Forgotten Games: Tobal No. 1
Hey all, just wanted to let a few ideas fly about a few games that for one reason or another was met with obscurity. While a lot of these games were good, were woefully underrated/underappreciated and for some reason they just faded into the ether. Hopefully this can give you a few ideas on some things to find while shuffling through the "bargain bin" at your local game store.
The first title I give you is Tobal No. 1
Tobal No. 1 was a fighting game released for the Playstation in 1996, by Squaresoft. It was an experimental 3D game that featured full 3D movement (in fact the first fighting game to incorporate true 3D movement), a comprehensive grappling system and characters designed by Akira Toriyama the creator of Dragon Ball, and it was developed by Dream Factory.
Seeing as how 3D games were the new rage of the 1996 gaming scene, this game had a very prospective future. Square was very hot coming out of the gate, and their partnering with Sony (after their bitter falling out with Nintendo) helped secure them a nice spot in Sony's overall marketing plan. Sony had big expectations for Square, mostly because of Final Fantasy VII. However, Square had aspirations that stretched across any forthcoming turn-based RPGs and Tobal No. 1 was part of that. So, in order to convince Sony to allow them a stateside release of Tobal No. 1, they offered an included playable demo of FFVII (as seen by the original box art). That worked wonders for the initial sale of Tobal No. 1.
The actual game was a solidly controlling 3D fighter, sporting flat shaded models on elevated arenas/rings all moving at a brisk 60fps. Since the movement was true 3D, the up direction moved the character into the background of the playing field, and the down direction moved the character into the foreground. Blocking and Jumping were handled shoulder buttons, and there were 3 primary attack buttons Low, Medium and High. Attack techniques were carried out in standard 3D fighter fashion. The attack button on its own producer a standard attack. A sequenced input of attack buttons would produce a combo and an input of a direction command with a button (or multiple direction commands and then a button) produced different "special moves" for each character. All fights were decided by K.O., Ringout, or whever had more health once the rounds' time elapsed.
The game featured 12 characters overall, 8 accessible from the very beginning and 4 unlockable characters. All character had fully unique moves and animations, with no characters sharing techniques or appearances at all. The boss characters were unlockable by going through "Quest Mode" which had the player traveling through a randomly generated dungeon. At the end of the dungeon the player fought one of the boss characters, and successfully defeating the boss character made them available for play in single or versus mode.
While this may all seem like your standard fighting game repertoire, what really stood out from the normal fighting games was the Grappling system. While most 3D fighting games of the time would simply animate a throw if you successfully input the commands, Tobal took a much more in-depth (and realistic approach) to grappling. In order to initiate any type of grapple, the player needed first to successfully grab their opponent. Since this was a full 3D fighting game, the player could grab the opponent from the front, back, or side of a standing or crouching opponent. From their they could choose to throw the opponent, push, or pull them about the ring. Depending on your character, the position of your opponent, and whether you set them up with a push or pull, you character would do different throws/holds.
Now that isn't to say that you were helpless once grabbed, a game opponent could break out of the grapple, hit your character out of the throw, or even reverse your throw. That's not all, if you were real slick, you could reverse your opponent's reversal. Get two players who were familiar with the grappling siystem, and you had a hell of a chess match on your hands. I remember a session of playing where I was playing a buddy and we went through 13 consecutive reversals before finally getting the throw. Because of the possibility of Ringouts, players had to pay attention to their position on the field especially during grapples.
Given the games pedigree of design, publishers and marketing, the game ended up doing horrible in the U.S. market. Part of the that was due to the character design. In this day in age where Toonami is one of the highest rated segments of the Cartoon Network, and anime and manga have boomed in media exposure, Akira Toriyama designs are appreciated. But alas, the time was 1996 2 years before the Pokemon phenomenon would open the gates of U.S. media wide to anime or manga. No one could get into any of the characters, they were too "offbeat" to be taken seriously besides the more "hardboiled" designs of more established fighting game franchises of Virtua Fighter, Tekken, or Street Fighter.
Another precluding factor in it's demise on stateside store shelves was the fact that Tekken 2 was released (alongside dozens of other titles) that same season a month prior. While Tobal No. 1 was an unknown, it was staring the Playstation's flagship fighting game franchise (whoa... say that five times fast) in the face when released. When given the choice of playing the game with wierd controls and a fighting chicken, over the hot from the arcades bone-breaker featuring polygonal cleavage, Tobal No. 1 did not stand much of a chance. It got lost in the mix of other myriad games that flooded store shelves that season.
The other sad factor (and this is true) is that much of the marketing behind Tobal No. 1's release was focused more on the fact that it included a playable demo of FFVII more than the actual game itself. I remember many customers picking up the game only to exchange or trade it in once they were done playing through the demo.
After the abysmal sales numbers of the original game, plans of releasing its sequel were scrapped. It's a real shame too because Tobal 2 is an absolute gem of a game that expanded on all the great things that Tobal No. 1 did while fixing many issues. Further, the Quest Mode on Tobal 2 was made a completely deep stand-alone mode that allowed player to play through the dungeons, power/level up their character in RPG fashion, and capture the monsters within to make them playable in the single and versus modes. All in all, you had access to over 170 playable characters (many of them palette swaps) and countless hours of replay.
In the end, the American market wasn't quite "ready" for it all. Tobal, although great and ahead of its time, was doomed to become one of the many games Forgotten in the bargain bins of local game stores nationwide.
I don't remember ever seeing this game and I definitely haven't heard of it. It sounds like something I would enjoy playing but I can't imagine ever finding it.
Good write up. I look forward to more.
Yeah I actually tried playing Tobal.1 and I actually liked it, but none of my friends had any remote interests in the game for the same reasons you mentioned. I believe Tobal had a dungeon mode too which is pretty cool, but the item break and random setups really made it frustrating for me.
Lets not forget that Dream Factory made two more attempts with Ehrgeiz for the ps1 and The Bouncer for the ps2.
Ehrgeiz was really trying to sell the game by having FF7 characters included. The fighting system has a few ups and downs. Once again the title release was overshadowed by other monster hits(Street Fighter Alpha 3 came out the same time.)
This game has a dungeon mode as well, but still had the frustrating item breaks and random setups that I really have no love for.
The Bouncer for the ps2 was entertaining for a ps2 launch title, but Armored Core 2 held so much more value than it.
Tobal No. 1 is probably still pretty easy to find if you have a place that deals with PS1 games. Otherwise, you're probably relegated to looking online for it.
Actually Dream Factory has put out quite a few games:
Ehrgeiz used the Tobal engine, but they changed the controls up so that it would move much faster. My big gripe with the game was that the controls sucked, and the AI was extremely cheesy.
Crimson Tears is pretty much the Tobal Quest Mode on steroids. Unfortunately, the random dungeon generation tends to be a double-edged sword.
Although they did do UFC: Tapout and Tapout 2 on the XBox, they just used the engine that Anchor created for the original UFC on the Dreamcast. As a result, it ended up like a poorly handled port on a dated engine.
If you ever get the time and determination to get a hold of Tobal 2, it's an absolute gem. I remember paying $70 for the import back in 1998 for it. I believe it's listed on eBay for only $20 now. If I recal correctly, Square/Enix re-released a few titles in a "greatest hits" collection for the PS2 a few years ago that included Tobal 2. Because of that, the regularly (and obscenely high) listed price for the game dropped making it not too expensive to obtain.
Good write up. I wish I had some game systems to try those games out on and I wish I had some games I could add to this thread =(.
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