I tried to buy the new Street Fighter V stages with Fight Money.

Street Fighter V has a Shop now. Thanks to the wonderful free-to-play-game-inspired system of "Fight Money", you can now buy all of the bonus content in the game without spending any more Real Money (except for the good costumes you really want)!

Just by playing the game, you'll earn enough "Fight Money" to buy anything you want from the shop. Downloadable characters, new outfits for the fighters (not the good ones), alternate colours, new stages, titles (why would you ever buy these?) and more!

I purchased the Season Pass at launch to ensure I had all the characters. I play this game regularly in tournaments, so I need an up-to-date setup where everyone could have their chosen character.

And to spice up tournaments and avoid The Grid forever because The Grid sucks, I tried to buy all of the new stages.

Emphasis on tried.

After completing the game's Story Mode, I got 30,000 Fight Money, bringing me to a total of 87,950.

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Before looking at the prices in the Shop, I was optimistic! Characters cost a whopping 100,000 each, but I already own them all thanks to the great deal I got from the Season Pass. That's a lot of extra FM that I didn't have to spend on characters!

So I bought a new stage, Balrog's casino. A brand new page would be great for spicing up local tournaments.

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Apparently, new stages cost 70,000 Fight Money. That...is more than I expected. But new content costs more, I guess that makes sense. The other stages are basically reskins, old stages with new lighting. I tried to buy one of these, hoping it would cost less.

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40,000 Fight Money. I was somewhat conservative with my Fight Money before 1.0, expecting some cool content to come later. The only thing I'd really purchased before Street Fighter V 1.0 was one character costume and two titles. 40,000 is still WAY out of my reach.

How do I get more Fight Money? I know that Survival, Demonstrations and Trials are all listed as easy ways to get some more. Unfortunately, I've already finished Demonstrations and I'm not good at the game, so Trials are too difficult for me to finish on multiple characters.

Survival it is!

I had already completed Survival on Easy for the entire cast, and beaten Survival on Normal with three characters.

After finishing the two new Survival courses on Easy, I had 24,000 Fight Money. Sorry, Balrog. We did not get any decent cash out of this.

And I'm not going through Survival on Normal because it's not fun at all. 30 Stages with no checkpoints, AI that can randomly decide to go God Mode and kick your ass, and getting screwed over when you need High health recovery and it keeps giving you Low? No thank you. It's a crappy mode. Also I'm not good enough with the entire cast to complete it even if there weren't RNG elements.

The only other option I could think of to get Fight Money was online matches. Winning in Casual or Ranked gives you some Fight Money. How much? Not enough.

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50 Fight Money per win would make this grind painfully slow. That's if you win, of course. What if you lose? What if the opponent disconnects?

What if you win, but they quit/the server messes up after your win? No Fight Money.

No Fight Money.
No Fight Money.

I was still 10,000 Fight Money short of buying a single stage. Then, I noticed that "Buy on PlayStation Store" button. Like any good free-to-play game, Street Fighter V offers the option to buy content with real money if you don't feel like grinding for their in-game currency. And the price is reasonable.

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These less-complex "reskin" stages are only $1.99 each. I could just spend $6 to buy these and have them for the tournament. But I don't want to do that.

Once I heard that the content in SFV could be earned by just playing the game, I decided that's how I want to unlock it. I'll play the game a lot thanks to local tournaments, and it'll be supported by Capcom for a while thanks to the Pro Tour. But you don't get currency from playing locally! That might stop you from spending real money, you see.

There are not enough ways to earn currency. Survival on Easy gives you a chunk, and so does Normal. But I don't think most players are going to complete Normal Survival on multiple characters because it's not fun and it can get very difficult, even for pros.

Trials have the same problem, as I don't have the versatile skills to complete some of the later challenges. I'm good enough to play R. Mika and not get completely destroyed against other players, so I finished her Trials. Everyone else, I'm about halfway through and I just don't have the skill to finish them.

Story Mode gives a chunk of Fight Money, and the "advanced difficulty" version gives more. But it has the same problem as Survival: it's not fun. It's a boring slog. At least you get to retry fights in that mode.

I only want to spend real money on stuff that I HAVE to, like Premium Costumes.

Fight Money is a limited resource that you don't get from playing local multiplayer in a local-multiplayer focused game. Even if I could complete Survival with every character on 4 difficulties AND all the Trials, I've burned out a non-renewable source of FM. Then I'd be stuck gaining the currency in intervals of 50 until the end of time. 50 currency at a time, for items that cost 40,000 currency each.

The system is heavily weighted toward getting you to spend real money. The ways to gain currency are either annoying, slow, or both.

They are designed to grind your soul to dust, until you cave and say "okay I'll just spend some cash on this". The idea that "you can buy everything in the game just by playing!" is currently laughable.

I tried to buy the new Street Fighter V stages with Fight Money. I gave up.

65 Comments

Is Overwatch Killing the Street Fighter Community?

This year, two games where a multicultural cast fight each other for no good reason were released. February brought the newest game in the Street Fighter series, and May brought Blizzard's new shooter Overwatch.

With the former being a 1v1 fighting game and the latter being a team-based shooter, it's not likely that these games are in direct competition. But for some, Overwatch's release represents a big threat to Street Fighter V.

Street Fighter veteran Arturo “TS Sabin” Sanchez brought up this topic on his Twitter recently. Sanchez quickly made a name for himself in SFV, staying on top of the game's leaderboards for a long time and being the first person to reach to Diamond ranking in the game.

According to Sanchez and other players responding to him, Street Fighter V players are dropping off the game in favor of Overwatch. Former training partners are taking time off and skipping sessions to play Blizzard's shooter instead. This could be players getting fed up with Street Fighter V's issues and Capcom's seeming unwillingness to fix them.

Capcom Cup and EVO champion Yusuke Momochi has even started streaming Overwatch. That's just one big example, but there are plenty of prominent Street Fighter players who are either playing or streaming Overwatch regularly.

So is this a huge issue? Will Overwatch drain the last lifeblood out of the barely-living Street Fighter V corpse?

The short answer is “no”. The long answer is “no”, but with a few more words after that “no” describing what's happening.

Overwatch is huge. It has likely already outsold Street Fighter V. Lots of competitive Street Fighter V players are trying out Overwatch and having a lot of fun, which makes sense because the game is incredibly fun and dynamic. It's similar to a fighting game, being highly competitive games with unique characters. Compared to previous Blizzard games, Overwatch had a nearly perfect launch. The servers are fine, the gameplay is balanced and enjoyable, and any bugs were quickly fixed.

This costume would fit perfectly in a Street Fighter game.
This costume would fit perfectly in a Street Fighter game.

Meanwhile, Street Fighter V is in a rough spot. The game stumbled at launch and is still working on recovery. I've already spoken on the small issues that the game is full of, but some bigger things have happened more recently. Ibuki was announced and subsequently delayed, throwing off Capcom's one character per month schedule.

There was some other weirdness with this delay, including Capcom Japan blaming Capcom USA and the players getting rightfully upset about the lack of transparency. Why don't we know when a DLC character is coming out until a few days before? A delay would have been fine if they gave some notice or had one unifed source to get info on this.

There's also the growing issue of Street Fighter V's input delay, and top players feeling like the game is actively suffering because of it.

Despite all this, I think Street Fighter V will be fine. At Combo Breaker 2016, SFV had an entrant cap because the venue couldn't support the amount of people wanting to compete. That cap was raised and it still filled up.

Street Fighter V is currently the largest EVO tournament of all time with over 2,227 entrants.

Personally, I've seen more people coming to local fighting game gatherings to play Street Fighter V and other games. For the competitive community, it's a smash hit.

The excitement around SFV is also helping the fighting game community as a whole. New players are coming to see the new Street Fighter. And if it's not their cup of tea, they've been introduced to the genre at a time of huge diversity. Guilty Gear, Mortal Kombat, Skullgirls, King of Fighters, Tekken and a countless number of anime games I can't spell are all on the scene right now. If you're not enjoying Street Fighter V, there's another fighting game out there right now to pick up.

I'm currently on a break from playing Street Fighter V, because I was grinding hard for months to prepare for Combo Breaker. And I have been playing a lot of Overwatch instead of Street Fighter.

That's fine!

Fighting games like SFV are mentally and physically taxing. If you've been playing nothing but that since Februrary, taking a break is a great idea.

A break from fighting games has tons of benefits. If your matches feel like you're on autopilot, taking a break gives you time to think and build up valuable strategies for your return. If you're losing all the time and getting frustrated, it's actually not a good idea to train even harder. You should take a break, review your game plan and pick up new approaches, and come back to the game mentally refreshed.

Overwatch isn't even a month old, and Street Fighter V is a few months old. I believe both games will coexist, and Street Fighter fans will be drawn back in with the massive June update. I've already seen people who were burned out on SF getting excited for June.

If there's one benefit of staggered content releases, it's that a new character or mode will excite the community again. We'll see tech monsters creating setups for Ibuki in June, Third Strike fans coming to the game to play Urien at his release, and maybe an infusion of casual players thanks to the game's story expansion and the game finally going on sale.

I don't think the Street Fighter community has to worry about Overwatch taking all of its players away. If you're into Street Fighter or fighting games in general, nothing will keep you away from mashing buttons for too long. Fighting gamers are spoiled for choice in their genre right now, and Street Fighter players are just in the middle of a content lull right now. Once the June update hits, the excitement for Street Fighter will spike and we'll all be back in.

We shouldn't be worried about Street Fighter players leaving for Overwatch. Now we've got a second game to play with friends in addition to Street Fighter. They're not competition, they are complements, and the more great games to play, the better.

26 Comments

I Suck At Fighting Games: Combo Breaker 2016

(All photo credit goes to Robert Paul because I forgot to take pictures and his are way better anyway

http://gallery.rmpaul.com/Esports/Combo-Breaker-2016/)

I haven't been to a major fighting game tournament in a few years. Thanks to its convenient price and location, I got to attend Combo Breaker 2016 in Illinois. I had high expectations for Combo Breaker as the successor to the excellent Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament series I attended before.

If you've read anything about Combo Breaker since it wrapped up, you already know that it lived up to those expectations. So I'll break down my experience as a spectator and mediocre competitor.

The Venue

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The Mega Center in Illinois is the largest venue I've ever been to for a fighting game tournament. It's basically one huge room that could fit any type of convention you'd ever need. The layout of the Center was perfectly crafted for a fighting game tournament.

Four giant screens were placed in the corner of each room, with the even-larger main screen against the back wall. This means that every game got stream time and had dedicated commentary areas. It's brilliant for spectators, the type of setup that is obviously crafted by people who go to and run a lot of tournaments. Even less popular games got finals on a stage, with expensive video cameras and dedicated commentary.

Although the venue was packed with game stations because of the massive 20 TOURNAMENTS being ran at once, it never felt overly crowded. I could navigate the floor easily and stop to have a conversation without blocking a path. And there were plenty of setups for casual games.

Speaking of casual games: you cannot be shy if you want to play against someone. Knowing when to interject with "I got next" or ask someone sitting down if you can play requires you to assert yourself. Because once people sit down to play, they're typically in there for the long haul.

I did have some trouble finding out if people were running casual matches or actual tournament matches, though. Most games have a marked table for Casual matches, but the "tournament" setups become casuals as time goes on. I didn't play as much Street Fighter V as I wanted to because I was a bit unclear which setups were for tournament, so I didn't interrupt.

Overall, The Mega Center is the perfect fit for a fighting game tournament and I'd be completely fine if the venue was used for next year's event.

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My Tournament Results

This year, I entered Street Fighter V, Mystery Game, and Dead or Alive 5 Last Round.

Street Fighter V- After rushing to the venue and barely registering on time, I made it for my first pool of the day. Shortly after checking in for my pool, a tournament organizer comes up and asks when the next match is.

It's mine!

It's going to be on the main stage. On stream.

Uh-oh.

I've never been to a tournament this large before. I've never been on stream before. I'm sweaty and agitated because I just arrived late at the tournament, and haven't even gotten a chance to warm up.

So after having a weirdly casual chat with my opponent while sitting in the front row in front of the GIANT SCREEN, I go up on stage. The setup has some very nice ASTRO headsets that block out the sound of the crowd and the live commentators behind me, which I needed to avoid freaking out any more.

So, predictably, after facing a much stronger opponent in a matchup that I'm quite unfamiliar with, I lost 2 games without taking a round. Ouch.

But I'm not embarrassed or pissed at my play. I got to be on stream for the first time! With Ultradavid on commentary! It's an experience I'll never forget.

I didn't do much better in SFV later, losing to a Ken player to put my official SFV record to 0-2. That last match was closer, though. There's plenty of room for improvement, and I believe I can do better next time.

Mystery Game- I believe this tournament had a cap of 128 entrants, so I made sure to register for it ASAP. Mystery Game was one of my favorite parts of UFGTX and UFGT9, so there was no way I was missing this.

Mystery Game tournaments can be literally any competitive title, not just fighting games. I saw a game where boats fought each other at some point (I definitely could have won that)

They frequently switch out consoles and games throughout the bracket, and coaching is banned. It's pretty much the most fun tournament there.

In the first round, I played Xbox fighting game Kakuto Chojin. I have never heard of this game in my life. It looks like this:

The game wasn't bad, it just felt really clunky. And I've never handled an original Xbox controller in my life. I beat my opponent by playing defensively and countering their attacks a lot.

The second game was Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition on Super Nintendo. I was begging to go back to the less-clunky Kakuto Chojin during this game. I'm already unfamiliar with the SNES controller and the game just did not feel good to play. I lost once my opponent figured out his fireball input and shot me until I died.

The final game was Power Stone. I played this one a lot on Dreamcast, but it has been about 5 years since I've touched it or any Dreamcast controller in general. I lost decisively and was out of Mystery Game, 1 win 2 losses.

I'd enter again in a heartbeat.

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round - I was both surprised and excited that this game was a full-fledged tournament at Combo Breaker. Despite a Capcom Pro Tour-esque tournament series (the DOA Battle Royale) offering big money for pro players, this game's competitive scene has gotten much smaller since launching in 2012. It was by far the least-entered game at Combo Breaker with 18 people, and had only two setups in the venue.

Still, I love Dead or Alive 5 Last Round. I've been playing it since 2012, improving my skills even though I have no local competition and can only play online. And guess what? Hard work pays off.

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My path to top 8 was three matches.

Match 1: faced against a Brad Wong player. I have no idea how to fight Brad Wong, and it showed! Lost, sent to Losers bracket.

Match 2: Faced an Ayane player. Ayane beats my character Rachel handily, but she's extremely popular online and I knew the matchup. Won, moved on.

Match 3: Faced a Lisa/La Mariposa player. They seemed unfamiliar with the matchup, so I took advantage and hit them with all types of silly stuff. Won, and the bracket runner tells me I'll be on stage in a bit for top 8.

Holy crap.

This is already the furthest I've been in a major fighting game tournament for ANY game. After having a brief celebration/freakout, I head over to a stage in the corner and sit in the audience for top 8. I have a small group of friends rooting for me in the audience, but I know it's gonna be tough. If I lose a game I'm out, and I've already seen how strong the other players are.

I lost. But I'm not upset at all. I have a medal for playing a game I love. I got on stream again. I got to be in a the medal ceremony, confirming forever that I got top 8 and no one can take that away from me.

Dead or Alive probably won't be at next year's CB, but I appreciate the Combo Breaker staff so much for giving the least-entered game there the same treatment as any other game. Medals for top 8, stream time, setups, bracket runners that gave a damn. I'll appreciate that forever, and I'll keep playing this game as long as there's someone else to play against.

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Everything Else

I've never been hit with post-tournament blues as hard as I have leaving Combo Breaker. As a spectator, there was plenty of things to do with 24 hour casual setups, arcade cabinets and vendors. The large screens displaying tournament streams and commentators being played over house audio meshed the watching streams at home and watching live tournaments experiences perfectly.

As a competitor, I appreciated the brackets being run accurately and quickly. And I'll always appreciate giving every game equal treatment with stream time and medals for top 8.

I'll be back next year. Can I register now? Because I'll do it. I need to make another top 8 and make damn sure they spell my name right next time.

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Seriously, no space? And there's no "A" in "Perfidious"!

12 Comments

A Short List of Street Fighter V Nitpicks.

After downloading it on release night, I've played a fair amount of Street Fighter V this week. It's a great Street Fighter game, and I am enjoying it much more than the previous game in the series. Once the tutorial material launches, I'll be analyzing how well it engages new players and teaches them.

I do have a few, small complaints about the title. There are some negative aspects that I noticed during play that I have not seen in reviews.

This isn't a review. Just a short list of things that could have been improved. After all, Capcom can't fix the problems if they don't know what they are.

  • On release day, my Fighter ID was taken immediately. Apparently 1 minute after launch, "Perfidious", "PerfidiousSinn", "ThePerfidiousSinn" and "PerfidiousSin" were booked. I refuse to believe this for two reasons. 1: If you use Rival Search to look up those names, they don't exist. 2: No one else gets that reference but me. It must be a server issue that SAYS the names are gone when they really aren't.
  • You cannot change your Fighter ID ever. Not once? Even 1 freebie if you messed up the spelling? Maybe it'll be a microtransaction later.
  • Training mode does not allow you to view character hitboxes. See Skullgirls for examples of how to implement this.

  • Story mode doesn't allow you to set character voices individually. It's either all English or all Japanese. Good on them for allowing individual voice settings for other modes though.
  • Why is Chun-Li speaking Japanese anyway? She's Chinese. From China.
  • People who pick Cammy's Japanese voice are wrong. English accents are superior and must be protected.
  • Local matches will get cut off if the servers mess up. I am not unplugging my Ethernet cord just to play local matches.
  • Command List does not explain what your V-Skill or V-Trigger does.
What could it mean?
What could it mean?
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  • Survival Mode is the only way to unlock colours and it's not fun. I would prefer a Smash Bros style system: complete 50 matches to get a colour! Or do it like Street Fighter 4 did where you got 1 new colour after every online match.
  • Replays can be adjusted to go faster, but not slower. Also, there's no solid Rewind/timeline scrub for replays, you can just jump back or forward a few seconds.
  • Most of the time, Rival Search doesn't work. I've typed in friends' PS4 names AND Fighter IDs and it just says they don't exist.
  • Laura's hair clips through her body, and Birdie's chain clips through his chain in the loading screen. Looks absolutely terrible when the camera is zoomed so close to them.
  • Laura's Japanese and English voice acting are dreadful.
  • Laura's character theme is worse than her voice, somehow.
  • There are character themes in the game, but no clear way on how to turn them on. In Street Fighter IV you just beat Arcade mode once to unlock this option (called Arranged BGM in Sound Settings)
  • No option for 1v1 against the computer. Every other fighting game has it. And I needed it to capture videos for this blog.
  • Zangief's command throws don't have "360 input leniency" (?) "360 input prediction" (?)
    When you try to do an SPD you jump. See Skullgirls for how to fix this problem.
  • The frame data is not in the game, because they are selling an app with it.
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Meanwhile, games like Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat have frame data for every move, including normal moves built into the game.

Bad picture, but I promise all the other moves have the data.
Bad picture, but I promise all the other moves have the data.
  • No slow-motion option in Training Mode. See: Pocket Rumble, Skullgirls
  • Can't tag moves onto the screen like in Injustice or Mortal Kombat X. would be quite useful to learn characters with tons of moves, like Karin!
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Besides these few small complaints, it is a very good game and I would rate it a 4/5.

19 Comments

GTA Online: When Good Heists Go Bad

It finally happened.

After months of delays, thousands of rude comments on Rockstar forums and social media, more delays, and several gigantic patches, Heists are in Grand Theft Auto Online. And it feels like those delays were worth it. These new missions feel like what Rockstar promised in that initial trailer. These missions are just as good as the Heist missions in Grand Theft Auto V's main story, except they're perfectly balanced for multiplayer.

The Heist Update brought a lot of good things to GTA Online, and an almost equal amount of frustrating things. Now that I've finished every Heist mission with my team, consider this my review of GTA Online's Heists and the content added to The Heist Update.

Good:

-Co-operate! I played through every Heist mission with the same group of three friends, and I feel this is the ideal way to do so. The missions are so well designed for co-operative play. I can't imagine even completing them without trusting and communicating frequently with teammates.

You know how at E3, Ubisoft shows co-operative multiplayer games with terrible stage “demos”? The ones where the Ubisoft employees pretend like they're having spontaneous battle conversations during the game but they come off as weird and unnatural? The Heists in GTA Online force you to have battle conversations. Without even thinking about it, my team started whipping up plans in the middle of the mission, pairing into groups, and shouting which areas to cover. You can't lone wolf the Heists or you'll die, and it was remarkable how well the game makes you plan together and play tactically.

-Cutscenes.

Each Heist mission comes with a LOT of cutscenes. There's new characters, new voice acting from returning characters, and even fun things for the created characters to do. The last part is my favorite, as they actually give your voiceless player characters some personality. They still don't speak, but they have really amusing mannerisms and reactions to other characters, especially Lester.

-Daily Objectives & new Activities.

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This is my favorite part of the Heist Update. Every day, you're given three random objectives to complete. Completing all three gives you a good boost in experience points and money. There's also new random events like blowing up an airplane or car that appears on the map, which inevitably leads to a fight with other players because there's only one airplane/car to blow up in the world.

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I found the game a little bland after playing for several months and buying everything I wanted. I rarely try to matchmake into Races or Missions because it takes too long. But for Daily Objectives, I have a reason to boot up the game regularly. They even continue to reward you for completing Daily Objectives consistently for a week or month! Also, it's a good way to get cash in a world with lots of overpriced goods and missions that underpay you...more on that later.

-MONEY. Heist missions get you more money than the average GTA Online activity. The game has been continually adding new vehicles and properties that cost WAY too much money, but Heists have evened the odds with some very nice cash bonuses. Well, almost evened the odds.

Bad:

-Mission Design. Some of the Heist missions have absurdly punishing failure states. The one that comes to mind first is “Bikes” in the Series A Funding Heist. Skip to 25 minutes:

This portion of the setup is designed like an early 2000s stealth game: if you get spotted by the extremely perceptive AI at all, or if they spot any of the people you kill, you will fail. Even while communicating constantly with my team, we found this mission difficult to pass.

Checkpoints are highly inconsistent, but mostly they are not in your favor. When failing parts of a mission, we were often sent back to do long portions again, losing up to 10 minutes of progress at a time. This problem seemed to get worse as the missions got longer and more difficult; the checkpoints just kept getting further apart.

Also, there are many situations where playing smart and communicating won't help. There are instances where enemies will spawn directly next to you and kill you, even if you thought you cleared out a safe area. There are areas in Heist missions where enemies infinitely respawn but you are not told this is happening, so you waste a lot of time trying to clear an area. During car chases, cars would occasionally spawn out of nowhere, causing a nearly unreactable situation where you WILL crash. In the final few Heist missions where you're on motorcycles, that last point would lead to death.

-Too few lives, not enough health.

The realistic damage in singleplayer Grand Theft Auto V made sense. You died in a few shots but so did your enemies. In GTA Online Heists, it feels unbalanced. You're even MORE fragile than you are in the main story, and the enemies have more health and deal more damage. Playing on Normal difficulty was a frustrating experience at times because you die too quickly to react and health/armor pickups are extremely limited.

Your team has a limited pool of lives, and if they run out you fail. The odd thing is not every person gets an extra life: you typically get 1 or 2 for your entire team. It's a very harsh limitation for Normal difficulty.

There is the option to carry armor in your inventory, but after dying repeatedly on a mission (which will happen on your first playthrough) that runs out and you cannot visit Ammu-Nation to restock in the middle of a mission.

There are missions where you must focus on driving while being shot by enemies who have almost perfect accuracy. So you have to drive, shoot them, and constantly heal so you won't fail. And good luck if they shoot out one of your tires!

I feel like the Heist missions would be better if you could take more damage and each player had one extra life. Unfortunately, it's probably too late to change something as fundamental as damage values in GTA Online.

-Unlockables are still too expensive.

It is nice that you consistently unlock new vehicles when completing Heist missions and Setups. This also makes the consistent criticism of GTA Online even more apparent: you never have enough money. A motorcycle I unlocked for finishing the final Heist costs $750,000. After finishing that Heist and getting a pretty decent amount of cash, I don't even have half of that. A High-End Safehouse costs $500,000, and that's one of the most expensive, best safehouses you can get!

The balance between the money you gain in GTA Online and the prices of items is still completely messed up. People accused Rockstar of doing this early on to push people to buy their Shark Card microtransactions for real money, and I'm beginning to see these complaints as valid. Even with a pretty good way to make money in Heists, you'll have to grind them and play them repeatedly to get enough money for the cool items they added.

I don't know if I want to revisit the Heists soon or at all. Dying repeatedly because enemies have amazing aim and you have no health wasn't fun. Retrying large portions of missions because of bad checkpoints wasn't fun. It got to the point where I was so frustrated at retrying a Heist over and over that I couldn't appreciate the bombastic finales. I was happier that it was finally over than I was about seeing the cool payoff and getting a load of cash.

Heists were fun for a first playthrough, but the new gameplay modes, Daily Objectives, and customization items are the actual highlights. My question is where can GTA Online go from here? Rockstar has done a good job of building in a lot of replay value into the Heists with bonus objectives and new Awards to achieve, but will we ever see an update this major again? I'd like to see new single player expansions, but the way Rockstar talks about that makes it seem like that will never happen. It would be disappointing if they skipped that because there's no way to sell microtransactions in single player.

I hope the next big expansion is the Grand Theft Auto V equivalent of “The Ballad of Gay Tony” or “The Lost and Damned”. As of now, I'm looking forward to more Grand Theft Auto V and less GTA Online.

9 Comments

Street Fighter V: Our Wishlist

Now that E3 is over, we have a wealth of footage from Street Fighter V. The game isn't coming out until next Spring, but we have a pretty good idea of what the game is like.

Compared to Street Fighter IV, Street Fighter V appears to be faster. Critical Arts (the new name for Super Combos) do huge damage, and many of the basic combos hurt a lot. It's unclear how much the damage values will change before the game releases, but it is exciting to see the flow of matches are very different from Street Fighter IV at first glance.

A few weeks ago, I asked a lot of Street Fighter fans what they would like to see in the upcoming game. Filtering out the many character requests (Juri being the most popular), I got a lot of cool ideas of how to bring Street Fighter up to speed with other modern fighting games. Street Fighter IV revitalized the genre in 2009, but its list of features looks archaic compared to the many fighting games that followed in its wake.

So here's a list of features we'd like to see in Street Fighter V in no particular order, from small cosmetic requests to features that are absolutely necessary.

Simplify.

A common misconception among new fighting game players or those who aren't deep into Street Fighter: “more complicated = better!”

Not the case. Many elements of Street Fighter IV were unnecessarily complex, to the detriment of our enjoyment of playing the game. So there are a few ways they could simplify the game and still keep the competitive depth.

-Ease up on the Ultra inputs. The Ultras in SFIV were two motions + triple button press. The most egregious example of this were Ultras for grappler characters, which required two FULL 360 inputs AND pressing three buttons. There's also Charge Ultras, which look like this (Charge Back, Forward, Forward, Back, Forward ) It's common for players to set “cheater buttons”, or a macro that hits 3 Kicks/Punches at the same time because it's just not comfortable to do the normal way. The Critical Arts in Street Fighter V will have simpler inputs than Ultras, and I hope it's a change that stays.

( 360+360 + 3 Punches) could easily be simplified to (360 + 3 Punches) and it would be better. I would even be okay with the Skullgirls & Street Fighter x Tekken method of having a universal input for Supers.

-Ease up on weird inputs. Hooligan Combo Input is intimidating to new players and somewhat awkward to do for anyone who isn't already good.

360 inputs cannot be done without jumping...unless you practice a lot! Either put in anti-jump protection for 360s (Skullgirls has this) or simplify them to half-circles (which has been hinted at for SFV).

Oni has an air dash that requires a quarter-circle back+punch in midair. Why not just simplify it so you can just...press dash in midair?

-Delayed Wakeup. Change the command to “hold down on the joystick” PLEASE.

-One Frame Links. The timing on Street Fighter IV combos is notoriously strict. You cannot simply hit the buttons in sequence, you have to time them well. Some of the combos are so demanding that people developed the “plinking” strategy which is really weird and involves hitting the Select button to make the timing easier? I'm not very clear on it, but I do know that I avoid playing SFIV because combos feel awkward to me.

I'm not saying to remove the more demanding combos from the game entirely. I'm saying that you can ALSO give players alternatives. Street Fighter x Tekken and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 have easy, guaranteed combos if you just hit Light, Medium, Heavy, Heavy. They don't do much damage but they allow new players to have something to fall back on. Auto Combos in Persona 4 Arena are weaker than an actual combo you create, but they are a base for new players to build on or fall back to if they are overwhelmed. Target Combos in Street Fighter IV were limited but appreciated: they allowed you to hit a predetermined button sequence quickly to get a combo. Ibuki has several of them:

So ease up a bit on the super-tough 1 frame links. Give some more Target Combos out. Maybe bring back an equivalent the “Cross Rush” simple combo from SFxT.

Help New Players.

Street Fighter IV has no playable tutorial. There's an in-game manual (that's hard to navigate) which teaches you the commands. In the modern era of fighting games, that's not acceptable.

Skullgirls, Guilty Gear Xrd, Killer Instinct, and Dead or Alive 5 have transcendent tutorials that teach you EVERYTHING about the current game AND gives you strategies to carry over into other fighting games. In my eyes, it's simply not acceptable to go the Street Fighter IV route and have no tutorial.

So put in the effort this time. Don't half-ass it with a manual. I want a full tutorial in the game that's on par with those games I mentioned above. Trials must return, but I also want move details.

Let me access a move list quickly and easily in the pause menu. Show me the special properties of each move in this menu, as well as the frame data. Let me tag moves on the screen in case I want to remember them.

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Explain how links, Target Combos, and Cancels work in the tutorial. They're still an important part of Street Fighter, so the game should teach you about them.

Street Fighter is the most popular game in the genre. It should be setting the standard for other games to follow, and I want other games to have great tutorial materials.

Character Customization

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This has been in previous Street Fighter games, so it's not such a large request. In Street Fighter x Tekken, you could alter the color of every part of your outfit and it was really cool. It meant that everyone online could have their own unique version of a character.

Killer Instinct gives you different costume pieces that allow you to dress up your character like you want. Dead or Alive 5 gives each character a variety of hairstyles and glasses for each of their costumes. It would be nice to have in Street Fighter V!

-Voice Customization. This was in Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter X Tekken, so it's not an unreasonable request. Please allow us to set the language of each character individually so no one would be subjected to Sakura's English voice.

If they were REALLY cool everyone would speak their own native language like in Tekken, but Capcom won't put in that much effort. Imagine Chun-Li speaking Chinese in her intro or Dhalsim speaking Hindu.

Good Netcode

Street Fighter IV's netcode was acceptable. But the netcode in Killer Instinct and Skullgirls are exceptional. The netcode of Street Fighter V should live up to this.

Of course playing fighting games locally is preferable, but online multiplayer IS important. There are players who simply don't have a local scene or can't travel often. Then there's those of us who just feel more comfortable playing online. So make the online great!

Good Training Mode

I have a list of features wanted in Street Fighter V's training mode:

-Hitbox viewer

-Online training

-Replay & Save State. Allows players to replay a certain combo, making it easier to practice against it without requiring a second controller.

-”Record” function to save cool combos for later viewing

-Move Details- show if an attack hits Mid, Low, or High as it is performed

-Press Select+direction to teleport into a corner

-Set Character-Specific options in the Pause menu (how much oil does Hakan have on?)

I may be missing some things, so please add them to the comments if you have ideas. I will be participating in the Street Fighter V beta and giving lots of feedback, because I want Street Fighter V to be better than IV in every way. I want it to take notes from other fighting games to improve itself.

So far, I like how Street Fighter V looks. There's higher damage with no “get out of jail free” options like FADCs. The new V-Trigger & V-Skill systems are nice replacements for Ultra Combo. It has more than a few elements from Street Fighter x Tekken so none of you will ever beat me.

I hope it can live up to the impossibly high expectations.

If not there's a lot of other fighting games to play now.

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31 Comments

Hotline Miami 2: Second Verse, Worse Than The First

(Before I start, I admit that I have not finished Hotline Miami 2. I played enough of the game to know that I could not continue.)

I like Hotline Miami a lot.

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Now, I'm not crazy obsessed with it...I think. I haven't done a Hotline Miami cosplay (yet?) and I'm not here to share my 20 thinkpieces I've written about it. But it was by far my favorite game of 2012 because at the time, I'd never played anything like it.

Each level of Hotline Miami is a thrilling action puzzle, supplemented by the fact that you could choose a different power with the variety of masks. If you want to play run-and-gun, sure. If you want to be patient and take out mobsters one by one by baiting and luring, it allowed that too.

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Not only that, but what really drew me into Hotline Miami were the story and themes. It's still one of the VERY few video games I can recall with a unpretentious critique of violent media as part of the plot. They don't draw a line about if your character or yourself are a bad person. Violence is prevalent in video games, movies, and television and it's impossible to escape. It's entertaining. Is it bad to be entertained by violence? Is your character a psychopath or the hero? What the hell happened in those Biker levels anyway and who actually died?

Reading through fan theories and analyzing the story and themes of Hotline Miami were just as much fun for me as playing it. The game is the total package and remains one of my favorites of all time.

Which is why I'm so disappointed in Hotline Miami 2, which is not even half as good as the first game.

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Hotline Miami came out around the same time of Super Meat Boy and other “ultra-hard” games and was kind of lumped into that trend. It was very difficult, but fair and catered to multiple playstyles due to the unique abilities of each mask. For the early parts of Hotline Miami 2, I was getting exactly what I wanted: more maps, more masks with new abilities, an incredible soundtrack, and the same pulse-pounding gameplay that hooked me in the first place.

But then I started losing. A lot. Like, more times than I died in Hotline Miami in the comparable early stages. I understand spiking up the difficulty for the sequel, but these deaths felt cheap and unavoidable.

The maps are incredibly huge compared to Hotline Miami 2. This leads to my problem of getting shot across the map from a guy I can't see.

There's windows all over the maps and enemies so far away that you can't even move the screen far enough to see them. So on the stage I just linked, I kept getting shot over and over from people I couldn't shoot back...either I couldn't see them, or random bits of furniture got in the way and it's VERY UNCLEAR what furniture you can shoot over or through!

My character has “Lethal Throws” that make any thrown item kill instead of knock down. But I am basically being forced to use guns because there are too many enemies to actually use my special ability on.

I'm not allowed the strategy I was in Hotline Miami 1. I'm not personally a fan of using guns, but you GOTTA use guns in Hotline Miami 2. YOU MUST. You use guns, or you die and if you don't like guns deal with it. So the “combat puzzles” that allow different players to solve different stages in different ways aren't really a thing in most of the stages I played: there is always an optimal strategy. And that strategy says “if you want to melee, you are wrong”.

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The story in Hotline Miami 2 has no mystery, no interesting themes or shades of gray. If Hotline Miami was a subtle critique of violence, Hotline Miami 2 is a cynical celebration of it. Scenes of sexual violence are tasteless, cynically added as shock value and to get publicity for the game. Even the beginning of the game just has a bunch of bored slackers deciding to go kill for fun/sport. Jacket wasn't a good guy, but I still got some enjoyment out of piecing together why he was killing. Was he brainwashed, confused, or just really bloodthirsty?

In Hotline Miami 2 I know why these people are killing. Because violence is fun and cool! Did the same writers even work on both games?

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I don't like Hotline Miami 2 nearly as much as the first. I can admit my extreme bias here as the first is one of my favorite games EVER and I replay it from time to time.

But in Hotline Miami 2, I didn't care about the story or the characters. The stages were overly frustrating instead of tough-but-fair. If it all turns around later in the game and the level design gets better and the story improves, that's great! But I played several hours of the game and was so frustrated by the experience that I've shut it off and haven't touched it in months.

I'm glad Hotline Miami exists, and I'm even happier that there won't be a third.

22 Comments

I Suck At Fighting Games: Mortal Kombat X

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Before I start digging into this game, I'll get the positive points out of the way. Of all the games I've played in the series, I believe Mortal Kombat X is the best. It has an insane amount of content for single player, which is appreciated because many fighting games do not. The variation system is brilliant, allowing you to find something you like about any character in the game due to their diverse movesets. Despite all the variance, it's surprisingly balanced and I've never fought a character that felt frustratingly overpowered like Martian Manhunter or Batgirl were in Injustice. The combo system is very lenient and easy for beginners to play.

The reason I started making “I Suck At Fighting Games” blogs was to analyze the genre from the viewpoint of a new fighting game player. I want to show the games that are easy for people to pick up so they can get into it and start enjoying the genre.

In terms of teaching new players and giving them the basic skills to succeed, Mortal Kombat X is incredibly lacking.

You get the option to play the Tutorial when starting a new game, which looks like this.

I like parts of this tutorial for giving you basic fighting game info like

-mid attacks can be blocked high or low

-low attacks must be blocked low

-overheads must be blocked high

-How to gain meter

-Benefits of EX Special Moves

-Reversal & Wakeup attacks (props for putting "Reversal Window" and "Wakeup Attack" on the screen. Every other fighting game, do this)

And explaining some of the game's weirder systems like

-Enhanced Throws

-Breakers

-Delayed Wakeup

But there are a few flaws with the Tutorial. It doesn't explain how Kombo Attacks work: you have to input the button combination (usually three buttons) as quickly as possible.

It doesn't explain that Tech Rolls not only give you space after a knockdown, but that they are faster than normal wakeup. It also does not explain that Tech Rolls cannot be performed after every knockdown (can't do it after being thrown, for one example).

It doesn't explain how very important the Neutral Jump Punch is. Every character in the game can do a combo if they connect with a Neutral Jump Punch, as the move causes a huge, dramatic ground bounce. Most characters can even hit their X-Ray cleanly after a Neutral Jump Punch. They make the player do a few combos with Neutral Jump Punch but do not stress its importance as part of regular play.

My biggest issue is the complete lack of character-specific tutorials.

Injustice: Gods Among Us had bad character-specific tutorials. They were buried in S.T.A.R. Labs and you had to unlock the tutorials for characters, instead of having them all available from the start. However, each of these tutorials was still helpful. They gave you a handful of combos for your character and let you practice the inputs for special moves. It's better than nothing.

Mortal Kombat X has nothing like this. There's Fatality Practice, regular Practice, and Tutorial. That's it. I'm not expecting every fighting game to have character tutorials on par with Skullgirls because that particular bar is way too high. But MKX is a step back even from Injustice's flawed system.

Developers can't keep doing this. This game is already unique and very different from Capcom fighting games, and the extra layer of “there's no character tutorials” makes it even more inaccessible for new players. I want the fighting game scene to grow, and putting the tools into the game to teach new players isn't just “a nice thing to have” any more. It's essential.

How to do it right

One more negative point: in the move list for each character, there's a “Move Data” section that gives you...a bunch of data on the move! I feel like it should be fleshed out more though. A handful of the moves have text that tell you unique properties:

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But not enough of the moves have this text. If a Kombo Attack hits low then overhead, put some text in there that says “First Hit Low, Second Hit Overhead”. There should be more data in there for more of the moves.

Aside from the poor tutorials, I think Mortal Kombat X is quite accessible. Tagging moves, a great feature from Injustice is back.

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You can have any move in your list tagged to appear on screen. Trying to remember a combo? Just tag it and it'll stay on the screen. I've used this to remember certain combo string while online because I tend to freak out and forget.

The Training Room has pretty much every option you could ask for, unless you're asking for hitbox displays :)

But you can customize the AI to “auto-block” to see if your combos are legit. You can program them to do any of their special moves or Throw as a Reversal or Wakeup. You can change your Variation within seconds, not even having to back out to Character select. You can even set the “restart point” to a certain side of the stage, but I do prefer Persona 4 Arena Ultimax's method of just pressing Select/Back + a direction to teleport into a corner.

The actual gameplay itself is easy to pick up. Instead of having to time your button inputs precisely and do one frame links, the Kombo Attacks are basic, dialed in strings. You just have to hit the buttons as fast as possible. Once I got better at the game, I found it very easy to do interrupts by only inputting half of a Kombo Attack. Connecting Kombo Attacks and Special Moves feels very natural. With only four buttons and the way the system feels, Mortal Kombat X is remarkably easy for new players to pick up and get into.

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The gameplay of Mortal Kombat X is easy enough for new players to get into, but the tutorial material is severely lacking.

Each character should have a specific tutorial for each Variation. The Move Data section could be filled out more. The tutorial itself doesn't go far enough and left out important details like how good Neutral Jump Punch is.

Even though I am disappointed with the tutorial materials, I would recommend this game for new players. There's a TON of modes for solo and multiplayer, there's so many characters to choose that you'll probably find at least three you like, and the basic gameplay is easy enough for the average person to get into.

And that's all I got on Mortal Kombat X. Even if you never get “good” at it, you can at least punch someone in the nuts so hard that their eyeballs fly out.

If you're looking for a good Mortal Kombat X tutorial because there's none in the game:

SupermanSajam has general tech tutorials and character specific ones.

UltrachenTV has a long series of MKX tutorials.

8 Comments

I Suck At Fighting Games: 2014 Recap

Since 2012, I've played a ridiculous amount of fighting games. I've tried to commit enough time to each of them to gain a basic understanding and maybe win some matches.

Turns out, that takes a long time. So long that I didn't even finish enough games to put together a proper Game of the Year list for 2014. Instead of doing that, I'll go over all of the fighting games I put time into in 2014 to determine if I am any good at them (probably not) or if I'll stick with them in the future.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

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http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-injustice-gods-among-us/106748/

After being pretty cold on Mortal Kombat 9, I'm surprised at how much I continue to enjoy Injustice. I spent a huge amount of time messing with the S.T.A.R. Labs and other single player content. When I finally got online, I was winning matches within a few days.

I like how easy this game is to control. Unlike MK9, everything in this game just clicked with me. The combo strings aren't overly harsh on their timing or requirements, and allowed me to quickly start innovating my own offense instead of just copying what I saw online. I also like how important meter management is in this game. It's important to get the first hit because it awards you with bonus meter. And there's so many ways to use it that all feel equally important. Except for Super attacks though, nobody uses those.

I stuck with Raven and Hawkgirl through my entire time playing it, two different but equally enjoyable characters. Raven's long-range projectile tactics were great fun, and got me a fair amount of hate mail from people on Xbox Live.

My biggest complaints with Injustice were the somewhat spotty netcode and a few of the top tier characters. Every character has reliable, damaging combos which make comebacks very possible, but some matchups just feel crazy difficult. Batgirl is definitely the strongest character I've faced in ANY fighting game I've played, and I struggled against Batgirl players greatly. Even bad Batgirl players can ruin my day with her high damage and lightning-fast mixups.

I will keep playing this game because I like it so much, but to be honest I'll probably switch to Mortal Kombat X when that comes out. Online numbers for Injustice seem to be pretty small and the community will probably switch over to MKX for good, so I'll follow. I have high hopes for that game after Injustice.

Divekick

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Long combos are lame. The least interesting part of fighting games is dialing in a 156-hit combo from muscle memory, or getting hit by said combo and just watching it for a bit. I'm all for short, flashy corner loops, but long combos put me to sleep.

No, the good parts of fighting games are tricking your opponent. Making them think you're going to do one thing, but doing something else that catches them off-guard. Hitting your opponent out of the sky so many times that they're afraid to jump. Punishing a whiffed attack so hard that they never use it again. The mind games are the interesting part.

With that said, I love how Divekick takes away the execution barrier and lets people of any skill level immediately experience the good parts of fighting games. This was one of the few games I entered a major tournament for, and shared with people who don't play fighting games at all.

There is still a skill gap involved between new players and dedicated fighting game players. I got a few victories at UFGTX in Divekick but ultimately lost to a better player. The game lacks a training mode or character tutorials. I feel these should be included because special moves are so important and some of the characters have strange specials that are hard to describe.

However, Divekick succeeds because the skill gap isn't enormous. I won't ever be good enough at Street Fighter to beat a veteran, but didn't go 0-2 in a tournament for Divekick. I had a lot of fun playing this game in casual and competitive settings, and I feel like I'll be busting it out to play with friends for years to come.

Ultra Street Fighter IV

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Out of all the games on the list, this is the one I am the worst at. Makes sense, too. It has been out since 2009 and people have been practicing for years. As a '14er, what chance did I have against them?

Still, this game did make me realize what I appreciate and don't appreciate in fighting games. My main characters were Rose & Poison, which made me realize how much I rely on fireballs. I picked up Elena because she had no projectiles, forcing me to learn how to play without that resource. The one thing that draws me back to Street Fighter IV is the characters. They have tons of personality, lots of cool alternate costumes, and ridiculous win quotes.

What kept me away from Street Fighter IV was...everything else. I played the game for months with outdated, unusable Trials so I couldn't even get an idea of how to play my characters of choice. The netcode is inexcusably poor for a modern fighting game. And the biggest issue for me was controlling the game.

I don't like 1 frame links at all. It took too much practice time for me to complete many Trials. And the netcode online made 1 frame links even more difficult. I couldn't consistently do Hooligan Throw-style inputs or 720 inputs consistently, and input shortcuts made me accidentally do moves I didn't want to.

I don't think Ultra Street Fighter IV is a good game for new players, but some parts of it kept me coming back. Poison is one of my favorite characters to play in any fighting game and Omega Mode is fun in a “crazily unbalanced” kinda way. I can play the game a few times a month but it gets frustrating quickly, so I don't touch it often. And yet, I'm still excited for Street Fighter V. Maybe Q will be in it.

Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax

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http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-persona-4-arena-ultimax/108356/

This year, I learned that a lot of fighting game players import their games. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was out for months in Japan before America, so lots of players downloaded a Japanese copy. They got a head start, and I definitely felt it. If there are “newbies” in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax online, I haven't seen them yet and most of my matches have been a challenge.

I also learned that PS3 became the place to play fighting games. The PS3 version of Ultimax has more features than the 360 version and a much larger playerbase.

As for the game itself, it's nuts. Some Shadow characters have consistent touch-of-death combos, or at least ones that can take 70% of your health. Everyone was buffed, which makes things both more fair and more unbalanced as the weak got average and the top tier got even stronger.

And I keep playing it. I curse the screen when I keep getting reset over and over by Minazuki, but cackle like a madman when I hit him with a command grab that does 70% damage. I groan when getting hit by Shadow Chie's death combo but smile when winning with Kanji's “1.5 million frames of invincibility” DP. It's not the most balanced game in the world, but it's so much fun that I don't care. In the end, I appreciate having fun more than having a game that's “100% fair” (I put that in quotes because none of them are)!

I'll definitely keep playing it until I can get a PS3 and access to the larger world of anime fighting games.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate

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http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-dead-or-alive-5-ultimate/105024/

I played about 100 matches of Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate and pretty much stopped. I like the game, I love that it has one of the best tutorials in any fighting game, and it has plenty of stuff to do single player. It's one of the few games where I stuck to one character and didn't pick up any substitutes. Rachel's combination between grappling and slow, heavy strikes ended up fitting my playstyle very well. It's one of the few times where a fighting game character perfectly fit how I wanted to play, and playing as Rachel is so fun that I still load up the game from time to time to do so.

The only reason I quit is because the online netcode is bad. The online menus are clunky and load slowly. Sometimes matches that started off good would have huge lag spikes in the middle. It's ideal to play fighting games locally, but since I don't get many opportunities to do so, I rely on multiplayer. If the online is bad, I stop playing.

Still, I enjoy playing the game enough that I'm about to buy it a third time. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is coming out next year and I'm looking forward to it. Just hoping that the netcode is better this time.

Nidhogg

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This is not a fighting game, but it's worth bringing up. It's 1v1, competitive, two dimensional...close enough, right?

Nidhogg has online gameplay but I have only ever played it locally. It's more complex than Divekick but still accessible for new players, and there is a surprising amount of nuance. Holding your sword high counters divekicks. If you want to face off on the ground, your sword stances actually allow a fun fencing game. And there's also the tried-and-true tactic of sweeping the legs and ripping your opponent's heart out.

Just like any good fighting game, Nidhogg relies on your analyzing your opponent's strategy and countering. I've fought people who love divekicking, so I adapt by holding my sword high whenever they take to the air. I tend to stay on the ground a lot, so I'm extremely vulnerable to the sweep & heart rip combo.

This is another game that has the soul of a fighting game but simple rules that allow anyone to play. It's another game that I'll break out in gatherings with friends for a long time.

Playing Offline

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http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/perfidioussinn/blog/i-suck-at-fighting-games-ultimate-fighting-game-to/106169/

This year I made it to Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament X, a major tournament in Chicago. I used the time to play a lot of casual matches and ask questions while playing. It was an invaluable experience, as I learned nuances of the game systems and matchups that I can't really get online. Turns out, people are pretty nice and willing to help out when playing fighting games offline!

I entered Divekick and Street Fighter X Tekken tournaments, but ended up spending a lot of time with Injustice. When I think about it, I enjoy that game so much that I wish I entered the tournament for it.

I also realized how bad my tournament nerves are at UFGTX. My days of practice were shot as I forgot my combos, fumbled around in button checks, and had to calm my shaky hands before playing. I suck at tournaments, which is why I need to play locally more.

To do so, I found a local scene to play fighting games on Tuesday nights. I also found a game club at college, and we play fighting games together occasionally. Just by going to these meetups, I've been able to calm my awful “tourney nerves” and play more consistently at a local setting. Hopefully this will translate to better results in the future if I go to more tournaments.

2015's Fighting Games

There's a lot of fighting games to look forward to next year. Mortal Kombat X is looking great, and I'm even more excited for it after loving Injustice. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round might be more of the same, but I enjoy DOA5 and the same game with better netcode will be good for me. Tekken 7 might come out next year, and I will definitely check that out. I liked Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for everything except the “tag” part, so Tekken 7 looks like it's for me.

If I can get my hands on a new console, I'd love to play Guilty Gear XRD, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, and Super Smash Bros. For Wii U.

Will I ever get good at any of these games, or place high in a tournament in 2015? The answer lies...in the heart of battle.

And the title of this blog.

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6 Comments

I Suck At Fighting Games: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

If you would like to avoid spoilers, play Persona 3 and 4 before reading this.

For the first few days, I had no idea if I even liked Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. I anticipated it for months because the previous game is one of my favorite fighting games ever. This sequel takes the base of Persona 4 Arena and piles on a ridiculous amount of extra content like new characters, stages and game modes. They also changed the systems and the characters themselves so much that parts of it are unrecognizable.

I enjoy Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, but not every change improved the game.

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What's good about the game?

1. It's not too complicated.

In 2012, I praised the original Persona 4 Arena for its wealth of tutorial and training systems. Fighting games are extremely difficult to get into, but even a new player like me eased into Persona 4 Arena and could actually win matches.

I'm happy to say that this game continues that trend. It quickly teaches you all the important mechanics, and is a great game for new fighting game players at a low level.

The Lesson Mode is even more detailed this time around, with more tutorials and more detailed descriptions.

There's also Challenge Mode that teaches you the moveset and several combos for every character in the game, along with Demonstrations where the game shows you a brief video of what you should be doing. Every fighting game should have this!

The Training Mode is one of the best around, with multiple pages of options that allows you an unprecedented level of customization. Want to know exactly how fast Junpei recovers health with Victory Cry and 31 runs on the board? You can do it.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax already has simple inputs compared to most fighting games. 90% of special moves are quarter circle forward or quarter circle back, and there are only four buttons. Combine that with robust tutorial modes and an excellent training mode, and it remains one of the best fighting games for newcomers.

2. Lots of new stuff.

A lot has been added to this sequel. It's far from a simple expansion pack because of the amount of added content AND the changes made to each character.

New Characters: The characters added in this sequel are so cool that I wish I could play them all (except for Marie). Including downloadable characters, Margaret, SHO Minazuki, Sho MINAZUKI, Ken & Koromaru, Yukari, Adachi, Junpei, Rise and Marie are brand new. I won't waste too much space talking about them, but for the most part I found these characters enjoyable to play in their own individual ways.

Playing Ken & Koromaru tested my dexterity because they are basically two separate characters to control, with the dog even having his own health meter. When played properly, they are devastating. You can attack with both of them at the same time, covering some of Ken's slower moves with Koromaru's quick attacks. Fighting this pair can lead to situations where you're blocking for a LONG time because it gets overwhelming and you don't know when you can counterattack.

Junpei is possibly the worst character in the game, but he has the coolest mechanic I've ever seen in a fighting game. He is a baseball player with a BASEBALL METER on screen. Connecting with bat attacks builds up a run counter, and when you have 10 runs he goes into a super mode where he gets more powerful as well as regains health and meter slowly. More runs = more buffs. You can also lose opportunities to build your score, as whiffing attacks or getting blocked count as strikes! You're playing baseball in a fighting game, which is the coolest and most inventive thing I've seen in the genre in a while.

Junpei struggles to win against most of the cast, but he is so much fun to play as.

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All of the returning characters also received new moves and a Shadow mode. The Shadow mode isn't too special for most characters, but for some it is a major buff. More on that later.

The rebalancing and addition of new moves has lead to the returning characters playing differently from the last game, which has both forced me to learn new combos and drop characters like Yosuke because my brain couldn't reconcile how much they've changed. Overall, I appreciate how far they went to make the characters play differently, giving them new options and tactics. The tiers are slightly closer, and those extremely difficult matchups from Persona 4 Arena feel more manageable.

There are a handful of new universal mechanics that change up tactics as well. SP Skill Boost are EX Supers, costing 75 meter but dealing much more damage. Fatal Recovery is added to certain moves, meaning that getting counterhit after them is always a Fatal Counter. Guard Cancel Evasive Action allows you to roll out of blockstun and get some breathing room. And of course, the Shadow characters have their own quirks.

New Score Attack: In Persona 4 Arena, Score Attack was a brutally difficult variant of Arcade mode where you fought Boss variants of every character. Now, it's a bit different.

New Score Attack allows you to pick your difficulty and your course, the latter of which determines what 10 characters you will face. Depending on your difficulty, you could face five Bosses, ten bosses, or none. You don't really unlock anything if you're not on the highest difficulty, but the mode is good for a challenge against tough but fair AI.

Golden Arena: This is basically Survival Mode from any other fighting game with RPG elements. You fight several battles in a row, some of them being against stronger boss characters. All the while, you gain experience points that allow you to raise your stats, equip skills and customize your character just like in Persona 3 & 4.

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This mode is a cool way to tie together the RPG side of Persona games with the fighting game, but it has a few issues. You “equip” a partner for buffs, but unlocking them is explained. Rise is provided and it's shown that there are other Social Links to unlock, but you aren't told how to unlock them. Even after completing the first course (46 fights!) I was stuck with Rise with no hints of how to get anyone else.

The game also doesn't mention when your progress is saved. From what I can tell, the game saves after boss fights. However, it doesn't tell you this and it's not obvious when you are fighting a boss. From what I observed, bosses are probably the characters with slightly higher stats and are decked out in all-black colors. The rules could have been explained better on that. Still, Golden Arena is a cool twist on the Survival mode that some fighting games include.

3. Excellent Online.

I can't speak about new lobby system because I'm on Xbox 360. Get the PS3 version if you can because that thing looks awesome.

Besides that, the online experience in Persona 4 Arena is still great. Unranked matches allow for 8 player “Open Arena” lobbies where everyone can play with no waiting or spectating. Ranked matches allow you to “Enlist” and then back out of the menu.

While Enlisted, you can play the majority of offline modes while the game searches for matches in the background. When that happens, you get a little pop-up and can jump directly into a match. After that, it puts you back into the mode you were in.

I found this very useful while training. I'd warm up and practice combos in Training Mode, and a match pops up. I'd take the match and seamlessly get put back into training when I was done. It's a great feature.

Aside from that, the netcode is comparable to Persona 4 Arena. It's much better than most fighting games and rarely stutters online, even in situations where the bars look low. Just make sure you watch the intro before an online match, and any stuttering will magically fix itself.

What's not good about the game?

1. Marie is in the game. Remove her please.

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I'm kidding. I don't actually want her removed....unless you're gonna do it.

2. Shadow characters might be overpowered.

The Shadow characters in this game work a little differently than normal characters. They have lots of altered properties, but these three are the most important:

-More health

-Higher meter gain

-Access to Shadow Frenzy

To simplify Shadow Frenzy, it gives the character infinite meter for a few seconds and lets them cancel any move into any other move. This lets you do stylish combos and loops...which can do 50 to 100 percent damage on other characters.

Shadow Chie and Shadow Naoto are the best at this. They have extremely painful combos that are difficult to burst out of. If you used your Burst earlier in the round against Shadow Naoto/Chie, you're probably gonna die.

Most Shadows don't seem as good as those two, but I've seen and been hit by insane combos from Shadow Yukiko and Shadow Akihiko as well.

Shadow characters might be overpowered because their advantages are not balanced by many disadvantages. They do less damage overall, but their Shadow Frenzy combos can kill easily. They WILL get Shadow Frenzy at some point because of their increased meter gain and the fact that their unused super meter carries over through rounds.

Besides that, dying in one combo just feels unfair. It wasn't a regular occurrence in Persona 4 Arena, where Awakening mode gave you some more health and meter for a comeback. Fights against Shadows can feel hopeless as you get hit once and eat an 80% combo. It feels unbalanced in a game that is mostly fair.

3. Everyone got buffed.

In order to bridge the gap between low tier and high tier in Persona 4 Arena, every character seemed to improve in Ultimax. I play Kanji and I have appreciated his changes. His autocombo is much better, the Skill Boost versions of his supers allow him to do high damaging combos and make crazy comebacks, and his new shoulder charge move allows him to close the gap on zoning characters more easily.

However, buffing everyone made some balance problems worse. Yu Narukami was one of the best characters in Persona 4 Arena, but his buffs just made him annoying to fight against. He has a new command grab and his Cross Slash super has been made even better. Shadow Narukami is an entirely new level of ridiculous. Labrys has fallen even further in the tiers as the stronger characters around her got even better. Junpei is hopeless. Minazuki (with Persona) is so much better than Sho that he makes the latter irrelevant. Shadow Chie and Shadow Naoto make their regular versions irrelevant.

It took me a while to decide, but I ended up enjoying Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. However, it is a very different game than the first Arena. It's less balanced and has many more instances where a stray hit can turn into a fatal combo.

Despite all that, I don't get truly frustrated playing this game. It could be the combination between my unhealthy Persona obsession and the fact that every character has SOMETHING unfair in their arsenal. It's rough getting trapped in Minazuki's long, easy to execute, high damaging combos. But once I get into Awakening I can land a 70% super grab and turn the tide. It's unfair but enjoyable to employ those scumbag tactics. You could say it's FUNfair!

I'd recommend it to fans of Persona 4 for the story mode and other single player modes. At a low level, it's still great to get into for newer fighting game players due to its easy inputs and great tutorials. But if I wasn't already somewhat experienced, I'd probably be more upset at some of the insane things that happen. I still enjoy the game and recommend it, but I find myself playing online for shorter sessions than I did in Persona 4 Arena.

A common argument is that every fighting game is unfair or unbalanced in some way, and your personal preferences will determine what type of unfairness you're willing to put up with. Compared to its sequel, Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax is MUCH less fair and balanced. But I can put up with it.

Is that damning it with faint praise? Maybe!

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