Ah, Toshinden - the ultimate example of a game that was in the right place at the right time. Now it is becoming less and less relevant as time marches on. While the first game played decently - and looked great - the sequels have not improved on it significantly, and Toshinden Subaru is no exception.
Most everyone who was around for the PlayStation's launch, in any country, played Toshinden. It looked great - way better than anything on the Saturn. It was instantly popular, and was deemed so important to the US launch that Sony itself licensed and published it. As the PS wore on, Playmates Interactive, the now-defunct publisher of the second and third games in the US, brought us Tamsoft's increasingly irrelevant efforts. Fast forward to 1999 and a fourth Toshinden makes the scene - instead of having a name as prosaic as "Toshinden 4," it's been christened Toshinden Subaru, after the main character, who is the son of Eiji, the main character of the previous Toshinden games.
Eiji has turned evil, it seems, and left his son a legacy of fighting style, burning spirit, and spiky hair. Kayin's adoptive daughter, Naru, has grown up blond and violent, just like her father, who was always Ken to Eiji's Ryu. She and Subaru team up and enter the arena with their green-haired cohort Rook. While his origins remain unclear, it is possible that he's the son of Ellis, also from the previous Toshinden games. For whatever reason - maybe because it was a trendy thing to do and Tekken had done it first - this game takes place several years after the last one in the series, and you'll be playing as either the offspring of the original characters or as their new young friends. For some other totally inexplicable reason - maybe the popularity of King of Fighters or Virtua Fighter 3tb - the story mode is team-only and you must play in groups of three.
Now, it hardly needs to be said that what had worked in 1994 doesn't always work these days. The unresponsive control of Toshinden was more forgivable when 3D games were a novelty - and the graphics were the best around. Now the graphics are decidedly mediocre, and we have much better examples of 3D fighting gameplay available. Instead of moving along with the times, Tamsoft has stuck to the roots it had laid down in the original game, and that means that Subaru does not play well.The control is awkward. There's a lot of delay between what you're trying to do and what your character does. There is much that is excessively powerful or, conversely, utterly ineffectual about the special and super moves. Some moves manage to do both, depending on where the other fighter is when you attack. What seemed innovative - dodging on the L1 and L2 buttons - seems limiting these days; with the advent of other games' much freer motile capabilities, a slow roll out of the way just doesn't seem particularly useful. Slow and unresponsive is basically the best way to sum this game up. In terms of control, there must be at least twenty better PS fighters, both 2D and 3D.
As with gameplay, Tamsoft has failed to bring the graphics of Toshinden into the present day. While there are some artistic touches - elements of the character models look nice, and some of the texture maps are extremely well done - in general, the graphics are blocky and unattractive. The characters are squat and chubby, and their faces look terrible. The backgrounds range from tacky and overdone to utilitarian and unadorned. There is not a single truly attractive moment in this game. Where the graphics go, so goes the music - it's hard even to notice it. The game also sports, without a doubt, the longest loading times yet of a PlayStation fighting game.
Sure, the voice samples are good, there's a nice anime opening, the character designs are interesting, the plot is involved, if cliché... it just doesn't add up to anything substantial when the main parts of the game are so subpar. The truth is that no matter how much work is put into a mediocre fighting game, it stays mediocre, and nothing can save it. The developers obviously cared about this game, the Toshinden characters, their offspring and the motivations behind what they do. Unfortunately, it is impossible for anyone else but the most enthusiastic fans of the series to do so.