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Cover of the Sega Mega Drive version of Eternal Champions, painted by Julie Bell
|Developer(s)||Sega Interactive Development Division|
|Release date(s)||Mega Drive/Genesis
|Mode(s)||Single player, 2-player versus mode|
Eternal Champions is a fighting game originally conceived by Scott Berfield, produced by Mike Latham for Sega of America, and developed by Sega Interactive Development Division in 1993. It was one of the only fighting games of its time developed from the ground up as a home console title, rather than being released in arcades first and later ported to home systems, as was the standard during that era.
Sega released Eternal Champions for their Mega Drive/Genesis in 1993, hoping to capitalize on the fighting game mania that the game industry was in the midst of following the massive success of Street Fighter II (1991) and Mortal Kombat (1992). The game tried to set itself apart with unique features like a heavier emphasis on its story, characters pulled from different time periods, reflectable projectiles, force fields, fighters that carried weapons, a training mode where players had to defend themselves against robotic traps, a novel method of executing moves, and elaborate stage-specific finishing moves called "Overkills".
Two years later, the sequel Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side (sometimes known as Eternal Champions CD or Eternal Champions 2) was released for the Mega-CD/Sega CD. There were also two spin-offs, action/adventure games set in the Eternal Champions universe and featuring some of its characters. Eternal Champions was added to the Wii's Virtual Console download service on December 3, 2007, where it became the first game to be rated 18 by PEGI in the service.
The game followed the typical eight-way directional pad/stick with six-button layout common to most fighting games at the time (more commonly in this case, Street Fighter II), forcing users of the standard three-button Mega Drive/Genesis controller to purchase a more elaborate, six-button controller or else use an inconvenient method of switching between punches and kicks by pressing start, as this game was especially developed to be played with the Sega Activator. The joystick or D-pad is used to move away, towards, jump and crouch. There were three punches and three kicks that vary based upon speed and power. The weakest punches and kicks are fast but do minimal damage, medium attacks are a good mix of recovery speed and damage, and strong attacks are the most powerful but recover the slowest. Attacks can be blocked by pressing away (for high attacks) or down and away (for low attacks). Grapples are executed by standing close to an opponent and pressing toward or away and either medium or the strong punch button. These attacks cannot be blocked or escaped.
Each character has their own unique special attacks that are performed differently from those of other characters. If a character is hit several times in a row they become "dizzy" and their opponent can land a free attack. In Eternal Champions, all special move commands are performed by either pressing multiple buttons together, or holding back or down to charge and then pressing towards or up together with a button. There are no rolling motions in this game, and a given special move may only be performed with a specific button.
As seen in Art of Fighting released the previous year, Eternal Champions has a "special attack meter" that decreases each time a character performed a special move such as a projectile; different special attacks decreased the meter by different amounts and the characters each have a taunt move that decreases their opponent's special attack meter as well. This feature gave Eternal Champions an added element of strategy that made it unique among similar titles of its genre at the time, though it was not without its critics: while its intention was to keep the action fast-paced by preventing fighters from trading endless projectiles from opposite ends of the screen and barring players from cheap wins due to repeated hits on opponents trapped at the edge of the screen, players found they could exploit the game's controls to achieve wins by retreating into a defensive shell to constantly recharge their meter or by circumventing special moves altogether and blitzing their opponent with a flurry of simple button presses. Characters that had more dynamic normal attacks tended to dominate. A problem with the special attack meter on the Sega Mega Drive original game is that when in tournament mode (the main single player arcade mode), the computer opponent operates independently of its special attack power availability. In other words, the computer can repeatedly do special moves even after its meter has reached zero.
The game introduces stage-specific finishing moves called Overkills. These are performed by defeating an opponent such that they fall upon a certain area of ground. If they land in the right spot, the life bars disappear and some element of the background kills them. The Overkills include being pulled underwater and mauled to death by carnivorous plants in Trident's level, knocked into the flaming stake in Xavier's level, electrocuted and vaporized by the neon sign in Shadow's level, eaten whole and then having an item of clothing or weapon spat out by a Tyrannosaurus in Slash's level, killed in a drive-by shooting in Larcen's level; getting frozen, disintegrated, and swept up by robots in R.A.X's level; being swallowed up by an earthquake in Jetta's level, having a napalm bomb dropped on the loser's body in Midknight's level, and getting knocked into a large exhaust fan in Blade's level.
An ominscent being known as the Eternal Champion predicts that mankind will soon fade to existence due to the untimely and unjust deaths of key individuals throughout history who were destined for greatness. Seeking to restore balance to the world, the Eternal Champion gathers these souls from time moments before their deaths to participate in a fighting tournament. The victor will be able to change their fate and bring balance to the universe, whilst the losers will be forced to live out their deaths just as history intended.
Unlike most fighting games, or video games in general, there are no characters in this game that are "bad" or "evil". Each character has been chosen because they are either inherently good, or they have the potential to do great good and change the course of history for the better. Despite the ability to kill opponents in this game, this is not relevant to the story. Much like games such as Mortal Kombat (which pioneered finishing moves in fighting games), the game's "Overkills" are not canon and simply a gameplay element for the enjoyment of the player. It is actually revealed in a few character endings that some of the fighters had become allies or friends during the course of the tournament.
Sega sent the original version of Eternal Champions back to the artists because "the women [characters] were not as clothed as they should have been." To choose the game's characters, Sega held a biweekly 'focus group' made up of all ages, where a list of archetype characters (pirate, ninja, etc.) were voted on, after the number was whittled down to 50 characters, loose sketches were drawn, which were then reviewed by 'kid testers' and finally reduced to ten resulting in the nine characters of the game, including the Eternal Champion.
The cartridge also was the second "packaged game" to be included with the Sega Activator, an elaborate infrared ring controller that players stood in and punched and kicked in order to make the characters perform different combat movements. It was one of only a few games that actually recognized the Activator and took advantage of most of the features of the unit. The player using the Activator was given an advantage of receiving 50% less and inflicting 50% more damage than the player using a regular controller.
Promotion and merchandise
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A Slurpee flavor entitled "Sega Eternal Champions Cherry" was once available in 7-Eleven stores throughout the United States. It came in cups with pictures of the characters on them, and the bottom of the cup contained a temporary tattoo. There was also a special cash & rebate promotion in July 1993 that was featured on MTV.
Two gamebooks, "The Cyber Warriors" and "Citadel of Chaos," were released by Puffin Books, in which the reader controls the newest Champion and travels through time helping the game characters battle a megalomaniacal artificial intelligence called the Overlord, who is bent on replacing them with duplicates so that they cannot change the course of history for the better. Both books were released as sticker albums by Panini in 1993.
Eternal Champions was adapted by the UK Sega Magazine's Sonic the Comic in a stand-alone magazine Eternal Champions Special, which introduced the main characters and served as an adaptation to the game. The characters also appeared in two stories in the main Sonic the Comic series, first in Eternal Champions (issues 19-24) and then Larcen's Revenge (issues 37-40) which dealt with Larcen Tyler returning to 1920s Chicago and working with Shadow Yamoto to take down the crime boss who killed him. Eternal Champions was the only non-Sonic-related Sega property to receive a special issue of Sonic the Comic.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony have sampled music from this game for the instrumentals of several of their songs. The songs "Eternal" and "Crossroad" (not to be confused with their song, "Tha Crossroads") are the most notable cases of using Eternal Champions for their beats. However, Bone does not mention Sega in the album credits for using their copyrighted music. The cartoon show "Courage the Cowardly Dog" also employed some of the same audio loops (probably included with the same software) as bases for creepy background music.
Electronic Gaming Monthly sponsored Eternal Champions tournaments in different cities throughout the United States as part of a roaming video game show. The game, however, was not yet completed so the participants were only given the choice of four characters to play as: Shadow, R.A.X, Larcen and Slash. The winner of the finals would receive a copy of the game (when it was finished), a leather lettermans jacket with an embroidered Eternal Champions logo on it, and a resin plaque with the Bushido symbol (used in the game's logo) on it.
Eternal Champions: Special Moves Edition
A handheld game by Tiger and a part of the Sega Tiger Electronic Pocket Arcade game series, it is basically a small and simple remake of Eternal Champions. It includes all nine characters and the Eternal Champion as a playable character. This version has three different types of gameplay, one-on-one, one against three, and team battle.
Eternal Champions received generally mediocre reviews. IGN gave the Virtual Console release a 6 out of 10, criticizing its difficult to learn play mechanics and absurd cast of characters. The review praised the game's story, training mode, and "inner strength meter" but concluded "it's not likely that many players who've never previously heard of the game will have the patience to spend that much time getting to know it." Electronic Gaming Monthly similarly gave the game a 6.25 out of 10 upon the original release.
In 2006, IGN ranked the game's finishing moves ("Overkills") as the best gore effects in video game history. In 2011, Complex included it on the list of ten "most blatant Mortal Kombat ripoffs", but added that it was "one of the more successful faux-MK fighters" and "the only thing that sucked was the difficulty." Complex also featured it on the 2012 list of the 25 Sega franchises they would like to see revisited, as "the game's cast of female assassins, beastmen and gladiators was so offbeat, it made them more awesome," and ranked it as the 24th best 2D fighting game of all time in 2013.
Though Eternal Champions saw strong sales and was at one point a popular enough property to warrant a sequel, a remake, two spin-offs, and various multimedia tie-ins, after the planned third game in the core fighting series was cancelled Sega hasn't produced any new product for the franchise. The entire series has also been absent from the compilations of Sega Genesis games that have been released on various platforms over the years.
Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side kept the special attack meter but made most special attacks use less of the meter than in the previous game. Therefore the characters gained a multitude of special attacks that did not deplete the special attack meter. Three new types of finishing moves were added in Challenge from the Dark Side: a second Overkill in each stage called Sudden Death (that could be activated when the victim still had a little life left), Vendetta, and Cinekill. Combo attacks were also introduced and jumping attacks could be linked to ground attacks and most normal attacks could be linked into other normal attacks. In addition, the game was significantly more violent and bloody than its predecessor, especially in the new finishing moves.
A third and a final title Eternal Champions: The Final Chapter was advertised for the Sega Saturn, but the game was cancelled shortly after beginning production, in order to push the Virtua Fighter series in the United States. According to an interview with Michael Latham, this decision was made by Sega of Japan:
Sega of Japan felt that Eternal Champions was keeping Virtua Fighter from being more successful in the US and that it would be better if the company focused on only one franchise.. ..and as Sega is a Japanese company, the Japan side won. It was a crushing blow, and was the only time in working nearly a decade at Sega I considered quitting. I mainly stayed with the hope to change that decision, but sadly never could. Even when we did the NetFighter project for Heat.net, we weren't able to use the Eternal characters as a hidden bonus. From Japan's view the game never existed, in spite of its stellar sales and even offers to do comic books and a cartoon around it.
There are two video games which are spin-offs of the main Eternal Champions series, and are considered as being part of alternate universes to the main story of the core games, starring several popular Eternal Champions characters.
The first game is Chicago Syndicate, which was released for the Sega Game Gear portable platform in 1995. The plot is based in an alternate reality where Larcen Tyler did not die in 1920 as stated in Eternal Champions, and now seeks revenge on the mafia for their attempt on his life. It is a 2D action/platform game.
The second game, X-Perts, is a side-scrolling beat-em-up released in 1996 for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. Like Chicago Syndicate, its plot is based in an alternate reality, this time one where Shadow Yamoto did not die in 1993, and instead went on to form a team that sets out to take down the Black Orchid group in revenge for their attempt on Shadow's life.
- "Women, of a sort, enter Mortal Kombat", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 29, 1995.
- Sega Visions, February–March 1994.
- Sega Visions, June–July 1994.
- (January 3, 2008). Virtual Console version review, IGN.
- List of Eternal Champions reviews, GameFAQs.com. Retrieved June 29, 2012.
- "Top 10 Tuesday: Best Gore Effects". IGN. April 4, 2006. Archived from the original on 2010-08-09. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
- "The Klone Wars: The 10 Most Blatant "Mortal Kombat" Rip-Offs Ever". Complex. 2011-04-18. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
- "25 Sega Franchises We Want To See Revisited". Complex. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
- "The 25 Best 2D Fighting Games of All Time". Complex. 2013-08-15. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
- "Sega-16 Interview: Michael Latham". Sega-16.com. February 8, 2005. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- Eternal Champions at MobyGames
- Eternal Champions at GameFAQs
- Eternal Champions at TV Tropes
- (Japanese) Eternal Champions on the official Virtual Console website