Sailor Moon SuperS: Zenin Sanka!! Shuyaku Sōdatsusen

The massive impact of Sailor Moon, both in its native Japan and overseas, can not be overstated. It was among the most influential anime of its time worldwide, it proved that action anime for girls could become hit franchises, and the series would remain relevant to this very day, eclipsing even its own 2015 remake. Video games were sure to follow, but something strange, perhaps monumental, happened when publisher Angel decided to make a fighting game.

Saturn has a wildly-unbalanced moveset full of ranged attacks that are fast, powerful, and hard to dodge

Sailor Moon SuperS: Zenin Sanka!! Shuyaku Sōdatsusen is an upgraded version of its predecessor “Sailor Moon S: Jōgai Rantō!? Shuyaku Sōdatsusen”. While the game was published by Angel, development was handled by the then-inexperienced Arc System Works, a developer that is nowadays among the most celebrated and established fighting game experts in the industry. Sailor Moon was their first fighting game and, in it, you see a lot of the primordial elements that would define their later series.

The setup for the game is somewhat awkward. Its story mode is little more than a trip through its character roster, having you fight all of the Sailor Guardians in succession with only two lines of dialogue preceding each battle. This roster features the main characters from the show, alongside the Outer Guardians that were introduced in Sailor Moon S… even though those characters were famously absent in Sailor Moon SuperS, for which this game is meant to be a tie-in. Compared to the last game, this roster is expanded with the addition of Sailor Saturn, who at this point in the story is literally the least likely character to be added.

One of the game’s few story cutscenes

Regrettably, the character sprites aren’t exactly good either, especially for Pluto, Uranus, and Saturn. They don’t quite look themselves and are weirdly proportioned compared to the other Sailor Guardians, whose sprites were just recycled from an earlier beat ’em up game. This also leads to some strange animations like Uranus’ weird stance or Chibiusa launching herself into the stratosphere with every jump.

On the flipside, characters do have their iconic moves and they are further characterized with sound bites taken from the series, as well as unique animations for when they win, fumble moves, or fall down. The game also features a lot of cool backdrops from across the Sailor Moon series, like Rei’s family shrine or the Dead Moon Circus, which in my book make up for some of the iffier sprite work. The game even features a cool rendition of the anime’s OP, including part of the accompanying animation redone in 16-bit glory

Finishing a close battle with a desperation attack

Let me ask you something, though: what do you expect a fighting game tie-in for an anime directed at young girls to be like? A sensible developer would make more an entry-level game, right? Well, Arc System Works isn’t that sensible developer.

Every character has their own intricate moveset with various kicks & punches, special attacks that are activated with difficult inputs, cancels, grapples, mix-ups, the whole deal. You even have to invest stat points before each battle that changes the strengths of your character. It’s a surprisingly complex game, made almost unplayable for the target audience by an AI that knows how to abuse it.

No matter what mode you play on, the AI is ferocious. It will relentlessly assault you with special moves, mix-ups, and clever strategies executed with close to no delay. It’s incredibly sophisticated for its time, but absurdly hard even for skilled fighting game players. Whether the AI peppers you with projectile attacks while countering your every attempt to get close or gets right in your face with an endless string of combos, it’s difficult to deal with, to the point of sometimes feeling unfair. I was especially disappointed whenever I dodged a special attack and got in close to land some hits, only for the AI to instantly snap out of its animation to grapple me instead.

With only 10 seconds left on the clock, desperation attacks open up for both fighters regardless of health

It’s never impossible, but the game is an uphill battle right from the very start, making it unlikely that young fans of the show will get particularly far. Even an “auto” mode that simplifies the special attacks does little to help, as you still need to learn the timings and opportunities that will make those attacks even land.

Fighting game veterans, meanwhile, are likely to be turned off by some of the game’s design. While it’s not fully random, dashing and using special attacks has a chance of fumbling, leading to you tripping or not doing anything, followed by a goofy animation that freezes you in place for a few moments. The lack of a power meter to restrict spamming special attacks also makes some characters and builds overpowered, which becomes extra ridiculous in the final seconds of any round or when any character is on low health; desperation attacks are extra-powerful super moves that can be triggered in these windows, which can be attempted again and again until they land, without penalty.

I have no moral qualms with this at all

Because it’s too hard for the average players and too unrefined for genre veterans, finding the right audience for this game would be difficult… were it not for the fact that the audience is basically me. I am an older fan of the series for which this game is a tie-in AND I am also a casual fan of fighting games. I enjoy this type of gameplay, I love the characters, but I am not so die-hard that mechanics like random tripping are a death sentence to my enjoyment of a game.

Sailor Moon SuperS was a nice challenge to get my rusty fighting game skills back into shape and, in spite of its balancing issues, the game is very impressive for the Super Nintendo, both in terms of presentation and gameplay complexity. When I beat the final boss I sighed in relief… and then immediately went back in to try other characters.

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