Back in 1998, PlayStation fans were treated to a lovely gem titled Shiritsu Justice Gakuen: Legion of Heroes, translated in the west as Rival Schools: United by Fate. Two years later, in that magical era of dreams in which the Dreamcast was at its brief peak, the series made the jump to Sega’s console with Moero! Justice Gakuen (Project Justice). Then, unfortunately, the IP sank into semi-obscurity, possibly choked by the demise of the Dreamcast and by the stiff competition during the golden age of fighting games.
The story was simple but interesting, not to mention chock-full of anime tropes in the best Persona-like way possible. In a fictional Japanese city called Aoharu, students of multiple schools fight for supremacy, only to have to unite in order to face a series of mysterious kidnappings.
The crowning jewels to the story are a series of diverse, colorful and interesting characters, from the hot-blooded Batsu Ichimonji to the calm and collected Kyosuke Kagami, passing by all sorts of manga-like heroes and heroines that made it very difficult not to love Rival Schools.
It was a golden, now nearly-forgotten age in which epic stories could have simple premises, and memorable opening songs were still performed by gutsy dudes.
Back in 2013, Produrcer Yoshinori Ono hinted to his desire to create a sequel, followed suit by Director Hideaki Itsuno, who has since moved on to different genres, including the Devil May Cry series and Dragon’s Dogma. Speaking of Dragon’s Dogma, recently Dragon’s Dogma Online received a couple of costumes from Rival Schools featuring Batsu and Hinata. A few characters also appeared as guests in a handful of Capcom’s fighting games.
Of course, this shouldn’t be interpreted as a clear signal of the return of the series, but it’s obvious that several folks at Capcom still fondly remember Justice Gakuen. The first game was especially quite interesting, not only for its story and characters that seemed to be pulled straight out of an anime series, but also due to its Nekketsu Seishun Nikki mode. Basically, it mixed a fighting game with school/dating sims mechanic.
You can pretty easily imagine it as the fighting game version of Persona 5, allowing you to create your character and develop relationships with the game’s established cast through a whole school year, all while learning new moves, playing mini-games, and delving into the story.
I say “imagine” not only due to the game’s age, but also because the mode was (regrettably) cut from the western release due to the amount of localization involved, which is something that happened way too often back then. The sequel turned it into a definitely less-interesting board game, but this also didn’t make it west.
Especially nowadays, with players demanding meaty story modes from fighting games – and often ending up disappointed – an approach similar to Rival Schools could pique the interest of many, without even mentioning that it would be the wet dream of quite a few anime fans. With the Persona series at the peak of its popularity, Capcom would probably have few issues pitching this kind of “school life” gameplay and storytelling to the right audience.
Naturally, the ability to actually create a character in a fighting game, and make him or her gradually grow through the story, is also a rather unique selling point that could set the game apart from the competition.
Incidentally, if you want to try this all for yourself, the original PlayStation version of the first game is currently available on the Japanese PlayStation Store for PS3, PS Vita and PSP, even if it’s probably advisable to get the updated Nekketsu Seisyun Nikki 2 version instead; obviously, you’ll need a Japanese PlayStation Network account to do that.
It’s obvious that bringing back the Rival Schools series with all its features would come with a series of challenges, including the relative obscurity of the IP, a longer localization process compared to most fighting games, and having to face-off with more established franchises in a fighting game market that has certainly shrunk since the beginning of the century.
These are factors that Capcom will have to consider, but I definitely feel that the Rival Schools IP is worth revisiting, and its unique features have the potential to bring in players that normally wouldn’t have a direct interest in the fighting games, benefiting the genre as whole.
If I had to choose a single old fighting series to revive, Justice Gakuen 3 would definitely have my vote. Of course, I’m not holding my breath, and I consider this just a personal dream (alongside the return of another awesome fighting game from the Dreamcast era, Kikaioh/Tech Romancer). Yet, the past few years have demonstrated that, at times, dreams do come true.