Fight or flight time
A few years ago I decided to partake in the For Honor beta, in which I had a jolly good time wildly swinging swords and axes at my fellow warriors, who like me, were also swinging in a haphazard manner. I had such a good time in fact that I brought the full game against my better judgment, being a game published by Ubisoft and all, and as such the online just decides to shrug its shoulders and not work sometimes. But the core gameplay of strikes, blocks, parries and throws was golden, and once you lock weapons with an opponent so begins a terrifically tense back-and-forth duel. That is until their teammate happens to ram a spear into your back because the main mode of For Honor is a manic capture-the-point 4v4 mode.
Add to the mix abilities that aren’t particularly honourable – such as landing a flaming boulder on top of someone – and you get something that will have people looking for a pure and simple duel in fits of rage. And that’s what drove me to the less populated side of For Honor: the one-on-one mode. It was here that I got my first experience of going up against a single deadly foe, no interruptions, no help, just you and them. Suddenly my adversary’s play-style came into focus and I began to notice what attacks they preferred, as well as what attacks of mine failed or succeeded. It’s a particular aspect of the match that usually gets lost in the mayhem of team games, but shines through wonderfully when going combatant to combatant.
Each hit is like an exchange of information, and slowly you are telling each other how you fight with the victor being the one who figures out the other the fastest. You don’t just out-react the other player, you outwit them. Sadly, even in this mode there are certain issues that keep it from feeling like a fair fight, chiefly, throwing a foe’s heavily-armoured arse off a cliff or into a pit of spikes. It’s just too easy, which is why an unspoken rule of players is to clash away from any stage hazards. Though of course, not all players acknowledge this tenuous law and some will try their luck if a match is going south.
Sure, For Honor isn’t strictly a fighting game in the traditional sense, but it did set me on the path to becoming a fan of the genre, and when looking for a full-blooded fighter, Dragon Ball FighterZ appeared. And how could it not capture my attention, a fighting game about Dragon Ball presented in Arc System Works’ lavish cel-shaded art style, it was a done deal for me. The fan-service in FighterZ goes right through the roof and heads straight into the stratosphere, having me nerd out when seeing Piccolo’s Hellzone Grenade or Captain Ginyu’s body switch ability. Dragon Ball FighterZ looks the part, that much is sure, but it is also rather novice friendly too. The controls – which can be a huge turn-off for newcomers – are simple enough to have beginners pulling off all sorts of fancy moves, and boy, does this game look fancy.
While each character has a handful of unique inputs, rotating quarter-circle either forwards or backwards and pushing a button will always result in something happening. Learning someone new is made easy as can be, with complexity coming from where to slot those moves in a combo. It was in these super-powered battles I began to comprehend more of the genre’s intricacies, namely spacing. For Honor’s movement was very grounded, miles from Dragon Ball FighterZ’s hyper-fast dashes and jumps.
And a good player doesn’t just run up and start mashing the attack button, a good player moves unpredictably, testing an opponent’s reach and defence. I discovered that projectiles weren’t just for damage dealing, but also for applying pressure to your competitor so you can move up on them. Mix-ups, cross-ups and the neutral were all things I added to my fighting game lexicon, along with actual combos that had me juggling a character’s half-conscious body high into the air. Given the sheer forward momentum players have while attacking, and that savvier people will cover gaps in their attacks with assists, offence in this game is high.
Too high some might say, with characters magnetising to each other in seemingly unintended ways, sometimes even doing a one-eighty mid combo and catching a rather bemused person at the end of it. But it is the Super Dash (which has you flying towards an enemy at great speed) that reigns supreme as the biggest pain to deal with. While it’s true that you can counter it with a well-timed heavy attack, at close or even medium distances there is little to do but block, with no easy opportunity to punish. Not to be outdone by For Honor, FighterZ also has a pretty rotten online as well, with weekends frequently causing matches to drop connection. At the game’s launch it was so bad I couldn’t even play my friend at all despite us being relatively close to each other. But don’t fret, I sure we’ll forget all of our online woes once Ultra Instinct Goku joins his Goku brethren, and becomes the all encompassing Goku singularity that is this game’s roster.
Dragon Ball FighterZ officially made me a fan of the genre, so I decided to look for another game to satiate my fighting hunger. And what better game to jump into than one of the most technical fighters available: Tekken 7. In fact, one of the very first posts you’ll see on Tekken’s reddit is someone lamenting the daunting task of mastering it. Unperturbed, I went straight to the training mode, because Tekken demands you learn, practice, learn and practice some more.
When people speak of getting into fighting games, Tekken 7 is the nightmare. Looking at just a single character’s move list reveals over a hundred different techniques, some of which require some pretty intense dexterity. But if you look past this intimidating barrage of buttons you'll discover Tekken 7 has a crazy amount of depth. Options, that’s what you get, tons of them. Options when standing, crouching, sidestepping and getting up from the ground, which blows anything For Honor or Dragon Ball FighterZ had out of the water.
Now, I’m not saying that complexity unquestionably equals a good game, but having more options in a fighter means more ways to open an adversary up, and conversely, makes you really have to learn a player’s habits and tells. Even the stages are a factor to deal with, with walls that either break or stand steadfast at a person being launched into them, testing your combo-ing prowess as wall splats and bounces become another component of the match. But there are some wall-less arenas for those who want things a bit simpler.
And hooray, because the online for Tekken 7 actually works, I mean it’s not perfect, but it works. Plus, it doesn’t make me load into a lobby just so I can walk over and talk to the guy that actually lets me play a match – looking at you FighterZ. It’s just an option in a menu you can press right away, what will these geniuses think of next? When I found myself doing an 8-hit combo in an online ranked match of Tekken 7, I couldn’t help but feel a flash of pride inside. I had journeyed from just hitting the buttons and hoping for the best to actually trying to study and learn the various moves and mechanics. Not that I’m saying I’m any good at fighting games, but I never expected to fall for the genre like I have.
Looking beyond Tekken 7 and I’m eyeing up Granblue Fantasy Versus. Fingers crossed that RPG mode is actually good because a roster of only 11 fighters isn’t impressing anyone, and shoving DLC characters in our faces before the game is even out isn’t helping things either. But it’s the smell of Guilty Gear Strive that is really getting me excited, with a presentation that goes even further beyond FighterZ, the exception being that mobile-game looking UI it perplexingly has. Hopefully it shapes up to be something really special, and continues my love of this part of gaming that I used to overlook.
All of that said, I still understand why people write off fighting games. It takes a lot of practice to even enjoy matches to the full, and when some people get home from a busy day, they just want to turn their brain off. And then there is the fear of not being part of a team, the fear that its all riding on you, and if you get destroyed, there is no one to blame but yourself. As someone who suffers from an almost crippling amount of anxiety, it took me a good month after buying Tekken 7 to get the courage to play it online.
At the end of the day, however, you are going to lose, lose and lose, it’s just part of the game, hell it is part of online games in general. The only difference is that the onus to get better is squarely on you, no godlike teammate is going to carry you to an easy win. But in a way, it’s also freeing, because how many times during a match of *insert team-focused game of choice here* do you see a couple of teammates in the corner doing absolutely nothing. It is like playing a game of five-a-side football and someone on your team just starts dancing in the middle of the pitch! I know its just a game and all, but could they not do that?
So look at it this way, your losses are yours, but so are your wins. When you beat someone, its because you were the better player – or you used a broken character like Leroy Smith (not that I’m petty or anything). So if you are standing at the precipice, wondering if its worth it to take the plunge, be prepared to learn, be prepared to lose, and know that victory is totally worth it.
Now you’ll have to excuse me, because I have to get ready for the next battle battle battle…