Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Teasing the next Street Fighter EX and Fighting Layer, part 1

On April 1, 2017 ARIKA studios did a live demonstration of a game called Fighting EX Layer. It was a successor to their popular Street Fighter EX and Fighting Layer games. When it came to April Fools jokes ARIKA has consistently gone above and beyond. Previously the studio teased a Street Fighter EX remake on the Game Boy 3DS. They had also shown off the character select screen for a Street Fighter EX 2 remake they were allegedly working on. None of the games they teased has actually been released. The fact that they would make a working game engine just to pull off the prank was commendable. Yet there was something different about teasing this new build. It came at a time where even Capcom was acknowledging the Street Fighter EX legacy characters.

Prior to this April Fools it was understood that ARIKA and Capcom were not on the friendliest terms. ARIKA was founded by a former Capcom staffer, Akira Nishitani. He was one of the lead designers on Street Fighter II and he took a good portion of his team when he left the studio. He developed and proposed the first 3D Street Fighter game, it was labeled EX so that audiences wouldn't confuse it for one of the numbered Capcom titles. It also revolved around the EX tournament rather than the Street Fighter tournament. The original World Warriors (except for Blanka) appeared in EX, as did Sakura who had made her debut in Street Fighter Zero 2 at around the same time. They were paired off against an entirely new cast of characters. It was the last time the majority of the Street Fighter II team would work together. Some legal and licensing issues popped up around 1998 during the release of Fighting Layer. ARIKA wanted to expand their catalog so they developed a new arcade game that would be published by Namco. This new game featured two EX characters, Blair Dame and Allen Snider. By doing this the company wanted to build their library of characters. The assumption was that they could cross over in the future. ARIKA owned the rights to the new characters created for Street Fighter EX. We assume that they also owned the new characters created for Fighting Layer. They were technically allowed to use them in other games. This was a problem for Capcom because Namco was a perennial rival. If ARIKA wanted they could have featured a character or two in the Tekken series. This would have been great for fighting game fans but would have been a thorn in the side of Capcom. I don't know if there was a non-compete agreement between Capcom and ARIKA but many noticed that there was tension between the two companies after Fighting Layer. The speculation was that ARIKA had to take Capcom to court to ensure the EX series would be published per their previous agreements.


For almost 20 years neither studio mentioned the other, except when interviewed for the occasional Street Fighter retrospective. When they did that they were always cordial. In recent years ARIKA had began teasing their fans with rumors of a new EX game. They made sure to highlight their own characters and not the Capcom stars. About a year ago during the development of Street Fighter V (SFV) Capcom began releasing official character art. The studio not only released illustrations of the SFV cast, but they also began releasing illustrations of the supporting characters. Then they started releasing art for the Street Fighter IV cast, Street Fighter III and the original SF lineup. The Street Fighter Zero / Alpha characters and Final Fight cast soon followed. These were under the umbrella of the "Street Fighter Universe." The company wanted to canonize their official cast. Then Capcom did something unexpected, they released brand new art for "Other Title" characters. These were the EX and Capcom Fighting All-Star characters. It was as if Hell had frozen over. Capcom had acknowledged that there had been an EX cast and ARIKA was teasing a new EX game. Fans online were hoping that the two companies were working on a reconciliation. Perhaps with new producers, and the fact that fighting games are popular once again, both companies were considering a compromise. Stranger things had happened. I mean who could have ever predicted that the Tekken and Street Fighter characters would cross over in a versus title. Or that Gouki / Akuma would not only be a surprise character in Tekken 7, but that he would be important to the plot of the game.


I couldn't say if either Capcom or ARIKA had the resources to pull off a new EX game even if they wanted to. Don't forget that DIMPS did most of the development on Street Fighter IV and V. It would take the combined efforts of both Capcom and ARIKA to create a proper EX reboot. Before any development began the legalities of which characters to feature would be a chore. Audiences wanted Street Fighters and EX masters, but would they welcome any Fighting Layer characters as well? I for one would like to see Exodus hit a chair shot on an opponent at least one more time. Also, the canon of the EX series meant that at least one of the most popular villains would not appear. Kairi was the star of the EX universe. He was a much more tortured soul than Ryu ever was. Kairi had cursed blood and it caused him to lose control of himself. He would not only severely injure opponents in fights but he would often injure himself. He suffered from amnesia and at the end of the first EX tournament he killed Gouki and evolved into an even more powerful version of himself. Plenty of Street Fighter fans could never imagine that anybody but Ryu would be capable of defeating Gouki. Not only that but it made more sense for either Ryu or Ken to avenge the death of their master than a stranger introduced in EX. Yet that was the canon that ARIKA established and that’s why it exists in a different timeline / different continuity than the numbered SF series.


ARIKA was much more heavily influenced by the mystical elements of the fighting arts. By comparison the SF series was rooted more in science. The Dictator and his Shadowlaw / Shadaloo organization were unlocking the secrets of the martial arts masters through medical experiments. They used drugs, hypnosis and even cloning to crack the secrets of the ancient masters. There was a rational, scientific explanation for all of the amazing things that the fighters were capable of in that world. The EX universe was much more open to metaphysical origins. There were spirits, monsters and demons inhabiting the EX / Fighting Layer world. Garuda, designed to be the ultimate evil was demon animating some ancient samurai armor. It was assumed that he possessed the body of a human and turned him immortal. He could summon blades from his flesh and impale opponents with them. The powers that Kairi exploited were from a dark dimension and not meant for humans to control. It was possible that these energies came from the same place that Garuda had emerged from. Each time Kairi performed his special moves it took a toll on his body and spirit. By contrast Ryu could control his abilities and did not suffer any ill effects as they were from the natural world. Both characters however did have a light and a dark side. If Ryu used the forbidden techniques taught to him by his master then he opened himself to the Dark Hadou, a corrupting force. If Ryu gave in to the dark energy then he would become “Evil” and end up like Gouki. Kairi ended up having an almost opposite approach to this design. His “good” self, when he had black hair, was tormented by self-harm and nightmares. When he defeated Gouki he evolved into a more powerful version, his hair had turned white in the process, but he did not become “Evil Kairi.” He had gained a sort of peace with his strength. He accepted that he was now the most powerful fighter in the universe, neither a force for good or evil but destined to wander alone.


Garuda on the other hand was the constant force for evil. The Dictator Vega / M. Bison existed in the EX universe as well and had evolved somewhat since his introduction in Street Fighter II as well. He was as powerful as he had always been and was expanding his military might all over the globe. The Illuminati, introduced through Gill in Street Fighter III did not exist in this continuity. Instead it was all Shadowlaw and all Dictator running things. His R&D wings had created evolved cyborgs, known as the Cycloids. They could learn the fighting techniques of their opponents and use them in battle. The Dictator was looking to create a synthetic army that could fight as well as the best Street Fighters. His run-ins with the most powerful EX characters, whether it was Kairi or Garuda almost certainly spelled his death as well. When ARIKA teased Fighting EX Layer it was amazing to see how far the graphics had evolved and how visceral the new characters appeared.


Garuda had more details in his armor than his original concept art had ever shown. There were cracks in it, but there was also a unique gold trim. Centuries ago perhaps the armor originally belonged to some warlord or even noble. When he performed special attacks we could see that the spikes that came out of his skin were glowing red hot. Not only that but his skin seemed to glow and crackle with fissures of energy. He had a surplus of mystical energy to expel and it showed in every strike and ghost summon he performed. Garuda remained a fearsome character, and now that we could see him in high definition we could tell how he would appear in real life. I had talked about Garuda's design and the influence of both Buddhism and Shinto spirituality in previous blogs. The same level of detail applied to the other characters that ARIKA showed off in their April demo.


Hokuto, one of Kairi's younger sisters, appeared in the demo. She wore a hakama, a traditional uniform. She also wore an armored breastplate and archery gloves. Although she did not carry a bow and arrow she could shoot her spiritual energy in the form of an energy bolt. Her style of fighting was based on Kyudo, the a traditional archery techniques reserved for the samurai class but she also knew aikido moves as well. When she fired her energy bolts, the Kiren'Eki, she would go through the motions of shooting an arrow and could even hold her arms back to make the energy strike even stronger. In the series Hokuto was being raised to be the leader of the Mizukami clan. Yet it was revealed to her that she had an older brother. She was tasked with returning him home. She was unaware that the family had cursed blood or that Kairi was the result of an illicit affair. Hotukto had a curse placed on her as well, so that if she ever crossed paths with Kairi she would be forced to kill him. Hokuto would enter a trance and a seal would appear on her forehead. She became Bloody Hokuto at this point and her moves were much more dangerous. Hokuto never crossed paths with her brother in the EX series. In the games she would be joined by Nanase, the youngest sister of the family. She was a warrior in training. Although she didn't enjoy the strict training regiment she did so because she did not want to disappoint her sister. Nanase's costume was that of an Onna bugeisha, a warrior from the noble class. She fought with an expanding staff. It was never revealed if she had some sort of curse as well. Was she planned for Fighting EX Layer? Would she be reunited with her brother? Would she have to choose a side if Hokuto or Kairi ever crossed paths? Or would she abandon her family altogether? We don't know the answers to these questions yet. The ways in which ARIKA designed them was very unique for the genre. They contributed greatly to the mythology of fighting games. We will be exploring how 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!

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