The enduring aesthetic of SVC Chaos

Capcom Vs. SNK gets a lot of love, so it’s easy for Playmore’s title-flipping effort SNK Vs. Capcom – SVC Chaos to get lost in the fighting game shuffle. Chaos can’t compare in quality – I’m actually a huge fan of the first Capcom Vs. SNK game and would say it does a couple of things better than Capcom Vs. SNK 2. However, SVC Chaos has this bizarrely-attractive aesthetic that hasn’t escaped my mind nearly 20 years later.

When SVC Chaos released in 2003, I had heard a few things about it through newsbits, but then it kind of just … dropped into arcades. I remember this clearly because at that time I was visiting arcades with Guilty Gear player KBNova and we traveled to a Columbus-area bowling alley that had a DanceDanceRevolution cabinet. Sitting there in this collection was a very prominently displayed cabinet featuring SVC Chaos.

I’d actually had no idea the game was available to arcades and it kind of just materialized in front of us. KBNova had helped me learn more about what could be done in games such as Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and Tekken 4, so he was kind of one of the few DDR community players I could reliably branch out to for fighting games. I distinctly recall the short road trip we had where he drove me to a DDR tournament and the music of choice for the car ride was the Guilty Gear XX soundtrack.

IMG_5938

A Polaroid snapshot of the Ohio arcade scene in 2002. KBNova is standing far left in the back row, and I am at far right in the back row. DDR players Madd0ck (middle left in back row), Sway (middle right in back row) and KANKAOH (crouching right) are also pictured. I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of the other person, but he was a manager of the Namco Cyberstation that was inside the Northtowne Mall in Defiance.

Naturally we took an interest in SVC Chaos, getting in a couple of games to check out what essentially seemed like it should be an “unofficial Capcom Vs. SNK 3.” With nothing to taper our expectations, we couldn’t help but compare the game to Capcom’s offerings, and SVC Chaos just didn’t measure up. At that point in time, I remember we walked away from the game quite unimpressed.

But there’s just something about this game that embedded itself to the back of my mind. It exudes a vibe I can’t shake, and I keep thinking about it from time to time. It’s a game I wanted to like, and that took some time and multiple experiences before it finally happened.

For example, we watched the “how to play” segment before I played the game for the first time, and it heavily highlights the “MAX mode” that occurs when a player builds three levels of meter. On the surface, the value of this mostly seems to be that you get an “extra” super move since you return to level two when the maximum mode’s timer expires.

However, later experiences and online information showed me the other benefits of using your meter, such as the guard cancels and special canceling. Canceling is a huge premise in SVC Chaos that probably won’t be evident to a lot of first-time players.

chaosstage

Being in the United States, the game unceremoniously splashed down on the Xbox console – and only the Xbox in the US unlike other territories that saw a PlayStation 2 version. I didn’t check this out until it hit bargain prices, and, even then the only real benefit was the Xbox LIVE mode (although being able to shortcut the activation of the secret characters was very welcome) that didn’t work very well on my internet connection. I had really poor fights in this, Guilty Gear XX#Reload and Bust-a-Move before I declared Xbox LIVE matchups just weren’t going to pan out for me.

Critics weren’t too fond of the Xbox release of SVC Chaos, mustering at best 70% in ratings if I recall correctly. It existed as a blip in time – a release of the week that was quickly forgotten as more new titles piled onto store shelves.

It honestly wasn’t until about one or two years after the console release of SVC Chaos that it started gaining favor with me. The game was mixed into a nearby MVS cabinet and I got the itch to revisit it. This was mostly spurred by the knowledge of the amazing amount of secret characters tucked away in the game, and, by this point, the internet had far more information available about the game.

chaosselect

I mean, you could play as Zero, which was a very attractive motivator to play the game at that time. In this time frame I was also able to import a copy of Neo Geo Battle Colosseum, and my interest in SNK overall was swelling at this point.

And I think that is one of facets where SVC Chaos got something very right – it reached slightly past of the point of “safe” in formulating its character roster. This plucked characters out of the vaults such as Red Earth’s mysterious Tessa, Samurai Shodown’s massive Earthquake and Metal Slug’s Mars People and allowed SNK liberties in crafting Violent Ken. Characters like Red Arremer from the Makaimura series were sprinkled in that just made you question how they could possibly work in a fighting game and it got you feeding in quarters to find out.

You didn’t get very many fantasy pickings like this in games at the time, especially in the games that released in the United States. The US long missed games like Konami’s Wai Wai World and Super Smash Bros. was sort of just beginning to introduce the “gaming all-stars” concept to the territory.

On top of the wild cast of characters, the game’s visuals are another aspect of SVC Chaos that is burnt into my mind. The game’s user interface gives me the vibe of a King of Fighters game from that period of time (the 2002/2003 area), but it’s fascinating to see the care that went into giving Capcom’s characters the KoF art treatment.

I’ve seen people who are big fans of the SNK games series state those characters got ripped from previous games (a la Capcom and its Street Fighter Alpha characters recycled into the Vs. games – and THAT Morrigan sprite). However, Playmore had to start from scratch on all of the Capcom offerings and I think the results are great.

chaoscard

I’ve also seen people lament the “generic” and “soulless” background stages, but these have also been another weird facet of SVC Chaos that sticks out to me. The backgrounds present this bizarre dystopian theme that merge concepts of technology, historical architecture and nature into its environments. And while they cycle in a limited amount of frames, these backgrounds have a lot of moving parts to them that can catch the eye when you actively seek them out.

The backgrounds have a CGI presentation that provides a stark contrast to the crisp moving pixels of the characters, giving the environments a look similar to the MVS format’s shmup titles put out by companies like Yumekobo (Prehistoric Isle 2, Blazing Star, etc.).

Despite how people feel about the final product, SVC Chaos flexes the hardware’s muscle with more than 700 megs inside the cart. The MVS is a product that will never fail to fascinate me. Looking at carts released in 1990, NAM-1975 is marked as “product number one,” and with 46 megs the game still looked great for its time. SVC Chaos, product number 269, landed in 2003 with an eye-catching intro animation that showed the ever-evolving potential of the format as it became more feasible to stuff additional megs into an MVS cartridge.

ezgif.com-gif-maker (1)

While most of the music in the game is there to establish a tone of the desolate stages, there are examples, such as in the heaven and hell extra stages, where the music wraps the bow around an overall presentation that is just absolutely surreal.

The character portraits and art done for the cutscenes are also very well done. These portraits lend themselves to one of the best features in SVC Chaos for fans of the games, which is a feature that might not be immediate evident to players: the interactions between the characters. There are genuinely hilarious dialog moments, especially for characters such as Dan. Throughout the course of the game, SNK characters repeatedly mistake Dan for Robert Garcia while the Capcom characters brush him off as a weakling weirdo.

It shows the developers took care to treat the properties with respect and reward players for following the games. Regardless of the overall opinion of the final game as a product, I do believe the developers tried their hardest on this project.

Unfortunately, given the SNK Vs. Capcom premise, the game will just never be able to shake comparisons to the Capcom Vs. SNK counterparts that were significantly more successful. There are streams of pleas of re-releases or sequels of the CVS games, but how many have clamored for SVC Chaos to reappear?

Perhaps the most damning factor working against SVC Chaos is that a number of the game’s elements are seemingly just “there.” I spoke of the dystopian, desolate feel of the game, and this is simply never explained. I would have thought maybe the console version would expand on this, but, in seeking out the US Xbox game manual, any concepts of story are outright omitted – the SNK and Capcom worlds have been merged and they need to fight … just so they can fight apparently. Nothing at all explains this crazy universe created specifically for SVC Chaos.

ezgif.com-gif-maker (2)

The Xbox game manual features a lot of the game’s beautiful art, but, even in print, the necessary concepts of move canceling are glossed over with a sentence only declaring that these are things that do indeed exist in the game. The internet and the experience players put into the game are virtually the only source that dives into exactly how valuable these concepts really are for SVC Chaos.

SVC Chaos really shows the developers respected the source material, but it seems the overall package would have greatly benefitted from more time in development. However, when you look at when SVC Chaos released, I can only venture to guess that time was something Playmore just didn’t have.

Looking at MVS time lines on multiple sources, SVC Chaos released in mid-2003, with only five games releasing on the format after that point. Four of these games followed SVC Chaos in the next few months, and a special version of Samurai Shodown V was the format’s sole release in 2004 to mark the end of the MVS’s support.

It’s entirely possible pushing SVC Chaos out the door when it released was the only way the game could have been made a reality at that time. This was also part of the “Playmore era” of SNK, and there was a lot of uncertainty at the time in regard to the company’s future as it was working its way out of bankruptcy. The follow-up to the MVS was the Atomiswave hardware, but at this point in time it’s hard for anyone outside of the company to know how holding back SVC Chaos to fit this format would have affected the project.

This is unfortunate as I feel SVC Chaos is an endeavor that had its heart in the right place, it just landed during a time period where 2D fighters were losing a lot of favor in the mainstream spotlight of media and during a difficult transition phase of the company that released it. It’s a game that is easily dismissed if you move on after one or two plays, but if you sit down with it and pay close attention there are a number of small ways you are rewarded for your time.

We very recently revisited the game as part of a community effort to clear arcade games with one credit (one credit clear, 1CC). A YouTube video brought a strange exploit to our attention in which the CPU only takes actions against the character Mai as she is active. Thus, if the player doesn’t press the joystick or any of the buttons, the computer sits there doing nothing at all. This means players that can get a first attack can then do absolutely nothing and time out two rounds to get a guaranteed victory and move on to the next stage.

At that point, LordBBH brought to our attention that you can use timing to your advantage to position yourself for a throw. Because the CPU can’t react to the instant throw, this speeds up the process of winning compared to sitting there for a couple of minutes to let the timer expire.

I currently have no other formats to test out, but it leaves me curious if this AI exploit was fixed in the home releases of the game.

I also recently became fascinated with the game’s secrets, learning that some characters get unique alternate endings based on the extra stage they are able to reach. I pieced together a short video featuring Dan, who gets slightly different endings depending on whether he fights in the heaven or hell stage.

The recent playthroughs also revealed an additional easter egg for me – if the player loses during an extra stage fight, their character gets changed in a “humiliation transformation.” Athena changes the character into a form of an animal, while the Red Arremer changes the character into a demon form. The game is quite mean to Dan, heavily leaning into his “joke character” status, and in the hell stage, Dan’s punishment transformation is changing into … himself.

I won’t claim to be an expert at SVC Chaos, but I love the fact that it shows me something new each time I sit down with it. Given its situation, it was likely to not be commercially successful, but through time I do believe it is a misunderstood game. I can’t place it as a favorite of mine in the fighting game halls of fame, but it’s always subconsciously had its hooks planted in my mind from the very first time I saw it.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: GemuBaka Feature

Author:indiesnack

Indie Snack is a video gaming Web site focusing on independent developers and game releases. Indie Snack will also soon have services made available to independent developers to include tools aiding them in public relations and game marketing.

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: