Squaresoft take a step away from their usual RPG format for Tobal No.1, a solid fighter with some surprising additions

Developer:Dream Factory/Square

Square have never been known to do things half-heartedly. While other development teams turn out the same games over and over, with only minor modifications to the engines, Square consistently go that extra mile. Take a look at the Final Fantasy VII demo that comes with Tobal No.1 and you ll instantly know what I m talking about. The attention to detail, the depth of gameplay, the gorgeous animation - all of these set Square apart from the rest.

It s no surprise, then, that Square should go to such lengths to produce Tobal. Not content to let just any old guy create their fighter breakthrough, Square enlisted the help of Seiichi Ishii, who had previously worked on both Tekken and Virtua Fighter, impressive credentials by anyone s standards. On these strengths, Square helped Ishii start his own development company, Dream Factory. Tobal No.1, their first release, is nothing short of spectacular.

Tobal is something of an anomaly in today s texture-mapped world. The Gouraud shaded polygons seem almost retro next to Tekken 2, but there is a method to this apparent madness. By leaving the unnecessary details out, Ishii has been able to run Tobal at an incredible 60 fps, as well as take advantage of the PlayStation s 640 x 480 high resolution mode. The end result is breathtaking. The animation is so butter smooth, you d swear you were watching an FMV. (Check out those movies if you don t believe me.)

Control is nothing less than perfect, with an incredibly intuitive motion configuration. Pressing up and down on the directional button moves you in and out of the screen, respectively. This allows for much more freedom of movement than the traditional Toshinden diving-dodge move, which, although 3D, rarely allows for behind-the-back attacks. Tobal has also introduced an interesting grapple move, which allows you to grab your opponent and, depending on your button execution, throw them in a myriad of ways.

And then there s the Quest mode. At first this weird RPG/fighter hybrid may seem a little out of place. That is, until you remember it s primarily a Square game. If nothing else, the Quest mode lets you take a little exploratory break from all the button mashing. It also frees up some interesting hidden characters.

Tobal No.1 isn t perfect, I ll give you that. A little more variety in the characters moves would certainly be welcome, as would more special moves. Tobal is, however, willing to take some much-needed chances with the established fighter model, and for that it should be commended. The Quest mode and new 3D movement make Tobal not so much revolutionary, but evolutionary. Hopefully more developers will look to Dream Factory s example in the future.