Eternal Champions

Sega CD

Review by Sotenga



Graphics: 9

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8


From the most basic karate-gi clad shoto to the highly unorthodox green man who can generate electricity, fighting games are diverse in their characters.  However, the line of diversity is shattered when a fighter includes a kung-fu mobster, a Muay Thai cyborg, a gambling cowboy, a prehistoric Neanderthal, a scientist-turned-vampire, a wizard/alchemist, and a U.S. senator, all in the same game.  If this sounds like the greatest idea for a fighting game, guess what?  It already exists under the guise of Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side.   

eternalchampcd1.jpg (34239 bytes)Sadly, because of its release on the doomed Sega CD, not too many people got to play it, but those who did found an awesome fighter that was quite a welcome change from Street Fighter II or the King of FightersEternal Champions was actually originally released for the Genesis in 1993, but I consider it to be a beta version of the Sega CD game released two years later reviewed here.   Once you play it, you'll never go back to the Genesis game.

The Eternal Champion, an intangible omnipotent being from the year 9999 A.D., is not very happy.  The Earth, which he has monitored since the very creation of the universe, is one extremely bad place to be.  He can't do anything to change the present, but what he can do is change the past for the better.  The EC has monitored different individuals from every epoch of time, from the Prehistoric Era to the Old West, and he has noticed that all these individuals share something in common: They all had the chance to change history for the better, but were tragically killed before they could do anything.   The EC has the power to take these individuals out of their time periods, moments before their deaths occurred, but he can only grant one of them the opportunity to change history and cheat death.  To decide who that lucky one will be, they are pitted against each other in MORTAL KOMBAT!

I'm kidding.  Except for the extraordinarily gory finishing moves, Eternal Champions plays much more akin to Street Fighter II than Mortal Kombat.   There are thirteen default characters, such as Shadow the femme fatale assassin, Blade the big bad bounty hunter, Trident, a gladiator hailing from the undersea depths of Atlantis, and my personal favorite, Larcen the aforementioned kung-fu mobster.   Everybody has their own unique fighting style (most of which are based off of real-life styles) and a crapload of special moves to help them out.  Almost everybody has at least ten special moves, which is more than characters have in most fighting games.   However, some of these moves use up energy.  One of EC's innovations that helps to counterbalance cheap gameplay is the Inner Strength meter, which is displayed as a yin-yang symbol in one of the top corners of the screen.  All projectiles and some unique moves use this energy, and when the meter gets low enough, you can't use these moves until this strength comes back on its own.  However, other moves can be performed as many times as you want without the Inner Strength meter being used.

The mechanics are certainly unique from every other fighter, and I'm not just talking about the Inner Strength meter.  Combos in this game are almost often initiated by a jump kick, followed by a complex sequence of buttons that often involve fusing in other moves.  Many of the characters have auto-combos that can rack up about five hits, and if somebody is knocked into the air, they can only be hit once again before they land.   This prevents unfair and lengthy juggle combos from being performed while still giving players a chance to perform extra damage on an airborne enemy.  It's funny. Most people have no problems pulling off combos in Street Fighter, but struggle with them in Eternal Champions.  I'm the other way around, able to kick ass in EC and unable to perform 15-hit combos in SF.  Usually, I can pull off power combos, which are damaging sequences of attacks that, if done correctly, rewards you with infinite Inner Strength for about ten seconds.  They're not easy, but can be done over time.

The graphics of this game are freaking gorgeous.  The animation on all the characters are well done, and the sprites and backgrounds themselves almost look as if they came right out of a comic book.  There's also some Full Motion Video now and then that does look grainy, but I think it's better done than in most other games on the SCD.   Plus, it's only used for special occasions, unlike some games, which abuse FMV.   Plus, EC is the only game to push the SCD's diverse color palette to its limit by using all 256 possible colors!  The vibrance and brightness of the graphics might conflict with the dark moods of most of the arenas, but I think it looks great in all cases. 

eternalchampcd2.jpg (16093 bytes)The backgrounds are from all sorts of eras and accurately fit their time period, such as Larcen's year of 1920, where you fight in front of the Chicago Theater!  Dawson the cowboy comes from 1849, the year when miners and prospectors shifted to California to invest in the Gold Rush, and you fight on an underground train moving through a vast mine!   Caveman Slash fights in the lava-infested Great Rift Valley, acrobat Jetta's domain is set in front of the big top of the Blue Dragon Circus, and alchemist/wizard Xavier battles in front of a burning stake set in Salem 1692, the time of the witch trials.   This game does a good job with historical accuracy and continuity, and you can mix and match the different arenas and characters.  It is often funny to find an out-of-place caveman fending for his life against a wizard in front of the Chicago Theater.

The music is very well done by composer Tristan Des Pres, and every tune appropriately fits the arena that it goes with.  My personal favorite is Jetta's stage, which is a somewhat oriental techno tune that's perfect for fighting.  Ranging from the bitchin' hard rock of Blade's Syrian Desert Refinery to the ambient and damn creepy mood of Salem's music, and even to the dangerous-sounding theme of Riptide's pirate ship off the Barbary Coast, the music is diverse and well-composed.  It does get a bit repetitive during long play sessions of EC, but I like it a lot nonetheless.  It's one of the best examples of the improved audio quality for the SCD.

As I said, each character has many different special moves, as well as a Vendetta (which is a Fatality for you Mortal Kombat fans) that can be performed when the enemy is dizzy and has less than a third of their life left.  These conditions aren't easy, but if a Vendetta is pulled off, your character finishes off the opposition in a satisfyingly gory fashion!  Get this as well: Every stage (except for the Eternal Complex and Cimmerian Complex) has two stage fatalities (Overkills and Sudden Deaths).   If you hit an opponent in just the right place, the stage takes care of their corpse for you!  See that giant fan spinning around in the Syrian Desert Refinery?   When they have very little energy left, make the finishing blow towards the fan on one of its sides and they'll go flying into it!  Carnage ensues!  The most difficult finisher to pull off is the Cinekill, which can only be done when you drain the opponent of a certain amount of energy and dizzy them via a power combo.  Definitely not easy, but it is possible.  If done correctly, the evil Dark Eternal Champion takes them away to his Cimmerian Complex and in a glorious Full Motion Video sequence, he obliterates their life force in an appropriate manner!  These finishing moves are the reason that this game has an M rating, and this game's violence makes Mortal Kombat look like a kid-safe Disney title in comparison!

As with all fighters, EC: CFTDS is a real blast when two humans go head-to-head and bust out their best moves in an impressive struggle where one has no advantage over the other.  However, in a one-player game, one of EC's few flaws (and this is a big one, sadly) shines through, and it is an inherent problem with all fighters; cheapass artificial intelligence.  First off, the Inner Strength gauge does not apply to the computer, so they can bust out all the special moves anytime they want to, even if the gauge is depleted.  If the opposing character has an anti-air attack, you can count on it to be abused every single friggin' time you jump (one of the reasons why I hate fighting a CPU-controlled Xavier).  However, all characters have patterns and methods to their attack that a veteran fighting game fan can detect and eventually overcome.  It's not the easiest learning curve, but it can be done.  On Neophyte (Easy) difficulty, it's not too bad, but you'll have to get serious on Warrior (Normal) difficulty.  I have yet to beat the game on Champion (Hard) difficulty, and with good reason.  It seems like the enemy blocks every attack you fling at them, and the slightest slip-up in your offense gets you a brutal ass kicking that often results in your character becoming dizzy.  You get four continues on Neophyte, two on Warrior, and although they seem endless on Champion, each loss you suffer sends you back two opponents on the roster.  That means if you beat Blade and Larcen, but lose to Trident, you're back at square one with Blade again.  Ack.

The cheapness of the game shines through most prominently when fighting with the Eternal Champion himself.  The bastard has (get this) NINE FREAKING FORMS to fight through, and if you lose on one of them, you have to start all the way back at the very first form.   What's worse is that if you lose twice, you can't continue!  You have to start all the way back at the very beginning if you want to win, but you're probably too pissed off by then to do that!  The absolute final boss, the Dark Eternal Champion, has eight forms to pass, and overall, he's a tougher cookie than the EC.  Once again, if you lose to Dark, your continues are denied.  No SNK boss matches up to this cheapness, save for Igniz from King of Fighters 2001, but I digress.

Despite the insane difficulty, Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side is a real blast to play, and I frown at the fact that it went practically unnoticed in the fighting game community.  While certainly no Street Fighter II, EC is loaded full of challenge and fun, and it even boasts an impressive roster of twenty-four characters!  Yes, there are many hidden players besides the default thirteen.   See if you can try to find them all!  Keep in mind that this was 1995, before hidden playable characters in fighters were all the rage.  With 256 colors, great music, and all those characters, how can you refuse to give EC a try?  This game was my main reason for owning a Sega CD, and I still play it to this day.  How many other games can say that they have a Senator as one of their playable characters with Washington D.C. as his stage?  None, that's how many.


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Last updated: Friday, September 09, 2005 02:37 PM