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WARNING: If you object to the idea of a fighting game-related post written by someone unable to cite active frames, stun values, tiers and combo strings from memory at a moment’s notice, stop reading now to save yourself (and others around you) a few gray hairs. You have been warned.
So yeah, as the above implies I’m not exactly a legendary presence (if any at all, really) within the fighting game community, but that doesn’t stop me from harboring a good deal of affection for the genre: much akin to the scrolling shooters I go to great lengths to import even if my best scores are invariably pathetic, fighters, to me, serve as a sort of symbol for gaming as I most fondly know it, and a niche I like to support with my business when I can, even if I’m not skilled enough to experience them at a “high level”.
Something about any game that can be mastered on so many different fronts and thus taken incredibly seriously (sometimes a bit too seriously) by its players, and yet be, on its face, so patently ridiculous, never fails to charm me. As amazing as it is to observe tourney-caliber participants in action, it’s tough to completely forget that you’re watching a green dude charge his body with electricity to zap a guy who can stretch his rubbery arms halfway across the screen…not to mention that a tiny, well-placed bump to the shins can serve as the final nudge into a lights-out KO, or that a piece of blank space can swat a blocking opponent in the back of the head if placed JUST right during a jump kick. And that’s before you even juggle giant robots 50 feet in the air and rip spinal cords out of undead ninjas. Fighting games, in short, are some of the most finely-tuned pieces of nonsense that humanity has ever created, and for that alone I can’t feel anything but happiness about their existence.
Of course, like anyone else I have my personal biases, blissfully uninformed as they may be: I adore certain character designs even as I sneer at their fellow combatants, praise the story elements of one series while dismissing them as unnecessary, eye-rolling distractions in another. Exhibit A would be my usual preference of two-dimensional fighters to three-dimensional ones: in blunt terms, not only am I superficially prejudiced in favor of stylish spritework and fluid animations over the upgraded skin pore texture rendering engine slathered over the latest pair of sweaty polygonal pectorals, but I have an even harder time wrapping my mind around the latter, which is no mean feat considering how complicated 2D fighters can get.
Judging hitboxes and whatnot in 3D is a bit of extra work in and of itself, but then there are the movelists…oh man, those movelists go on absolutely forever, and the slightest variation in how, when and where you press a single button can completely alter every relevant property of even a basic attack (“wait, is Back + LK the overhead, or does that only work from the side, at throw range…does LK [delay] LK become the chargeable knockdown pounce when you’ve shifted to Mantis stance, or is that LP [delay] LK while prone?”). For someone like me who lacks the time, inclination, and raw talent to even best the CPU opponents on “Normal” difficulty much of the time, Virtua Fighter makes Guilty Gear look accessible…and yes, I know that you’re not supposed to use every single move every single match, but it’s still a lot to sort out, at least for the likes of me. To those of you who do it and do it well, I salute you without hesitation.
Anyway, it’s not like anyone else really needs to care about any of this: it’s just one gamer’s very limited perspective at work. That being said, over the past couple of weeks things have gotten a lot more interesting for me in the fighting game circuit, and it’s driving me absolutely nuts.
Here’s the setup: over the next few months, the two (arguably) biggest fighting game releases coming to Western consoles are Persona 4: Arena and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. If you haven’t been keeping up, the former is a brand new, sprite-based 2D fighter based upon a sorta-offbeat RPG series, while the latter is the latest in an established series of expansive 3D brawlers. My gaming backlog (like my income) being nothing short of embarrassing, I’m limiting myself to picking up only one of the two, at least at launch. So, question for you: based on what you’ve read here so far (and even moreso if you’ve ventured elsewhere within this blog), which game do you think I’ve been leaning towards?
Yeah, I’m afraid that this is one of those “if you picked the obvious answer, you’re going to be totally surprised at how wrong you are and suddenly question everything you thought you knew” situations. And if you’re feeling confused, try to imagine the knots it’s got me tied up in…heck, you figure I’d be used to questioning everything I am as a gamer by now.
For anyone still willing to listen, though, here’s my best shot at putting into words why I’m finding myself, against all odds, drawn more towards Tekken than Persona this time around.
Let’s start with the presumed front-runner, Persona 4 Arena, which is being published by Atlus, a longtime specialist in the localization of Japanese curiosities and a personal favorite company of mine, though ever since the surprise success of Demon’s Souls they seem to have developed a growing and deeply unfortunate taste for angrybrown mediocrity (sorry, but medieval-styled angrybrown is still angrybrown). Anyway, that’s certainly not a problem here, as Arena looks like a million brilliantly-colorful bucks, thanks to the 2D expertise of Guilty Gear developer Arc System Works.
On the flipside, this association, from this vantage point at least, is the mother of all double-edged swords. Since Street Fighter IV kicked off the so-called “fighting renaissance” four years ago, there has been a lot of chatter and criticism concerning fighting game companies’ infamous penchant for nickel-and-diming their fans via an endless series of tweaks, updates, and enhancements to an existing product that rarely offer very much bang for the buck. Capcom, especially since the on-disc DLC fiasco of Street Fighter X Tekken came to light, has borne the brunt of the community’s ire; as the company that more or less pioneered this dubious practice back in the 90’s it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve at least a good deal of the bad press they’ve gotten.
Amidst all the bellyaching, however, another egregious offender has managed to escape largely unnoticed (no, not SNK, though admittedly the same principle might apply to them, to a lesser degree): if you think that Super Street Fighter IV or Arcade Edition were superfluous, take a gander at the painfully piecemeal roster updates and such that Arc’s Blazblue series has received in roughly the same amount of time. Yes, I know that Arc isn’t as big or resource-rich an outfit as Capcom, and that producing new spritework is a whole different beast than new polygon-based models, but in terms of how eager either entity is to clutch at every last “bonus dollar” they can coax out of their loyal patrons, what’s good (or bad) for the goose is good (if not worse) for the gander. At this juncture no “serious” DLC has been announced for Arena (Eyeglasses? Really?), but I very much doubt that fans of the breakout Persona 3 won’t end up staring Minato or Junpei in the face on the PSN (or a physical “Tartarus Edition”) somewhere down the road, especially considering Arena’s somewhat modest out-of-the-box roll call.
Then, of course, there's Atlus' own recent headline-grabbing actions...and yes, I'm talking about THAT. I don't intend to go on at length about it as there's been plenty of more qualified opinions aired already, and I can certainly understand (and to a degree sympathize with) Atlus' stated reasons for taking the unprecedented step of region-locking a PS3 game, but no matter the circumstances the whole thing still leaves a lingering, bitter taste in my mouth.
Even if this particular decision doesn't affect me directly (I own a US PS3; problem solved, right?), you may recall my earlier mention of having had to import, mostly for the 360, on numerous occasions: I thus know firsthand what an enormous additional pain in the neck importing can be when there's a region lock to bypass, and don’t wish it any more on my fellow gamers across the ocean than upon myself. Yes, a company's regional offices all need to make enough money to keep doing their thing, but you'd figure that of all people Atlus could have found a better solution to this dilemma...after all, back when they wanted the US Faithful to stop importing Demon's Souls from Japan, they whipped up a special edition to help convince them to buy locally. Those heady days have passed us by, it seems.
Okay, that's enough negativity: let's move on to the surprising ways in which Tekken Tag 2 has managed to steal away my attention. At the top of this list, interestingly enough, is Tekken series producer Katsuhiro Harada. As much as I enjoy the antics of his goofy (and overworked) Capcom counterpart, Yoshinori Ono (though of course it's best for everyone when both are involved), I find myself particularly intrigued by a lot of what Harada has been saying of late. To whit, he's supposedly been fighting his bosses on the issue of charging for extra characters, stages, and moves: of course, there's no real way to know just how genuine these claims are, but considering what a notoriously poor reputation “Scamco-Bandai” has built for itself during the DLC era I'm tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, just for openly bringing up such an uncomfortable company issue. Time will likely tell if he's just been blowing smoke, but I find myself unusually hopeful.
Harada's most controversial recent statements, however, were aimed at none other than the fans: there's been a lot of back-and-forth as to whether or not his complaints about the fighting game community (certain sectors of it, at least) have much merit, or even whether he has any “right” to make them in the first place, but for the record I find myself coming down largely on his side of the argument. I'm not a programmer or designer and thus can't speak from experience, but at times even I, notwithstanding my own well-voiced stable of impossible digital wishes (Pocket Fighter 2!!), can only gape in awe at the painfully entitled attitudes of some of my fellow gamers and mutter to myself “this can't be for real.” While nobody likes to get told off by clueless industry figures, in this particular case I think, for the most part, that what Harada came out and said was long overdue, and hope that some of his detractors were genuinely listening: I certainly was.
Moving past the real-life personalities and into the game itself, I must also (re-)admit that I'm a total sucker for the radiantly silly (well, sillier) approach that Tag 2 is taking: granted, any title which presents the possibility of pitting a cyborg lady with an exploding head versus a boxing velociraptor is a bit tough to keep a straight face around by default, but the more proudly Tekken acknowledges this the more likely I am to give it a good-natured whirl. From over-the-top item moves to the totally ridiculous swimsuit costume pre-order bonus (even here I’m forced to offer Namco a golf clap, as for once all characters, not just the ladies, are subjected to impractical attire just for the heck of it: Harada recently confirmed that even True Ogre will be joining the beach party. Your move, Tecmo!), Tekken is letting the larger gaming world know that stone-faced tourney players (some of whom have convinced me that the Satsui no Hadou is for real) are not its only intended audience. This is exactly the message that more such series need to send, via means other than dumbing down the fighting mechanics…though sometimes I wonder if a less-serious veneer actually ticks off the “true fans” more than a “nerfed” ruleset (better to lose a tourney than use a “gay” character). I wonder what Snoop’s take on the situation might be.
So yeah, while I certainly have a number of caveats when it comes to possibly plunking down my cash for Tag 2, and Atlus is still doing quite a few things right with Persona Arena, the more I think about the situation the more I find myself eager to get Kuma onto that tire swing.
You might have noticed that I’ve ventured very little into how the two games actually play (though I guess that this is as good a time as any to express my misgivings about Arena’s one-button combos), but seeing as most fighting games are largely “symbolic” purchases for me in the first place, those concerns, oddly enough, come across in my mind as secondary (this is the point at which the hardcore types who ignored my opening warning proceed to hit-confirm their Raging Comment hyper combos – I am not responsible for any damaged/melted/atomized keyboards and/or custom joysticks that may result).
The big question for me, instead, is as follows: Which of these series, and/or their parent companies, is currently moving itself in a positive direction?
From this admittedly blinkered perspective the answer strikes me as clear, if also depressing in a way, considering how many of my dollars Atlus has received in the past (and, in all likelihood, will continue to receive in the future, if perhaps not so frequently); on the other hand, considering that my only “regular” Namco purchases for some time have been occasional Katamari offerings, maybe this is a rare chance for Pac-Man and myself to make nice.
Honestly, though, I’m rather loath to attempt to think that far ahead; the present mess is more than enough to wrack my brain all on its own. Though the clock is rapidly ticking down, I haven’t yet made my final decision as to where I’ll be going to get kicked repeatedly in the face, largely because I’m not sure I’m even considering the right criteria: is it some kind of gaming sin to even view a purchase through the same prism as I’m viewing it? Have I inadvertently reduced myself to a puppet of the marketing department, instead of the opposite? It kind of feels like it sometimes…it almost makes me wonder if the hard-nosed fighting fans have been right all along, that if I’m not going to pour out my heart and soul into a well-crafted fighter then I might as well not waste my time on it in the first place.
Not that it matters now: the bell has rung, and about all I can do from here on out is roll with the punches.