Yuzo Koshiro is no stranger to either action RPGs or beat-’em-ups given he created the soundtracks to some of the best ones in existence. The gorgeous score to the Turbo Duo’s Ys I & II sounded better than it had any right to given how early the game came out, and Streets of Rage II represents the quintessential beat-em-up soundtrack pair with perhaps the finest example of the genre out there. And even though he didn’t really have a hand in the development of the gameplay of those games, it came as no surprise when his company Ancient released Beyond Oasis, an action-RPG that felt like a brawler.
Even as the Streets of Rage series pushed beat-’em-ups forward farther than they’ve ever gone, the genre at large began to fade into irrelevance. Stages usually consisted of walking from left to right with only a few sad attempts at obstacles thrown in the way to complete the game’s obligatory “level design”. Games like Comix Zone actually did clever things with the well-worn tropes of the genre, but those were the exception instead of the rule. Brawlers needed something new to latch onto.
Except Beyond Oasis latched beat-em-up mechanics onto something old: an action-RPG template. Similar to the Legend of Zelda series, protagonist Prince Ali is dropped into a world and expected to explore it in order to find the correct path through the game. The world itself is open enough to allow for a pleasing amount of exploration, but progression is far more linear as the level design leads the Prince towards the end of the game. On his way, he finds weapons and magic that help him dispatch enemies. All these elements make it sound like a straight-up Zelda clone with more linear level design.
But the combat itself reveals what makes Beyond Oasis so special. When you hit enemies, instead of simply taking damage and flashing for a second, a creature’s animation will reflect when it’s being hit, eventually falling down in a similar fashion to brawler enemies. Most weapons don’t last forever, instead disappearing after a certain amount of uses, forcing you to hoard as many as you can find. You don’t gain health through hearts or other abstract shapes, but by picking up food. These direct references to brawlers made clear Ancient’s intent: bring brawler mechanics into a genre with actual level design. Thankfully, the battle mechanics proved strong enough to give the game a leg up on both Zelda clones and the brawler genre’s long march towards near extinction.
Far more than a mere homage to a more popular game, Beyond Oasis transplants the mechanics legions of beat-em-up fans loved into a different form, proving that the genre didn’t have to fade into irrelevance if developers would only change the way they thought. Though most genere developers of the time didn’t get the message, the game demonstrated that any genre worth creating in the first place has room to evolve provided it has creative, driven people pushing it forward.
Article by Andrew Bentley
GameSpite Journal 12: Beyond Oasis