Are you sick of being terrible at fighters, yet still find yourself wanting to play them? Well, you’re not alone!
Fighting games hold a special place in the industry. They are among the very small group of genres that have the potential to involve some form of professional gaming. You’re never going to see a professional Final Fantasy VII player, for example. However, there are already professional fighting game players. It may not be the level of say Star Craft or League of Legends, but professional fighting game players have carved out a very special niche. It makes sense. From the beginning, fighting games have very much been about extremely confrontational competition. Two players go head-to-head, and only one will prove themselves victorious. If that’s not conducive for competitive play, I don’t know what is. Anyway, all of that is to say that there is a large segment of the gaming population that takes fighting games very seriously. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that means getting into fighting games can be extremely difficult.
I’ve casually played fighters since the initial release of Street Fighter 2 on the SNES. Since then I’ve dabbled in the rest of the Street Fighter series, Soul Calibur, Blazblue, and Persona 4: Arena, and many others. There have been times I’ve wanted desperately to be anywhere near decent at the lofty genre. Unfortunately, it simply isn’t going to happen. After countless hours in Blazblue and Street Fighter IV, I’ve learned that I just don’t have the stuff to rise above my terrible win/loss ratio, and I don’t believe I’m the only one.
In many ways, fighting games are simple. You give players an arena and you task them to beat on each other until one of them isn’t moving anymore. This simplicity often makes for a very short experience for casual fighting fans. Arcade modes, and utterly phoned-in story modes mean that a single-player fan of the genre will not get much mileage out of it. This is true nowadays where the AI is decent, but predictable, or back in the days where the AI cheated so bad, winning the arcade mode in Mortal Kombat 2 involved utilizing the cheapest tactics available ad nauseum.
Of course, to call a fighting game simple would be completely misleading. In actuality, fighting games are some of the deepest experiences you can have when gaming. It’s one of the things that attracts me so much to the genre. There are volumes of terminology specific merely to the fighting genre, and a newcomer to it will have to discover what each of them means to have any chance at the higher levels. For those of you who remember arcades, there would often be one or two kids around who knew far more about the game than anyone else, and everybody who played them would get utterly demolished. That experience has translated over into the digital age because fighting fans can be obsessive, and casual or new fans will get blow away over and over again, until they quit or become as obsessive as the fighting fans.
That’s the big constraint with fighters – time. With fighting fans constantly sharpening their skills, and other casual fans dropping off quickly within the first couple of months of the game’s release, there is often little room in the online community for people who don’t take the game particularly seriously. This gives the online component of these fighters a very short shelf life for casual fans. Try to pick up Persona 4: Arena now and you won’t last a minute online. When its sequel/minor expansion packaged as a sequel, Persona 4: Arena Ultimax gets released, there will be a small window where new players can actually play other new players with some frequency.
Online multiplayer has been an utter boon to the competitive circuit for fighters. Now those who are interested can continuously fight players of similar skill levels as long as they are available. However, for the casual fighting gamer, there has been an unforeseen consequence. Single player modes, once important to every product, have now quickly lapsed into secondary importance, if that. Marvel vs. Capcom 3, for example, had an embarrassing scarcity of single player modes. This doesn’t matter at all to fighting game fans, as the AI is wholly inferior to a human player, but not everybody has the skill or time to compete online.
Some games, however, buck this trend, those from NeverRealm Studios, in particular. Over the past few years, they’ve brought the most single player heavy fighting games to the market with the releases of Mortal Kombat 9, and Injustice: God’s Among Us. Unfortunately, NeverRealm Studios doesn’t make games of the complexity and flow of many of the great fighting games. Nevertheless, a casual fighting fan will find a lot to love with their stuff, and it’s good to see a studio that recognizes that there is more out there than the hardcore fighting fan. Of course, I would be remiss to not mention Super Smash Bros. in this paragraph, though they hold a unique position in the fighting pantheon. Some fighting fans insist that Super Smash Bros. is merely a party game and not a true fighter. However, it generally fits the bill and Nintendo does a lot to make casual fans feel at home.
I find it very odd to be on the side of championing the casual fan. With essentially every other genre, I fit squarely in the realm of the hardcore. But I’m simply no good at fighting games, no matter how hard I have tried in the past. But there is a lot of room for growth in the casual fighting sector. Series like Street Fighter, Tekken, and the like risk stagnation without the market to back it up. Bringing us back to professional gaming, would-be fighting fans watching tournaments such as Evo can bring a demand, but those like me that can’t possibly measure up to professional standards often get shorted.
I don’t have a solution to the problems I’ve mentioned in this article. Perhaps there aren’t any. As professional gaming becomes more popular, genres like fighters will see a bit of a renaissance. Hopefully developers try to accommodate more than the ultra elite in the future. As for me, I’ll keep buying fighting games and keep getting frustrated with my progress. There’s simply something about the allure of complexity found within the genre, and there’s nothing that could stop me from having another go with Naoto Shirogane when Persona 4: Ultramax releases.