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Remembering… One Must Fall: 2097

If you’ve been keeping up with my articles it shouldn’t come as a surprise that fighting games are my cup of tea, but how I actually got into the genre is a tale of its own. Like many of my peers back in the ‘90s I loved playing around with Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, but I was nowhere near considered as someone who knew what he was doing. As a young lad, the concept of directional commands, combos, and how to actually stay alive in a fight were things that were beyond my comprehension at the time. What helped me bring it all together was this very little known number, one I take pride in knowing as I’m probably amongst a small village count of gamers who’ve had the privilege of playing this greatly overlooked gem. Keyboards, they’re not just for typing.

One Must Fall: 2097, as the name implies, takes place in the year 2097, a future where corporations rule the Earth. World Aeronautics and Robotics (WAR) has been the top dog of the planet thanks to its leading technology in security, defense, and space travel, making space colonization possible. This achievement is all thanks to WAR’s development of Human Assisted Robots (HAR): mechanized giants that can be controlled by linking a human pilot’s brain with a HAR’s control system.

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Ganymede, the next moon on Jupiter about to be colonized, needs a WAR rep to watch over its operations. After much review, all ten WAR applicants have been found to be equally qualified amongst one another, thus the board has decided that in order to make a final decision a tournament will be held where the winner will prove his/her mettle against WAR’s president, Major Hans Kreissack, before being given the job. The fights will also be broadcasted for the public to coincide with the company’s current evaluations in advocating HAR battles as a new medium of entertainment. No pressure.

OMF is, surprisingly, a fighter that still stands as being unique compared to even today’s fighting games. Before Arcana Hearts 3, Samurai Shodown VI, and Capcom vs. SNK 2, OMF was the first to use a mix-and-match system: two character-select screens. The first has you choosing amongst the ten human pilots, each unique in their individual stats of power, speed, and endurance. The second has you selecting the HAR that is to serve as the avatar of combat. The robots each have their own unique movesets and abilities, such as Shadow’s ability to create temporary clones, Chronos’ aptitude in manipulating matter and time, and Electra, built from the lightning crystals of Jupiter from which it draws its power. This clever approach is distinct in its effort to promote game balance.

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Just like the cool kids.

Like many 2D fighters of the ’90s, OMF also had its bevy of secrets. Hidden content included secret character fights (including a fight with Jazz Jackrabbit), playing as the boss HAR, Nova, and unlocking ‘Hyper Mode’, a feature that added new moves for each HAR and drastically changed the game physics allowing for some fascinating combos.

OMF was also distributed as shareware, providing a limited selection of pilots, HARs, only one stage available for fights, one Tournament Mode event, but having access to the finishing moves of the available HARs.

The game’s fight engine is definitely influenced from popular 2D fighters of its time, with an involving combo system that integrates Street Fighter‘s ground combos and MK inspired air juggles of old. The game even goes as far as having three different strengths for punches and kicks, a Capcom staple: The arrow keys are obvious in their intended functions, while the Enter key serves as the punch button, and the Shift key for kick. Holding down forward while tapping the attack keys will produce weak attacks, holding back will usher fierce attacks, and simply remaining neutral will result in medium hits. Hold back to block, forward plus punch near your opponent produces a throw. Though there is no super meter, each of the HAR units can use a “Shadow version” of some of their moves, making OMF amongst the first two fighting games to experiment with enhanced special attacks, the other being Darkstalkers.

OMF also stayed up to date with the ’90s trend of including finishing moves. The finishers, however, are divided into two parts. The first part is the Scrap Move that initiates the finisher. The final part, Destruction Move, must have its command input during the Scrap in order to complete the process. Failure to do this correctly results in having your opponent banged up a little, while successfully pulling off the Destruction Move results in your foe being completely annihilated. Each HAR has its own unique finisher.

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The game may also be the first to experiment with stage hazards and walls. The Power Plant is set within electrifying walls, The Desert is often riddled with the bullets of random fighter jets, The Danger Room calls upon random spikes from its walls, while the Fire Pit provides an interesting feature: first fighter to strike the generated floating orb will cause a fireball to rise up under the opponent’s feet. The Stadium serves as the only arena devoid of hazards, however the player has the option to completely shut off all hazards from the settings menu.

Despite there being an involved story, it’s almost non-existent. Only hints of the story are provided through the pre-fight pilot conversations in One Player Mode, each alluding to the fighters’ hidden agendas for entering the competition. However, the true heart of the game is in the unique Tournament Mode, set 3 years after the events of the original story where HAR combat has been approved as a global entertainment pastime. In this mode you are allowed to climb the ranks through four different events with a customizable pilot and HAR. Your HAR’s colors can also be altered. Each fight you win yields an amount of credits, depending on your combos, opponent’s difficulty, and amount of damage sustained, that can be used towards purchasing upgrades for your pilot and HAR’s stats. Losing matches, however, results in loss of fight money. If your bank account drops below zero, you have to win a fight to bring it out of the red zone, sell your HAR’s parts, or be eliminated from the tournament altogether. Since your fighter’s speed can be upgraded substantially, the results allow access to some interesting, high hit count combos that cannot be performed outside of Tournament Mode.

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One Must Fall certainly packs a mechanized punch but it’s more than just the gameplay that it cracks its knuckles over. The game’s art is certainly derived from the ‘90s mech anime craze that serves as its muse. The pilot portraits are glossed by the more humble anime art styles of old and the appreciation runs deep through the in-game 3D-esque HAR sprites, that have surprisingly smooth animations for an independent PC title of 2 decades past. The music is definitely memorable: an adrenaline pumping blend of beats and synths, with its roots deeply fastened in Asian pop and rock; the soundtrack is still something I revisit from time to time, as it’s nostalgic of days gone by.

Sadly, OMF continues to remain in the blind spot of today’s gaming, no thanks to the mediocre attempts at full 3D with its sequel One Must Fall: Battlegrounds. As we gaze into 2011 with its promising bounty of new fighters, the vestige of One Must Fall: 2097 can only be traced by the very few who had taken the time to step away from their Genesis, SNES, and arcade cabinets. Though it is quite heavily dated, for a fighter that was conceived twenty years ago, it was one that was very promising, with its sights set on an interesting future for fighters; a vision and charm that modern day fighting games might not be able to produce for a second go in this lifetime.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @S_Chyou.

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