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Weaponlord (sometimes WeaponLord) is a 1- or 2-player fighting game originally designed for release on the Super Nintendo by Visual Concepts, and published by Namco. During the inception of the title, the development team also began work on a Sega Mega Drive/Genesis version and both were released in October of 1995. WeaponLord introduced many groundbreaking gameplay aspects that appear regularly today. Also unlike other titles, WeaponLord was not intended to replicate an arcade fighter, but built from the ground up on home consoles. This was a reverse of the normal trend, which had arcade versions being developed first, then getting ported in home consoles.
On a battlefield a demon spirit enters the body of a dying mercenary. He is reborn and defeats the reigning war king in a duel. He goes on to found the reign of the DemonLord Zarak. At the height of his power, his doom is foretold by a shaman
- "When the night turns violent and the moon bleeds, gripped by the skeletal fingers of death...a child will rise to face the demon in combat...and the lord of demons will fall by the hand of...the WeaponLord."
Against the advice of his lieutenants to kill the children born that night, the DemonLord waits to face his foretold killer in fair, one on one combat. 25 years later, sensing the prophecy is at hand, the DemonLord holds a great tournament of champion warriors. The winner will face the demon in a final battle. The Demonlord prepares to meet his destiny head on and to destroy the WeaponLord.
At its core, WeaponLord is a standard 2D fighting game experience. Where it differs is in its gameplay mechanics, and in some of its aesthetic choices and presentation. Some of WeaponLord's more original features were:
- Thrust-Blocking - An aggressive blocking system two years ahead of Street Fighter III's similar Parry System.
- Multiple Endings - Characters would have completely different ending sequences depending on which opponents were spared or killed with a Death Combo during the Story Mode.
- Weapon-To-Weapon - When two player's weapon's clash at the same time, a struggle ensues to see who can overpower the other.
- Weapon Breaking - Character's weapons can be broken. This occurs when a Weapon-to-weapon struggle happens, and one player immediately Two-in-One's into a special move. This breaks off a portion of their opponent's weapon, greatly reducing their range and damage capabilities.
- Deflect - Each character has one special move that acts as a Deflect. This is similar to a thrust block, as it collides with an enemy's strike, knocks it backward...but it then automatically hits the character while they're off-guard.
- Take Downs - Certain special moves that also knock an opponent onto their back. A player can then follow up with additional attacks while their foe is still on the floor.
- Hair/Clothing Trim - When certain attacks are performed on an opponent in mid-swing, the player can cut off a piece of their clothing or their hair. An added humiliation.
- Password System - A password is given at the end of a match, so the player can always return to the middle of a game, if need be. A secret password is also given so the DemonLord Zarak is playable in Story Mode.
- Death Combos - Unlike Mortal Kombat or Primal Rage, Death Combos are a certain string of regular and special moves that each have a gory effect on their opponents. These combos take skill and timing to master, and can also be done in a few different sequences. Some effects include disembowellings, decapitations, head splittings which expose the brain, and body pulp; which tears away most of the flesh from the torso.
One major aspect of 2D fighting games that WeaponLord really distinguished for itself were its special moves. In most 2D fighters, a character possessing 5 special moves was considered overly-plentiful, but all of WeaponLord's fighters possessed between 9-12 special moves each. This was a huge number of options for a player to have available to them, and really gave WeaponLord its complexity. In addition, special moves were done in 3 completely different ways.
- Instant-Motion Moves - The standard motion for most special moves in fighting games. A directional movement such as down-to-forward, followed quickly by an attack button.
- Charge-Motion Moves - Another staple, where a directional button is held for 2 seconds quickly followed by the opposite direction, and finally an attack button.
- Hold-Down Moves - A rarity among fighters, the player must first hold down an attack button, followed by a directional motion, and finish it by releasing said attack button.
- Korr - An unequaled swordsman searching for his lost brother.
- Divada - Power-hungry sorceress yearning to destroy the DemonLord.
- Bane - A cursed barbarian savage hunting for revenge and redemption. (Note: A Bane-like costume for Rock was also available in Soul Calibur III)
- Jen-Tai - Warrior Queen of the Arenas, rising to meet the ultimate challenge.
- Talazia - A forest-dwelling princess, destined to end the demon's rule.
- Zorn - An opportunistic thief who secretly wishes to kill his master, Zarak.
- Zarak - The DemonLord himself, who desires to face his foretold killer.
WeaponLord was originally designed for the Super Nintendo, and as such, was the much better looking and sounding version of the game. There were far more colors and detail on the sprites and backgrounds, as usually was the case when it came to fighting games during the 16-bit era. Sound effects and music were also richer, and voice samples were generally clearer.
The Sega Mega Drive/Genesis version also suffered from a reduced screen size, where the upper half of the screen was blacked out to display the health bars and timer. The SNES version had the upper health information floating over the stage background, as is standard in fighting titles.
However, the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis version is considered the slightly faster of the two, and also worked well with the 6-button Genesis controller which was designed with fighting games in mind.
Intentions of a second Weaponlord were clear from many of the character endings in the game, in which it was revealed that an evil entity, perhaps more powerful than Zarak the Demonlord himself, was an influential force in both the individual stories and overall plot. However, due to the demise of the 16-bit generation within a year or so afterward, Weaponlord 2 never came to be. Despite excellent sales and high praise, Visual Concepts never began work on the second game. It is believed that Namco still holds publication rights to the Weaponlord name.
Critical acclaim and release
WeaponLord was a highly anticipated game for the 16-bit systems, as it was the first developed exclusively for both consoles. In the past, game developers had cut back on some features when it came to both versions of the same game, or more improved versions were released later on. WeaponLord was praised for its graphics, animation and music, and its deep and involving story. One of the main criticisms against WeaponLord, however, was that it was too complex and too unforgiving for most casual players to enjoy. Its cast was also minuscule when compared to similar titles that boasted 16 characters or more. Unfortunately, with it also being released after the Sega Saturn and slightly before the original PlayStation, WeaponLord didn't get much time in the spotlight.
Due to the unique "Fatality Combo" system, exceptional players could chain together a horrific series of death moves before the final strike. Because of the nature of the fatalities (body pulping and evisceration), Weaponlord was considered to be the goriest game of its time, far surpassing even Mortal Kombat in its levels of blood, violence and gore. Despite the level of gore, both versions retained a rating of T for Teen.
One criticism stemming from the Death Combo system concerned the fact that players who were not skilled in performing Death Combos would have the difficulty of the game increase tenfold, since the "sub-boss" of the game was essentially the player fighting every character that they did not kill with a Death Combo, one after the other. If said player did not kill any opponent, they would then have to fight every single opponent over again before facing Zarak. However, due to the complexity of the game's combo system, most players would already have to be skiled in the game's mechanics to truly advance in story mode, as the game was nearly impossible for the average button-masher to pick up and play.
Visual Concepts had an incredibly tight schedule to complete the game, and the decision to add a Sega Mega Drive/Genesis version came later into the development cycle than most other multi-platform titles.
- Zarak was the only character in the game to feature his own signature fatality. It was originally intended for all of the characters to have a unique death combo but due to the apparent rush to get Weaponlord out the door (due to the imminent demise of 16-bit), only Zarak's was completed. It is still rumored by loyal fans that there are unique finishers for the characters, such as Korr performing a full body split a la Kung Lao from Mortal Kombat 2, though slicing from groin to skull rather than vice versa. Unique finishers for other characters however are yet to be, and likely never will be discovered.
- Both Jenn-Tai and Zorn's endings allude to a more powerful entity at large, with Zorn's Demon Shield being the imprisoned spirit of said evil. This was intended to lead into Weaponlord 2, which never came to be.
- Many characters were left out of the final version of the game, including a unique goblin duo that sat chicken-fight style on each other's shoulders. Due to the nature of the game mechanics, it was decided that this character would not work out. Other characters included a samurai-like warrior as well as a demon warrior similar to the mysterious being featured in Jenn-Tai's extended ending.
- Weaponlord was the only fighting game of the time, and perhaps the first fighting game ever, to feature multiple endings per character based on who was or was not killed with a Death Combo during gameplay.
- Visual Concepts is no longer in business. Though the team that originally worked on Weaponlord has since broken apart and moved on, there are indications that Namco still possesses rights to Weaponlord and its franchises. It was rumored in 1998 that Namco was working on a weapons-based fighter that was not related to the Soul Edge/Calibur games, and that it was based on an existing Namco property that would be going 3D for the first time. The title was never named and was silently dissolved over the following months. Many continue to speculate that it was indeed Weaponlord 2, since Namco had no other weapons-based fighting franchise at the time.
- For years after its release, Weaponlord was often pitted against Eternal Champions (Sega CD version) in internet message board disputes as being the bloodiest game of all time.
Visual Concepts staff
- Original Concept: James Goddard
- Programming: SNES: Stephen Theodore Chiang, Sega Mega Drive: Aki Rimpilainen
- Lead Artist: Alvin Cardona
- Design / Animation: Omar Velasco, Fred Wong, Ray Wong, Ken J. Shibata
- Game Design: James Goddard, David Winstead, Fred Corchero Jr., Stephen Theodore Chiang
- Technical Design: Stephen Theodore Chiang, Aki Rimpilainen
- Producer: James Goddard
- Associate Producer: David Winstead
- Additional Software Engineer: Tim Meekins
- Original Background Paintings: Glenn Kim
- Background Art: Steve Paris, Alvin Cardona, David L. Lee, Leandro Penaloza, Ray Wong
- Music & Sound Effects: Brian Schmidt