Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fighting layer, return of the dragon, part 4...

Fighting Layer featured quasi-believable good and evil martial arts masters in a tournament setting. This was a tradition that was started in Street Fighter II in 1991. The majority of the developers working at ARIKA had worked on both titles. Through the cast, levels and character designs they wanted to make a distinction between the two games. They had several branching paths in their title that allowed players to explore alternate sub bosses and endings. The previous blog had highlighted the human sub bosses. However before players even got a chance to challenge them they first had to defeat dangerous animals. Each of the animals was a master of their respective element. The first of the creatures was very believable and very difficult to beat.


The Tiger had only a few attacks but each of these attacks did a tremendous amount of damage. He swiped with his massive paws, leaped forward with them out and could even pounce and maul his opponents. The Tiger was the creature players had to face before fighting Preston Ajax. The tiger was one of the predators that karate and kung-fu masters were rumored to have tested themselves against. I only say rumored because an actual case, with actual evidence from history had yet to appear. The closest thing to reality was the character Wu Song, a person that appeared in the Water Margin, better known as one of the 108 Heroes of the Marsh. This Chinese fighter had gotten drunk on his way to a village and crossed paths with a ferocious man-eating tiger. He was either very brave or very drunk (or both) when he took on the tiger with his bare hands. He managed to get behind it and proceeded to bash its head in with his punches. Many of the Heroes of the Marsh were inspired by historical figures and actual events. There was a chance that Wu Song existed in some point in the past and had indeed done the impossible.

What was not rumor however were the creatures that martial arts master Mas Oyama had tested himself against. One of his most legendary encounters was against a wild bear. The bear had been menacing the residents of a rural village. Oyama decided to test his form of karate against the bear in an exhibition match. In the end he had to fight for his life and a hunter put down the bear with his rifle. In the manga and animé retelling of his life the battle was made very dramatic and drawn out but the actual fight probably took less than a minute. Of course even a few seconds in a cage with a bear can seem like an eternity. As Oyama got older he would stage exhibition matches against a bull. He would wrestle it to the ground, chop off its horns and kill the bull with a well placed punch to the head.


He would often wonder aloud with his students and friends, often members of the press, how well his Kyokushin karate would hold up against the strongest predators in nature. He always wanted to try his luck against a tiger but would never get a chance. This did not stop him and his contemporaries for coming up with strategies on how they would have taken on all sorts of creatures. They would publish these articles in martial arts journals and help build the legend of karate. Battles against wolves, tigers, bears and even gorillas were discussed. Some were set against actual historical encounters. Stories of hunters and samurai that were ambushed in the forest centuries earlier and how they used their martial training to defeat the creatures helped support some of the claims. These stories colored the world of the young programmers and designers. It wasn't enough that they had been raised on a diet of martial arts films, pro wrestling, sumo wrestling, pro sports, manga and animé, they also had real world legends to draw from. By the time they got to Capcom they were more than ready to create the first generation of virtual legends.

In many manga and manhua (Chinese comic book) stories wild animals could be tamed or defeated in unarmed combat. These stories were often fantastic in their representation of the martial arts masters. In many cases the youngest fighters could sometimes do the impossible. Such was the case for Karin Kanzuki, the arch-rival of Sakura from Street Fighter Zero fame. As the heiress of the Kanzuki empire she showed up her father by defeating the fearsome creatures that patrolled the Kanzui estate in Japan. She defeated a grizzly bear and giant falcon before taming a lion. At the tender age of 15 she had done more than Mas Oyama had in his real or manga lifetime.

The giant bird of prey returned in Fighting Layer as one of the animal bosses to defeat. Like the Tiger, this creature was incredibly fast and powerful. A few strikes was enough to kill most players. The Falcon had to be defeated before players could challenge the boxer Joe Fendi.


The animals in the game had moves that were appropriate for them. None of them stood on two legs and tried to trade punches and kicks with the players. Instead they lunged and slashed ferociously. The Tiger would pin down opponents and maul their faces. The Falcon could pick up opponents and then drop them from a tremendous height. It was always a challenge playing against them but it was even more enjoyable playing as the animals against human opponents.

The animal bosses were time release characters. After a few weeks in the arcade both the animal and sub boss characters became playable. Allen Snider and Blair Dame were the hidden mid-bosses in the game. They could only be fought if the player met the right criteria, like not losing a round and finishing opponents with a super attack.

There were three sub-bosses however and I have only mentioned two of the creatures so far. Both the air and land were covered already but what about the sea? What creature rules the seas in the minds of most players and would make quick work of even the best fighters ever?

A Shark patrolled the sea floor around the host island of the tournament. This character had to be defeated before players could face Clemence Kleiber. Players actually had to face the creature underwater in a stage called the "Sea Zoo." It, like the Tiger and Falcon, would try to circle around the player and look for an opening before striking. The Shark could fit players in its mouth and cut them to ribbons. A few bites could kill players within seconds. It was possible that the Shark was the toughest of the animal bosses to face, just as one would imagine. When the character was unlocked in the game he would actually float above ground and play with the same physics as he had underwater. Players could even get the Shark to "swim" outside of the barrier for each stage where regular players could not tread. In the eyes of many Fighting Layer literally "jumped the shark" with this character. Those that were willing to suspend their disbelief however learned that the game was supposed to be fantastic and over-the-top. The explanation for the creatures, sub bosses and tournament itself was grounded in the supernatural.

When I began this series I mentioned that the film Enter the Dragon had inspired much of the development for both Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter was rooted in science and realism, with a militaristic dictator running the tournament. Mortal Kombat was rooted in the supernatural, with an ancient wizard hosting the tournament. Fighting Layer was actually a blend of both mythologies. Fantasy and animal characters acted as the sub bosses while the actual competitors were rooted in real martial arts. The understanding that the game was not entirely based in reality was presented in the very second level of the game. Players had to take on an animated suit of armor in an underground cage. It was obvious then the game would be mixing fantasy and reality elements. Players that didn't understand this inclusion of fantasy would be lost through the rest of the game.

The seeds for the fantastic elements in Fighting Layer had been planted in Street Fighter EX. However some of those designs had been around since the planning stages for Street Fighter II as well. The next blog will look at these origins.


  1. Just as a side-note, I'm not entirely sure that the animal characters in this game were actually playable via time release. Having encountered FL as a physical Arcade game, only Joe, Clemence and Ajax appeared as hidden on the character select screen. Multiple Youtube sources have also stated that hacking of the ROM files is required to make the animal characters playable...

    FL is an interesting game character design-wise. As you have already mentioned it re-imagines a lot of design ideas from Street Fighter II. At the same time, the game was released near the end of the 32-bit era of 3D fighting games and as such a lot of influence from Tekken 2-3 is apparent with the character designs. Just for some reference:

    *Hong is obviously Hwoarang inspired
    *Lan is the Xiaoyu of the game. Xiaoyu is arguably Namco's 'younger' version of Chun-Li after all.
    *While taking after Doctrine Dark from SFEX in terms of his moveset, Ajax's concept as a wounded and later cybernetically enhanced human is very reminiscent to Tekken 3's Bryan Fury. The aesthetic choices between both characters are also strikingly similar.
    *George is the 'Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon'-inspired character just as Forest Law is in Tekken 3. Furthermore, his 70s-style attire is close to the colour scheme of Tekken 3's Tiger Jackson.
    *Cappricio is the freakish, alien-like character visually similar to Yoshimitsu's Tekken 3 incarnation. Interestingly enough, Yoshimitsu would also later adopt a bug-like appearance in Tekken 4.
    *Allen vs. Tetsuo= Ken vs. Ryu, just as Paul Phoenix vs. Kazuya= Ken vs. Ryu. Also of note is how Paul's moveset in SFxT would function in a similar manner to Allen.
    *Blair is a sexualized assassin like Tekken's Nina Williams.
    *Shang is like a grey-haired version of Lei Wulong's Tekken 3 incarnation
    *Jig-Jig's sumo-style moveset follows a lot of techniques also represented by Ganryu in Tekken 2. Furthermore, the amalgamation of a style differing from ethnic origin is very similar to Michelle and Julia in the Tekken series.

    1. Great observations Hamish. It is possible that the team decided to find a middle ground with the designs between the new publisher and the old one. It makes sense that they would have more Namco aesthetics than Capcom ones.