The Battle Arena Toshinden Series Ranked
The Battle Arena Toshinden series tells a brief yet compelling tale. I don’t mean the five games released from 1995 to 1999 themselves carry a great plot, but instead that they represent a constantly changing era in video games. Primarily a PlayStation series, the fighting games were among the first in 3D, utilizing polygons in a truly open fighting arena, complete with a sidestep that changed the plane of play. Battle Arena Toshinden is a weapons-based game as well, following a precedent mostly set by SAMURAI SHODOWN (1993) and anticipating other series like Soulcalibur. I mentioned that there were five Battle Arena Toshinden games, but only three will be ranked here. BATTLE ARENA NITOSHINDEN (1996), meant to be “Toshinden Kids” in the US, was only released in Japan, and series conclusion TOSHINDEN 4 (1999) was only released there and in Europe. There was also a Wii game released in 2009 called WAR BUDOKAI, but also variably called plain old TOSHINDEN, but it doesn’t seem to really have anything to do with the previous games. Due to the relative difficulty of tracking them down and playing them, I’ve only included the three games below as part of the series canon as it could be known for American audiences. It’s a brief and simple ranking, but it’s a way to explore and spotlight Battle Arena Toshinden, a brief mainstay of the flourishing 3D generation.
All games originally developed by Tamsoft.
#3 — BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN (1995)
This may be a good time to mention that I’m not very good at the vast majority of fighting games. That doesn’t mean I’m not able to enjoy them, although I may miss out on appreciating the finer points of competitive play or advanced combos. That being said, I don’t know if there ever was a true competitive scene for the first BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN. Unlike many other fighting games of the time, it didn’t originate with the arcades; instead, it came to PlayStation first, then to various other platforms like the Saturn and even the Game Boy. But in its original 3D form, BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN is definitely the roughest in the series. The series never became a graphical powerhouse, even for its era, but there is definitely some static around the edges of those polygons. Still, the art style is appealing enough. The story, as well, is serviceable, although in the vein of other fighting games of this time, it doesn’t crop up much in the course of the game. And anyways, it’s the classic “someone has organized a tournament and each of the characters have some personal reason for wanting to win” plot. But of course, gameplay is king, and that too is decent. It is true that BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN did some inventive things, moving fighting action into true 3D with some satisfying sidestep moves. The nature of longer-reaching weapons also serves to mix up the template that was already well explored by 1995. However, like the other 3D games of its time, its fluidity pales in comparison to the likes of the Street Fighter games or SNK’s 2D contributions. BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN is a bit more than a historical novelty, but not by much.
#2 — BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN 2 (1995)
BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN 2 followed only ten months after its predecessor. This time, the series came to arcades, in addition to PlayStation, Saturn, and more. It continues the tournament story, this time with two secret villainous organizations at play instead of just one. BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN 2 looks only moderately better than the first game, but in terms of that fluidity I mentioned, it ups the ante. It controls slightly better, and an improved combo system also makes it more fun to play. The Battle Arena Toshinden series initially operated with an arena knockout system as well, and once again, it adds a little bit of a wrinkle to the fighting strategies, especially since the 3D sidestepping can lead to some unforced errors. Overall, BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN 2 was only a minor improvement over the series’ originator, but an improvement nevertheless.
#1 — BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN 3 (1996)
The last Battle Arena Toshinden game we got here in America is the best. BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN 3, at its core, feels and plays like the two games before it. However, it is a significant enough upgrade that it distinguishes itself. The graphics once again get a minor look improvement, but the play experience increases the fluidity with an even better combo system. Enclosed arenas allow for some satisfying fighting feedback, as bodies are sent flying back and forth between your hits and the walls; of course, it’s incredibly frustrating if you’re on the other end of that. I think BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN 3 is also the easiest of the games in terms of CPU combat, a welcome element for this fighting game noob. The story, which involves yet another tournament, is not an incredible saga, but it does add investment by changing opponents based on the character chosen for arcade mode. This game also has the most characters of the series with 32, although many are “mirror fighters” who have the same move set as others. These elements surrounding the core combo and movement improvements mark BATTLE ARENA TOSHINDEN 3 as the most complete and fluid game the series had to offer, although of course its place in early 3D fighting game history means that it is definitely more awkward to play than its timeless 2D peers.