Tag Archives: fighting games

FGC #236 Guilty Gear Isuka

It’s the things that you don’t even notice that make a genre.

Let’s look at Street Fighter. And, yes, in this case I am talking about Street Fighter 1, arguably the granddaddy of the fighting genre. Look at this hard-hitting arcade action.

FIGHT!

Did you see what happened there? Did you see what Ryu and Retsu did? No, I’m not talking about their janky movements or their complete lack of hyper moves, I’m talking about turning around. It’s a simple, automatic pivot to guarantee combatants are always facing each other, and it’s the most important innovation in the fighting game genre.

FIGHT?!Think about, well, just about every videogame ever. “Where are you facing” is important in any experience where you have to aim. Mario? I suppose it doesn’t matter if he’s facing the wrong direction while he dashes through the Mushroom Kingdom, but he better aim straight and true when it’s time to start chucking fireballs at Bowser. Contra? Sure would be nice to be able to back up and shoot forward when facing down some of those bosses. And Mega Man, from the company that would bring you Street Fighter, ends every stage with a 1-on-1 Robot Master battle for supremacy… but the Blue Bomber could technically spend the whole match firing in the wrong direction. It’s up to you, player, to make sure your lil’ dude or dudette is pointing forward, otherwise Samus might keep launching not-so-magic missiles into the darkness, and not a pulsating brain.

But it is key that the protagonist be able to aim in any direction, or at least left and right. While it might be interesting if Mega Man boss battles functioned differently than the typical stage gameplay, in order for it to be consistent, Mega must be able to turn around at will, because you never know when a telly might be sneaking up from behind. Mario doesn’t even have the ability to scroll the screen left in his first adventure, but he can still turn around, because goombas are a wily and mischievous kind of chestnut. Bowser is always going to be on the right side of the screen, but that doesn’t hold true for his damn Hammer Bros. emissary. While your main opponent is bolted to the right, even Contra features a final boss that requires shooting up, down, and back to survive a friggen inanimate organ. Manual turning is important in a lot of genres.

But not in fighting games. In fighting games, turning is always a liability.

FIGHT!Guilty Gear Isuka should have been a thing of beauty. The previous Guilty Gears were great, enjoyable 2-D fighting games in an era when the 2-D fighter seemed to be all but dead. Capcom was resting, Mortal Kombat was dead or totally 3-D (or both), and, sadly, no one took up the torch of Eternal Champions. But Sammy did their best to keep the fires of 2-D combat going, and, over approximately 60 incremental releases, Guilty Gear had become an excellent source of 2-D fighting fun. And there was a pretty large roster of 20 or so playable characters, so let’s do something new and innovative with the 2-D genre. People like Smash Bros. and Marvel vs. Capcom’s four player mode, right? Let’s take the preexisting Guilty Gear architecture, and make a 1-v-1 into a four player free-for-all! All the characters and moves you love, but now featured in a brand new, completely hectic battle royale. Chaos is the new normal!

And, seriously, I want to say this was an excellent idea. On a personal note, I have a hard time getting my less fighting game inclined friends to play any true fighting games other than Street Fighter. The 1-v-1 format naturally seems to lead to more “focused” matches, and, if you don’t already have a good base of fighting game knowledge, of course you’re going to lose to the guy that already started playing the game last week. Meanwhile, in Smash, or Wii Sports, or even a “board game” like situation, the social aspect of four or more players leads to a lot less pressure to perform, so even those filthy casuals can have fun. In that way, a four player “evolved” 2-D fighting game should lead to more enjoyment with friends, and people won’t immediately notice how brutally I’m kicking all of their asses. I mean, uh, fun for the whole family?

STAY AWAY!Unfortunately, concessions had to be made to account for four simultaneous fighters. For the first time in Guilty Gear history, the game would like to know which direction you want to face. You’re between two different opponents: do you face right or left? You’ve got a choice, and it’s as simple as pressing a button.

And it’s absolutely horrible.

Manual turning in a 2-D fighting game is… abhorrent. Considering that mix-ups, jump attacks, and footsies are all random phrases I just googled and hope actually have something to do with what I’m saying, there are a lot of ways to “confuse” your opponent about where you’re going to be next. Then there are special moves that carry your fighter (or opponent) clear across the screen at the press of a button. And, finally, you’ve got teleporting moves, the yoga-derived bane of everyone’s existence. In short, there is a pile of ways to switch sides in a fighting game at any given second in a match, and when your character doesn’t immediately and automatically pivot, get ready to start chucking fireballs into an empty void. Oh, and never mind the fact that the damn computer has no problem turning on a dime and kicking your ass accordingly.

WeeeeeBut it’s that coveted “casual market” where Isuka really flounders. Want to try to get that four player action going? Well, good luck, because “move left” is not the same input as “turn left”, so expect some really frustrated newbies standing right next to an opponent, but slashing air on the other side. What? There’s a turn button? Which one is that? Oh… okay… wait… Now I’m facing the other way again… which… that one? Uh… can we play something else now?

It’s not that it’s completely impossible to understand, it’s just that it’s transparently unintuitive, and there are no shortage of party games out there that don’t share the same handicap.

And that’s what it all comes down to: pivoting, simple turning around, should be 100% intuitive. In a platformer, it’s a matter of flicking the right direction. In a fighting game, it’s an automatic turn. Nobody thinks about it, it’s just that simple, and you can get back to attempting to master a dragon punch motion.

The automatic turn is the most important thing to ever happen to fighting games, and when it’s missing, it is sorely missed.

FGC #236 Guilty Gear Isuka

  • System: Playstation 2 and (OG) Xbox. There’s supposed to be an arcade version out there with fewer characters, but I have never seen a Guilty Gear arcade cabinet, left alone a four-player Isuka monstrosity.
  • Number of players: Four! I just said that!
  • Say something nice: This game is actually enjoyable once you “master” turning. As I mentioned, this game was released during the PS2-era’s 2-D fighter shortage, and I did play ol’ Isuka quite a bit as a result. Completely impossible to get anyone else to play it for more than a few rounds, though…
  • Favorite Character: Zappa is possessed by evil spirits. In any other franchise, this might lead to a character that has generic, etheric magic attacks. Here, Zappa is practically broken in half by angry ghosts, and occasionally seems to summon horror monsters (and terrifying insects). I want to say Zappa was basically the inspiration for BlazBlue’s Arakune (the character that is a big ol’ bag o’ bugs), but whatever inadvertent origins abound, he’s fun here.
  • Hey you said there’d be a puppy: Oh, fine. Here’s your puppy. He’s riding a whale or something.

    D'aww
  • Did you know? There’s also a beat ‘em up in there. Oddly, it seems to use completely different “turning” controls. Was GGI designed under the influence of powerful chemicals? It seems like a simple explanation.
  • Would I play again: No thanks. I’ll just be here quietly waiting for the next Guilty Gear Xrd update. Maybe they’ll finally include a character I already like!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Elite Beat Agents for the Nintendo DS! Agents are (gonna) go! Please look forward to it!

FGC #232 War Gods

Let's get ready to be War Gods!I never fault a videogame for being formulaic. Okay, that’s probably a lie, I’m sure some of my loyal readers are anxious to remind me of all the times I’ve mocked a game for being predictable. Heck, I’ve got that “plagiarism” tag going for a reason. Regardless of whatever I said last week, though, I am aware that videogames require an awfully high number of moving pieces to simply produce a playable experience, and, if you’re already experimenting with a new graphic style, plot, or even just an interesting gimmick or two, then why reinvent the wheel? People liked the last game that did x, why not do x, but this time with, I dunno, dogs or something? People love dogs! Why don’t we make a Zelda game, but starring a dog? It’ll be a best seller!

On the other hand, every once in a while, a developer decides to throw any and all creativity to the wind, and just make the same game twice.

Hey, kids, did you like Mortal Kombat? Well get ready to love War Gods!

War Gods is, initially, a good idea. It’s a fighting game, and it’s of the faux-3-D variety like Mortal Kombat 4 (really like MK4… we’ll get to that). This is a fine excuse to start a “new” fighting game franchise (or it was in 1995, at least), and, frankly, “war gods” is a great concept. Gather up the most… angry looking gods from throughout history, determine which ones aren’t immediately owned by Marvel Comics, and then toss ‘em all into a fighting ring, and see who wins. In a way, it’s not too far off from Darkstalkers’ approach to “what monsters we got?” but with, you know, gods. And gods have a built in identifiable appeal. Guile and E. Honda were basically just “USA Soldier” and “Sumo Wrestler” before later Street Fighter games shaded in the details, so you could totally hit the ground running with “Egyptian God fights Japanese God”. Oh, and like Eternal Champions, the “gods” concept allows for a lot of cross-time hijinks, so if you want to throw a Terminator or Nuclear GI Joe in there too, then have at it. The heavens are the limit!

Unfortunately, that was the last original idea that ever festered anywhere near War Gods.

FATALITY... seriously?War Gods is a fighting game. The buttons are High Punch, Low Punch, Low Kick, High Kick, Block, and a “3-D” button that allows 3-D movement. If you crouch and press high punch, you will perform an uppercut. If you press back plus low kick, you get a sweep. Back plus high kick is a mighty roundhouse. At the end of every bout, the winner is told to “Prove yourself!” and, if you enter the right combination of buttons at the right distance, you will perform a fatality. And, to be clear, that isn’t a “No Mercy” or “Death Blow” or whatever other euphemisms are available out there in fighter land, this is straight up called a “Fatality”. And if you decide to tackle one player mode, you’ll fight through a tower of other opponents, a mirror match, a battle against a boss ogre with insane proportions, and then a final boss that presides over the tournament. And then it’s time for an ending that shows like one happy render and some text about a plot that may or may not make any sense at all.

Thanks for playing. Thanks for playing Mortal Kombat.

And this one is a really unusual case of plagiarism. Midway, producer of Mortal Kombat, is responsible for War Gods, so at least it isn’t full-blown IP theft. On the other hand, Boon and Tobias don’t seem to be anywhere in the credits, so thanks for the gameplay concepts, dudes. Additionally, while there may have been some level of crossover if War Gods were ever successful, it seems like WG has been completely dropped from the Midway pantheon. While even the worst Mortal Kombat game seems to see random rereleases throughout the generations, I want to say War Gods never saw the light of day ever again. Despite being a Mortal Kombat game in all but name, this god game is ignored so we can experience yet another port of Pit Fighter. Nobody has ever wanted to play Pit Fighter!

RAWRAnd, to be absolutely clear, this is not a situation wherein War Gods borrowed a few control schemes or gimmicks, but otherwise presented itself as a totally new game. As an easy example, Anubis, the Egyptian God of Getting Biz-ay, has three unique special moves: a charging ram (that somehow allows him to impale an opponent on his widdle doggy ears), a “pyramid net” that works exactly like MK3’s Cyrax’s net, and a teleporting uppercut that is straight out of Smoke’s repertoire. It’s… blatant, and makes you wonder why they didn’t just decide to release a 3-D Mortal Kombat with all the same, familiar characters. Or did they decide that Kabuki Jo would be that much better than Jade at impaling a dude on a stick and calling it a fatality?

And, even weirder, Mortal Kombat 4 was finally released two years after War Gods, and, despite claiming that there were focused attempts to “learn from War Gods”, absolutely nothing was changed by the time MK hit the 3-D plane. Mortal Kombat 4 is easily the worst of the Mortal Kombat games (even gray scale Gameboy Mortal Kombat had the decency to at least seem like a MK game), and… it’s worse than War Gods? I mean, they are still practically the same game, but MK4 decided to go the extra mile and include voice-acted cutscenes that are, even today, legendary for their terrible dubbing. At least War Gods knew that nobody wanted half-assed movies at the end of their silly fighting games.

Big ol' bellyAnd I think that’s the moral here. War Gods was lauded as a graphically amazing game at its release, but it was also quickly forgotten and forsaken for practically every other fighting game available at the time. When Mortal Kombat 4 was released, it aped War Gods’ “3-D” dynamics, and, even though practically nothing was changed between the two releases, Midway somehow expected MK4 to do better. It didn’t. Mortal Kombat 4 crashed and burned as badly as War Gods, and, when Mortal Kombat “came back” a generation later with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, it barely resembled Mortal Kombat at all. War Gods could have been a fun experiment to test what would work for Mortal Kombat in the 3-D world, but it wound up being a lame copy that was then lamely copied to the “real” franchise.

In the end, War Gods failed as an experiment, and was superseded by the game it copied in the first place. There is no place for War Gods in our modern world. War Gods is dead.

FGC #232 War Gods

  • System: N64 technically for the review, though all my dates and suppositions about releases were based on the arcade version/timing. War Gods wound up being practically a simultaneous release with Mortal Kombat 4 on the consoles. Oh, and it was on Playstation, too.
  • Number of players: Two gods enter, only one is worshipped.
  • Why I remember War Gods: Vallah is a Valkyrie War Goddess that is clad in a pink/purple battle bikini. And a hat. And I’m not sure if her battle boots count. She appeared in roughly in 12 billion Gamepro advertisements, and I think even Nintendo Power gave her a pretty sizable spread during their coverage of the game. I was… right about the right age to notice that kind of thing.
  • Burn!Favorite fighter: Tak, a big rock golem, seems to indicate that this game might have had a playstyle slightly different from the “everybody is the same” of early Mortal Kombat games. He’s more… Goro shaped than everybody else, and his walking and idle animations make him appear to be more like a classic Grecian wrestler than a Lin Kuei assassin. He still winds up playing like every other War Gods/Mortal Kombat character, but there’s the tiniest promise of something different there.
  • I don’t even know if this is racist: Voodoo is the one Caribbean on the roster, and he’s simply named “Voodoo”, not “Lao” or any other “voodoo god” name that could have been uncovered after ten seconds of research. And he has weird, elongated fingers. Is… is that like a tarbaby thing? Is it racist? I have no idea. Oh, wait, he has a special attack that is named “pimp slap”. There. That’s racist.
  • Did you know? Like Mortal Kombat games of this era, there’s an “easy fatalities” code on the console versions. I never quite understood the point of such a thing, because, if you’re already acknowledging that fatalities are a pain in the ass to enter, why not, I don’t know, just make them mandatory or easier? Is memorizing some archaic button sequence that much of a sign of Kombat mastery?
  • Would I play again: With God as my witness, I shall never worship these false idols again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bubsy 3D for the Playstation. ROB, seriously, did I do something wrong? This has been your worst batch of picks in forever, and I’m frankly concerned for you. Did that ditto break up with you? Why are you choosing the worst games? Why, ROB, why? Oh well, please look forward to this inevitable and unavoidable suffering.

What?
And I’m not even going to address… this.

FGC #213 BlazBlue: Central Fiction

OuchI’ve spoken before about how I believe that videogames are art, and, in many cases, what’s important about a game is how it makes the player feel. Whether a game makes you happy, sad, or annoyed, we are primal creatures at heart, and will always remember our feelings on a particular game long after we’ve forgotten exactly what Sephiroth was actually trying to do. We are human, and we remember our feelings about anyone and anything long after we’ve forgotten the finer details of the matter that brought us to those feelings. How a videogame makes you feel is important.

That said, BlazBlue: Central Fiction makes me feel… impotent.

BB:CF is the latest, and theoretically final, chapter in the BlazBlue saga that started with BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. If those words make no sense, just be aware that BlazBlue is a fighting game series with a deathly melodramatic storyline that almost puts Kingdom Hearts to shame. Seriously, here’s a portion of the cast of BlazBlue: Central Fiction:

  • Ragna the Bloodedge
  • Ragna, but as a King of Fighters character
  • Ragna’s brother
  • Ragna’s brother, but in armor
  • Ragna’s sister
  • Ragna’s sister, but as a robot
  • Ragna’s sister, but as an obsessive robot
  • Ragna’s sister, but as a stoic robot
  • Ragna’s sister, but as a bad guy
  • Michael Jackson
  • Michael Jackson, but in a rain slicker

UNBEATABLEThrow in Squirrel Girl, a generic gothic lolita vampire, and No-Face, and we’ve got a complete cast of 35 playable characters. And each one of those jerks has a comprehensive backstory, ridiculous powers, and enough dreams to put Kirby to shame. This is clearly the final chapter because the roster has become unwieldy, and it could collapse at any moment if the catgirl accidently beats the muscled arena monster (which one? Who cares). The adage has always been that paying attention to the story in a fighting game is akin to reading erotic friend-fiction for the plot, but there are some people that slurp this nonsense up like delicious udon.

And I, as you likely know, am one of these people.

The BlazBlue plot is complete nonsense tied to a decent fighting game, and that’s all it takes for me. BlazBlue is fun to play! I like the characters, how the controls feel, and the bevy of interesting special moves and “systems” that apply to each character. On a whole, the franchise has always felt like “Street Fighter 2, but a little more complicated”, and, since that “complicated” seems to push the game into a more offensive (as in the opposite of defensive, and not as in “our president elect”) direction, I’ve always been a fan. The fact that my imagination gets to run wild every time I learn a new character and clear arcade mode is just a nice bonus between bouts. Oh, this well-endowed brunette is trying to save a bookworm that turned into a bag of bugs? Well, that’s neat, back to the fight.

And then there’s the actual Story Mode.

SHUTUP!BlazBlue Story Mode… let’s not mince words here, it has always wanted to be a damn visual novel. And that’s terrible. There are a lot of videogame genres that mix well with the visual novel format (JRPGs, TRPGs… uh… instruction manuals?), but the basic essence of a fighting game is adrenaline, and “get ready to sit around and read” does not have anything to do with fighting. I can think of a worse fit for the visual novel format, but BlazBlue, game after game, seems to send more and more words at a pretty basic plot (bad guy wants to resurrect great evil and destroy the world, good guy dislikes this). Yes, there are magical weapons and six legendary heroes and betrayal and sex and sister clones and some manner of ninja running around, but it all adds up to a story that should be 90% show and 10% tell. I know more about puppet master Relius Clover from his super move that traps an opponent in a medieval torture device than from eighteen characters in story mode claiming “Oh, that guy is evil”.

But, despite my protests, I’ve played through almost all of the BlazBlue story modes. Why? Because I’m an idiot Because it’s presented well. BlazBlue might throw a novel’s worth of text at me, but it’s all voice-acted, and I can “enjoy” the story less like reading a book and more like watching a movie. It’s not a very animated movie, but it’s passable, and it’s enough that I’ll at least give it a go some lazy Saturday afternoon. I am kind of curious why Michael Jackson picked up a raincoat, after all.

But Central Fiction makes that experience a lot more difficult to swallow for one simple reason: BlazBlue: Central Fiction does not have an English dub.

OwieIn the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal, and I understand the thinking. There are 35 characters in this game (and that’s not including incidental characters like the two tailed cat or that one nurse character that keeps hanging around), so that requires, give or take, 35 voice actors (or at least a healthy number of voice actors with excellent range). And voice actors gots to get paid, son. And this isn’t just a Zelda situation with dialogue like “running grunts” and “rolling grunts”; no, this franchise always has that damn Story Mode, so some lucky voice actor has to record a movie’s worth of dialogue for the “star” character. So, before we even get going, we’ve got a pile of time and money pumped into a “feature” that, let’s be honest, is nowhere near the main draw of the franchise. I played Street Fighter 2 until my thumbs were raw back in the SNES days, and a lot of the time that was with the game on mute, because damned if I want to hear “sonic boom” over and over again (and for the record, I wasn’t just sitting in silence, I probably had Xena Warrior Princess on in the background). Point is that voice acting for a cast this ungainly is a tremendous expense for the tiniest of payoffs. Oh boy, I can finally know what the red guy is saying to the magical girl… Who cares?

Well, I guess I realized how much I do.

BlazBlue might have a stupidly large cast, but it’s a stupidly large cast I seem to care about. Yeah, I know, no one is more surprised than me. I’ve been enjoying games featuring these characters for eight years (technically, there’s only been four “games”, but each one seems to get an update… so I’ve probably played a BlazBlue game a year for nearly a decade), and, honestly, a big factor in that is probably the voice acting. Since I can understand these characters and their in-battle dialogue, I have a much better grip on how PainfulTaokaka is a bit nuts, or how Hazama is collected in nearly everything he does. In earlier games, I can literally hear how the anti-hero of the piece is conflicted about the damage he’s doing (for a good cause), and how his brother’s vengeance drives the dude… a little batty. Yes, the voice acting is only one piece of these characters, but losing that feature would be like if the next Street Fighter game didn’t include some standard part of its franchise. Imagine a Street Fighter where all the fighters wore burlap sacks instead of signature outfits. Imagine a Street Fighter without special moves, where Ryu could only throw mundane punches. Imagine a Street Fighter without an Arcade Mode (*cough*). It would still be the same game, but it would be undeniable that something was missing, and it would be a lesser experience for it.

And would you sit through a fighting game’s Story Mode where you have to actually read a novel’s length of words? Screw that jazz. I barely have time to proofreed this article.

So, as ridiculous as it sounds, BlazBlue: Central Fiction makes me feel impotent. I know voice acting is expensive. I know it takes time to record that much dialogue, and it would probably delay the game into next year. I know it’s not an essential piece of the BlazBlue experience. I know all of that, but its absence is still felt. And I know there’s nothing I can do to “get it back”, because what am I going to do? Look away!Boycott the series until the English Dub returns? Bah! I still want to play the game, I just want it to be… better? Complete? In the end, I can’t do a thing, and what I desire is likely gone forever to placate a better bottom line.

I’m playing a macho, testosterone fueled fighting game, and I feel powerless.

And that’s what I’m going to remember.

FGC #213 BlazBlue: Central Fiction

  • System: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, and arcade. Yes, arcade. There’s only one left, so we’re not using the plural anymore.
  • Number of players: Two players just whaling on each other until language means nothing.
  • Favorite Character: Kokonoe Mercury is a pink, half-catgirl (however that works) science nerd that builds giant robots and is one of the few (only?) “smart” good guys that is capable of working effectively Good kittybehind the scenes and on the battlefield. She was practically made with BlazBlue’s giant nerd audience in mind, and, yes, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Also, we share a birthday, so again, total sucker.
  • Progress? Mai Natsume, the paid-DLC character of BlazBlue: Central Fiction, is actually trans, and that seems to be treated with as much respect as anything else in this series. That’s good! There’s also Amane Nishiki, an effeminately dressed dancing man who is obsessed with cute, young boys, and has a finishing move that transforms his opponent into a child form before a curtain literally (and ominously) closes. That seems… wrong.
  • Did you know? Jubei, the legendary cat swordsman, is still not a playable character after having been involved in the plot from the absolute beginning. If you need any confirmation that there’s another version on the way, well, there you go.
  • Would I play again: Probably! Unless an upgraded revision is released, then I’ll ignore this one forever, just like every other previous BlazBlue. Sorry, old fighting games!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Death Smiles! Wow, it’s Aksys Anime Week all of a sudden. I’m not okay with that! But whatever! Please look forward to lolis!

AHHHH