Last week I started this blog series about old video game series that were great but saw their last game years ago but really could be successful on a new platform again. After Ape Escape last week I thought about a game that starts with the letter B and well, the first game that came into my mind was Battle Arena Toshinden, the fighting game series that was once one of the big exclusive features of the Sony Playstation back when it launched in 1995.
Battle Arena Toshinden was a 3D fighting game like Virtua Fighter or Tekken at the time, but unlike them, it featured more traditional gameplay more based on the special moves and normal attacks of each character instead of going very combo heavy.
Battle Arena Toshinden was also the first 3D fighting game that really used the third dimension to dodge attacks. While it was never a masterpiece like Street Fighter or SoulBlade, even at that time, it was quite innovative and set up the basement for many later fighting games. But somehow, the developers kinda ruined the series later..but more about that after I introduce the four main Toshinden games to you.
Lets create a 3D fighting game by the guys that ported SNK fighting games to 16bit consoles!
Battle Arena Toshinden by Tamsoft was first released in Japan and published there by Takara, only some weeks after the launch of the Playstation there and was also one of the best looking games there at the time. Not only were the characters a lot more detailed and looked beautiful in comparison with the blocky polygon models in Virtua Figher, the background stages also had many details, showed transparency effects and were animated in a few cases.
In short, it looked damn good for its time and the gameplay was pretty good in 1995 as well. Battle Arena Toshinden had only 8 characters to choose from initially and also two unlockable characters (The boss and a secret boss that is the brother of the main protagonist). To play as them you had actually to play through the game two times and also use a code at the main menu. Toshinden was pretty bare-bones and had only a small intro and the characters did not have any form of endings.
Each character had a weapon, the most of them used swords of different forms and sizes but there were also a few more unusual weapons used like the Iron Claws of Fo or the Whip of the pretty stereotype Russian Agent/Detective Sofia. The main buttons were used for weak and hard attacks while the shoulder buttons were used to use the background to dodge attacks, it was also possible to use them for special attacks actually to make it easier for players that are not so good with the usual half circle etc. inputs for them. An idea that would be used by many other fighting games later. The stages are all different forms of platforms, it was possible to fall down from them which would cause a ring-out.
It also really needs to be mentioned that the game had an amazing soundtrack.
The game received an enhanced port for the Sega Saturn that did not look as good but had a real story mode and also an additional character named Cupido that was not used in any of the sequels for some reason. It was also ported to the PC and the Game Boy (in 2D of course).
Battle Arena Toshinden was never as big as Tekken but was sold over 1M times according to VGcharts. It got re-released as one of the first Greatest Hits and Platinum games.
Lets improve Toshinden!
Battle Arena Toshinden 2 was released around a year later and was an improvement above the first game in just every aspect.
The content itself was just bigger. There were 11 characters to choose from and also four more that were unlockable via a code input at the main screen again..and again it was not possible to save them but at least you did not have to play the game through completely to get them. There was an updated version of Toshinden 2 only released in Japan that fixed this problem and finally supported the Playstation Memory Card.
The graphics looked more detailed and colorful than before and there were a lot more animations in the new 3D backgrounds. All the characters were also re-modelled and looked more detailed and also had more animations and attacks. Battle Arena Toshinden 2 also added their take on super moves which looked really good for its time and added a bit more depth to the gameplay. Speaking about it, the gameplay was again almost all about the use of the special moves, but there were many more combo possibilities now.
One of the coolest characters in fighting games in general at the time was Vermillion, one of the unlockable secret guys. Instead of normal attacks, this guy used Pistols in battle which made him super-unique and very different from all the characters seen in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or Tekken. To even the odds a bit, they made Vermillion also very slow. This guy would be banned at the EVO or similar tournaments today, but he was a really fun experience.
Battle Arena Toshinden 2 received an arcade port and also one for Windows 95. The game was quite praised at its time and while it was not flawless, it looked like the Battle Arena Toshinden series would improve and built up to something bigger and better with every game.
Lets create Toshinden 3 and change the formula!
Battle Arena Toshinden 3 was again released only around a year after the last game, I wonder how many people were working on those games since their development circle was quite short.
While BAT3 was clearly improving some areas of the game series again, it also..well..it was a mixed bag in others. First of all the game added again new characters and they were all pretty OK..but they took out one of the really fun features of the Toshinden series by adding walls to each stage. Ring-Outs were not possible anymore. The next questionable design were the super-ugly character portraits that made the game look like it’s an ugly 8-16 bit game. The in-game graphics of both the characters and the stages looked also not as good as in Toshinden 1-2, lets look at a comparison screenshot:
The game itself was again fun. Over 15 characters were unlockable this time and the memory card was thankfully supported. To unlock the characters, the player had to play through the game with each character now, it was similar to Tekken 2, and the most of the unlockable characters were also as similar to the standard characters as Armor King to King in Tekken 1. The main differences were the super moves.
Battle Arena Toshinden 3 did not receive any ports and while it was not a bad game, it was also not the big improvement. But the next game could be much better…right?
Lets create a shitty game!
Toshinden 4 /Toshinden Subaru in Japan was released around 2 years after Toshinden 3, back in August 1999. It was never released in the USA and received a PAL (Europe and Australia) release in June 2000.
This game was a super huge letdown and kinda ruined the Toshinden series completely. Its biggest features are probably the weird mini games like the dancing contest.
Toshinden 4 has an almost completely new character cast, the main protagonist is the nephew of Eiji Shinjo who is also the boss of the game. It has only 13 characters (4 of them are unlockable). The graphics were bad for a 1999 game and the gameplay was just boring. It had a story mode this time and also a few more game modes than in the previous games but this was as bad as Fatal Fury Wild Ambition in comparison with FF Real Bout as example. And the soundtrack was just terrible bad.
Like said..it ruined the name of the series…most likely forever.
Additional Games and Releases:
The Toshinden Series got 2 spinoff games that were only released in Japan with one being a board game and the other one being a remake of the first game with easier controls and “Kids” versions of the characters, it was similar to Virtua Fighter Kids. The Sega Saturn received a very different version of Toshinden 2 with Toshinden URA that introduced a new story, new characters and had also different stages as in the original Toshinden 2.
There were also official soundtracks released as well as a remix album and even a Toshinden Anime.
Why would I like to see Battle Arena Toshinden coming back?
First of all, to be honest because I myself liked the first two games a lot and saw a huge potential in them. I replayed all four games today for this article to see if it was just nostalgia or if the series was really that good.
In fact I played Toshinden 2 through with Gaia again and started thinking about how few fighting game series are there today that are completely different from each other. I believe that Toshinden could be very different from other modern fighting games and focus on weapon based fighting as well as special and super moves. A 3D fighting game that is not all about combos and more about ranged attacks would be a nice addition to the selection of available fighting game series.
That and I want just to listen to new takes of these fantastic music tracks the old Toshinden games offered 😉
How to restart Battle Arena Toshinden and bring it back and make it a success?
Tamsoft, the developer studio of the Toshinden games are still exsisting and developing games like Senran Kagura as example, but I don’t know if the Battle Arena Toshinden IP even belongs to them or went down together with Takara which is defunct since 2006 and became a part of Tomy. Tomy Takara released a Toshinden game on the Nintendo Wii but it had nothing in common with the older Battle Arena Toshinden games.
Lets imagine that Tamsoft would own the rights and there would be some people there interested in rebooting Battle Arena Toshinden and creating a new fighting game based on the old characters and features.
This could be a success for them if done well because there are not many fighting games in the landscape today actually. It’s very different as in the nineties. Today there is just SF, Tekken, MK, Smash Bros, a few Crossover games and the 2D fighters by Arc System Works. This year (2015) we got and get not a lot more than Mortal Kombat X. And Toshinden could be very different from all these games.
I would really try to make this a small Kickstarter Project. In the best way like the Shenmue III announcement in cooperation with Sony since Toshinden was mainly a Playstation series back in the day and Sony recently mentioned they want to make the Playstation 4 the “home for fighting game players”
A Toshinden that it either completely funded or at least supported by them would be a good marketing step and mean more popularity for Tamsoft and the game and also more sympathy by the FGC.
I would make it a reboot that starts with the same 8+2 characters as the original Battle Arena Toshinden. Would save the costs of new character design development, would be cool for old players (like me) that remember the old guys and would welcome to see Ellis and Sofia in updated looks. Unlike other big games a budget of 500k-1M could be more than enough to make a new Battle Arena Toshinden a good game that is also financially a success if the developers would do a good job and create a competitive fighting game with different features than SF etc.
Thanks for reading, what are your thoughts and memories about the Battle Arena Toshinden series and would you like to see it back in action as well?