Part 4 of my ongoing series, in which I try lots of fighting games to find one that I'm good at.
It's been a little too long since I've devoted some time to trying out another fighting game. I played Persona 4 Arena a lot, and enjoyed it thoroughly because of my appreciation of the Persona series. On the other hand, I haven't been playing it much recently because I burned myself out on it. I liked the Story mode but it was REALLY long. In fact, I played more Persona 4 Arena more than any other fighting game I've played this entire year just working through all that single player content. I'm still not sure if it's the game I'll be devoting a ton of time to in the future, but I've played too much of it to not come back at some point.
Since then I picked up another game I've been interested in for a long time. Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition was $20 at GameStop. That's a full game, four DLC characters, and that awesome Mortal Kombat movie from the 90s for 20 bucks? How could I not get that?
This always makes me laugh and I don't know why
Mortal Kombat was one of the first fighting games I ever played. Being a kid in the 90s, I looked at this game with intense violence and gallons of blood and said "I need to play this because my parents hate it!". And I did! Granted, I only played it in short bursts at a friend's house, but I still have memories of laughing hysterically at the ridiculous Fatality moves in the original game.
So, my first reason to pick up this game was my innate fondness of the Mortal Kombat aesthetics. I love the ridiculous violence, stupid costumes, and bone-crunching sound effects. The game just looks and sounds BRUTAL.
How is this not instantly fatal?!
The second reason I wanted to try this game? I was persuaded not to.
As I do with every fighting game I'm interested in, I watched a lot of videos and streams of the game before and after trying it. People in comments for the EVO 2012 Mortal Kombat matches HATE this game! Whether it be complaining about certain characters being cheap, being upset that such a casual friendly game is played in high-level competition, and worst of all, calling the game boring. I can't ignore such negativity.
I also know some people who were pretty negative about Mortal Kombat and as far as I knew, haven't played it. That's always been an interesting phenomenon I've noticed with gamers, especially those in the "fighting game community". They love seeing things fail. If a game didn't get the amount of entrants that you personally needed at a major tournament, it's dead, move on to the next one. If a game you don't like is being played it's dead and no one else should play it. When a new game of a similar style comes out, the old game is DEAD and we will all move onto the next game now (example: Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is out. Every other 3D fighting game must now be ignored. This is what people actually believe).
It's a unique form of pessimism that I'm not too keen on, so maybe I haven't been playing fighting games long enough. But I don't care to follow a trend and stop playing a game because someone on the internet told me it's dead. In fact, the negativity towards this game just made me want to play it more because that's just how my brain works.
Since I'm counting here's what games are dead right now:
-Dead or Alive 5 and Soul Calibur 5, because only one 3D fighting game is allowed at a time (Tekken Tag Tournament 2)
-Skullgirls, since it hasn't gotten patched and isn't at any major tournaments
-Mortal Kombat, because...they don't like it I guess
-Persona 4 Arena. A new Blazblue or Guilty Gear game is coming out so we're dropping P4A.
So, I'll stop ranting and talk about the actual game now.
There's a lot to talk about for this game, perhaps more than any game I've played for this series so far. There's a TON of content in Mortal Kombat.
After finishing the tutorial, the first place I went was the Challenge Tower. This isn't just a lot of increasingly difficult fights, it's full of unique match stipulations, mini-games, and activities that I don't think you can replay anywhere outside of the Tower. So far I've done Test Your Sight/Might mini-games, a pseudo shooter level, played matches where I could only use special moves or can only defeat my opponent while having half of my moves locked, and even had a rather pointless fight over a teddy bear. Seriously.
After progressing to a point where I got totally stuck in the Challenge Tower, I switched over to the Story mode. HOLY CRAP this is a great story mode! I don't know anything about the Mortal Kombat mythology as a whole, but this story mode felt like an abridged, yet slightly altered version of events that happened in past games. The graphics and overall presentation are superb; I especially enjoy the way cutscenes seamlessly transition into fights without a loading screen. The fights are generally without gimmicks as a contrast to Challenge Tower, but I was so enthralled by the story itself that I didn't care. I did have to drop the difficulty to Easy at one point to progress, but the fights are still significantly challenging on that difficulty. The 1v2 fights are still unfair and took many replays to pass, but the game even fixes this issue by subtly dropping the difficulty if you fail too much.
And I fail too much, so I definitely noticed that.
Then there's a whole Extras menu to explore. Every time you finish a fight in pretty much any mode, you get koins to use in the Krypt. This is where you piss your pants from jump scares unlock concept art, extra fatalities, codes to input before fights, music...more concept art. There's a ton of stuff to unlock, and therefore, a lot of reasons to keep playing. Since I cannot actually play online, I appreciate when a game gives me plenty of reasons to keep playing in single player, and Mortal Kombat has a TON of reasons to keep playing.
Now, I got all that out of the way because I need to discuss my issue with the game. It doesn't teach you how to play it very well. I'm probably spoiled by having playing games with really in-depth tutorials and combat training, but Mortal Kombat does not have that. And I think it could use that.
The game's tutorial teaches everything a basic tutorial should. What each of the five buttons do, how to perform special attacks, and the mechanics of the tag system. That's serviceable, but my issue with this is that it doesn't go far enough. There are over 30 characters in this game, and they often don't share commands. Besides the basic Crouch+Back Punch for uppercuts and Away+Back Kick for Sweeps, that is.
The tutorial teaches you Johnny Cage's pop-up move to begin Juggle Kombos but no one else's. You'll learn how to do special attacks for a few characters, but every character has several special attacks with pretty different commands. I think what this game really could have used was a command tutorial.
Trying to learn the moves of so many characters in training mode was a pain. I'd have to pause, look up the move or kombo, and unpause to try it out and hope I got it right. It's a simple process, but when I'm playing a new game I like to test out every character's capabilities and see who fits my playstyle the best. Doing this for every character in the game is immensely time consuming and could've taken much less time with a command tutorial.
There are also some quirks in Mortal Kombat that took getting used to. I've never played a 2D fighter with a block button before. The same basic principles for fighting games apply, you block high to avoid middle and high attacks, you block low to avoid low attacks. The thing that caught me off guard was that there are a LOT of overhead attacks (high attacks that must be blocked high), and a fair amount of combos that seemed to just break guards randomly. I never figured out why my guard would be broken on certain attacks or combos, and the game never mentioned guard breaking moves so I found myself getting frustrated when I got hit when I thought I was blocking correctly.
The combo system doesn't exactly work like any other game I've played. I got stuck on the combo section of the tutorial for a long time until I looked up this little tip: you have to input these combo commands as quickly as possible, or they will not work. It's strange to get used to and makes the character's movesets feel limited when you don't really experiment to get certain moves to link: if you're not doing the particular combo on the movelist and inputting commands as quickly as possible, it's not gonna work.
One unique Mortal Kombat element I did understand and immediately took a liking to was the way the meter works. It's not just a meter that lets you know when you can use your special attack. When it's full you CAN do a very damaging X-Ray move, but in some cases this might not be the best choice. You can use one chunk of this bar to use an Enhanced Special Move, which is just as it sounds: a stronger version of one of your special attacks. If you have two bars you can perform a Breaker to get yourself out of a combo, and this could turn the tide of the match. The meter also carries over between rounds. I wasn't expecting it, but this game has one of the smartest applications of a super meter I've seen. If you're about to lose, it might not be the best idea to save your meter for an X-Ray attack because you might get KOed before you can use it. On the other hand, the meter seems to go up more quickly for successful blocks and taking damage than hitting your opponent a lot, so you could use an Enhanced Special Attack or X-Ray as a comeback mechanic. The Breakers seem almost necessary when you're in the unfortunate position of being juggled in the air (which happened to me more than once in online matches.
What I Liked:
-A TON of content. Even if I don't see myself getting good at this game, I know I'm gonna keep coming back to it for a long time. Either to play some goofy fights in Challenge Tower, finish the incredibly-well done Story mode, or try to figure out the secret commands I can make my Avatar do in the online lobbies.
-The game's overall presentation. These characters aren't realistic but the sound effects are bone-crunchingly BRUTAL and these moves look like they hurt a lot. The X-Ray and Fatality attacks are a bloody hilarious spectacle that I never got tired of seeing.
-Unique application of the traditional Super meter. The X-Ray meter can be used as a comeback mechanic since it builds faster for taking damage than attacking, but if you're taking too much damage you'll just be dead. Breakers are a good risk-reward spending of meter because it can get you out of trouble but usually leaves the bar empty. Enhanced Special Attacks do extra damage but can easily be blocked if you use them incorrectly.
What I Didn't Like:
-The training and tutorial modes don't go far enough. You learn a few special attacks and key elements of the game from the tutorial mode, but it leaves out a lot and would be better served with a full command training mode. They even split some more basic training elements away from Training/Tutorial and put them into the Challenge Tower, which doesn't make much sense. Since every character is different in terms of some basic commands and Special moves, why not put in a mode to help me learn these moves better?
-The fact that you need to input most combos as quickly as possible to do them successfully. It makes the combat system feel a bit more stiff and not open to exploration.
-Difficulty in single player modes, especially Story mode, was pretty harsh. Even on Easy some of the fights seemed unfairly difficult.
I left Mortal Kombat feeling a little conflicted. I love the game's presentation and single player modes, but I don't feel like the game ever gave me the tools I needed to get any better than mediocre at it. I passed a lot of Story mode and Challenge Tower but felt like I was kinda flailing through it, and my online fights were ALL miserable failures. It would take me a lot of time to get better at this game, and some research outside of the game to do so. And while I do like the game, I don't think I like it ENOUGH to do this. That could just be my problem though. I had fun but the game isn't very friendly to newcomers.
Since I have an admitted preference for 3D fighters over 2D fighters, I've bought Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown and will probably get Dead or Alive 5 soon. It'll take a bit more time to learn the systems of new fighting games while so many other good games have been coming out this year, but I'll keep at it until I find the one game that I'll get really good at. Unfortunately I don't think Mortal Kombat will be that game, but there's so many more to try. Seriously, what's up with fighting games this year? There's like a million of them...but there are worse problems to have than "there's too much stuff to play", right?
Part 3 of my ongoing series of trying and failing miserably to get good at any fighting game.
It's been a while since I've written one of these. My immediate positive reaction to Soul Calibur V lead me to try more 3D fighting games, and since then I've gotten a little better at that game and I'm trying to learn Virtua Fighter V. I've learned the "keypad" notation which I can't explain well here...just look at this. It's useful to know, I promise.
Before I get into what game I'm playing now, I have some advice for anyone else who is trying to get good at fighting games. If you're as green as I am, it could help probably!
1. Watch your game. Get on Twitch.tv, get on Youtube, and find gameplay commentaries of tournaments, casual play, whatever. This has helped me so learn games faster than I ever expected I could. By watching REALLY good players in Soul Calibur V, I learned some tricks to try out with my characters and how to improve my game. It helps even more if there are knowledgeable commentators who explain the tactics at play. It won't automatically give you muscle memory that you'll need to do the crazy combos they're pulling off; that just comes with a lot of practice. But in my experience, watching gameplay helped me learn things about fighting games I never would have just discovered on my own.
2. Don't force yourself to play a character. You should never pick your character based on tier or someone else's opinion on them. These games have a lot of characters with a lot of different moves, and you should try them all out to find out which one suits your style the most. And even when you find one that "clicks", try some more to see if they do too. Not every character makes sense to every player, and you shouldn't focus on becoming a master at all of them. Find the one that suits you best and practice with them until you're awesome.
So, back to the game I'm currently addicted to!
I don't know if you knew this about me, but I love Persona 4. It has a permanent place on my top five favorite games of all time list and I would legally marry it if that were possible. My fondness for that game, and knowledge that Persona 4 Arena continues the story of Persona 4 sealed the deal. I HAD to buy this game.
Persona 4 Arena was developed by Arc System Works, the developers of BlazBlue. At least, that's what I've heard. To be honest, I know very little about BlazBlue and Guilty Gear and I don't really care to play them. Those games seemed incredibly complex and impenetrable before I was even trying to get good at fighting games, and they still do now. I also don't care for the company's tendency to release multiple iterations of BlazBlue in seemingly short time periods AND put DLC characters in them...it's just a little off-putting to me.
I probably just lost all my street cred for dissing BlazBlue so bad. As if I had any in the first place.
On the other hand, Persona 4 Arena has excellent character design AND understandable gameplay. It's complex, but not overwhelmingly so. A big part of that is the multiple learning tools the game gives you.
I've said it before, but I love when fighting games actually try to teach you how to play them. These games are really complicated, and I want them to explain what the hell is happening in as much detail as possible. I praised Skullgirls for doing this, and Persona 4 Arena does it even better.
The first learning tool they give you is Lesson Mode. For a four button fighter, there are a LOT of commands to remember in this game. The Lesson Mode gives you all of them and has helpful text boxes that tell you why you should use these moves. I still haven't fully learned how and when I should be using certain techniques (the short hop and One More Cancel in particular), but I'm glad the developers went out of their way to explain why these things are useful.
I like how the commands are universal for each character, so even though there are a lot of things to keep track of, you always know what's going to happen when you press buttons. Your top two buttons are always gonna roll, even though every character has a different roll length. 236236 (double quarter-circle forward)+C/D is always gonna be your normal Super, and 214214 (double quarter-circle back)+C/D is always gonna be your Awakened super. Even though it works differently for everyone, B+D is always gonna be your Furious Action. And so on.
The second learning tool the game gives you is Challenge Mode. Each character has 30 challenges that get more difficult as they go on. These challenges are basically a list of combos every character can do. So not only does the game teach you basic concepts that apply to every character, it gives you tips on how to play them and goals to strive towards. I can do at least 20 challenges for each character so far, but some of them took a long time to get down and took a lot of practice. It's really rewarding to get the big "CLEAR!" message when I finally finish a challenge I've been grinding out for an hour, and as I'm doing these, I'm understanding how to use every character better. And since the roster is small, it is feasible to get a basic understanding of how everyone works and what combos you can reliably pull off with them.
How To Play Mitsuru: Always use this move.
The final learning tool the game has is a fantastic training mode. You can set the dummy to multiple states like jumping, blocking, etc. You can even record the dummy's behavior and play it back, which I've used to learn how to avoid certain attacks that always hit me. Like Mitsuru's Furious Action. Damn that move.
I won't really talk too much about the Story mode besides that I'm enjoying it a lot. There are some weird discrepancies between the stories though, because it is a tournament and not EVERYONE can win in the tournament. Therefore the endings for each character are different, and it's tough to tell WHO was really fighting that final boss or who truly "won" the tournament. Maybe it's because I haven't unlocked the True Final Path of Truth yet.
I can't speak about the Story mode in a wholly unbiased manner either. I can say that if you like Persona 4, the Story mode is a sequel to it and you need to see it. If you don't like Persona 4, maybe skip the Story mode. I think it's good, but if I didn't like Persona so much I would get annoyed at reading so much text and fighting so little. Luckily Arcade mode condenses the talking and has a lot more fighting, so that might be a good single player choice if you're not a crazy person who played Persona 4 for thirty-eight weeks.
To sum it up, and putting most of my feelings about Persona aside, I think this is a great game. It has many more options than most: Art Gallery, Sound Test, a RIDICULOUSLY LONG (for a fighting game) Story mode, Challenges, and lots of sweet unlockables. As someone who had never played a 4-button "anime" fighter in the past and is still pretty new in the world of fighting games, it does an excellent job of teaching you the basics with the Lessons, Challenges, and very detailed Training mode. Highly recommended if you're new to the genre or an old pro. It's just a really good game.
What I Liked:
-Lesson Mode and Challenge Mode actually doing a LOT to teaching how to play the game. If you're new to fighting games, this is one to check out. It'll ease you right in.
-Consistent rules for every character. Everyone shares the same commands for certain attacks/actions (Evasive moves, Sweeps, Furious Actions) and super moves. SP Skills are almost always Double Quarter Circle Forward (236236) + C/D, Awakened SP Skills are almost always Double Quarter Circle Backward (214214) + C/D, Furious Actions are always B+D, etc.
-It's a sequel to Persona 4!
-For the most part, the gameplay is pretty fair. You can Burst out of seemingly endless combos to get some breathing room if you need it. When your health gets low enough you get some extra meter and access to a REALLY powerful super move that could change the tide of battle. Throw escapes are really easy, and the game even tells you if you were blocking a move incorrectly so you know to do it right next time.
Even the Instant Kill mechanic (yes, there is an Instant Kill) is mostly for the person who is already going to win. Even then, it is possible to miss it so it's not even guaranteed.
Oh, and can I talk about how cool the Instant Kill is for a moment? Not only is the character doing some intense, visually ASTOUNDING attack, it plays that awesome final boss song from Persona 4. It's a strong candidate for the "HYPEST SHIT EVER" Award.
What I Didn't Like: -Even as I'm having a huge fangasm about the Story mode, it really is a TON of reading. It's a cool story, but perhaps a poorly delivered one. And it's full of plot holes.
-THE MUSIC DOESN'T LOOP. For a game with such fantastic presentation in terms of visuals and audio, why is this even a problem? It's not a problem in any other fighting game I've ever played. The music just fades out and restarts from the beginning, as if it's a one-song CD with no Repeat function. It's a little annoying in Story mode but TERRIBLE during fights. Those awkward moments of silence before the song starts again. Wow. Terrible.
-No Rematch button in Versus.
That's about it! This game is quite accessible for newcomers but has such an absurd amount of depth that I'm not sure I'll ever really get good at it. It's really fun to play, and I'm personally glad it wasn't just a cheap cash-in on the license: this is a legitimate, tournament ready fighting game.
I'm trying hard to get started on another game, but I'm having too much fun with this one at the moment. And I've gotta see how the story ends! So I'll be back next time to talk about another fighting game that I might get good at. Maybe one of those BlazBlues since I sorta know how ArcSys games work now? Maybe one where the music loops (SERIOUSLY?!)
I know what you're thinking already, acclaimed musical critics of Destructoid, the website about music.
"Justin Timberlake making one of the best albums of all time?" you say. "Impossible. It's pop music, soulless trash written solely to make a profit and not any artistic statement. No pop album can ever be worthy of such lofty praise! Go listen to an actual album."
That's how you sound. And my point still stands that FutureSex/LoveSounds is an important landmark in the world of pop music and music in general. It is less than ten years old, but musicians should take cues from it and learn how to craft a truly great album. Let me explain.
I've been a collector of CDs for most of my life. I don't mean buying them on iTunes, Amazon, or illegally downloading them from the torrents. No, I love the physical discs themselves, and I have amassed quite a collection. And while I still buy new CDs and love music in general, I feel like "albums" these days are in general, not as good as they used to be.
I'm not saying that the general quality of music has gotten lower, which is VERY debatable (and in my opinion, not true). I mean the way ALBUMS are created has changed dramatically in my lifetime.
These days, most albums may as well be mixtapes. They are simply collections of songs loosely linked together with some insultingly vague theme. They follow a similar format: brief intro track, 2-3 radio singles, some throwaway songs, more radio singles, ending track. Maybe some skits thrown in if they are feeling particularly fancy.
The albums that almost NO ONE seems to make anymore are like FutureSex/LoveSounds. FutureSex/LoveSounds bucks the trend of these lazy pop albums by being incredibly well crafted instead of a glorified mixtape. It's far from a concept album, but the songs on this album share a theme and most importantly, seamlessly blend into each other. This is something pop music has lost these days. I'll explain better by going over most of the tracks on the album.
I'll skip over track 1 (FutureSex/LoveSound) and track 2 (SexyBack). They're fine tracks, but they don't really illustrate the brilliance of the album. They're the "throwaway" tracks.
Where the album truly begins is track 3, Sexy Ladies. This song effectively ends at 4 minutes and transitions into "Let Me Talk To You (Prelude)".
Instead of making the song a skit, Let Me Talk To You is attached onto the end of "Sexy Ladies" to make sure the listener doesn't skip over it. And they SHOULDN'T because this song isn't just a skit, it's the introduction to the next track, "My Love". It's lyrically related, obviously. But it's also musically related, as the chorus is basically a faster version of the chorus of the next song. The interlude is a perfect warm-up for "My Love", and by the time that track starts, there's no way you aren't already totally into it because of the warm-up!
The transition into "Lovestoned" is subtler, but this is entirely on purpose because this song is essentially two songs on its own and needs to stand alone from My Love to work fully.
Throughout "LoveStoned", violins swell up at several points in the song. An instrument typically reserved for more emotionally heavy songs doesn't really fit in a silly, upbeat love song, does it? But maybe this isn't just a silly love song? On one listen, the song could be about the song's narrator lusting after a woman. On another, the song is about the narrator being not only infatuated, but obsessed with this woman. The song breaks down into a sparser production, and the violins move from upbeat to almost sorrowful.
Then, at 4:50 the song transforms. It's no longer upbeat, there's no more beatboxing, and the violins get straight up depressing. The lyrics are the same, but the delivery is sadder now. It's all about context here: the narrator knows that the this woman is the only one for him, but they both know it can never be.
Also, this song is long as hell. 7:24 is far too long for a typical radio single, but Timberlake didn't care. He didn't compromise his artistic vision for radio play, but the song still became a massive hit on the radio and was only slightly edited down for the radio: 5:26 is STILL too long for a radio song.
There's no transition between this song and the next one, but the tone stays. "What Goes Around...Comes Around" has the violins and guitars stick around. The song is lyrically and musically as downbeat as the "I Think That She Knows" interlude, and I find it really weird just listening to this song alone. It works so well as a follow-up to LoveStoned/I Think That She Knows that I feel like I'm missing out when I don't listen to the two songs in succession.
This song is ALSO long as hell because it's another two-parter. The first half is a warning to not be TOO in love with someone, as that will only make it hurt worse if they betray you. Like in "I Think That She Knows" when the narrator admits he is obsessed with his lover; they've gone from the highest to the lowest points of love in the two songs.
At about 5:23 in this song (7:00 in this video version), the production in the song gets harder: the drums hit harder and the lyrics become much more direct and talk SPECIFICALLY about the betrayal the narrator felt, and his joy that his lover suffered the same thing. It's a meaner song, and the instrumental changes to reflect this.
Not much to say about this interlude, but do take note of the piano riff and dudes shouting "Ey!" at 6:38 (8:25 for video version). It links into the next song...
Chop Me Up. Not much to say about this one besides the harder drums, piano and dudes shouting "Ey!" carrying over from the previous interlude. The narrator is still in a somewhat aggressive mood after the previous interlude, but is changing the energy from anger at his previous lover to finding someone new.
The next song Damn Girl doesn't have a seamless link to the previous, but it has some interesting musical connections. The drums on this song sound live and organic as opposed to the processed rap drums of Chop Me Up. The thudding piano is replaced with a 1960s-esque funky synthesizer/organ (I'm bad at instruments, I apologize). And the horns make the whole song feel like something the previous wasn't: live, organic, and natural. Timberlake has returned to singing in his natural falsetto as opposed to the sorta-forced half-rapping. I think this song is meant to represent finding love again, but doing it the right way as opposed to being an aggressive jerk about it.
Not much to say about the next track Summer Love. It's a continuation of the theme of the last song: finding new love, being excited about it, all that jazz, etc. The interlude "Set The Mood" starting at 4:13 is the interesting part. It slows down the pace set from the previous two songs, and sets up the next song, which is much slower. Just need to note the harp here, and how it continues into Until The End of Time.
Now the album is winding down, and the narrator has settled down with someone new in this song. And this is also where my track-by-track commentary will end. The final two tracks are very good, but unfortunately they don't share much besides being slower and less energetic than the beginning and middle of the album.
The key point I want to make here is that FutureSex/LoveSounds is an album that is incredibly well crafted. Not just in terms of the production of the songs, but how it is a totally cohesive album. The interludes at the beginning and end of some songs link together in masterful ways, without being broken up as obtrusive skits that you'd just skip anyway.
Pop albums aren't made like this anymore. Most albums in general aren't made like this anymore, and it makes me sad. I love buying CDs and I still do, but it's been a long time since I've heard an album that flows together as well as this one does and demands to be listened to in its entirety, in one sitting. Too many albums these days are just mixtapes full of singles and skits. FutureSex/LoveSounds is an album that you are truly listening to WRONG if you've got it on random or are just skipping to the singles. That's why it's one of the best.
Part 2 of my ongoing series of trying and failing miserably to get good at any fighting game. Not as long as the first one, I promise!
I'm just gonna get straight to the point here. I love this game. It's my favorite fighting game right now. It might be the best game I've ever played online. Not just for fighters. It's a strong contender of being the best online game I've played in ANY genre.
In my previous blog I detailed my past experience with Soul Calibur. I played a little bit of 1, a LOT of 2, a TON of 3, and some of 4. I'm more familiar with this series than probably any other fighting game series. Maybe that's why I actually feel confident playing this game.
I picked Xiba (aka, Justin Xiba) and jumped into training mode. I took a little while to get used to button configuration, because when I played the old Soul Calibur games I only had a regular controller. But I got used to it very quickly.
I read the move list and HOLY CRAP. There are a billion of them. Moves for if your back is to your opponent. "8 way run" moves. Moves with Guard Impact qualities. Moves for if your front is to your opponent. Stance switches to open up even more moves. Reading this move list was totally overwhelming. So I just closed it and just started hitting the dummy.
Now, I picked Xiba because he basically plays like Kilik in the old Soul Calibur games, who was my main character. I haven't played any Soul Calibur in at least two years, but despite switching to an arcade stick (as opposed to a pad like I used to play) and being rusty as hell, I was figuring things out. The training mode in this game isn't great and it isn't as in-depth and incredible as Skullgirls was, but it has some cool features.
1. The game lists several moves for each character and explains them in depth. It doesn't do this for every move (because there's too many) but it gives you some important tools for each character.
2. There is a video demo available for EVERY move for EVERY character so you can see if you're doing it right.
3. You can set your training dummy to a variety of stances, like Attack, Counterattack, Attack Then Block, Blocking, etc. Much better than Skullgirls in this regard.
They call him Justin Xiba because his hair is so pretty.
So, I jumped into the online mode after spending some time training. I know this sounds like very high praise, but it's 100% true: Soul Calibur V possibly has the best online features out of any game I've ever played.
The Player Match, where I spent most of my time, is a small lobby where two people fight and everyone else spectates and chats. It's so cool to get some sort of insight into your upcoming rival's strategies before facing them, and the social aspect of being able to chat in a lobby is really nice too. Even if no one talked when I was playing...
The Ranked Match is simpler, it just pits you against someone around your level. Not much to say about it. I did appreciate that the characters are blindly picked, so I don't feel like I'm getting maliciously counterpicked by my opponent like I did in Skullgirls.
The Global Colosseo is the most unique. You enter a larger lobby with several other people where you can choose to challenge someone directly, get into a random match, or join a ranked, structured online tournament.
Global Colosseo is a lot simpler than it looks, I promise.
All these features, plus the ability to mark certain players as rivals (which allows you to consistently compare statistics with them whenever you want), plus a pretty good replay feature are why I'm saying that Soul Calibur V's online mode is incredible. Every fighting game should strive to have online features like this.
On a more personal level, I actually felt like I stood a fighting chance against people in this game. In Skullgirls I just lose and lose and lose forever. I know it takes a long time to get good at a new fighting game, but I don't ever feel like I'm improving and it gets discouraging.
The opposite is true for Soul Calibur V. Maybe it's because of my past experience with the series, but I feel confident in every match I play. I know my character well, and there isn't really anybody on the roster who I feel like I'm ALWAYS going to lose against. And I'm actually winning matches consistently as opposed to just losing all the time! Winning once in a while and having a replay feature to analyze why I lost makes me feel more confident in my game. I feel like I could actually get good at Soul Calibur V, even though I'm still mediocre right now.
There are some things I don't love about it though. Soul Calibur has always had a fairly good storyline that gave every character good reasons to beat up everyone else. I always appreciated how they gave each character a story that spanned multiple games with cutscenes and had some kind of fun, replayable single-player modes.
So where the hell is that stuff? Story mode is lazily produced and only follows two characters ever. The timeskip between 4 and 5 got rid of several characters and brought in new ones...but they didn't even give them a back story besides in the art book? Come on!
I know the competitive multiplayer is the crux of any fighting game, and Soul Calibur V nails that. But the game always had a well-thought out story and cutscenes for every character and now it's just gone. The single player modes are just a bummer.
I'll wrap this up before it gets as long as the last blog.
What I Liked: -Absolutely fantastic online experience. Flawless netcode, great replay feature, marking rivals, and a multitude of modes. I love this.
-Easy to pick up and play. Since I'm trying to get good at fighting games, I appreciate this. I feel like I can actually play and win as opposed to just getting stomped into the dust all the time.
-Pretty good training mode. It doesn't fully teach you how to play the game and know all of its systems, but it does teach you a few strong moves per character and has a lot of options for your training dummy.
-Fine character customization. I don't really make characters, but during my first online match I fought a man in a pink pimp coat who used a dildo as a weapon. That made my day.
What I Didn't Like: -Less, and WORSE single player modes than previous games in the franchise. I know fighting games aren't really about single player stuff, but it's jarring when you got it RIGHT before and got it so, so WRONG this time. I'd like a story for all these new characters. I don't think that's too much to ask for.
-Training mode could do a better job of explaining systems. I had to look up Guard Impact and Just Guard online to find out how to use them. Don't do that, game. Teach me that stuff in the game. I wanna get good here, help me out!
My experience with Soul Calibur V has kind of changed my perspective on the genre in general. I like this game so much that I think I'd rather be playing 3D games than 2D games. Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown came out recently, and I'd like to play that. If I hadn't played Soul Calibur V before and remember that I used to like 3D fighting games (and still do!), I would have completely ignored it.
So my next blog will be about either Virtua Fighter 5 or Persona 4: Arena. I've been looking forward to the latter for a while, but the former is already here and I'm really interested in it. Might be a while because I have no Xbox right now, but I'll get on it as soon as possible.
This is the first of a series of blogs I'll be doing, chronicling my attempts to suck less at fighting games. The intro is pretty long, but I'll be more concise in the next parts!
I've never been more than a casual player in most fighting games. Like most kids I dumped quarters into Mortal Kombat machines at the arcade because blood is cool as hell, picked up Soul Calibur 2 for Gamecube because Link is a pretty cool guy who bombs Dodongos and doesn't afraid of anything, and messed around with Street Fighter 2 because it was on every console. I think the deepest I got into a fighting game was Soul Calibur 3, which I played consistently for about a couple months but never got *great* at. So since then I can't say I've sunk any meaningful amount of time into a fighting game, definitely not enough to get good.
Last summer, a couple of my friends online were watching the livestream of EVO 2011. Since I was bored and they absolutely refused to talk about anything else but the streams, I checked it out. I'll be the first to admit that I had no idea what the hell was going on in these games. What's a wakeup DP? Why does everyone want that guy to lose so badly? How can you even ascertain what is happening on the screen right now?
(That last one was for Marvel vs. Capcom 3. A year ago, I would not be able to tell what was happening in this screenshot:)
(WHAT IS THIS?!)
So it was entertaining in a way, but I couldn't fully get into it because I didn't know what was happening. The terminology being thrown at me, all the crazy flashing lasers and particle effects on the screen, the completely daunting HUD...I couldn't grasp any of it. I figure it's the type of thing that you spend a LONG time getting familiar with before you can truly appreciate it. So I liked watching EVO, but I didn't really "get" it.
A few days later, I got God Hand. I picked up this game for cheap at a Gamestop, and little did I know this would be a turning point in my understanding of fighting games. God Hand is NOT a fighting game. Or is it?
Well... no it isn't. But I was shocked at how much depth was in this beat-em-up. It wasn't like the old games in the genre where you mash punch until your opponent falls down and flickers out of existence. In many ways, God Hand has the soul of a fighting game. I discovered this quickly after I tried mashing my way through levels and failing miserably. Then, I went on forums and God Hand fansites to find out strategies of how to suck less. I was little blown away by how complex the game was.
You need to predict your enemy's attacks and launch counterattacks. See them winding up for a super long move? Punish them by hitting them with a quick jab and starting your own combo. Learn which of your moves have invincibility frames so you can get yourself out of a tight situation. Manipulate counterhits to do even more damage. These terms- punishing, counterhits, supers..all sounded pretty familiar after watching EVO. So over the next few weeks, I watched streams of fighting games and God Hand videos regularly because I was seeing this strange overlap. I got really good at God Hand, and its deceptively deep systems made it nearly impossible for me to put down. God Hand is my favorite game of all time, but I can't really keep playing one game forever. So why not take a step out of my comfort zone and start playing some honest-to-goodness fighting games?
After watching so many streams of fighting game tournaments in the months that followed, I couldn't really find a game that was for me. Street Fighter IV looked cool but the huge roster of characters was daunting. How could I possibly devote the time to learning all of these characters to find the one I liked? How badly am I gonna lose online until I can get good? More importantly, will this game even have an online community in the near future? It's kinda old now. So I skipped over that game.
I skipped over Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as well partly because I was nowhere near understanding how tag fighters work, partly because the game just looked unfair. Once you get caught in an air combo in that game you're just gonna eat it until you die. And X-Factor makes these guys doing huge damage in combos even MORE powerful? There's no way I'll play that, I'll get annihilated.
There's also the issue of a good amount of characters being (seemingly) worthless, as 4-5 of them dominate the gameplay I've seen and are hands-down better than everyone else. if I can't play Frank West/Dante/Tron because they don't have good synergy or are too low tier, I don't even wanna play! Frank West is awesome.
Best character in ANY fighting game, right there.
The game that sounded like something I could actually get into was Skullgirls. I was interested in it from the beginning due to the fantastic art. I decided I'd definitely get it when I heard that it had a fully-featured tutorial mode that gave newcomers enough learning to really understand how fighting games work. So I followed the streams and videos from the game, and when it came out I downloaded it immediately. Here's my experience with Skullgirls so far, and how the game is helping me suck less at fighting games in general.
What I like:
-The small roster. Like I said earlier, when I'm looking at the character select screen for Street Fighter IV or Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I just don't know what to do. Which of these characters play similarly? What is their style? Which ones are so low tier that they're not worth using?
Skullgirls, having only eight characters, has none of these problems. I've felt no pressure in committing to the "wrong" character because I can get extensive practice with all of them. They're all very different but share enough that switching from one character to another is not like re-learning how to walk.
-The tutorial mode. It cannot be overstated how helpful this is to a newer player of fighting games such as myself. This thing taught me all of those fighting game terms I keep hearing in tournaments. It lays out what they all mean and then you practice them. I had no idea what "hit confirms" were until I went through the "hit confirmation" tutorial. Same with canceling moves into supers, button notation, mix-ups, blockstun...it's just crazy how this game lays out all this terminology so quickly, in such an easy to understand format. Does any other fighting game do this, or are you just expected to know what a delayed hyper combo is and how to do it by messing around in training mode? I don't know, but I do know that this training mode is incredible and more fighting games should include it, instead of just assuming the players know what everything means. Some of us are still new!
-Tough, but fair AI in single player. Every time I finish Story or Arcade mode as one character, I ratchet up the difficulty and try it again to keep my skills sharp. The AI doesn't mess around in this game once you get to Normal mode. Peacock and Ms. Fortune stand out the most, as the former WILL fill the screen with garbage and chip you to death without mercy and the latter WILL relentlessly rush you down and hit you with moves that you can't really tell are high or low. So it's a little rough at times, but if the AI was braindead I'd never get better. I appreciate it.
-Pretty easy inputs. So far I've had the most trouble with Double and Valentine because they have a LOT of moves that have some funky inputs, but for the most part I feel like I can do everything I need to do fine. Most Blockbusters are just quarter-circle-forward (or backward) + two punches (or two kicks). Same with special moves. I have a little trouble doing dragon punch motions, but overall the inputs aren't difficult.
What I didn't like:
-The training mode. It's missing a lot of stuff and the best way I can explain this is by comparing it to a Smash Bros. game. The training mode in Smash Bros lets you manipulate time and set the enemy AI to various states like blocking/jumping/actively attacking you, and is overall pretty good for a not-so-serious fighter. So why can't Skullgirls have all this stuff? I appreciate the blockstun bar and Sparring Mode, but this desperately needs more options.
-AI isn't ALWAYS fair. Maybe it's just me but I have the WORST trouble with Ms. Fortune on every difficulty. I'm consistently playing Arcade mode on Hard now and not having trouble until she pops up. And just to test this, I dropped down the difficulty to the lowest and was getting annihilated by that specific character. Playing against her is the only time where I've felt that the AI is being genuinely unfair and reacting in a way that a human character cannot...but that could just be me.
-Ratio system needs tweaking. Right now I see no reason to use three characters unless your opponent is also using three. The damage you take when you're playing as a team of three is enough to completely put me off three person teams, no matter how good some assists are. It doesn't seem practical.
-Lack of polish. These are just general nitpicks, I know it's a $15 Arcade game but the load times are really long and frequent, the Story mode, while well written, has bad Powerpoint syndrome where characters need to blink off screen and come back with different faces instead of subtly transitioning, there's a strange and frequent (for me) glitch where characters briefly turn into hitboxes, and there's an "Extras" menu that clearly has room for some extra options that just aren't there. The biggest complaint is the lack of an in-game movelist, which is kinda silly when the game is so good at tutorials but lacks a basic feature such as this. And you can see the names of the moves when you program assists so you KNOW it's in there. Stop teasing us. Come on.
Overall, I'd say Skullgirls, specifically the tutorial mode, has given me a significant step forward at not sucking at fighting games. I had some prior knowledge of the genre just from watching so many damn streams and playing so much God Hand, but I really appreciate it teaching me legit tactics and fighting game terminology that I don't have to scour the internet for.
I also got my first arcade stick! It's this one right here:
I'm still getting used to it, but I don't regret this purchase at all. It's so much easier to use than a normal 360 controller, and I'm almost never messing up inputs now. It's a little heavy but it also doesn't feel like it's ever gonna snap in half, so that's a good thing. Highly recommended.
I'll be getting Soul Calibur V and writing about that next time. If the giant walls of text didn't scare you off, thanks for reading! I promise it'll be shorter next time!
I don't think that's the conventional "10 Things Blog Picture" because it doesn't show my face, but it's literally the best and most recent picture I have of myself. Anyway, here are some things you don't know about me (I hope)!
1. I'm tiny. I don't measure my height or weigh myself ever, but I'm pretty sure I have not grown since my sophomore year of high school. The majority of the clothes I bought in high school still fit...
If I were to guess I'm maybe 5-and-a-half feet tall and weigh around 130 pounds. I'm really small. People often say I look like I'm 16-17. I don't know what happened! I ate all my fruits and vegetables ;_;
2. I don't drink or smoke. I'm not one of those punk rockers who's "straight edge" and whatnot. I'm not cool enough for that. I just don't like smoking because it makes your teeth gross and I don't drink because I've had so many poor experiences dealing with drunken people acting like jerks in my life. No offense to you if you do either! I just don't see the point of either.
I really hope I didn't sound too much like a dick there. And I do realize the Drinky Crow avatar is a little misleading.
3. I'm a Saved by the Bell addict. This started in high school. Every morning TBS would show several episodes of Saved by the Bell, and I watched it while I got ready for school. Then high school ended and I was STILL waking up at like 7AM to watch 2 hours of Saved by the Bell. I'd still do it, but they moved the show to Sunday mornings, so I just bought the DVDs. I've probably memorized entire scripts for about 75% of the series.
Original series is the best, College Years was good and should've went on longer, and I've never seen The New Class and I don't want to.
Oh, and I dressed up as Zack Morris for Halloween once.
4. I play guitar but I'm not really doing anything with it. I've been playing the guitar for about 8 years and I'm pretty confident in my abilities. I'm not good enough to write my own stuff, but I'm all right at learning songs fairly quickly. I went to a few guitar recitals when I was younger and even played in my high school's jazz band, but I had such bad stage fright that I screwed up stuff I could play perfectly in front of my friends. Guess I'm never gonna be a famous musician.
5. I collect movie tickets. Started doing this back in 1999, and now I have the ticket stub from every movie I've been to since then. Apparently, I saw the first Twilight movie. I don't remember that at all.
6. I listen to a lot of Korean pop music. I don't listen to much music at all, as most of the content on my Zune is movies or podcasts. But if I am listening to music on there, it'll probably be some K-pop. 2NE1 is my favorite.
7. I listen to a lot of Space Jam mash-ups. I guess you could say Icollectthemtoo. I don't know how or why this started, but I just began saving every mash-up of Space Jam on the internet I could find. Those Youtube playlists don't cover them all, I've got a folder with 700+ of them on my computer. I plan on passing this folder down to all my descendants.
8. I had an afro for a year. I don't know what possessed me to do this, but I grew an afro in like 2000 because I thought it looked cool. But it wasn't fucking cool. It was heavy and made my head really hot. So I'm not doing that again.
9. I cannot stand being barefoot. I don't know how people do it. The thought of putting my bare feet on the floor, ground, whatever just grosses me out so much. It's dirty! So I wear socks almost all the time. I'm really only barefoot when I'm taking a shower.
10. I committed some vandalism before. When I was young(er) and dumb(er) my friends and I got a kick out of breaking glass bottles in the middle of the night and smashing car windows and running away. This phase lasted for about a week until we got really paranoid about getting caught and stopped. So if any police are reading this...it was not me.