There were two games that made their mark in the fighting game genre in 1993. SNK released the first 2D weapons-based fighter, Samurai Shodown (Samurai Spirits in Japan) in July of 1993, while SEGA released the first 3D fighting game, Virtua Fighter, only 3 months later.
Now what happens when a developing company combines elements of Virtua Fighter and Samurai Shodown together? The answer is simple: You get Battle Arena Toshinden.
Battle Arena Toshinden/Remix
Developed by Tamsoft and published by Takara, Battle Arena Toshinden was released on 1995 for the PlayStation, and 1996 for Sega Saturn (as BAT Remix/Toshinden S), Game Boy (as Nettou Toshinden), and PC. Battle Arena Toshinden is credited as the first 3D weapons-based fighter, and it was considered as being the “true” 3D fighter due to its innovative gameplay, which I’ll cover in a minute.
In terms of if I played Battle Arena Toshinden before, I only played the Sega Saturn version and the Game Boy version. As for the sequels, I only played the BAT2 via MAME emulator (I regret nothing). I even watched the anime as well.
When this game was released for the PlayStation, it was supposed to be a PS-exclusive and it was intended to be a Saturn-killer as a way to rival SEGA’s Virtua Fighter franchise. All of that changed when the Saturn version got the game nearly one year later with additional features.
Battle Arena Toshinden’s gameplay merges elements from Samurai Shodown (and other 2D fighters) and Virtua Fighter together, meaning that it has basic attacks, special attacks, and Desperation Moves (or Supers) similar to Samurai Shodown, and ring outs similar to Virtua Fighter. There are four buttons that are used for your basic attacks: Weak Slash, Hard Slash, Weak Kick, and Hard Kick. Specials are done in a similar manner as most 2D fighters. Desperation Moves can be activated when your health is lower than 10%, making it useful as a comeback mechanic.
For the 3D mechanics, Battle Arena Toshinden is the first 3D fighter to incorporate a sidestep feature in which the character dodges the attacks via side dodging. You could dodge into the background or foreground in order to avoid projectiles and other attacks. Side dodging set a new standard in 3D fighting games since it captured how 3D fighters should be played for years to come in the form we know now as sidesteps.
There are eight starting characters to choose from in the game: Eiji Shinjo, Kayin Amoh, Sofia, Rungo Iron, Fo Fai, Mondo, Duke B. Rambert, and Ellis. Each character had their own story:
In terms of unlockable characters, all versions have Gaia and Sho. Gaia is the final boss of the game, and he is the sponsor of the tournament. He is also the father of Ellis. Sho is not only the brother of Eiji, but he is also previous tournament champion and the secret boss character of the game. Cupido appears on the Sega Saturn version as the true final boss. Uranus appeared on the Game Boy version. Finally, the PC version has Earthworm Jim. I’m not making this up. Earthworm Jim actually appeared in two fighting games, the other being ClayFighter 63 ⅓/Sculptor's Cut.
Upon the release of the game, Battle Arena Toshinden was critically acclaimed. The game was praised for its gameplay that surpassed the likes of Virtua Fighter and Tekken, but criticized for its flaws such as relying too much on flashiness and the problems with viewing angles within side rolls.
The game spawned three more sequels. And this is where the popularity of the franchise started to decline.
Battle Arena Toshinden 2/URA
Two months after the release of the first game, Battle Arena Toshinden 2 was released for the Arcades under the publishing of Capcom. The game was ported to PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and PC in 1996. The Sega Saturn version of the game is called Battle Arena Toshinden URA (Ultimate Revenge Attack), and it served as a sequel to Remix.
Toshinden 2’s gameplay remains unchanged from the first game, but it introduced a combo system. The movement in the game has been altered in order to create balance. Side rolls are no longer invincible, and if both character fall out of the ring, the person who fell off last is considered the winner. In the previous game, it usually resulted in a draw. The special edition of Toshinden 2 was released only in Japan as part of the PlayStation on The Best lineup with enhanced graphics, better controls, retweaked AI, and balance changes. It also allowed the option to save results, unlockable characters, and option settings onto a memory card.
Toshinden URA’s gameplay is said to be different compared to Toshinden 2. It had new arenas, different characters (replacing the original characters in Toshinden 2), a new story, and a new CG intro. The PC version is a port of PlayStation version, however it has the ability to save content like the special edition. For some reason, the PC port didn’t have an CG intro.
In terms of characters, all the 8 original characters returned in both versions, with Gaia only appearing in Toshinden 2 as a starter and Chaos as the new character. Tracy is the only new character that appears in both games as a starter character. Vermillion is the only new secret character that also appeared in both games as a secret boss. Uranus from the Game Boy version appears in Toshinden 2 as a sub-boss and Master as the final boss. In URA, Ripper and Ronron are the two new characters in the main roster, while Replicant and Wolf appears as sub-boss and final boss respectively.
Toshinden 2 didn’t do too well since it showed little improvement compared to the first game. Not to mention, the game failed to measure up to other 3D fighters such as Tekken 2 and Virtua Fighter 2. It basically gained mediocre reviews. Could they try it again with the next game?
Battle Arena Toshinden 3
Battle Arena Toshinden 3 came out exclusively for the PlayStation on December 27, 1996 in Japan, January 31, 1997 for North America, and March 1997 for PAL regions. Not only it became the first game to be released exclusively for one console, it was the only game to have gameplay differences between the Japanese version and NA/EU versions. It was developed by both Tamsoft and Takara.
The gameplay changed drastically compared to previous games. For starters, the arenas have replaced ring outs with walls and ceilings, allowing players to launch their opponents onto the ceiling for juggle purposes. Every character has a preset list for combos in their command list since the combo system has been reworked once again. There was also an option to change the gameplay from 30FPS to 60FPS via graphic selection, but it comes with drawbacks. Playing the game at 30FPS can be sluggish, while 60FPS substitutes the graphic/texture quality (which is usually the preferred setting).
The NA/EU versions of Toshinden 3 had several gameplay differences compared to the Japanese version. In the NA/EU version, blocking high and low was done automatically by pressing back, whereas the Japanese version allowed you to hold back to block high and down/back to block low. That caused some issues in character balance. Getting hit by a reversal attack in the Japanese version will launch your character based on weight class. The NA/EU versions launches the character across the arena. Practice and Survival modes were added in the NA/EU version, and there was a bug fix based on the direction of where the character flew in terms of getting hit across the arena.
Toshinden 3 had the largest character roster in the series. With 14 starter characters and 18 unlockable characters, that brings up a total to 32 characters total. Some characters in the game wield guns instead of swords. Most of the character's’ share the same move list as the main roster’s. I’m not going to name all of them because there’s too many to list. However, Fo Fai is absent from the game.
While Battle Arena Toshinden 3 changed the gameplay around this time, it still wasn’t better compared to the first game because it still ran into some issues. For instance, the arenas felt cramped and the gameplay had a bit of balancing issues based on different regions. Critics felt like this game was better than the second one, just not as good as the first.
The game struggled to compete with other 3D fighters such as Bloody Roar 2, Fighters Megamix, Tekken 3, and Soul Blade. It was also known that Battle Arena Toshinden 3 was the last game in the series to be released in North America, but it wasn’t the end for Japan and Europe.
Tamsoft and Takara tried again one more time with the release of Toshinden 4 for the PlayStation on August 12, 1999 in Japan and June 30, 2000 in PAL regions, dropping the “Battle Arena” from its name. The Japanese version was known as Toshinden Shinobu. The European received three re-releases: one in 2000, one in 2001, and one in 2003.
Not much is known about the gameplay, so it’s gonna be hard to research information on it. Toshinden 4 returns to the ring-out arenas similar to the first two games, and it introduced a KOF-style 3v3 teams. Not much to say there.
The character roster is filled with brand new characters since the storyline takes place 10 years after the events of the third game. The only two characters that made their return are Eiji and Vermillion.
Toshinden 4 is considered to be the worst entry of the series. For a game that came out in between 1999 and 2000, you would think that this game would be a worthy opponent to Soul Calibur. To tell you the truth, it wasn’t worthy at all. The gameplay was slow and clunky, and the graphics were incredibly poor. It got bad reviews because of that.
Toshinden: War Budokai
Nine years after the release of the 4th game, Takara (now known as Takara Tomy since the merger in 2006) and DreamFactory released Toshinden: War Budokai in December 10, 2009 for the Nintendo Wii. It is a reboot of the franchise done by a new developer since Tamsoft moved on to develop other games. This game has no connection with the previous games in the series.
I’ve seen YouTube videos on this game, and it looks fun. But from what I’m hearing, the game didn’t sell too well and no one had an opinion about the game. Very few copies exist on the internet. Not gonna digest more on that one.
Spinoffs & More
In terms of other content, the franchise had a two-episode OVA anime that was released in 1996, both uncut and edited. The anime was considered to be terrible since it was critically panned by critics and anime fans alike.
There was also a spinoff game called Battle Arena Nitoshinden that was released in 1996 in Japan for the PlayStation, and it featured chibi-deformed version of the roster similar to Virtua Fighter Kids. The arenas matched the third game. It was supposed to be released in the US as Toshinden Kids, but it got cancelled.
The Legacy it Left
So what made the Battle Arena Toshinden unsung in the first place? This game set a new standard on how 3D fighting games should be played, and the first and second games did just that by introducing a way to sidestep moves using side rolling as a mechanic. But in the end, it couldn’t keep up with other 3D fighters.
As for the developer Tamsoft, they are still around. They are currently responsible for developing Senran Kagura series, Hyperdimension Neptunia series, Ikki Tousen games, Onechanbara series, and more. They’re doing pretty good from what I’m hearing.
The Toshinden series had its shares of ups and downs for every sequel they released, but it proved that it can be a decently fun fighter. I don’t think any of the first three games were re-released for PSN to be honest. I could be wrong. I’m kinda sad that there’s no tournament scene for this game, but who know? Let’s hope this game appears as part of the Mystery Game tournament at Combo Breaker this weekend.
Battle Arena Toshinden: a 3D weapons-based fighting game that became unsung.
Until then… train up, Fighters!