1994 called, and it had a few things to teach us about fighting games. While there has always been an interest in older titles — and 1994’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo has been the biggest mainstay in the group — the year 1994 had more to give the scene, and it has taken many years for this game to step out of the shadows. Perhaps its obscurity has been a hindrance for it; having only been released in Japan on the Super Famicom does not make it readily accessible for the Western market. But its appeal is ever apparent: when played in a side tournament at Canada Cup 2017 during finals day, the game in question received 22 players — some of whom had never played the game before. When they were subsequently eliminated from the tournament, many stuck around, loading the game ROM into Bizhawk to continue playing casuals while the tournament’s lone Super Famicom handled tournament matches.
I’m of course talking about the Angel-developed title Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Jougai Rantou?! Shuyaku Soudatsusen! (Which roughly translates into “Outdoor Brawl?! Heroine Duel!”) This game has been catching on like crazy. While New York City has had a scene for a time, their most recent tournament netted 17 entrants. Toronto’s Stun City Wednesday event now features a weekly tournament for the game, and is becoming a Toronto staple relatively quickly.
What exactly is making this game catch on suddenly? The answer goes beyond the players that have been bringing it out to events, and stems more from the fact that the game itself is designed to be a solid fighter worthy of trying out at least once.
The Game’s Design
At first glance Sailor Moon S appears to be a very simplistic fighter. Despite some of the inputs coming straight from SNK titles, the input leniency of the game makes special moves relatively easy to pull off, for its time.
Sailor Moon S — much like SNK titles — has only four buttons: light punch, heavy punch, light kick, and heavy kick. It’s full of the hallmarks of fighting games in the era of Street Fighter derivatives: health bars, chip damage, special moves, and one button throws are all here. It also features one of the earliest instances of dashes, with each of the nine-character cast being capable of back dashing. There are two instances of characters being able to forward dash, in Sailor Moon and Sailor Uranus, which we’ll discuss later.
But this is where the difference between other fighters of the time end, and the hidden complexities start to shine. While Street Fighter limited players in what they could cancel special moves into, Sailor Moon S only has one such limitation: you cannot cancel a special into another special. This means that literally any normal move can cancel into a special move. To further this, any normal move can also cancel into any sort of dash your character is capable of. This comes in handy, as you can make your high recovery normals — such as Sailor Uranus’ crouching heavy kick — safe by simply canceling into backdash if it hits a block. To further the offensive options, the three characters with aerial specials — Sailor Moon, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Chibi Moon — are able to cancel their aerial specials out of backdash, since the backdash sends them airborne.
If it was this relentless pressure alone that propelled the game, it wouldn’t be as interesting. Fortunately, there are defensive measures that rival the offensive options at hand. If you are under pressure, you have access to a guard cancel, accessed by backdashing or performing any grounded special move. This generates another level of mind games on both offense and defense, where you have to think about whether to create block pressure or backdash out on offense, and whether to guard cancel or not out of fear that they will backdash and punish your movement.
There are a couple of downsides to the game’s engine. First, the developers did not put an input buffer into the start of rounds, so you are not able to buffer charge moves to perform at the very beginning of a match. Second, there are a few crazy hitboxes that make no sense—another relic of the time. Also, outside of hard reads and combos, heavy specials are not very useful as their recovery times make most of them very easy to punish.
There’s yet one more thing: desperation moves. They act as super moves do now, and are only available if you have less than 20% health left or 10 seconds left on the game timer. These can also be guard cancelled into, and counter hit damage does exist. This allows for upwards of 70% damage if you’re not careful and allow these heavily situational attacks tag you.
Beyond the game’s mechanics, there are little extra bells and whistles that make Sailor Moon S one of the most complete fighters of its generation. It features a two-player training mode which is accessible by simply plugging a second controller in during training. This is something that wasn’t done for quite some time in fighting games and was something we would later find to be a necessity. It also features a button check before every single game, and allows you to press buttons to map your controls. As Kenny “Unessential” Ng told me, “It was like they had a crystal ball. They knew what kind of things we’d want and need now, and added it in.”
There’s also a hidden stage that is accessed by holding L, R, and X and going into versus menu, then holding those buttons until you reach button select. You then highlight stage select and press left once for an office level featuring the design team. As another interesting little gift, the story mode features a story that claims that the heroes are fighting each other over who should be leader, and should you defeat the game using anyone other than Sailor Moon, the title screen will feature their silhouette and name in Japanese. All of this is hidden in a game people would claim to be a cash grab on Street Fighter II’s success, which makes it look far more than simply that.
From Top to Bottom
Now that you know the basics, it’s time for the inevitable tier list. The list compiled currently has been presented by NYC player DaiAndOh, and roughly mirrors that of Japan’s tier list. I will explain why these tiers are the way they are, and give you a breakdown of each character so that you can make an educated decision on whom you want to play.
Sailor Jupiter: While the order of the list in each level can be debated, no one questions Sailor Jupiter’s place at the top of the heap. If there was a way to describe her, Zangief after eating bath salts is a great analogy. She has all of the grappling and close-range abilities of the Red Cyclone, but also has amazing zoning tools that make her difficult to play against no matter what range she’s in.
She has a command throw and a lariat-like move, the latter of which can be used in a crossup combo to deal 50% damage if done properly. Much like Zangief’s lariat, she also has lower body invincibility with the move.
Where Jupiter differs from Zangief is that she has a ground fireball that is performed like a Sonic Boom. She also has an air fireball that only connects when it hits the ground, creating a lightning pillar that knocks down on hit and does massive amount chip damage on block. When used on knockdown up close with her canceled backdash, this can create a corner lockdown that does insane amount of inescapable chip damage.
The only real downside to using her is her desperation move, which is a rush punch with high start-up and low invincibility. If anyone reads you for doing it or sees it coming, it’s lights out. This one negative does not even come close to outweighing all the positives, though.
Despite her not really having bad match-ups, there is no match-up that’s unwinnable against her, which makes most of her matches 6-4 at worst. You still have to work to win with her, but her abilities more than make her the cream of the crop.
Sailor Neptune: The stereotypical shoto character of the game, Ryu and Ken mains will feel comfortable trying her out. While she lacks the hurricane kick of the Street Fighter mainstays, her fireball and DP pressure is unrivaled. Much like Ryu in the earlier Street Fighter II games, Neptune can corner you and keep you there with not only her fireball, but her light dragon punch, which has amazingly fast recovery. She also takes full advantage of every normal move cancelling into special by cancelling her light DP out of an overhead kick in the corner, making her high low mix-up game incredible.
The problem is getting her in these ranges where she can terrorize. She does well against most of the cast, but struggles with Jupiter and Mars at the highest level, both of whom can make it difficult for her to get in to her sweet spot. She does have a strong desperation move — a DP which covers half the screen on the way up — but can be difficult to pull off, netting you her heavy DP on accident, which covers far less space and has bad recovery to boot.
Sailor Mars: Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! If you live your life by the Sagat code, Sailor Mars is going to make your day. She has both high and low fireballs, with the high one having a unique arc that makes jumping even more difficult against her. Her low fireball can also lock down. She also has a wheel kick that acts as a solid anti-air or combo ender.
Speaking of anti-airs, she has a wealth of them, with nearly every normal she has acting as a situational one. If you have a solid anti-air game, you’ll enjoy this character immensely. She also arguably has one of the best desperation moves: a version of her low fireball that lifts up off the ground and can do 20% chip damage on block.
Her main issue is her guard cancels, which aren’t very good. Her wheel kicks are entirely vulnerable, which means everything tags them out of guard cancel. Her best guard cancel up close is her low fireball or desperation, but the inputs for both make them difficult to perform unless you are already standing. Hitting Mars low makes her guard cancels virtually useless. And if she’s locked down in Jupiter’s lightning pillars, don’t even bother considering guard cancels, as you’ll just grant her a knockdown and allow her to reset the process.
Sailor Moon: This is a fun, mix-up heavy character that can be a nuisance or a liability at times. She has a mix of good and bad match-ups, and is also one of the more technical characters in the game.
First, Moon has both a grounded fireball, which is a traditional hadouken motion. She also has an air fireball which reverses the hadouken motion in the air. The ability to cancel this from backdash, combined with a forward dash that sends her over her opponents gives her the ability to create both left right and high low mix-ups off of her air fireball. To further her mix-up potential, she has a headbutt grab that she can throw loop on unsuspecting opponents by forward dashing after it resets.
She also has a solid anti air and guard cancel move in her Sonic Scream, which is a flash kick motion with punch instead of kick. This is probably her best chance outside of forward dashing out of the corner to force people off of her.
The downside is that while her mix-up potential is high, it can be avoided. Her air fireball can be ducked even when cancelled from backdash by most characters. The rest of the cast can actually low profile it relatively easily. She also has the most situational desperation move with one of the highest recoveries in the game.
Sailor Mercury: Mercury is definitely one of the most well-rounded characters of the game. She can play the distance game with her charge fireball, and has a ground-to-air fireball that anti-airs really easily by performing a tiger knee motion with punch. She also has the fastest walk speed of the game, a devastatingly ambiguous crossup, a large grab range, a spinning bird kick (which is interestingly a DP motion), and a wall jump. She also has a situational but solid anti-air desperation move which shoots her into the air like an arrow. If you miss though, it’s one of the easiest to punish.
But what makes her mid-tier? While she can play the zoning game, she is best up close with pokes. She thus gets beat by characters with solid guard cancels if you’re not on your toes. Even Sailor Mars can stuff Mercury with guard cancel really easily. Just like the character in the anime, you must play smart to use her effectively.
Sailor Venus: The Dhalsim of the game, all of Venus’ heavy punches utilize her chain, extending her hitbox a decent length. They do have some bad startup properties on them, making you have to time the presses better. However, she has an easy instant overhead using jumping heavy punch.
She also has a hadouken style fireball and a DP that is very useful in combos. Most combos are setup by her upward fireball — a flash kick motion with punch — that allows her to corner lock to her heart’s content. She can also force throw situations by putting her opponents into proximity block with an up fireball in the corner.
Her desperation move also has fast startup and a huge hitbox out in front of her. It also isn’t hard to get on guard cancel, making you think twice about continuing any block string when it’s available.
The problem is getting into her sweet ranges, as she does have a slower walk speed than other characters in the cast. Also, Venus jumping is a liability in itself because her air-to-air game is so bad. Seeing a Venus jump is an invitation for you to jump to beat her in the air.
Sailor Uranus: If you’ve seen videos of this game anywhere, you’re probably wondering why Uranus of all characters is considered low tier. Do note that despite this spot in this list, she is still a viable pick and can wreak havoc in most matches.
Let’s get some of the obvious things out of the way. She has a ground fireball, which is done by rolling forward to down then hitting punch. She also has a full screen backdash and forward dash. This gives her a lot of opportunities to dance in and out of range.
Like Jupiter, she has a command grab, which when coupled with her mobility makes everything she does scary. She has a slide in her crouching heavy kick which can be made safe by backdash cancelling it. If timed right it can also go under most projectiles.
But one of her biggest assets is her forward dash, which not only sets up grab mixups, but can also set up an infinite combo, which has many variations—the most common of which is c.lp, c.lp, c.hp XX forward dash and repeating the process. It can even be set up in the neutral if you block a fireball by guard cancelling into forward dash and nailing their recovery time.
The thing that makes her low tier is also the thing that makes her strong. Like Moon, her forward dash is not invincible, meaning that if you drop a rep of her infinite and continue to pressure with forward dash, a knowledgeable player will make you regret it. Her fireball is also the most situational, and can be beaten clean by other fireballs since it can only negate Neptune’s at full screen, Pluto’s, and fireballs in the mirror match. Her strengths lie in the mixup game after she scores a knockdown, and if you get into a match where you cannot set it up easily — Sailor Mars springs to mind — Uranus has a hard time winning.
Sailor Pluto: It’s up for debate which character is the worst, between Pluto and Chibi Moon. Pluto looks like she could be strong at first sight, carrying her staff even on the character select screen, but looks can be deceiving. While she has a fireball that acts as space control and can even anti-air on a read, it is one of the most situational fireballs in the game. She also has a knee press that can travel full screen and hit overhead. The problem with the knee press is that it lacks in the invincibility department and is thus unreliable in getting Pluto out of the inevitable lock down that she will find herself in.
She has a desperation that does a ton of damage on hit and is really safe on whiff. It also acts as a pseudo forward dash and can be used to set up an infinite. The problem with that is that you already have to be down to 20% health to have access to it, which makes her best tool hard to even get access to and win with.
To top that off she has horrible air normals, and slow and stubby ground normals. Even her best anti-air move in crouching heavy punch has high startup, making it unreliable.
Sailor Chibi Moon: Chibi takes advantage of her small body giving her the ability to duck a lot of things, but she has a lot of work to do. Outside of jumping heavy kick, her air normals are bad. She also has a bad jump arc to start, but can be augmented by being the only character with a double jump. She also has a hip drop that is similar to T. Hawk’s Condor Dive, and can even cross up for mixup potential. The problem is on block and whiff the recovery makes it easily punishable.
On the ground, she has really slow and stubby normals. She makes up for that with a decent slide that can be backdash cancelled. Her fireball isn’t going to win fireball wars but can be used to catch people off guard.
She also has a mixed bag of nuts in her desperation move, an aerial one that causes her Luna P ball to explode across the entire screen, allowing her a great deal of damage on hit or chip. The problem with it is that a lot of characters can either backdash every single hit due to backdash’s invincibility or simply guard cancel the last hit of chip into a fireball to hit her on recovery.
Now that you have the primer, you’re probably now wanting to test this game out for yourself. But if you’re not in an area running the game, the looming question with all old titles is what to do about it.
If you have a Super Nintendo and want to bring this game out to local tournaments, cartridges are not expensive on eBay, and modding a Super Nintendo to accept Super Famicom carts is not a difficult task. If you already have one, you could also load the game onto a SD2SNES, and enjoy it that way.
If this is nothing that you willing to commit to just yet, there is a dedicated Discord community for the game, which features netplay requests using an emulator called Mednafen. They are also really supportive community, which helps players level up in the game.
Beyond that, just have fun playing this game. Even in training mode, there’s a wealth of things to learn, and I’m sure with a little bit of practice, you’ll be whiff punishing everyone in the name of the moon!