3, 2, 1, killshot! Let's discuss One Punch Man!


July 13, 2013

Let's discuss fighting games...for EVO!


How does the saying go…?  Ah, yes -- get HYPE.

I should probably start by saying that I’m not very good at fighting games.  I’m no Flowchart Ken, but I’m in this weird purgatory where I’m several steps above a “scrub”, but several steps below someone who actually practices with the game on a regular basis -- so yeah, you won’t hear about me taking any tournaments anytime soon.  But I still enjoy the concept of them, and the potential each one holds.  The end result may always be the same, but how they go about it varies wildly.  Not to mention the joy (and despair) that results from playing as your favorite character.  Truefax: the only reason I’ve played Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is because I get to lose with play as Phoenix Wright.

So in honor of the battles destined to rage at this year’s big battlefield, let’s talk about a whole mess of fighters -- old ones, new-ish ones, and more.  So oil up your arcade sticks; it’s time to DP our way into some tatsunical combos!

…Tiger knee motion.

Street Fighter 4!
(Or: Screw You, Capcom, I’m Not Typing Out the Full Name)

Hard to believe that it took me this long to talk about the game.  Oh well.  Let’s give it a go.

The thing about fighting games (at least for me and my brother) is that you experience them through stages.  They’re amazing when you first pop in the disk and screw around with characters in a low-stakes, low-tension environment.  But once the honeymoon period is over, the arms race begins -- and so does the frustration.  But that frustration can be tempered by the game’s core mechanics; if it’s still fun and rewarding while doing its best to minimize the garbage, then you’ve got yourself a winner.

And that brings me back to Street Fighter 4.  It sparked this semi-recent fighting game renaissance, and in spite of running off of four-year old technology with minor tweaks, it’s not only remained a mainstay in the fighting game community (here and abroad), but may very well get better with age.  And that’s going beyond the updates released over time; as the reborn granddaddy of fighting games, it teaches you the fundamentals fairly well through combat and exploration of its mechanics.  Simple to learn, hard to master -- as it should be.


In the past, I’ve taken issue with the game for being so dependent on “links” for combos -- that is, in order to do some of the more advanced stuff (or even basic stuff), you have to use certain attacks within a fraction of a second between one and the other.  So if you want to link two low punches, you have to hit a punch button and get a clean hit, and while your opponent is stunned by that attack you have to hit the button again at the tail end of your move’s recovery and their recovery to get in an extra hit or keep your combo going.  It always felt kind of rigid to me -- but more importantly, I feel like it puts up a barrier between the haves and have-nots.  If not for this link system of combos, I bet that there wouldn’t be quite as many Ryu players who can only go for a jumping kick followed by a sweep.  (I can’t blame them, though, because in some instances that does MORE damage than a link combo.)  It’s a restriction that doesn’t need to be there, and only widens the gap…not to mention that links are never properly explained in the game proper, in-battle or out of it.

That said, what the game DOES teach you in battle is what makes it into something fantastic.  A strong understanding of the fundamentals can compensate for a lack of dexterity; if you’ve got a cool head, you can beat any opponent that comes your way.  How well you’ll do depends on how well you know your character’s capabilities; as a Guile player, I have a game plan that’s won me several fights.  Make good use of his anti-air attacks.  Put up a strong defense via Sonic Booms -- and ruin an opponent’s day if they try to jump over it carelessly.  Set up a throw with a Bazooka Knee, or change spacing with a Rolling Sobat.  DON’T just throw out Flash Kicks.  Stay calm, and hold the line -- and debilitate even the most aggressive opponents by taking away their ability to attack.


There are always going to be characters that are better than others -- more tools, more options, more power -- but I’d like to think that even in the face of superior character ability or opponent skill, each character (and the person behind them) has the tools they need to win a match.  There have been times where my brother -- as he so often does -- has rushed me down furiously, and kept me completely locked down.  That’s his play style; to make a comparison with chess, it’s as if he gets five turns for every one you make.  You DON’T want him getting close to you, because he WILL find a way around your defenses before long.  But what I’ve started to realize and enjoy about SF4 is that you have the tools to make on-the-fly adjustments.  Got a Makoto coming at you and looking for a combo-starting grab?  Don’t think you can stop her with Dee Jay’s kicks?  Keep an Air Slasher on the field and keep her from dashing in close -- and mess her up if she tries to leap over it.  Or what if you’ve been pushed into a corner with Yang applying the pressure?  No problem for Guile; just wait for him to keep on pressing buttons, then poke him with a low kick -- and just like that, the match is won.

It’s that moment of dawned realization that helps make SF4 -- or any of the games, for that matter -- more than just adventures in button mashing.  It’s a chance for you to pull off some amazing comebacks with savvy as well as skill.  Or if you’re like me, you can maybe get a Perfect with some E. Honda shenanigans.  That jab into Oicho Throw is something else…


Persona 4 Arena!
(Or: The Single Greatest Failure of My Fighting Game Career)

Oh, hey, it’s Persona 4 Arena -- the game that supposedly died a month after release.  Well, shows what you know, FGC; it’s back and…just as good as it always was.

Okay, honestly?  I know I’ve already talked about this game before, but I want to do so again.  When competition dried up on Xbox Live, my brother traded in the game -- and when he decided to switch to making the PS3 his fighting console of choice, he picked up another copy of it.  So now I get to have my ass kicked all over again (and again, and again, and again)…but much like playing Phoenix Wright in Marvel, I’ll be able to do so with one of my favorite characters ever, Yukiko.  And all with those delicious ArcSys sprites.

It’s been a while since I’ve played the game -- and even then I didn’t put THAT much practice into it -- but I can tell you right now that whatever reputation it’s garnered as “dead” or “RIP Persona” is completely undeserved.  Each character -- a human/Persona team, with each one’s attacks controlled by two of the four face buttons -- is markedly different from one another, and as such I’d assume there’s a pretty steep learning curve for even beginning to crack open newbie-ready fighters like Yu.  That said, P4A excels in its ability to put its players into a “frenzy”; the sensory assault, combined with the almost-taxing need to manage two characters asynchronously, can and likely will put you into situations where you’ll want to fight, and fight harder, and fight your hardest.  Matches are so damn hype -- doubly so because each character not only has plenty of sneaky tricks at their disposal, but the game mechanics make an overwhelming offense AND an impenetrable defense possible.  Well, at least in theory.


I say “in theory” because, against a sufficiently-skilled opponent, they’ll have all the tools they need to crush you…and YOU’ll be left paralyzed with fear and confusion.  Case in point: my brother (as he often does) swears up and down that Kanji is one of the worst characters in the game, and likely ever created for a fighting game.  I contend that he is the greatest grappler-type ever made.  He can close the gap between himself and opponents with one well-placed attack almost instantly.  His Persona has a massive attack range and does some monster damage.  Some of Kanji’s normals have HUGE range, making anti-airs or even escaping him difficult.  He can combo into his command grab, one version of which gives him temporary invincibility…and another one lets him anti-air you, slam you back down to the ground, and set up another devastating combo.  And just when you think you’ve got him on the ropes -- locked down with zoning and long-distance pressure -- he can use THE MOVE.

I don’t know what it’s called.  I don’t know how you do it.  But while he’s in the air, Kanji can go for a wild leap that homes in on you, grabs you, slams you into the ground, lets him hit you with a dozen punches, and sets him up for even more pressure…or if not that, then lets him combo into his Super immediately after.  That little trick can take away as much as a third of Yukiko’s health in one fell swoop -- one misstep that can instantly turn the tide of a fight, if not win it entirely.  And Kanji can, because IF he finishes with a Super, he can go for a mix-up into one of his command grabs…and do more damage.  And kill you.

Little wonder that when dear old big bro brought Kanji out to play, I lost thirteen times in a row.



But the funny thing is that I’m not all that salty about it.   I would be if we were playing Marvel , but I don’t mind as much in this game.  I think part of the reason is because it feels more…for lack of a better word, “fair”.  I lost so many matches in P4A because I wasn’t on the lookout for THE MOVE, which is something that is in fact possible to prevent (a forward dash will make it miss completely, along with an anti-air at the right -- if awkward -- angle).  I can tell you exactly why I lost each match in P4A, as can my bro, and no doubt plenty of other players of the game; others can do the same for Marvel, sure, but with no shortage of frustrated, crinkled faces, I’d bet.  Or excuses.  Or confusion.  Or maybe they can’t answer. 

Whatever the case, I’m calling P4A the better game, if only because I’m an Atlus fanboy.  As one should be.

On that note, though, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the story mode of the game.  I DID talk about it some in the past, but for whatever reason I ended up letting it slip off my radar.  I feel guilty about it, so I’ll use the next paragraph to try and make up for it…and say that you’re probably better off not bothering with it.


Don’t get me wrong; it’s not as if it’s bad.  It’s just that there’s too much of it, and it doesn’t really go anywhere.  Each character in the game has their own story path -- presented in visual novel format, with voices -- and deals with them trying to figure out the mystery behind this mysterious tournament.  And individually, they are worthy successors to P4.  Collectively?  They’re kind of bad.  Play through Yukiko’s story, and you’ve got the roadmap for Yosuke’s story, Chie’s story, and Yu’s story -- scenes and dialogue that suit their characters, sure, but the main idea is the same…and there’s plenty of repeated information between the three of them to cheapen the effect.  Same goes for Naoto’s, Kanji’s, and Teddie’s stories. 

The P3 characters’ stories are kind of a drag, in that most of their character development has already been handled in their game of origin (Mitsuru in particular, whose story drags the most).  Labrys is the only one whose story significantly expands the plot in a different way, and you have to unlock that one first…which compounds the problem of each given story being too long and non-interactive for its own good.  I think it’ll take you as much as thirty minutes of just hammering the A button to get through the text in Labrys’ story.  And when you do, you don’t unlock the true, final story; you just get the chance to CONTINUE from where you left off, as everyone’s story ends on a cliffhanger.  And those might as well be copy-pasted from one character to the next.      

So no, don’t try to play through each character’s story.  Pick and choose a couple on YouTube, watch Labrys’, and head straight to the true story/ending.  Almost any given story should be enough to entertain you, but taken as a whole?  Not really recommended, sadly.

PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale!
(Or: It’s an Endless Series of Proxy Battles, Fought by Kratoses and Raidens)

One of the things that’s interesting about fighting games (or any game, video or otherwise) is how much they can change over the course of their lifetimes.  As I understand it, the infamous trio of Magneto/Storm/Sentinel didn’t become synonymous with the game until years into MvC2’s lifespan; from what I’ve heard, Sentinel was actually considered awful by most until his potential was unlocked.  So in a way, it feels good to be able to go back and look at PSAS again; the developers touted it as an FGC-ready title, and…Sony dropped support for the developers, plans for more DLC characters --like Dart from Legend of Dragoon -- were axed, and the FGC hardly acts as if the game exists anymore.  To say nothing of balance issues, bugs, and connection troubles that plague the game to this day.   

Good going, Sony.  You’re just lucky you killed it at E3.

Well, whatever.  The game’s future may be up in the air at this point, but people are still playing it online…myself included.  (I needed a chaser after sessions with The Last of Us, you see.)  I still think the game is pretty good, even if it has some very notable flaws; if for some reason you haven’t touched a Smash Bros. game in your life, this is a pretty good alternative.  Call in some friends and let the good times roll.


So, how has the game “changed” in the months since its late November release?  Well, I can tell you right now that the lines have been drawn between the characters; with the honeymoon period long over, it’s safe to say that the proficiencies and tools of each character have been observed.  If you haven’t heard, the gist of the gameplay is ”build meter with attacks, and kill with supers”, so the only way to gain points (outside of using an item added in a patch…or the occasional glitch) is to hit them with a character’s super move -- a basic attack at Level 1, a potentially screen-clearing move at Level 2, and a devastating transformation of the player or the field for multiple kills at Level 3.  How you gain meter will depend heavily on the character you use, but it’s increasingly clear that there are two types of characters in this game. 

You’ve got your “Brawlers” that like to get in close and use their bag of tricks for combos and pressure, and you’ve got your “Blasters” that use their long-range skills -- gun-based, more often than not -- to build meter from afar.  Brawlers build meter quickly and can put up a relentless offense, but at great risk of being hit by a rogue super; Blasters build slowly but safely, and can lock out anyone coming close to them with their techniques.  It’s clear that this is an obvious distinction on the developers’ part, considering the DLC characters.  Gravity Rush’s Kat attacks with aerial blows and mobile offenses, while Starhawk’s Emmett Graves sets himself up for victory with the tools he drops on the field and equips.  God of War’s Zeus is one of the game’s heaviest hitters, with chargeable attacks that can crush an enemy’s guard; Dead Space’s Isaac Clarke has a cornucopia of weapons he can use to strike and even combo at mid-range.  Distinct, but well-set into their roles.  (It’s also worth noting that Sony is being generous with the phrase “PlayStation All-Stars” here.  Because when I think “all-stars”, I think of a character that’s only been around for a few years and has appeared regularly on the Xbox and even the Wii.)


What I like about PSAS is that, much like SF4, it captures the essence of a fighter without demanding an absolute mastery of precise mechanics and inputs.  What’s important here is control; he who controls the battlefield controls history, as a wise man once said.  Balancing meter gain with survival and positioning on the battlefield is very important; if you think you can just combo away without impunity, you’re going to eat a super for your troubles.  You have to pick your shots very carefully, or else you’ll just lose the meter you’ve stocked up.  It’s important to keep your defenses up, but an offense in this game is about more than just giving yourself meter -- if you’re on the attack and knocking your opponents every which way, then they can’t build meter, and thus can’t score any points.  Amidst the chaos of Nathan Drake’s gunshots, Jak’s airboarding, Big Daddy’s charges, and Sackboy’s cake-firing, there’s actually some strategy to be had in the proceedings.  Pick your battles, use your tools, and aim well.

The problem with this game is a simple one, and the same one I’ve mentioned before: Kratos and Raiden, and the players behind them.  (And more recently, DmC’s Dante Donte).  They’re strictly in the Brawler camp, but the problem is that they can completely thwart the efforts of a Blaster before they can even pull up their guns.  Jak in particular has an EXTREMELY rough time against Kratos, in that Jak’s toolset is designed to be used and be most effective at mid-range.  The problem is that at mid range -- and beyond it -- Kratos can completely destroy him, sending him flying before he can even fire off a shot.  Raiden can still close the gap between opponents in an instant, forcing them to crumple and open them up to a combo (or worse, a super).  A Brawler that can’t be stopped -- or WON’T stop -- is almost guaranteed to get their Level 3 before a three-minute match is even close to over; the only way they won’t is if they use the multiple Level 2s they’re destined to “earn” instead. 


Fighting them is a hassle.  There’s no way around it -- and that’s especially the case since you’ll see one, the other, or both in virtually every online match.  They’re not exactly invincible, and like any good Flowchart Ken you can take advantage of their sloppiness.  But the game is almost fully dominated by these two characters (with support from their good friend Donte).  There is combo potential in there -- Cole and Sackboy can do some cool stuff -- but for a game well over seven months old to have its dominant strategy be “pick Kratos, grapple doodz” only highlights how much something needs to be done about these characters.  There shouldn’t be one guy that can attack in a full 360 degrees of motion at a distance of three Big Daddies away and earn a Level 3 in a minute and a half, while another character is lucky to even get a hit in despite stating his attack first.

 I’m probably going to play it again tomorrow, because I’m dumb.


Injustice: Gods Among Us!
(Or: You Mean…BIZARRO FIGHT?)

Now here’s an interesting one.

I didn’t have very high hopes about this game.  I’ve never been a fan of the Mortal Kombat games, and having played the recent reboot I can’t say Netherrealm Studios did much to win me over.  The games just feel stiff and awkward to me, and the inputs for special moves have always felt needlessly obtuse.  The sound design is lacking, there might as well not even be music, and the less said about the character models (past or present), the better.

But Injustice actually managed to win me -- and apparently, a large part of the FGC -- over.  Oh, sure, there’s still a weird stiffness to the game, and everybody’s got some seriously awkward poses, but I still kind of like it.  Maybe it’s just because of my not-so-secret love of superheroes, but there’s a real charm to the game.  Charm, and depth; it’s not just a matter of trying to overwhelm the player with a smorgasbord of mechanics (though they’re there, and they do their part), but there’s much to learn about the characters and the game itself.  I’d bet that even if the game feels stiff, it’s only because its physics and juggling system work differently from other games. 


In fact, as I was practicing one night, I had a sudden realization.  Injustice isn’t that much different from my favorite fighter franchise, Tekken.  When you’re playing or practicing in Tekken, if you watch characters closely you can intuit where certain moves are coming and going.  So when you first try out the game and hit a few buttons, you’ll notice that it seems like there’s another part to the move you just input.  Explore a few combinations, and you’ll find an extension of the move -- a string.  The same applies to Injustice; in addition to SF-style special moves, each hero (or villain) has attack strings that can lead the way into knockdowns, juggles, or just filler for a special move.  But the game differentiates itself from Tekken by…well, taking elements from Tekken, and Street Fighter, and BlazBlue, and Dead or Alive to create a Frankenstein’s monster of a game.  So you get a juggle-heavy system, special and super moves, character-specific abilities, and environmental shenanigans.  And it all works, somehow.  (Side note: how hilarious is it that in order to create the best Mortal Kombat game ever, they had to copy stuff from other, better franchises?)

It’s easy to take potshots at the game, but for what it’s worth it has my approval.  Dizzying combos aren’t just possible, but vital -- and a lot simpler to do than you might expect.  Twenty minutes with the game is all I needed to come up with some nice Green Lantern combos; there’s some timing required to pull them off, but nothing too taxing even without extensive practice.  And it’s because of that ease of access that makes Injustice strangely surprising as well as satisfying.  This is going to sound ridiculous, but the level of play online in this game is, on average, leaps and bounds above what you’d see in SF4.  You’d think that Injustice would just have a bunch of Flowchart Batmen, but from what I’ve seen there’s a fairly wide variety of players that use a wide variety of tactics and combos.  It’s utterly bizarre how much more effort people put into this game than any other…but then again, maybe it’s because they aren’t getting locked out by such a cumbersome combo system.  One-frame links my ass.


But where Injustice really shines, believe it or not, is in its story.  This is the story that P4A should have had (and deserved); it moves at a brisk pace, gets all its characters in on the action -- and varied action -- and presents its heroes in new and unexpected ways. It’s thanks to this game that I have a newfound respect for Green Lantern, and (as it should) the game makes a strong argument for DC’s heroes, villains, and universe at large.  The clincher for all this is that, in spite of the quasi-gloomy aesthetic and plot revolving around alternate-universe superheroes losing their shit, the tale itself is actually remarkably cheery.  Or rather, “charming”; there’s an unexpected amount of charisma that flows in from the characters, coloring the nightmarish world with the sort of energy, comedy, and spirit you’d expect from the DCAU.  The only difference is that there are swear words and the prospect of Wonder Woman’s tactically-exposed chest.

Injustice seems to understand what Man of Steel -- and plenty of other stories, games or otherwise -- doesn’t: heroes need highs and lows in order to be heroes.  Bad stuff happens in the game, but there’s more than enough bright spots to compensate and offset them.  So yes, alternate-universe Superman may effectively be ruling the world with an iron fist, BUT he’s still the same compassionate and noble guy deep down…if a little too focused on his task of making the world a better place.  So when bad stuff happens to him and he goes even further off the deep end, it’s given more impact.  Well, that and what he does later on.  I won’t spoil it, but it very nearly made me drop my controller in shock.


The story’s not perfect by any means -- there are some logic holes in there -- but the key issues I have revolve around Batman and Flash.  Batman isn’t handled particularly well in this game, in the sense that he’s fighting a pointless battle between being Batman the character, and Batman the pop culture icon-slash-badass.  I suspect you play as him the most out of any of the heroes, which isn’t a problem in itself; it’s just that when it’s time to put focus on Batman, they either don’t do anything with him besides make him the go-to-guy for plot-relevant items, give him a sudden family crisis out of nowhere for a full chapter, or just make him arbitrarily fight his AU self for reasons no mortal man can comprehend.  Meanwhile, Flash sucks in this game.  Every time he tries to do something, he either fails at it or doesn’t get to do it thanks to being strung up by some other failure.  He’s like the Krillin of Injustice, only he actually lives.  And people treat him like he’s important.

All in all, though, I’m VERY pleased with the game’s story.  And I’m pleased with the game itself.  I would recommend watching a playthrough of the story on YouTube, if nothing else (or just do that instead of a full purchase of the game), but for what it’s worth if you grab it you likely won’t be disappointed.  Give it a go.


And really, you’re in good hands if you give ANY fighter a go.  Steep learning curve?  Sure.  An endless array of problems that’ll drive you batty?  Sure.  The sickest, hypest genre that ever existed?  HELL YEAH.  If you haven’t grabbed one fighter in your life, you’re not getting the most out of gaming.  So do yourself a favor, and give a franchise a look one of these days.  Chances are you might find something you like.

Like Rival Schools.  God, I always wanted to play that game.

Well, that’ll do it for now.  See you guys around; EVO’s in full swing, after all.

3 comments:

  1. Persona 4 Arena plays a lot like the Jojo's Bizarre adventure Capcom fighter where Stands = Personas. If you like it it might be worth grabbing the PSN download of the ol' dreamcast game and keep a close eye on Jojo's All Star Battle Coming up. Videos for it look sick.

    As far as Injustice goes, I'm on the fence. I like the 'feel' of it better than MK, as it has the 'street fighter' player mode input. MK was always too chunky for my liking. I will say this: Injustice did something I've wanted a fighting game to do for a LONG time, but I can't get a straight answer from high level players: The fact that the character show their backs to the camera when it makes sense to. I just don't know if this affects hit boxes.

    Only one nitpick I have with the game is the glaring lack of variable win quotes. This is a superhero game, and when you take that into account there are thousands of opportunities for characters to mouth off at each other before and after fights. Considering its extensive story mode. I wouldn't fault it but...

    "...stay down." Really Batman? Everytime? And he's one of the better ones. Better than Aquaman's randomly getting to the ocean no matter what stage he was on thing... Or Luther's SAME conversation on a cell phone EVERY DAMN FIGHT.

    For as much shit as UMVC gets for lack of content. Look at some of Chris Redfield's or C. Viper's Opening and ending sequences on how Lex Luther's win quote(s) could have been amazing.

    http://marvelvscapcom.wikia.com/wiki/Special_Conversations

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  2. I've been keeping an eye on that new JoJo game -- or at least checking out whatever videos pop up on EventHubs from time to time. It looks positively nuts, as expected, but no less intriguing. We'll just have to see how it goes on that one.

    As for Injustice, I thank ALL THE GODS that the devs decided to add in SF-style inputs. In this day and age, in a world where fighting games continue to be dominated by the inputs pioneered and codified by SF, there's just no excuse to have the bonkers-ass inputs of MK. It just makes the learning and practicing process (and the "is this character for me?" trial) a whole lot easier, if you ask me -- vital things for any fighting game, no question.

    To be honest, though, I never even thought about the whole "showing your back" thing in fighters until you brought it up. I guess I was just willing to buy certain conventions like Guile's double US flag tattoos or Dee Jay's MAXIMUM pants (the BEST kind of pants!). Though looking at Ryu and Ken's sprites from the older games, I always felt like they were kind of...awkward-looking. Maybe if they showed their backs more, they'd be a bit better off...?

    Well, I guess that's an issue for Tekken X Street Fighter to sort out, maybe.

    Side note: screw Nova for even DARING so suggest that Haggar has used steroids. Show some respect for the Mayor of Earth!

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  3. this kind of free virtual games kids are a great source of entertainment for kids and there is no doubt about it.thanks for sharing the post here with us.

    ReplyDelete