|The last few months have been
slow for new fighting games, but the release of SquareSoft's Ehrgeiz signals the end of
the drought. Tons of fighting games are being released in the next few months (check out ) and Ehrgeiz is one of
the titles with the most game for your dollar. Ehrgeiz is hardly just a fighting game. It
includes a standard 3D fighting game (arcade mode, versus, and practice), as well as a
surprisingly large and involved role playing game, and four mini-games. As a fighting game
alone Ehrgeiz is pretty flat and fast moving, but with some fatal flaws. The whole Ehrgeiz
game, on the other hand, is pretty damned fantastic.
The Ehrgeiz fighting game is unique; it only uses five buttons: high attack, low attack, special attack, jump and guard--but simple it is not. Fighting gets technical with grabs, throws, interrupts, counters, just techniques, and special attacks. The fighting is a little too complicated for my tastes. Don't get me wrong, I love Tekken 3 as much as anyone with its vast amount of moves and complex combos, but the problem with Ehrgeiz's fighting lies in the tricky timing required to get any complex move off. Any move with a "step" in it must be done with the directional pad and not the analog, the same with any precision jumping. This wouldn't be a problem if the directional pad allowed for the same quick movement in the 3D environments as the analog.
The environments are possibly the best thing about the fighting game; most have multiple levels allowing the characters to jump to higher ground during the battle. Some are large and some are very small; I could never get the hang of fighting on the train because the area was so restricted.
Ehrgeiz also offers another option that makes the fighting much more interesting: boxes. On most levels there are two boxes, and the boxes can be slid at your opponent to do some damage. But, more importantly, busting them open reveals health and special attack power-ups and special weapons. The environments and boxes are pretty nifty features, but I think that Power Stone on the Dreamcast has the same features done better.
It is not the fighting that makes Ehrgeiz a four star game; it's all of the Ehrgeiz's games together. The RPG Quest mode alone is worth playing. It has one town and 21 randomly generated levels of dungeons. You play one of two characters (if one of them dies you can continue your quest with the other): Koji, a professor and three time Ehrgeiz fighting champ, and Clair, an ultra-talented 16 year old university student. They also reappear as hidden characters in the fighting game. You travel the levels from the top dungeon down while fighting lots of monsters, increasing levels, gaining magic, weapons, and eating. The town and dungeons are simple, but have an in-depth character management system. Your character has hit points as well as a hunger meter that decreases as you move around, and more as you're fighting. Food is even more complicated. You need to eat a balanced diet: vitamins, minerals, lipids, carbohydrates and the rest. Food can be found in the dungeons that is, if you don't mind eating monster meat and mushrooms. In the town you can buy more delicious fare like ice cream and watermelon.
If you can't tell, I really got a kick out of this aspect of the game. The armor and weapon systems are quite involved; both break and decrease in effectiveness as you use them. By bribing the blacksmith with liquor you can have him repair and combine equipment. On all the even levels of the dungeon there are altars, and by leaving offerings to certain gods you can have yourself or your equipment enchanted, increasing stats and levels. This RPG within a fighting game also has it's own mini-game, a stock market wine trading game. It almost seems like a waste to have such an intricate method of play and only 21 semi-mundane levels of dungeon. I'm kind of hoping that SquareSoft might be testing out this game play, and if they get the right feed back they'll develop a full game out of it (I know I'm dreaming, but a girl has got to have dreams).
The fighting game is all right, the quest mode is great, but what about the mini-games? Shawn and I found Battle Panel, an othello/go type of board game, highly addictive. You pick characters from the fighting game and run around the board trying to make all the squares your color. It's more interesting than the original board games because you play simultaneously and can even tackle each other to prevent your opponent from getting a key square before you do. There are 3 other mini-games: the Infinity Battle, just like survival mode on Tekken 3, Beach Battle, a race game like the thumb-numbing Track and Field on the NES, and Battle Runner, which is a lot like roller derby without the roller skates and much more fighting. Most of the mini-games are as much fun as the fighting game and provide a change of pace without changing the disk.
Throughout, Ehrgeiz suffers from a 16-bit musical score. Whether SquareSoft did this to harken back to the "good old days" of gaming is not clear, but it's obnoxious nonetheless. The plot line, both in Quest Mode and the fighting game, is barely there, which didn't help me make sense of the fairly dull and obtuse winning FMVs. Indicative of the poorly shaped plotline, there are characters from Final Fantasy VII thrown in for giggles. Their presence is unaccounted for. I could buy them as hidden characters, but, as they are available from the gitgo, it's just a blatant attempt at selling more copies by using recognizable characters who may or may not fit the game. These aspects, coupled with the questionable control, make Ehrgeiz a game with some real downfalls. SquareSoft succeeded in packing Ehrgeiz with as much variety as is possible, but in order to attain that level of variety they sacrificed some finishing elements. All of the various modes and games and mini games suffer from graphics that are just shy of optimal, playing areas that are not quite as large or interactive as comparable games, and a general sense of mediocrity. Fortunately, the piling of so many different play options lends a sort of gestalt to the title as a whole.
Ehrgeiz has found a home in my Playstation, and even a few months from now I can imagine myself have an insatiable need to play some battle panel. While it has its flaws, Ehrgeiz manages to overcome them to succeed with it's variety. The next time you go to the store looking for a game and can't decide if you want a RPG or a fighting game or just something fun, remember Ehrgeiz has it all as long as you don't mind an amicable compromise.