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 1997’s Rival Schools: United By Fate…
Heading into the later part of the 1990’s was a busy time for Capcom’s fighting game lineup. In 1997, not only was the third entry in the Darkstalkers series arriving, but four entirely different Street Fighter-related games were scheduled too (those titles being Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact, Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix and Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha) . With the busy calendar that the company was keeping up with, dropping a new fighting game IP that year would surely have been a case of commercial (and critical) suicide, right?
Released in arcades in November 1997, Rival Schools: United By Fate began development when Hideaki Itsuno from Capcom wanted to make a 60FPS 3D polygon-based fighting game. The previous 3D fighter from the company, Star Gladiator, was set at 30FPS due to the various weapons and effects that the game used, which resulted in the technical limits of an arcade machine not being exceeded at all. Originally titled “JUSTICE FIST“, Rival Schools was originally going to be based around a tournament where fighters from around the world meet up and try to determine who is the strongest of them all (sound familiar?). After a humble response from his team, Itsuno decided to base the game around a shared experience that everyone could relate to; school.
Rival Schools: United By Fate differs from many other Capcom fighting games in that it opts for a four button fighting system (instead of the standard six buttons that Street Fighter II introduced us to back in 1991) which immediately makes things feel more like an entry in SNK’s fighting game catalogue. Capcom would eventually crossover with SNK a couple of years later, but having this system in place felt quite different to pretty much everything else in the realm of arcade fighting games, especially for a 3D fighter.
The game also employs a tag team system that is similar to Marvel Vs. Capcom (and, weirdly enough, The King Of Fighters games), where players select a team of two fighters each before their fights. The gameplay is still one-on-one, but players can swap out their fighters at the end of a round, or even call in their team-mate during a match for a special move known as a “Team Up” attack (if their special meter at the bottom is full enough!). These attacks vary greatly depending on which combinations of fighters are used, with some synergies working more effectively if the characters are from the same school. This selection of teams also greatly affects the game’s story mode too, with several different story branches only being available to specific teams.
As is to be expected from a Capcom fighting game by this point, players each have a special meter at the bottom of the screen, known in Rival Schools as “Vigor Meters”. These work just like a normal special meter, as they gradually fill up during fights. A maximum of 9 levels can be stored, but with Team Up attacks using up 2 whole bars and special “Burning Vigor” attacks quickly drinking the meter up too, players must approach this feature with an element of strategy about them.
The game also utilises a couple of new defense techniques too. The first, known as “Tardy Counters”, allows a player to immediately counter an opponent’s attack from a blocking position. The second, known as “Attack Cancels” allows players to cancel out incoming attacks by timing their own hits with the attack. This does require a bar to be filled in the Vigor Meter, while Tardy Counters are free to use.
Promotional Material/Box Art
Leading up to the game’s release, there was a quietly growing buzz around this new game franchise, so hyping up the game’s new features on the arcade flyers was to be expected. A “secret file” was also released to hype up the game’s approaching release, showing off some discarded character designs and a whole host of other interesting tidbits about Rival Schools (in addition to some fun artwork).
The ads found in gaming magazines were really well done, playing on the stereotypical “back to school sale” sections in catalogues and shops. This time instead of stationary supplies, kids could (theoretically) pick up deadly weapons to aid them in their academic studies.
A two-part manga series was published, as well as a two-part comic book series from UDON comics. Both of these titles explore the game’s storylines further.
As for box art for the PlayStation releases, there were three different designs for the regions of the basic version (known as Shiritsu Justice Gakuen: Legion of Heroes in Japan), while the game’s update, Nekketsu Seisyun Nikki 2, saw a new cover with almost the entire roster being featured.
Rival Schools: United By Fate is set in Aoharu City, where the city’s several schools have been hit with a series of mysterious student/staff disappearances and kidnappings. The various fighter on the game’s rosters decide to pursue their own investigations into these open cases.
There are five high school factions to choose from in Rival Schools: United By Fate, each with their own specific focus;
- Taiyo High – “The High School That Loves Freedom” – A private school that focuses on student individuality.
- Gorin High – “School Of Advanced Sports” – A private school that aims to produce athletes that can compete at a national level.
- Gedo High – “Collecting The Nation’s Worst” – an all-male school that seems to be more like a correctional facility to rehabilitate wayward youth and criminals.
- Pacific High – “High-Class American School” – Located near a US military base, this is an exclusive school for foreign exchange students.
- Justice High – “Super Elite High School” – A strict school with some shady rumours circulating around its admission process.
A recently transferred student to Taiyo High, Batsu is the main protagonist of the game, and he is in search of his missing mother, Shizuku Ichimonji. Described as “foul-mouthed, belligerent and impulsive”, Batsu is kind-hearted and has a strong sense of justice within him.
His all-round fighting style is brilliant for newcomers to Rival Schools, as he’s equipped with some decent special moves and combos. This flexibility makes him ideal to use in pretty much any team combination.
Hinata is a cheerful, energetic first-year student at Taiyo High, who excels at pretty much any sport that she tries. Especially skilled in hand-to-hand combat, Hinata had no peers to fight along with before Batsu arrived in the school. She joins him in his search for his missing mother.
One of the smaller characters in Rival Schools, when used properly, Hinata can become an absolute nightmare for her opponents. Wearing foes down with quick, dodging attacks can throw another player’s tactics off completely, letting Hinata easily sweep in for a victory.
Balancing out Batsu’s anger and intensity is Kyosuke, who remains cool, calm and collected at all times. He rarely shows any emotion, and is somewhat self-centered and vain, constantly adjusting his glasses and posing (he apparently spends half an hour a day looking at himself in mirrors). As the game’s story progresses, we discover that Kyosuke has some very interesting family ties to another character.
Kyosuke’s fighting style is heavily reliant on his lightning-fast uppercuts and his easy-to-trigger combo starters, and spamming his “Light Punch Cross Cutter” move can keep an opponent at arm’s length without taking much damage at all.
Taiyo High’s resident physical education teacher (and lady-killer) Hayato makes his debut in the PlayStation version of Rival Schools as a bonus character. His goal is to find the people responsible for the attacks and kidnappings in his school in an attempt to ensure the safety of his pupils.
The majority of Hayato’s attacks involve the use of his trusty kendo stick, which makes him one of the more limited characters to choose from. While he lacks air-combos and Textbook combos, he can deflect projectile attacks back towards their source, making him slightly more ideal for players who prefer a slightly more defensive approach.
First appearing in Nekketsu Seisyun Nikki 2, Ran is a Taiyo High student that is working towards a career in photojournalism, and is the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. As she is always on the hunt for the latest gossip, juicy story, or anything that sparks her interest, she is known as the school’s “Scoop Girl”. She investigates the kidnappings and disappearances from around the school in an attempt to win the coveted “Taiyo High First Prize Scoop” award.
Ran’s arsenal consists of attacks using two different weapons; her camera and a giant paper fan. Her flash photography attacks can stun opponents (whilst damaging them at the same time) while the fan deflects projectile attacks.
A member of Gorin High’s baseball team, Showa is short-tempered, impulsive and incredibly competetive. His inclusion on the team is primarily due to the fact that he starts fights on a regular basis. Alongside fellow Gorin High students who are on similar quests, he embarks on a mission to find the people who injured his older brother Shuichi.
As you’ll probably have guessed, Shoma’s attacks involve pitching baseballs at his opponents and using his oversized baseball bat as a weapon. Many of his moves are slow to set up though, so he’s tricky to get used to in fights against quicker opponents.
A member of Gorin High’s volleyball team, Natsu is an intelligent and outspoken girl whose boyish demeanor intimidates many of the boys in her classes (while she receives love letters regularly from her female friends). She hates bullies, so she sets out to find the culprits behind her schoolmates being attacked (one of the victims being a high-ranking member of the volleyball team). She constantly butts heads with Shoma over how their investigations should be carried out.
Natsu’s moves are predominantly volleyball-based, so expect a number of projectile attacks across the board, but these often run the risk of being deflected back toward Natsu, causing damage.
Continuing the theme of Gorin High’s students in Rival Schools being sports-based, Roberto is a member of the school football (sorry, “soccer”) team. He’s a quiet loner for the most part, but won’t abandon anyone who is need of help. On the football field, he’s the polar opposite of the shy, reserved student that keeps himself to himself. During their investigation, Roberto acts as a referee between Natsu and Shoma when they get into arguments.
Roberto’s command list is filled with moves that vary on the theme of kicking footballs at opponents, with a handful of goalkeeping moves thrown in for good measure.
Like Ran, Nagare makes his debut in the game’s Nekketsu Seisyun Nikki 2 update. A member of the swimming team, Nagare is also good friends with Shoma and Shuichi, so upon learning that Shoma has set off on a lone investigation, he decides to shadow him to ensure his safety.
Nagare is arguably the weirdest fighter in the game, as many of his moves are based on synchronised swimming routines. Like a weird mix of Street Fighter II‘s Dhalsim and Voldo from the Soul Calibur series, Nagare has a long reach, some bizarre air attacks and even has an attack that seems like he is performing CPR on an opponent (?).
Akira is an introverted, shy student from Gedo High. She disguises herself as a tough-talking biker to hide her gender when enrolling in the school, in an effort to search for her missing older brother (and leader of the school’s gang), Daigo.
Akira’s fighting style is based on Bajiquan, a Chinese martial art that favours short-range attacks and powerful elbow and shoulder strikes. Her attacks vary slightly in power depending on which version of Akira you choose to fight as.
Eiji “EDGE” Yamada
One of the most loyal members of Gedo High’s gang, Edge is also pretty irresponsible and a bit of a wildcard personality-wise. He is always equipped with army knives, which has earned him the nickname “Army Knife’s Edge”. He is also incredibly vain, and despises being called by his real name. Under the impression that she is his boss’s younger brother, he joins Akira in the search for Daigo.
Edge’s attack style utilises his army knives as projectile weapons, which can be used strategically to cancel an opponent’s air attacks, but often leaves him open for a counterattack. He can also kick dust into an opponent’s face, effectively stunning them for a few moments.
One of the bigger characters in Rival Schools, Gan is a fun-loving member of the Gedo High gang with an immense amount of strength at his disposal. He’s also slightly simple-minded too, which often results in people taking advantage of his gullible nature for their own gain. Like Edge, Gan joins Akira in the search for Daigo.
Many of Gan’s moveset is rooted in Sumo Wrestling, and is one of the slowest characters in the game. Players who can see past this lack of speed are rewarded with some absolutely devastating special moves, such as his “Volcanic Eruption” Burning Vigor attack, which sees him slam his opponent into the ground repeatedly before launching them into the air and slamming them down a final time.
The leader of the Gedo High gang, and older brother of Akira, Daigo had set out alone to investigate the wave of kidnappings of high school students across the region, only to be brainwashed by Hyo and go missing himself. Daigo is only playable in the PlayStation version of the game, but makes an appearance in Akira’s ending in the arcade version.
Daigo’s fighting style is similar to Akira’s, but he uses more powerful punches and kicks that can often be chained. His “True Massive Back” Burning Vigor attack is especially damaging, as he turns his back on his opponent, surrounds himself with a fiery vortex that ascends from the ground, completely wiping out his foes. Mashing the kick button during this attack adds more hits to the combo, if you feel like showing off.
An all-star quarterback in his home team back in the USA, Roy attends Pacific High as a foreign exchange student. With an underlying hatred of Japan (his grandfather apparently lost his leg there during the second World War), Roy is emotionally unstable and often doesn’t take things very seriously. He is tasked by his father to investigate the disappearances that have taken place in various high schools across the region. He is considered to be Batsu’s rival throughout the game.
Roy’s attacks are understandably based on maneuvers typically found in American Football, and some even resemble moves made famous by Terry Bogard from the Fatal Fury/The King Of Fighters series.
Joining the game as another foreign exchange student, Tiffany is an upbeat, cheerful girl who can be seen as being air-headed and “away with the fairies” most of the time. She joins Roy’s investigation not only to solve the case, but in an attempt to impress Roy himself, who she has a massive crush on. As she comes from a wealthy family, she lives in the moment, rarely considering her extended future.
Her moveset is a mix of cheerleading and kickboxing, so expect to see some devastating kicks, cartwheels and aerial attacks.
The third foreign exchange student in Rival Schools is Boman, who is training to be a preacher. As a devout Christian that never misses a Sunday service, Boman dislikes violence, and prays to God for forgiveness if he ends up in any unavoidable fights. He reluctantly joins Roy and Tiffany in their investigation to find out who the kidnappers and attackers are.
Boman’s fighting style is essentially boxing and wrestling-based, but with a heavy use of Christian imagery mixed in too. Most of his moves have the word “God” attached to them, and they vary between punches, lariats and backbreakers.
A gentlemany Japanese language teacher from Justice High school, Hideo possesses a strong sense of right and wrong, and also leads a very strict, serious personal life. He is also a 9th dan master in Shimazu Style Karate. After questioning his questionable actions throughout the course of the game’s story, Hideo, alongside other teachers in the school, is brainwashed by the school’s principal, Raizo, effectively becoming his servants.
Hideo’s moves can easily be likened to the “Shoto” style of fighting that’s employed by Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter series, thus making him a pretty easy character to get the hang of for new players, while remaining as an effective weapon for seasoned players to use.
The school nurse of Justice High, Kyoko is full of energy while she wears her white lab coat, but is apparently quite lazy and slovenly wihout it. Like Hideo, she is brainwashed by Raizo when she questions his actions.
Kyoko’s moveset is mainly centered around grappling, but with each move having a medical/hospital themed name. Ranging from attacks such as “Hospital Rounds” (a spinkick that launches opponents into the air, with the degree depending on the strength of the kick used) to “Dead Nursing” (an unblockable throw with good range).
The principal of Justice High, and the character that we’re initially led to believe that is the game’s big bad, Raizo is a former member of a ninja clan, led by his older brother. When he started to object to the decisions being made by the clan, he decided to leave and try to change the world through education. In doing this, he left behind his wife and infant son, who we discover to be Suzuku Ichimonji and Batsu, the protagonist of Rival Schools, to ensure that the clan didn’t come after him. Raizo is brainwashed by his nephew Hyo, who turns out to be the mastermind behind everything.
Like Gan, Raizo is a slow yet powerful character to fight as. He has sharp nails that he uses like claws, and he shares a throw move with Batsu, only this one inflicts way more damage.
Hyo is the final boss of Rival Schools. The nephew of Raizo, and twin brother of Kyosuke, Hyo is only reachable in the game’s story mode by meeting a certain requirement during the fight with Raizo. He is determined to take over the world, and has brainwashed a number of the game’s roster in order to put his plans into motion.
Only unlockable by a secret code (or via time release for the arcade version), Hyo wields a deadly katana sword, which means that he can deflect enemy projectiles with ease and deal a massive amount of damage to opponents without really trying.
Best known from her appearances in the Street Fighter series, Sakura is a crossover character in Rival Schools. She doesn’t have her own story in the game, although her ending tells us that she was childhood friends with Hinata and Natsu, and that the her appearance in the game’s story takes place before the events of her debut in Street Fighter Alpha 2.
Her moves are pretty much the same as they are in the Street Fighter games, and her inclusion in the game was actually due to worries of the game not selling very well.
The Japanese version of the game includes a character creation mode, but the mode was removed in the Western releases. In its place, an extra 24 unlockable characters were created using the facial expressions from the mode. These new characters are meant to resemble random students from each of the game’s high schools.
There are 11 stages to fight in throughout Rival Schools: United By Fate, and each of them is based on an area from or around each of the game’s respective high schools. Ranging from a classroom, the gymnasium and the athletic tracks, to some very imposing school gates, a library and a drive-in movie theater, there’s plenty of variety when it comes to the game’s scenery.
Rival Schools: United By Fate‘s PlayStation port contains several unlockable modes (the number of which depends entirely on which version of the game you own).
The first of these modes is “Target” mode, which sees players take control of Roberto, who must achieve the highest score possible by aiming and kicking a football towards scoreboards.
“Home Run Derby” mode is a baseball simulation, with high scores being determined by how far players can hit a baseball across the field.
“Penalty Shot” mode is similar to “Target” mode, but this adds the ability for a second player to take on the role of a goalkeeper, and goes off the number of goals scored instead of points scored.
“Service Mode” is a volleyball game that sees players take control of Natsu, who must volley a ball toward large “chibi” versions of different characters from the game, each varying in their worth points-wise.
“Kyoko’s Office” is one of the more strange additions to the game, as it isn’t really a “game” as such. Players press combinations of the controller’s shoulder buttons in order to make the controller vibrate, while Kyoko from the game looks like she’s giving a massage. Given that the original Dualshock controller was released just a few months before Rival Schools’ arrival on PlayStation, it makes sense for this fun little feature to be included.
The Japanese releases on PlayStation saw the inclusion of a school-sim mode known as “School Life Mode”, which sees players take on the role of a student, interacting with various fighters from the game and taking part in lessons. The game’s update, Nekketsu Seisyun Nikki 2, took this a step further by implementing a character creation mode. This was eventually scrapped from the US and European releases as it would’ve taken far too long to localize and translate.
Rival Schools: United By Fate‘s game endings are pretty varied across the board. Depending on who you play as, whether you pulled off certain criteria in the penultimate match and which version of the game you were playing, there’s all kinds of endings for players to encounter.
Some of the ending highlights include Batsu saving his mother and making peace with his estranged father, Roberto breaking his arm but being offered a different position in the team to make up for it, Akira’s surprise reveal of her true identity to Edge and Gan (and them accepting her as a friend regardless of her gender) and Tiffany returning to America with Roy to train as a bodyguard as he continues his studies. Besides the character specific endings, the general endings on the PlayStation version are heaps of fun, and do a fantastic job of showcasing each character’s unique personality traits.
Rival Schools: United By Fate is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated fighting games in the genre’s long history, but didn’t get the exposure it truly deserved when it was released. Drawing heavily from aspects that made the Marvel vs. Capcom series so good and throwing in more innovative features such as a Persona-style school sim mode, character creation and a plethora of bonus content makes Rival Schools such great value for money.
This is my number one pick for a game to see a modern re-release and/or new sequel, and with Hideaki Itsuno stating that he’d also like to see a new entry in the series, it’s only made me want it to happen even more.
Hey Capcom, just don’t butcher the Western release with the next one, please?
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