Athena is one of the most bizarre mascots ever produced by a video game company. She's a purple-haired Japanese school girl with psychic powers, who moonlights as both a pop idol and a kung fu fighter, and also happens to be a modern day incarnation of the Greek goddess of the same name. So one has to wonder - how the hell did SNK come up with this?
It all began with an arcade game called, appropriately enough, Athena. The Japanese have a particular distaste in creating games that don't look pretty, so they interpreted Athena as a purple haired warrior who roamed the land in a bikini. I...guess that's not too strange, but it got weirder a few years down the road with another arcade game called Psycho Soldier. The Athena character was so popular in Japan that they took her, transplanted her in the future, and gave her psychic powers. She was also joined by a young boy named Sie Kensou, who was controlled by the second player. It was the first video game that featured a fully original vocal song, dubbed appropriately enough, "Psycho Soldier", sung by the popular singer Kaori Shimizu. When the game was localized, the translated version featured an English singer that wasn't exactly talented, and ended up sounding unintentionally hilarious. The game was popular in Japan. It was not popular elsewhere.
Things changed in 1994, with the introduction of SNK's newest series of fighting game, dubbed The King of Fighters. The concept was essentially a crossover between Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series, but SNK also resurrected some characters from a few of their older games, including the guys from Ikari Warriors and, of course, the Psycho Soldier crew. Athena became a shotokan fighter, similar to Ken or Ryu, except she has teleportation powers, and also an extremely annoying voice. She was also joined by Kensou, who looked remarkably different from his Psycho Soldier appearance and grew an affinity for rice balls. (The third character on the Psycho Soldier team, Chin Gentsai, was made solely for King of Fighters and doesn't come from any other game.) Their theme music was an updated version of the Psycho Soldier theme song - arranged soundtracks for each of the King of Fighters games featured full vocals and had different variations of the song. (KoF 95 didn't feature the song, and after KoF 98, SNK gave the Psycho Soldier team different themes, except for a reappearance in 2002.) Finally, in the PlayStation 2 version of King of Fighters XI, SNK has a whole new vocal theme song for Athena.
Athena Asamiya has also made cameo appearances in a few other SNK games - her and Kensou are name-checked in Crystalis as being part of a group of sages, and her likeness shows up in Baseball Stars Professional. She is also featured in her own adventure game for the PlayStation, dubbed "Awakning from an Ordinary Life". Not counting the cell phone spinoffs, there are really only three games starring Athena, which is a little strange given what a popular character she is.
The original arcade game Athena (sometimes known as Athena's Wonderland) is a game that looks great on paper, but is far too ambitious to work successfully. The idea is, you're Athena, and you're bored, so it's off to explore the land and kill things. At its core, it's your typical side-scrolling platformer, but SNK added a lot of adventure-type elements to spice things up a bit. In addition to your life meter on the side of the screen, you also have a Strength and Hit gauge, although it's hard to tell what those actually do. There's a ton of different weapons to find, including clubs, hammers, swords, and bows, along with a huge arsenal of defensive equipment, including the Dragon's Helmut to break rocks, the Armor of Braves to add protection, Icarus' shoes to allow for higher jumps, and Pegasus Wings to allow flight. Finding the correct items, most of which are hidden in destructible blocks, is paramount to success. ("Knock down Cat's paw of Monarch Dante with weapons appearing one after another." says a rather cryptic arcade flyer.)
In some ways, Athena is an action-focused variant on the ever popular (in Japan) Tower of Druaga series, except this game features a cute chick (dig those thighs) in a bikini. (Seriously, she starts off wearing a dress, then literally tosses her clothes off as she jumps down a pit and into the first stage. She eventually gains equipment that covers up a bit.) There are also multiple, divergent paths through each level - although they're linear, you can often take a high road or low road in any stage, or even switch between the two. In many ways, it's the prototype for Westone's Wonder Boy in Monster Land series.
For as much stuff that's crammed in Athena, SNK forgot one major thing - to make the game fun. Athena controls poorly, with clumsy jumping and poor hit detection. Many of the weapons you find have very short range, and since you can get killed in a few quick hits, you'll find yourself restarting stages over and over and over. As such, the game isn't very good.
Athena gained some amount of popularity in the West due to it's NES home conversion. Some of the multiple routes have been removed, and the sloppy controls have actually been made worse. Some of the damage has been rebalanced, but you can still find yourself getting massacred within a span of a few seconds. The graphics have obviously taken a hit, although they still hold up respectably, but the same can't be said of the offensive musical soundtrack. Athena is consistently voted one of the worst (and hardest) NES games of all time. It didn't help that much of the appeal behind Athena was ruined by the Western artwork - while the NES cover was artistically decent, the cutesy little warrior that was so appealing in her homeland was only to be seen on the title screen and nowhere else. Athena was also ported to the Commodore 64, and the less said about it, the better. They couldn't even give her sprite color.
Psycho Soldier is basically a homage/ripoff of the early Capcom game Sonson. It's a mixture of a shooter and a platformer, as the screen is constantly scrolling, and you can jump between levels by pressing up or down. In addition to your psychic power shots (which are upgradable), you can also grab bombs to pack some extra punch. The first player controls Athena, while the second controls Kensou (spelled Kensu here, which is actually closer to it's real pronunciation.) While the characters are cutesy, the whole game betrays the upbeat theme song by taking place in ruined cities, decrepit sewers and dank volcanos. The last level could have come straight out of Contra. While Psycho Soldier is a solid game, the levels are far too long, boring and bland for it to be really interesting, and some of the boss fights are obnoxiously difficult. The game never quite gained any popularity in America, mostly because it never got a console port. The only home version was on some European home computer like the Commodore 64, oddly enough, with a completely hilarious cover. Many years later, SNK would release Psycho Soldier on PSN as a PSP Mini in the US.
Athena: Awakening from an Ordinary Life (アテナ ~Awakening from the ordinary life~) - PlayStation, PSN (1999)
Athena: Awakening from an Ordinary Life is a three-disc adventure game for the PSOne, developed by Yumekobo (who also did King of Fighters Kyo.) While it controls like Resident Evil, the focus is more on puzzle solving and less on action. Although the term "puzzle solving" is used very loosely here, because it's mostly comprised of running back and forth and back and forth, talking to people and finding items and so forth. There are some small logic puzzles, but they're sparse, and pretty dull.
The plot takes place in 2010, a futuristic version of Japan where they've cloned dinosaurs and set up an underwater theme park (hmmmm...) Some scientists have found something mysterious underground, causing said dinosaurs to go mad. The only person who can stop them is a young schoolgirl named Athena Asamiya, who is slowly learning to harness her newly found psychic powers. Throughout the game, you can use the power of telepathy to read people's mind, use teleportation to escape from tricky situations, use clairvoyance to find hidden stuff and use repair skills...to...repair things? Can psychics do that? Whenever you're next to something important, a little screen pops up with the appropriate psychic power. To activate it, you need to play a tiny little rhythm beat. Hilariously enough, if you screw up, you lose a bit of health, so it's entirely possible to kill yourself by trying to use your powers. It's not like there's much else in the way of danger - outside of some clunky timed sequences and some completely confusing turn-based "action" sequences (wherein you choose directions and occasionally use psychic powers - none of it makes any real sense, as far as I've figured out), there's not too many ways you can actually lose.
Awakening from an Ordinary Life is definitely focused far more on plot than gameplay, which is kind of acceptable. The dark atmosphere is a stark contrast to her cutesy J-Pop personality in the King of Fighters games, and the approach comes off similar to the Persona games. There aren't too many ties to the other games, except for the appearance of Kensou, who seems to have a crush on Athena, acts like a goofball, and gives her meatbuns as presents. Too bad the whole game is extremely short, and beatable within a few hours.
Heck, the first disc only lasts for about fifteen minutes of real gameplay. It's all taken up by CG animation, which was the big selling point of the game. Unfortunately, the quality is only so-so - it's not even at Koudelka's level, and certainly doesn't touch anything by Square. The videos (and most of the game) only take up the top two-thirds of the screen, leaving the bottom for text windows or just plain blank space. The opening video is pretty hilarious at least, since it features some really bad English voice acting (upon finding the relic underground, one scientist exclaims "Is it...human?" and another, male scientist yammers, "Yes, it is! But whether it's male or female, I couldn't tell you without...uh.. further...investigation..." ) The rest of the game is completely in Japanese, and really quite boring. Apparently the series was also a live-action drama, which probably would've suited the storytelling a bit better.
In 2007, Athena: Awakening from an Ordinary Life was released on PSN as a PSOne Classic, but only in Japan.
This site generally doesn't cover cell phone games, because (A) they almost universally suck and (B) any of these Japanese games are completely unplayable unless you live in Japan and have the necessary phone to run the damn things. However, SNK has been pretty prolific in the cell phone market, having released a dating sim featuring various King of Fighters characters. They've also resurrected Athena and have stuck her in a couple of games.
Athena: On Stage puts you in the role of the singing idol variation, and looks to be some kind of sim/dating game, along with the usual selection of mini-games. I think? One of those cutesy bullshit fanservice games, I guess.
Athena: Full Throttle appears to be a sequel to the original arcade game, completely with nicely upgraded graphics. There's also a completely new pink haired heroine named Helene, and a much ballyhooed (according to the website) ability to change costumes.
Through her entire fighting game career, Athena always showed up as a her pop idol persona, instead of the Greek goddess she was initially conceived as. The original Athena first showed up as a Striker in KoF 2000, wearing full armor. SNK then made her a playable character SNK Vs Capcom: Chaos, this time in her bikini-wear. Naturally, since she's a hidden boss under the direct command of God Himself, she's drastically overpowered. She also shows up as a playable character in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum.
If you're familiar with King of Fighters porn fan artwork, you've probably seen a girl with glasses and a pony tail, usually dressed like a maid. This is Kaoru Watabe, a young, crippled girl who wrote a fan letter to the Psycho Soldier team in King of Fighters 97. The only time she actually appears in game is in the team's ending, but she became popular enough to show up as a striker in King of Fighters 2000.
Kensou is Athena's partner from Psycho Soldier, who fights along side her in the King of Fighters games (and also apparently has a crush on her). His original form more closely resembles a chibi-Rambo (and much like the above two characters, appears in his original form as a Striker in KoF 2000). His redesigned form is a relatively simple ensemble of a white t-shirt, blue jacket and blue shorts. Kensou loves rice balls, and often consumes them (and sometimes chokes) before battle. He's also found shredding on a guitar in the ending sequence of Psycho Soldier.
King of Fighters Artwork
Athena is one of SNK's most popular characters, even if most of the games she stars in aren't exactly...you know...good. She's also pretty annoying in The King of Fighters, as she announces each of her attacks ("PSYCHO SWOOOOORDO", "TELEPOOOOORTO") in an extremely shrill, annoying voice. Still, she has her fans, and is a testament to SNK's legacy for creating such a memorable persona.