Graveyard: Last Bronx

Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.

One of the most exciting things during the fifth console generation was this massive wave of 3D fighting games; in fact the genre was pretty much born during that time thanks to the seeds planted by AM2’s Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, and the Soul Series, all of these still popular franchises really began during that exciting generation where genres were making a stark transition from 2D to 3D.  The PlayStation and Saturn in particular were housing conversions of the latest arcade releases, and in a time when arcade technology was still leaps and bounds ahead of what home consoles could accomplish, one of the big things was not only how arcade perfect the home conversion was, but also what more it could offer on top of it.

PlayStation and Saturn were competing neck and neck when it came to fighting games. The Saturn, with its bizarre and unique architecture, had the clear advantage when it came to 2D fighting games, but this was a time when the gaming community wanted nothing more than pretty 3D graphics.

It goes without saying that the PlayStation fared better than the Saturn when it came to polygonal fighters, with excellent home conversions which had a plethora of extras added on top. The Saturn held its own fairly well, with near perfect ports of Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighting Vipers, but as good as they were, they felt bare-bones compared to what games like Tekken 3 were offering on the PlayStation. In a time when online gaming on consoles was just a lucid dream, additional single player content was a priority.

The PlayStation got the excellent Soul Edge from Namco, a groundbreaking and amazing accomplishment in both graphics and gameplay, long before the Soul series really left profound dent on the industry with Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast.  Sega didn’t take too long to come up with a refreshing alternative to Soul Edge, as they too introduced a weapon-based 3D fighting game called Last Bronx.

Unlike other 3D fighters on the Saturn, this one did not have AM2’s involvement. Instead, it was AM3 that lead this ambitious project. The arcade release went well, but the real challenge of course was to faithfully bring it home to the Saturn. Much like the other first party studios that were working miracles on the Saturn like it was no big deal, AM3 brought home Last Bronx in nearly pristine condition in no time.

Consistent with the anti-Sony and nonconformist attitude of Sega, Last Bronx is anti-Soul Edge in every possible way. Last Bronx introduced a (then) modern day Japan setting that was infused with a lot of style and personality. The main premise revolved around youth gangs brawling it out in the streets of Tokyo, a clear stark contrast to what Soul Edge was doing, and that alone made Last Bronx a viable alternative for gamers who found knights and swords too boring and square. Like a lot of things Sega were doing at the time, it was edgier and cooler than the norm.

Style and substance is something that Last Bronx has an abundance of, with a cool cast of characters that were pretty much as stylish and hip as you could possibly look during the 90s. It was refreshing seeing a cool cast of urban warriors, and the only other game that did something similar was Capcom’s Rival Schools.

The Saturn version of Last Bronx did more than just bring the arcade experience home, as the amount of extras it offered made it one of the best arcade-to-home releases Sega did for the console. It did more than just the customary versus, survival and time attack modes, as it also offered an animated introduction movie and song, a story mode with animated endings for each character, extra music tracks, and other unlockable stuff. However, if you imported the Japanese version of the game (totally worth it for the inserts), you also received a second disc containing a ton of tutorials and training exercises. Speaking of Japan, the game was popular enough to warrant a live-action film release over there.

As far as fighting games from that era go, Last Bronx was relatively more heavy on story than most. The game’s nine combatants are interrelated in a meaningful way, as they each have their own path and rival in the Saturn (story) mode. The animated cut-scenes were really well drawn, and the endings were voiced too. Ending movies were such a big deal in fighting games during that time, something that no one really cares for in this day and age. Tekken in particular became popular because of its CG animated endings, among other reasons. It was these superficial novelty features that most Saturn 3D fighters were clearly lacking, and so Last Bronx delivered well in the regard.

Last Bronx uses the same control scheme as Virtua Fighter, but to call it Virtua Fighter with weapons is far from the truth, as AM3 created a game that plays much differently to what AM2 could have cooked up. It’s a really fun game, it does not flow as smoothly as Soul Edge or any of the Virtua Fighter games, but it most certainly has a strategic and methodological flow to it. The approach feels quite akin to a weapon-based brawl, where you’re almost taking a fencer’s approach with the poke/retreat style of swordplay. In Last Bronx the arsenal of weaponry include the staples of modern melee warfare: nun-chucks, hammers, sais, staffs, and anything else that fits the street combat theme (you’d almost expect a Ninja Turtle cameo in there somewhere).

Another thing that Last Bronx did, and this is something a lot of people are going to miss, was introduce walled areas that players could really interact with. Long before Dead or Alive 2 made it more obvious, Last Bronx allowed you to execute special moves which required you to be close to a wall, one example being a suplex off the top of the barricade.

The graphics are also one of the stronger suits of the game, at least for a Saturn title. As far 3D on the Saturn goes, Last Bronx is easily one of the better showcases. It runs at a rock-solid framerate like Virtua Fighter 2, and the motion-captured animation is still something you can appreciate given how accurate it looks for its time. And like I mentioned before, the art style and character designs ooze with some good old fashioned ’90s anime culture.

Last Bronx is one of those games that epitomizes what the Saturn stood for, offering a fresh and unique alternative to the popular gaming landscape. It has aged reasonably well, and was last released for the PlayStation 2 as part of the Sega Ages 2500 series in Japan. While it did not go on to spawn a big money franchise like Soul Edge did, Last Bronx is still a good example of one of those creative sparks that you wish more developers exercised today. Whether you play it on the Saturn, PlayStation 2, or even the LAN enabled SEGA PC release, take Last Bronx out of the graveyard for some much needed lovin’.