“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Japanophiles rejoice. I thought I’d pop this one into my SNES from my collection recently, as it had been years since I’d even given it a moment’s thought. This is Ranma ½ subtitled Hard Battle, an obscure 2D tournament fighting game based on a pervy manga and anime that I definitely admit I read in my B.C. days. The game published by Masaya in Japan, DTMC in North America, and Ocean Software in Europe.
The appeal of Hard Battle is primarily for those who liked the original characters found in the manga and anime. The comedic premise is the main character, named Ranma Saotome (pronounced ron-mah), is a boy trained in martial arts who accidentally falls into a cursed spring. The spring transforms its unfortunate victim into the form of whatever drowned there previously, so Ranma is cursed to become a cute girl every time he’s doused with cold water. Hot water changes him back into a boy, because logic. In light of today’s rampant gender identity confusion, the original Ranma ½ is quite tame.
Ranma searches for a way to lift his curse while battling back rivals and would-be lovers. He often abuses his newfound ability to transform into a girl to get his way. Several of the other colorful characters in the series suffer from the curse as well and turn into all number of things and many of them make an appearance in Hard Battle.
There are three modes: Single Player, Two Player and Team Battle. There are twelve playable characters, including both Ranma’s male and female forms. Each character must defeat eight opponents at the behest of the wily high school principal Kuno, for various reasons. Ranma asks to be excused from taking an exam and Kuno agrees if Ranma can win his tournament.
Other characters include Ryoga Hibiki, a young man with amnesia who is cursed to turn into a little black pig; Shampoo, a foreign fighter in love with Ranma but out to kill Ranma as a girl; Akane Tendo, an ordinary and popular girl who’s tired of fighting off her suitors; Genma Saotome who is Ranma’s father cursed to become a panda; Gosunkugi, a miserable student in love with Akane and voodoo; Ukyo Kuonji, a chef armed with a massive spatula once betrothed to Ranma; Mousse, a Chinese fighter in love with Shampoo and armed with hidden weapons who is cursed to become a duck; King, a gambler and casino fanatic; Pantyhose Taro, a villain with the worst of all curses and a horrible name. Pantyhose is the final boss of the single player mode. Happosai, a dimunitive old pervert, is the final, final boss and also a playable character provided you have a code for him.The principal, for whom I always had a special affection considering he’s Hawaiian like myself… and also a pathological liar, promises something to each of these fighters (minus Happosai) similar to the Wizard of Oz. The fighters eventually find that the principal was just playing them like the cheap anime clichés that they are and they ensure Principal Kuno gets what’s coming to him.
Compared to the 2D fighters which dominated one of the best gaming libraries of all time, that of the Super Nintendo, Ranma ½: Hard Battle feels uninspired. For one, it is slower than a weeaboo. It’s much slower than Street Fighter 2 Turbo. It feels like molasses by comparison. It’s also not as visually arresting as Killer Instinct, not as graphic as Mortal Kombat, and not as input-complex as Darkstalkers.So what then does Ranma ½: Hard Battle have to offer? Well, I’m not really sure. It’s cute in its own way. The expressive animations would appeal to anime fans and the personality of the game is a delight for fans of the Ranma series. There’s little story so unless you’re already familiar with these characters there isn’t much to latch on to in the game itself. For example, I didn’t really know who the King character was so he was pretty much automatically my least favorite fighter.
Hard Battle may be a good demonstration of sometimes why obscure games are obscure. Not all of them are hidden gems. Worse, it perpetuates the assumption that retro games aren’t polished. As an adaptation, it’s nostalgic. As a 2D fighter, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The 8-bit Review
The visual drama of anime and manga draws largely from hyper-exaggerated expressions. Anyone who’s watched anime knows what I’m talking about. There’s an unspoken set of animation rules out there in anime to depict things like anger or sadness or joy in characters. I’m sure you can recall to mind the teardrop thing, the giant head yelling thing, the face turning blue thing, the falling flat on their face when someone says the punchline thing. Hard Battle manages to convey the quirkiness of anime animation with excellent character sprites.
Don’t expect anything groundbreaking. The backgrounds are often either drab or overcluttered, with nowhere near the visual stylishness of a fighter like Capcom’s Darkstalkers. It’s cartoony rather than stylish, though the graphics often depict the ordinary rather than the fantastical. The are several games from the Super Nintendo era which remain impressive to the eye to this day but Hard Battle isn’t one of them.
The first thing you’ll notice about Hard Battle’s soundtrack is either how unwaveringly oriental it sounds or how muffled it is to the ears. It always struck me how weird it sounded, like you were listening to it coming up from underneath a pillow. Maybe they tried to smother it and the attempt was unsuccessful. Nothing can kill the youthful energy of this soundtrack. Not even the fact that it isn’t memorable.
The vocal effects are even worse. Okay it’s a given that voice acting hadn’t really hit its stride but this is bad even by the standards of its contemporaries. Not only are they muffled as well but they’re whiny, tedious, mewling, petulant and not good. Gosunkugi’s “eeowwuh” will haunt your nightmares.
There are several fun characters to play as. The fighting itself, as mentioned, is very slow. If you’re coming off playing any normal-speed 2D fighter, this is going to feel like wading through concrete. No prominent dashing or high jumps, or nothing. But hey, there’s throwing.
The characters at least have variations in play style between them. Genma the Panda is E. Honda/Bowser slow. Ranma is your typical standard, balanced fighter, though his female form is faster and his male form does more damage. I feel like some of these characters are even too weird to have any identifiable correlation in archetypes of other fighters.
Gone are the days where you can say “I didn’t have anything else to play so I played this game.” Now, you’ve simply got too much to play and not enough time to play it. The industry has got a billion more games today than it did back in 1992. Furthermore, you are probably like most of us. You don’t really have too many opportunities for a local two-player game, especially if its playing a match on an obscure and unimpressively slow 2D fighter on the SNES.
I say all that to point out Hard Battle’s biggest obstacles to its multiplayer. You’ve got to find someone you can play it with and you’ve got to get them to want to play it. Because that cover art sure isn’t going to win anyone over.
There are at least two multiplayer modes outside of the story mode. The two-player mode is standard for the 2D fighter but this game also includes team battles, which involves players picking several characters that will go head to head, more like an actual tournament. The inclusion of team battles is novel but I’m not even sure why it’s here. It would take a lot more than Ranma ½: Hard Battle to occupy the attention of two human beings for the length of time it takes to complete so many matches.
Hard Battle is much more forgiving on a player than comparable 2D fighters. Since the pace is slower there’s less demand on perfect timing for your combos and even then the combos are simplified. It’s easy enough to do special attacks to get by.
With a dozen fighters with different promises made and promises broken, you might expect there would be slightly more replayability. However, the opening interactions where the principal sets up your character in the tournament is barely any more than a working premise. Once you beat Pantyhose and then Happosai on another playthrough as Pantyhose, then there’s little else to do or unlock or accomplish.
Alright so I originally intended to score this higher until I found out that there isn’t one nor two but five Ranma ½ games on the Super Nintendo. This isn’t even the first Ranma ½ fighting game. Also, Hard Battle doesn’t offer anything new or innovate its genre in any way I could think of, so it’s fair to say it is unoriginal.
My Personal Grade: 5/10
I can’t even remember how I got this game but I remember it was one of the few games I had early in life. I can remember playing it with my brother as nearly every character on long afternoons, the sunlight streaming in through my windows into my wood-floor bedroom. I knew then that this really wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t a game I talked about with friends at school, unlike Breath of Fire II which was a favorite from that era.
Ranma ½: Hard Battle may be unoriginal, slow, and repetitive but hey… it is based on an anime so what else would you expect?
Aggregated Score: 4.9