There's no such thing as a “hidden gem” in videogames anymore. You have the entire internet at your fingertips; if something was released in physical form, someone has covered it and reviewed it, telling you if it's garbage or not. When I was younger, I didn't have anything to inform me besides Nintendo Power and a crappy AOL site that occasionally updated a list of upcoming Dreamcast releases. With guidance like that, you get stuck with shit like Arcade's Revenge or Harley's Humongous Adventure. However, there's also that sense of adventure—that thrill of not knowing if you're wasting all your money on a terrible game or a diamond in the rough. Flying Dragon isn't really of gemstone quality, but it sure as hell is a unique, relatively fun experience. I think I initially bought this game at a Macy's or Sears or something—an outlet not entirely focused on games, but had a small games rotunda with a kiosk to cash in on the console craze. I was offered the chance from my mother to pick something up since there was a sale, and I didn't find anything I knew I liked. I saw this weird game in the display case, asked to look at the back, and quickly decided to get it.
Flying Dragon is a fighting game for the N64. Back then, the phrase “fighting game for the N64” could only mean one thing: it fucking sucked. Compare the Playstation offerings of Street Fighter 3, Bloody Roar, and Tekken to shit like War Gods, Mace, and Fighter's Destiny 2; it was obvious that the N64 didn't have anything good, just a bunch of bumbling disasters. I only picked up Flying Dragon because of the RPG elements it promised, along with the ridiculous tagline of “customizable 3D system.” In hindsight, I should have known that this meant little more than “you can change the round times and also sidestep lol.” Whatever. What really mattered was that Flying Dragon happened to be 2 games in 1.
There are two selections for you once you name your Controller Pak file “buttface” and start up the game: SD Hiryu and 3D Hiryu. I assume “hiryu” stands for “Hiryu No Ken,” which is what the series is called in Japan—but we'll get into that later. SD Hiryu is the more notable choice, as it offers the unique RPG elements and character growth.
SD stands for “super deformed,” which is a common art style in many Japanese games; your characters are basically big-headed cartoonish caricatures. It's a little anime, but not anime enough to make me want to kill myself, so it's at the right level of SD. You have 8 characters to start with, while 2 secret characters—Voldemort in dragon armor and Pinnochio—can be unlocked later on. There's a standard Goku clone, a racist sumo wrestling robot with buck teeth, a wrestler named “Powers,” and a psychic cherry blossom ninja girl among the various choices. They're actually pretty well-balanced and interesting, given the fact that some of them focus more upon counters, throws, projectiles, or combos. Since you're going to be leveling up items and overall character strength, I'd suggest you stick to only a few characters, or you'll go insane with the repetitive tournaments.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of items and treasures to collect or evolve. I've played this game for a long time and I still haven't gotten them all, and I was never completely sure what all of them do. For the most part, you'll be equipping basic offense and defense items, which do things like add value to physical attacks, throws, or stamina. Not all characters can equip everything, and not everyone should; you don't want to equip a +2 Throw option on a character that only has one decent Throw. Since you have 4 slots for each character, you'll have space for one Offense, one Defense, and two Misc. items that do whatever. Most of the Offense and Defense items are fairly straightforward, though there are a lot of Misc items that are just kind of mindboggling.
One of your characters, Suzaku, starts with TWO of these mindfuck items: Nameless Fang, and Nameless Feather (both tied for Best Generic Name Ever). Nameless Fang and its ensuing evolutions grant you a percent-chance of lowering your opponent's Attack value, at a certain rate. So, Nameless Fang, at a rate of 50%, can lower the strength of a single attack by -2. Got all that? There are also items that do the same with an enemy's defense, as well.
The other item, Nameless Feather (and its evolutions, as well) is something that has puzzled the internet for years. It grants “Otedama,” which causes “gusts of wind” or “your opponenet will float” or something, according to its hackneyed description. Now, I have yet to see any fucking gusts of wind appear with this thing equipped, though apparently it means you have an easier time juggling opponents. I might be inclined to agree with this, given how well this could work with Suzaku's patented “Fuck Off” uppercut move. I'm just going to assume that people's hypothesis about the floaty juggling is correct and move on with my pitiful life.
Although chances are most of the very rare items, like the unpronounceable, legendary “Pike Of Gundertentaisen,” will be dropped randomly from tournament wins, you can still buy a decent amount of items from the Shop. I realize I forgot to mention that you get gold monies for each opponent defeated, as well as a cash bonus for tournament wins, but it's only because I'm already tripping over myself trying to cover every goddamned facet of this itemization system. The Shop sells a lot of basic items at first, but gradually increases its stock with better equipment as you make progress through the game. You can even get discounts depending on whether or not the anime waifu who runs the shop likes you or not; the only way to get anything less than “likes you” is to repeatedly enter and exit the shop while buying jack shit. The shopkeeper eventually becomes so pissed off that the prices of everything get raised, as well. There's basically zero window shopping in Flying Dragon.
Later on, it will be easier to play with lesser-abled characters, since your powerful ones will have unlocked all these more effective goodies for them to equip right away. More often than not, the very effective items have a high level requirement to equip—characters will move from level zero all the way up to five, based on how far you have come in the tournaments.
In addition to all the goofy loincloths and nameless fangs your heart may desire, you can also purchase weird shit like “mind's eye” boosters and single-use medicines that heal you in battle, equipping it in the Misc slot. Mind's Eye is a mechanic I still don't really understand too well, but apparently it helps you identify certain spots on an opponent's body to hit for greater damage. The screen will go dark, you'll see glowing points appear on specific limbs, and you'll have to try your best to hit them with whatever moves aim for that space. It's kind of random and probably sounded better on paper than it does in a tangible sense. Moral here is don't fucking waste money buying “mind's eye” boosters.
You can buy helpful books and scrolls that give you hints on the game mechanics, too. Most of these are stupid and aren't worth buying unless you're truly an idiot, but a few strategy books are worth glossing over so you can figure out how to defeat the fucking Metal champions in tournament mode.
The last thing I'll say about items is that once in a while, you'll find one with some kind of “Treasure Buster” ability. That means you'll be able to utilize your Special meter for this alternate ability, instead of your usual special move. Sometimes it's a useless 2-second invulnerability glow of some kind, sometimes it'll freeze your enemy in place. God only knows with this game and its Otedama ocean breeze bullshit. I will say that the most useful (and fun) item was the incredibly rare Teleport Mantle, which—you guessed it—lets you perform Mega Man-esque teleports around the stage.
The tournament mode, like I mentioned before, consists of 5 or 6 fights each time. However, as you win more and more tournaments with a character, they will eventually start fighting stronger opponents, leading to the Metal fighters. These Metal fighters are basically just shiny platinum reskinned versions of the main 8 fighters, and they always appear in a certain order, starting with Metal Shouryu (the game’s resident Native American ninja). What’s so special about these alloyed assholes? Well, they each have a particular ability tailor-made to annoy the shit out of you. Shouryu’s is actually one of the worst: each time you hit him, you are frozen for a second or two. With the timer set to “INFINITY” for these special battles, there are pretty much only two ways to feasibly beat Metal Fucking Shouryu: 1) Using only projectile attacks, which doesn’t trigger the freeze ability but takes literally half an hour to do since projectiles barely do fuck-all to Metal characters, or 2) USE SECRET SCROLL. You see, each Metal character’s special ability can be negated by finding a stupid item, usually hinted at through certain books and texts in the item shop. These texts usually tell you things like “beat a tournament with the timer set to 99 and rounds set to 1 to unlock Mythical Ice Cream which cancels the ability of Metal Suzaku.” Once you’ve done whatever boring task the text commands of you, the secret item is bestowed and you can righteously destroy the Metal boss.
Sooner or later, after beating all the Metal jackasses with or without those anti-treasures, you’ll be invited to the RYUMAOU tournament. Ryumaou is the big bad secret boss character whose interests include chokeslams, triple-kicks, and making giant fists drop down from heaven onto your skull. To reach him, you’ll have to defeat every fucking Metal character in a row. If that wasn’t fun enough, not only do you have to beat normal Ryumaou, but also his Metal Hasbro action figure palette swap, now with 100% more bullshit. If you can somehow make it past all that crap, you’ll unlock Ryumaou for regular play.
There’s another secret character named Bokuchin, who is basically a deformed Pinnochio with the most annoying goddamn voice in the world. Good, then, that Bokuchin seems to fucking talk and shriek more than any other character whilst fighting. Bokuchin is possibly the most frustrating secret in the game, possibly even more ridiculous to find then the “Whatever of Whatevertaisen” weapons that drop only under a blue moon. In fact, Bokuchin unlocks much in the same fucking way: randomly. Bokuchin just pops up whenever he fucking feels like it for a special “Challenger Approaching” battle in tournaments; he could appear on your 4th fight or your 400th, and there’s no goddamn way to unlock him otherwise. Good luck finding this motherfucker.
Randomness is really the name of the game for SD Hiryu; there are so many things that just “happen” or tend to drop without warning, and I doubt you’ll ever really find all the items that exist. There are even special moves for characters that sort of drop randomly, or could possibly rely on the number of tournaments you win. There’s almost no real order to the madness, which is precisely what makes it so much fun to barrel through. The fact that you have 8 different characters to experiment with makes it even better (well, 7, maybe; Hayato is boring as shit and is borderline worthless).
3D Hiryu is a different affair from SD Hiryu entirely, focusing on “finesse scores” instead of “silly power glove collecting.” 3D Hiryu is the serious hardcore version of FD, relying more on counters and combos than ever were suggested in the previous mode; it plays and looks like some weird Virtua Fighter knockoff. By all accounts, it’s an extremely passable and adequate standalone game, if somewhat barebones; I don’t think this would have ever stood on its own, which is probably why it came packaged with the more unique Hiryu game.
The character selection is pretty generic, giving you a mix of “adult versions” of SD Hiryu combatants and new (uninteresting) ones. Ryuhi, Hayato, and Shouryu all make the cut over, as does Suzaku—but curiously, Suzaku is called “Red Falcon” here. I don’t know who the fuck they thought they were fooling, though; Red Falcon looks like Suzaku and carries over quite a bit of his moveset. Who knows, who cares. Wiler, Robonohana, and Powers are swapped out for a military lady named Kate, a cyborg assassin named Raima, and an old man named Gengai. I never thought I’d miss the bucktoothed sumo wrestling cyborg, but here we are.
So, why wasn’t Flying Dragon a more successful game? It’s a legitimately interesting idea that didn’t get any real press at the time of its release, not even in Nintendo Power, god save us. The stigma of an N64 fighting game might have killed it before it really got its legs going; it didn’t help that this was part of a series that didn’t even really have a place in English-speaking territories. Not only was there an SD Hiryu no Ken game with over 20ish characters for the SNES (including SD Raima and a flying lion) but there was a sequel that didn’t even make it over to the States. I’ve tried the sequel through the magic of emulation, but only really got to sample a few fights due to not knowing what the fuck was going on. There’s no official translation, and never will be. Nobody gives a fuck about the series, though this situation wasn’t helped by the fact that it was published by Natsume (SERIOUS FUN). Natsume mostly stuck to Harvest Moon sims and weirdo Nippon platformers, and they were never really a big player in terms of AAA releases. Harvest Moon 64 was probably their best known release, and it looks like it’ll stay that way in regards to N64 publications.
It’s 2014, and emulation exists everywhere. The possibility that game carts of Flying Dragon exist at a reasonable price being slim to none, I heartily endorse “borrowing” this game on ROM to try for yourself, if only to laugh at every “I Will Send You To The Hospital” quote from the mouths of these weirdo SD characters. RPG elements in fighting games aren’t very widespread these days, unless you count the half-assed modes Guilty Gear throws out these days. Flying Dragon is pretty simple, pretty fun, and endlessly entertaining with the amount of bizarre questions it tosses at you. It’s a lost treasure, much like the Pike of Gundertentaisen.