Imagine an ordinary day in the 90′s. You walk into your local videogame store and amongst all the Triple-A titles that appear to be receiving all the limelight; you spot a title with a unusual name and Cloud Strife on the cover. After numerous attempts at trying to pronounce the title and a quick read of the back cover, you realise that what you have in your hands is a fighting game. But this isn’t just any fighting game. No, this is a fighting game with the inclusion of the main cast of Final Fantasy VII. Cloud Strife going toe to toe with Sephiroth, Tekken style? Sold!
For those that might have missed it, Ehrgeiz (pronounced “Air-Gaits” for those of you who are stumbling) is a relatively unknown fighting game released back in 1998. Originally developed by Dreamfactory for arcades, the game was later ported to the original PlayStation by Square Co. Ehrgeiz is known mostly for its inclusion of Final Fantasy VII characters as playable fighters; a feat that would clearly do no harm. While the original arcade release was fairly limited, the game understandably made headlines for including both Cloud Strife and Sephiroth as unlockable characters. Once Square caught onto the fact that this concept could create pools of money, they decided to sweeten the pot and throw the majority of the FF7 cast into the port as well.
Let’s set one thing straight, right off the bat; Ehrgeiz is an truly appalling fighting game. Utilising a ‘free roaming’ fighting system, the game allows players to control their combatant in a complete 360 degree movement (think Power Stone, but extremely flawed). With this ‘unconventional’ system and a FF7 cameo, one could be forgiven for thinking the game could have set itself apart amongst the mass of Tekken and Street Fighter clones at the time. Unfortunately though, the novelty wears off fairly quickly, as you begin to realise the lack of any real depth, with only two main game modes besides Arcade and mindless button mashing combat.
Thankfully, DreamFactory decided to include an extra feature called Quest Mode; where the real beauty of Ehrgeiz lies. Taking the action RPG ‘hack & slash’ route, your player is dropped into a mysterious town, tasked with finding artifacts deep within the local dungeon. From there you have your usual dungeon crawler over-world, filled with cookie cutter NPCs, a character development system to level up and of course, lots & lots of loot.
Quest Mode is unexpectedly a blast to play and is a lot deeper than its fighting counterpart. With randomly generated dungeons spanning miles, an extensive amount of loot and forgery combinations and an increasingly challenging level system; Quest Mode will definitely keep you hooked. Your routine play-through doesn’t stray too far from your run-of-the-mill action RPG crawler, but it doesn’t need to. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Enter the dungeon, slay a handful foes, stash the loot, get back to town, sell the loot – rise and repeat. Ehergeiz does mix it up by only having one town hub and one dungeon throughout the entire game, but don’t let that dishearten you. This isn’t your 3-4 level Diablo dungeon here, but instead one going down over 20 levels deep; each more painstakingly difficult than the last. This choice of a single dungeon spanning multiple levels adds a ‘risk for reward’ gameplay style that forces you to re-think your descent. Should you risk pushing on forward in hope of better loot (which in turns makes it increasingly difficult to return to the over-world) or return to the town to restock? It’s this simple formula that makes Ehregiz’s Quest Mode extremely addictive.
Totally unaware of the existence of this mode, or even the game itself before purchasing it, Quest Mode is a much welcomed surprise; especially after the bad aftertaste of the fighting mode. Yes, there is a story that deals with why you’re conquering the dungeon (told through slabs of text), but it shouldn’t be the reason why you’re playing it. Even by today’s standards, Ehrgeiz’s Quest Mode is simply one of the most enjoyable & accessible dungeon crawlers you’ll come across on a console; despite it also being one of the most obscure features to implement into a fighting game.
Square’s decision to throw the cast of Final Fantasy VII into Ehrgeiz was a good one, despite it being totally unnecessary. If it wasn’t for my inner fanboy spotting Cloud on the cover, no doubt the game would have remained on its store shelf. A big mistake considering how much fun there is to be had with Quest Mode. In a world where reviews make or break a video games’ success, Ehrgeiz is one of the only game I bought completely oblivious to opinion. Taking a game home, having no idea what to expect, only to find out that it rocks. No other title has had the same effect on me.