A completely new art of
fighting combined boomerang
and karate art....
And this is how the attract sequence to Savage Reign begins - with our hero, Hayate, whacking of bunch of his opponents with his gigantic boomerang.
It's hard to take this too seriously. Here in America, boomerangs just provoke images of kangaroos, quirky crocodile hunters, Paul Hogan, and that one episode of The Simpsons where Bart was flown to Australia to get booted by the country's partliament. Maybe they're really impressive weapons in Japan or something, because the art of Fūun-ken is the big deal behind these two Neo Geo fighters, known to English speakers as Savage Reign and Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle. In Japan, their names are Fūun Mokushiroku: Kakutou Sousei (Wind and Lighting Apocalypse - Fighting Genesis), and Fūun Super Tag Battle. Unlike SNK's more prolific series, they generally don't get wide recognition, partly because neither was ported to home platforms during the time of their original release. It wasn't until 2007 that both were released for the PlayStation 2 as part of the Neo Geo Online Collection, under title Fūun Super Combo.
The plot is - a bunch of characters need to get together to fight an evil guy named King Lion. Each has their own crazy reason for competing. This plays out in what seems to be a futuristic, rundown version of South Town, the city from the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting games, in SNK's plan to loosely tie together all of its games into some kind of hugely complicated continuity.
A man who takes his boomerang wielding very seriously. Also, you know how in certain older arcade games (Taito's Gladiator, Art of Fighting, the early King of Fighters) whenever you'd defeat a female enemy, their shirt would get ripped? When knocked down, Hayate's vest shatters and leaves him sans shirt, which I can only think is some misguided fan service for Savage Reign's sole female player.
The requisite hot chick from Savage Reign dresses like a cheerleader and wields a gymnasts ball. Unless those things are heavier than I think they are, she may as well pelt her foes with feathers.
Crazy ninja dude number one wears a red suit and a gas mask. Has claws.
Crazy ninja dude number two wears a blue suit and a standard metal mask. Also has claws. Evidence of a mid-90s conspiracy regarding palette swapped ninjas or amusing meta-commentary on the Mortal Kombat series?
Apparently, characters in Japanese movies/games/anime can't be American unless they're violently American. If his name weren't patriotic enough, Max Eagle wears stars on his pants and a red and white striped jacket. If the designers knew anything about American folklore, he'd be wielding Paul Bunyon's Axe, but he has to settle on using an axe from that Greek fellow Hercules.
Good heavens does this guy need a chest wax. Gordon Bowman is an ugly fat policeman and practically a descendent of Edi E. from Final Fight. Wields a gigantic electric tonfa, called a "Stationfar" (??).
Based on his backwards baseball cap, I bet old dude Chung would say things like "totally!" and "radical!" if he could speak. Apparently his hat was given to him by "The Legendary Wolf", an obvious allusion to Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury. When his life is drained, he becomes enraged and it flies off. He would've been more amusing if he attacked with a walker, but he wields a flame wooden club he uses as a cane.
Nicola is a little kid who wears a power suit and wields a "discus of death", which is fancy pants talk for "glowing frisbee". He has an IQ of 600 which somehow means he's a suitable fighter for this tournament. In a running competition with Kinta from Power Instinct for the "worst fighting game character ever".
I'm sure Joker is absolutely in no way related to or inspired by the Batman villain. He's actually part of a crime syndicate called Looly Po Po, obviously named to strike fear in the hearts of the city they terrorize. His real name is Marco Bariadrid.
King Lion / Shishioh
I once knew this Capcom fanboy who thought SNK games were awful because it had a final boss named Geese, naively unaware that Geese - the master of cool evilness - could Deadly Rave that wiener M. Bison to his grave. Alas, King Lion is kind of the opposite of Geese - he may have the muscles, and the strength, and a huge sword, but that cheesy mask and hairdo isn't doing his image any favors.
Rosa is the coolest character in the entire series - her existence is primarily what makes Kizuna Encounter so rad, and her absence is what makes Savage Reign so mediocre. She's basically a Hispanic female version of Rambo, except with a tight red shirt and a killer katana. Per SNK standards, you can knock her shirt off under the right circumstances.
Kim Sue Il
This fellow looks remarkably like tae-kwon-do Kim Kaphwan, another element vaguely tying this together with the Fatal Fury series. This Kim is just as cool as his forefather, keeping with his strong sense of justice, except he wields a giant bo. Also known as Kim Young Mok in some versions.
In some ways, I should be offended by Jyazu (sometimes spelled "Jazu" - it's all the same in Japanese), because it seems like the graphic designers took the animations from Mezu/Gozu and reskinned them. But that mask looks really cool - the guy's a crow demon, you see - and he looks remarkably more fearsome than King Lion ever could. He also seems to have a gun hidden in his wrists, beneath his claws.
Savage Reign / Fūun Mokushiroku: Kakutou Sousei (風雲黙示録 ～格闘創世～) - Neo Geo, Neo Geo CD, PlayStation 2 (1995)
All throughout the 1990s, the arcades were packed with fighting games. After seeing that blatant Street Fighter rip-offs like World Heroes and Fighters History weren't pulling in huge numbers, game publishers needed to do everything that they could to make their games stand out. SNK succeed quite well at this, by creating a number of franchises that were familiar to Capcom fans yet still distinctive enough to warrant constant playtime.
Savage Reign is one of those games that tries a bit too hard to be difficult by slapping together seemingly disparate elements from as many different places as possible. Hey, it's got weapon-based combat like Samurai Shodown! And plane-switching like the older Fatal Fury games! Except each stage is different and occasionally you can use elements of the scenery as weapons, kinda like World Heroes! And the fast paced action of the Real Bout series! It's dark and apocalyptic, but still has a cast of strange and wacky characters, like Power Instinct! This must've been someone's concept of an ultimate fighting game, but none of these aspects really come together to a coherent whole.
At least Savage Reign controls well. The A and B buttons are used for punches and kicks respectively, and the C button will attack with your character's weapon. Some characters can toss their weapons by hitting A and B simultaneously. You tap the buttons for weak attacks, and press them for strong attacks, a regrettable holdover from the earlier World Heroes and Art of Fighting games. Pressing the D button allows you to jump back and forth between the two planes of scenery. Unlike Fatal Fury, the planes are on different vertical levels, allowing fighters to attack from above or below. In some stages, changing planes means jumping between elevated ledges. In others, you can hang on to wires at the top of the screen and drop bits of scenery on your opponent. Although this mechanic was interesting back when it was first introduced in Fatal Fury, it was ultimately a gimmick that added little to the experience. Its importance was wisely lessened by the time the Real Bout games rolled around, and its presence here feels like the designers of Savage Reign never learned their lesson.
Savage Reign is a technically solid fighter, but the general lack of depth, combined with the lack of cohesive design, lame characters and forgettable music, renders this one of SNK's lesser titles. The Neo Geo CD has an arranged soundtrack, which can be chosen in the PlayStation 2 release. The PS2 version also supports online play, although only if you're in Japan.
Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle / Fūun Super Tag Battle (風雲スーパータッグバトル) - Neo Geo, PlayStation 2, Wii Virtual Console (1996)
I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing that Savage Reign didn't exactly set the arcade charts on fire. But SNK apparently had enough faith in the game to retool it a bit and create a sequel, known as Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle. ("Kizuna", the internet tells me, means "bonds" or "chains". Lord knows how this makes sense.) But this time, they actually did a pretty decent job with it.
For starters, the plane jumping mechanic has been scrapped completely. Instead, you choose two characters at the select screen, and can switch them in and out during fights by hitting the D button. While this feature was prevalent in wrestling games, Kizuna Encounter was one of the first 2D fighters of its kind to use tag teaming, a good while before Capcom popularized it with X-Men vs Street Fighter. There are a couple of major differences that drastically change the way fights play out. You can only tag your partner by standing in a small, predesignated zone in the middle of the screen. This urges players to fight aggressively to corner foes and try to keep them out of the tag zone. Also, when one character runs out of life, they lose the entire match, regardless of how much health their partner has. This is similar to the much later Tekken Tag Tournament, and adds an extra layer of intensity and panic to switch fighters before getting creamed.
Other minor changes have been in the fighting system that work in its favor. Powerful attacks are executed by holding forward and hitting a button, rather than holding it down, and there are Samurai Shodown III/IV-style dodge and parry moves that make all of the fighters more agile, which is especially important when trying to make it to the tag zone. The silly "A+B" method of throwing weapons was removed, and all projectile attacks changed into standard controller motions.
The aesthetic design has also improved dramatically. The crappier characters - Carol and Nikola - have been dropped, and while the goofy Joker and Eagle are still in the cast, their lameness is balanced out by two awesome newcomers, Rosa and Kim. The final boss, a crow demon named Jyazu, is also far cooler than King Lion could ever hope to be. Savage Reign offered a strange variety of backgrounds, which ranged from brightly colored carnivals to dank factories. Kizuna Encounter is much more consistent, with fights taking place in dingy back alleys and deserted construction sites. While the scenery is arguably less detailed, the darker look lends to a post-apocalyptic atmosphere that feels much more suitable. The music, while still held back by some weak instrumentation, is much better overall, and includes the return the only good song from Savage Reign. All of these elements put together elevate Kizuna Encounter to a much more respectable status, and is definitely worth checking out.
There was no Neo Geo CD version, so a completely new arranged soundtrack was created for the PlayStation 2 release. While the blazing guitars are pretty cool, they tend to overwhelm the main melody and percussion, and some of the synth instruments they chose for other tracks are kinda lame. Still, it's great to hear full quality versions of these songs, and they sound great in game. This version also includes online play, but again, only in Japan.
As a side note, the European AES version of Kizuna Encounter is known as the most expensive officially produced video game ever made, with only approximately ten known to be in existence. It's fetched over $10,000 in auctions.
In 2011, Kizuna Encounter was released digitally on the Wii Virtual Console, but only in Japan.
Despite there only begins two games in the series, the Fūun characters have shown up in cameo roles in several games. Hayate, Carol, Rosa, Kim and King Lion all show up as cards in Card Fighters Clash for the Neo Geo Pocket Color. They also appear in Card Fighters Clash DS, with Carol sharing a card with fellow cheerleader Tiffany from Rival Schools. King Lion is a playable character in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, and both Kim and Rosa can be seen in the backgrounds. Kim and King Lion are alternate strikers in King of Fighters 2000, and Kim shows up a background in KoF 2002. Both Hayate and Jyazu show up as bonus characters in the PS2 port of King of Fighters XI, complete with an arrangement of the Savage Reign theme.
Thanks to Neo Rasa for some of the trivia.