With all of the ballyhoo over the release of Street Fighter V, it got me reminiscing about many of the old fighting game series that have disappeared over the years. There was a time when the genre was the king of the hill with publishers constantly pumping out new titles to top one another / cash in on the craze. As the waves of nostalgia rolled over me, a few series in particular kept springing to mind. Unfortunately, the likelihood of any of them making a triumphant return soon is not very good seeing as the studios that made them have either gone under, changed their focus, or the key individuals in creating them have moved on. Nonetheless, it would be nice to see some of these franchises come back. So, with that, let's take a look at some of the fighting game series that are no longer with us and dream of a world where they could actually be brought back.
This came along in an interesting period in Squaresoft's game development history. During the mid to late 90s, they got quite adventurous in the sorts of games that they were putting out. They stuck to their RPG roots much of the time, but we did see the company venture into other genres during this time, like fighting games.
Bushido Blade was a very different beast from many of its counterparts. The most notable thing about the game was instant deaths, as it went for a more realistic attitude toward combat. Characters had a variety of swords that they could use and were actually able to kill an opponent in one well placed hit. There were no health meters in these games. It was all about learning the stances, transitioning one attack into the next, learning to block, and being punished mercilessly for mistakes.
Despite the potential for brutally quick deaths, a lot of people really enjoyed the games. Hardcore folk ate up the depth of the combat while casuals giggled as they hobbled around the battlefield trying to finish one another off.
Unfortunately, as Squaresoft's popularity soared in the late 90s thanks to the games that they were putting out, so too did their hubris resulting in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within which just about bankrupted the studio, forcing Enix to step in and save them. Since then, they've never quite been the same, gravitating more toward safer franchises while leaving games like Bushido Blade in the past.
Nonetheless, it's hard not to look back at the game and its sequel with fond memories and wish that somehow it could come back in the modern era.
When Virtua Fighter first appeared in arcades, it raised a lot of eyebrows. Fighting games were already well on their way, enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity, but the genre was a vast sea of 2D sprite-based games up to this point. When Sega stepped onto the scene with Virtua Fighter, one couldn't help but notice the polygons.
Not only was it a graphical marvel for its time, the feel and mentality of the fighting was so different. It was a somewhat slower, plodding approach to fighting. Sure, part of this was due to the polygonal nature of the game, where games that dared go this route still felt a tiny bit clunky in the early 90s. However, Sega took this and ran with it. First, characters moves were nowhere near as over the top as Street Fighter II and games of that ilk. It was a methodical sort of combat where players steadily punched and kicked, stringing one move into the next giving a sense of momentum and oomph that was quite different to what one experienced in 2D fighters. Moreover, the moves were much more grounded in reality, emphasizing punches, kicks, throws, and knockdowns. Virtua Fighter took place in the land that fireballs forgot. It even made us brutally aware of the world of ring outs as players teetered out of the ring with a shocked and slightly disappointed, "Ah!"
As the years wore on, one sequel after the next came along as Sega refined the series, honing it into one of the most technical fighting games of all time where timing is of the utmost importance. It introduced us to a cast of characters that many Sega fans still have fond memories of to this day, and we even saw the series get some spin offs like Virtua Fighter Kids and Virtua Quest.
Unfortunately, a lot of doubt hangs over whether we'll see a Virtua Fighter 6. The fifth installment in the series came out nine years ago during the early days of the last console generation. Since then, there's not been a peep from Sega about a new game. We get the occasional reminder that the series was a thing with its characters making cameos in other games (like Akira and Kage in Project X Zone games, or some of its characters appearing in Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate), but we're still waiting to see a proper new Virtua Fighter game.
When I first started brainstorming this article, I didn't expect two Squaresoft games to be on it but here we are. It was another early 3D fighter with its fair share of quirks. The visuals were relatively stripped down while everything marched along at 60 frames per second. Characters were designed by Akira Toriyama while a small army of composers contributed to the soundtrack.
One of the most memorable aspects of the Tobal games was all of the different modes it had, especially quest mode where players went on an adventure as they explore a dungeon while gathering items to help them, all the while hoping they don't die, being forced to start over. It was a mode that people weren't expecting but were certainly happy to see.
It's been years since the two Tobal games came out, but it's still missed by many. Maybe with the Final Fantasy VII remake coming along Square-Enix can throw us a bone and make a new Tobal game that they can pack a demo of FFVII in for old times sake.
Who doesn't like a good transformation sequence in an anime every now and then? Very bad people, that's who. They probably don't like Bloody Roar then either, which makes them even worse. For shame. For the rest of us who do have fond memories of them, we savored these sequences in all of their glory as we got ready to unload on our opponents.
Bloody Roar took a somewhat more over the top approach to 3D fighting games with this more beastly tone. It opened up the door to super moves and allowed players to regain some health so there was good reason to make use of it. On top of this, the game was easy to get into. Basic combos could be done with relative ease and people who weren't even all that well versed in fighting games could have a good time.
Unfortunately, while the series did muster its fair share of fans, we haven't seen a new installment since 2003. Moreover, its publisher was Hudson Soft which is now owned by Konami, a company that hasn't even tried to hide its disdain for video games in recent years. So, it's looking like nothing short of a miracle will bring Bloody Roar back from the grave and even if it did return, knowing Konami it would be as a pachinko machine.
There have been plenty of 2D weapon-based fighting games to come along over the years, but I've always had a special place in my heart for The Last Blade, so it's going on the list. It's an SNK game that a lot of people have forgotten about, overshadowed by the likes of King of Fighters and even the series that it was a spiritual successor of, Samurai Shodown.
Nevertheless, it is a solid 2D fighter in its own right. First and foremost, the games were absolutely gorgeous. The people that did the art for this series deserve a metal for their sprite work. The Last Blade stands as an amazing example of what one can do with the medium. Very few 2D fighting games of the time can stand toe-to-toe with this series in terms of visual splendor.
Not only did it look good, it was fun too. There was a sizable cast of characters to choose from with a lot of variety as to their combat styles. Combat was very interesting as the game had some very big combos that players could do while taking advantage of the game's buffering system, which allowed one to enter moves well in advance while preparing these chains. Also, there was a "repel" ability that was very interesting, as it knocked back opponents as a means to try and create some space so that you could go in after and get a combo started or just creating some breathing room. As tempting as it may be to write off The Last Blade as a Samurai Shodown clone given its aesthetic and the people who made it, these games had a feel of their own.
It would be nice if SNK brought the series back, even if just as a classics compilation for new generations of players to enjoy. Obviously, the lion's share of their attention is on King of Fighters now, but if they could find a way to revive The Last Blade in any way, shape, or form, I for one would be very happy indeed.
The reason this series isn't in the main list above is because we did get Darkstalkers Resurrection not too long ago. It was a mini classics compilation and digital only, but the release was a sign that Capcom actually remembers that there are quite a few people who still love the series. Will the company take the logical next step and make a full-blown new entry in the series? Only time will tell.
Another Capcom series and one that showed the publisher could put out some decent 3D fighters, and not just its bread and butter 2D affairs. It had a fun mix of characters, interesting moves, and for its time, the games looked quite pretty, garnering the series a decent number of fans. It's a long shot that we'll ever see Rival Schools revived, but no one would complain if it were to happen.