The case of Eternal Champions was an interesting one, the more I look back on it. Pushed by a strong advertising campaign, which saw promotions from 7-Eleven slurpee drinks to comic books, the game stood out from the pack of Mortal Kombat knockoffs that flooded the market during the early 90's. Other than an enhanced version for the Sega CD and two spin-offs, nothing else became of what might've been a sustainable franchise...maybe?
Eternal Champions was developed by Sega and released exclusively for the 16-bit beast in 1993. Tournament fighters at the time were looking for their own means of connecting with the general masses as the genre was growing in popularity. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were the quintessential "Coke or Pepsi" discussion of the era, and most studios not named SNK (whose fighting games were unique and inventive for the time period) adding their entries generally emulated what one or the other did, Eternal Champions doesn't feel like a carbon copy of anything. Honestly, its rich lore feels like something that should've transcended video games. With history being threatened to fade out of existence, a being known as the Eternal Champion gathers souls from prominent figures throughout history and the future in order to rewrite their untimely deaths and affect the fate of mankind more positively. And unlike Mortal Kombat, it doesn't need three reboots to do it.
While the button layout follows the Street Fighter mapping of weak, medium, and heavy punches and kicks, the game actually has NO motion input commands for special moves. Specials are performed by pressing or holding two or several buttons, or by charging back or down for several seconds. Speaking of the aforementioned SNK, Eternal Champions has a "special attack meter" that depletes as specials are used. Once exhausted, you have to wait for it to recharge before you can use them again. This is similar to Art of Fighting's Spirit Gauge, imagine THAT being your inspiration.
Control-wise, Eternal Champions feels alright and the roster of nine (Jetta, Jonathan Blade, Xavier, Slash, Shadow, Larcen, Trident, Midknight, and R.A.X) each have distinct strategies and apply different martial arts skills, but the execution doesn't feel too intuitive, especially if you're playing on a Genesis 3-button controller. Playing fighting games with the 3-button pad was a blight on humanity.
The omission of motion inputs also catered to the use of the Sega Activator. The Sega Activator was a full body motion detecting controller whose only function was to part dumb parents from their money. If you thought waggling around the Wii remote made you look like a complete jackass, this early, embarrassing application of virtual reality ensured your social circles would be reduced considerably. So, take a fighting game that already doesn't feel smooth, is hard as hell when attempting to complete the single player modes, and give it this expensive octagon for your moron kids to flail around in for two video games before it ends up in your attic and eventually on a garage sale months later. It didn't help Eternal Champions at all, nor any of the games it was marketed for.
Its graphics are kinda stylish with some decent animation, the size of Eternal Champions' sprites are nothing to scoff at. Aside from the overkill stage fatalities, which are triggered by wherever you land at the end of the deciding round, there isn't much interaction with the backgrounds, and it leaves the stages feeling like a half-finished canvas that the painter never got back to working on.
For the characters themselves...I GUESS they look SOMEWHAT cool, yet I can't shake the feeling that they come off rather generic. With the simple and appealing designs of Ken and Ryu, Sub-Zero and Scorpion, and Terry Bogard and Nakoruru, the combatants in Eternal Champions by comparison are inert. Despite the writing and purpose these warriors stand for, I don;t feel like they have much to remember them by. Only while researching this did I recall characters Shadow and Larcen have appeared in spin-off games.
Despite being a financial success for Sega, and some tournament fighting exclusive software to market on their platform, you would think a third game would've come to fruition. Ever noticed that Eternal Champions is one of those in-house Sega titles that never appeared on any of the compilations or anthology collections over the years?
Based on a 2005 Sega-16 interview with Eternal Champions designer Michael Latham, seems like Sega of Japan was none too thrilled with the idea of another fighting game commanding attention away from the AM2 developed flagship franchise, Virtua Fighter, which the brand wanted more heavily marketed in the United States. This effectively killed off Eternal Champions, and the series hasn't been seen since. Latham attempted to acquire the rights and would make an effort to develop a related follow-up titled Eternal Successors. Renders in Unreal 4 can be found of Trident, but serious development would never get underway, as Michael Latham sadly passed away in 2021.
Despite its mixed reaction, Eternal Champions was without a doubt a very popular property that was untimely cut off the heels before it had a chance to establish a significant foothold in the blossoming genre of fighting games. A third game, Eternal Champions: The Final Chapter, was planned for the Sega Saturn, and while it probably would not have done too well on a platform that was almost doomed from the get-go, to not be given a chance remains tragic. The gameplay wasn't defining, but the emphasis on storytelling, and the sheer amount of features this Genesis game packs, like the tons of training modes and accessible character bios, was unheard of for the genre at the time.
Had Sega of Japan been more accommodating, just how much could Eternal Champions have thrived?
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