3/2 God Bless The Ring And The Beach And The Stupid Dungeon


     The portfolio show was approaching quickly at college, and having put off cutting out business cards for about a month I buckled down and started cutting. I had done the resumes the previous night, which generated enough waste paper to overfill my just-emptied trash can. Of course, at the show nobody ended up taking any of my damn resumes, and I only gave out a handful of cards, but that's getting ahead of things.

     I was cutting out these cards, see, and had to pitch a sheet because my blade had dulled to the point it wouldn't go all the way through the glossy paper. So I switched, and got about halfway through another set, when suddenly, the blade jumped the side of the ruler and nearly sliced the side of my left index finger off. (The stitches are out now, but there's still no feeling in it, for the record.)

     So, my finger was too sore to properly grip a Playstation controller (or a PC pad that apes the shape of it in spite of having less functioning buttons) which meant no video games. After a while, I got tired of not playing at all and decided I needed to try something with a lot of analog control. I could set the pad down and work that pretty easily. So, somehow, I settled on Dan's old copy of Ehrgeiz. Manual-less, and scratched in strategic points to prevent finishing the game with all the characters.

     With this long-winded and wholly unnecessary set-up behind me, I would like to restate, this game has effectively held me hostage for a week. And such a solid playthrough after only occasional plays has proved to be, uh... eye-opening.

     It also led me to force myself to play Capcom vs SNK 2, staining my bandage slightly and causing brief soreness. But I'll be damned if I didn't hear the song from "Triumph of the Will" playing when I plowed through all comers without the use of the Fierce Kick button.

Arcade Mode

     No, that's not just the title it's given, Ehrgeiz actually saw an arcade release, and Namco actually helped with the engine (possibly as some kind of sabotage attempt.) As I understand, the arcade release had more intermission FMVs, and the crowds were in 3-D. These have been replaced by cardboard cutouts of the crowd suspended in space outside the ring and between-fight sequences consisting of posing for a moment, then spazz-running out of the arena.

    The main plus and minus of Ehrgeiz is the freedom of movement you are given. Kind of like Power Stone, you can run all over the 3-D arena, jump up, mess with transparent boxes, so on. This can be a hindrance sometimes, though, since especially when jumping your character doesn't like to follow your specific directional input. In vs. mode, you'll find it doesn't matter much as they take away most of the ledges and pits for you to climb around on (in other words, the vs arenas are just rectangles of varying dimensions.)

     That may be the main game gimmick, but what drew most people to it was the inclusion of some random Final Fantasy VII cast. Originally, Cloud and Tifa were just hidden opponents you could face by completing arcade mode in a certain time. Now Cloud and Tifa are among the default cast, joined by teen girl otaku drool stimulator Sephiroth, as well as hidden characters Yuffie, Vincent and Zack. The hidden FF characters are just clones of existing fighters with better models, anyway.

     Speaking of existing fighters, the newcomers are for the most part, dullsville. There's a Shinobi-esque ninja named Sasuke. Yawn. A boxer with crazy hair, fighting only for the joy of the fight? Someone who looks unsettingly like Kazuya from Tekken with a robot arm? With the modest name of GODHAND, even? The two token females are okay- a schoolgirl who works for Interpol and flails a yo-yo around, and a girl raised by wolves who polymorphs into a jagged kind of bestial sort of thing. I kind of like Han, who's sort of like a Korean Jackie Chan with a missile-launching prosthetic leg. There's also Lee Shuwen, an aging Chinese assassin who took an anti-aging drug that is gradually making him younger and younger until he ceases to be. On the more upsetting side is Inoba, a very large Japanese man who wrestles in his underwear.

     Once I had a couple friends playing as Inoba in his underpants while the other was a beschoolgirl-uniformed Yoko. That was one of the creepiest fighting matchups I'd ever seen outside of seeing an illegal copy of Thrill Kill at a party.

     One of the most aggravating things about arcade mode (as far as I'm concerned) is that static order of characters and stages. You'll ALWAYS battle Inoba in the wrestling ring, followed by Jo on the rooftop, Godhand... somewhere else. But the final boss is one of the worst sequences ever. I'd rate it in enjoyability somewhere between the fight with Onslaught in Marvel vs. Capcom and I don't know, being shot with red paintballs while trying to walk a balance beam in a bullpen. While the credits scroll by, you must break two crates on the monster's head, retrieve the swords and throw them into it, then run around and collect everything that falls out of it when it explodes, pinata-like. Then you grab the Ehrgeiz and are rewarded with a pan-around of your character holding it up while some awful text appears.


Or something to that extent.

BRAND NEW QUEST: The Forbidden Dungeon

     I think the RPG mode is supposed to represent the events leading up to the tournament. You play the role of Koji Masuda, who is coincidentally Yoko's father, and a great archaeologist. With him is Claire Andrews, who assists him by running faster and having a lower base attack. Together they explore the ruins sitting below a town constructed by the same retards who designed every arena in the game.

     Basically, the RPG mode plays like regular Ehrgeiz, except for the fact your two characters have no special moves on their own. You run about the dungeon, fighting lizard men, lizards, dinosaurs, alligators, and occasionally mammals as well. You are also free to jump in the well and get killed by an octopus immediately. You level up as you kill things, which makes the price you pay to save your game skyrocket. Yes, you're free to save anywhere you like, so long as you pay an exorbinant amount to the invisible tollkeeper.

     The quest mode is light on plot, and heavy on power-leveling and exploration, not unlike the American concept of console role-playing games. Not suprisingly, having to kill enemies at random until you have the 120 gil to save your game REALLY detracts from the enjoyment factor. Especially since most enemies don't even drop cash.

     Then there's the matter of the shutter traps in the dungeon. As thrilling as the idea of one wrong step locking you in a room with rapidly respawning foes may sound, it isn't. Especially once you get about six floors down and you are suddenly overwhelmed and killed by a gang of FLOWERS.

     This game should be popular with dieticians, however. This is one of those games where they employ the aggravating device of having a contantly-decreasing 'food meter.' Once that depletes, your actual HP starts ticking away. So you have to occupy precious inventory space with various food tiems. But that's not all! You also need to keep track of what sort of nutrients you intake so that your stats increase the way you want them to.

     In the end, Ehrgeiz is a pretty disappointing title for Squaresoft. They've proven themselves to be adept at epic RPGs with gorgeous cinemas and convoluted storylines. They even made a Mario game with a rounded plot. But fighting just wasn't their forte. That didn't stop them from making The Bouncer, but they seem to have more or less accepted it. Ehrgeiz is a passable party game, or worth having around for the novelty of the FF appearances, but don't go expecting something to replace SF/KOF or even Tekken.


Special Olympics

For no discernible reason, Square also saw fit to pack in a quartet of minigames. Now, Square is a company that likes its minigames; anyone who's played through Final Fantasy 7 can vouch for that. But instead of making them a refreshing departure from the normal game engine with interesting concepts and rewards to give them interest and replay value, Ehrgeiz shrewdly uses the exact same basic controls to make you do things like run in circles. Without these kind of innovations, we may never have lived to see say, the Tekken fighters bowling. Or more recently, busty kodachi playing volleyball.

Infinity Battle- Rather than being a play mode in the normal game, survival mode is classified as a minigame. It's not the worst setup I've seen for one, anyway, perfect victories net you additional heart containers to store 'overflow' energy restored to you after a fight. Unfortunately, this gets old. Fast. It's like playing through Arcade mode, only never meeting the final boss and having to fight everyone all over again in the same static order.

Battle Runner- It dawned on me the minigames are more or less arranged by playability. As such, I can see where Battle Runner might conceivably make a fun party game. It's always more fun to yell at the screen with a friend anyway. The inability to control your character's jumps with the analog stick is painfully apparent here. Basically, two fighters run in corcles around a given tiny track. You can beat the crap out of your opponent to slow them down, and collect stars that have varying effects. The computer plays the ass often; sometime even running the track backwards to pumell you stupid then lap you while unconscious and breathing dry ice.

Battle Beach- This minigame begins with a lens flare, and a slow pan around a beach chair with palm trees in the background, with BATTLE BEACH spelled out in the same huge orange letters as the rest of the non-RPG text in the game. Basically, you mash x and circle until your little Tekken ripoff guy crosses the finishing line. Interperse with presses of the other two buttons to jump and grab the flags, and lurch forward a little.

Battle Panel- The object of this game is to turn as many panels as possible to your color. How exactly this is achieved escapes me; this is the one minigame I've yet to win at. Sometimes it seems to help if you're facing away from whatever panel you want to tag at about a 45 degree angle. Of course, the more ground you gain increases the odds of the computer setting down a finger and turning the whole board blue. It's not like you really get anything out of these games if you do win anyway (except for alternate costumes for characters who aren't even very good.)


Clair and Koji

Here, our hero runs in to plunder the treasure chamber while leaving his leggy assistant to fight off a horde of demons.