Digging through my catalogue of games to write, I realized we have been heavily neglecting the noble genre of fighting games. I thought first, of course, about some of the long running series that are still alive and kicking to this day – in particular Street Fighter, Art of Fighting and Mortal Kombat. While they have their place, they would need to have significantly more written about them than I have time for at the moment, much to my chagrin. I considered writing about some of the later series of fighting games, 2D or 3D: Guilty Gear, Bloody Roar, Soul Calibur, Samurai Showdown and others I had torn through with friends over the years. Again, they all felt like a bit too much to write about in just one go. I decided to dig deep into the B-team of fighting games that were released, to find a title that most other people I have known are unfamiliar with. A heavy time travelers romp known as Eternal Champions.
Unlike other games of its time, Eternal Champions was first and foremost a console fighting game. Unlike it’s successful predecessors released within the last two years (many of which I mentioned in the introduction), this was a console title with no arcade presence. It was unique; it was a gem. It focused heavily on its background information and its storyline, special moves that broke the Capcom standard, and didn’t pigeonhole characters into archetypes (which didn’t generally exist yet). It combined many different elements from other games that had come out so far and made headway into trying to create a unique franchise.
The storyline was basic to begin. You play as one of the nine characters who die before they could do something good for the world, generally from lead poisoning, steel poisoning, stone poisoning, and other forms of murder that I can’t really fit into funny poison archetypes. Each of these characters was set to make the world a better place before their untimely demise, in one way or another. The Eternal Champion, the final boss, had the power to save one of them to change the course of humanity for the better, so as all benevolent caretakers of time do, he forces them to fight each other to the death for the honor. Characters are from across the entire time spectrum, and each has their own unique fighting style and play style. By fighting style, I mean just that: they based character fighting off of different martial arts (with the exception of Slash the Caveman. His fighting style merely says ‘pain’.)I’ll give a basic run down of one of the characters, but I really recommend at least finding the game to check out all of the biographies – it’s a lot of good information. Blade is a bounty hunter from the future, who is attempting to hunt down a rogue scientist in possession of a virus that could easily kill 99% of the world’s population. While he finds the scientist, and just about has the scientist convinced to give himself up… the authorities decide he has taken too long, the police open fire, which causes the scientist to die, and the virus to be released.
The fighting isn’t as smooth as a Capcom fighter, but smoother than Mortal Kombat. One of the biggest hurdles to get through is the fact that characters all play uniquely. The fact that every play style is different makes for an interesting challenge, but it also makes the game hard to pick up and play without practice. Another thing that sets the game apart is a training mode that allows you to practice not merely against other opponents, but of weird different robots to practice on. It used a six-button controller like many other fighting games of the time, though special moves could be a hassle to pull off. When you lose a fight, you are sent back one fight rather than allowing you to continue as before, making for an occasionally frustrating experience with a difficult A.I.The graphics of the game were pretty on par with the times. It was a Genesis title and it was obvious that it was – it didn’t have the obnoxious character overlays unique to Mortal Kombat, and wasn’t quite as ingrained in any anime stylings as Street Fighter. It wasn’t smooth, but not perfect. Emulators are a bit grainier than the original game was, with color spots obvious on many of the character sprites.
Eternal Champions even had some bizarre marketing gimmicks when it was released, including a 7-Eleven Slurpee flavor, appearances in different Sega magazines in the US and UK, and two gamebooks. Those are some of the oddest promotions of all, almost like a mix between choose-your-own adventure books and miniature self propelled RPG’s.
Though it wasn’t a long franchise, Eternal Champions did spawn three other games. Let’s start with the low notes in the series, the spin-offs. The first was a Sega Game Gear title called Chicago Syndicate, starring Larsen, a mafia cat burglar from the 1920’s. It was not terribly fun, successful or well known. The other was called X-Perts, which was for the Genesis. It starred Shadow, the 90’s cyberpunk ninjette as part of a secret society of butt whupping assassins, along with a couple of other characters. This sadly fell into the same category as the Game Gear spinoff: it was not well regarded or enjoyable. Both games took place in alternate universes where those characters won the Championship and were rescued at the moment of their deaths. The only direct sequel was Eternal Champions 2: Challenge from the Dark Side. It was one of the few games considered really good for the Sega CD (a good game on the Sega CD? A rarity). It was largely similar, though it featured some new characters, and a slew of unlockable characters that would permanently unlock in your save file.It never felt like a well known series, despite being successful enough to spawn two spin-offs and a sequel. Eternal Champions always seemed to be like it was a B-lister within a popular genre. Fighting games have come and gone, and other early forerunners of the genre were much more successful, and expanded into series that were better known and better regarded, but it was a decent attempt. They brought a few things to the table that other games were missing at the time, and tried to break the mold before the mold itself had been set. It’s worth checking out. Other than Rom’s for Sega Genesis emulators, the game can be found in the Wii virtual console store.