Ninja Masters was the final game from ADK and released in 1996. Somehow, I enjoy it even more when playing it after watching Ninja Scrolls or Basilisk. Those interested can also find it on the PlayStation 2 compilation ADK Tamashii.
Ninja Masters is similar to Samurai Shodown, but has a definite twist. Each character not only carries a weapon, but can sheathe or draw it upon command and doing so changes the available move list. There are some other standard systems in place including a super meter that allows for EX moves, supers, and a super combo ender. The health system is also important as it signifies when finishers and desperation attacks can be done. When your health is flashing red, you can do a desperation move to try and even the odds. When an opponent's meter is flashing red, you can do a finisher to end the fight. The characters each have a motive for fighting (most with the intent to kill Nobunaga) that comes through in story scenes.
Nobunaga is based off the historical figure of the same name, but much like the Onimusha series he is portrayed with literal demonic presence. He wears samurai armor in black and gold as well as a cloak. His cloak is filled with demon eyes. He isn't terrible at the beginning, but only one of his swords is drawn. And his cloak protects him when he jumps and blocks. Then he draws the other sword, and it is on fire. He has an area flame attack that he loves to use right as you are landing from a jump. His normal attacks do more damage than yours.
This boss' strength (like so many on this list) really lies in his super combos. One of his super combos throws the flaming sword at you, and should you be caught, empties around half of your health meter. The other, is even worse, he rushes you with slashes and then a cloak charge and finishes with a small tornado and takes OVER half your health meter. Of course, he has another similar combo where he leaps cloak-first and culminates in a splash damage wave of violet for over half your health meter, and once this combo starts...good luck. But the one that really got to me, was when he stuns you with a slash, absorbs you into his cloak, some kanji symbols come up on screen, and then you drop from the sky in a fountain of blood.
Try this Doujin: Akatsuki Blitzkampf
In 1995 Racdym and Hudson Soft released Far East of Eden: Kabuki Klash based on the Japanese-only console RPG Tengai Makyo.
Kabuki Klash is an eight character weapons fighter with colorful anime-style design and busy backgrounds. Items are dropped randomly during the fight such as: banana peels to trip you, poison to stun you, various things to boost statistics, and food to heal you. Some moves drop your weapon and alter your move list until you pick the discarded weapon back up. The magic meter works similarly to the super meter in other titles allowing for massive attacks and for temporary stat boosts.
Lucifeller appears as a powered-up transformation of Jyashinsai after his defeat. He is a large green demon with a third eye and long tail. One of his most devastating attacks combines a knockdown with a path of flames he spits out. He can grab you and fly up into the air before smashing into the ground. He can also fly up only to come down unexpectedly right on top of you. Lucifeller has a strangely angled dropkick and ground punch that is followed by an energy splash. He can ambush you with spikes from his back when he ducks. Once you learn not to jump in, have patience, and to anticipate which move he is going to do along with what each move will do, he can be beaten.
Try this Doujin: Vanguard Princess
Rabbit is one of the more obscure titles on this list as it was made through a partnership of EA with Japanese developer Aorn, and is Aorn's only game. It released in the Arcades in 1997 and the Sega Saturn as well.
Rabbit basically boils down to an eight Chinese character roster one-on-one fighter with each fighter possessing a Zodiac Ball that gives them the spirit of a Chinese Zodiac animal. When activated, that spirit grants them increased power and access to a few new moves and super combos. It works very similar to Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. After winning, the victor takes the losers ball and gains their animal. Many fighting game staples are present such as countering, and a manual or auto block mode, turbo, and a parrying system that can turn a match around completely as it leaves the opponent stunned. The graphics are highly influenced by animation, and feature large sprites, detailed backgrounds, and bright colors.
The boss of Rabbit is Zao-Long. He/She/It is a large skull-faced foe with long claws inhabited by an evil spirit. Zao-Long also has a sort of purple outline glow. First are those claws, they operate like drills for multi-hit, high-damage combos. Then Zao-Long has super-human parrying timing, the ability to avoid hits completely, and takes next to no damage when blocking. Zao-Long has an attack that sucks you into him, takes whatever your next zodiac ball is, damages you, and then charges him up with its power while making him orange with flame (Bye-bye supposed and only advantage). To make this boss even tougher, all of Zao-Long's priorities are ahead of yours.
Try this Doujin: Touhou 12.3 Hisoutensoku
I really struggled in deciding between Savage Reign and Kizuna Encounter. They are part of the same series. And SNK's Savage Reign really did some new and interesting things as a game. Kizuna Encounter released in 1996. And while obscurity and rarity were not deciding factors a lucky few in the PAL region did get a Neo-Geo home cartridge release of Kizuna Encounter, but there are less than 12 copies.
Kizuna Encounter brought ease to tag team battles. Also, it featured not only the incredibly tough first game's boss King Leo, but another even more brutal one. Tagging is done within a certain area, and losing either character loses the match. Also, the game's ending is a match between tag team partners and that means team selection is crucial not only to success in earlier fights, but in picking someone you can beat to be your partner.
King Leo offers wealth and fame to anyone who succeeds in defeating him in the Battle of the Beast God Tournament held in Jipang City, a rechristening of the same South Town seen in Fatal Fury. In Kizuna Encounter, the Battle of the Beast God Tournament's boss is Jyazu. Jyazu wears similar ninja costuming as Gozu and Mezu, but he wears a golden crow mask and can turn into a crow as well. He shares a more powered-up move set with the other two ninja characters. His spinning wheel leap is on fire and hits much harder as well as being impossible to interrupt. His lightning kick fires a ring of fireballs. He can meditate causing the ground to erupt in geysers of fire. He can rapid-fire explosive balls from his arm. His forward dash works almost as well as an actual teleport, and also avoids attacks. He shares some tactics seen in King Leo and in other notorious SNK bosses.
Even though they do have different approaches as games, I consider Kizuna Encounter and Savage Reign to be equally fantastic games, and the bosses to be very tough.
Try this Doujin: Axel City
Martial Masters was released in 1999 by International Games Systems (IGS) of Taiwan for the Poly Game Master (PGM) arcade hardware. It ultimately took this spot on the list away from The Killing Blade, which was also made by IGS.
This game is set during the same story as the Once Upon a Time in China trilogy. Some of the twelve characters share names with characters either in that film series or Drunken Master. The rest have names identical to their particular fighting style, such as Snake or Crane.
Martial Masters is a beautiful game for those that appreciate this kind of art style or really amazing animation. It is also very deep with most moves lending themselves to combos, and combos can be canceled out of midway meaning every fighter has the ability to be played very uniquely not only from one another, but from player to player. Every character also has two super moves, two "shadow" moves, and over five special moves. And everyone including the hidden "joke" character is fairly well-balanced. The animation also lends itself to some very precise hit detection much like Street Fighter III or Garou, and that in turn is complemented by solid AI. Martial Masters doesn't really need to use many of the methods seen in some other titles. And while the boss does have some "cheapness", he is beatable provided you can learn his tricks, your character, and the game's systems well enough.
True Lotus Master appears as a simple palette swap of Lotus Master at first, he is hard to describe, but basically wears white pants and sashes, a hat with a red ball on it, and has more or less orange skin and long black fingernails. His repertoire of ways to hurt you is what sets him apart. True Lotus Master has many moves designed to "catch" you in certain places on-screen. He throws an explosive canister that can be tricky at first, until you learn that it is really a long-range and anti-aerial tactic that he primarily uses when you are knocked down. He has a slashing projectile that angles down then bounces up, but only connects up close, and he throws an energy orbs which travels slowly across the screen, but the damage can be lessened by jumping. Sometimes, he will jump straight up and hover in place, it may not seem like much but it is usually a warning sign. Lastly, he can rush into you, grab you, and carry you across the screen to be smashed against the edge if you are either too unwary or block too much.
Where he gets tough, is when he starts dashing. He not only moves very quickly but pulls together attacks with machine precision, and if that gets you flustered; then it's all over because you still haven't encountered the big stuff. His supers are somewhat typical of better-known bosses doing wide-area and screen-filling damage. One has him leaping over you and out of reach while leaving behind a kind of magical mine/explosion that juggles you. Remember how he hovers and that is usually a warning? He is likely going to fire a multiple explosion scree-filling super at you, leaving you nowhere to hide.
Try this Doujin: Dong Dong Never Die
Technos released Voltage Fighter Gowcaiser in 1995. It also came out on Neo-Geo CD and the PlayStation.
Gowcaiser is a four-button fighter featuring ten fighters and two bosses each with a superhero theme and series of special fighting moves. Upon victory you can agree to take on an opponent's special move. The newest moves replaces the older move if you take more than one. Should you lose, the moves you have had as options become selectable when you continue. Also, there is a desperation move unique to each fighter that does around a half meter in damage. Particularly interesting, this game has a distinctive anime style that evokes a very early 90s feel probably because Masami Obari was the character design artist. He also did the Fatal Fury anime designs among others.
Ohga first appears as a somewhat unassuming guy wearing a red, gold-buttoned jacket, but then he laughs turns to green fire and becomes something both bizarre and fierce. He is extremely muscled and has blue blades coming from his forearms, shoulder and leg armor, and blue blades rising above his head in a sort of halo. His hair also goes from blonde to white. As he sought to become a god until eternal life become unbearable you would think he would make it easier to take him out since that is was his entire point in forming the Academy and searching for fighters, but no.
Ohga can and frequently does teleport both out of range and directly next to you. He has a crescent shaped projectile that fills most of the upper screen and travels across the screen. Most of his other moves surround him in flames which do extra damage and set you on fire. He turns to flame and torpedoes himself across the screen that hits multiple times. He as a multiple hit shoryuken. Even his one-handed choke grab, which he seemingly does at will regardless of the circumstance, lights you on fire. Or he could just wait for you to attack, turn to flame, and let you murder yourself by hitting him. Any move you don't manage to block does as much damage as your desperation move, and even blocked they hit as hard as your normal special attacks. I once lost to him even though I blocked everything.
Try this Doujin: Super Cosplay Wars Ultra
Galaxy Fight released by Sunsoft in 1995 in Arcades. It is also available on Neo-Geo, Neo-Geo CD, Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo's Virtual Console, and PlayStation Network.
Galaxy Fight allows players to select from eight interstellar characters, each with a home planet complete with scientific survey data straight out of science fiction. It is a very unique game even aside from the setting. It features a four button control scheme: light, medium, hard, and taunt. The moves are not defined as punches or kicks, but are context sensitive relative to character position, movement, and input combinations. (Due to this system, I put tens of dollars in quarters into this machine and still don't feel I had any mastery). Each character has a one-hit finisher as well. The screen has no edge, meaning it can scroll indefinitely. Lastly, you don't fight a copy version of your selected character and the pre/post-fight dialogue between the characters is unique to those individuals. Really, Galaxy Fight looks like something that might have been born of a pairing of Heavy Metal magazine and early 90s anime.
The boss of Galaxy Fight is Feldon, but if you manage to fight without losing a round the entire game, including the already challenging boss, you get the "true" or hidden boss Rouwe. Rouwe is an elderly gentleman with a beard and wears an orange karate gi. His moves are similar to Ryu from Street Fighter or Ryo from King of Fighters. He can hit you with a combo capable of depleting a little over half your health. He has a very powerful shoryuken-style move. Many of his attacks hit multiple times. He has a flying punch and kick move that covers most of the screen. Rouwe has a punch that sends a shock wave along the ground across the entire screen. And he can turn most any move of yours that he blocked into a damaging throw. The only thing keeping him from being higher is that he is not the default boss character.
Try this Doujin: Melty Blood Act Cadenza ver. B
In 1998, Fuuki made their first fighting game and it warranted a sequel called Asura Buster: Eternal Warriors.
Asura's Blade somehow reminds me of Darkstalkers, maybe it's the art style, some of the stages, or just the characters. Asura Blade is a three-button weapons fighter with an auto-filling multipurpose super meter. When maxed, the meter can unleash a special combo, a powered up version of a normal super move, or can grant an EX mode with stat boosts for remainder of the round. Weapons can be knocked free and must be retrieved like many of the other weapons fighters on this list. There is also a really cool evasive roll that can get you out of tough knockdowns. The stacked health bar looks hefty, but attacks do pretty high damage in general.
Hey, you got past Curfue, the sub-boss with his own exasperating techniques and a beam attack straight out of the book of Hyper Viper Beam, now check out S. Geist. S. Geist, wears some silver spiked armor and a skull-themed half-mask. That appears to be Ivy Valentine's snake sword he carries, but with much greater hit damage, and in 2D. It is also the main reason why he is a beast. If Curfue's constant anti-aerial grenades and shots combined with screen clearing energy blasts weren't enough, then what about S. Geist's whip-like attacks?
Each and every time his sword lengthens into a whip, you can guarantee it will be a combo hit doing massive health-shattering damage. And it comes in a variety of flavors too, a spinning upward anti-aerial, a straight-ahead screen-edge-reaching thrust. If he charges you into a corner, and gets in through your block, he can relentlessly combo you into oblivion. And watch out for his jumping diagonal thrust because it will push you into that very corner. One advantage for him, is that he can be beaten if you get the difficulty setting lowered. He doesn't even need the regular low hit detection, high priority, or increased omniscience that some other bosses need to regularly wreck you.
Try this Doujin: Yatagarasu 4
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Visco really loved Street Fighter II and other Street Fighter titles when they released this game in 1996 and the upgraded Breakers Revenge in 1998. Most of the characters seem to be composites of Capcom's fighters, but modified to have fewer obvious weaknesses, and the boss must have learned how to fight from Shadaloo. Breakers did see a home release outside of Japan, but Breakers Revenge (that added a new playable fighter) did not.
Breakers features a roster of eight international fighters, each with a three-tiered super meter allowing for more damaging super combos and the ability to chain special moves together. There are also several fighting game standbys like dashing, canceling, and taunts. The thing that sets it apart is a very in-depth damage adjustment system. It really amounts to preventing you from spamming an attack too much, while maintaining a balance between the normal fighters. Breakers has a unique take on fighting your chosen character, there is the usual palette swap, but the doppelganger is given a different name too. One especially different thing, about Breakers is that matches can go to five rounds if there is no clear winner in the first three, and if neither competitor wins round five the game ends.
Bai-Hu is surrounded by dark energy, and glows with the colors of the rainbow. He is possessed by a demonic force and moves around by hovering. Wearing a traditional Chinese robe of white over green trousers and with a thin mustache/goatee combo, Bai-Hu has a particular reason that each of the fighters hate him and he taunts them with that before the fight, and when he wins which is frequently.
Bai-Hu is basically all the things you hated about M. Bison and Sagat in one deadly, over-powered and darn near prescient package. Most of his moves make him immune to your attacks, teleport him across the screen, and gain a frame or so of priority over yours granting him interrupts even to your super combos. Bai-Hu's normal dashing moves in particular make him completely invulnerable denoted by a shadowy coloring. He also sports two of M. Bison's most well-known attacks with a little alteration. One, he slides across the ground leaving a trail of flame, and two he leaps into the air to stomp your head, flips, and then attacks again.
Bai-Hu can quickly dizzy you, leaving you vulnerable to more attack, and he throws at will. His pillar of light move stays fairly close to him, but covers the screen top to bottom, making it a deadly anti-aerial move and landing directly behind him still gets you hit. He has a forward dash ended by an energy blast that avoids attacks; so you are never out of reach. His fireball hits the ground at an angle, but then bounces upward at the opposite angle. His ponytail whips you and unleashes a few electric orbs that home in on you, that's right no escape. And aside from his upward crescent standing kick being faster than anything you have, it also knocks you senseless against the opposite side of the screen.
While his nunchaku combination isn't a particularly damaging super combo, he also has a variant on Gen's Zan'ei or Zetsuei attack, which holds you midair afterward to be beaten on by several energy orbs. The saving graces for this boss are that he can be interrupted or blocked with the right timing before launching a super combo, the difficulty setting can be lowered though he will still be tough, and with enough practice and some luck he can be beaten.
Try this Doujin: Big Bang Beat Revolve
Power Instinct had Oume. Power Instinct Legends had Chuck. Groove on Fight had Bristol-D with his cool Shin Megami Tensei demon summons. I went with PI2 because Otane Goketsuji is nightmarish. I would like to mention something unique about the third game, Groove on Fight, defeated tag partners can be thrown as an attack. I also came extremely close to using Bristol-D over Otane and even had the entry written. Power Instinct is notoriously challenging as a series. Power Instinct 2 was released in 1994 by Atlus.
Power Instinct 2 improved the graphics of the original, added five new characters, and was the first Power Instinct to use fully vocalized songs in the soundtrack. The returning characters know and remember one another as their dialogue pre- and post-fight evidences. It's a nice touch.
Power Instinct 2 has the series' double jump and adds the now standard "stress" meter. It is a super meter that fills whenever you are attacked or your attacks are blocked. When filled, energy surrounds the characters like something from Dragon Ball Z harming enemies that touch it and protecting from attacks. Like other super meters, the stress meter allows for powerful super attacks. Power Instinct 2 also introduced the after battle portrait parodies. Other games show fighters bruised and battered, PI2 goes further and tauntingly paints the face. In a series known for some bizarre elements, PI2 holds its own.
Otane Goketsuji is Oume's sister. She arrives late to the fight after the ending supposedly begins to play. Otane is a palette swap of Oume and wears a pink shirt and yellow pants. Like her sister, she is superhuman and can leech youth from an opponent to transform. Otane is fast and very strong. She has a hundred hand slap move executed by rapidly hitting a punch button. She has a few trap moves like the ability to leave a phantom version of her face hanging in the air to prevent aerial attacks and conjures a weight to fall from the sky. While it is comical, her projectile travels quickly, even if it is a pair of dentures. She also can rapid fire many energy bullets at a time. She does a burning kick at a downward angle that hits multiple times. And an uppercut preceded by her phantom face that depletes about a third of your health. Her worst moves without transforming come from a mirror she possesses. One calls forth a giant hand to squeeze you. The second move sends out her spirit, and it does heavy damage even if you block.
Otane's youth leech take around a third of your health and also transforms her into her younger, more powerful self. Though temporary, the transformed Otane has access a unique move that fires off a flaming heart that sets you on fire, and can be done as a super "stress" move to be even more damaging. She can also generate a rainbow shield to protect herself. Unique to Power Instinct 2, Otane can call several phantoms of her face up from the ground as an area attack.
Try this Doujin: Million Knights Vermillion
Of course, "toughness" is in the eye of the beholder as much as "lesser-known", but these were particularly tough and memorable bosses for me. I am certain I likely missed some titles, but hopefully this list will raise awareness for some lesser-known fighting games to those looking for the challenge provided by and the fun that can be had by facing a difficult boss.
A few more honorable boss mentions, some meet the criteria and some do not, in no particular order:
* Oume Getsuji (Power Instinct)
* Bristol-D (Groove on Fight)
* King Leo (Savage Reign)
* Lord Wizard (The Killing Blade, a very obscure weapons fighter from IGS. Lord Wizard is definitely a tough boss)
* Mr. Bear (Battle K-Road)
* Dogma (Dragoon Might)
* The General (Kaiser Knuckle, also features a three-on-three mode.)
* Chao Gai (Suiko Enbo/Outlaws of the Lost Dynasty)
* Karnov (Fighter's History Dynamite)
* Fernandez (Waku Waku 7, very colorful and "wacky" game)
* Angel - (Touki Denshou: Angel Eyes)
* Satan Volte (Astra Superstars, this is a completely aerial battle fighter similar to Psychic Force.)
* RULER (Dark Edge)
* Salamander (Martial Champion)
* Karate Kenji (Fight Fever)
* Goemon (Shogun Warriors)
* Blue (Yie Ar Kung-Fu, really early fighter, perhaps the first example of fighting oneself in this genre?)
* Carlos (The Fallen Angels, was never completed)
* Jedah Dohma (Darkstalkers, pretty well-known Capcom series)
* Kain R. Heinlein (Garou Mark of the Wolves, seemed like it would be cheating to list since it is a part of or at least heavily connected to Fatal Fury)
* Johann (Rage of the Dragons, 2002, too new)
* Greed (The Rumble Fish, 2004, too new)
* Sissy (Power Instinct Matrimlee, 2003, too new)
* The King has no Name (Chaos Breaker/Dark Awake, 2004, too new, but I really want this game)
* DemonLord Zarak (WeaponLord, console only)
* Shibata (Sokkou Seitokai: Sonic Council, console only)
* Mahesvara (The Eye of the Typhoon, likely the most obscure game on this list, perhaps too obscure? and console only)
* Aggressor's of Dark Combat (more of a beat 'em up/brawler game)
* Kageki (Try it out, not really a traditional fighter, but fun)
When I was doing this list, I considered a lot of titles, but had to cull a whole slew of games. And I realize that I still could never mention every game out there. But it would be a shame not to mention the ones I cut at all in case someone was just looking for some older and more obscure fighters of varying quality (be aware some of these may be "better" or "worse" than others, but to each their own:
(Mutant Fighter) (Knuckle Heads) (Primal Rage) (Jackie Chan The Kung-Fu Master and Fists of Fire) (Mighty Warriors) (Karate Tournament) (Violence Fight) (King of the Monsters) (Legend of Success Joe) (Blood Warrior) (Ragnagard) (Way of the Warrior) (Time Killers) (Tao Taido) (Vicious Circle) (BloodStorm) (Alien Challenge) (Burning Rival) (Dragon Master) (Tattoo Assassins) (Holosseum) (Solitary Fighter) (Superior Soldiers) (Hippodrome) (Survival Arts) (Pit Fighter) (Blandia) (Reikai Doushi)
Special Note: I would also like to mention Oriental Soft's 2000 release Bash, other than it just missing the time-frame, I know next to nothing about this game, I have never even seen a cabinet, but I would like to play it.
List by Sohogojo (07/28/2014)
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