My friends have asked me "Why are you playing BlazBlue all the time? You have Black Ops, right? Why don't you come play with us?" This blog is more or less an answer to their question, but it also serves to offer a perspective on a particular genre and how one goes about enjoying/getting into it.
Let me preface this by saying that my roots are in first person shooters. I really do love them. I first had the chance to play online in 2005 when our house finally got DSL. I played countless hours of Halo 2 on the original xbox and have loved FPS multiplayer ever since. From games like Killing Floor, to Counter Strike: Source, to CoD/Modern Warfare, to Battlefield, and even some Unreal Tournament, I have had my fair share of fun.
My past with fighting games was not so deep rooted up until about 2009. My first purchased fighting game was Street Fighter Alpha on the PSone. I was terrible at it, could barely get through the arcade mode, so I stopped playing. I also got Dead or Alive 3 for the original xbox which I was better at, but whenever my friends played, they would just get angry because I knew how to play the game better than they did.
It wasn't until 2009 that I stumbled on BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. I picked up the limited edition of the game since it had the same price as the regular version, which allowed me to have 2 OST CD's and a DVD guide along with the game itself. I instantly fell in love with the game. Colorful characters, fast-paced fighting, big damage and big combos, BlazBlue awakened the fighter in me. At current I own MvC3, SSF4, Tekken 6, MK9, BB:CS, GGXX:R, Melty Blood Act Cadenza, and Arcana Heart 3. I love most all of them (the reason why will be covered in a later blog), but for the purpose of comparison, the game I will use as an example the most in this blog will be BlazBlue. It is the game I have the most experience in (sorry, Guilty Gear fans), plus it has many interesting mechanics.
Now, you might say that I got a kick for fighting games because I was bored of playing first person shooters or role-playing games or any other genre for that matter and wanted something fresh. While that is partially true, I think there are solid reasons as to why I spend so much time with fighters.
Fighting games require more skill from me than first person shooters do
This again may be because I have spent so much time with first person shooters, but I have gotten to the point to where it takes minimal effort from me to perform well in a standard match of free-for-all on a CoD game or in a game of Invasion on Halo: Reach. I believe the primary reason for this stems from one skill: reflexes.
I will be the first to say that every gun in a game like Call of Duty is perfectly viable in the right hands. The 'right hands' usually entails someone who is very aware and can shoot accurately and quickly. I'll admit, it takes time to hone your reflexes, but that seems to be the only spectrum on which my skill is based. I find myself not needing to use other tools like claymores or C4 because I'm usually good about checking my six.
I'll give credit to games like Killing Floor and Left 4 Dead that emphasize strategy and teamwork. Those games are still not without their problems, like Killing Floor's perk system that can alienate newcomers, or greedy team-mates in Left 4 Dead that take all the good weapons, health, and ammo. But, in general, these games demand more skill out of me than other shooters but not quite as much as fighters.
In a game like BlazBlue, there are many dimensions to my skill requirement. I'll separate it into two categories: offense and defense. On the offensive, you have to know how to do combos, pressure/mix-up your opponent, be reactive whenever you hit-confirm, and learn how to bait out certain things like bursts, counter-assaults, or mashing out. On the defensive, you have to be able to block lows and overheads, know when to use barrier, be reactive about teching throws, and looking for gaps in your opponents pressure so you can counter. In both categories, you have to be aware of your characters tools and, well, characteristics.
The previous paragraph either confused you altogether, or enlightened you. In any case, the point is clear: fighting games are complicated. And to blow your mind a little bit more, I didn't even mention half of the really complicated stuff. But that's part of why I enjoy fighting games. I am solely responsible for my performance in all of those categories. There's a number of factors that could contribute to my win or loss, whereas in a game of free-for-all whenever I die I find myself saying "I should have checked my corners better" or "I wasn't quick enough." This feeling of responsibility brings me to my next point.
I am much more personally invested in my character in a fighting game than I am in a first person shooter
In most fighting games you pick a 'main.' In my case, my main for BlazBlue is Hazama. He looks like anime Michael Jackson with butterfly knives and can throw chains with snake heads at the end of them. In most shooters (again, save Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead), your character model is either randomly selected or has a generic voice. In BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, and MvC3, each character has their own theme, and in the cases of BB and GG, they even have special songs for certain characters facing each other (e.g. Hazama vs. Ragna or Eddie vs. Millia).
Technically speaking, though, my main is far more important to me than what guns, perks, and equipment that I use. Though there are some levels of customization in other fighters (Marvel's assists, Arcanas in Arcana Heart, etc.), the only thing I can change about Hazama is his color palette. I'm stuck with the tools that I've got when I've selected my character. I have to learn, on top of his combos and pressure, what his best defensive tools are and how to zone and approach with his chains properly. I have been working on one of his combos (fellow Hazama players will know it as 'relaunch') since May, and I have only landed a few times successfully. I'm getting better though, the more I practice and play matches with friends.
But thing I love most about fighters is that they are head-to-head. In shooters, you can be pursuing a certain target all you want, just to be caught off guard by some guy sniping in a corner. There's a certain bit of chaos to shooters that will even affect the most skilled of players. I feel that everything in a fighter is my own damn fault. I feel little need to complain or blame something on another player. In fact, I feel more compelled to compliment them if they land a big combo or catch me with an air-throw.
If I go 30-0 in a game of free-for-all, it's usually because of people who are stubborn to use Ghost/Cold-Blooded or take cover whenever I have a killstreak vehicle out. I don't feel so much accomplished as much as I do feel like I'm in a game full of scrubs. In BlazBlue, if I perfect someone, it's because I effectively kept the pressure on my opponent, played smart, and landed big combos. Even the most scrubby of players mash 5A out of pressure and cost you a perfect (even though that's not the goal). Better yet, games where someone wins when the chips are down (at about 52:10) are even more entertaining/thrilling to watch/experience.
My last point has less to do with interest so much as encouragement. Nonetheless...
I feel more welcome in a fighting game community than I do in shooters
This is mostly a social thing, but it does have it's effect on local and network play. I guess you can also blame marketing but one thing is certain: fighting games, as a whole, have a smaller scene than first person shooters. I am rather glad that Destructoid launched its fight.destructoid.com section (thank you, Jesse, man with beautiful singing voice) because it will hopefully pull more people in. For less popular fighters like BlazBlue and Arcana Heart, however, I use their respective forum websites (Dustloop and Homing Cancel, if you feel so inclined). However full of trolls the forums of those sites may be, there is helpful information to be found and there's usually at least one person willing to aid you.
As always, the popular stereotype with shooters (especially Halo and Call of Duty) is that there are 12-year-olds screaming curse words and making your mom 'jokes.' While they may not always be 12 years old, there's generally unpleasant chatter in game chat unless you're on a MLG/CPL team or something. That's not to say fighting games are without their trolls or griefers, just that it's more frequent in a shooter, and multiplied due to multiple opponents or teammates.
One of the greatest things, perhaps, is that in many fighters nowadays, you don't even have to know how to play. This is where the hardcore audience's opinion will likely differ from mine. In BlazBlue, Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Arcana Heart 3, you have the option of turning on simple mode, which means your button scheme changes, but it facilitates doing combos. Even though I think that flashy, air-dashy, Japanese fighters are the last games that would have an influx of casual players, it's nice that they consider that anyone might be playing their game. To top it all off, most games have a challenge mode (BB:CS, SSF4) or let you browse combos (Tekken). Hell, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift even has a tutorial mode (though you have to listen to Rachel's cockney-accented mockery in order to complete it).
I know that fighters don't help themselves attract more players what with their anime (or otherwise Japanese) visuals and difficult learning curves, but I think they deserve more of a chance than most people let them have. However, there is one crucial element that needs fixing that shooters have over fighters: netcode. The ability to do combos effectively is severely hindered by input lag. Say what you want about Call of Duty or Halo, those games have seriously smooth online multiplayer.
And there you have it: my answer to my friends as well as a perspective into the fighting genre. Thank you for reading.