The following is an authorized re-publish of an article written by Jason Moses and originally posted on September 8, 2014 to the defunct Shoryuken news site. A snapshot of the original article can be found on the Internet Archive.

Street Fighter IV. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Popular, modern titles with established communities. But what of the lesser-knowns, the hidden gems, the fighting games with great ideas that never found a foothold in the West, or at all? This article series aims to find those games, talk to the players who love them, and figure out what makes them worth playing competitively, even today.

Other entries in this series:

Fighting Vipers 2
Developer: Sega AM2
Release Date: 1998 (Arcade), 2001 (Dreamcast)

In an article series dedicated to obscurities, Fighting Vipers 2 might exist in its own class. It never got an official release in North American arcades, its Dreamcast port was Japan- and Europe-only, and it being a 3D game running on Sega’s (for the time) extremely powerful Model 3 Step 2 hardware means you’re not going to be able to run it on that 8-year old laptop you play GGPO with.

But that just makes it even more important to unearth and talk about. Fighting Vipers 2 was Sega’s 3D fighting game design gods at their most crazy and inventive, with over-the-top moves and characters concealing a deeply technical game that rewards good reads, a varied offense, and fast decision-making. And if you really want to show off, you can punch someone through a wall and into a T-Rex’s mouth. Because.

Expert Bio: Heidi Kemps is a freelance journalist who’s written about video games and other media for a huge number of outlets, including Joystiq, 1UP, GamePro, GameSpot, HYPER, The Atlantic, and many more. She’s also a huge fan of Sega AM2’s 3D fighters. You can follow her on twitter @Zerochan.

Jason Moses: I was barely aware Fighting Vipers 2 existed, and I always had the impression that it was a rarity — when and where did you first encounter the game?

Heidi Kemps: Oh my lord, this is a long story. I’ve always been a fan of AM2 in general, so of course I loved Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers, and played the hell out of both during the Saturn days. Around late ’97, info appeared on AM2’s website announcing Fighting Vipers 2, which I was IMMEDIATELY all over. Even back then, internet info wasn’t as instantaneous as it is now, so I used what little Japanese knowledge I had at the time to dig up details on it. I bought every issue of Gamest, Sega Saturn Magazine, etc. I could in hopes of getting more screenshots and such.

JM: Was there any info about it in US mags at the time?

HK: Nope, not outside of some blurbs. Don’t think it really registered on too many radars. Though, strangely, it showed up in the UK Saturn Magazine a fair bit – they even had a lengthy interview with director Hiroshi Kataoka. Thing is, even though the game was shown at US arcade trade shows, and even location tested in the San Francisco Bay Area (and, I’m told, an arcade in Belgium as well), it didn’t get an arcade release outside of Japan. And on top of that, when the Dreamcast was announced, a port of the game wasn’t announced with it, making it seem unlikely.

This bothered me, so I did what any sane 17-year-old does: I decided I was going to acquire some PCBs (the actual arcade game hardware itself).

JM: Oh heck yeah.

HK: Thing is, the Model hardware that the game runs on is odd. It uses something called “medium resolution.” Though I’m not precisely sure what the numbers are on that, it’s between SDTV and VGA, I think. Most Japanese arcade monitors support this. In the US, however, they are much, much rarer. I think the only widely available models were from Wells Gardner.

So I needed a medium resolution monitor, and they’re kind of expensive to buy outright. What could I possibly do? Well, I bought an original FV cabinet cheap off eBay. My parents…were not too pleased about this, initially.

JM: Whoa. Do you remember how much that was at the time? Was it local pickup?

HK: $300ish, I think? It wasn’t local. To help pay for everything, I worked my movie theatre job to afford $600 PCBs while running the machine at the local game store, Cart-Mart. I eventually acquired the PCBs from a guy who specialized in finding stuff in the Asian market. He sent me my boards shortly before seemingly vanishing off the face of the Internet. Thank God they actually arrived.

But there was another problem: Model 3 games needed an extra power supply. Fortunately, a friend of mine named Ken who staffed AnimeCentral and GameWorks Schaumberg was willing to drive out and hook things up properly. I’d made contact with the Japanese FV community, as well, and one of their members, a guy who goes under the name of mittu02, sent me wiring diagrams for hooking up the extra power supply and controls, and I also had to spend days drilling new mounting holes in the steel board shielding.

But the end result was I had the only working Fighting Vipers 2 in the USA. Granted, it only booted up 75% of the time, but that didn’t matter! This was around the year 2000, by the way. Yes, I was about a year and a half behind Japan at that point but I’d finally gotten the game! Finally! And even though I was only playing the CPU 99% of the time, I was still spending a lot of time digging into the play mechanics, so much so that when I went to Japan for a year to study abroad in 2002 and got to play with those folks, I was able to hold my own even with lack of real competition up to that point. Of course, actual comp made me even better.

JM: What was the scene for the game like by the time you went over there? Was it still popular?

HK: Not really, but fortunately Nagoya – where I was living – had probably the most active Fighting Vipers scene. I’d already talked to most of the Fighting Vipers crew in the area before I went over there.

JM: How big a scene did it have compared to Virtua Fighter?

HK: No comparison at all. Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution had just come out.

JM: If I’m not mistaken, the Dreamcast port of Fighting Vipers 2 came out around that time too, right?

HK: It was announced literally months after I got my boards. I’d like to indulge my ego and imagine I was the impetus, since I knew AM2 was aware of me — I made a fan site for the game that they knew about. But I truly doubt that was the real catalyst – it was more likely the result of many vocal fans making their wishes heard.

JM: So going back a little bit, after going through all that struggle to get the game in the first place, did it live up to your expectations?

HK: It sure did. Fun to play, fast, stunning visually, had a ton of stuff to learn and experiment with.

JM: I mean, can you articulate exactly why you were so hype about a sequel to Fighting Vipers to the point that you wanted to import the arcade hardware?

HK: Because I was an easily excitable teenager who felt her life had been changed by Virtua Fighter and wanted every new AM2 fighter coming down the pipe. You also have to remember that Model 3 stuff was hard to find, as it wasn’t cheap for US arcades to get for the most part, so there was that allure of a thing that you wanted but couldn’t get.

JM: Right, and you went and got it, so that must’ve felt pretty incredible, yeah?


JM: Why did you feel your life had been changed by Virtua Fighter?

HK: Right game at the right time, I guess. Virtua Fighter 2 hit when I was a bit disillusioned with fighters and it was like a revelation. I’d enjoyed VF1, yes, but VF2 was like a message from God. I saw a lot of shit like Mortal Kombat 3 and its clones getting attention, so much utterly forgettable garbage for people looking to cash in on the crazy gore trend. VF1 caught my eye with its beautiful animation, as I’ve always been something of an animation snob, and VF2 played smooth and fast and my God. My God. It was blissful. I was an AM2 fan from there on out.

JM: ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT THE GAME NOW: What are some of the major mechanics in Fighting Vipers and its sequel? What did they add to Fighting Vipers 2 to distinguish it from the original?

HK: Quite a lot. First is Tech Guard, which was a new addition to Fighting Vipers 2. It’s activated with P+K+G or 1+P+K+G, and functions like a parry in Street Fighter III…except with more options. You have a small set of direct counterattacks to immediately follow-up with, you can attempt a throw, you can do a sidestep for a side attack/throw, or just wait it out since you’ve thrown the other guy off.

FV2 The Infinite Circuit was a strategy/combo video released by Gamest Magazine shortly after the release of Fighting Vipers 2. The section at the very beginning covers Tech Guard and its various applications.

It’s pretty friggin’ awesome to use. Immensely satisfying to pull off, and gives you a lot of options, but you HAVE to read correctly. Also makes for some interesting option selects, which Heruru can explain later on.

JM: Do you know what the window on it is, exactly?

HK: Hmmm, frame data isn’t easy to come by, but I suspect it’s similar to reversals in Virtua Fighter. The original Fighting Vipers was running on a modified Virtua Fighter 2 engine with unique physics. Besides the physics and the walls, two big gameplay alterations were the Guard & Attack moves, which absorbed most mid/high attacks during a brief window and then immediately retaliated, kind of like a focus attack in Street Fighter IV. Fighting Vipers 2 adds low Guard & Attack moves, which the original lacked. Oh, and there’s the whole armor system, of course. That’s a big thing FV1 introduced that we can talk about later.

The first game also had an aerial recovery system, where you could flip back into a standing position if you were knocked into midair. This let you avoid a knockdown and possibly pull off a counterattack, but could alter your gravity ever slightly enough that a combo could be extended on you.

JM: Yeah, how did that shake out in competitive play? Was it an attempt to remove/limit juggles?

HK: I feel it was more of a pacing thing. Characters could fall back on their feet and get back to fighting immediately. Anyway, Fighting Vipers 2 improved massively on this. While you’re in the air, you press P+K+G to recover. The window for this was extended so that you don’t have to do it near the apex of your character being launched. You can also press P+K+G plus a direction to alter your gravity and fall direction.

Oh, and FV2 basically introduced tech rolls into 3D fighters. Before that, when you were knocked down, it was a second or two before you could do anything.

JM: So Virtua Fighter 4 just lifted tech rolls straight out of Fighting Vipers 2?

HK: Yep! Then there’s the throw escape system. Most people don’t remember that throw escapes weren’t really a thing in Virtua Fighter 2 or Fighting Vipers. In VF2 you could ONLY escape P+G throws. Virtua Fighter 3 changed this, of course, and so did Fighting Vipers 2, but in a different way. You escape VF style, but you can also use P+K+G to escape as well. P+K+G gives you a significantly bigger window. Both put you in a grapple state afterwards where the two characters are just kind of in a face-off. From there you have several options, and as Heruru will talk about in his interview, it can get pretty wacky with throw escape upon throw escape happening from that position.

Another section from FV2 The Infinite Circuit covering throws and throw escapes, including Tech Guard/Throw option selects.

Then there’s the Super KO system. If your character is completely unarmored, you have one shot at performing a Super KO move. Actually, you have two shots per battle – the sliver of damage you can inflict from manually breaking your armor off counts, too. If you get the win with a Super KO move you’re awarded two rounds (you need 3 to win). This probably isn’t a good idea if you’re down 2-0, though, since you still have no armor for that last fight, and Super KOs are always kind of awkward to hit with. They tend to have long startup and recovery.

JM: Ah, okay, I thought they sounded kind of like Instant Kills in Arc System Works games, but it sounds a little riskier than that. Were they used much in competitive play, or mostly just for styling?

HK: I’ve pulled them off in versus fights, and they’re pretty swag when they hit, but yeah some characters just have better SKOs than others. They have been used in tournaments, and used quite well. Of course, there are instances where players drop the ball, too. It’s a risk!

After dominating the first two rounds, the Charlie player decides to showboat. What happens next? You’ll have to watch to find out.

Beyond all that, there are a lot of smaller things, too. Fighting Vipers 2 introduced a few things that carried over into Virtua Fighter 4 – different types of staggers and crumples, a lot of stance-baced stuff and alternate movesets (Charlie has skills that set him on his bike, which has its own move trees).

JM: You said that AM2 was definitely aware of you back in the late 90s. How did you know that?

HK: Because back in the day when Japanese internet was still kind of in its infancy in the early 2000s, AM2 had their own little website, which was kind of like what we’d think of today as a blog. They’d usually update it daily, sometimes weekly, and they had a link page for “supporters.” So if you had a site related to an AM2 game you could submit and if they looked it over and liked it, they’d go ahead and put it up on their site.

There weren’t any English-language pages up there, so on a whim I thought, “Maybe I should try this?” I put my name in there, my info, and next thing I know it’s on their supporters page as the only English-language web site.

So later that year, at my second E3, in the course of wandering the halls I ran into the director of the game, Hiroshi Kataoka, for the first time out of sheer luck.

JM: Oh, wow.

HK: And this being my second E3, me being fairly young, I just kind of squealed, shoved a bunch of things in his face and asked him to sign everything. Because I mean, I’d anticipated the possibility of running into him, and since he was now the director of Virtua Fighter 4 I got a couple of VF books signed. He was there with a couple of other folks, and I didn’t really get the chance to talk to him too much. Fortunately my friend Ali, who was with me and had been to a few more E3s than me, was telling me to calm down, keep it professional, giving me the elbow if I was getting too excited. (laughs)

But one thing he told me was, “Oh, yes. We all know your site!” And of course AM2 had an E3 report the next week and there was a picture of us on there.

JM: Were you writing for an outlet at the time?

HK: I was in college at the time just writing for fan outlets. Back then, E3 was quite a bit more lenient. If you could show any credentials — fake or otherwise — they’d let you in. Like, for the first year I put “Sega” on my badge for shits and giggles, because they let you put your own outlet on there. (I remember one guy put his outlet as “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” and then tried to Ebay the badge afterwards.) I made a tweet the other day for that Japanese “Sega Memories” hashtag, and if you saw me mention that I was almost given Yu Suzuki’s AIAS Award, well…that’s why. (laughs)

JM: As you’ve mentioned, the director of Fighting Vipers 2 was Hiroshi Kataoka, who went on to direct Virtua Fighter 4. Can you talk a little about his role in Sega’s fighting games?

HK: He’s the general manager of AM2 right now. He got promoted to that position during one of their Sega re-shufflings, and Yu Suzuki ended up getting shuffled out of AM2 and into his own division where they were working on Psy-Phi for a while until that was cancelled. I did get the chance to play that beforehand, but that’s a story for another day.

JM: Yu Suzuki is always put up there on the pedestal as the father of Virtua Fighter and all that, but do you have any sense of the degree to which he was involved in the design of the series? Was he heavily involved with that, or was it other people who really had the reigns?

HK: I think it started to deteriorate after Virtua Fighter 2. I can’t say that with any certainty of course, I wasn’t on the design team or anything, but if you saw his talk from Game Developers Conference this year, he discusses how he was working on the “Virtua Fighter RPG” since the early days of the Sega Saturn. So no, I don’t think he was as heavily involved in Virtua Fighter 3, I feel like the nitty-gritty of that game was mostly Daichi Katagiri’s doing. For Virtua Fighter 4, he was more of a producer/figure-head type, and Kataoka was the guy in charge of all the nuts and bolts.

JM: So what was Kataoka doing before he got assigned to head of AM2?

HK: He directed a bunch of games. He made a bunch of tweets around the time the recent AM2 ports came out on 360/PS3, and he said something to the effect that he was called up by his boss – I assume Yu Suzuki – out of the blue one day while overseas at a location test and being told to head up another fighting game. That was Fighting Vipers.

The weird thing is, FV is based on a modified Virtua Fighter 2 engine, and after that he did Sonic The Fighters, which was basically the game AM2 made while screwing around, and that was based on a modified FV engine, which means man, they got a whole lot of mileage out of the VF2 programming.

So Kataoka was there for a while. He worked on the Saturn port of Fighting Vipers, and then he headed up Fighters Megamix. I’m pretty sure they had already started work on Fighting Vipers 2 during the production of Megamix because some of the Vipers characters had unlisted new moves that would later turn up in FV2.

JM: And so from there, did they go straight from Fighting Vipers 2 to Virtua Fighter 4?

HK: I don’t know if they got shuffled off to do some Dreamcast stuff or not, but…there’s Makoto Osaki, who was involved in the production of Virtua Fighter 4 and has done a lot of stuff with Virtua Fighter 5 and Hatsune Miku nowadays. He was involved in the production of Virtua Cop 3, and, uh…Propeller Arena. Yeah, that one sadly didn’t end well. He’s like the overseer of VF5 as of right now, but Daichi Katagiri, who does the main game design and fighting design, is also an extremely important person on the team. Not coincidentally, Katagiri also was a big part of Fighting Vipers.

JM: Ah, okay. That’s kind of what I was trying to nail down, how much of modern Virtua Fighter, modern Sega fighters is in Fighting Vipers.

HK: Quite a lot, yeah. Although if you take a look at the credits for Virtua Fighter 2 you can find a lot of current bigwigs at Sega in the credits under roles like “background design” or “textures” or stuff like that. [Sega CCO] Toshihiro Nagoshi drew some backgrounds!

JM: Who did you play?

HK: A lot of different characters, but my main was Jane. She was my main in Fighting Vipers, so of course I tried to transition with her to Fighting Vipers 2 as well, but man she got nerfed bad. She was probably God Tier in the original, and she got knocked down quite a bit in the sequel.

JM: Yeah Heruru put her at B-tier. But I mean, does that mean she’s unplayable or-

HK: It means you’re a low-tier hero if you pick her. (laughs)

JM: What was so good about Jane in Fighting Vipers?

HK: Really, really high-damage stuff that could launch or had super fast start-up. She had one attack that was a swing punch (66P) that caused guard-break if you were guarding, could break armor if you weren’t guarding, and was ridiculously fast.

JM: Wait, so how did guard-break work in Fighting Vipers? Was it a free combo if you landed one, or did you just get put back at advantage, or what?

HK: Well you entered a stun state for a little bit and couldn’t do anything, but usually people could recover after that. So yeah, basically you just got put back at advantage if you landed it.

Beyond that, she had a combo off the wall that was near 100% if not 100% damage. I think it was two knee throws against the wall, knee launcher (26+K) into the rest of the combo. There were other characters who could do 100% combos, but the thing about the original Fighting Vipers is you can group the characters from heaviest to lightest weight, transfer that over to a tier list and end up with a pretty accurate list.

So like, Bahn, Sanman, and Jane were all heavy characters, and all of them are really, really good. Honey and Picky are lightweights, and both of them are pretty bad. Tokio was not good either, I think he was generally considered bottom tier.

JM: Is that because lighter characters took more damage from combos and were easier to juggle?

HK: That, and the heavier characters just had more access to higher damage stuff in general. This was the mid-90s, when fighting game damage was at ridiculous levels. In Fighting Vipers, there are combos you can pull off on an un-armored opponent so that when the replay comes back you’re still hearing the announcer from the beginning talking.

JM: And I assume a lot of that stuff was removed for Fighting Vipers 2?

HK: Yeah. Generally the sequel is like…the first time you play it, if you try to play it like the original game it feels a lot slower. It’s not a slower game, but it feels slower because they’ve changed so much. The damage was really toned down across the board, and a lot of that is because they added quick get-ups and different kinds of recoveries that make it so you’re no longer guaranteed crazy damage off the same things as the original. Fights don’t end as fast, but at higher levels, the game is still played very, very quickly because people are always getting up and recovering. Things are always happening.

The problem is, if you play it like the original, it doesn’t feel like a fast game. You have to be aware of the new ways to recover in the air and on the ground that they’ve given you in Fighting Vipers 2, you have to be aware of Tech-Guard, you have to be aware of Throw Escapes, all of the new mechanics. And if you don’t use that stuff, then you’re not going to see what makes the game interesting. It just feels like it’s slower because you can’t get as much damage off things.

JM: Did you feel that way initially about the game when you first got your board?

HK: I was pretty well-aware of what to expect. I’d done a lot of homework about all the different systems, I’d already gotten hold of that VHS strategy tape I linked you to, The Infinite Circuit. I was in there.

JM: How does the Armor Break system work?

HK: Every character comes into the fight wearing armor. As you block, armor will weaken and if you’re hit by an armor-breaking move when your armor (either high or low) is at its breaking point, then whatever armor the character’s wearing on that part of their body will shatter, leaving them vulnerable to taking more damage. It’s only High and Low that are affected by this — High and Mid are kind of grouped together into one general upper-armor area.

Sega’s 3D fighters generally don’t have a lot of that kinda-iffy stuff you see in Street Fighter where the girl character has less health than the guy character and stuff like that, but it does have that for the armor in this game. Some characters have much stronger armor than others and that’s usually tied to their size, which means Honey and Emi have terrible armor in this game.

JM: Ah yeah, Heruru put them both at bottom-tier, huh.

HK: Their armor sucks, they don’t have too much in the way of mega-damage, and they’re both ultra light-weights.

JM: The worst of all possible worlds.

HK: Pretty much, but I’ve seen a lot of really good Emi players, so you can still win. Actually, one of my Fighting Vipers 2 guides puts Honey in a “heavy” class for jump/fall speed, so AM2 might have done some trickery with her weight (it’s unlisted in her bio) for fun. I know she was lightweight in the original, so…hmmm!

JM: What are the general properties behind Armor Breaker moves? Is there consistency across the board as far as what kinds of moves tend to break armor?

HK: All the Guard & Attack moves break armor, a lot of Tech-Guard follow-ups have armor break properties. Usually, any really heavy high-damage, high-recovery attacks tend to break armor. The usual kind of high-risk, high-reward stuff. Visually, it’s “anything that flashes.”

JM: Are there any exceptions to that? Any moves where you’re just like, “Why the hell does that break armor?”

HK: You see that a lot in the first game, like that one move I mentioned Jane had. Not as much in the second game. Only Kuhn has BS like that, and he’s a boss character who’s basically soft-banned like Old Sagat.

JM: What’s Kuhn’s deal, exactly?

HK: He’s an ultra-heavyweight and all of his moves actually come from Virtua Fighter 3 characters, so like, he’s modeled like a male Dural but all his moves are hyper-powered versions of these Virtua Fighter moves sped-up and given crazy properties, because hey, Fighting Vipers engine. He has the head-dive down attack like Kage has, and that breaks your armor. That’s pretty broken. He’s a jerk.

JM: Is Kuhn the final boss?

HK: He’s the hidden boss. The normal boss is B.M., in order to fight Kuhn…there are certain points during single-player where the “path” you’re on will branch depending on how much energy you have left when you win. If it’s over 50% you get this path, if it’s under 50% you get this path. Basically, you have to take the upper path and win sets with over 50% health for the entire game.

JM: So okay, going back to character choice, who were you playing beyond Jane at the time?

HK: I played Tokio and Bahn quite a bit in the original so I stuck with them, and for whatever reason I wound up picking Raxel too. He ended up becoming my sub just because he’s fun as hell to play. Like he’s got this sliding move that does good damage and if you time it right you can chain it into a low catch throw. He has a series of moves that are extremely difficult to execute one after another, but if you can pull those off you have an armor-breaking move that’s pretty much unblockable. The first two strikes will break your guard and knock down, and then the third strike will break armor. That’s the “Death Spin Roller” Heruru mentions in his interview (found towards the bottom half of this article).

It might sound unfair, but the execution is hard enough that it works out.

JM: Are they as hard as doing, say, Electric Wind Godfist or something in Tekken?

HK: Honestly, Tekken’s not my thing, so I can’t really comment on that. It’s a F K+G, then QCF+K, then HCF+K in rapid succession.

The command for the infamous Deathspin Roller, from one of Heidi’s Fighting Vipers 2 strategy guides.

JM: Is there a lot of stuff like that in the game where it seems like they tried to balance out how good a move was by making it an execution challenge?

HK: Sanman has this giant throw chain that can deal insane damage if you can execute it all the way, but because of how good throw escapes are, and because you can throw escape multi-part throws in this game, the odds of landing it are really small against players who know what they’re doing.

JM: You said you played Tokio as well?

HK: I did, yeah, he was really bad in the original and they made him a lot better in Fighting Vipers 2. He was always a combo-heavy character, but he got a lot of really good mixups in the sequel. In the first game he had these long combo strings, but they didn’t give you as many options for mixups as they did in the sequel.

Generally, they gave him more variations in strings, and more things you could do off certain points in the string. If you think of the string as a flowchart, they expanded the flowchart and its branches considerably for FV2. He has good guard-break options out of his combos, whereas in the original a lot of his combos just kind of…ended. He didn’t really get anything off them. He had this gimmick but the damage was piddly, and in a game with mid-90s fighting game damage, that wasn’t going to cut it. And then you factor in the predictability of his strings, and yeah.

So basically the improvements to his combo strings and the reduction in damage across the rest of the cast meant Tokio got way, way stronger compared to the original.

This Honey vs. Tokio match shows off a lot of excellent Tech Guard use by both players (look for the flash followed by the sharp noise and sudden screen darkening).

JM: What about Bahn?

HK: Bahn, of course, is the mascot of the series and the golden boy, so of course he’s going to be good. It’s like how Akira can’t be terrible in Virtua Fighter ever. Bahn was top-tier in the first game and he’s top-tier in the sequel, which means he fared a lot better than the other top-tiers in Fighting Vipers did.

A Bahn mirror showing off why this iron-elbowed bancho is top-tier: constant, high-damage pressure and big damage punishes off nearly everything.

Who else…Mahler isn’t a totally new character — you could play him in the arcade version of Fighting Vipers by hacking the board, and you could play him in the Saturn version as well as Fighters Megamix — but he’s…I guess you could say he’s semi-new in Fighting Vipers 2. He has a lot of new stuff, and he’s easily top-tier, with great strikes and a good throw game. Even if you’re up against an opponent who’s good at throw breaks, he can still get in and cause pain.

To give a Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown comparison, Mahler is the Wolf to Sanman’s Jeffry.

JM: What’s the deal with Del Sol? Is he just like an alternate model for Mahler? I keep seeing his name in parentheses next to Mahler.

HK: Del Sol is really weird, and I’ve actually been talking to someone on Twitter about this over the last couple of days, but he’s mostly a model swap for Mahler, yes. Del Sol was created by a company that helped with the motion design and character animation — Anchor Incorporated. There was this guy, Masahiro Onoguchi, who worked at AM2 for a while, followed by working at Namco on Tekken and Soulcalibur before eventually becoming one of the founding members of Anchor.

If you were paying attention to The Chainsaw Incident and their Kickstarter page for the game, you might have seen them mention they had a Japanese guy on the team. He’s the guy they were talking about who worked on Tekken and Virtua Fighter.

JM: Oh, interesting. Do you know much about the process they used for creating the animations? Was it mo-cap based or mostly done by hand?

HK: There was actually an interview with Kataoka in the UK Sega Saturn magazine where he said only the character intros and a few other things were mo-capped. The rest of it was all done by hand, frame by frame.

So anyway, back to Del Sol. He’s a luchador wrestler model-swap of Mahler, but the character design and model is listed as being by Anchor. I found this out via Twitter, but apparently Del Sol and his alternate palette-swap that wears a moon mask also appear as Create-A-Wrestler parts in the WWE Raw games for the original Xbox, which Anchor also worked on. [Editor’s note: Kemps has noted that this particular connection was discovered by Fight-A-Base’s lordmo and ExMortis.]

So yeah, Del Sol is…I’m not really sure how he made it into the game, but basically it seems like AM2 just indulged Onoguchi and the guys at Anchor and left him in the game, and I think that’s pretty cool!

JM: That is awesome. That connection is like…that’s what I live for. Because you know the reason Del Sol is in both those games is because somebody put him in there for fun and somebody was just like, “Hell yeah, just leave that in there, man!”

HK: Supposedly that’s how Sonic The Fighters happened, too. Somebody was messing around making a 3D model of Sonic, put him in the Fighting Vipers engine, a higher-up walks by, says, “Yes, this is a good idea. Kataoka, you’re making this.” (laughs) If you hack the FV ROM you can actually find said models.

Well, how about that.

JM: How important were walls in competitive play?

HK: Extremely, extremely important! Fighting Vipers wouldn’t be what it is without them. The original game was the first AM2 title that had walls, and wall combos in general were a lot easier than in Virtua Fighter just because the exaggerated physics gave you a lot more opportunities to combo into them. Wall combos are also a bit easier to execute compared to VF.

JM: Something I have to ask about: There’s a mechanic in the game that increases recovery on moves if you keep using the same one over and over again. What are the details behind that?

HK: I think that was a system they didn’t really mention much for whatever reason. Kind of a weird sub-experiment that they did.

JM: Yeah, it seemed like one of those mechanics that only really high-level players are going to notice. It’s not a “sexy” feature, so they probably figured they could bury it and have the players discover it on their own, I suppose. By the time you had your board was that something you were aware of?

HK: Actually, no. I hadn’t heard about it at the time. I learned more about it while I was in Japan, so it seemed like something that wasn’t as commonly brought up. I think it was something that was discovered later on.

The “Stun Subtraction System” (or SSS for short) is a unique feature in Fighting Vipers 2 that forces players to add variety to their pressure game. Every time a player blocks a move, the game checks the last 16 moves used by the attacking player. The more times the attacker’s used the same move within that 16 move window, the less blockstun the defending player has to wait through before getting a chance to counterattack. Use the same move too many times, and the opponent will eventually be able to recover fast enough to punish previously safe attacks.

How exactly does it work? SSS subtracts frames from the opponent’s blockstun equal to the number of times the attacker uses the same move within the 16 move window, but it only takes effect the third time you use the same move, and can only remove six frames at maximum.So let’s take Bahn’s Iron Elbow (6P) as an example, as seen above in the left diagram. It’s -3 on block normally, and remains -3 the second time you use it within the 16 move window. As soon as you use it three times, however, SSS kicks in and subtracts three frames from the opponent’s blockstun, making the move -6. Use it four times, and it becomes -7, five times and it’s -8, six times and it’s -9. SSS can’t subtract more than six frames, though, so even if you used the move 16 times in a row it would never become worse than -9 on block.

Moves with guardbreak properties, along with Guard & Attack moves, operate under the same rules, but all the numbers are doubled (as seen in the diagram on the right). A Guard & Attack move that’s 0 on block will become -6 on block after the third consecutive use, up to a maximum of -12 on 6+ uses.

HK: The other thing, too, that I’m noticing is none of my guides for the game have any frame data for attacks in them. None of the official guides have it. Any data that exists was either given out by AM2 after the fact or gleaned from players or other sources.

JM: Oh, wow. You own all the guides?

HK: Yeah, there were two released. One by Softbank and one by a company named Acella. This was the era when Gamest was running into serious trouble and kinda died at the end of 1998, so.

JM: Are there any major differences between the two books?

HK: One is more technical and combo-focused, the Softbank one is more of an illustrated command list with detailed specs on all the moves. It’s basically a command list plus basic strategy. The other one’s more technical and combo-driven, has player testimonials, stuff like that.

JM: Ah, okay. Did it come out later than the other one, after the players had already had time with the game for a while?

HK: It did.

JM: Do you have any anecdotes from when you were playing the game in Nagoya?

HK: We had little team gatherings. They had one when I first met them where they welcomed me and I met Heruru there for the first time. I’d seen him play in some Virtua Fighter 4 location test videos, but I didn’t quite grasp like…how much of a force he was becoming in Virtua Fighter. He’d go on to place second in a major VF4 Evo tournament in early 2003.

So like I’d be playing him in Fighting Vipers, and the minute he gets on the machine, you knew he wasn’t getting off for hours. There’s this little armor symbol in the upper-left and upper-right corners of the screen that changes poses depending on how many wins you have. Heruru would win so much that it would go into poses I had never seen before in my life. (laughs)

JM: How many wins and what kind of poses are we talking about here?

HK: One of my books had a list, one sec…

JM: Oh, man. So did you see Heruru with the Disco pose?

HK: Yes.

JM: How did the community over there respond to you initially? I mean you had been talking to them for a while before you went over there, right?

HK: Those guys were super pumped to see some new blood, like they were so keen to meet and play me. It was really something.

JM: Man. That is so rad. Would you consider the people you met in this community long-time friends?

HK: Obviously if you were sticking with the game as long as we did, you probably had some sort of otaku tendencies, and there was one friend of mine named Yamazaki who, uh…I expressed interest in going to Comic Market after going to Japan, and he basically taught me everything I needed to know about attending. I don’t think I would have survived my first time without his help. And now I’ve been there ten times!

There was a guy named Ham who was an old-school Vipers player who works at an Osaka retro game store called Game Tanteidan (“Game Detective Agency”). As far as I know he’s still there, I still see his art in all the store promos. He was one of the Osaka players, there were a couple of them.

In Nagoya, there was a lady who did doujinshi for Fighting Vipers 2 who went by the name Enma no Mayuge, and she’s basically a pro manga artist. She mostly does work for anthology comics and things like that, and she had her own arcade setup for the game and everything. For my going away party we went over to her place and rocked those boards. She had the bare medium-res monitors just sitting out there exposed in the living room, which worried me a little bit — she’d just had a baby who was starting to move around!

JM: Holy smokes. (laughs) Wait, so was her husband there?

HK: Yeah, he was there. He played too. They’ve since moved to Chiba, I believe. I had another very dear Fighting Vipers-playing friend who wrote doujinshi, as well. I haven’t heard from her in a while, and I miss her greatly and need to get back in touch.

Then there was Mittu and his wife, who I still talk to on Twitter every so often. There were a bunch of Tokyo people — Rollpan was a guy who ran THE Honey fansite for a very long time — but I didn’t know them quite as well. They came to Nagoya every once in a  while. It really seemed like Nagoya was the hotspot for Fighting Vipes 2 at the time for whatever weird reason.

JM: Was Nagoya also a hot spot for Virtua Fighter?

HK: Tokyo. You couldn’t top Tokyo for high-class players. Nagoya definitely had contenders, though, like Homestay Akira came from around there.

Around 2010, there was a meetup at Shinjuku Sega where they put in Fighting Vipers 2 at Heruru’s request, and since all the FV2 players are giant otaku and going to Comic Market, of course we’re going to hit that up afterwards. My understanding is it’s become a mostly yearly thing.

There was also a Sega Arcade in Nagoya at a place called Kanayama. The way it worked was, if there was a sufficient community for an older game, Sega would make sure it was set up there, so they had FV2 set up there, Street Fighter Alpha 2 with a pretty big community, and I think a couple other games that are slipping my mind at the moment. They had tournaments for those games pretty regularly.

There was this other arcade in Nagano, Tokyo called TRC that would run tournaments for all sorts of odd-ball games, and I think they had an FV2 tournament at some point in time. I know they’ve had tournaments for stuff like Breakers Revenge, Twinkle Star Sprites, so it might be worth looking up their records on Niconico if you’re interested. I’ve heard of tournaments being run at an arcade in Yokohama in the late 90s called Pasopiard, as well.

JM: Did you compete in tournaments while you were over there?

HK: Mostly just small community-run events. I did pretty darn well. The fact that I hadn’t played any actual competition despite only having really played against the computer was surprising and reaffirming. I have memories of like, taking rounds off Heruru and coming really close to beating him, but I don’t think I ever really stood a chance.

JM: So is there any way to play this game in 2014 without going to Japan?

HK: There are Model 3 emulators which run like ass on my system, but I hear they do a pretty good job from people with machines powerful enough to run them. I’m not up on PC specs, but my fairly recent laptop with an i7 and an okay laptop graphics card can’t handle it. You need something high-end to run it.

If by any chance the guys behind the emulator want to add GGPO for Fighting Vipers 2, I’d be tempted to upgrade my machine. Not even joking.

JM: Do you still have your arcade boards?

HK: I still have my board, but I don’t have it with me and getting everything to hook it up would be a pain in the ass unless I managed to acquire an Astro City cab or something like that.

JM: And there’s still the Dreamcast port, even though it has some bugs.

HK: Right. Also, the background textures in that port look AWFUL. I mean, assuming they didn’t just replace the 3D models with 2D sprites…

JM: Do you know of any other place in the US that has the game?

HK: I heard it went on test in a couple places in and around San Francisco, but that’s mostly hearsay, and I don’t think anywhere else ever had it.

JM: So, any final thoughts on Fighting Vipers 2?

HK: Oh man. This game…if you’re willing to put the effort into learning it, Fighting Vipers 2 is ridiculously fun. The thing I like the most about it is how relentless it is. If you’re playing it well, there’s almost no downtime in the action, something is always happening. You constantly have to look and react. There’s never any long pauses, there’s never a moment where you’re just trying to inch in and get offense going, you’re always just going in on the other guy and vice versa.

And I think that particular style of play is a lot of fun. You can’t really go 100% offense just because of same-move deterioration, and you can’t really turtle, either. There’s a really nice balance between all-out offense and defense, and it just feels good to play. Hits are weighty, there’s exaggerated physics on everything, there are crazy combos against the wall, moves that launch people into the air, end-of-round finishers that blast the opponent out of the arena entirely. And then you’ve got the Super KOs which are completely ridiculous and awesome, assuming you can pull them off. And hey, there are characters with weapons like skateboards and guitars, and Charlie fights with his bike, and that’s great.

All of the Super KOs. What other 3D fighter lets you punch someone through a wall and into the opening of Sega’s 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker?

Charlie and Emi in particular, the two new characters, had a ton of influence on the development of Virtua Fighter 4. Emi has a lot of parallels with Shun in VF4 because she has a lot of moves that put her into a lying-down stance, and she can do other moves from there.

Beyond that, I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head except to say that I really, really want either a re-release of this with netplay on a modern console or some manner of Fighting Vipers 3, even though I’m not sure if the characters would work with modern design sensibilities. Maybe a full-on reboot? Something with this sort of crazy physics engine and that sensibility of being loud and bright and out there. I just want another 3D game where you can knock someone 20 feet into the air, continue your combo and finish it off by punching them so damn hard they go shooting against the wall. You know?

JM: Has anyone at Sega or anywhere else indicated that they might do Model 3 ports to follow-up those Model 2 ports from a few years ago?

HK: I haven’t heard anything about it but God, I hope they do. There were a lot of really great Model 3 games that are really hard to play now. Daytona 2, Sega Super GT, this, all the different Virtua Fighter 3 revisions…and lord knows VF3 never really got a good home port. It’s time. I asked a Sega employee at E3 to give my request to the higher-ups (along with requests to put Virtua Fighter’s Vanessa in more games). Fingers crossed!

JM: Hopefully somebody at M2 or elsewhere reads this article and says, “Yes. This is what we must do.”

HK: God, that’d be beautiful. And if they could touch it up like they did with the Sonic The Fighters re-release a few years ago and put some extra content in the port, that’d be wonderful.

Expert Bio: Heruru is one of Japan’s 3D fighting game greats, earning top placings in tournaments for numerous entries in Sega’s Virtua Fighter series. He was also well known as one of the strongest Fighting Vipers 2 players, and continues to play the game to this day. Heruru graciously provided us copies of vintage FV2 tournament tapes from 1999, from which we have captured the matches seen in this article.

(Interview by Heidi Kemps, translation by Jason Moses)

Heidi Kemps: Can you introduce yourself? When did you first become interested in fighting games? Have you entered any tournaments?

Heruru: Hi, I’m Heruru. I went by “Rakuheru” when I played Fighting Vipers 2, which was a mix of the character “Raxel” and my own name. The first fighting game I played was Street Fighter II with friends back in elementary school. As for tournaments, I made it to the prelims in the Sega Official tournament, and I’ve also competed in the Athena Cup (known today as the Beat-Tribe Cup) and various small local tournaments. [Editor’s note: he’s also placed in several Virtua Fighter tournaments, including a second-place finish at Kakutou Shinseiki II in 2003.]

HK: What made you start playing Fighting Vipers 2? Did you play the original at all?

H: I played the first Fighting Vipers in arcades. I looked up to Ikebukuro Sarah from the old Virtua Fighter 2 days, and since he used Honey, I decided I would too. I only used her right after the game came out, though, so I wasn’t very good. For Fighting Vipers 2, my friends invited me to play it at a location test in Shinjuku, and I did better than I thought I would. That’s the point when I started to get really invested in the game.

HK: What do you personally like about Fighting Vipers 2?

H: The characters in Fighting Vipers 2 are unique and have a lot of personality, and you can’t use the same kind of play style with every character. I also really like the impact and feeling of satisfaction that comes when you smash the opponent through the wall for a KO.

HK: In your own words, can you explain some of the unique systems in Fighting Vipers 2? How are they used in high-level play?

H: First, the Armor System is incredibly unique among fighting games. Each character has armor attached to different parts of the their body with different amounts of durability. Armor weakens as you guard and get hit, and when it’s weak enough, you can destroy pieces of armor with specific moves, leaving your opponent’s defensive capabilities greatly weakened. When you’re armorless, certain attacks can deal close to 90% extra damage on counter-hit.

Next, every character in Fighting Vipers 2 has counterattack moves that can interrupt an opponent’s offense, referred to as “Guard & Attack” moves. These attacks aren’t abusable — you have to be able to read the opponent and make a strong commitment to using them (they have very long recovery).

There are no projectile attacks, so attempting to turtle is meaningless, but at the same time just attacking all the time isn’t a good idea, either. FV2’s single biggest unique feature is a system where doing the same moves over and over again on blocking opponents slowly increases the amount of recovery on the move, to the point where moves that were previously safe on block suddenly become punishable by the opponent. Every character has tons of moves, and this system makes it so you have to actually memorize and use a wide variety of them.

Each character also has special attacks that can’t be countered with Guard & Attack, but these can be countered with an instant reversal mechanic called “Tech Guard” (a lot like Parrying in Street Fighter III).

Throw escapes are also really unique in FV2. After a throw escape, both players enter into a grapple and the player who successfully throw escaped can choose to go for a counter throw, which is a four-way choice between the four cardinal directions and P+G. Players can continue to go for throw attempts from a grapple, and it’ll keep going until one of the players guesses incorrectly and gets thrown.

At high-level, players can escape from every direction of throw following a grapple, so throws in general are almost totally useless. It’s common to see players get a grab, and then just use the opportunity after the grapple to go for a striking attack.

Furthermore, it became really common for players to avoid this follow-up attack with a Tech Guard — if you enter 2P+K+G following any throw escape, you get an option select that both throw escapes and does a low Tech Guard at the same time. Thing is, you have to enter the command within 16 frames of the throw escape, so it’s something of an advanced technique that you won’t see outside of high-level play.

HK: Compared to modern 3D fighting games, do you think Fighting Vipers 2 still holds up today?

H: Personally, I think Fighting Vipers 2 has one of the best game systems for a 3D fighter. You can’t just mash striking attacks, there’s no setplay geared around the opponent’s wakeup, and there are very few moves that put you at advantage on block (as in, after an opponent blocks them). I don’t think there’s been a game that’s surpassed FV2, and you can still fully play and enjoy it today.

HK: What characters do you play, and why?

H: I used Tokio at first, but in the end I switched to Raxel. There weren’t a lot of players using him at the time, and I was able to cleanly execute his Death Spin Roller. Those were the big reasons I picked him up. He gets really big damage off correct reads.

Raxel vs. Bahn. The triple spin kick you see Raxel use numerous times in this video is the notorious Death Spin Roller. Difficult to execute, but the payoff for being able to do it consistently is worth it. Beyond that, Raxel’s movement and reads in this match are impeccable.

HK: If you had to make a tier-list for the game, what would it look like? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each character? Any particularly difficult match ups?

H: Something like…

  • S — Bahn, Mahler (Del Sol), Raxel
  • A — Tokio, Charlie, Grace, Picky
  • B — Sanman, Jane
  • C — Honey, Emi

Bahn has a lot of moves that are hard to defend against, and he can continuously pressure opponents who take a wait-and-see approach. When in a pinch, his Guard & Attack moves are superior to most of the cast’s, and he just generally doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses.

Mahler has a lot of mid-low mixups and can easily confuse and disorient the opponent. His striking attacks have huge range, making it easy to counterattack regardless of matchup. Like Bahn, he doesn’t have any serious weaknesses.

A fierce match between Charlie and Mahler that shows off numerous unique elements of Fighting Vipers 2’s gameplay. Check out the tense Guard & Attack and Tech Guard standoffs.

Raxel has a number of moves that let him maintain positioning with the opponent and catch them by surprise. He also has a lot of extremely good moves in general, including a somersault with fast start-up and the Death Spin Roller, which destroys armor. His biggest weakness is bad matchups against Bahn and Mahler.

The characters I listed as being A Class (Tokio, Charlie, Grace, and Picky) are all kind of average and can get wins if played well.

A Grace player with incredibly strong pressure gets two perfects against Emi, considered one of the weaker characters in the game.

Sanman is the only grappler character, and since it’s incredibly easy to escape from all his throws, his gameplan ends up relying almost entirely on strikes and pokes. It’s too bad that he basically ended up losing the one unique thing about him, really. The only thing that saves him are a few excellent striking attacks in his repertoire.

Jane looks strong, but she doesn’t really have any good ways to deal big damage. She has to work hard and apply constant pressure to get anything going, so it’s really hard for her. Ultimately, she just deals less damage than other, higher-tier characters.

Both Honey and Emi have weak armor, deal low damage and don’t have a lot of strong moves. Even worse, Emi’s low weight means she constantly gets hit with high-damage combos that only work on her. She’s pretty disadvantaged compared to the rest of the cast.

Oh, and yeah, Kuhn (a secret character) is so strong he defies comparison to the rest of the cast. He’s the only character with “cheat-level” moves.

HK: Tech Guard is very important at high-level play. What kind of strategies do you utilize Tech Guard for (like the throw escape option select you mentioned)?

H: A few guard break moves are tough to use Tech Guard against, but you can increase the active period by entering the Tech Guard command twice quickly. You can do striking attacks right after Tech Guarding, so a common high-level technique is to buffer striking attack commands in advance before you even know if you Tech Guarded successfully.

HK: Unlike many modern 3D fighters, Fighting Vipers 2 doesn’t have a free-3D-movement or evasion system. Do you think this detracts from the game at all? (Personally, I feel it’d be difficult to retain the “feel” of FV2’s gameplay and physics with such a system…)

H: You can enter P+K+G after performing a Tech Guard to move laterally around the opponent, but it comes out so fast that it’s hard to do anything afterwards. In general, I don’t think there’s any need to force 3D movement in there. If they did add some kind of simple sidestep system to FV2, you’d just dodge all the crazy attacks characters have and the game would stop being fun.

HK: What are some of the bugs you mention in the Dreamcast version? (I didn’t really play the port much, since I had the PCBs…and the graphics weren’t as good.)

H: If you make someone block Grace’s Sit Spin (2K+GKKKK) it becomes unblockable halfway through. Mahler has a similar thing where if you press Punch at the same time you perform a landing recovery, whatever attack comes out becomes unblockable.

Honey’s hurtboxes are the same as Emi’s for some reason, which means any combos that only worked on Emi now also work on Honey. Raxel’s Death Spin occasionally does zero damage, and it’s possible to get stuck in the wall from Charlie’s off-the-wall attack.

HK: Which characters are good for beginners to pick up and learn the game system with?

H: Picky’s an easy recommendation. His moves are simple and his game plan (in terms of knowing when to attack and when to defend) is easy to understand. Delaying the hits from fast moves like KK or P+KPP is simple and effective, and the huge hitbox on his 466P+K skateboard attack makes it very easy to use. You’ll also get a lot of mileage out of doing low attacks following his air throw.

HK: Any final thoughts on Fighting Vipers 2?

H: Fighting Vipers 2 has a lot of unique stuff in it that’s really interesting and fun, even when compared to modern games. It didn’t do very well when it was released, and there are almost no arcade boards of the game left today. Also, while it was ported to the Dreamcast, there are a number of bugs in the port that cause balance problems when exploited, so I can’t really say the port is good or worth playing. A lot of players waited a long time and kept asking for a sequel, but the director ultimately came out and said they couldn’t make it. We were all pretty disappointed about that.

That said, today’s fighting games absolutely took a great deal of influence and inspiration from FV2. It’s a beloved game, and one that I want to keep playing and appreciating well into the future.

As a bonus, Heruru sent a pair of Fighting Vipers 2 tournament VHS tapes all the way from Japan for the sake of this article. Thanks to his efforts, you can now enjoy over four hours of never-before-uploaded Fighting Vipers 2 tournament footage. Extra special thanks to The N4Us for transferring the tapes to digital and uploading them.