Few gaming moments are quite as magical as going into a game with zero expectations and then being completely blown away. When I put in a copy of Asuka 120% Burning Fest. Limited into a Sega Saturn earlier this month, I had no clue that my entire weekend was going to be spent obsessing over a fighting game that was originally published in 1997. But that’s exactly what happened. With its mixture of colorful characters, an incredibly accessible fighting system, and unique special gauge, it was almost impossible not to be won over by it.
As fans of the genre know all too well, getting adjusted to playing an unfamiliar fighting game can sometimes be a laborious process, especially for older games that were released before move lists and proper tutorials were included in the menus. Thankfully, Asuka 120% manages to be one of the easiest games to just pick up and play despite not having any of that. It’s only a three-button fighter, as it only uses the Sega Saturn’s bottom row of inputs. Through a process of trial and error, I was able to quickly determine that each character had three different special moves that could be triggered by either doing an input with a quarter circle forward, a quarter circle backward, or a double down input.
This simplicity is a brilliant design choice as remembering combos isn’t really what makes fighting games so great. The inputs are just an added complexity, as the actual moves are what strategies are built around. So, by making it so every single character featured the same inputs, it was incredibly easy to switch around its cast of characters in order to find the combatant that best suited your personal playstyle.
Many fighting games feature macho martial artists and a predominantly male cast, but Burning Fest. manages to differentiate itself with an all-female cast. Each character represents a member of one of the school’s various classes from biology to sports like tennis and volleyball. Not only does it add a thematic element to the game, but it also gives the attacks a great sense of variety. The tennis player will use her racket to unleash punishing projectile attacks, while the wrestling representative attempts to grapple her foe. Every move seems logical considering the character’s background, and it’s part of the reason why the roster is so great.
However, its accessibility and varied cast isn’t the main reason for why Asuka 120% is such a captivating experience. The actual gameplay led to some of the most intense gaming moments that I have ever experienced in my 20 or so years of playing fighting games. This is largely due to some unique gameplay systems that help differentiate itself from the crowd while still feeling like a standard fighter in terms of controls.
Incredible Gameplay Systems
While standard blocking by simply pressing away from an opponent is still available, Asuka 120% goes by the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense. As such, player attacks are able to cancel each other out. Projectile attacks can be simply batted way from the air, and close encounters become incredibly tense affairs after a few punches are swatted away. Action slows down a bit, the game zooms in on the fighters, and it helps make every exchange all the more important. No fancy gimmicks or cutscenes are needed as the basic combat offers all the fulfillment one could need.
The “120%” in the game’s name is initially mysterious, but it’s one of the most unique systems in Burning Fest. Limited. Like nearly every fighting game, players can unleash powerful attacks once their special gauge reaches 100 percent. However, there’s an additional layer of nuance here, as if players wait a while, they can earn a 120 percent ranking that will allow them to do an unlimited amount of their ultra attacks. At first, it seems like a very unbalanced system, and maybe it ultimately is, but when all players have a knowledge of the gameplay systems it creates an incredible meta.
There’s also an unusual special high jump button that allows for players to leap far into the air. This adds a satisfying sense of mobility to the action, and it’s an essential tool for those that want to avoid ultra attacks. Since a 120 percent gauge only exists for a limited amount of time, I would often jump around in order to avoid the powerful attacks that I knew were coming. However, sometimes players would catch me off guard by using their ultra attack at 100%. Sure, they only get one potential hit in, but that’s better than getting zero attacks on a knowledgable opponent.
These sort of systems are only one of the many reasons why Asuka 120% Burning Fest. Limited is so great. It’s truly a fighting game that needs to be played by all fans of the genre even if it’s relatively hard to find. It doesn’t have the most mechanical depth as far as inputs go, but the actual combat is so satisfying thanks to its systems that it overcomes any sort of limitations that sets. It’s truly a testament to great game design, and it’s still a blast more than 20 years later.