In our Final Round series, we take a look an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1996’s Tobal No.1…
Up until the mid-90’s, SquareSoft (now Square Enix) were a renowned name in the world of Nintendo. Their legendary Final Fantasy series is still one of the most beloved franchises in gaming to this day, and it seemed like things were all set to transfer over onto Nintendo’s brand new console, the Nintendo 64, but the prospect of cheaper costs of developing CD-based games saw SquareSoft opt for working with Sony instead.
Their first post-Nintendo release didn’t venture into the tried-and-tested RPG genre though, but surprisingly started off their new era of Square in the realm of fighting games, and teaming up with a new developer, DreamFactory; a company started by Seiichi Ishii, an industry veteran who worked on the original Virtua Fighter and Tekken games.
Released in August 1996 in Japan (and a few months later for other countries), Tobal No. 1 was an interesting entry into the steadily expanding pool of 3D fighters, with a couple of unique features that aimed to make the game stand out from its slowly saturating competition.
The first of these features is the art style. The character designs were conceived by Akira Toriyama, the artist famous for creating Dragon Ball, and working on Square’s Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger. Fans of his animated output and distinct style will love what’s going on throughout the game, as much of it is incredibly reminiscent of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, from the characters themselves (Chuji, Gren and Epon are strikingly similar to Goku, Trunks and Bulma) to the premise of the game (a big tournament? Where have I seen that before?).
Then there’s the graphics. Most 3D fighting games at this time were heavily reliant on sharp textured polygons, Tobal No. 1 bucked the trend by utilising a cartoonish, primitive cel shaded style that allowed the game to run at a smooth 60fps. While there’s little in the way of details featured on the characters during gameplay, this has aged way better than the pointy messiness seen in games just a couple of years prior. Tobal No. 1 is also the very first fighting game to take full advantage of a 3D space, so the sidestepping and throws that are the entry standard for pretty much every game of this kind started here.
Promotional Material/Box Art
Having a popular manga artist on board with the game’s development meant that pretty much all of the game’s promotional art is excellent. The game’s main promotional highlight interestingly had nothing to do with Tobal No. 1 at all, as the game came bundled with a demo disc for the then-upcoming Final Fantasy VII. It’s fair to say that Tobal No. 1‘s success in Japan and cult status in the USA is partly because of this demo disc.
Again, the game’s box art features some excellent Akira Toriyama artwork on the PAL and Japanese releases, while the NTSC box art goes for a more accurate depiction of the game’s 3D graphics.
Set in the year 2048, Tobal No. 1 centers around the planet Tobal’s 98th annual fighting tournament. The main prize of the tournament? The rights to the mining of the planet’s most coveted natural energy source, Malmoran ore. Humans, robots and aliens alike all enter the competition in an attempt to earn the distinction of being Tobal’s ultimate champion, and to become rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Chuji Wu is a miner who is fed up with the shady practices of the multinational company that greedily bought up all of Tobal’s mines, so he enters the tournament in an attempt to take down its leader, Gren Kuts, who is also a participant.
As he is heavily featured on every piece of marketing and key art, it’s safe to assume that Chuji is the central character of Tobal No. 1. As for his fighting style, he has a decent mix of speed and power that will appeal to newcomers and veterans alike.
Epon’s father formerly entered the tournament years ago with a particularly rough and brutal style. The reason behind him fighting so hard (and eventually winning the tournament) was to win enough money to help a gravely ill Epon as a child, but the brutality saw him banished from the kingdom, so Epon enters the tournament in an attempt to clear his name.
Epon is one of the quickest characters in Tobal No. 1, making up for her lack in strength.
An ex-tournament winner, and mentor to Hom. He defeated Emperor Udan in the 66th Tournament, becoming the second person ever to become champion. Upon becoming victorious, he was awarded with a considerable amount of Molmoran ore (which is equivalent to around $100 million), yet he lives a very frugal lifestyle.
Equipped with an assortment of jabs, kicks and flips, Fei is deceptively skilled and somewhat of a dark horse character. Don’t take this old man lightly, otherwise you’ll be defeated in no time whatsoever.
Gren Kuts is the second son of the wealthy British Kuts family. After becoming a martial arts champion when was just 15 years old, he remains undefeated to this day. He is also highly intelligent and humble, making it impossible to find anything bad to say about him.
It’s hard to find anything bad to say about his fighting style either, as his command list features an array of interesting power punches, spin kicks and some “royalty” themed moves at his disposal.
A labour robot with a hidden spirit and passion for martial arts. Hom was originally created as a robot for mining, but he later became a student of his mentor, Fei Pusu.
Since Hom has been heavily training for so long, most people tend to think that he takes things too seriously, when in reality, he actually just wants to have fun.
Hom is an interesting character to fight as because he has one of the most confusing moves in the entire game; he presses the big red button on his back, instantly shutting him down and effectively losing the round. This, much like Yoshimitsu from Tekken‘s suicide moves, discourages button bashing and encourages players to learn moves properly.
Ill Goga is a brutal and immensely powerful fighter from Wakoibayai, the smallest satellite orbiting Tobal who enters the tournament for a very specific reason; love.
With his winnings, he will present his Wakoibayaian girlfriend with a beautiful ring, a bouquet of flowers and a proposal to marriage.
Ill Goga carries on the reoccuring theme of “this character looks like a mean villain but is actually a complete sweetheart outside of the fights”.
Mary hails from Earth, is a professional wrestling champion and the mother of a 3-year-old baby. She has entered the Tobal tournament to test her skills and to win the prize money.
As is to be expected in a fighting game, Mary is Tobal No. 1‘s resident grappler/powerhouse character. Her background as a professional wrestler works well with the game’s fighting style of calculated throws and slams.
A kind-hearted and intelligent fighter. Although he was born on Tobal, Oliems is originally from the planet Kientakki (the strangest chicken-based pun I’ve heard in some time).
Despite his grimacing and mean appearance, he is very philosophical and many look up to him as a mentor. He is a family man, as he’s the father of two children and one egg.
In a game full of weird and wacky characters, Oliems is the weirdest and wackiest. This imposing chicken/alien/man holds some of the most powerful melee attacks in the roster, so it’s easy to drop your guard thanks to his appearance, resulting in a quick defeat.
Tobal No. 1 features three boss characters. Emperor Udan, Nork and Mufu.
Mufu and Nork are the sub-bosses, with Mufu becoming unlockable after being defeated in Quest mode. Nork is not playable, instead, a pint-sized version of the character named “Snork” (no, not like THOSE Snorks) is unlocked. Emperor Udan is the game’s final boss, and is a real challenge when it comes to face him in battle.
There’s also an extra secret character hidden in the game. Fully completing the game’s Quest mode unlocks Tori-Bot, Akira Toriyama’s self caricature, as a playable character. He doesn’t feature anywhere else in the game in terms of story.
Thanks to the simplistic 3D graphics, the environments in each stage are pretty cool. There’s nine different stages to fight on, ranging from a decorative shrine, a floating iceberg and a dark mineshaft, to a dungeon (which we’ll get into in the next section), an under-construction highway and a ruins-filled desert. The only drawback to this is that players can’t manually select which stage to fight on, instead being randomly assigned one for each fight.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Tobal No. 1 is its inclusion of “Quest Mode”; a rogue-like (ish) 3D dungeon-crawler experience. In this mode, players select a character to make fight their way through deeper and deeper sections of a 30-level dungeon, coming across several strange enemy types, and relying on RPG tactics to survive. In an interview with Ishii in 1996, he stated that because the game was a console exclusive, it would primarily be played in single player mode, therefore it needed greater depth in the gameplay design to compensate for the depth in fighting against a human opponent.
Completing certain sections of the dungeons unlocks characters, and the whole mode adds more depth to the storylines of each fighter, giving players a reason to try to finish the dungeons with every character. This mode would pop up again in the sequel, as well as in SquareSoft’s later title Ehrgeiz: God Bless The Ring.
Completing the game’s tournament mode rewards players with short cutscenes of their chosen fighter collecting their titles. Besides the hilarious Vince McMahon-esque strut that each fighter seems to have here, this is pretty disappointing stuff. Oh well, at least Quest Mode makes up for this underwhelming area of the game.
Overall, Tobal No. 1 is an imperfect, yet underrated, entry into the catalogue of 3D fighting games. The art style is fantastic, the weird and wonderful characters will instantly appeal to Dragon Ball/Dragon Quest fans and the inclusion of something as unique as a Quest mode was definitely ahead of its time. The slow gameplay makes things feel slightly frustrating, as well as having a confusing blocking system in place.
Had it not been for other high-profile fighting games coming out at the same time, Tobal No. 1 just might have been much more of a household name, instead of a relatively obscure gem.
Are you a fan of Tobal No.1? Let us know your favourite memories in the comments below or send a tweet our way!