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February 8, 2016

So How Good are Fighting Games, Really?

Given that Street Fighter V is basically a week away and this entire blog is based off of a fighting game concept, it’s only natural that I throw this post out there.  Although I’m kind of surprised it took me this long to write it.  I would’ve figured that it would be number one on the docket.

Oh well.  I'd better make up for lost time.

I should preface this by saying that I’m by no means an expert at fighting games.  As a pad player, I’m pretty much using a handicap thanks to sheer laziness.  My execution’s not the greatest -- my leaden fingers make me slow on the uptake -- and my weakness is that I can’t handle getting pressured by enemies.  But the object of the game is to win, and I’ll fight on to win.  And I have won before, even against opponents vastly superior to me.

I wouldn’t call myself a low-tier hero, but a lot of the characters I’ve played in fighters over the years have had crippling weaknesses (or were middle-of-the-road).  T. Hawk is a grappler who has all the faults of a grappler, along with struggles of his own.  Yukiko is basically left defenseless if she loses her Persona.  Palutena’s got some slow moves, despite being the “goddess of light”.  But while tier lists and inherent weaknesses are worth considering, they’ve never stopped me from playing as a character.  I choose who I choose because I think they’re awesome.  More often than not, I’m proven right.

Assuming that there are no fatal flaws to SFV -- which could still happen, since the PS4 edition of USFIV was a mess -- then I’d imagine that I’m in for the same experience all over again.  That is to say, I’ll get to engage with the systems and bond with the characters in ways that most video games wouldn’t dare to allow.  Having spent some time with the 4th beta, I’m feeling really good about Birdie, and Necalli’s not far behind.  Playing as Ryu’s a given, of course, but until Guile drops I want to learn how to use Dhalsim semi-competently.  I only won a whopping one match with him, but his new design is so sick that I want to add him to my stable ASAP. 

I guess for me, that’s really what it’s all about: syncing up with characters and fighting alongside them -- if not as them -- to take on the constant challenges thrown my way.  Pared down to basics, that challenge is basically “sap all that guy’s life before he saps all of yours”, but I think it says a lot when the genre has been around for decades yet has seen countless permutations on the formula.  Hell, look at the Street Fighter franchise as an example; it may have had a rough start with the original outing, but even the re-releases and updates have consistently changed the game.  They’ve shown what can be done, and what games can do.

As a story guy, it’s kind of a bummer that the genre -- and games in general -- can’t always be counted on to deliver touching narratives.  That’s seen some changes lately with stuff like The Witcher 3 and Undertale (outside the genre), as well as BlazBlue and Injustice: Gods Among Us (within the genre).  It’s a shame that SFV isn’t shipping with the full story mode that Capcom and producer Yoshinori Ono have been hyping for months, but I’m fine with that.  At least the story is coming.  And at least the game itself lets players create their own stories with the gameplay.

There’s been a lot of debate over whether or not SFV will be any good.  Some have argued that it’s too simple, or boring; others have argued that the naysayers don’t understand it.  We’ll see how people feel about it in a year’s time -- and indeed, time really is going to determine the game’s staying power.  The last thing Capcom needs on its hands is another Street Fighter X Tekken situation, especially with their flagship title.

But speaking personally?  I’m behind the concepts Capcom’s been pushing with their latest game.  Why?  Easy.  Because I hope that as many people as possible get to enjoy fighting games.

For years now, I’ve been in a position where I’m nowhere near good enough to be a top-ranked online warrior, and certainly not tournament-ready.  But I’m not nearly bad enough to rely on flowcharts or rage quit when my scrub tactics don’t work.  I’m in a weird purgatory, where I can understand the outcries from both camps.  Still, I think it’s for the best when the game is welcoming to beginners -- those who don’t necessarily have a deep bond with fighting games.

Even the simplest among them can be pretty complex.  (Smash Bros. may have some basic controls, but damned if its combos don’t require a brain like a supercomputer.)  And yes, I know what it’s like to be scared off by the complexity of a fighting game -- hey there, Virtua Fighter  -- and I know how much it sucks to feel like you’re flailing around when tasked with performing just a basic combo.  But when you do get to engage with those systems -- when you have that understanding, and can apply what you know -- then it creates for the sort of thrills that not a lot of games can reproduce.

I’m not saying that fighting games should be simplified into oblivion just so the newcomers can feel accomplished, though.  Just look at Rising Thunder; it’s out to make the genre accessible, but retains the depth and interplay that makes a good fight a thrill.  That’s awesome.  But more importantly, a good fighting game can show the level of entertainment that can be had with mechanically-complex games -- with stuff that demands learning, observation, and application.

A lot of games these days have added in RPG mechanics and leveling/progression systems, which is fine in its own right.  But a common problem is that there isn’t enough of a challenge to justify those upgrades -- that, or the gameplay mechanics aren’t complex enough to keep pace with the avatar’s increasing strength. Whereas games like Bloodborne or The Witcher 3 have offered their thrills by forcing the player to learn fighting game mechanics -- spacing, footsies, defensive options, offensive options, etc. -- other games have the same general level of difficulty with the same general application of mechanics from beginning to end.  The only variable is how long you’ll be at it. 

That’s a polite way of saying that some developers think “spawn more doods” = challenge.  Or fun.

To be fair, you can’t expect every game to adopt certain mechanics -- least of all the complexities of a fighting game.  But what matters is that I think people need to feel what it’s like.  They need to know what games can offer, and what can be done with a medium as expansive as this one.  If minds are opened by way of throwing hands with a rival, then that’s pretty cool.  I hope that people all across the board -- players, critics, devs, whatever -- give them a shot.  With the efforts to cater to newcomers, the excuse of “it’s too haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard” has long since started to lose its oomph.

If that happens with SFV, then I’ll be more than satisfied.  There’s no guarantee it’ll happen, of course, but hey, a guy can dream.  Maybe it’ll be the start of a whole new renaissance, just as SFIV was way back when.  Maybe we’ll see more from games, because of an audience that’s seen what can be offered, and what can be done.  Maybe we’ll see a whole new stage of evolution.

Or maybe we’ll just see more dragon punches.  I’m okay with that, really.

But enough about me.  Whether you’re a beginner or a Tekken Lord, feel free to weigh in on the question at hand: how good are fighting games, really?  The best genre?  The worst genre?  Too much for you to handle?  Too simple for your tastes?  By all means, speak your mind -- so that the answer lies in the heart of this comment thread.

Make the first move.  So what’s it gonna be?  You’re trapped in the new world of…et cetera, et cetera.  Now comment!

As for me?  I don’t know.  Guess I’ll wait for #The5thChapter.

Or maybe I’ll upload a post on waifus.  Whichever comes first.

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