Little story you before we get started: do you know why people remember this game? Do you know the REAL reason as to why people, particularly American gamers, remember this game? It’s this little thing called a Demo Disc that came with this game. What demo, you ask? Final Fantasy 7. You know, one of the greatest and most well-loved RPGs of all time? That little, unknown game that no one ever talks/complains/gushes about? No?
Oh well. Your loss.
Now, that isn’t to say that Tobal No.1 didn’t sell COMPLETELY off the back of the Final Fantasy 7 demo disc but let’s be honest here… if it sold over 600,000 copies of the game based on the game itself, then 600,000 people are pretty much bonkers because this game is NOT a 600,000-seller in its own right.
Turns out that it didn’t sell very well in the US in the end. Nor the UK. But oh well. It turns out we could wait for the WHOLE of Final Fantasy 7 to drop on us instead… that and the fact we were usually swamped with amazing demos anyway so throwing in one demo disc into a game wasn’t really… whoop-worthy.
That’s right. Whoop-worthy. Go fig.
So indeed, Squaresoft did get into the fighting game genre – more than once in fact – and this was both their first fighting game and their first game on a CD-based console. It sort of shows but let’s be clear here, this isn’t a dreadful game but it’s not exactly the type of fighting game that would set the world on fire or make you do so much as sit up and take notice.
The game takes place on the world of Tobal where the ruler of the kingdom has announced a fighting game tournament to find out who deserves the rights to an ore than can be used as an energy source. As such, aliens, humans, etc, all convene to basically make it theirs… and of course win the grand prize of a being the best fighter in the WHOLE GALAXY… I suppose. I dunno. It’s all pretty hazy all in all. Plus every character ends the game by receiving a trophy and THAT IS IT.
That is some last-gen bullshit ending right there. Even Street Fighter 2 managed to have individual endings for their characters and that’s 5 years older than this game. Giving your character a trophy in a fighting game is the real life equivalent of getting a slightly wonky high-five from your niece or nephew: IN REALITY, IT IS WORTH NOTHING.
Wonky high-fives aside, one of the hooks to any fighting game outside of the gameplay is the atmosphere it creates and this is where Tobal No 1… really fucks everything up.
I mean… seriously. It’s dire. There’s so little flair or excitement in this game that I have to wonder whether this is a game or a tech demo sometimes.
Given that 3D fighting games were still in their infancy by this stage, I ought to give it a little bit of slack. I ought to but you should know by now that I’m bloody well not going to. It’s bad enough that the game itself is a bit ropey but to pretty much give the player no reason to care or no incentive or drive to want to play is tantamount to gaming treason. There is very little in the game that makes the player engaged in what they’re doing. One of these things is the lack of any real OOMPH behind the characters’ attacks. As the fights go on, there is no sense of impact behind the blows. Everything feels woolly and flat. Yes, if a character blocks an attack, the punches and kicks react accordingly rather than flying straight through and whatnot so there is that side of things… but the feel behind each attack doesn’t really marry up with the intended force behind it. It feels cold and wrong and lacklustre, much like a snowball fight in the desert.
THAT’S WHAT THIS GAME IS. IT’S A SNOWBALL FIGHT IN THE DESERT.
Character-wise, given that they’re designed by Akira Toriyama of Dragonball-fame, we’re actually given a distinctly hodgepodge drone of meh. Even the slightly more unusual characters are given very little edge or hook to them and all in all, they all feel very underwhelming. There’s basically no character or personality to any of them and not even Nelly-plaster-wearing protagonist (I suppose) Chuji gives off any sense of excitement to him. Joining Chuji is token-schoolgirl-alike Epon, chicken man Oliems, gargoyle-like Ill Goga, large Russian wrestler lady Mary, token old-man Fei, annoying robot Hom (nicknamed ‘WEE-YOO!’ because of reasons I will explain soon), and average all-rounder with an attitude Gren.
And none of them are interesting or exciting. Even chicken man Oliems isn’t exciting, and actually spends most of the fight cawing like a robotic chicken whenever he attacks. Hom unfortunately earns himself the moniker of the most irritating character because whenever he attacks, he lets out this irritating WEE-YOO noise (THERE IT IS) and it happens EVERY SINGLE HE UNLEASHES AN ATTACK. And then when he wins a fight, he unleashes even more of his annoying non-robot voice. He feels completely out of place in the grand scheme of things here, in terms of characterisation. They really didn’t do his whole feel any justice. And particularly, they didn’t do anything with the fact that he’s a robot aside from have his body spin around after winning a fight… how do you not include that in any of his attacks or special moves – even though in reality they don’t have any special moves because gaming logic was basically lost here.
There are also the three unlockable boss characters, Mufu, a rotund, spindly-armed-and-legged creature, the ENORMOUS sub-boss Nork who feels like he OUGHT to be the game’s boss but isn’t, and Emperor Udan himself, who seems to have little rabbity ears and a slightly unnerving facial expression most of the time. Again… none of them are brilliant and in fact, Nork looks and plays the worst because he takes up so much of the screen that all you end up seeing are his bland body textures and his bloody cape blowing about randomly, COVERING YOUR CHARACTER AT EVERY WAKING MOMENT.
Look at him being a dick. He’s not even that good. Every attack hits him because he fucking sucks. GO BACK TO… YOUR PLANET… WHEREVER THAT IS AND GIT GUD.
Graphically, the game cuts a pretty huge dichotomy between looking and moving really good and also having all of the graphical prowess of a Net Yaroze game. The character models move smoothly, fluidly and are actually pretty good on the whole. Couple this with the non-descript backgrounds, however, and suddenly we’re into ‘my-first-game-coding’ territory. Everything is blandly coloured and textured and has nothing that makes them stand out. Things that move in the backgrounds move in a fairly clunky, obvious way and even then, you’re clutching at straws to even find something that really looks exciting. None of it will distract you, that’s a bonus, but none of it is any good and cheapens the experience somewhat.
And don’t get me started on Quest Mode.
I’m not going into Quest Mode.
You can fuck right off if you think I’m talking about Quest Mode.
There are a myriad of problems with the fighting engine itself as well. Given that most people will have probably played 2D fighting games before this one and then potentially played either Tekken or Virtua Fighter, you will most likely get a feel for how fighting games tend to work. In Tobal, all rules do not apply. Imagine all of the ways of fighting you KNOW and just cast them all out of your mind because Tobal No 1 is a law unto itself and fuck you for thinking otherwise, apparently.
The game features three main attack buttons, high, middle and low attacks, mapped to the triangle, square and x buttons respectively. The circle button does nothing and you guard with one of the shoulder buttons. And you also JUMP with one of the shoulder buttons.
No, no. Let that sink in for a moment.
YOU JUMP. WITH A SHOULDER BUTTON.
Well done Squaresoft. Well done Dream Factory. Here’s your medal for being different. Now fuck off.
I have no major beef with high, middle and low attacks being used but this also means that characters don’t crouch. They can’t jump, they don’t crouch and they freely roam the playing field. Normally I’d be all “WOW, YOU CAN MOVE WHEREVER YOU WANT?” but in reality, I’m like “WHY AM I MOVING UP AROUND HIM, WHY CAN I NOT JUMP???” so it’s not exactly the experience I was expecting. As such, Tobal No.1 forces the player to think differently about how to actually win matches.
And what else buggers this up? The camera. Oh of course. Here we go.
The camera has this unerring feeling of looseness to it, like it’s swinging from a tall crane on a heavy wire. It’s usually too far away from the characters so they look really small, or it takes so long to centre itself that fights often take place on random positions on the screen. It has no urgency to it like it’s still working on old-fashioned technology. I could just imagine someone working it using a wheel crank or something and constantly trying to wind it round calling out “wait a sec… wait…. wait… wait… got i-oh, they’ve moved, wait a sec…. wait… wait… nearly there…”
FUCKING CAMERA JUST STOP BEING A DICK.
Even the replays give off nothing to the game’s atmosphere because the camera doesn’t show off the final blow in any significantly satisfying fashion. It’s a wonder this game actually managed to sell the amount of copies it did to even get a sequel.
Oh yes. There’s a sequel.
It was apparently better but… *scoff* let’s be clear… not too hard.
And I suppoooooooose… I’d better mention the fact that Quest Mode exists. Yes. There’s a sub-par adventure mode where you choose a character, take them trawling through precarious and poorly textured ‘dungeons’ – GREY WALLS EQUAL DUNGEONS, PEOPLE – and pick up various items along the way trying to beat the shit out of everything that moves down there… and it’s boring.
It’s actually a travesty how poor it feels to try and get through that fucking dungeon without wanting to punch the nearest baby or something. Movement doesn’t work accurately enough and the momentum the game creates means that jumps are often easy to fuck up so… as much as I want to just call it an ‘unusual curio’ and that you ought to try it once, I really don’t want you to inflict that upon yourselves and I don’t want to give you the impetus to do so. Please don’t put yourself through the torment of bothering with it when all you will do is curse the fact that it exists and without it, WE COULD HAVE HAD BETTER ENDINGS OR BETTER GRAPHICS OR BETTER ANYTHING.
FUCK YOU, HOM, NO ONE WINS HERE.
As such, the game’s bizarre controls and lacklustre fighting system, which really offers such little variety between the characters themselves, really doesn’t add anything to the experience. It detracts from what could essentially be quite a good fighting game. In fact, that’s part of the problem as well. This is potentially quite good but that potential is so lost and fragmented that it’s actually difficult to know what to do with it. The character designs need a bit more oomph. The backgrounds need a bit more oomph. The music, the fighting, the controls, the story, the whole shebang just needs more fucking oomph to it.
But hey, don’t worry everyone: it’s 60 frames per second!