When it comes to fighting games and Capcom, a few series spring to mind. The most common would be Street Fighter and Marvel vs Capcom, a flagship series and one that celebrates two separate franchises respectively. Another is the Darkstalkers series whose fans have been clamoring for a new entry for years now. One series which isn’t as well known but certainly stands out from the crowd is the Rival Schools series.
Released in arcades in 1997 and on the PlayStation one year later, the first entry in the series, Rival Schools: United by Fate, is one of Capcom’s few 3D fighters. Story-wise it involves a series of attacks and kidnappings across local schools. Different students and members of the staff from various schools become entangled in the nefarious plot and fight each other.
If the above isn’t already enough to separate it from other fighting games, the gameplay itself certainly will. Players choose a team of two characters to fight with. Unlike a typical team fighter though, the battles are strictly one-on-one with no tagging in. It is still possible to have your partner come in to help you through a “Team-Up” super attack which is usually related to the character’s sport or class that they’re associated with.
Choosing a team of characters for one-on-one battles may sound similar to SNK’s The King of Fighters, but beyond being mostly grounded in reality the similarities end there. The team aspect comes into play at the end of each round.
Win or lose, players can decide if they want to switch to playing the other character on their team or to continue with who they have into the next round. It’s a unique mechanic that allows players to find better matchups against each other or at the very least have some fun mind games.
Even as a 3D game, it still feels like a 2D game at heart. The speed and mechanics of the game easily separate it from the wildly popular Tekken 3 that released the same year. Players can launch their opponents into the air and continue the beat down with air combos. The game also borrows an easier version of Street Fighter Alpha’s Alpha Counter feature, appropriately here called “Tardy Counters”.
When the game was ported to the PlayStation, it came with more than just the typical fighting game mode. In fact, it came with two separate discs! Disc 1 had the obligatory arcade and versus modes, while disc 2 had a bevy of modes including many mini-games.
One of the most notable was a character creation feature that would allow for player’s personal fighter to attend a school year with the other characters and form friendships, but unfortunately it wasn’t included when the game was localized for the American release.
A Unique Roster of Characters
Although any and every game could boast this, I do think it’s important to highlight the characters of Rival Schools. The premise is absurd already with students and staff from different schools fighting each other, while the plot ends up involving brainwashing techniques at one point. Some characters throw fireballs or quite literally kick soccer balls on fire, and one of them has a sword, but beyond all of that it is quite a normal and slightly relatable roster.
That relatability is set in stone with the setting since almost everyone has the experience of going to school. Needless to say, this immediately makes it more relatable than fighting tournaments and shadow organizations that most other fighting game plots involve. The characters themselves double down with a host of unique characters, including a good-natured gang leader, a bubble-headed fashionista, and even a protagonist who’s a transfer student.
Street Fighter fans will notice a particular character in the roster. As a form of “insurance”, the team asked to include Sakura, reasoning that she’d fit in with the school setting. Even more eagle-eyed Street Fighter fans might recognize that Rival Schools’ character Hinata wears the same school uniform as Ibuki. A further connection between the two series is made with Hinata mentioning that she learned fighting techniques through “Ken Masters Style Karate”.
The one-of-a-kind series wouldn’t be done with just one title. A sequel named Project Justice would come to arcades in 2000, and later be ported to the Dreamcast. It would build upon and improve on the mechanics of the original.
One of the obvious changes is that an extra character can be chosen for teams. Having three-character teams allow for an extra Team-Up attack option and the addition of the school-specific and usually absurd “Party-Up” attack which uses all three members of a team.
Another unique mechanic added is the ability to cancel an opponent’s Team-Up attack. One of your partners gets 5 quick seconds to land a hit against the opponent’s remaining partner, with failure to do so resulting in the Team-Up attack proceeding like normal.
Another notable improvement is a more structured story mode detailed for each school. Some even have branching paths which can result in totally different fights. Another character-creation mode is available in the game, although your character is mainly used in a board game mode instead of a simulation like the previous game. Similar to its predecessor though, the character-creation mode would not be included in the Western release.
Will There Ever Be Another Entry?
Some fans believe the series has been long forgotten about. Others point out that characters from the series have appeared in various Capcom crossover titles, as well as two of its characters appearing in the background of the beach stage in Street Fighter V. Whether homages like these are indicative of the future of a series is certainly debatable.
Even with the fanbase that this series has amassed, it’s been a while since the last entry. Rival Schools: United by Fate came out in 1997, while Project Justice came out in 2000. Although Hideaki Itsuno has repeatedly (and recently as within two years ago) voiced his love for making a new and possibly final game in the series, it’s hard to ignore that it’s been twenty years already.
What is for certain is that the series has loving fans. And it’s for very good reason, as I can’t think of a fighting game that matches the uniqueness of this series. For now, we can only hope that we see a definite third entry one day.