Yu Suzuki struck major gold with the debut of the SEGA Model 2 System in 1993 with Daytona USA and then followed by Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Strikers, and Virtua Cop one year later. Following the major success of VF2 in the arcades and consoles, Suzuki and AM2 continued to create another 3D fighting game separate from VF, only flashier.
Fighting Vipers was released worldwide in November 1995 for the arcades, followed by a Saturn port in 1996. This fighting game targeted Western audiences with flashy gameplay, grunge music, using the US setting with freeform street fighting, and more.
Daichi Katagiri played a huge role in the development of Fighting Vipers since he served as the game coordinator, programmer, and motion designer of this project. Fun fact: he was brought in by Yu Suzuki due to being an expert Street Fighter II player and he thought that Katagiri’s expertise would be put to good use. He noted in his 2011 interview with Gamer.moe that Fighting Vipers was made with exaggeration compared to the realistic tone of VF2, and it showed.
The core gameplay mechanic relies on VF’s three-button mechanic (Guard, Punch, Kick), but it took a different approach from the VF series. Instead of ring outs like VF, characters fought on walled arenas so that the fight would continue. This was based on the criticisms that Suzuki received from the fans during VF2 about the ring outs.
During each match, characters wear various types of armor that can be easily broken off due to the number of attacks taken. The armor meter lets the player know the status of the character’s armor, which is located right next to the health bar. If it’s green by default, that means your armor is in normal condition. If it’s flashing green, that means that it’s about to break due to the next Knockout Attack. Once it’s red, that means that your armor is broken and you are going to take more damage than before. Keep in mind that the color of your health bar also determines your armor status as well. For instance, it’s green when you are fully armored, yellow when you are partially armored, and red when you are no longer armored.
Hyper Mode is a mechanic that plays into the risk/reward factor. Once activated, you sacrifice all of your armor, and the speed and power of your attacks increase. It goes away after one use. This was a precursor to X-Factor in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, as well as the Sparking Blast from Dragon Ball FighterZ. Air recoveries and wall bouncing is also a thing in this game.
The story of Fighting Vipers goes as follows: The Mayor of a fictional city known as Armstone City decides to host a fighting tournament with the grand finale held at the top of the city tower. Nine urban warriors, known as Vipers, enter the tournament, each with a goal in mind.
There were a total of eight playable characters, plus several unlockable characters. Bahn, Grace, Raxel, Tokio, Sanman, Jane, Honey (or Candy in the NA version), and Picky are the Vipers that are available at the start, whereas Mahler, B.M., and Kumachan/Pandachan are unlockable. Each character has a reason for entering the tournament:
The bonus characters are interesting, to say the least. Kumachan is a 10-year-old smiling bear with Sanman’s moveset. Pandachan is the 2P counterpart to this character. Pepsiman, the Japanese mascot for Pepsi, is another playable character that only appears in the Japanese version of the game due to the licensing with Pepsi. Lastly, Sonic and Tails were added in the game for amusement, but that quickly spawned into SEGA AM2 creating Sonic The Fighters.
Fighting Vipers was one of the highest-grossing arcade games of 1996, and it was also one of the high profile games of the SEGA Saturn during the 1996 holiday lineup. The first game was re-released several times: 2004 for the PS2 as part of the SEGA AGES series, 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as part of the SEGA Model 2 Collection, and 2018 as one of the arcade games shown in the Yakuza spinoff game, Judgment.
The game became such a success, it later spawned a sequel three years later.
In April of 1998, SEGA AM2 released Fighting Vipers 2 under the SEGA Model 3 Hardware. The game was released one year after the team released Fighters Megamix for the Saturn.
The development of the game has quite an interesting story. Members of the AM2 team went to Alcatraz Island and took photos of the abandoned prison complex for inspiration. In regards to the development itself, it took about ten months to complete, with three months of playtesting the game. Character designs were designed by Imaitoons, rather than a SEGA in-house developer.
Fighting Vipers 2’s gameplay remains unchanged in regards to the core mechanics but adds in a couple of new ones into the game. Tech Guarding is a combo-breaker move that allows interrupting their opponent’s combo after a well-timed block. Once blocked, you can follow up with a punch, kick, or sidestep. Super KOs are the riskiest mechanic in the game. Once you lose your armor due to either Hyper Mode or the damage taken by your opponent, you can use the Super KO as a last-ditch effort to instakill your opponent and win the game.
The plot of Fighting Vipers 2 follows the defeat of B.M. after the first game. After B.M. lost to the Vipers, he declared a new municipal bylaw called the Viper Hunt due to his hatred for losing to them. Many were thrown in jail, the rest escaped, and others hid their armor and quit being a Viper. And the rest were ready to revolt against B.M. once and for all.
All nine characters from the first game made their return, but this time with four brand newcomers to the game: Emi, Charlie, Del Sol, and Kuhn. Kuhn is considered to be the Dural of the game since he contains each character’s signature moves.
The game was later ported to the SEGA Dreamcast in 2001 for Japan and Europe only. It was supposed to receive a North American release, but it was later cancelled due to the Dreamcast’s poor sales which caused SEGA to go third-party.
Fighting Vipers left a legacy despite not gaining the same success that VF had. It introduced an armor system that would be later implemented in other games such as Soulcalibur, Dead or Alive, and others. The most recent representation of Fighting Vipers is where Bahn appears in Project X Zone, a crossover Tactical RPG game that features characters from SEGA, Capcom, and Bandai Namco games.
Of course, before I end this blog, I'll be streaming the next lesson of FGHS 101 where I talk about the VF4 series as a whole on Twitch. And on the next blog for VF Month, we're going to talk about my wishlist for VF6 should it ever come out in the future.
Until then… Train Up, Fighters!