If there's anything that fighting games struggle with providing, its a good single-player experience. This is often because fighters by their very nature are so focused on competitive multiplayer but that's not to say games like Mortal Kombat 9, Dissidia: Final Fantasy, Blazblue or Persona 4 Arena haven't offered up good single-player story modes. They totally have proven its not impossible to serve up a great single-player game - but its still one where you don't get to challenge your friends while you do so since that's sectioned off for online multiplayer.
And sometimes you just can't play with your friends offline or online because they're off doing something else, which can suck.
Back when games like Soulcalibur II and Virtual Fighter 4 had their day in the arcade, they came up with their own answer to this - asynchronus multiplayer by way of thier respective Conquest Mode and Kumite modes. More or less, you'd stick your tokens into the machine, enter a login name and password (VF4 just used cards with magnetic strips to get around that) and then you'd challenge a series of AIsrs based on other playe . As you played this mode, an AI would be built around your playstyle and stored on the arcade machine for other people to challenge, so your AI joined the ranks of the AIs you just challenged.
You could still be challenged by other live players, but if none were in the arcade, it still gave you a player to challenge in its own way.
Once you left, someone might come along and play Conquest Mode, too. While doing so they'd possibly challenge your AI.. While the this single-elimination mode chose your opponents somewhat at random, there was a chance your version of your favored character would come out swinging and use your playstyle of that character against your friend.
So it was like you were there, only not.
When you returned to play Conquest mode or Kumite again, the system would be able to strengthen and evolve your AI's playstyle by observing you tactics further. Provided you were growing as a player, your AI grew with you..
I played the hell out of Soulcalibur II back when it was in the arcades and while I made a lot of friends in that arcade and challenged them often in person, they couldn't always be there. It was nice to have the chance to challenge their faction and possibly be pitted against their version of Talim or Astaroth since it was actually decent practice for challenging them in-person later
I also taught my version of Ivy how to buffer Summon Suffering into many different moves and I loved setting up people for Ring Outs in addition to using several of her infuriating keepaway tactics. Ivy is never a good character to get in anyone's face with, so you had to play mind games with people, which is what my AI ended up reflecting. SC II's iteration of Ivy had nearly a dozen ways to put you off-balance before you got near her - and I'm not talking about obnoxious costumes or the breast augmentations that she got later in the series, either.
My Ivy was a classy
dominatrix. She was just about seeing you suffer - and to think you only had to pay a quarter for that.
We've seen takes on the idea of asynchronus multiplayer today in games like Dragon's Dogma, the upcoming Forza 5 and more, so I'm a touch disappointed that Namco doesn't seem to be considering Conquest Mode for the HD edition of Soul Calibur II, quite possibly the greatest entry in the series.
I'll be frank, I don't like playing fighters strictly online and you really just can't top local multiplayer in a genre like this. If you could, EVo would be online. I also detest how cowardly people are in online multiplayer with their trash talk, People say shit now that would have had their asses kicked or kicked out of arcades back in the day. The fighting game community has only become more toxic and I'd really just prefer to challenge my friends or play in silence if local multiplayer isn't an option
I could just play with people on my friends list, but sometimes schedules just don't line up. As you get more into your late 20s and 30s organizing local multiplayer matches can be a tad more difficult, because people have annoying things like significant others, kids and dogs now. Or work. SC II was more of a thing back when I had just gotten out of college and no one had any of that going on yet, but even then schedule's didn't always line up.
Now we have games like Dragon's Dogma where you can literally rent out a hired mercenary your friend created for their game and go on quests with them. As you do those quests, that AI mercenary (known as a pawn) learns things about that quest and the world. When they return to their little pawn hiring space online and your friend returns them to their game, that pawn now has new knowledge and has earned money from their adventures to share with your friend, which is awesome in its own way.
So its like you played with your friends and helped them out, even if you aren't really there.
Applying asyncronous multiplayer to fighters is something Soulcalibur II HD could have helped lead the charge on once more. Conquest Mode was difficult to apply on console versions of SC II a generation ago because of how servers were and how PS2 and Gamecube didn't really have robust online support. Now that's mostly changed, particularly with cloud computing in place. All it would really be is a matter of scanning your friend's list, accessing the cloud to determine if they have the game, what faction they lined up with and downloading an updated version of their character's AI to your system to challenge offline.
So you'd be able to enjoy such a game offline, challenge your friends and experience no lag while doing so. Plus if you wanted to be open to an online multiplayer challenge, there would be the option to interrupt that mode, which the arcade version allowed for. If you won and there was no rematch, Conquest Mode would just resume and you go on building your AI further.
For me, this is a more compelling feature than collecting weapon skins in the lame Weapon Master mode or playing lousy gimmick characters like Spawn, but sadly it seems Namco would rather pander with that stuff than reintegrate the feature that would be more relevant today than it was a a decade ago.
I'm not saying Weapons Master Mode or that Link, Spawn and Heihachi aren't things the HD version shouldn't have, but that to prioritize those and not have Conquest Mode at all is a disappointment and misses a huge opportunity to innovate the genre further in the online age, albeit for people that are less about direct online competition. More options and ways to compete are nice, after all.
The arcade version's Conquest Mode was the feature that kept me coming back to the arcade and would have kept me coming back to an online-enabled HD version of SC II. When you think about it, a conquest mode in SC II HD essentially means you're more than a name on a leaderboard, but someone that can be challenged even when you're not playing. On such a stage of history, your legend never dies and your AI learns as your soul still burns,.
I hope I'm wrong here, that Namco plays this smart and integrates Conquest Mode into Soulcallibur II HD, but when they're more eager to announce the formerly console-exclusive characters they pandered to console gamers with a decade ago, I have to question if Namco and Project Soul's heart is really in this HD remaster. They could have giving the old arcade fan something back they loved and console gamers a side of SC II they never experienced previously.
And to me that's part of what an HD remaster is really about - acknowledging your old fans while giving a new generation of gamers a chance to see the best an old game has to offer, especially when said game is the pinnacle of the series. Neglecting a feature that may actually become more prevalent in thie years to come would just be a missed opportunity.