Friday, April 28, 2017

Chaos Breaker - Dark Awake, the great fantasy fighting games part 6...

The market for fighting games was very thin at the start of the millennium. Arcades, the last true domain for the community, were just about nonexistent in the USA and had been scaled back elsewhere around the world. The console was king and big-budget, open world AAA titles were leading the industry. A handful of studios, including SNK, ARC System Works and DIMPS were still catering to the fighting community. Capcom was focused in the early '00s on Mega Man, Devil May Cry and a few other properties, not so much on Street Fighter. With the focus on other genres the developers really had to try different things in order to attract audiences. The ones working on fighting games had to work even harder to be noticed. They did this by experimenting with new technology, including a bigger focus on net play, through new forms of storytelling, advances in game play and control as well. One of the most interesting fighting games in a decade came out in 2004. Chaos Breaker / Dark Awake: The king has no name - was published by Taito.

Taito was no stranger to the fighting genre. In fact the studio could be considered The Godfather of the brawler. It released Renegade in 1986 and Double Dragon in 1987, both of which had a profound influence on the industry, and especially Capcom. The studio had created a traditional sprite-based fighting game called Kaiser Knuckle in 1994. Yet their most revolutionary work came one year later with the released of Psychic Force. This new game featured a 3D engine and characters that could fly in all directions. and different formats and engines. A few years had passed since they had made a serious entry into the fighting game arena. What no one expected was a fantasy title with is much depth as Chaos Breaker.

The game was actually developed by a South Korean studio called Eolith. The studio had experience with one of the biggest franchises of all time. They developed the King of Fighters 2001 and 2002 after SNK went bankrupt. The 3-vs-3 battle system of KOF was carried over into Chaos Breaker. As SNK restructured they needed help keeping their IP afloat. This was when they began talking in earnest with not only South Korean developers but also Chinese publishers. Chaos Breaker was the last game by Eolith before they were acquired by NetBrain. The game itself was the first fighting game to take advantage of the Taito Type-X board. A lot of different arcade titles were developed for that board including properties like Mobile Suit Gundam, Half-Life 2, and Pokémon. None of the games was remotely close to Chaos Breaker.


Part of the reason that Chaos Breaker stood out was because of its graphics. The visuals were similar to the graphics used in early ‘90s fighting games, including Killer Instinct, Primal Rage and even Mortal Combat. The reason for this was because Eolith used similar techniques I creating the sprites. In the early ‘90s there weren’t many 3D games, and especially not fighting games. The quality of 3D graphics that we have with titles like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 was simply impossible to pull off almost 30 years prior. Studios did whatever they could to try to top the hand-drawn graphics featured in the most popular games. Midway experimented with video capture to create sprites out of human actors in Mortal Kombat in 1992. Atari used stop motion animation to create sprites out of clay and plastic dinosaurs that they molded for the 1994 hit Primal Rage. One of the most revolutionary games was Killer Instinct, also released in 1994. Developed by Rare the studio used high-end Silicon Graphics workstations to create highly polished 3D models and levels. In the early ‘90s there wasn’t any arcade hardware powerful enough to render 3D visuals, complete with textures and lighting effects in real time. So what they did was create sprites out of their models. The two-dimensional graphics did not require as much storage as their 3D counterparts and the engines of the day could animate them fairly quickly. The end result for these games were the illusion of 3D figures and stages. This technology was mostly used by Western studios, so that they really stood apart from the graphics that the Japanese were creating. Almost 10 years later to the day Eolith used the same techniques and rendered characters and levels using 3D hardware but then converted those graphics into sprites. Chaos Breaker had the look of a more polished version of a classic fighting game, yet there was much more to it than that.


Eolith made sure to create levels that told a story. Each stage reflected the world that these fantasy warriors were trying to save or destroy. They had as much forethought as the highly detailed stages created by Sega in Golden Axe: The Duel and Capcom’s Warzard. Eolith had learned as much as they could about fantasy settings, not only in video games but also in popular culture. They made sure to apply these things in every stage of the game. If you have ever seen or played Chaos Breaker then you have probably noticed level settings, weapons, armor and character designs borrowed from animé shows like Berzerk and Record of Loduss War. Of course the publisher had not slept on the highly influential World of WarCraft, after all they were a South Korean studio. It was impossible to get into any sort of fantasy game development without drawing immediate comparisons to WoW. Eolith did not disappoint the fighting game community. They expected the major fantasy races in Chaos Breaker and they were all there. Sorcerers, barbarians, rangers, goblins, orc, elves, dark elves, necromancers and even vampires.

The character designs had a decidedly anime influence to them but they were not based on any one particular series. Instead they reflected the fantasy tropes that audiences were used to. Busty women that wore revealing armor, and muscular men with big swords. Villains were grotesque and clad in spiky dark costumes while heroes were handsome and wore bright colors. Eolith did more than use pallet swaps when designing alternate colors, or while porting the game to consoles. They actually created different models of the heroes and villains in different costumes to make them look truly unique. Ramda for example was a long-haired barbarian but his alternate costume gave him a haircut and had him in warrior armor.


When it came to the design behind this game the most influential studio was not Japanese nor were they American. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again the British studio Games Workshop was the design house most copied by video game developers. This was the company that Eolith was modeling most of their character classes after. To be completely honest Games Workshop did not invent all of the fantasy characters. They had existed much earlier in fairy tales, Arthurian legends and the works of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Games Workshop standardized the designs of many fantasy characters and made them popular. When audiences think of goblins and orcs they imagine certain green-skinned characters in crude armor. When they think of dwarfs they think of hefty armor and ingenious artillery. When audiences think of chaos warriors, they think of horned helmets and oversized weapons. Many of these looks were popularized in Warhammer Fantasy Battle from Games Workshop over 30 years ago.

Eolith did not outright rip-off any specific character from the Games Workshop (GW) library, nor did Blizzard for that matter, but they took enough elements to make the designs more than coincidence. The roots of the Chaos Breaker designs were even more obvious as they less subtly mixed-and-matched details from different Games Workshop characters. For example the Night Goblins in Warhammer were known for riding giant spiders. But there were many types of creatures that the goblins rode, from including spiders, wolves and even toothed fungi known as squigs. Not all goblins fought with swords, some instead knew crude magics and spells and were known as goblin shaman. The developers at Eolith took pieces of the various types of GW goblins when creating their own variant. Similar things could be said of just about the entire cast. the industrious and stubborn dwarfs had been a staple of GW for decades. Eolith had a few versions of the dwarfs that actually covered several different classes. Vargan fought with a ranged weapon, a multi-shot blunderbuss. Dorgan fought with a melee weapon, a large axe. And Gerhassen II fought with artillery, a cannon.


The ways in which Eolith used the characters was inspired design. Most fans of the format know they can expect a small, fast character, usually a woman. A large, slow character, usually some sort of musclebound giant. Then the hero of the game, often a guy, with equal parts speed and strength. There was a troll in Chaos Breaker that filled in the role of the giant. Yet he was not the only oversized character. For the good guys it was Gerhassen II. While his cannon took up nearly a quarter of the screen he could actually move it quickly and use it as an extension of himself. Not many studios had the imagination to turn a dwarf into the token “big” character. Just about everyone in the cast had this sort of planning behind them. The game also featured some unique boss designs. I don’t recall seeing a Manticore, part-lion/scorpion/bat that had looked as awe-inspiring as the sub-boss in Chaos Breaker.

With it’s 3-vs-3 mechanics, weapons-based game play and unique characters there was still much more that Chaos Breaker had to offer. Eolith, just like every other developer that I have featured in this series, wanted audiences to fall in love with the world they had created. They hoped there was interest enough that they might turn it into a franchise. In order to do this they had to do things that few other fighting games had ever done. This title allowed players to unlock weapons, armor and other upgrades for their characters. These items acted just like their RPG counterparts. They would boost offense or defense, especially against certain types of classes and attacks. Warzard had something similar, and while leveling up did increase the health of a character or even grant them new abilities, it did not allow players to freely trade out weapons in between stages. Capcom did manage to capture a more RPG-centric experience with their Dungeons & Dragons arcade games, easily some of the best brawlers ever made, but for fantasy fighting games few could match the game play of Chaos Breaker.


The differences between character classes and customizable weapons came in handy during the final two encounters in the game. The sub-boss aside from the Manticore was a Witch Queen named Thiele. She could cast spells from afar and do physical attacks with her giant golden claw. Her appearance was somewhere in between a Vampire Countess and Dark Elf Sorceress. She floated above the ground, similar to Valdoll from Warzard, and had an equally ominous presence. Her design was simply fantastic and something that even Games Workshop would have been proud of. She was well done but the final boss of the game, the King with no name, was possibly the largest sprite ever created for a fighting game. The dragon was several screens high and had more animated pieces than the giant characters in the Capcom vs games or in any SNK game. It made for a memorable but not impossible villain.

The game succeeded on many fronts, not the least of which was originality. Fantasy fighting games, especially well made ones were few and far between. The other thing that Chaos Breaker had going for it was the net-play ability. It was one of the first entries into net arcade fighting games from Taito. The things they learned in this game could be applied in other genres, from space shooters to robot sims. Audiences might not realize that many of the things we take for granted in console fighters today were pioneered in the arcade. Some of the things featured in Chaos Breaker were never duplicated in other fighting games. Although it never got a sequel it was published on PSN in 2010.

I would recommend audiences check it out if they are interested in broadening their fighting game experience. Eolith managed to capture the epic locations that had been a staple of many great RPGs and turned them into the backdrops for a memorable fighting game. Budding artists might learn a thing or two about character design by seeing how the South Korean developers had distilled the British designs and turned them into fighting archetypes. Those interested in another fantasy action game with western influences might want to check out Dragon’s Crown, developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus in 2013. There was one more fantasy fighting game worth mentioning that was released after Chaos Breaker and Dragon’s Crown. We’ll look at this title in the next entry. I hope to see you back for that. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

 follow the Street Writer on Patreon!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Asura Buster Eternal Warriors, the great fantasy fighting games part 5...

Fuuki Co. Ltd. released Asura Buster - Eternal Warriors in 2000. It was a new fantasy fighting game entry set 3 years after the events in Asura Blade. The publisher had a memorable cast of characters that deserved a little bit more exposure. The publisher also realized that fighting games had been in decline for a few years. They would have little to no competition if they released a fighter at the start of the new millennium. What audiences didn't expect was that the company would create an entirely new set of sprites for the sequel. As far as I can tell the graphics engine was very similar if not exactly the same as it was in the previous game. There was not a major leap in quality as there was between Capcom's CPS-II and CPS-III engines, the ones respectively used for Super Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III for example.


Many of the stars from the first game returned in the sequel. Their costumes and color palettes were in-line to the designs from the first game. The sprites, animations, moves and balance were completely redone. I don't know why the studio decided to do this but I'm glad they did. Many developers added a few new characters and stages to the existing engine and had the audacity to label it a sequel when it was essentially an upgrade kit. Fuuki Co. was breaking from tradition and actually redoing everything from scratch. This approach would have eaten the budget for several games if Capcom tried to do the same thing in a Warzard sequel.


The new sprites seemed slightly more detailed than the previous batch. The colors were brighter and more colorful than they had appeared in the first game. A few new faces joined in. Fuuki picked up some of the game design elements they missed the first time around. Yashou was the star character he didn't really have a rival in the original game. A new swordsman was added, from the same clan even, to be his rival. Sittara was a much darker character, not unlike Iori or Genjuro from the King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown games respectively. He was a good balance in the game.


The new fighters were very much rooted in Asian history, with a new Chinese-style martial artist Chen-Mao who was the understudy of Footee from the original game, a new samurai named Zinsuke and even ninja character named Rokourouta joining the ranks. The previous game wasn't as focused on the Asian martial arts as much as its sequel. This was fine however because the new game was really delving much deeper into the fantasy world that the studio had created. There were entirely new kingdoms vying for power. There were new locations to explore. This was apparent on the entirely new stages and world map presented to audiences.


Asura Buster had levels that were every bit as unique as the original title. Floating castles, oceans made of sand, opulent palaces and even the city rooftops were all memorable places for a battle. Fuuki added something that was missing in the original title, a bonus game. Fighting games used to have bonus games, the rule was not observed by every publisher, but most of the biggest franchises did have a version of the classic mini game. Perhaps there was a breaking demonstration, a chance to punch up a car or parry a basketball. Each game often had a purpose for the mini games. Some were a score booster but others were trying to get audiences to learn new techniques or master the range for each character. Asura Buster had a little bit of the latter.

  The bonus game had players fighting off wave after wave of two-headed wolves. Some ran at opponents, some leaped at opponents and some even dropped in from the sky. Players had to react quickly, a single strike was enough to beat most of them. Players couldn't die while facing the mini-cerberus, if hit the player would fall over while the dogs trampled them. Players mostly missed out on bonus points for a poorly timed session. Asura Buster was also memorable for a new sub-boss character. A large, pink, triangular, shapeshifting creature named Vebel waited for opponents in a darkened cave.


Vebel was a very odd character. It moved around in a very fluid manner, like it was made out of pink Jello, but could also inflate like a balloon. It could lash out with its fins, or by spitting out its internal organs. It also had a beam that it could shoot across the entire screen. This was easily one of the strangest characters ever featured in a fighting game. It broke the concept of what makes for a good character but it did not break the design going into Asura Buster. This was a fantasy game, any sense of realistic character designs went right out the window. It was a rule that made the monster designs work in Warzard and even the unreleased Dragon's Heaven. Vebel was also memorable for the sheer scale of the character. It took up a large portion of the screen, there were few fighting game characters that had as much presence. I can only think of a handful of characters that were as big, colorful and possibly influenced the development of Vebel.


The first massive influential character I think was Maururu. It was a giant magical creature that carried a little girl named Mugi on his back. He appeared in the game Waku Waku 7, a fighting game by Sunsoft. The game was released in 1996, it was a spiritual successor to Galaxy Fight: Universal Warriors. I had mentioned Galaxy Fight previously on my blog because it featured a hidden character that was modeled after an elder Ryu / Ryo from Street Fighter / the Art of Fighting respectively. Sunsoft used a lot of humor in their fighting games and they weren’t afraid to poach ideas from other fighters or even anime shows.


As you may have figured out Mauru was a send-up of the titular character from the Hayao Miyazaki film My Neighbor Totoro. Totoro and the littlest girl in the film Mei Kusakabe debuted in 1988. Mauru was among the bigger characters in any game but the boss character, Fernandez took up almost half the screen. Vebel was simply another character that fit this unusual mold. The bright pink color helped it pop off the background. The strange assortment of moves, and its fluid animations ensured it would never be forgotten. Also, in case anyone had the feeling that they had seen the archetype before you would be right.


Another oversized character with the ability to get caught up in a bigger plot 10 years after Totoro. Big the Cat debuted in 1998 in Japan and 1999 in the USA in Sonic Adventure. Big was a lovable character with a certain innocence to him. but let’s recognize that Mauru appeared a year earlier. Vebel wasn’t the only case of deja-vu that Asura Buster gave fighting game afficionados. The final boss of the game was an evil king. This character didn’t fight you like other traditional boss characters. Instead the King turned into a giant that was half male and half female. The red and blue color scheme assigned to each half was reminiscent of Gill from Street Fighter III. Of course this was if Gill was 60-feet-tall. Many arcade players had seen a giant boss character in the Capcom “vs” titles.


Audiences expected larger-than-life characters in the Capcom crossover games. Many of the villains in the Marvel comics were known for their shape-whiting ability. A character like Apocalypse, a villain from the X-Men comics for example, could become gigantic. He fit right in with the story of the games and appeared in the 1996 game X-Men vs Street fighter. It was a perfect match for the Capcom when other Marvel giants, like Galactus, began appearing in their fighting games as well. Yet hardware in the early to mid ‘90s was not powerful enough to render sprites that were several screens tall. The studio got around this by only animating parts of the character, such as the head and arms. It wasn’t the first time a studio had used this approach. In 1990, before Street Fighter II appeared, ADK had developed a game called Ninja Combat for the Neo Geo arcade system. The final villain in the game was an evil sorcerer named Genyousai. At the end of the game he transformed into a giant and players had to chop off his hands and eventually head. Ninja Combat was a brawler, and not a fighting game but the seeds were planted for the King in Asura Buster.


The addition of a new story, new characters, including some hidden characters, a bonus game and a new villain made Asura Buster really stand out from the original game. Also unlike most fighting games where everything wraps up after the villain was defeated this game allowed players to unravel a piece of the story by fighting another main character at the end. It was unique to the genre and helped add more dimension to the fantasy world that Fuuki Co. Ltd. had created. The company still exists however they have made no mention about a new Asura game. It would be nice to see this ported over for the consoles and Steam if we won’t get a third entry.


Asura Buster was not the last fantasy fighting game worth mentioning. In the next post we will look at a fantasy fighter that was co-developed by Japan and South Korea but with design elements from one of the oldest British tabletop gaming studios. I hope to see you back for that. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

 follow the Street Writer on Patreon!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Asura Blade Sword of Dynasty, the great fantasy fighting games part 4...

Fighting games had hit their peak in the mid '90s and were beginning to taper off by the end of the decade. The majority that were around were sequels to established franchises; Street Fighter, Tekken, King of Fighters, etc. Less and less original titles were coming out from the major publishers and almost none that were set outside of a current timeline. Fighters set in a fantasy setting were invisible. That was until independent publisher Fuuki Co. Ltd. released Asura Blade - Sword of Dynasty. The studio had been studying the genre very carefully. They released a fighting game in 1998 with all of the elements that fans of a AAA studio would have expected.


There were exotic locations, a magic system, an interesting story and eight adventurers that represented the usual archetypes. The majority were sword masters with a magic user, martial artist and even animated suit of armor thrown into the mix. Fuuki Co. Ltd. had done an excellent job with the character designs. There were elements that were familiar to audiences in each fighter, but nothing that was an outright copy from a rival studio. For example, one of the main characters was Yashou, he left his powerful clan behind so he could become a mercenary. His design was something like a modern samurai. He had the katana, and a forehead guard the hachi game, but he also wore pants and had metal armor which were things that weren't sported in Feudal Japan. This was also a fantasy world. There was no Japan, no Europe, Middle East or China but instead there were cultural references to each area. Certain armor, certain weapons and even level designs were meant to rekindle the ideas of a region but not Earth as we know it. Many of the characters were designed with this basic concept in mind.


What made the game memorable, and for that matter what made most of the fantasy fighting games unique, was how Japan interpreted the fantasy theme. Every culture, every region of the world had its own customs and traditions. There were warriors, nobles, tradesmen and peasants in the biggest cultures. But then there were the ones living on the mystical side; the magic users, priests, priestess, spell casters, and shaman. These people were revered for their ability to make deals with spirits and demons. In some cases they were infamous for being able to become living monsters. When the west thinks of a magic character then a wizard often comes to mind. Usually they wear a robe, have a long white beard and sometimes a pointy cap. Basically they are references to the character Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings. Gandalf of course was an amalgamation of earlier wizard characters, including Merlin from the Arthurian legends. Japan of course didn't have characters in their storytelling traditions that looked like Gandalf. A wizard-like character might have been represented as a Shinto priest. Instead of waving a magical wand they would use a haraegushi "lightning wand" with paper streamers or shide to ward off evil spirits.


 The Japanese designers would study western fantasy tropes and reinterpret them. For example maps had been a part of fighting game design going back to the original Street Fighter. We would follow our hero all across the globe. Yet maps in a fantasy fighter had all of the markings of a role playing poster. Take a look at the stage maps featured in the previous blogs. They had frayed edges, were written in an ancient language and had terrible sea creatures hiding in the corners. The history of creating detailed maps was as old as the storytelling tradition. Illustrated maps of fantastic places were featured in fairy tale books. Children could visualize spooky forests and haunted cottages more easily. Sometimes fantasy creatures appeared in actual maps and sea charts. Fantasy books like the Hobbit kept that tradition alive and sometimes included maps drawn by the main character of the story. Early tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons had players create maps. These exotic places were sometimes printed in early fantasy magazines like Dragon and White Dwarf. They influenced the presentation of early PC and video game RPG's where maps were crucial to a quest. These traditions eventually made it to fighting games as well. The iconography of Western fantasy; skulls, serpents, gryphons, dragons, medieval weapons and armor, were all presented with a Japanese aesthetic.


The locations featured in Asura Blade were especially memorable. Floating castles, hellish landscapes, mysterious dungeons and a ships graveyard were only a few of the places you could visit. They were the places that you would love to spend time exploring. Many Western RPG games used drab, toned-down color pallets. The designers at Fuuki Co. were not afraid to use bold colors. The graphics were among the brightest and most colorful for any game. They helped the backgrounds really pop. They made these fantasy characters look like they were stars in an anime show. Each person had tremendous personality. It was easy to read the faces of the characters. Every gesture was planned and animated to reinforce the persona of the fighter. Yashou had a wide, reckless stance, that showed off his fearless attitude. Whereas Goat was a more regal character with a rigid, calculated stance. The developers had clearly copied what worked in games like Samurai Spirits and Street Fighter Zero, which had an anime-influenced presentation.


The animation and character design were good in Asura Blade, no so much for the originality but more so because they were poaching elements from other studios. You could look at the main cast and identify some characters that the developers were influenced by. The color scheme and revealing costume of Rose Mary was very much like Psylock from the X-Men / Marvel fighting games. Her magical sword was similar to Donovan's from the Vampire / Darkstalkers series. The animated suit of golden armor was very similar to the robot Huitzil / Phobos, also from Darkstalkers. Curfue the cigar-chomping sub-boss had a large gun and a stance reminiscent of Cable from the X-Men games as well. Zam-B the ninja with the large metal claw was clearly poached from Gen-An, the ninja with the large metal claw, from Samurai Shodown. In fact the overall sword fighting mechanics and special moves were heavily influenced by the Samurai Shodown series. This made Asura Blade one of the rare titles that had a taste of both Capcom and SNK for fighting game aficionados.


Sadly not many people got a chance to see or play this game. It came at the tail end of the fighting game's first wave of popularity, and more important, it came at a time when the arcade industry was cooling down. This didn't kill the genre, nor did it stop Fuuki Co. Ltd. It seems that they wanted to build a fighting game franchise. We'll look at their ambitious sequel in the next blog. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

 follow the Street Writer on Patreon!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Warzard, the great fantasy fighting games part 3...

So far in this series we have looked at the pioneer fantasy fighting game and a fantasy fighting game that was never published. Today we will look at one of the greatest fantasy games ever made. Sadly this is a title that most in the game community have never heard of, let alone played. Warzard in Japan / Red Earth in the USA was released by Capcom in 1996. It featured one of the most colorful casts of playable characters and villains ever to appear in any fighter. It was the first title to be developed for the CPS-III system. The sprite-based engine was at the time the most powerful engine Capcom had ever created for arcade games. It was leagues more powerful than the CPS-II, which was what Super Street Fighter II had used.

Capcom had found tremendous success with their arcade unit in the '80s. They had published more than 2-dozen hits with the original CP System (CPS - arcade board), including 1941, Ghouls'n Ghosts, Strider, Final Fight, Street Fighter and Street Fighter II. The original CPS had a long shelf life and been used from 1988 to 1995. The CPS-II was an even bigger success, having more than 40 games published for it between 1993 and 2003. Based on the success of the fighting game genre Capcom thought that they should bank on new hardware to carry them for the next decade. In the mid '90s arcade games were moving to 3D graphics and even home consoles were migrating to 3D so sprite-based 2D engines were being dropped for the most part. The Tekken and Virtua Fighter series debuted after Street Fighter II and both looked a little rough around the edges. They were improving visually by leaps and bounds with each release and would soon look better than the rehashed graphics that Capcom was using. The CPS-III would be a return to form and a chance to show that sprites were still vital to the genre. Sadly it would become the swansong for hand-drawn graphics and Capcom's reliance on 2D technology. The hardware was much more expensive to work with than earlier CP Systems. Not to mention that the genre had a lot more competition that Capcom had anticipated. Development on the CPS-III would be cut short. The engine was only used for 6 games between 1996 and 1999. Three of those games were Street Fighter III and its sequels, two were for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and one was for Warzard.

Warzard had some of the most brilliant graphics ever seen in an arcade game. The stages, animations, effects and design were light years ahead of anything the competition was working on or would ever release. It was obvious that the publisher had gambled on this game becoming the next big franchise. Expansions were planned if not outright sequels if it became as successful as Street Fighter II. It was apparent in every detail that made it into the game. An entire world was mapped out for the audience. They were given a tour of this wondrous fantasy world in every encounter. No two locations looked the same and that was a good thing. Warzard was layered with so much detail that players were encouraged to keep playing and explore the stories of each hero.

Players explored a world filled men and monsters. Technology was a mixed bag of progress and superstition; gunpowder existed alongside magic, demons consorted with nobles and humanity was at the brink of all out war. Most of the warriors fought with swords and shields but the most powerful relied on spells. Designing a visual language that was equal parts Western and Eastern fantasy required the talents of the senior designers at Capcom. They created a world where flying ships and floating islands appeared as the actual stages. I will be highlighting these people individually later on in the blog.

Every menu, on the level map, stage backgrounds and even in the title screen, were some of the most stylized graphics that had ever been seen. Capcom did not overlook any detail, even the supporting characters which may have turned up multiple times or even just one in the progression of the story had their own unique look and purpose.

These designs also applied to the villains in the game, which also came with their own cast and back story.

The stars of the game were four playable characters; a lion-warrior named Leo, a ninja named Kenji / Mukuro, a sorceress named Tabasa / Tessa and a young martial arts master named Tao / Mai-Ling. They each had their own strengths and weaknesses. Leo was a lion-turned-warrior. He fought with a sword and shield yet could also perform grapple moves ala Mike Haggar or Zangief. Leo lacked strong magical attacks early on in the game. Kenji had brazenly fast attacks, he had curved blades along his forearm gauntlets, a straight sword and even a cannon with an enormous gunpowder discharge. Like Leo, he was equipped to take out even the largest monster with a weapon rather than magic. Tabasa was a sorceress and had some great magical attacks. She had a magical staff that floated and she could use as a projectile. She even had a few unique physical strikes as well. Tao was a martial arts master and fought with her bare hands. She was very powerful despite her size, perhaps she was a demigod. Her kicking attacks allowed her to set fire to her opponents and throw even the largest villain across the screen. It was as if she was the ancestor that Few Long and Chun-Li were descended from.


I know that it's hard to imagine a fighting game with only 4 playable characters. It was in fact half the number of playable characters than the original Street Fighter II. Yet the quality of the sprites was unsurpassed. The size of the new characters were much larger than ever before, with a wider color palette and many more frames of animation. The animation was very fluid, better even than that featured in Vampire/Darkstalkers. The sprites were superior to the older CPS-II games. All of the extra work required for completing each character meant that less and less time could be used on filling out a bigger cast. Capcom also made sure to use design elements exploited by rival studios. This game was the first and possibly only fighter by Capcom that featured a "fatality" for opponents. If Leo finished his opponent with a strong sword attack you could actually see the villain cut in half. This includes a cartoonish representation of their brains, spinal cord and guts. It was never as gruesome as a fatality in Mortal Kombat but it was nonetheless a surprise.

Like Street Fighter II there were multiple villains and boss characters making up the lack of playable characters. Unlike Street Fighter II the developers were not required to create human opponents. They could dream up just about any type of fantastic beast to fight with. Moreover, each villain reflected the cultural that they originated from.

Take the demon Kongou for example. He was from the region of Zipang, a nod to feudal-era Japan. The stage he occupied looked very much like a traditional Japanese town, except of course that it was on fire. It was under attack from a rival army and their flying ships. Kongou was a warlord with a terrible secret. He turned into an enormous monster before the battle. With his spiked mace, red skin color and horns Kongou looked like a classic Japanese oni or demon from storytelling tradition.

Look at the multi-headed Secmeto / Ravange. This four-legged creature was a mix of Egyptian Sphinx and Chimera from Green mythology. It hailed from Sangypt / Alanbird, a desert kingdom in this fantasy world. There hadn’t been any beast as colorful in any edition of Dungeons & Dragons yet it seemed so familiar to both Western and Eastern fantasy fans. The ability to project different poisons from each head made sense and the raw strength associated with the monster was impressive, but not as impressive as the gigantic monster from Greedia / Savalia.

Hauzer was an enormous dinosaur-like monster from the home nation of Leo. It was a lost kingdom, one which had fallen into ruin many generations ago. Hauzer was a beast from antiquity, heralding a time before man ruled the Earth. The sprite created for Hauzer was one of the largest ever featured in any fighting game. He covered almost a third of the screen and his attacks could reach clear across the display. Capcom wanted to let audiences know that this game was compeltely unlike any fighting game before. Hauzer was a showcase for the CPS-III system. More impressive was that each villain was unique, with no sprites rehashed to create secondary characters.


In the frozen north there was an aquatic baddie who moved unlike any other game character. Part walking octopus, part nautilus and armed with a trident Nool was by far one of the strangest fighters ever featured in any game. He was slippery and quite fast despite his square appearance. The figure was so unique that he was placed in Capcom Fighting Jam a few years later along with Hauzer.

Luan was one of the two female villains in the game, Secmeto was summoned by a sorceress. Luan was a harpy but not the one you might remember from Greek tradition. Luan was not naked, she wore armor and had costume elements pulled from ancient China and Mongolia. She hailed from the same region as Tao, and thus shared many similar central-Asian traits. Capcom had gone above-and-beyond when it came to the color palette applied to each character. The stages were all breathtaking but seeing the quality of the animation and the size of these new sprites was light-years ahead of what other studios were doing.


Of all the villains possibly the most unique was GiGi, an animated four-armed statue. It was made of stone and had cues pulled from Pre-Columbian Central America. There was no doubt that the team at Capcom had been inspired greatly by the statue of Kali featured in the film the Golden Voyage of Sinbad. GiGi actually had a left and right side, where its main colors and even sword went from red to blue depending on which way it faced the opponent. Mind you, this was before Gill debuted in Street Fighter III.


The sub-boss of the game was an animated suit of armor called Jihad / Blade. His lance, which looked like a spinning turret, could extend across the width of the screen. In addition to being genuinely hard he had both physical and magical attacks. He could freeze opponents in a mirror and then smash them into pieces. He could also expand his armor and unleash a blast of energy from his core, a magical crystal. Blade was in charge of all the other villains in the game and was the guardian of the floating island of Darminor.


In the center of the floating island was a castle. The inner chamber had strange totems made of dark stone. Some sort of dark ceremony was taking place as the level progressed. The main villain of the game, a War-Wizard named Valdolll / Scion, was waiting for our heroes. The blue-skinned wizard wore a red robe, had long white hair and a beard. He fought with a magical staff and was flanked by two small dragons. He was immensely powerful even without the dragons at his side. When most people think of a fantasy villain a wizard doesn’t usually come to mind but this one was different. He didn’t walk but instead floated across the arena. If a player were able to defeat him once then he would resurrect himself into a more powerful form. His body turned into a grotesque shape. His head became larger, an enormous brain and spinal cord popped out of his back, multiple tiny arms sprang from his shoulders while his atrophied legs dangled from his torso. With his true form revealed it was obvious that the heroes of the game needed to destroy the monster before he could enslave the planet.

Capcom wanted audiences to understand that this was far from a traditional fighting game. It did have elements from the best fighters they had made up until that point. It needed to have the elements from the RPG titles audiences were used to. Aside from fantasy heroes and villains the game also allowed players to collect treasure from their rivals as well as in bonus stages. The characters also had a level system. The better they fought in each stage the faster they were rewarded with a new level. The levels allowed them to gain new attacks and stronger defenses.


Audiences rightfully expected magic to be an internal part of the experience since this was a fantasy game. Golden Axe had started that tradition for brawlers many years earlier and Capcom was honoring the tradition. Players could collect magical orbs and summon powerful strikes. Using the orbs resulted in a brilliant background to be displayed, showing off the mystical or elemental gods being called upon. The graphics on the summons were some of the most beautiful pieces of art ever featured in a Capcom title.

Not only did the attacks become more impressive as the game progressed but heroes such as Leo gained a new sword and shield as he leveled up. Imagine how difficult it would have been to show a Street Fighter’s costume getting better gear each time they fought. The amount of memory and programming talent required to do that would have been insane. Warzard would save each player’s progress locally and they would put in a button command so they could continue leveling up each time they started a new game.

The locations of each encounter left audiences wanting more. These were not the typical backgrounds in a fighting game, the middle of a street with random pedestrians, some back alley or the top of a building. They were instead levels that told a story. Some were in wide open plains and others inside mysterious castles. Each civilization on this planet had had a history, they reflected an indigenous culture. The art team at Capcom was sure to present it with rich colors and layers of details.


It wasn’t hard to imagine that Capcom had great plans for the world they had created. The places in Warzard were meant to be revisited. They were the types of locations that the greatest RPG developers had been crafting over the past decade. There was one advantage to them being placed in a fighting game. The fixed perspective meant that the artists had a greater liberty with color, texture and even scale and proportions that would have been difficult to recreate in 3D. The artists could make the stages appear like the pages of a fantasy storybook and not necessarily a real location.


Chief among the background artists was Ikedai, whose design of Darminor looked like a watercolor painting come to live. Ikedai was one of the newer artists at Capcom, as was Sakomizu. The strong contrast of the Sakomizu illustrations, the bright colors and solid ink blacks had been seen earlier in the Strider 2 art. This style was a standout and was featured prominently on much of the official Wizard poster art. All of the senior Capcom artists working on the game would get highlighted in the credits.

The credits featured a list of seven artists for creating the original art. They were a handful of the most influential designers of all time and were actually listed by seniority within the studio. I sometimes get asked how to tell them apart in my blogs. It is easier if you place a couple of examples side by side, so here’s a short summary for things to look at while studying the drawings. At the top of the Warzard credits were Akiman and Shoei. Their work defined the official, cabinet and sprite art on the CPS-I and CPS-II hits. The paintings of Shoei were done in paint and markers. His best worked was comparable to oil paintings. He captured the personality of the various fighters in Street Fighter canon and were very much the foundation for all the character models in Street Fighter II. Akiman should need no introduction, as a character designer he brought a lot to the table. He had a very strong manga style and created most of the early black and white Street Fighter II designs. His poster work saw much lighter color blends than any other artist on the team. Despite the lightness of his colors the figures still conveyed weight and movement. Of course if you remember one thing it’s that he created Chun-Li.

The third artist credited in Warzard was Bengus aka Gouda Cheese aka CRMK. In this game he was listed as Monkey Chop. His unique style was featured prominently on the development of the Street Fighter Alpha / Zero series and the Vampire / Darkstalker games. His proportions were very exaggerated. Zangief for example was so muscular that he was about as wide as he was tall. Dhalsim on the other hand was very thin and angular, almost alien-like in appearance. His work in these games also went on to influence countless artists and animators, not only in Japan but in the USA. Bengus’ preliminary pencil work might be colored by another Capcom artist or vice versa. His fingerprints were very much in Warzard, specifically in the opening animation and summons. Shoei and Akiman sketched out the concepts for the various monsters in the game, traditional demons and giants in armor, and Bengus went in right after to give them a completely fresh take.


Two of the younger members of the art team, Daichan and Edayan had cut their teeth working on the art for the Street Fighter Zero, Street Fighter EX and Rival Schools titles. The style of Bengus had certainly rubbed off on them, however fans of Capcom should take note at the preferred media that each worked in. Edayan filled his pieces with bold colors, a mix of anime influences and digital techniques were his calling card. He blended reflections and multiple sources of lighting seamlessly on the clothing and skin of his figures. The style of characters were very angular, their muscles were not as exaggerated as those of Bengus, yet not as flowing as those of Akiman. Instead the art was somewhere in between.


Daichan was an accomplished traditional and digital artist. He was great at painting on canvas. He did a number of large panels that were reproduced as arcade posters. His painting of Ryu and Gouki staring at each other from Street Fighter Zero 2 was legendary. It would be revisited in comics and would be copied by manga artists in Japan and China. Daichan and Edayan had art on the cabinet, in the official guide book as well as in the Capcom Secret File (an arcade flyer) for Warzard. Their strong sense of color most likely influenced the color choices on the costumes of the villains and even stages themselves.


The game was simply breathtaking. It was leaps and bounds above Super Street Fighter II. In fact it was far ahead of what the competition was doing. Other studios were fixated on adding more and more characters to their lineup, some of them with many of the same moves of other characters in the series, Capcom went the opposite direction and created a small number of memorable heroes and villains. This was of course in part to the time that it actually took to create higher-resolution sprites and higher-quality sprites as well. From a game play perspective it had a number of unique elements, the ability to save your progress and level up the main characters. Capcom was so certain that the game had a bright future that they even teased what changes were in store for a sequel.


Leo was created by several shaman from a primitive tribe, a lion was chosen to defend them from Valdolll. The transformation into a man was halfway complete in the original game. Leo was meant to become a human and eventually a king to his people. Once peace had returned to the land Leo was turned back into a lion. It was a bittersweet ending for the character. The “true” version of Leo was teased, along with evolved versions of all the other characters. The armor of Kenji had changed slightly and looked more beetle-like. Tabasa had a double-horn hat and Tao had gained some more costume details that appeared pulled from the Chinese opera. What sorts of new moves would they have added? I doubt that Capcom would have simply brought back the same villains in a sequel. It wouldn't have made any sense if they did. Given the development time and cost to produce Warzard it stood to reason that Capcom had to kill the sequel. With Street Fighter III they could keep adding new characters, they could add new stages and new upgrades and keep existing characters around as well. Warzard would have to be redesigned with every sequel. It was not practical from a development standpoint however the bold experiment was something that the fighting game genre sorely needed. Warzard was a perfect example of using a fantasy theme within a fighting game. Neither Eastern nor Western in setting it built universally recognized heroes and villains. Do you think that this game deserves another chance? If so I'd like to hear about it. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

 follow the Street Writer on Patreon!