If you’ve been reading this site sequentially, first of all, I am so sorry. Secondly, one thing you may have noticed is that I seem to review a lot of fighting games. This is kind of surprising to me, as I didn’t think I owned that many fighting games, but the proof is in the pounding here. If I really think about it, it does make a certain amount of sense, as even just “buy every Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat” is going to lead to a number of games that are revisions, updates, or just plain lazy sequels. And beyond that, I enjoy fighting games in general, so I’m a lot more likely to take a chance on a luchadore skeleton game, than, say, a random FPS. When you consider how many fighting games were released between Street Fighter 2 and now, well, they take up a healthy portion of my library. And since the FGC is based on the games I have at hand, I guess a prodigious usage of the “fighting games” tag is gonna happen. C’est la vie (Sailor V also appeared in a fighting game).
Now, obviously, this means I play a lot of fighting games. I’m not talking about “for the FGC”, I mean that I have owned these games for years, so of course I played a number of them to death when they were first released. Like, alright, Battle Monsters didn’t see much usage, but even “lesser” fighting games like TMNT Tournament Fighters saw a lot of abused gamepads in their heyday. And a lot of fighting game experience means that I have a lot of fighting game preferences, like where my “strong attack” buttons should be located (shoulder buttons suuuuuck), a proper number of rounds (one and done, thank you), and whether or not special moves should be activated by anything other than a quarter circle motion (maybe I’ll allow two charge characters, but that’s it). It’s inevitable that when you’re a fan of a genre, you start demanding particular stipulations, and I know a number of fighting game aficionados that won’t even play a game if it has something seemingly innocuous like “distracting” backgrounds.
But there’s one place where I differ from typical fighting game fans: I don’t like tiers.
For those that haven’t spent their lives on messageboards, “tiers” refer to how certain characters in specific fighting games are supposed to compare to others. As an easy example, you have the Smash Bros series, where, according to data I am checking right now, Zero Suit Samus is supposed to be dramatically better than (last ranked) Jigglypuff. The term “tier” specifically refers to the fact that certain fighters are supposedly on exact echelons that are higher than others, so, say, Rosalina and Zero Suit Samus are roughly an equal match, while Ganondorf and Jiggylpuff should stick to the “scrub tier” with their own kind. In theory, tiers make a fighting game better: as long as everyone sticks to their tiers, matches are “even”, and no one has to worry about a great victory being soured by “well, sure, you won, but I was playing as Bowser Jr., so it doesn’t mean anything.” And, of course, tiers are great for players that want to maximize their effectiveness: Little Mac might seem great and powerful, but he’s loser tier, so why “learn” the lil’ lug when you’ll get better results with Rosalina? Tiers make everyone’s lives better!
Except… I kinda hate ‘em.
This may come as a shock to you, gentle reader, but I gave up on competitive sports somewhere around second grade. I want to say it was soccer, but I know it was boring. Since then, any physical activity that I’ve enjoyed has been almost dedicatedly “lonely”. I like to run. I like to swim. I like to surf. At least two of those “sports” require a great deal of being in an environment where hearing a “competitor” is next to impossible, and I use headphones to augment any other options. I’m not big into playing to win, I just like playing. I like to experience the joy of paddling through the waves as equally as I enjoy unleashing a properly timed optic blast, and neither action requires the validation of victory.
Now, I say I don’t need to “win”, but I do like to see improvement. Fighting games are all about getting better, improving, and fighting up the mountain of combatants until you’re lord of all corpses. I’ve made my peace with being one of those bodies stepped over to reach the top, and I’m perfectly content to be the very average, like many ever were. I might be able to train myself on a top tier character and claw my way to victory every time, but that’s not me, and I’d rather just figure out a few combos with Servbot. He’s adorable! My serv game is only getting better!
So imagine my surprise when I encountered a game with prebuilt “tiers”.
Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 is the Capcom produced fighting game that compliments SvC: Chaos. Right off the bat, CvS feels like a much more refined experience than its SNK brother (and it was released years earlier, too). Yes, we’re looking at a lot of reused Street Fighter Alpha 3 sprites, and, yes, this is less “Capcom vs. SNK” and more “Street Fighter vs. King of Fighters”, but, random Darkstalkers aside, who cares? Street Fighter and King of Fighters are both the kings (heh) of their respective companies, so if you’re going to have a company crossover, I’d rather see this lineup than Cut Man vs. Crystalis (okay, yes, I’d play that game, too). Minor gripes aside, though, CvS is a great fighting game in the Street Fighter (as opposed to Vs.) mold, which was a noble boon as this was released during the eleven year gap between Street Fighter 3 and Street Fighter 4. If you like tossing hadoukens at green Brazilians, you’ll like shoryukenning some redhead that managed to tie his pants together.
But there’s one big change to the “team” formula in Capcom vs. SNK, and that’s that each character belongs to a hard coded tier. Cammy is in the lowest tier, Orochi Iori is in the highest. This is important, as each team may have a certain number of characters from each tier. You may form a “team” of one tier four (highest) character, or an army of four tier one (lowest) characters. Feel free to mix and match at will, so if one tier three character teaming up with one tier one character is more your speed, go nuts. The possibilities are endless!
… Unless you want to have a team with Vega and Guile. That’s impossible, because those two characters would be just too overpowered if they worked together. May I interest you in a Dhalsim as an alternative? He’s… kinda like Guile, right?
Now, I understand the appeal of this system. Particularly with the generally invincible SNK bosses wandering around, it makes perfect sense to “handicap” any team with Rugal on the roster. But… is that really the best move? One-on-four sounds empowering in theory, but in practice it just means four quick matches where one fighter is forced into conserving health and playing it safe to survive the parade of opponents, and that opponent likely loses fighters as quickly as they can be experienced. Okay, I think I got a good flow going with Yuri here… oh, wait, she’s dead now, time to see how King will fare. On a basic level, “even” teams are always the way to go, else you inevitably run into the same problem you see with beat ‘em up style games that contain leveling (here’s one!). Either you’re too overpowered and it’s over before it’s begun, or you’re too underpowered, and everything becomes an endless slog. On a good match, everybody is even… but why can’t that just be the answer in the first place?
And balance is already delicate in a fighting game before you start introducing mandated tiers. Sakura is tier 1, Ryu and Ken are tier 2, Sagat is tier 3, and Akuma ‘n Evil Ryu are tier 4. Now, I’m not going to claim all those characters are the same… except Ryu and “Evil Ryu” are the same guy! Yes, Evil Ryu has more power and attacks, but he’s not that different, he’s still Ryu. So when you’ve got characters that are very similar on every tier, what does that mean for a more technical character like Dhalsim? I guess he’s on the suck tier because he’s not very overtly powerful, but a new player would understand Evil Ryu’s fireball/uppercuts a lot easier than the dude who can punch from one end of the screen to the other. Who’s more powerful, now? And a character like Ryuji Yamazaki is powerful and technical, and rightfully on Tier Three… but he’s kinda crap if you don’t know his gimmicks, so good luck winning a match with him out of the gate, “powerful” or no.
Look, I’m not very good at fighting games. I have pretty good odds on understanding a fighting system and scoring a few wins on opening day, but after a game becomes established and everyone has gotten in their practice, I’m still playing around seeing how many fireballs I can toss in 99 seconds. I’ve never won any tournaments, I haven’t bought a “fight pad” since the PS2 days, and the idea of memorizing enormous chain combos makes my head hurt. All that said, I just want to play fighting games how I want to play ‘em, and forcing tiers onto a game is the exact worst way to satisfy that. I want Terry to team up with Akuma, and I want a four man team of all Shadaloo Generals. But I can’t do that, because someone decided that some random dudes are too powerful to work together. How is Vega powerful? Dude hasn’t scored a win since Champion Edition!
Fighting game tiers are fun thought experiments, and likely a great way for fans to gauge how a particular character might work in a certain matchup. Just keep the dang things out of actual games, and we should be fine.
FGC #138 Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000
- System: Arcade, Dreamcast (used for this article), and… Playstation 1? Wow, that version could not have been good.
- Number of players: Two is the number counted, and the number counted shall be two.
- Artsplosion: If there’s one thing that I love about this game, it’s that each character has two character portraits, one in SNK house style, and the other for Capcom. I like “artistic interpretations” of established characters to begin with, but when you’ve got SNK Zangief or Capcom Mai running around, I’m downright elated.
- Big Boss: Technically, the final boss is using a ratio total of 6, while the player is eternally limited to 4. Somehow, this doesn’t break the game.
- An End: Officially, this completely noncanon tournament was won by…
Dan and Joe! This is kind of weird, as, aside from some terribly homophobic KoF endings, Joe isn’t generally a joke character in the SNK pantheon. Would Mr. Karate taking Joe’s place be a little too… on the nose?
- Favorite Fighter: Vice, battle secretary to Rugal and Iori, is my favorite random KoF participant. I’ve always liked how she plays, and her sadistic streak makes for an interesting character in battle and out. Sagat is in full “I’m a bad guy!” mode in this game, so he gets second place.
- Did you know? The Final Fight stage features a song called “Needle”. In the console Japanese versions of the game, this song has lyrics that contain the phrase, “I’m ready to fuckin’ spill.” For some reason, this was cut from Western releases.
- Would I play again: Let’s see… the only version of this game I own is on the same system as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Soul Calibur. Hm, I wonder which game is more likely to get played…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man, the original, for the NES! Wow, I guess this turned out to be Capcom week. Let’s join that rockin’ Mega Man on his first adventure. Please look forward to it!