This is another one I asked them not to do. Was quite insistent, but it fell on deaf ears. We'll just have to accept it and move on. So, the screenshots were all taken by us this time with our modded PSP, and we opted for the digital download version from Japanese PSN rather than shelling out for a physical copy. JP PSP downloads do, however, come with digital reproductions of the actual manual rather than just made-for-the-PSP-screen instructions, so we have a little stitched-together art for you later. Also, this review was conducted primarily on a PSP, but we also played it on the Vita too, briefly. Don't worry though, we didn't show any of the clothes-destruction scenes, but as far as Ikki Tousen content goes this is actually pretty tame. I guess. I wouldn't know. I only watch classy anime like Dirty Pair and gdgd fairies. On the subject of the series in question... We had a right game trying to figure out if it's Ikkitousen (one word) or Ikki Tousen (two words). We have elected to go with the way the name is written in English on the official website, if you look at the Shin Ikki Tousen logo you'll see it in English, two words. It was fun to fix that.
As you may have figured out, judging from some of the entries in the genre we'll play here, I will play any scrolling brawler. Any. When it comes to violence in video game form, I am very much a fan of the purity of one's fists and maybe a steel pipe versus the world. I am, however, picky about them. I'd say that makes me a connoisseur of some kind, but let's face it, it doesn't, I'm just exacting in an insufferable way, and this applies hard to modern brawlers. The pacing must be just so! The moves list must be robust! And if you insist on putting a levelling system in there, you'd better make sure it's absolutely spot-on, got it?! So, yep, I am more than a little fussy. It is with a love and appreciation of the genre, and it just sucks to see modern developers miss the mark so wildly. But I always try, give them a shot.
That is why we're playing Ikki Tousen: Eloquent Fist today, then.
[Coulda fooled me.
Well, that's half the reason. The other reason this game caught my attention is because of its developer, Tamsoft. Probably not a developer you think about too much, but while their most well-known games are probably the Battle Arena Toshinden series on the original Playstation and, many years later, the Senran Kagura series (yes, that was them!), in my mind I know them as the company responsible for some of the weirdest PS2 games ever released, as part of D3's Simple 2000 Series of budget games. This includes the likes of The Daijibin / Demolition Girl (where you have to stopped a gigantisized Riho Futaba, swimsuit model, from destroying a city), The Tairyou Jigoku / The Overwhelming Hell (where you have to shake bugs off yourself while following a white rabbit) and, of course, The Oneechanbara series, the utterly ridiculous and B-movie worthy saga of sword-wielding, zombie-slaying sisters that get drenched in blood, rip zombies clean in half, and all while wearing bikinis and school uniforms. That is absolutely our kind of thing- cheesy, ridiculous horror movie-esque stuff- and so their attachment to the scrolling and 3D brawler genres, even if their output has mixed results- puts them on my radar. So, a few years before Senran Kagura, Tamsoft did three games based on Ikki Tousen, which is so within Senran Kagura's overall vibe that characters from it showed up in Estival Versus many years later.
The difference here is that this is a licensed title rather than an original IP. Ikki Tousen was a manga series created by Yuji Shiozaki, later adapted into four anime seasons, and to gloss over the specifics, is a series in which high-school gals and guys with clothes that fall apart at a sneeze beat the ever-living snot out of each other, re-enacting the battles of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms era, just in the form of a turf war between rival schools. We're not really fans of it (we dabbled in one or two volumes of the manga as a friend pointed out how ridiculous they were, but it won't settle on either being ridiculous or serious-time which is jarring) but the concept is almost purpose-built to be adapted into a video game. While the sole PS2 game- Shining Dragon- is a 3D one-on-one fighter, the PSP games- Eloquent Fist being the first, with Xross Impact coming later- are scrolling brawlers. There is a Story Mode that has its own plot separate from the manga or anime, and an Arcade Mode with no plot, but really, what more justification do you need for a brawler other than "prove you are the justice"? None, I saw, none.
The structure of the two modes distinguishes them- Story Mode has you pick one of three plotlines following different schools with you changing characters between stages or even sections, while Arcade Mode has you playing as one character through seven stages with a random boss at the end of each- but mechanically they're identical, so it's fair to treat them roughly the same. The objective: take to the streets as your chosen Toushi to deliver peace (read: beatings), with simple controls and simple mechanics, albeit with a rather large character roster with different specialities and stats. You've got weak attacks that serve as your basic combo strings, strong attacks that can sometimes serve as string enders, a desperation attack that saps your strength, a super meter you can switch on to beef your character up temporarily and use super moves, a run button (rather than double-taps) and a jump and... Uh, that's it. No weapons, nothing. As a result, the game feels satisfying initially, but that very quickly fades as you realise that, for all the sense of impact the game has, there's nothing really there, beyond a combo system that encourages juggling that's a little too lenient- you can trap bosses in loops if you're quick enough, but at the same time, you can get juggled and that can get very old. There are a few different enemy types, but the vast majority of them are just standard thugs, and the ones that stand out actually hurt the game- the fireball dudes tend to sit themselves on the far edge of the screen which can ruin your combo, and the big nunchaku guys aren't stunned by normal attacks but show no visual feedback for this, so they can blindside you,
Some 'gimmick' characters fare off worse- Gentoku (referred to in out combat notes as 'Bookworm') can only hit enemies with her book, has no string combos and instead has to charge her one attack to be effective at all and has no damaging super move until Level 10 (she falls asleep instead, restoring her health), while Shokatsuryoi (in our notes as 'Miku') has projectiles but that's it. In a way, a lot of it reminds me strongly of Tomoyo Fighter Perfect- the sense of impact, the gimmicky character sets- but while I was hard on that game, it had moxie, and it had more things going on with it. Also, having actual weapons and more special moves helped. Tomoyo was inconsistent but brilliant in its absurdity, something Eloquent Fist cannot claim. Not to say all the characters are boring- Shimei (in our notes as 'Best Girl') has a short combo string but can end them with a grapple, and keep doing that as long as she's juggling the enemy. Also, Hakufu has the most complex combo strings, letting her end them early with strong strikes, but the other characters don't fare as well.
Where the comparison to Tomoyo is really interesting is in the stage design. Tomoyo had a penis-induced fever dream and a fight at possibly Comiket, while Eloquent Fist has, by far, some of the plainest and most boring I've seen in a scrolling brawler. While the order you play them in differs between Story and Arcade, the seven areas of Ikki Tousen have, roughly, two stage hazards across them, and one of them is me being very generous- the fountain that blocks your path in Stage 2, and the rollercoaster where you jump between carts when the game wants you to move along. That's it, and neither of them are interesting or harmful to the player. The dearth of enemy variety and lack of weapons just makes this so much worse. As such, each stage falls into a formula repeated ad nauseum- defeat a bunch of enemies to let the screen scroll where there's some life-up and point items, beat the next bunch, repeat- that can, of course, apply to others in the genre... But they all had something else there, like weapons, little cutscenes that play out in-engine, wildly different enemy types, something. Not so with this effort, and it really hurts the game, making it way more of a drag to actually play than it should be, and make that worse if you're playing as someone like Bookworm who just has one viable attack.
To make a more specific comparison, if I may, let's look at Ikki Tousen's longest single area in Arcade Mode- Stage 5, a long walk across what might be the Great Wall of China- to one of Final Fight's lengthier single segments, the Bay Area of Round 5. The Bay Area is one of my favourite scrolling brawler stages, and yet it's just one long stretch of road. What it does, however, is change things up constantly in terms of enemies you encounter, and has a lot of charming little details. From the music changing as you enter each different area like the toilets, to the segments where barrels get thrown at you and Bottle Hollys dash on-screen to pelt you with molotov cocktails, to touches like the Bay Area Dog and the morning light just breaking as you see the Statue of Liberty in the distance and face the (admittedly palette-swapped) boss Abigail, it's full of details that help mitigate its length and stop it from becoming a slog. That's not even counting the weapons you'll find. Ikki Tousen's Great Wall, however, has none of this- the background and music remain the same from start to finish, there's no drastic change in enemy mobs, no weapons, no dog, nothing. I'm not saying every game in the genre must necessarily follow the example Final Fight set to the letter, but this highlights the right way to do a long scrolling brawler stage, and the very obvious wrong way.
To further elaborate, I know these are complaints that can be put upon any scrolling brawler, if you look at the genre from a face level. They're just about punching groups of dudes, right? Yet they're not. Even if they lack, say, stage hazards, there's always something there to make each stage stand out and feel different from mobs -> items -> mobs -> items -> boss fight, even going way back. Double Dragon had stage hazards, weapons, and bosses breaking out of walls. Final Fight had weapons, little cut-scenes, music changes, stage hazards, bonus rounds, the lot. The Punisher focused on constant weaponry, Guardian Heroes had its magic, Undercover Cops had its large moveset and detailed spritework, Pu.Li.Ru.La has its, uh, aesthetic wackiness, etc.. Eloquent Fist really doesn't have much at all beyond its basics to give it that essential spark, and I can't even get mad at the fact that it includes a levelling-up system (even if it locks off each character's second super until Level 10) because it adds so little it's barely worth mentioning outside of this sentence. With all that said, there is a limited appeal here. The sense of impact from wailing on dudes is very satisfying, even if it fades after a while- the screen shakes like a titanic battle is taking place- and the spritework is also striking. It feels like cel animation, similar to Pretty Fighter X on the Saturn but with a lot more polish and a much cleaner look. The colour palettes of characters even alters depending on the time of day, which is a nice little touch.
That's a lotta really harsh words, huh? You'd think I'd be really doling out the 1-star death knell on this... But it's not the worst brawler I've ever played. It almost feels like it would serve as a decent base for something better if it had a bit more love put into it, rather than this being a case of Tamsoft phoning it in. If you're a fan of the series in particular, you'll probably get more out of this (although the series' standard clothes-shredding is not really here, if that's your bag- only after you finish a boss with a super move or you lose your last life) and, unlike Crime Fighters, I only had to pause every few stages out of boredom rather than every single stage. So, Eloquent Fist is kind of a mish-mash of a lot of things I hate seeing in scrolling brawlers, but it's not the worst- that sense of impact, while fleeting, does add a lot, as does the fairly robust character roster, even if a few of the more gimmicky ones aren't as much fun. We'll have to see another time if its sequel improved on this base, but overall, it's kinda bad but the interesting kind of bad, the kind of bad that's good to study, to analyse now and then, to demonstrate what makes a good scrolling brawler tick. And I guess that has value, too.
For not quite managing to Dragon Punch it out of the park, Ikki Tousen: Eloquent Fist is awarded...
In a sentence, Ikki Tousen: Eloquent Fist is...
All talk, but mostly no bloomers.