The Wandering Warrior: True Reward in Fighting Games

Hey guys, welcome to The Wandering Warrior, a feature series where we talk about the community aspect of fighters, how fighting games compare to the average video game, and discuss occasional strategy.

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For this inaugural installment of TWW, I decided to write a response to Maxwell McGee’s recent Gamespot article called “Fixing Fighting Games.” He touches mainly on the replay value and variety of modes within fighting games compared to standard video games, and while he makes some excellent points that I wholeheartedly agree with, I think he’s missing the idea that the value of fighters can’t be measured in achievements, modes, and unlockable items.

Netherrealm's Mortal Kombat has boldly set a new standard of content for the genre

McGee starts his argument by saying “For the fighting genre to continue its resurgence, developers must establish new standards that give consumers more incentives to play. Otherwise, the current momentum will break, and the genre could implode.” He also mentions that aside from Mortal Kombat 9 and Street Fighter IV, fighting game sales haven’t been too hot as of late. One of his first major points is one that I completely agree with, which is the fact that Netherrealm’s Mortal Kombat reboot should be the gold standard in terms of content offered by a fighting game. It features an in-game currency system (unlockable costumes that don’t cost money? Blasphemy!), A co-op ready arcade mode with high-quality character endings, a full-fledged, 8-10 hour cinematic story mode, and hundreds of challenges that most MK players probably haven’t completed a year in. Oh, and it happens to be an incredibly solid tournament fighter in my opinion, as this weekend’s MLG and NCR events prove that MK9 can still bring the hype a year after release.

He then mentions what he considers the blueprint that all modern fighters should aspire to, and it goes as follows:

Arcade: default game mode that lets you fight your way through the roster to the end boss
Story: narrative-driven mode focusing on presentation and storytelling; main single-player offering
Mission: meaty helping of challenges that put a twist on the mechanics and offer significant rewards
Training: instructional suite for all skill levels; combo demonstrations with timing indicators required
Versus: offline competitive versus mode, including survival and tournament modes
Online: online versus mode with tournament support, spectating, and replay sharing

What McGee has seemingly forgotten or ignored is the fact that other than Capcom’s recent fighters (Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Street Fighter X Tekken), most fighters out today follow this blueprint very closely. Soul Calibur V, even with a lackluster story mode, still boasts a bevy of content, with an extra-challenging Legendary Souls arcade mode, roughly 160 AI fighters to compete against in the vein of Virtua Fighter‘s quest mode, and a leveling system that gives you new customization items and characters for simply playing the game more and more. And while I agree with McGee on the notion that training modes need to be improved overall, Soul Calibur V has one of the best, as it gives you not only a rundown of each character’s key normals and combos, but how to apply them. King of Fighters XIII is pretty much the same story. The somewhat janky story mode at least has tons of fan service within its cinematics, not to mention unlockable characters, colors, artwork, a survival mode, combo trials, and so on. Let’s not forget that just about every Tekken has a full-on campaign mode, in addition to tons of ways to customize your character.

Still, save for MK9, if you’re playing fighting games alone, there’s still a chance you’re going to get very bored, very quickly. But here’s where my argument (and likely a good chunk of the FGC’s) comes in. Fighting games are more akin to chess, poker, and sports than any other genre. They are incredibly simple on the surface, but made special by the community surrounding them. As you’ve read in Will’s metagaming feature, they are one of the only type of video games where things such as learning, conditioning, and mindgames are a major focus. They are also one of the few types of games where people travel around the world to compete in, people who may play the game in complete different fashions. So while you might not be able to talk much about story, character development, and unlockables in a fighting game, you’ll likely still be discovering new combos, frame traps, and meta strategies for a game over 10 years old, as people are still doing with games such as Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and Capcom vs. SNK 2.

You can't unlock this kind of hype.

That’s what truly makes the genre something special. I’ll talk about my personal experience as an example. While fighting games have been my favorite genre since the smelly, 7-year-old me mashed away at Street Fighter II on Super Nintendo, it’s only been about a year that I’ve been taking them seriously on a competitive level. Comparing the way I played Marvel 3 and SF4 a year ago to how I play today is like watching one of those infomercials where a really excited dude talks about losing 400 lbs. Learning fighting games is a deep, rewarding process in which your progress becomes noticeable, whether its at a tournament, online, or just playing with your shit-talking friends. When I bought Super Street Fighter 4 in 2010, my priority was clearing the game with every character to earn an achievement. When I play the game now, my priority is mastering Guy’s cr. jab, cr. jab into target combo so I can punish the hell out of my DP-happy opponents. It may sound like chinese to the uninformed, but delving deep into the grinds and gears of a fighting game eventually becomes infinitely more satisfying than the “rewards” that video games force on us. Am I still a gaming fanboy that enjoys the occasional achievement hunt? Absolutely. But I’d trade my entire gamerscore in for the feeling I get when all of my Street Fighter practice time earns me a tournament win in front of a crowded group of dudes that could probably body me in real life.

Do I agree with McGee in that all fighting games should aspire to the content standards set by MK9? Absolutely. Street Fighter Alpha 3 is probably my favorite game of all time for its almost never-ending, RPG-esque world tour mode and a modern Street Fighter with similar features would complete this very nerd’s life. However, I feel equally justified buying the barebones-as-hell Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and its Ultimate follow-up in the same year, simply because the 100+ hours of fun I had learning, playing, and eventually earning tournament wins at the game is something that can’t be measured with the phrase, “Achievement Unlocked.”

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NOW FIGHT A NEW RIVAL!!!!

Will here, I also agree that some of McGee’s arguments are valid. Content on the single player side of fighters could be better. The problem with his assertion is fighting games are not built solely for single player. In fact more work is put into character balance, play testing, and the overall quality of the game engine than the single player experience. So, if you are only playing single player modes then you are not even scratching the surface of what the game engine was built to do. More than that the proven replay value from fighting games comes not from arcade mode but from competitive play. Third Strike, KoF 98, Super Turbo, and a myriad of other games that have stood the test of time in competitive play. The core of fighting games in not playing the game itself, but instead using the game as a vehicle to play against your opponent. They are fundamentally different from most other types of video games. Now, if you are not interested in playing against other people that’s fine. But it seems odd to complain about a film being subtitled after choosing to watch a foreign film. In other words it seems as if McGee is misunderstanding the nature of why fighting games have persisted for all these years without major changes to the formula.