Fighting games take a simple concept - beat the snot out of your opponent without getting beaten yourself - and turn it into a complete game. Good fighting games have enough plot, depth, and character development to carry the simplicity of the gameplay. Rival Schools showed us that a fighting game could have a cool plotline, silly characters, and off-the-deep-end gameplay without sacrificing the quality of the game. Rival Schools Fighting Diary 2 shouldn't be considered a sequel to Rival Schools, but it's still a better game.
The plot still centers on five educational institutes that have been pitched in a bitter rivalry since time began. And, of course, the only way to settle the eternal question of which school is better is to knuckle up and beat each other down. Each university has its five or so fighters, and they each represent their school with the institution's particular brand of athleticism. There's the soccer goalie who specializes in kick attacks, the generic schoolgirls, the volleyball player who spikes flaming balls of death at you, and the swimmer who beats you with his flippers and forces you to synchronize swim with him until you die. Unfortunately, there's only two new characters selectable from the main screen, but the intro hints at more than five new hidden characters.
The graphics aren't any better, or worse, than Rival Schools. At a distance, the 3D models all look OK, but when you go in for a close-up, you'll notice the grainy textures and polygonal breakup. The effects when you start or complete a super-attack are pretty cheesy as well. The backgrounds, all in 2D, are nice enough. Since the gameplay revolves around school life, the fighting takes place in locker rooms and soccer fields, mostly - no exotic locales here. One thing I really did enjoy was the loading screen. There's a ton of character art from the game that randomly switches out while the game is loading. Most of the screens are really cool, and it makes the load time bearable. The sound is pretty good. The opening and ending music is funky J-Pop, but the in-game music is mostly bland instrumentals. The sound effects are standard fighting fare - grunts, shings, and thwaps aplenty. They're all overlookable because of the sheer fun of the fighting engine.
If you think this is a serious game, you're definitely wrong. Capcom went out of its way to take the gameplay into the silly dimension, and the fighting takes a backseat to the sheer wackiness of the characters, special attacks, and team attacks. You still pick two characters - a primary fighter and a reserve fighter, who can be called out for team attacks. The team attacks depend on whom you pick as your secondary fighter - his effects range from the standard multi-hit offensive flurry to the ability to heal your fighter or power up his special-attack meter. Once a round is over, you can switch to your reserve character or stay with your current configuration. The controls are all really easy. Doing a special attack is as simple as hitting L1 or L2, while a team attack is always done by simply hitting two buttons. This makes it especially easy for anyone to play and focuses more on the extreme wackiness of the team or special attacks. Like the import version of the original Rival Schools, Fighting Diary 2 has an edit mode, a survival mode, a training mode, and some minigames. The minigames carry the school theme of the game, with a home-run derby, a goal-kick competition, a track-and-field event, a volleyball serve contest, and a Bust-a-Groove-style dance-off.
Rival Schools Fighting Diary 2 isn't really a sequel by any means. With only two new characters and no real change in the gameplay it's not that much different from Rival Schools. However, it's still a lot of fun and does feature the edit mode. From an importer's point of view, there's enough Japanese in the game to make the edit mode useless to those who aren't fluent in the language but everything else is easy enough to figure out. If you don't own any version of Rival Schools and don't mind not knowing exactly what everything says, I would suggest importing Fighting Diary 2. However, if you're looking for something new in the Rival Schools universe, you'd be well advised to wait until Capcom releases a real sequel.