The latest title on my hitlist reveals itself as Project Justice. Released in late 2000, it is the sequel to the cult classic Rival Schools: United by Fate, which dropped in 1997. Over the series' lifetime, it hasn't gotten much spread, but it has made its way to arcades, of course, as well as Playstation, Dreamcast, and Playstation 3 through the PSN store.
This game is a 3D fighter, which is 1D more than I'm used to playing with. I've never been super comfortable with the Z-Axis being added into the mix, as far as fighters go. Although it's a 3D game, it has a lot of qualities of a 2D fighter like special moves and super moves, and nowhere near the expansive movelist of the norm set in place by games like Tekken/Virtua Fighter/Soul Calibur.
The game is relatively simple, without too many complex mechanics. You can pick three characters, but you only fight with one. The other two are support, giving you access to various team attacks with enough meter, and letting you switch the characters in between rounds. You can chain your normals into each other, regardless of whether or not they hit. Some normals cannot cancel into other normals, and some normals cannot cancel into specials. Some specials also don't appear to be able to be canceled into, and all specials altogether appear to be incapable of cancelling into a super. When blocking, the player can Alpha Counter into one of their specials, with added startup to the move. There is a "launcher" button or two for each character, which can be super jumped after to chase the opponent into an air combo.
Bits & pieces about how this game was put together really bug me. I'm never a fan of case-by-case rules on cancelling into or from specific moves, and I don't like being unable to cancel a special into a super. These conditions lead to some characters being unable to easily confirm, or being unable to confirm into super moves altogether. Many Burning Vigors absolutely have to be done raw and some characters (Chairperson) have no way of successfully confirming into a super at all!
In fact, let's take a moment to take about Chairperson. As far as the super goes, it appears that they intentionally removed the option of giving her a super confirm. Eyeballing it, her crouching roundhouse and fierce have the most hitstun, and this move isn't able to cancel into her fastest (but still incredibly slow) super, but it can cancel into the slower super. She has no way to confirm, and some of her specials are incredibly lackluster. Her opponent recovers before she does on hit using her DP, and most of her moves give the opponent plenty of time to block or react in some way. Her light normals are also pretty stubby, so I'm not really sure what they intended for this character when they made her. If she did massive damage I would think that she'd be a heavy risk/reward character, but she doesn't.
While I had the most issues with Chairperson, she wasn't the only one I had a problem with. While none as extensively as her, a few characters here and there had outright bizarre choices behind their movesets. For example, Zaki, the "Female Delinquent" character, has an attack with a chain. Two versions, light and heavy. The light version is perfectly timed, very good for a fighting game. The heavy version, however, has more startup than many of the slow supers in the game, a very obvious chain whirling animation followed up by an honestly mediocre move, with no way to cancel the animation.
These type of design choices that bother me are all throughout the game. There are some combos that will make the super drop, and certain opening moves will make a special miss the opponent. There are some super moves that, in and of themselves, look like they drop a hit or two, like Kyosuke's kick super. There are also several instances of a light version being more powerful, or at least seeming more powerful than the heavy version, which is just odd no matter how I think about it. There are also some moves that knock the opponent into the air without allowing for an air combo, leading to those just being useless moves in every way.
Now, I don't want to be a big bully when it comes to the game's design, so I will point out some bits I did like. Most of the characters, as mechanical characters, I either was okay with or didn't like. There were none that stood out, but there was a mechanic I liked. When performing an overhead, there are shiny sparkles that appear, letting both players know that it can't be blocked low. Most of these moves cause knockdown, and I don't believe any of them are special cancellable. I like this idea, and the notion of coloring the character to announce what properties it's in also works for Super Armor, which is denoted by the character becoming all green (easily seen during team attacks and Hayato's super). It's a really nice touch, especially considering the time it came out. One thing I would have liked to see in addition to these would be the character shining red when invincible, and any move that causes spinning knockdown to have a whirlwind around it. Boman has this on one of his specials, and I didn't realize how great of an indicator it was until I got to him. While it's not necessary or even particularly useful, it is just cool to see.
Doing some reading up on the game, it appears to have been considered the 3D MVC of its day, though I'm not quite sure I agree with that. The title probably came from no other game at the time having crazy supers, chained normals, and super jumps. Those things are mainstay in many anime games today, so that bit of the game seems much less sensational. By less sensational, I am exclusively referring to the mechanics of this game; characters have so much personality and charm that I regularly busted out laughing at crazy scenarios and unique super moves.
Honestly, most of what I have to say about the game is gushing about how unique and quirky the cast is. Ran, for example, is incredibly fun. Using her camera while she fights gives her a unique feel, even amoung the incredibly diverse cast, seeming like an aggressive paparazzi. She is a little reminiscent of Frank West from UMVC3, but she feels particularly unique even then.
Some of the characters had me laughing out loud at how crazy their moves were. Chairperson, for example, has a super that consists of her lecturing her opponent, dealing damage with the raw power of her disapproval. Nagare also has one of the funniest attacks of all time, with his team attack forcing the opponent and the point character to participate in a synchronized swimming routine. Other characters had hilarious team moves, like Momo, but two of my favorites were Hayato and Natsu. Hayato's team attack, he literally beats you (his teammate) on the back with his bamboo sword until you get enough GUTS to fire a giant fireball! Natsu is funny probably in part due to the older graphics, but she appears to be giving a pep talk while rubbing her teammate's face in her chest, then slapping them on the butt, which gives entirely other implications about her as a character.
As far as the combo system goes, most characters revolve around either ABC ⇒ super, or ABC ⇒ launcher, ABCABC ⇒ super. The biggest variant from this formula I found was Akira, the Judo girl with iron gauntlets. I like her a lot as a design, and hers was the most damaging confirmable combo I found. Starting from a great poke, she gets what seems like 100 damage off of ABC ⇒ special ⇒ jump ⇒ ABCD ⇒ super. I'm not confident that it's the most damaging thing in the game, but it seems really high from the other stuff I tested.
For a game with such a diverse cast, it's unfortunate actually that many characters from these games never really appeared anywhere else in Capcom. Batsu showed up in a couple other games, having the most outside cameos out of the cast, but he's in my opinion one of the least interesting characters in the game. It's honestly unfortunate, I would love to see Ran or Akira become a mainstay in Capcom games like Morrigan and Hsien-Ko have, and honestly I would enjoy a sequel to this game. All the little problems and bugs and nonsensical decisions aside, this game was genuinely fun, and there is more personality here than I've ever seen in a Street Fighter title.
If you'd like to play this game with people, though, I'm not quite sure where to direct you. I don't see much tournament footage online, and the SRK Wiki is barren outside of base mechanics. It may be hard to find someone to play with, but if you do, this is a great time to have with a friend. Anyway, that's all for now.
Until next time, as always, play what you love and love what you play.