The matrix of data
Burning Rangers Taikenban is a trial version of BR. It lets you play part of Mission 1 as Shou (if you try to select Tillis, the game tells you she's unavailable).
Thanks to the hacking prowess of Andreas Scholl and the curiosity Simon "Energy" Gibbs, we've learned that there's more to this disc than meets the eye. If you alter its initialization code, you can make it load other missions. This is almost as good as having another prototype build to play with!
On this page, I'll describe what's interesting about this snapshot of BR's development and also how you can do the trick yourself.
Here's a quick summary:
Although this is only a few days older than the January 3 prototype (the last game files are dated December 30), it's got some noticeable differences from that build. There's no sign of Versus Mode – was it not ready yet, or was it not needed for this trial?
Some things that are working in the December 1 build are broken in this build. Swimming, for example, works very poorly.
There are two really cool things: (1) You can play an unfinished version of the tutorial, and (2) the Burning Ship appears in Mission 4.
The game appears to have a hidden debug menu with items that don't appear in the one from the December 1 build.
The unfinished tutorial
There's no tutorial mode in the December 1 prototype. It's nearly done in the January 3 build. This disc has an in-between state: part of the layout is present, but the graphics aren't done and none of the character interactions are implemented.
There's not much to it: Lead is standing there at the beginning, but he doesn't follow you. There are a couple rooms, but they're featureless. The placeholder graphics are kind of cool, though!
Andreas discovered this in 2021. Check out his video – the graphics looks cooler in motion.
The Burning Ship
There are square plates that fall from the sky in front of the ship. You'll take damage if you touch one of them, and you can't stand on them after they land on the lava (?). It's not clear what they're for, nor is it clear whether they have anything to do with the B-ship.
The ship is not in either the December 1 or January 3 build; as far as we know it's unique to this one. It doesn't really make sense for it to be there — in the final game, Shou / Tillis need to defeat the crystal boss that's in this section in order to allow the ship to enter the space colony.
Other differences from the January 3 build
Mission 1 in this build is not terribly different from the January 3 build (or the final release, for that matter). The trial ends after the first section, so you have to play it in two chunks.
A few survivors are in unique locations in this build, and some crystals are in different spots, but there's nothing cosmic.
One thing that's left over from the December 1 build: there's a "burning sun" enemy in the hallway after the second light switch. That's changed in the January 3 build, and is only seen in replays in the final.
Swimming is broken in this build. You notice this right at the start of Mission 2: Shou begins sprinting down a tunnel that's full of water. Indeed, when you're at the bottom of any submerged area, you can run and jump like you're on dry land.
The Mission 2 layout is close to what it is in the final version, and is virtually identical to the January 3 version. Some objects are in different places, however:
There are robots in unique places, e.g. in the hallway next to the dolphin tank.
There are 12 crystals (two green, two red) in front of Marco Martini. There aren't any in the January 3 build, and there are 10 (two green) in the final build.
The rolling canisters are just off the room with the dolphin statue, rather than in the hallway before the water channel (as in the January 3 version). These get cut entirely in the final game.
Leonard Kennedy is just standing there when you're on the Grampus Path. Was he meant to have a larger role? The December 1 build has an unrecognizable survivor in that spot. The January 3 build gets rid of it entirely.
You can't actually play Mission 2 from start to finish. Once you get into the Dolphin tank, you're stuck – the Dolphin doesn't take you to the next section.
Mission 3 is more or less as it is in the January 3 build. Because the debug features aren't enabled, I can't tell whether the spinning fan and anti-gravity switches are present.
The screenshots show: The elevator in Spring Valley Square is missing, so there are more ledges to climb on. The floating canisters from the December 1 build (video) are still there. And Neal is standing (levitating, actually) in the middle of Stick Canyon Path; he's not in his own room yet.
The Burning Ship aside, Mission 4 in this build is closer to the December 1 version than the January 3 version. The first section has the enemies that you encounter when teamed up with Lead (or Big) in the final game. And there are pairs of "burning sun" enemies blocking your path at two different points.
Unlike the December 1 build, you can actually make it to Iria's room in this build. Like the January 3 build, her hypersleep chamber is missing. You can't continue past that room — there are two doors, and both lead down to a formless black void.
Doing the trick
Andreas pioneered this trick: the memory location at 0x06049476 holds the value 0xE000. This tells the game to initialize the first section of mission 1. Changing the value change which section gets initialized:
0xE000, 0xE0001, 0xE002: Mission 1
0xE003: the unfinished tutorial
0xE005, 0xE006, 0xE007, 0xE008, 0xE009: Mission 2
0xE00A, 0xE00B, 0xE000C: Mission 3
0xE00F, 0xE010, 0xE011, 0xE012: Mission 4
0xE004 is a formless black void (it's probably supposed to be to be the Versus Mode area). 0xE000D and 0xE000E don't actually load anything. 0xE013 is probably supposed to be the final boss's area.
This numbering scheme matches with the one used on the hidden debug menu in the December 1 build of BR, for what it's worth. 13 and 14 don't load in that either (are they some lost mission?).
In Yabause or Mednafen you can use the memory editor at the title screen to make this change before pressing start.You can also patch the game binary. I've produced a script that will do it; get it from here.
A debug menu?
The December 1 build has a hidden debug menu. Instructions for how to activate it via Action Replay codes are available on Hidden Palace. That menu is missing in the January 3 build; its strings have been removed from the binary.
Burning Rangers Taikenban has debug menu strings in its binary, but we've yet to discover how to activate it. It's got the same options as the December 1 build, with these exceptions:
PLAYER-2 is missing. This is what enabled cooperative multiplayer in that build.
PLAYER NAME is added. Is this a character select? Or was there a plan to associate names with scores?
INVINCIBLE is added.
DEBUG DISP is added. One presumes this turns on the positioning information shown in the January 3 build.
It would be great to learn how to make this menu functional! Doing so would likely make the trick above superfluous, since the START STAGE option would presumably accomplish the same thing. Get in touch if you can make it happen.
The missing link
The January 3 build showed that there was rapid progress on finishing BR over the course of a month. And this trial disc shows that there was noticeable evolution in even four days. Are there any other builds we can explore?
Well, there's Flash Sega Saturn Vol. 25. It's listed as having a "video" of BR, but the video is actually a set of autodemos. That is, the disc has files from the game, showing pre-scripted inputs. Based on what files are present, it seems to have a significant chunk of the game. The files are from around December 20.
It stands to reason that some patching could make it playable. If that can be done, it would be like having yet another prototype! I would love to document it.
If you've got hacking skills, get in touch. I've been puzzling through how the title screen works, and can share some notes. Let's do it, let's Burning Rangers!
(Update: I have a line on this! More soon...)