EDITOR'S NOTE:
This is probably the only time we're going to have to deal with CPS-III hardware, unless the obviously-fake Bump in the Night is a real thing, so we do have a slight disclaimer- while MAME says the video emulation on CPS-III is fine now, we'd like to err on the side of caution and warn that there may be emulation oddities present in our screenshots. Just to be double-safety-sure, ya know?
Additionally, big thanks and shoutouts to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell, @HokutoNoShock, for playing online matches with us to help test the Versus mode. Two of the screenshots come from those sessions, in fact.
They checked it for us too, as did Kimimi, so thanks. Honestly, you'd think me checking it would be enough, but I was told 'fighting games aren't your thing'.
The truth is, the writer is just scared of my fearsome Captain Knee in Smash. No-good punk.

As you may perhaps have inferred or deduced from the last time we talked about a fighting game, it's a genre we're keen to learn to engage with properly. We've mostly been doing this by playing the weirdest fighting games out there (why hello, Fight Fever, how are you today?) and today, we'll be looking at possibly the weirdest fighting game that Capcom, masters of the genre, put out. An interesting thing about Capcom's fighting game output is that, unlike SNK who were trying to run several different series all at the same time (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, The King of Fighters, Savage Reign- that counts, right) Capcom generally did this less often, with only three main 'series' during the 1993-1998 period if we're talking exclusively about 2D fighters (that'd be Street Fighter and permutations thereof, the Darkstalkers games, and their stand-alone-then-crossover Marvel games). You could throw the Saturday Night Slammasters / Muscle bomber games in too, but the point is that Capcom weren't trying to juggle too many series at once. The two notable exceptions were Cyberbots from 1994, a one-on-one fighting spinoff of their brawler Armored Warriors, and today's subject, Red Earth (originally Warzard in Japan), a fantasy-themed boss-rush with RPG elements cunningly disguised as a tournament fighter. Shrouded in mystery in the West for many years due to its limited English release until CPS-III emulation was finally cracked in 2007, it's a game that absolutely fascinates me, for reasons we shall discover shortly.



Red Earth is a strange release, then. Very strange. It was the first Capcom fighter with zooming in and out in the style of SNK's Art of Fighting, the first and only Capcom fighter to use a password system to save player progress, the very first game on Capcom's new CD-based CPS-III hardware (which you can read about on Arcade Otaku for more, especially on its suicide batrery)... And was also the only CPS-III game never ported to a home console. Both versions of Jojo's and all the revisions of Street Fighter III made it home in some form, but not Red Earth. As, perhaps, we shall find out later, maybe that's because the game was more suited to the arcade... In the year of our Lord 13XX (or maybe not, according to the Japanese release), an alternative Earth is being ravaged by evil monsters, seemingly controlled by the sinister Blade who is leading his own floating country. Four warriors, each entering combat for their own reasons, go out on a journey to fight these creatures and restore peace to the Red Earth. Who will survive? Only one way to find out...



But first, we must meet those who fight in the name of justice!




(VA: Tomoko Naka)
A self-proclaimed 'sorcerologist', who investigates the appearance
of storms and monsters around the world to find the evil behind it.




(VA: Daisuke Gōri)
The outcast king of Savalia, cursed by Scion with a half-beast body.
He now vows to save his kingdom or die trying.




(VA: Megumi Urawa)
A young martial-artist who returns home from a tournament only to find
her town burnt to the ground, and seeks the people responsible.




(VA: Yukimasa Kishino)
Leader of the Shinobi of Zipang, he sets off to repel invaders
but suspects his Shogun has some kind of hidden agenda.

While the game has the standard Capcom six-button set-up, and moves are done with the traditional quarter-circle and Dragon Punch motions, many of its other elements are departures from the genre norms of the time. Best start with the basics, then, and it feels like a bit of a smorgasbord from other Capcom fighters of the time, primarily Darkstalkers and the Marvel games. From DS it takes pursuit attacks, moving while getting up and dashing (oh, and in single-player, certain moves chopping your opponent in half!), and from Marvel it pinches super-jumps and super/hyper armour for some opponents. It's a nice little coming-together of some concepts that were being thrown around a lot at the time, although the pace is a bit slower than that of either Darkstalkers or the Marvel games, but it has its own foibles too that make it unique amongst Capcom's fighting works.



The biggest shake-up from the norm is that there's no super meter of any kind. Instead, each match (or credit in the single-player game) starts your character off with two Orbs of six different types (Fire, Wind, Lightning, Ice, Meteor, Poison) that you can cycle through with the Start button, and basically serve as a super meter, but you can use them either for character-specific super moves where the type doesn't matter, or for a type-specific Mystic Force attack that any character can use. Generally, the super moves (called Mystic Arts here) are more 'traditional', while the Mystic Force attacks are a bit wilder including things like homing ice projectiles and turning the floor into a dangerzone, and because every character has access to them, they all share that toolkit as well as their own skills, giving you plenty of combat options. It does, however, leave you at the mercy of the game's random drops (that can also include food and point items in single-player), as you cannot build meter (no nonsense like this) so you can't completely rely on it to come back if you use them all up. Still, the ability to cycle through them means while you have them, you always have options, and it's a kind of system you don't see very often at all.

The other new mechanic is the Ultimate Guard, a stance your character takes for a few seconds after you press a Punch and Kick of the same strength- if hit during it, they'll block everything for the next few seconds and, critically, take no chip damage. A precursor to Street Fighter III's Parry system, then, and while it's easier, there are safeguards in place to prevent you overusing it- there's a few recovery frames after using it unsuccessfully, which can be harshly punished, and you can't get out of the stance once you start blocking, which might leave you worse off. The only way out is an Ultimate Counter, which allows you to strike back during the blockstun, if your character has access to that move. Overall, the basic mechanics feel satisfying- especially Ultimate Guard- and while it's a little slower-paced than I tend to like in my fighters and it feels a little harder to cancel and chain attacks together than other Capcom games, you'd be hard pressed to say there's anything egregiously wrong with its mechanics.



... Now, you may have noticed that innocuous little phrase, 'if they have access to that move'. I'm not saying some of the cast don't have Ultimate Counters (although Tessa's is easy to miss- use Punch instead of Kick!), but you have to earn it. Red Earth's major structural change is in its RPG elements, with the single-player game serving as a way of raising your character's level (as we'll see later, this cannot be done against another player). Your score is actually an EXP counter, and landing blows, picking up treasures and receiving end-of-stage bonuses all add to it, with level-ups given at certain thresholds, leading to enhanced attack/defense, resistance to certain elements, and critically, all-new special moves, all of which can be saved via the game's password system, entered upon starting a new game. You'll need those level-ups too, as the eight-stage single player game doesn't have you fighting the other playable cast members, but instead gigantic monsters such as the screen-filling dinosaur Hauzer, the robotic guardian Gi Gi, and eventually the evil sorcerer Scion and his pet dragons. Beyond not being playable, they even have advantages over you- Hauzer and Kongou can enter a state of hyper-armour, Ravange and Blade have second forms with more powerful moves, Lavia can fly, etc.- which is a rarity outside boss battles at this point in the genre's life, and throw in the life-up items you can pick up and Red Earth feels less like a standard fighting game and more like a boss rush.



The way that these bosses have advantages over your character is oddly reminiscent of the genre's early days, come to think of it! In particular I'm thinking of Fatal Fury, which did things a little differently (bosses could interact with the background or had items the player can never use) but the basic concept of the computer having advantages over the player remains. The single-player is easily the highlight here, as you have four characters with very different skill-sets- Mai Ling is as close to the shoto of the game as you'll get and has combo strings similar to the Marvel games' Magic Series, Leo is all about raw power, Kenji can use various ninja tools as both normals and specials, and Tessa is by far the strangest, with animal helpers and potions as her normal attacks that she can use to control space around her- to battle against a roster of weird, interesting foes, giving you a completely different set of tricks for each playthrough. There's also different enemy orders per character, at least three endings each, and even secret weapons to unlock for Leo and Tessa (even if some are merely cosmetic) and the added pressure of only having your life restored based on end-of-round bonuses and Red Earth's single-player is a very refreshing take the on the genre, and one you'll certainly like to play through once or twice.

With that said, once or twice won't be enough to unlock all those moves, and this is where the level-up system starts to become a bit less appealing, in that it enforces a grind of sorts and dramatically impacts the player-vs.-player aspect of the game (which, naturally, is critical to a fighting game, boss-rush single player or not). Regarding the grind, to reach Level 32 where it maxes out and offers most characters one final move, the road is long- your first run will get you up to Level 7 or so, but the EXP requirements get much higher, reaching a peak around Level 22 where you'll need 500,000 EXP, which playing on my level (i.e. poorly) will take you about halfway through single-player to reach. Maddeningly, spare EXP is not saved by your password, so there's no shortcuts here! While most of your moves will be learned around this point, there'll still be one or two missing (including Leo's second Mystic Art). Surprisingly, the game doesn't get easier on repeat plays, as every time you complete the game, next time the enemy life gauges will actually get longer, so it tries to keep up with you. With that said, assuming you were playing the game as intended- without internet passwords and in an actual arcade- this would sting a bit less- you'd just play whenever you happen to find a machine, so it's not like you'd be grinding continuously... Just over the course of several trips to the arcade. Still, you'll really have to keep at it to get those later moves.



You may think, however, that levelling up wouldn't be so bad if you were just taking on challengers in the versus mode, right? Actually, things work differently in versus mode, and it's easy to brush off as an afterthought until you realise you have to grind at that too, a little, which is probably much less entertaining. When fighting other players, you do not earn EXP as normal, instead you get Vs. Points which are calculated based on the difference between each player's level. These are separate from EXP and you do need them for a few character upgrades= Leo has a powerful shield locked behind them, Tessa gets certain improved specials and normals, and both Mai Ling and Kenji cannot use their Ultimate Counter without them. While not the most essential moves, perhaps, it's still a little frustrating that you'll need to play versus mode for these things, because it's much weaker than the single-player. The fighting system is solid, of course- not as fast as I like, but we know where I stand on that- but you cannot play as the boss monsters, only the standard four characters which really limits the game. Not saying that a bigger roster is inherently better- Waku Waku 7 has just seven and that works because the characters are wildly different- and while that applies here, it still feels it could've done with the boss monsters being playable to spice things up. Needless to say, this part of the game, combined with its apparently low distribution, sealed Red Earth's fate as a game that'd never see much serious tournament play.

While the versus mode may be a bust, at least Red Earth shines on most aesthetic levels. It was the inaugural title for an all-new arcade system, and so it stands to reason that it shows off what it can do, with huge, colourful and beautifully-animated sprites, and lots of detail and care put into the pixelwork and backgrounds. There's a lot of neat touches, such as Tessa having a different cat (either Al or Ivan) pop out of her dress for attacks depending on the direction you're facing, enemies like Gi Gi and Hydron making their entrance from the background, Leo's sword and shield changing appearance as you level up...My favourite is Tessa discarding a frog, presumably an ingerdient for the spell, every time she uses a Chakra Wave. The minimap screen and the short cutscenes between stages also do their best to evoke a bit of Golden Axe-esque world-building- the kind of thing that's subdued and in the background, but there's a formed world out there, giving you the sense the developers behind it really put their all into it.. The music isn't perhaps as strong (although there are a few great songs like the downbeat credits theme, fitting for some of the darker endings) but the voicework is great, especially the late Daisuke Gōri (also the voice of Heihachi Mishima, Bass from Dead or Alive and Edge Master from Soul Calibur), and the sound effects have a great sense of impact. As a showcase for what the CPS-III was capable of when it wasn't dying (apparently), Red Earth delivers.



The general consensus is that Red Earth was a failure. There's many factors you can point to here- the documented unreliability of the CPS-III hardware which could render carts useless if they're looked at funny, the lack of wider distribution of the game especially in the West- and yes, perhaps some of its problems contributed to it as well, mostly versus mode. The lack of a home port did help give the game a certain air of mystery, though, the kind of game that, for years, you could only see through its flyer or scans from magazines. That said, while those status-saving passwords weren't entirely new- several Western-developed games, in particular NBA Jam, saved stats via initials and birthdate - they were an early implementation of something that would become more common in later Japanese arcade games. Specifically, that idea would be iterated upon and, ultimately, made viable by IC cards, which hold player data such as statistics and unlocked items, popularised by Virtua Fighter 4 and Initial D Arcade Stage, and still used today in other fighters such as Tekken 7 with its BANAPASSPORT Cards and Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate with its Aime cards, and even non-fighters like Gunslinger Stratos and Project DIVA Arcade. They are, of course, quite different in the data they store, but Red Earth was a weird precedent for them, an interesting footnote in and of itself.

So, Red Earth is kinda hard to judge. The game is basically passable in versus- it has some interesting mechanics, certainly, and the Orbs are an especially fresh take on the super meter concept, but if you're going to play any fighting game with a smaller-than-average roster from the era, your best bet is probably Waku Waku 7, even if that one doesn't have any witches. However, when approached as a one-on-one 2D monster fighting game, it really stacks up favourably compared to others in the admittedly-small genre. It's definitely more solidly-constructed than the other few examples I can think of, and the fighting mechanics you get to play around with- especially the Mystic Force attacks, super-jumps and Ultimate Guard- gel well with the larger-than-normal enemy characters, and while it's a bit monotonous to grind to get things like Leo's Giga Driver, I think Red Earth is, by a wide margin, best enjoyed as a solo experience. Beyond all the other things, this is something that makes the game really unique- a fighting game where you're best off not focusing on fighting another player. If approached purely as a versus game, it'd get a 3, most likely, but the solo game is strong enough to warrant that extra star, I would argue. I mean, I stuck around with it long enough to get the levels you see in these screenshots, so that says something, right? In the end, then, a misunderstood little oddity that, when played alone, is most certainly worth a look.

For being a fighting game with the oddest possible structure, Red Earth is awarded...

In a sentence, Red Earth is...
The non-tournament fighter.



And now, it's that time, folks!
EXTENDED PLAY!



Before we start, if you need more detaled Red Earth information...

We recommend Arcade Quartermaster's site, specifically their Red Earth section.

A lot of obscure things we wouldn't have worked out on our own, so thanks for that!





To begin, just a few notes on the Japanese version of the game, Warzard.

Beyond the title change, Capcom saw fit to change a lot of names and even a big detail about the game's setting for the World release, and so while the original Japanese version sets the game's year as 1999, making it a post-apocalyptic story, the World one changes this to the more enigmatic 13XX. All of the titles awarded to players for levelling-up were also switched around arbitrarily- Tessa is a Witch at Level 6 in the Japanese version, where in the World version she's a Summoner at that point instead. Finally, about half the cast's names were changed, shown in the table below:

Warzard (Japan)
Red Earth (World)
Tabasa
Tessa
Tao
Mai Ling
Mukuro
Kenji
Nool
Hydron
Luan
Lavia
Secmeto
Ravange
Gigi
Gi Gi
Valdoll
Scion

Additionally, Blade was originally called Jihad according to artwork from All About Warzard, but it seems no version of the game actually uses this name.



Next, some fun with the staff roll.



Completing the game with any ending and using at least one continue gets you a normal staff roll with your character in the background. However, hold Up on the joystick to bring Capcom's little mascot, Mobichan, onto the screen! Use Medium Punch to fire shots, hold it to charge and release to fire a penetrating shot, and press Heavy Punch to turn around. You can now, if you like, shoot the names in the credits, and at the end you're given a Hit Rate percentage. Good luck with 100%, if it's even possible. Additionally, you can hold Light Punch to speed the credits up, or press any Kick to instantly cut to the Game Over screen.



Beat the game on one credit (or enter a secret password to skip straight to it- you'll waste a credit, though!), though, and the staff roll will change, a tradition from Capcom brawlers and fighters like Final Fight, Street Fighter II and The Punisher. It'll now be a little showcase of all the NPCs in the game, such as Leo's Wise Men and Carthur from Tessa's story. You can still play as Mobichan in this version, but the credits appear and disappear this time rather than slowly scroll, so I'm fairly certain a 100% Hit Rate is completely impossible. It would also seem that these credits can have special obstacles appear if you play the minigame- a giant Mobichan that will follow you slowly and knock you to the bottom of the screen when touched, and a Yasichi that appears so infrequently I have no idea what it actually does, if anything. Finally, these credits can't be sped up, but you can still skip them if you wish.





... But these credits also add a final mystery at the very end.

These screens, with the text "COMING NEXT?" appear, depending on which character you beat the game with.

Beyond the human version of Leo, there doesn't seem to be much about these alternate characters. Little teasers for things never to come.



Now, we know Red Earth never got a home port. That's just the way it is and we'll have to get used to it.

Capcom didn't forget about the game though, as characters from the series have gone on to be playable in other fighting games.



To start, Tessa was the first to make the jump to another game in Pocket Fighter, AKA Super Gem Fighter Mini-Mix, released in 1997 for the CPSII and ported to PS1, Saturn and PS2 as part of Street Fighter Alpha Anthology. Despite its cute appearance- this one answers the question, 'what if the chibi style of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo was used for a real fighting game?'- this is actually a pretty solid fighter with bits and bobs from many other Capcom fighting games of the time. Alongside Tessa and a whole slew of Red Earth cameos (Mai Ling sometimes shows up in Tessa's win poses and her block animation), the game also adapts Red Earth's item system (food items can drop, as well as gems that increase the power of attacks, and you can also grab items that can be thrown with similar effects to the orbs of Red Earth). Which is nice.



In a surprise appearance, Tessa also showed up in SNK Playmore's end of the Capcom/SNK crossover deal, SNK Vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos for the Neo-Geo and later PS2 and Xbox, as one of the default player characters. It's probably more worthwhile to discuss her moves in this one, seeing as it's considerably closer to more traditional fighters than Pocket Fighter, and despite being demoted to 4 buttons instead of 6, Tessa keeps a surprising amount of her arsenal from Red Earth, including her throwable potions and Hato and Al, but not Ivan. However, she does feel a little constricted in this game, as while there are super-jumps, the screen never scrolls upwards, so her Air Chakra Wave and potion-throwing attacks never quite feel as useful as in Red Earth, especially as there's not that many tall opponents beyond Hugo and Sagat. Still, it's nice to know SNK were thinking of Red Earth for their crossover, and it also means we get an SNK-style version of Tessa and her
Midnight Bliss, Animal and Makai transformations!



Finally, Red Earth was one of the five core games represented in the underwhelming Capcom Fighting Jam, alongside Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha and Darkstalkers. And Ingrid on her tod, I guess. Red Earth's reps are Leo, Kenji, and playable for the first time, Hauzer and Hydron (so yep, Mai Ling's never been playable outside the original game, and that's a shame). The Red Earth characters get some foibles from their origins too, as documented in this Japanese tutorial which is where we got the screenshot at the top from- they have Ultimate Guard and Ultimate Counters, and the orbs are replaced with a meter that builds up and lets them stock up to two orbs at once, and they can be used to either perform a Mystic Art or level them up mid-round to make them stronger. No orb-specific Mystic Force attacks this time though! Additionally, they all have endings drawn by the staff of UDON, which have cameos from other Red Earth characters- UDON has a DeviantArt gallery of most of those endings here, but for those just here for Red Earth, here's Leo and Kenji's endings. There's not much else to say with this one, I'm afraid.





Oh well, that's that over with. See you in Marvel Infinite, Tessa, right?

WHEN'S MAI LING