Sokko Seitokai: Sonic Council (1998, Banpresto and SIMS)
Here we come to another one of my favorite fighting videogames for Sega Saturn, the highly skillful and polished Sokko Seitokai. The name translates as “Hasty Student Council” (“Sonic Council” is a bit of a pun) and features the usual assortment of anime high school students and teachers who battle one another in school gymnasiums, playgrounds, video arcades and city streets. According to a Japanese fan site, this game was intended as a spoof or satire of manga comics, as well as similarly-themed games like Asuka 120%. It was developed by SIMS Co, a very successful Sega subsidiary that was formed to bolster the Master System library in Europe, and was extremely prolific through the Dreamcast era before becoming independent in 2004. In the last decade, they are known for creating fishing games. Lots of fishing games. This certainly explains “Sonic Council,” if nothing else.
Sonic Council is extremely polished title, with its sizable character roster, large collection of special moves and super attacks that can result in massive 15-hit combos. The rhythm and flow is far closer to SNK than Capcom, and I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that SIMS was responsible for the Saturn translations of Fatal Fury 3 and Samurai Shodown 3, both of which were released previously. In order to create a good brawler, a software team usually needs a couple titles under their belt. First-time efforts usually fall flat. Kasumi Ninja, anyone?
The character designs are very impressive, pencil thin and scrawny but animated with extremely fluid motion. Their standing animations seem to be drawn on “ones”, which is highly impressive for the Saturn era. According to the GDRI database, a company named Digimotion was responsible for these designs, and I’ve also managed to find at least a couple comic books featuring these characters that were published in the following years. In addition, Gamest Magazine also played a role in the making of this game. One source cited their role as “supervisor,” but it has never been revealed exactly what that means. It may have been nothing more than a glorified celebrity endorsement/tie-in. We would have to dig up some 1998 issues of the magazine to search for clues.
One thing I should say about Sonic Council: it’s very tough. The computer will kick you around like a tin can if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Practicing your moves in the tutorial mode is a must, and you’re also going to need a players’ guide from GameFAQs. Fortunately, the special moves usually involve standard joystick rotations, along with some double-tap attacks and throws. You’ll get the hang of things soon enough, but expect to hit the ground running. This videogame is not interested in winning you over slowly. It intends to beat you like a gong.
Visually, Sonic Council looks terrific. The characters are a bit shorter than you’d expect, especially after playing Asuka 120% of Astra Superstars. The fluid animation, however, more than makes up for it, as does the impressive stage designs and animated crowds. I was very impressed by the “sonic wave” effects that roll out whenever a major attack is joined. There are also a couple characters with flames that dissipate heat if you look very closely. It’s subtle, especially on a CRT television, but very cool. This game has a quiet confidence in its bones. The programmers don’t feel the need to beat you over the head in order to be heard. Well, except for those seizure-inducing flash effects when you pull off a “special attack” KO. That’s also cool.
This videogame is very obscure among Western Saturn fans. It has managed to hang under the radar while bigger names hog all the attention. If Sonic Council were published by SNK, it would today be hailed as a minor classic of the genre. Instead, it was published by Banpresto with no announcement as to its developers or their pedigree. Because of this, the game has remained overlooked. Whatever. This is one of the best 2D fighters on the system.
Prices on eBay are lower than you would expect, currently hovering in the $30-$40 range. There are fewer copies floating around, but its obscurity has helped keep the prices sane. If one or two prominent video review shows were to feature Sonic Council, the eBay scammers would immediately jack the price to over $100. I strongly advise grabbing yourself a copy before that happens.