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Tobal No. 1 (PlayStation) artwork

Tobal No. 1 (PlayStation) review

"I know people have made this sort of statement before, particularly regarding Zone of the Enders, but it felt more like a $40 FFVII demo that came with a free fighting game. Not a great one at that."

Tobal No. 1, despite its blocky character models, introduced us to gorgeous visuals. Environmental graphics are not usually gasp-worthy in fighting games, but circa 1996 Tobal No. 1 was able to conjure 'oohs and aahs'. Here we had bleak desert worlds followed by gorgeous frozen planets, a tenebrous temple complete with grand idols along side regal, glamorous palaces. Each alien world was beautiful and beckoned you to peek beyond its facade. You wanted to explore the depths of the factory stage or wander aimlessly in Nork's dungeon. The environments complimented relatively fluid animation and cartoony graphical style. It felt like an authentic arcade fighter in your home.

Unfortunately, the inevitable had to happen: Tobal aged. The fine graphics it once showcased hold no such spell over today's audiences. Like any aged game that was once a visual treat, we now see past the smokescreen and into its true colors. Where before we saw a quick and cartoony fighting game, we now see your average button masher brawl.

You might realize, and not long after you begin, that you're basically playing a clunkier version of Tekken. Tobal tries to break free by introducing different combo attacks, but both play about the same. It can take some time to get used to the advanced commands, because you have to press many buttons together. Remembering which ones to press is the biggest pain, and then hoping they will reciprocate with a proper response is also a bother. You'll often block when you want to jump, or jump when you want to side step, mostly due to the confusing control setup.

Try as you might to master combat, but button mashing mixed with a little blocking normally wins in the end. There are times on higher difficulties that the mash technique cannot save you, and those are the battles worth playing. Unfortunately, Tobal's AI is terrible. Once you learn a character's weakness, they're easy prey; enough that Tournament Mode becomes far too easy to remain interesting, and it doesn't take but a few days to master.

Tobal's combat needed to stand out from the rest. As such, the developers added a small pro-wrestling element, allowing you to execute throws, slams and suplexes. What makes this throw system differ from others is that you don't instantly execute a throw, but grapple your opponent a la old school WWE and then input your desired move. Like some WWE games, you can even grapple from the side or from behind. Depending on your approach, you could either deliver a punishing powerbomb or a neck-breaking German suplex. Each character has different moves experiment with.

It's through throws that you realize one burning flaw: ring size. Winning battles by ring out is not only simple, but cheap. You can easily lure stupid opponents to the edge of the ring and wait. Some will creep towards you, others will execute a running attack that's easily blocked. From there it's not difficult, given you have the proper room, to grapple your opponent and execute a DDT. When done right, they'll fall right off the ring. Never mind that you only have a sliver of life left and the computer had you outclassed from the git-go. You just bested it courtesy of Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

DreamFactory had to have known that Tobal was nothing more than passable. It was a game that might arrest you for a couple days, definitely worth a rental, but only worth picking up at a discounted price. They had to do something to make it worthwhile, so they added another feature: Quest Mode.

Replace the eye-popping environments with plain brick hallways. The only thing to break the monotonous color pallet is the occasional nauseating checkered floor or an elevator made of brightly color geometric shape. You'll be learning to walk all over again, trying to master the clunky and confusing controls as you navigate long, dull hallways brimming with evil puppets and anthropomorphic T-Rexes. Hither and yon are steaks and loaves of bread of questionable freshness. You figure it worked for Castlevania, so it couldn't hurt here. Potions also lie in wait for you to experiment with, a different effect for each color. Drinking a pink might restore life, and an aqua-colored vial might drop your HP to 1. I say 'might' because the game shuffles colors and effects each time you play, so certain colors will not always have the same effect.

It's an intriguing addition, one that's lightly fun despite the clunkiness and irritating/needless platforming element--and you will plummet to your death a lot, because it practically takes a college course to learn to aim a jump properly. Battling baddies made of money and giant mole-people only remains entertaining until you realize two things: 1) There are no checkpoints, some levels are incredibly long, and you only get one life, and 2) Quest Mode is basically Tournament Mode with hallways, new enemies, and items. Combat is precisely the same and can be won using the same strategies. Each dungeon is really just a road you run to the next battle instead of sitting through a loading screen. Like Tournament Mode, you'll tire of Quest and its high frustration factor caused by the controls.

No, Tobal No. 1 isn't a bad game. I rag on it a bit, but really it can be entertaining for a while. It's just that there's nothing to draw you back. Once you find a solid strategy, everything goes stale. You'll feel by the time you were done that DreamFactory and Square only teamed up to make an average game as a means to sell the playable demo for Final Fantasy VII that came with it. I know people have made this sort of statement before, particularly regarding Zone of the Enders, but it felt more like a $40 FFVII demo that came with a free fighting game. Not a great one at that.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (January 21, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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aschultz posted January 21, 2012:

I remember this game from the GameFAQs faq boards. A few people kept claiming they wanted to get around to writing a guide for it, but they never really got around to it.

I think I see why after this review! One more life mystery out of the way.
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honestgamer posted January 21, 2012:

Japan got a sequel that I remember reading was much better in basically every aspect, a truly worthwhile fighter. We didn't get that sequel, though, so it could be another case where gaming press was angry about a failed localization and decided to write a review that didn't reflect the actual product. That seems to happen a fair amount.

In any event, I bought the first Tobal (for the Final Fantasy demo) and I kept it until I had Final Fantasy VII itself. Certainly, I played through the demo a few times and that was a huge draw, but I did get some enjoyment from the main attraction, as well. I remember using ring-outs a lot, though. Not only is it a cheap and simple strategy, but it's easy to figure out early on just how well it works. Yes, a clunky game... but there was a lot of potential here and that's why I can't entirely discount the notion that once upon a time, the sequel would have rocked (I would imagine that time has also long since passed).
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pickhut posted January 21, 2012:

I've only had the opportunity to play the second game back when my brother was borrowing someone's PlayStation in Japan. I don't remember much... mainly because the text and manual were in Japanese, but from what I've read from this review, they seem almost the same, cept a few additions in the second.

The biggest "wow" factor for Tobal 2 was its huge graphical leap in terms of character model graphics from the first, which looked pretty impressive for a PlayStation 1 fighting game of its time. I dunno if this was the same for the first game (I may have skipped this if it was mentioned in the review), but you also had the ability to play as hundreds of fighters, though most, if I remember, were color swaps. I do remember kicking ass as a chocobo, too, I think.

It also had a dungeon mode, too, and from your descriptions of the first game's mode, they sound the same as well.
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EmP posted January 21, 2012:

I enjoyed Tobal no.1 enough to import Tobal no.2 when it came out. I then never played that ever and still have it kicking around somewhere. True story.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted January 21, 2012:

I wrote a character FAQ for Udan. It's still on GameFAQs and was here for a while.

I'm also not surprised there wasn't a dungeon FAQ for this game. There's really not a whole lot you can say. Most of the dungeons are straightforward, there really are no secrets, and there are no strategies to combat in Quest Mode that can't be learned from playing Tournament Mode.

The only bit of advice that might be worth sharing on Quest Mode: learn to throw potions at enemies. I was able to waste the third boss easily by experimenting with potions until I found the one that drops HP to 1. I simply tossed that at him and punched him in the face. Lights out!

I had heard Tobal 2 was way better. I remember a lot of folks talking about it, and some even spreading the cruel rumor that it would be localized. I do wish I could get my hands on a copy, but I don't want to track down a Japanese PSOne or mod one or anything just to play it.

I had heard there were a lot of fighters, but didn't hear it was that expansive. I think I remember Chocobo being one of the fighters, too.

You should totally search for that copy and let us know how it stands up today. Not necessarily in a review. Maybe in a cranky blog post or something if you aren't game for reviewing it.

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