Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Game Review: Sailor Moon S

Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Juugai Rantou!? Shuyaku Soudatsusen
  • Publisher: Angel
  • Developer: Angel
  • Release: December 1994 (Japan)
  • Genre: Versus Fighter
  • Players: 1-2 simultaneous, 1-8 alternating
  • Rarity/Cost: Uncommon (US$15-30)

Have you ever watched the Sailor Moon anime and found yourself wondering why the heroes don't use more unarmed martial arts fighting?  It seems they're way more dependent on their magical finishers, amirite?  Well, as if to rectify this issue, they made a versus fighter using the Sailor Moon licence; two, in fact.  And these are only some of the Sailor Moon-licenced games to hit the Super Famicom across multiple genres.  But if you haven't guessed by the way I referred to their console, they were only sold in Japan.  If you've ever felt despair about how America hasn't shown quite enough interest to get all the Moonie goodies...  Yeah, I'm just gonna stop right there before I dig myself any deeper and start sounding like an actual fan, and instead spend my time discussing the fighting game based on Sailor Moon S.

NB: Since this is an import-only game, I suppose I should take a moment to describe how to play it on other region consoles.  The Super NES does use a software-based region lockout, but Japan and North America share the same region, so for you Western-hemisphere readers out there, this is a non-issue.  There's also a physical lockout issue, although nowhere near as debilitating as with the Famicom/NES.  American Super NES Game Paks are wider than Super Famicom Cassettes, and have two grooves cut into the back corners of the case.  These grooves fit in with two tabs built into the Super NES's cartridge bay.  Try to plug in a Super Famicom here, and the tabs will block it.  So what you can do is pull out these tabs, with a pair of pliers and/or other tools, BEING VERY CAREFUL NOT TO DAMAGE THE CARTRIDGE INPUT SLOT.  You can also get purpose-built adapters like the Honeybee, or certain after-market consoles like the Retro Duo, which come with the tabs missing and are thus ready to run import games out of the box.

Back to the game at hand.  Now, its full title is the blisteringly long Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Juugai Rantou!? Shuyaku Soudatsusen, roughly translated to English as "Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon S: Street Fight!? Battle for a New Leader", so yeah, I'm just gonna stick to Sailor Moon S for short.  Be careful not to confuse it with two different block-puzzle games based on that season alone.  (NB: The cartridge label for this game is orange.)  Since it's based on the third season, where the Outer Scouts were introduced, they're playable in this game as well, except for Sailor Saturn.  She couldn't make it because... she had a little run-in with the plot.  I don't know the details.  The modes available are Story, Versus (against a human or computer opponent), Tournament (up to 8 players in a knockout ladder), and Training.  As per the title, the Story mode depicts the Scouts fighting amongst themselves to determine who should be their new leader.  ...That's it?  No monsters or anything?  You're not even gonna re-hash the show's storyline?  ...Well, that's one thing the Power Rangers game I reviewed has over this.  (A neat little Easter Egg awaits you at the title screen if you should finish the story mode with someone other than Moon.)
Not knowing Japanese, I expected more from the story.
But this game here triumphs over the Genesis MMPR fighter in many other ways.  One big example of this is the Attribute Customize System (ACS), wherein you can improve your fighter's stats before starting a game.  Since the computer uses the ACS whether or not you do, neglecting to do so can be a major handicap.  But since the whole thing's in Japanese, I'll describe the categories for you (listed clockwise from the top):
  1. Elemental Strength: Increases the damage of most special attacks.
  2. ?: Increases the damage of the Desperation Attack, a super-move available when you're at low health or the timer reads under 10 seconds.
  3. Defense: Reduces the damage you take.
  4. Playfulness: Increases the chance that your moves will fail.  Unlike the other attributes, increasing this is a handicap against you.
  5. Physical Strength: Increases the damage of basic and some special attacks.
  6. Life: Increases your starting health bar past 100%.
In addition, the control scheme has two settings: Manual, where you trigger special attacks with Street Fighter-style input combos, or Auto, where you hold L/R and press a face button to do so.  It feels incredibly cheap to pull off specials without having memorised the inputs, especially since there's no limit to how much you can used them.  Ever heard of the Neo-Geo series Art of Fighting?  Well, it had a cooldown meter which weakened special attacks the more they were used.  At the risk of ruining it for everyone else, I wish more fighting games implemented limits like that.

Also, whereas the Genesis MMPR game lacked character specialisation, the Sailor Scouts in this game are pleasantly distinct.  You've got balanced types like Sailors Moon and Venus, the faster/weaker Mercury, and the slower/stronger Jupiter and Uranus.  Even some of the moves are ripped straight out of Street Fighter II; apart from the clasic Hadoken input shared amongst many of the characters, Sailor Mercury also has a version of Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick.  And then there's Sailor Mini-Moon, who at half the height of the other characters, can dodge some attacks without even trying.  Oddjob says hi.

Some character differentiation is better than none.
The art style used in this game looks fairly true to its origins, as were many other anime-licenced or themed games from the 16-bit era.  But on a technical level, there's nothing much to get excited over; the only use of Mode 7 that I can think of off the top of my head is in the background of Sailor Pluto's stage.  The music is really sparse, light-hearted fare that I'm glad didn't get stuck in my head.  Voice clips recorded by the show's cast are also present; forgive me if I'm not well-versed enough to tell the actresses apart, but I do appreciate them going the extra mile in this regard.  I do have to give a wag of the finger to the clip Sailor Mercury says when she launches her bubble attack, made even worse since the computer has a tendency to spam that attack when playing as her.

For a versus fighter from the mid-1990s, Sailor Moon S is a pretty well-featured package.  Things like the ACS and the Auto control scheme make this accessible to any novice gamers you might be able to rope into playing with you while still adding some much-appreciated depth.  (So what if it's no good for the hardcore tournament set?)  Now, they also made a sequel to this particular game, based on the fourth season "Super S", but it's a good deal rarer and more expensive to find online, and the feature set is pretty much the same (apart from the inclusion of Sailor Saturn) besides.  If you're ready to strike out into inport gaming and have an interest in the source material, either one of the Sailor Moon versus fighters would be a good game to whet your interest with.

Japanese: 3 kanji out of 5
Graphics: 4 StarS out of 5
Audio: 3 StarS out of 5
Control: 4 StarS out of 5
Design: 3 StarS out of 5
The Call: 75% (C-)

Next Episode: Wait a minute, I've done two Sailor Moon-related entries in a row now?  Man, I need to write up some new man cards...  Let's play some Doom!

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