Two different titles; Same great game.
Table of Contents
Karnovember is a celebration of Data East’s most iconic character, Karnov, and the various games he appears in. On this Karnovember, I started streaming this game more, and on the side started my first article. I’m trying to put into words what I love about Karnov’s Revenge, released as Fighter’s History Dynamite in Japan (and to American arcades, but not home ports). This game has been one of my favorites in my short (~2-year) journey through fighting games. It actually took me a bit to discover Karnov’s Revenge – appropriately enough, I first played it in November of 2019. It was a refreshing change of pace from Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, a game I’d been sold on but found difficult to execute specials let alone keep up with other players.
This is an exploration of one of the most fun and interesting “SF2 Clones” I have ever played, and hopefully you’ll play it too. First, we must address one thing: The original Fighter’s History, to which FHD is a sequel.
Part 0: Fighter’s History (The Origin)
Fighter’s History is a game that doesn’t seem like it could have made any impact, but it was just Data East’s luck that they would be subject to a lawsuit by Capcom. You can read more details about the case here , but the gist is that Capcom alleged that Data East had infringed SF2’s copyright with FH’s characters, citing appearance, special moves, and even the control scheme. Capcom lost, as it wasn’t possible to copyright conventions of the genre like referencing martial arts, special move motions, and so on. It did its job though, putting a dent in Data East, who would withdraw from arcades entirely in 1998 and eventually file for bankruptcy in 2003.
If you want to read more, a recount from a witness is available here.
You can also read Capcom’s perspective here.
As a game itself, Fighter’s History is transparently a clone of Street Fighter 2, but it earnestly tried to change things up. It has a familiar 6-button layout and special motions, even intentional special cancels, but characters aren’t as similar as they look. Ray might look like a parody of Ken, but his Dynamite Tackle sets him apart. Feilin plays the role of Chun-Li – a graceful Chinese female fighter – yet their moves are nothing alike. The problem is… combos don’t really exist in Fighter’s History.
The game seems to not apply hitstun to the third hit of a combo. If you cancel a move into a fireball, the opponent can just walk off the hitstun the fireball should have and punish you (See here). This causes moves like Mizoguchi’s Scissor Kicks to be useless since you can just block in the middle of its 5 hits and punish. However, Lee can still cancel a normal move into his rush punch and it’s safe. This serves to undermine its big gimmick: Weak points.
In Fighter’s History, every character has a weak point represented by their clothing – Ryoko’s headband, etc. When hit 2 times it begins flashing, indicating the 3rd and final hit will make it fall off and stun the character. Due to the overall lack of combos longer than 2 hits – stuff like jump-in to sweep – there isn’t much interaction around weak points. You can aim for them, or have your strong pokes happen to hit them, but it’s common to see matches go by without even the risk of stun coming up. At this point, the limited movement sinks in, and the game ends up feeling like a milder version of Street Fighter 2. Fireballs are a bit slower (possibly to let the grating voice lines complete) and throws are generally weaker. If this somehow sounds interesting, check out this tournament from Mikado.
Part 1: What’s Different?
This section will go over what changed from Fighter’s History to Dynamite, as well as how FHD differs from SF2 in the end. Keep in mind the timeline here:
- Street Fighter II: Champion Edition – Mar 1992
- Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting – Dec 1992
- Fighter’s History – Mar 1993
- Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers – Sept 1993
- Super Street Fighter II Turbo – Feb 1994
- Fighter’s History Dynamite – Mar 1994
Changes from FH to FHD:
- Reduced buttons from 6 to 4
- Game speed increased
- Better art and sound design
- Light normals can chain into any other normal
- New special moves
- New playable characters (Yungmie, Zazie, bosses Clown and Karnov)
While FH was on Data East’s own 6-button hardware, FHD moved to the NeoGeo, already a big platform at the time. This reduced them to working with 4 buttons, which lead to a more focused moveset for the fighters. In the year between FH and FHD, Capcom released 2 revisions of SF2, zigzagging from slow to fast all over again. I can’t speak to the popularity of each entry at the time, but nobody plays New Challengers anymore for a reason, and it made sense to increase the speed of FHD. Chains were introduced, and hitstun also works entirely as expected now!
Also, weak points make a hilarious sound when they pop off, and all the hit sounds are higher pitched, adding a satisfying snap to everything. The whole presentation feels more developed, with almost everyone having redone sprites. Stages and music in FH are more location-based, with iconic sights like the White House for Ray or the Fontana di Trevi for Marstorius. It feels comparatively grounded, even though the characters still throw fireballs and Karnov inflates like a balloon – only Data East. By comparison, Dynamite has fun with this and ends up more colorful and animated. Where Fighter’s History feels like a martial arts flick, Fighter’s History Dynamite is a full-blown fighting game.
It feels less like they took Street Fighter 2 and added a few things, more fully realized. Playable bosses were one of those early innovations Capcom made that seems like a no-brainer now, and Karnov especially doesn’t disappoint. His whole kit doesn’t really gel with Street Fighter 2 but feels at home on the NeoGeo. The new characters stand out, too. Yungmie represents Korea with a Taekwondo moveset consisting only of kicks, and a strong air fireball. Zazie hails from Kenya and showcases boxing and karate techniques, with hooks, uppercuts, and lots of ducking and weaving.
Let’s directly compare SSF2T to FHD; what didn’t FHD copy and what did it add?
- Random stun and damage
- Six button control layout
- Specials knock down air opponents
- “Hold” throws which reset
- Double KO doesn’t count
- Weak point system
- Majority of normals can be canceled
- Light normals chain into anything
- Lenient special move inputs
- Charge moves require less time
- Backdash by pressing back twice
- Damage scaling
I pick out Dhalsim because he’s the most outlandish of the original SF2 cast, so plenty of games imitated him. Examples include Brocken (World Heroes), Alsion III (Breakers), and Chrome Dome (TMNT Tournament Fighters).
The presence of chains doesn’t mean there are no links, but those are a character-specific focus. The backdash is a welcome addition for playing neutral, since it isn’t invincible and you must be careful about backing yourself into a corner. Whiff punishing is emphasized over counterpoking in FHD, since heavy normals are generally disjointed but become easier to hit during recovery. This game even has one of the first damage-scaling systems I can think of. Normal moves deal 75% damage and specials deal 50% damage for any additional hits.
The result is a game where all your tools are immediately available and intuitive. Both offense and defense are strong, and stagger pressure is important since you can delay your special cancels as well. Players can really develop situational awareness and discover the esoteric mechanics – stance shifting, corner cross-ups, Player 1 and 2 differences, and hidden moves. This game just feels a lot more “active” than SF2 at a high level due to these key mechanics. It makes for a simple system where you don’t need to learn a ton to play the game, but you can if you enjoy it.
The change from knockdown to reset on air hit is a change I personally like. It turns a situation that usually marks a pause in gameplay into an immediate call on reversal throw/special or block upon landing. I’d also like to elaborate on “stance shifting”, the act of changing between standing and crouching after being hit. Because this game is fast and combos are usually simple, new depth comes from being able to move your weak point out of the way to avoid being stunned and taking extra damage. It also dissuades holding down-back whenever you’ve been hit, since this is still a game from 1994, before grounded overheads were a common thing. Against characters with “mid” weak spots like Karnov it’s simple enough to switch from standing to crouching LP to hit them, but other characters are harder to dizzy.
Your mixup in FHD comes from the prominent crossups; Each character has both a light and heavy crossup, except for Yungmie. By Super Turbo, SF2 had given nearly every character one, but most were relegated to jumping LK or MK. Additionally, more special moves can cross up, like Karnov’s Balloon Attack or Matlok’s Overhead Kick. There’s another element that comes up frequently in FHD – using special moves to cross over or through your opponent, sometimes known as corpsehopping. While it loses to wakeup throw, that carries the risk of whiffing a heavy normal if baited. Reliable corpsehops include Samchay’s Ti Kaukoun and Lee’s Quick Dagger Punch.
This brings us to Player 1 and Player 2 differences. Generally, P1 gets access to new corpsehops, some of which only work against cornered opponents. For P2, you get a subtle but significant advantage: due to going through 1 less frame of impact freeze, you have +1 frame advantage. This turns some tighter links, like from Mizoguchi’s rekka kicks or Zazie and Jean’s ABCD hundred-hand and moves into something you can do reasonably. This change is actually so important at a high level that people will call for a coin flip to pick their side in tournaments. Thankfully, every move has some startup so trades don’t suddenly become a free hit for Player 2.
Hidden moves in FHD are often called super moves due to their odd inputs, and typically strong application such as hitting weak points. Every character has one except for Samchay, Yungmie, Clown, and Karnov. The latter two make sense, as boss characters that would become playable, all their moves are fresh. You could argue Samchay’s Ti Kauloi counts, since it’s crazy invincible and has an odd input – forward, down-back, down-forward + Kick, but it’s on the arcade marquee. Yungmie has the same input for her Neri Chagi, one of her 2 moves listed, with her “hidden move” being a standard mash move that knocks down. Regardless, there’s no super meter or any requirements to use these moves. Let’s take a closer look now at how each character’s moveset works, and who they take inspiration from.
Part 2: Choose your Fighter (or you’re History)
Character design is, in my opinion, where Fighter’s History Dynamite shines. This section will focus on each character’s moves and design inspirations. This includes pointing out new moves from FH to FHD. We’re not talking purely from a gameplay standpoint, but also their real-world martial arts. The question is, are these designs successful? Do they play some sort of niche in FHD, as well as innovating within fighting games at the time?
Characters will be listed in order of character select in both games.
This is going to be a long one, so feel free to skip to Part 3: How to Start Playing (and loose ends) if you’d rather figure it out yourself.
Ray is the main character, as you can tell by his stage being the first, and his theme being remixed to represent the games. Ray is a street fighter (becoming a detective in FHD) who’s always looking for a good, fair fight. In my eyes, the lightning bolt on his tank top and special moves make him a parody of Terry Bogard. Ray’s weak spot is said lightning bolt, which is uniquely situated in the middle of hurtboxes, so fireballs will miss it and it’s harder to hit with jump-ins. Ray is a basic, but effective “shoto” with a little extra kick.
Big Tornado (often misheard as Big Tomato or Baked Potato) is the best fireball in the game, with quick startup and recovery. On top of this he has a redesigned Wheel Kick, taking the move from a weird clone of Crack Shoot to one of the best moves in fighting games. It’s a reversal that covers a lot of ground, enabling him to go through fireballs, but isn’t without weaknesses since it can easily be crouched. Wheel Kick cements Ray as the game’s best zoner, and it’s stands out among old fighters – a modern game would give this to anyone without a fireball to make up for their weaknesses. Ray is generally really strong in the air, as he can use Wheel Kick in the air, plus he’s one of the only characters with an air throw.
On the ground, Ray has Dynamite Tackle, a move that allows him to approach, even corpsehop with the sliding momentum it carries. It’s also the basis for his hidden move, Thunder Dynamite Tackle, designed to be hard but rewarding to use. Despite a longer charge time, you can still use it in combos, and it has a larger hitbox to hit more weak points up to 5 times. These moves are safe on block, so Ray can choose to take a risk and continue pressure, or back off and throw more fireballs. Remember, most buttons including sweeps are cancelable! Overall, I think Ray puts a fun new spin on the “balanced” shoto type of character, with some of the best movement this side of Hyper Fighting’s Tatsu. It’s no wonder most people pick him up first.
Feilin is a star of Chinese opera who aspires to become an international sensation, but she’s not just a pretty face (or a Chun-Li clone). Feilin fights with Praying Mantis style kung-fu, a precise form which uses circular motions to deflect attacks and then strike. Her weak point is the prop armor that she wears, which makes for an unfortunately larger target. Her stance and even her fireball, Torou Zan (Mantis Claw), reflect her style, but how does this manifest in her gameplay? Feilin is kind of a zoner, but she has some acrobatic tricks up her sleeve.
Mantis Claw has a ground and air version, the former acting as a larger, slower fireball that helps her control space. This pairs nicely with her charge uppercut, Hakkaku Soubi Ken (Flying Crane Strike), and her hidden move variant, Kakkou Soubi Ken (Sliding Crane Strike), which hits twice and low profiles. The air version of Mantis Claw arcs sharply downward and can be snuck in after knockdown to give the opponent trouble. It must be blocked high, which is quite uncommon of air fireballs. She also has a divekick that is unsafe but can be used to quickly land or cross up. Feilin’s kit doesn’t come together perfectly, but there’s some good ideas there and people manage to use them creatively.
Damage is all around one of Feilin’s biggest problems; With one of the easiest-to-hit weak points, she’s basically always fighting from behind. In general, her pokes are flashy but weak and she isn’t rewarded for advancing. She relies on a down-charge or her sweep to score knockdown, which doesn’t give her much flexibility. Her throw leaves her too far and takes too long for her to push any advantage. In all these respects, she’s nothing like Chun-Li despite what Capcom and others would have you believe. I do like the attempts to innovate though – divekicks were in their infancy, as were air fireballs, and an overhead air fireball is a particularly strong idea for 1994.
From one bottom-tier to another, Ryoko is a small grappler with the fastest walk speed in the game. A 17-year-old Judo prodigy, she’s obviously based on Ryoko Tani, who herself won her first world championship and received the fourth dan in 1993. Her surname Kano might be derived from Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. Her main problem aside from short range is her weak spot. A headband makes sense visually, but is at striking range for any standing punch and a lot of special moves, on top of standard jump-ins. It’s worth noting some other moves that take from Judo – her standing LK is a leg sweep resembling Kosoto Gari (Small Outer Reap), and she has a regular crouching throw that can go into the damaging Shiho Gatame (Four-Quarter Hold).
Ryoko has two command throws with the same half-circle input, a long-range but weak Ippon Seoi (One-armed Shoulder Throw) and a powerful, close-range Chou Yama Arasi (Super Mountain Storm). In addition to being able to combo into command throws, something odd happens if you cancel on block. You’ll perform the corresponding normal move, allowing for a proto-Rebeat with LP. She also has a roll, Zenten Ukemi, which can work as an anti-air and goes under fireballs. Her hidden move is another throw that works in a range between her two throws. Kata Guruma (Shoulder Wheel) does no damage but grants you one free “juggle” hit, including into her air Ippon Seoi for worse damage but substantially better oki than Chou Yama Arashi. She can also just hit you in the air and cross under, then combo into Chou Yama Arashi. Ryoko’s goal is to work into a range where she can combo into Kata Guruma, and she can carry that momentum from landing a random command throw, jump-in, or whiff punish to a win.
I guess it’s only fair that Ryoko’s design is so grounded in terms of gameplay because Judo is the most grounded fighting style you could have adapted. Still, she gets points for innovating in early fighting games as a small and fast grappler. Ryoko has plenty of tricks even if her range is lacking and her weak point is abysmal, though it’d be nice if you could use her roll with a motion. She totally has the tools to steal a game if she can find one opening. As such, Ryoko has plenty of dedicated players and I’d say she’s interesting if not for how hard a time she has fighting the top tiers. Even if you end up moving on from her, you’ll learn to make the most of the openings you can create.
A British punk rocker named after Glen Matlock, the bassist of the Sex Pistols. His weak spot is the pair of glasses and headphones on his head. Aside from the name, Fighter’s History didn’t take much design inspiration, but Matlok has a few music references in his moveset. As this game’s spin on Guile, he’s got a wild rhythm of his own going on. How does Matlok stand up to the competition this game offers?
Matlok whips a CD at you in Spinning Wave, his awesome Sonic Boom that has so much frame advantage, it can link into itself in the corner. His take on Flash Kick is Road Hurricane, a breakdance that in somewhat lacking on active frames but does the job if you time it. Matlok is hard pressed for predictive anti-airs, so he really wants to pin opponents in the corner with Spinning Wave. He can also use his Overhead Kick to open people up, which is not only safe on block but can cross up. He also has Dancing Head Press, an air stomp (down+K) that bounces off opponents and lets him drift for tricky crossups or to just annoy people with jump-ins. All this trickery is rounded out by some good grounded normals like a long crouching LK and a cancelable version of Guile’s backfist.
Most of his struggles lie in bringing things together, with some short normal moves along with specials that aren’t easy to combo into. If you don’t land Overhead Kick point-blank, you only get to combo into sweep. Moves that look like dedicated anti-airs, like crouching HP and standing HK, have awkwardly placed or timed hitboxes, and his sweep is standard but underwhelming. He always has Spinning Wave to fall back on however, as it’s easily the best fireball in the game. Due to all his differences, Matlok ends up feeling less like Guile clone than he looks.
Samchay is a Muay Thai champion who takes care of his younger brothers and sisters in the absence of their parents. Not much is known about him aside from that, but one of his listed dislikes is “poverty”. He plays things straight compared to other Muay Thai fighters from Sagat to Joe Higashi. Within the story as well as gameplay, Samchay is a bit of an underdog. He can only chain with crouching LK, setting a trend where a lot of his normal moves are outclassed, but his kit is well-suited to Fighter’s History Dynamite thanks to useful specials.
Matlon Dusalop (from Mat Trong – Straight Punch) is up there with Big Tornado, having more startup but less recovery. Samchay has good anti-airs like standing HK and crouching HP to back this up, as well as his specials. Ti Kaukoun (from Khao Khong – Curving Knee) is a take on Tiger Knee with more horizontal movement, making it a staple in his combo and approach game. It’s good at hitting weak points, safe from a distance, and can corspehop. New to FHD is Ti Kauloi (from Khao Loi – Flying Knee), a knee which goes almost straight up and is so invincible it can go through fireballs. Samchay also has Pap Sokau (Sok and Khao, Elbow and Knee), mostly used in combos for hitting specific weak points. Speaking of elbows and knees, he uses those for each of his throws, which used to hit weak points in Fighter’s History. He’s plenty good at hitting weak points in this game thanks to hit two-hit close HK and specials.
With all this in mind, Samchay does what he sets out to do. He’s The Muay Thai Guy, but I think there’s a reason he’s become somewhat of a fan favourite. Though his damage isn’t the highest, or his movement isn’t the best, he’s great in both those areas. If you smoothed out his lack of standing chains and some oddly weak normals – close LP being 6 startup, command normals being non-cancelable – he’d be great. The weak point is also easy to hit with anything from jump-ins to fireballs and other specials, making him feel fragile. If you want a solid character to grasp the quirks of this game, he’s a strong pick you can stick with.
Lee caps off the top row and draws an interesting parallel to Ray as a disciplined martial artist. Lee represents Bajiquan, a Chinese martial art featuring explosive close combat with elbow and shoulder strikes. Lee’s name is likely a reference to Li Shuwen, a Bajiquan master famously quoted as saying “I do not know what it’s like to hit a man twice.” Fittingly, he’s a rushdown character who can easily stun characters in a single touch. Lee’s also got a great weak point located on his knees, making it hard for most characters to hit with pokes or basic combos. As an aside, Lee predates Virtua Fighter’s Akira by a few months, making him the first Bajiquan fighter I can think of.
Lee’s gameplan revolves around surprisingly long-reaching HPs and Zessho Ho (Dagger Punch), with two followups in Choushinko (Dagger Elbow) and Tetsuzanko (Iron Mountain Lean), an elbow that doesn’t knock down but is safer on block and a shoulder that knocks down. There’s also Super Dagger Punch, with the HP version notably crossing almost the whole screen in 10 frames. This can allow Lee to steal games from sniping a fireball’s startup on round start. He also has a solid reversal in Senkyutai (Drilling Bow Thigh), an upward kick with a simple motion. Both HP Super Dagger Punch and Senkyutai can corpsehop, allowing Lee to quickly mix up his opponents. Better still is his hidden move, Mouko Kouhazan (Tiger Claw), a palm blast that hits quickly and demolishes weak points. Despite the tricky input, you can use this move for anything from an anti-air to a safe meaty, and it allows you to follow up with Super Dagger Punch.
With all that in mind, Lee isn’t without flaws. Lee’s normals outside of HP have average range at best, with his crouching LK only outranging Ryoko and Feilin, and sweep exposing his weak point. Most characters can force him to think about his approach by mashing LP to stop Dagger Punch. His to-the-point offense is refreshing though, he feels like juiced up Fei Long, but palm blast combos and his nearly fullscreen rekka are out of this world. He also has a great matchup with Ray, because while Ray is incredibly vulnerable to Lee’s combos, Lee will always be hit in the weak point by Thunder Dynamite Tackle.
The bottom row of character select is packed with compelling characters, and Mizoguchi embodies that. A dead ringer for Momotaro Tsurugi from Sakigake!! Otokojuku, Mizoguchi flips the stereotype of stoic martial artist on its head. Despite not being treated as the main character in FHD, Mizoguchi is so iconic he’s made crossover appearances in Sukio Enbu: Fuunsaiki and The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact Regulation A. Since his poking game is average and his offense is overwhelming, he’s not a Ryu clone at all. He can effectively swing with buttons and safe special moves and has difficult but rewarding combos. Mizoguchi’s weak point is his headband, which is hit by few grounded moves if he’s standing.
Mizoguchi has the standard set of shoto specials with a twist, starting with Tiger Bazooka, a slow fireball that has him take a low stance. He also has Gottsui Tiger Bazooka, a huge explosive version dedicated to stun punishes with 91 frames of startup. His DP is Koryuusai (Tiger Strike), and the LP version can be safe on block while the HP version covers a good distance and hits 3 times for combos. He also has a hidden version, Tsuutensai (Heaven-reaching Strike), which can trigger a special combo up close that looks like Shinryuken, or hit 3 times at a distance. While most of the cast can crouch before the third hit (not Samchay, Jean, Marstorius, and Zazie), it hits low weak points like Jean’s and Lee’s twice when other moves won’t. It’s also hilariously invincible so it can be a risky callout to other reversals that would beat Koryuusai.
Hitting weak points is a big part of Mizoguchi’s game thanks to his advanced links. His take on tatsu is Renzoku Keri (Continuous Kick), a 5-hit rekka that knocks down. The LK version goes over fireballs in a pinch, but the HK version is instead +4 on hit, allowing for a 2-frame link into a light normal (or 3-frame and a 1-frame link into heavy normals as P2). With the right adjustments, he can stun most opponents before he must end a combo due to pushback. Mizoguchi can combo into Renzoku Keri with heavy normals, but it doesn’t combo at the max range of standing HP so mind your ranges. Playing Mizoguchi means adjusting on the fly to whether things hit or are blocked, and what moves you want to land for stun.
In the end, Mizoguchi is a surprisingly complex character, and it’s no wonder he’s been chosen to represent Fighter’s History time and time again. I think he stays true to rushdown more so than Lee, being required to take big risks and never backing off. He’s also got an intense learning curve if you want to be able to compete with him at the top, but at the start he really enables you to swing with his safe-on-block DP and low-crushing rekka. Mizoguchi takes total advantage of FHD’s mechanics, from weak spots to corpsehops to P2 frame advantage. If you consider that, he’s probably the best protagonist you could ask for from a gameplay standpoint. Mizoguchi is the hype behind Fighter’s History Dynamite.
Jean Pierre is a professional gymnast who, after breaking a streak of perfect scores, took a leave for fighting to strengthen his body. Oddly, Jean lacked a Flash Kick in Fighter’s History, but by now he’s taken up the mantle of Guile clone. He gets to keep the air throw, and adds a slide to this repertoire, but can play a zoning style with his long reach. Really though, he plays more like Dee Jay, as his fireball has more recovery than you average Sonic Boom, and he has a mash move that deals devastating damage. His weak point is the flag of France on his outer thigh, easier to hit than Lee’s but not by much.
Jean can still rely on Ball Rose due to its short charge time, especially if it hits someone as the slowdown still allows you to charge. His flash kick, Flick Flack, moves him backwards for some real turtling, but it’s a bit slower and easier to safejump. On offense, Jean can slide with down-forward and LK or HK, and HK scoring a knockdown allows him to cross up with jumping LK. This is the perfect opportunity to use his version of Hundred Hands, Needle Shower. Mediocre in Fighter’s History, it gained a new ABCD version has only 1 frame of startup and recovery, granting huge frame advantage. This move has many applications, but due to a glitch it does ridiculous damage on the third hit if you cancel into it. Jean can easily kill if you crouch during Needle Shower since everyone except Samchay and Marstorius crouch the first two hits.
We haven’t even touched on Jean’s hidden move, though you could consider ABCD Hands one. Rondato is a weird move that only Data East would come up with, a reversal that requires you to charge forward. The long range and invincibility make it hilarious, but you’ll never use Rondato because it’s punishable on hit… right? Anyhow, Jean is a good character who differentiates himself from Guile on offense. He falls just outside of the top tier due to his reliance on charge and floaty jump. Jean can take risks sometimes if he wants to win decisively, but he’s rewarded well.
Marstorius is a burly pro wrestler from Italy who wants to prove that wrestling is the strongest martial art. He looks just like Bruiser Brody, a pro wrestler from the US who made waves in Japan in the 80s. Data East must have thought he was too strong in Fighter’s History, so they gave him a jump that looks like a KOF hop at best. Combined with the weak point being his feet, Marstorius has an incredible weakness to fireballs, plus he can be stunned any time with a few crouching kicks. He’s also a charge character except for his command throw, which makes him feel very different from other grapplers.
Marstorius has the hallmark jumping buttons of a grappler, a body splash with down+HP and a drop kick with down+HK that knocks down grounded opponents. His sweep is also one of the longest normals in the game, mostly disjointed with the same 2-frame startup as light buttons. Double German, his command throw, reaches well over a character length away like you’d expect, terrifying with how command throw work in this game (mentioned in Ryoko’s section). After landing Double German, Marstorius has time to charge up his Dash Lariat, bringing him close enough for a crossup or another mixup. If someone freezes up, you can get away with empty jump Double German, and if they block you can wait to tick throw and bait reversals.
Dash Lariat has a longer charge time than most moves, as does Kneel Kick, a niche anti-air that doesn’t have much use over Lariat. You also have two moves that have normal charge times to use for getting over fireballs: Moonsault Press and Flying Knee Drop. You can use Moonsault from a distance, but it’s not invincible like Knee Drop, and it’s no faster or more rewarding than your normal crossups so its main use is to cross up in the corner. He can also use a command normal, Enzuigiri, to hop over fireballs and kick the opponent in the face, knocking down. Finally, his hidden move is Drill Power Slam, a rushing hit-grab with an odd half-circle-up input that Mars can do while standing due to his slow jump. This does slightly less damage than Double German, but cornering someone quickly can be useful.
Marstorius is a hilariously extreme take on the typical grappler. Mixing up when and where you use these tools, even taking trades with sweep, is key to cracking fireball spam. He will regularly win a round off a single opening and 2 or 3 quick mixups. Combined with his low execution due to simple inputs, even his losing matchups feel fun to play. Plus, he naturally has a good matchup against Lee, and some say Zazie, both top-tier threats. His kit is different from Zangief’s, letting him play more patient until he can land a Double German.
A young Taekwondo master, Yungmie travels the world searching for her missing parents. Yungmie looks like Data East making a real attempt at their own Chun-Li, a pretty fighter with powerful kicks. Besides having a mash move and a wall jump, however, they’ve got little in common. Due to her strong air fireball and relatively limited combos, she plays a unique zoning style. Yungmie’s weak point is the light-colored sash around her waist, among the easier ones to hit.
Yungmie’s normal moves are all kicks, which is cool but ends up being cosmetic as her normal moves fit the same niches, with standing LP and LK being identical, crouching HP being an anti-air, and so on. Her jumping buttons fare better, with j.HK being this game’s only 2-hit jump-in, which she can cancel into Aura Smash, an air fireball that travels straight forward. Yungmie’s whole game revolves around creating space to TK Aura Smash, which can’t be crouched if done low enough. She needs to create space to start throwing these, which she can then follow in or keep throwing to keep you from walking or jumping in. She has a reliable reversal in Neri Chagi (Axe Kick), but its gimmick of hitting on the way up and down is countered by opposing reversals.
She also has Fire Binta, an odd mash move that only works with a same-strength punch+kick input… six times. It’s her most damaging combo ender and it knocks down, so it isn’t really used like Chun-Li’s Lightning Legs. Yungmie is a one-of-a-kind character, even if it’s mostly due to how centralizing Aura Smash is. Falling slightly outside of top tier, Yungmie is a solid character that can feel oppressive in the right hands. She’s also a fan favorite, and even showed up alongside Mizoguchi in Suiko Enbu. There, her moveset shines with juggles in addition to the fluid movement and chaining of FHD turned up to 11.
The second all-new character in FHD, Zazie is a fearsome karateka whose power belies a pacifist, nature-caring heart. He’s the tallest character in the game, owing to his real-world inspiration, the 2-meter-tall Willie Williams. An African-American practitioner of Kyokushin Karate, Williams made a pilgrimage to Japan to continue training and participate in tournaments. He was so dedicated in his quest to best Mas Oyama – the father of Kyokushin, known as the Ox Killer – that he fought a goddamn bear. This makes Zazie kind of a parody, and as Founder of the African Nature Protection Society, he enters Karnov’s tournament to raise money. Zazie is a rushdown character, and his height comes with the advantage of long reach and a hard-to-hit headband for a weak spot.
Vulcan Hook is his mash move, but it differs from Jean’s Needle Shower in that the hitboxes are wider, balanced by hurtboxes between them that allow you to counterpoke. Zazie keeps on top of you with a combination of ABCD hands pressure, safe pokes, and Ducking, a partially invincible dash that can be canceled into his real reversal, Hellfire. What makes this even more terrifying is that Hellfire is safe on block when spaced, being only -4 on block. Ducking Hellfire is a little tight, but it can be made easier with input tricks like F, F, B+K, DB, D+P and using HK Ducking. Zazie can use Ducking Hellfire as a combo ender, so it puts a lot more threat behind buttons like standing LK and F+HP.
Zazie also has an invincible backstep that can be helpful if someone blocks a normal move at the wrong time. His hidden move is Deshikakto, a flaming axe kick that knocks down, is mostly used for easier punishes but at least has a unique animation for LK and HK. Zazie is a knockout of character design, with nothing directly resembling SF2 and his own offensive style within FHD. He’s not as hard to pick up as you might think, but it’s worth practicing every bit of tech he has. Even without Ducking Hellfire, he’d still have a forward dash to go through projectiles, something few if any games from 1994 can boast.
Clown is… well, he’s a clown, and that’s really all we’ve got to go on story-wise. The manual for FHD also says he’s “seeking an attractive male fighter”, ugh. He’s from somewhere in Europe based on his castle stage, and his win quote against Marstorius – “My poodle is stronger than you!” Clown combines a bunch of moves from different charge characters, resulting in tricky movement backed up by a good fireball. Naturally, his weak point is his mask, letting you get a look at his face. Designed to be hated, how does Clown fit in to Fighter’s History Dynamite?
Clown’s main trick is Pick-A-Card, with him tossing a ring of playing cards with somewhat slow startup but quick recovery. Unfortunately, this is his only move that doesn’t take a strict down-back charge to use, but his other moves complement it somewhat. He has two Blanka-like attacks in Spin Attack, which charges forward, and Spin Drop, which vaults up and attacks on the way down. These are both useful to approach, as reversals, and in combos since they knock down and are hard to punish. From the right distance, these attacks can cross up and lock characters into proximity block, forcing them to attack. Clown can also use Head Stamp to interrupt zoning or quickly attack with an overhead, even forming a sneaky setup after a throw where he throws a Card and uses Head Stamp to make card hit as a crossup.
While Clown does repackage specials from other characters, he doesn’t play out like any of them. He’s generally considered weak due to his limited combo game and prefers to throw Cards while charging his other specials. He really thrives on being unpredictable despite having one of the strongest fireballs in the game. If you cause people to freeze up looking for Spin Attack, you can sometimes sneak in a throw or sweep. Clown is a fun character to play around with, and it’s annoying trying to counter random Spin Attacks, Head Stamps, and having to mash against his throw.
Karnov is the final boss of Fighter’s History and Dynamite, and the face of Data East in general. There are hundreds of articles and dozens of videos on the design origins of Karnov, but here he’s based on Abdullah the Butcher. He checks off everything that made Abdullah famous, from the scars on his head to the pointed boots to his karate skills. Karnov is kind of a jack-of-all-trades character with some unique attributes. His weak spot is his golden necklace, presumably one of many treasures Karnov acquired in his travels.
Karnov has a bouncing Mario-style Fire Ball, and a typical Fire Breath, which both knock down. On the other hand, Karnov has a great rushdown tool in Super 100-Kick, a charge move where he kicks 3 times to hit various weak spots, and is plus on block. Combined with his long-reaching normals that are perfect for chains, Karnov can really force the opponent into a corner if they hesitate. He has a glitch if you charge 100-Kick, press LP and chain into cr.HK with down-forward, causing him to teleport to the other side of the screen, making an active Fire Ball cross up. He even has a difficult, spacing-dependent infinite if he lands only the second hit of 100-Kick.
One of Karnov’s most defining special moves is his Balloon Attack, in which he swells up while invincible before falling with a vulnerable cross-up. He can steer while invincible, and attack while falling, and even cancel air normals into Balloon to allow him to cross up on block. Combined with his uniquely chainable jumping LP, Karnov is strong in the air, but Balloon has a variety of answers. You can anti-air it just fine but be wary of committing too early since the LP and HP versions float for a different time. You can also backdash for a low-risk answer, which sometimes lets you punish him but naturally isn’t an option in the corner. Finally, Ray, Ryoko, and Jean can all air throw him during the float, so they make it hard for Karnov to use Balloon.
In the end, Karnov really stands out as a fighting game boss for being surprisingly fair. He can absolutely hang out with the top tiers, and he has uniquely flexible moves, but he’s not unbeatable. Balloon is his only invincible move, so he lacks a proper reversal, which is an important weakness. Still, Balloon is unlike any other move in fighting games at the time, looking like it would be at home in an anime fighter. There are lots of layers to Balloon, so much so that Theory Fighter made an entire video on it – watch here.
Part 3: How to Start Playing (and loose ends)
Karnov’s Revenge has a dedicated community that is welcoming to new players for a retro fighting game. Take it from me – I’ve only been playing fighting games for about 2 years seriously.
If you haven’t already heard of it, Fightcade is the place to play fighting games online with people all over the world, thanks to rollback netcode. Fightcade supports tons of other games too, spanning arcade platforms like CPS2, CPS3, Atomiswave, and more. Download Fightcade from their website, create an account, and use the FC2 json pack to grab ROMs here. Naturally, there’s a Karnov’s Revenge discord that’s active and has occasional tournaments. You can also get Karnov’s Revenge on modern platforms if you want to take it offline. The Arcade Archives (ACA) is a series of ports available on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. This doesn’t have online play, so if you’re on PC you should just set up Fightcade.
Now, what if you’re not already convinced this is the game for you?
There are plenty of arcades that regularly upload tournament and casual play – search “ファイターズヒストリーダイナマイト” for “Fighter’s History Dynamite”. These are: Mikado, GAME-NEWTON, and A-Cho. If you want a great tournament with English commentary so you can really follow it, watch 2020’s DYNAMITE tourney, streamed by LordBBH. You really get a sense for how punishing the game is, but also how easily you can turn the tide of a match. Additionally, there is a wiki for this game on SuperCombo, with complete hitboxes and frame data plus useful tips.
Finally, there’s one thing I forgot to touch on: There is a “sequel” to FHD initially meant to be a port to SNES, called Fighter’s History: Mizoguchi Kiki Ippatsu!! (Mizoguchi’s Critical Moment). It leaves out Ray, Matlok, Samchay, Jean, and Marstorius while adding Chelnov (another Data East character). It’s clear the game’s plot is a joke they had fun making, but there’s no translation available so it’s hard to appreciate that. The gameplay is similar outside of some underwhelming new moves, except Ryoko has an air Yama Arashi and Yungmie has a new grounded special. It’s just kind of less balanced, and some fun moves like Balloon are toned down, but it might be fun to mess around with. Yungmie has a divekick that can be looped into itself, by the way.
Karnov’s Revenge, aka Fighter’s History Dynamite, is a great game that was truly ahead of its time. I think it’s aged well and is worth playing, whether you’re already a fan of fighting games in general or not. It’s iterated on the Street Fighter 2 formula when you get down to it. Of the two games, I prefer Karnov’s Revenge for sure.
It’s the game I love to recommend to new players, partially because it’s free, but mostly because it’s mechanically simple. Even if you’re losing, you can intuit what you’re supposed to do, plus I’ve found the experienced players go out of their way to help new players. It’s just that sometimes, what you’re supposed to do is not whiff a DP, and failing that, not crouch while Jean is punishing you.
If you’ve made it through this whole review… love letter… whatever, thank you for reading.