on the more interesting alchemy shop part, and includes what looks to be a very cool class system based on fusing with spirits found in the wild.

The official site has a pretty nice movie (Japanese language link) up for those who are curious. The game is scheduled to be released June 29th in Japan and will come packaged with nightingale feathers, chocolate and fluffy bunnies. Honest. [Oh, and the 2005 release Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana 2 is due out in the States in the near future, too.]