WTFighter: Powerful Franchises, Terrible Games

Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi, Ehrgeiz, and Others

Welcome back to our in-depth look at the evolution and development of graphics in digital media. Today we’ll be looking at what happens when powerful franchises produce terrible games.


When discussing games that hold up well over time—through clever use of graphics, fantastic gameplay, a mix of those two, or some other factor—one is bound to hit a game that falters in more than one aspect. There are many games across all genres that have bad aspects to them, but not all of them achieve infamy in the way that the two we will be discussing have.

One could be forgiven of expecting great things from any game with a Star Wars license attached to it. It is a popular and no doubt expensive license to have (especially after the purchase by Disney). When you spend that kind of money on licensing, your product needs to be successful, which means you should make the best product that you can. However, that franchise has covered so many avenues of merchandise and mediums that there are bound to be flops. Likewise, the incredibly popular and beloved Final Fantasy series has given fans many incredible game and story moments, but not everything associated with this franchise is golden. Yes, I’m talking about Masters of the Teras Kasi [ 1 ] and Ergheiz [ 2 ]. These games had golden opportunities with their major franchise licenses and characters but unfortunately squandered them with poor implementation, graphics, and performance. We’re going to take a quick look at what went wrong, and what can be learned from it.

Now you might just look at licensed games within the context of our “is this really art” questions and say, “Hey, this is just profit motivation! They bought a license for cripes sake!” While that can be true, this is not the case for many licensed games. Yes, you do want to make a profit; that’s how the game industry has always worked. How you come by that profit makes a large difference in whether greed is your core motivation. Your game can be artistic and successful; the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. And often, you’ll find that unsuccessful games usually aren’t given the kind of care that would allow for a strong artistic vision in the first place. You’d also note that the kind of games that are practically made with the sole purpose of generating as much profit as possible (as with micro-transaction-heavy games) do indeed have a great level of care and detail put into them. So with any licensed game title, you need to be slightly more discerning about what is greed and what is a genuine desire to make a fun game. Unfortunately, these two titles are examples of unchecked greed, rather than well-funded inspiration.

Star Wars: Masters of the Teras Kasi—a Forced Game

With the release of classic titles such as Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, Mortal Kombat 4, Fallout, Goldeneye, and more [ 3 ], 1997 is regarded as one of the best year in video game history. However, it also marks the year that one of the worst made fighting games of all time was released, and that is Star Wars: Masters of the Teras Kasi. Developed by Lucas Arts, the same company that brought so many successful and fun Star Wars games to platforms around the world, comes this gigantic trash fire.

The graphics may be date and the user interface was highly dubious. Were there not nuggets of Expanded Universe lore like Arden Lyn and the Teras Kasi fighting style, this would only be notable for its flaws.

I suppose the first problem to be addressed is character balance. An expected feature in the fighting game genre is for the playable characters to, generally, be somewhat balanced in the overall gameplay. Balance, in this case, means that no one character is better than the rest by virtue of having amazing abilities that no one else can compete with, counter, or otherwise compensate for. Teras Kasi has serious issues with this. Characters like Han Solo and Chewbacca can just blast you from afar with their guns, which cost no energy on the special bar. Some of the special moves, like Luke’s lightsaber throw, take out much of the enemy health bar, or cause an easy ring-out [ 4 ]. It’s clear that some characters got more attention than others, which would make sense in a single player game where you only control a few heroes. But in a fighting game, this is one of the worst things you can do. It takes extensive testing of all possible match ups to understand the balance between different fighters. While even the biggest budget fighting games don’t create perfect balance, they at least have a strong frame of balanced characters, so that top picks aren’t absurdly better than the next lowest tier. This kind of balance isn’t present in Teras Kasi and lacking that sort of work in any fighting game is almost guaranteed to create a less than fun experience.

As for presentation, the game looks more like a fighter from 1995, similar in graphic fidelity to Tekken 1 [ 5 ]. Although that game didn’t have great looks, it at least had something resembling a balanced roster of fighters. Now, I’ll grant that the movements in Teras Kasi are a lot faster and smoother than those of Tekken 1, but they are still somehow less responsive than this much older fighting game. While this is Lucas Arts’ first outing into the fighting game genre, the company’s prestige leans into expectations that are much higher than this. Hope is further let down when understanding that Capcom, a long-time fighting game developer, was originally supposed to work side by side with Lucas Arts to develop this game. That relationship was eventually dropped [ 1 ]. Imagining how much better this game could have been with the help of the veteran company is rather disheartening for a fan of Star Wars. However, even lacking that help, this game should have received a lot more attention and care than it did, being that this was the developer’s first-ever attempt at a fighting game. Even with that considered, Lucas Arts has had so much experience with other video games containing combat systems that this title shouldn’t have had one so poorly implemented. As it stands, the only redeeming quality of Teras Kasi, apart from its novelty, is the soundtrack, which features all our franchise favorites from composer John Williams. The reception of this game was so poor that Lucas Arts never made another Star Wars-themed fighting game until 2008.

Well, here’s Jodo Kast. One of several unlockable characters if someone wanted to suffer through this slog. The others include Vader, Mara Jade, a Stormtrooper and Jabba’s Palace Leia.

Since this is a Star Wars title, there is a natural inclination to link its failure to bad corporate culture and greed, but I would suspect there is more to it than that. Despite being a big game developer, Lucas Arts has traditionally produced very entertaining and satisfying games. Its extensive game library includes gems like X-Wing, Jedi Knight II, and Knights of the Old Republic, all games that are fondly remembered and still quite fun to play. Whatever internal disaster caused the ultimate mishandling of Teras Kasi, we may never know, but it is an anomaly in an otherwise excellent history of games from this studio [ 6 ].

Ergheiz: What Hath God Wrought in This Ring?

One year after the release of Final Fantasy VII, Square was looking to capitalize on the success of perhaps its most famous franchise title. Drawing on their established relationship with development studio Dream Factory, Square set up a deal to license out characters from their flagship game for one of the games already in development by Dream Factory. Square became the publisher for this title, and Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring was born [ 7 ].

The cover made a lot of promises. Signed a lot of checks that could never be cashed. Pretty though.

Ehrgeiz itself was already an ambitious project for its time, with Dream Factory wanting to create a fighting game with a fully three-dimensional ring space. It has rings with multiple vertical surfaces, corners to run around, and objects to use as temporary cover. In a time when most fighting games were either two dimensions or pseudo-three dimensional, Ergheiz was certainly ahead of its time. The unfortunate reality of the implementation, however, is that setting up combination moves becomes either a lot more difficult or far too easy, depending on what arena you happen to be in. If the arena is a close-in space, then you can more easily catch your opponent when they try to outmaneuver you. If the arena has a lot of vertical or horizontal space, you can basically forget about landing combination attacks, as your opponent will either have enough room to constantly back out or around you, or simply fall from height and end your combination by accident. The three-dimensional movements lend this game towards being a button masher, wherein the player is best served using wide swiping attacks to hit their opponent. This can be fun, but it makes the game less enjoyable in a group setting when all you need to do is press the same button over and over with no consideration for the opponent’s choices [ 8 ].

Another problem arises with the inclusion of the Final Fantasy VII characters themselves. For many fans of this franchise, the inclusion of Cloud Strife, Tifa Lockhart, Sephiroth, and others would in fact be the main draw. However, these characters were not properly tuned for the game, throwing any sense of balance far out the window. Again, while a game that lacks balance can be fun, when you get into something like the versus mode of a typical fighting game, it sucks the enjoyment right out of it to have such an unlevel field. Not all of them are balanced towards being powerful, either. For example, it is relatively easy to blast through stage after stage with Cloud, landing his quick combos, and using his Buster Sword, slashing every foe from a safe distance once you have enough special meter [ 9 ]. In contrast, trying to use Yuffie’s combos is harder since she moves slower than Cloud, despite being a ninja. Her giant, bladed star has a very short range (shouldn’t it be a thrown weapon?), making her special attack far less useful)[ 10 ]. Players coming from the Final Fantasy fandom would have certain expectations of these iconic characters, and if the game couldn’t match those, they would naturally be let down. If you came into the game expecting Yuffie to be a fast and agile ninja character, like she is in Final Fantasy VII, then you would absolutely be let down by her implementation in Ehrgeiz.

Ehrgeiz also has several mini-games, including a dungeon-crawling RPG, but those are hardly worth mentioning, as the mini-games have very little substance, and the RPG is just… bad. Without the inclusion of the Final Fantasy characters, it is very likely that Ehrgeiz would have fallen away into obscurity. While the game looks great for a PlayStation 1 title, it fails to deliver in any other aspect that a fighting game should. The three-dimensional environments, while novel, don’t make up for the lack of good gameplay, and neither does having Cloud on the box art.

Once one digs into the mechanics and User Experience, it becomes very apparent this was a dilapidated mess.

This is a game that reeks of capitalistic exploitation, and it’s not as though Square or Dream Factory were trying to hide that fact either. Having an extremely popular character from another video game on the cover of your game box is absolutely an appeal to that audience to buy your game simply because you included that character. It says nothing about how good the game is, graphically or otherwise, and when you have a product like Ehrgeiz that was already in production suddenly make room for new characters they hadn’t planned for, it could only ever lead to terrible balance issues and would absolutely take focus away from making a fun and complete game experience.

Moving Forward—Please Do better

For the most part, the Star Wars franchise has had some amazing video games, including a semi-recent fighting game in Star Wars The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels, though that game had a lukewarm reception. Maybe the fighting game genre just isn’t meant for Star Wars? Or if it is, the winning formula has yet to be found. While so many other genres have been nicely adapted to this megalith of nerd culture, we’re all still waiting for a good showing in the fighting game department. Teras Kasi could have had a much better measure of success if Lucas Arts had maintained their relationship with Capcom, and we can hope that if there is another fighter down the way, that this long-standing game studio will swallow its pride and get some outside help.

When it comes to Dream Factory and Ehrgeiz, there was a massive amount of squandered potential. The company was headed by Seiichi Ishii, a veteran director of Virtua Fighter and Tekken, and should have been a much bigger deal in its time. It should have been able to create a fun and innovative game in Ehrgeiz, even before the possibility of Final Fantasy cross-promotion with Square. Instead, a middling-at-best product was churned out, much to the chagrin of the masses who bought the game based on that very cross-promotion. While Dream Factory and Square have not partnered since, Square has continued to exploit their flagship franchise as much as they possibly can, and more successfully so, in other games and genres. Kingdom Hearts comes to mind most prominently, alongside the very popular Smash Brothers franchise (hey, a fighting game with Final Fantasy characters that is good!). While Square is certainly allowed to do this with impunity, it is no longer the selling point it used to be for these cross-promotional games, probably due in no small part to the harsh lesson from Ehrgeiz. What we can take away from these games under the umbrella of larger franchises is that a name only gets you so far. 

Images

  1. “The graphics may be date and the user interface was highly dubious. Were there not nuggets of Expanded Universe lore like Arden Lyn and the Teras Kasi fighting style, this would only be notable for its flaws.” Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi. Sony PlayStation. LucasFilm Games, 1997.
  2. “Well, here’s Jodo Kast. One of several unlockable characters if someone wanted to suffer through this slog. The others include Vader, Mara Jade, a Stormtrooper and Jabba’s Palace Leia.“ Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi. Sony PlayStation. LucasFilm Games, 1997.
  3. “The cover made a lot of promises. Signed a lot of checks that could never be cashed. Pretty though.” Ehrgeiz. Sony PlayStation. SquareSoft, 1998.
  4. “Once one digs into the mechanics and User Experience, it becomes very apparent this was a dilapidated mess.“ Ehrgeiz. Sony PlayStation. SquareSoft, 1998

Resources

  1. “Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi.” Wookieepedia, FANDOM. starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Star_Wars:_Masters_of_Teräs_Käsi. Accessed 8 Feb. 2020.
  2. “Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring.” Final Fantasy Wiki, FANDOM. finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Ehrgeiz:_God_Bless_the_Ring. Accessed 8 Feb. 2020.
  3. Walker, Alex. “1997 Was Probably The Best Year For Video Games.” Kotaku UK, G/O Media, 28 July 2018. kotaku.co.uk/2018/07/28/1997-was-probably-the-best-year-for-video-games.
  4. Livershot187. “Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi – Arcade Mode Luke Skywalker Playthrough PS1 (No Commentary).” YouTube, YouTube, 13 Jan. 2017. youtube.com/watch?v=SfFpEfS4k3w.
  5. MgameP1. “Tekken 1 Gameplay PS1.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Dec. 2012. youtube.com/watch?v=KUtEr25l928.
  6. Cinemassacre. “Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi (PS1) – Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN).” YouTube, YouTube, 13 Dec. 2017. youtube.com/watch?v=iA2borlKZA4.
  7. “Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring.” Final Fantasy Wiki, FANDOM. finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Ehrgeiz:_God_Bless_the_Ring.  Accessed 8 Feb. 2020.
  8. Austin Eruption. “Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring – Austin Eruption.” YouTube, YouTube, 14 Aug. 2014. youtube.com/watch?v=7-kNt0QVhX8.
  9. Major, David. “Ehrgeiz PSX Cloud Strife Longplay.” YouTube, YouTube, 7 Sep. 2015. youtube.com/watch?v=IDo1I80NrYo.
  10. EmeraldArcadeTV. “Ehrgeiz: Yuffie Playthrough (Hardest Difficulty).” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Mar. 2016. youtube.com/watch?v=HeCLMNLEadg.