2008′s Eloquent Fist is Marvelous’s second Ikki Tousen game (unless you count that horrendous Ikki Tochi freebie), and it’s the first on PSP. With the change in platform from PS2 to portable, Marvelous also changed their format from 3D brawling to classic 2D sidescrolling — and the result is a ten-fold improvement. The new format looks better, it plays better, and it offers a sense of free-flowing movement that the PS2 game’s enclosed 3D arenas didn’t.
The story mode provides a nice warm-up, allowing players to select one of three factions and then experience the game’s stages using a variety of fighters. Ultimately, the arcade mode — where players guide one character through all seven levels — is the main attraction. Beat the arcade mode and you’ll unlock saucy gallery artwork for your chosen beauty (or Saji). Considering the game has seventeen playable characters, including videogame-exclusive Chousen and flame-haired newcomer Kanpei, that could take a while. Energetic music (worth tracking down the soundtrack CD) helped me stay pumped while kicking my way through stages I’d already seen so many times before.
Whichever mode is selected, the action plays out like a schoolyard Final Fight. Thuggish schoolboys, thuggish schoolgirls, and thuggish monks fall by the dozen; the feeling of “clone army” is always present, but there’s just as much variety as any of the classics. The main drawback is that there are too many enemies onscreen at once. In Final Fight, players had to identify specific enemies and individually take them down in such a way as to avoid dangerous attack patterns and conserve health. In Ikki Tousen: Eloquent Fist, crowd-clearing moves are always the best, whether facing tonfa girls or bespectacled upperclassmen. In that sense, the game feels more repetitive than the better oldschool brawlers. Meanwhile, health-replenishing foodstuffs abound.
More isn’t always better, and it’s interesting to consider how 16-bit limitations may have contributed to a superior product. Boundaries sometimes help designers focus. Unlike classics like Streets of Rage 2, the flashier but more forgettable Ikki Tousen: Eloquent Fist never feels like it’s pushing any boundaries.
…unless we consider the boundaries of good taste. After defeating a boss, a picture of their body appears. After defeating a boss with a special attack, a picture of their body — with shredded clothing, underboobs, and bare bellies — appears. These scenes are supposed to be titillating. It’s already hard enough to tell whether anime girls are in pain or ecstasy, and moments like these blur that line in a disturbing way.
But I’m looking forward to playing the sequel anyway. Even though Eloquent Fist isn’t a great game, it’s such a radical turnaround from the PS2 failure that I’m eager to see how much Marvelous really learned.