Personal pronouns have become sacrilege in games writing, which is a shame. Because you can't really say something like: "Fighters Destiny is the only fighter worth caring about today," since not only is such a definite statement nonsense, but the highly skilled cognoscenti from forums such as Shoryuken will tear a strip off you. But were I to say: "Fighters Destiny is the only fighter I care about today," and explained this view, then for the mainstream who have grown bored with the difficulty and repetition of modern fighters, this personal reflection could prove useful. If you don't like personal pronouns, just skip to the game coverage.
Up until Street Fighter IV's release I would have said that one-on-one fighting games were my favourite genre, along with shmups. Of course SFIV brought with it online play, which made me realise that every time I'd played a fighter in the past (and I must have played close to 50) I had only ever played against close friends - who were the worst players imaginable. We all were. If it had projectiles then bouts became games of fireball tennis; if it didn't we jumped and fumbled with the elegance of a goose in tumble drier. But it was always extremely fun. Years of hopelessly unskilled and easy spectacle led me to believe I liked the genre. SFIV marked my return to fighters after an absence of many years and it made me realise two things: I suck at serious fighting games and don't have the inclination to put even an ounce of effort into correcting this, and secondly most modern fighters are all the bloody same. They really haven't changed much beyond the template set down by Yie Ar Kung-Fu (or whatever came earlier) in the 1980s: two guys, two health bars, first to two rounds, and a two digit timer counting down. Punch and kick until the health is gone.
Despite so many subsequent examples clinging to this archetype, there have been a few which attempted to take the genre in new directions. Most failed for whatever reason. I will never come even remotely close to the skill of either Daigo or Justin Wong in that famous video, so all the subtle nuance that such players notice in current fighters is lost on the layman like me - super cancels, kara throws and the open-palm wineglass method mean little. Many fighters are also now freakishly complex, in order to please the international tournament crowds.
The only fighters I still care about today are Yū Yū Hakusho: Makyō Tōitsusen, because the 4-player dynamic fundamentally changes everything and it's tremendously silly fun; the Psychic Force series, because I love projectile spamming and cool stories; and the two Fighters Destiny games, because they reinvented the mechanics of the genre with fantastic results. If you're fed-up with how modern fighters all seem to be the same and are more about attaining proficiency than actually enjoying yourself, Fighters Destiny should prove the perfect antithesis. You won't earn cool points from the fighting clique, but to heck with 'em, games are meant to be fun, right?
The New System
Fighters Destiny was released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64, a system lacking in key genres such as fighters, shmups and RPGs. FD still had one-on-one fights, with a timer, but almost every other convention was either abandoned or reworked. Even in early previews for N64 magazine, when the game was known as Struggle Hard (Page 1, Page 2), it showed promise because of its new points system. Instead of the first to two rounds set-up like other fighters, it was the first to earn a specific number of points, with points earned for performing a particular feat. A second preview again showed this as being first to 5 points, with 1 for a Ring Out, 2 for a Knockdown and 3 for a Special. By release this had been revised to 7 points. Players still had a health bar, like other fighters, but it was constantly recharging, which placed an emphasis on points. It was revolutionary (well, maybe it was a bit like Karate Champ, but still).
In both the first and second Fighter's Destiny game there are 6 different ways to earn your 7 points and win the match. Each method earns a different amount. Instead of the rapid flow that can leave newcomers struggling against a veteran in a conventional fighter, FD is more methodical and all about timing. Once you've learned your character's knockdown moves it's quite possible to act cautiously and take down a well-practised player. In this way FD keeps the playing field level and - therefore - a lot more fun. Button mashing won't help and neither will memorising complex strategies. Patience and consideration wins the match.
The genius of this system is that you can customise everything. The number of points needed can be set from 1 to 8. While everything from a Ring Out to finishing Specials can be set from 1 to 5. The arena size can also be set between 4 and 12 metres, just in case you wanted to emphasise Ring Outs. By tweaking the parameters you can create a completely different fighting game each time. There are only two attack buttons (upper and lower), plus block and a button for sideways evasive movement.
Ringout - 1 point
Simply push your opponent to the edge and out of the ring. Considering that other fighting games normally allot 1 of the needed 2 rounds for a Ring Out (50%), this rebalances everything by making it worth only 14% of the victory conditions. Be warned, an opponent can dangle on the edge of the arena and - if you go in for a low sweep - grab your leg for a throwdown move and 2 points.
Throw - 2 points
Pushing both upper and lower attack buttons activates either a standard throw or, if hanging from the arena's edge, a throwdown - whereupon you grab your opponent and pull them down. During a normal throw a meter comes up, and if your opponent pushes down and both attack buttons they can cancel the throw and possibly even initiate one of their own - which you can also cancel if fast enough. However, when the opponent was blocking at the time a throw is initiated, it becomes impossible to cancel.
Knockdown - 3 points
This is where you'll make most of your points. Each character has knockdown moves which act as instant kills. Activating them requires a slight charge time, telegraphed by a blue light from their hands, so opponents can either block or prepare to counter. But if you time it just as they're coming out of a long attack animation, or a failed Knockdown themselves, you can easily land it. Using a knockdown it's possible to finish a round in only a couple of seconds. Also if you reduce your opponent to the stunned Piyori condition (zero health), but can't pull off a Special, then a regular attack will also result in a Knockdown.
Counter - 3 points
If you see your opponent getting ready with a blue charging Knockdown move, a well-timed counter will instantly floor them and land you 3 points. Not easy, but oh so satisfying in multiplayer.
Special - 4 points
Despite player health constantly recharging, if you're quick enough to reduce it to zero, the opponent will turn a shade of purple and be stunned with stars above their head. At this point you can input a finishing Special move ala Mortal Kombat to take them down in a spectacular display of fireworks. 4 points isn't much for what is the trickiest aspect of the game, so it's worth notching this up to 5 and perhaps reducing the overall needed points to make Specials really special.
Judge - 1 point
Basically a time out. Since health recharges it's not necessarily the one with the most health at the end. Instead points are awarded for fighting prowess and the one with the most points declared winner.
There's quite a lot of diversity in acquiring points. Since matches focus less on health bars and more on good timing for quick finishes, fighting is slower-paced yet matches are over considerably faster than in a normal fighter. Both players eye each other up, no one makes a move, and then suddenly one goes for a Knockdown whereupon the other Counters. It's over in less than 5 seconds, but each player only moved once to attack. Mixing things up by altering the parameters allows for near infinite and diverse replay. Why not set throws to have the maximum points and turn it into a kind of quasi-wrestling game? Or set it to Judge's decision to make it more like a karate match!
Magazine scans courtesy of Decider-VT from NTSC-uk - many thanks!
Initially released as Fighting Cup in Japan this saw both US and European releases under the name Fighters Destiny. Hilariously the Japanese version seems to be voiced by someone doing a Schwarzenegger impression in Engrish, and is almost worth tracking down the cart for. But apart from re-recording all voices there doesn't seem to be much difference between the Japanese and western releases. There is a lot of difference between the official release and the version seen in preview screens though! Backgrounds are now much simpler, consisting of a flat square arena with single wrap-around image for the background, instead of the polygonal scenery show before. In fact the Castle and Beach backgrounds from previews are nowhere to be seen. Character portraits also appear to have been totally redrawn, and look fairly awful now (see Tomahawk).
Overall the visuals are blocky as per the era, with only minimal detail for them and the backgrounds. There's still a lot of charm to the game though, and a silly sense of humour (just wait until you see Ushi the cow drinking her own milk). There's a diverse of range of modes too. One player tournament, two players, Survival mode against 100 opponents, Faster mode where you have one minute to defeat opponents, Rodeo where you need to survive for as long as possible against Ushi, plus a comprehensive Training mode and Master Challenge. The only thing sorely lacking is a decent story. Finishing the one-player mode doesn't even yield any kind of ending. Luckily there's plenty to unlock in single player and with a few friends the replayability becomes endless.
The one feature unique to this version not found in the sequel is the Master Challenge. Each in-game character starts with only a partial moves list, with a remaining 8 moves needing to be unlocked. Master Challenge presents you with a ring of 12 opponents, consisting of eight versions of the Master and four Jokers. Each is randomly selected and after defeating the Master he teaches you one of the 8 skills you can unlock for that character. Beating the Joker does nothing, but losing to him results in all new skills being taken away. Keep in mind the Joker is the toughest AI opponent in the game. It's a bit like playing Russian roulette with a four chambered pistol and one live bullet, over and over. Thrilling, terrifying, and all round a bloody excellent addition which almost recreates the mystery from ye-olden arcade days, when you weren't quite sure how to perform a character's special moves. Difference is, here they need to be unlocked first. Some moves can also be unlocked by beating the standard mode and chosing Win Or Lose mode in VS Battle. Be warned: while the game cartridge saves most of your data, you will need a memory pack to save newly unlocked skills.
The Japanese version, Fighting Cup, was actually published nearly a year after the Western release and has a variety of changes to the character name and move commands.
Could there be a more blatant attempt at a default "Ryu" character? Decent all-rounder, game frontman and easy to learn. Curiously early preview screens show a character named Saeki - in the sequel to this Ryuji is renamed Saeki.
The fat man from Mongolia (though his name and clothing imply otherwise) is described as an all-rounder in-game. He's actually more on the slow side, and his moves have awkward long animations which leave him wide open.
The tricky to master Frenchman who is dressed as a clown. Many of Pierre's moves leave him facing the wrong way - so to compensate several attacks are meant to be used when the opponent is behind you. Not an easy fighter to use!
A Spanish all-round fighter, though his stage appears to be the Coliseum in Rome. His kicks are devastating.
Big and strong to deal massive damage, but slow and an easy target. To see how the game changed from preview code to final release, check out Tomahawk's old portrait.
Hailing from China she's billed as the game's quickest fighter. She can't grapple and throw an opponent, so if you pick her you'll have to rely on Knockdowns and Specials.
Described as an aerial fighter, this German fraulein specialises in knocking opponents into the air and keeping them there.
Big and slow like Tomahawk. Despite coming from Brazil, Bob's stage is a curious looking landscape of desert dunes. Has some strong low attacks.
Billed as the technical fighter in the game, Ninja has a range of interesting but difficult to perform moves, including one which swaps positions, and a knockdown move where he waits for someone to run into his glowing fist.
This Swiss miss acts as the game's regular boss, but isn't especially difficult to beat. She's unlocked after finishing the game.
The cow from the Rodeo mode. If you finish the game with a character, and then use that same character to survive for over one minute against Ushi, you'll unlock her.
The mechanical dummy from the training mode. To unlock him play Faster mode and defeat everyone altogether in under one minute.
Teaches you moves in Master Challenge mode. Not as tough as you'd expect, just stay sharp. Beat all 12 opponents in Master Challenge to unlock him.
Fear this Russian trickster. Fast and agile, he will without question attempt a Special if you reach Piyori mode. If he beats you in the Master Challenge you lose all your new skills. To unlock him, beat 100 characters in survival mode.
The sequel, which curiously drops the possessive apostrophe, remixes several of the entrants, shuffles around a few of their move commands and overhauls the Master Challenge, but otherwise the points system remains unchanged and as excellent as before. It still lacks a proper story mode, but there are now 16 characters instead of 14, and it's instantly apparent they've improved the visuals. There's more polygons in the character models allowing for greater detail, better texturing, more background details and animation, and it runs smoother too. Whereas Ryuji/Saeki's stage in the first game was rather plain looking, with statues and a red hue, in the second it's bathed by a hundred burning lanterns and looks incredible.
The biggest change is that instead of the Master Challenge there's the Fighter's Arena. You pick a character and, using a number dial instead of dice, move around a giant board game Mario Party style. Each square houses one of the game's regular characters, while at key points stands the Master who, if beaten, will grant you a new skill. Instead of the Joker there's the drag queen Cherry waiting at sections of the board, who will also sometimes haunt you on the number dial. The gimmick here is that every time you beat someone you also get a little stat boost, kind of like in an RPG, which should encourage you to play through all the smaller fights against minor characters and build up your character. It's a clever idea in theory, but it just ends up annoying. Whereas the Master Challenge didn't take too long, this takes bloody ages to get through. It's not especially tough either, since Cherry is much easier than the Joker, and losing to minor characters only sends you back a single square. It's just an excuse to fight random characters over and over. The Master Challenge in contrast was utterly thrilling - put it another way, what's more exciting? Russian roulette or Monopoly? Exactly.
The worst change to the sequel though has to be that they took the original characters, who were all simple but pretty cool, and replaced several, making them gaudy and annoying. Same with the backgrounds. In fact despite the obvious improvements of the visuals, it's not easy to recommend this one over the first, purely on stylistic grounds and loss of the Master Challenge. Its saving grace is that the underlying combat mechanics are the same, which is the main reason for playing the series. If you have one version of FD there's little need to get the other (unless you really want the improved visuals and faster speed, in which case upgrade to the sequel). Even then the Master Challenge is probably worth getting the original for.
A name change can't hide the fact this front Ryuji from the first game. He has one of the biggest move sets in the game and is a great starter character. Looks very different from the Saeki featured in the preview screens.
One of the new characters, she hails from Brazil and attempts to dance sexily before, during and after matches. Seemingly replaces Valerie, but isn't as useful.
Same guy from the first game, though slightly beefed up and with a new stage set amongst what looks like Mongolian yurts.
Freaky mad scientist from Italy, Frederico plays a bit like a replacement for Leon from the first game. His background appears to be the same as Ziege's, implying some kind of story connection.
An American street fighter, D-Dog's attire takes a clichéd pimped out look. Seemingly replaces Bob, although he's thinner and faster.
A blond British bombshell, Kate is a very fast fighter. Seemingly replaces Boro from the first game, but isn't a boss.
Even better than his counterpart in the first game. Has some good aerials and other moves, but most have complex button combinations.
Massive non-human character with an equally massive health bar. Replaces Tomahawk from the first game. Slow but when he connects he does some real damage.
He returns from the first game, albeit with a hideously garish new stage and costumes. Damned tricky to use as always, especially with connecting, and perhaps best not to use him at all.
A British punk rocker, Dixon is new to the series and hits pretty hard. Has some good counter moves.
Back from the first game and mostly unchanged. Meiling is fast, but be warned: she still doesn't have any conventional throwing moves.
The new boss character, unlocked after beating the game. Without doubt the best fighter. Very fast, powerful, extremely slippery, with a diverse range of easy Knockdown moves.
Another cow character, replacing Ushi from the first. Similar to before: complete the game with Adriana then survive for over a minute in Rodeo mode.
Just like Rob the training robot, albeit now much cooler looking and made from wood. Beat the game with Ninja then complete Faster mode in under a minute.
Has the biggest moveset - unsurprising since he teaches others new moves. Grades you after each match in Fighter's Arena. Get only A and S ranks to unlock him.
This drag queen replaces the Joker from the first game. If you load up the Japanese version you'll hear Cherry speak with a camp but unmistakably masculine voice - this was changed for the US release to something more feminine. Nowhere near as difficult as the Joker, and consequently not frightening.