I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.
I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.
When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.
I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.
Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!
I've heard fighting games described as speed chess with punches. When you boil them down, fighting games are essentially a series of choices. They play out insanely fast, and you may not even realize you're making them, but you are. When Ryu throws a fireball, you have a whole suite of choices available to you. Do you throw your own fireball to cancel it out? Jump over it and hope to hit him before he can recover and dragon punch you out of the air? Or do you choose to just sit there and block?
But there is one choice you make before any others, and it happens on the character select screen.
Looking back over the years, it's clear I've made a series of dubious choices.
Low-tier-heroes, characters with crippling flaws, or ones that just don't mesh with my playstyle, I've made a career of making the worst possible choices I could on that screen. I've never gravitated towards characters for any practical reason, instead latching on to ones that appealed to me in one abstract way or another.
In celebration of the recently established Dtoid Steam fighting group (which you really should join so you can beat me up too) I thought I'd share my favourite fighters that I've played as over the years.
Characters I've enjoyed getting beaten up as -
When my brother and I first played Street Fighter on a convenience store arcade cabinet so long ago, I was the one to take up the red gi; and it stuck ever since. We cut our fighting game teeth on hundreds of Ryu VS Ken battles, all the way through the arcade days and up to Alpha 3 on the PS1.
Over the years, Ken developed from a mirror copy of Ryu to a flamboyant braggart with flashy kicks, gimmicky tricks, and of course, his signature flaming dragon punch. While Ryu kept it solid and concentrated on winning matches, Ken insisted on bringing style to the proceedings – which I will use as the excuse for my slipping win average against my brother's Ryu in Alpha 3 to the day I die.
One of the few legitimately powerful characters I've played as, sadly, the stigma attached to flowchart scrubby Kens in SSFIV soured my joy with the character. These days I hardly ever use him for fear of being lumped in with that crowd and losing my precious indy cred. Goodnight, sweet jerkass prince.
Adidas should just give Cody an endorsement deal. I've worn Super-Star sneakers for years now largely because I thought they were baller on Cody. He just looks so cool! Tossing rocks at karate supermen, sneaking a knife into a street fight, and breaking out of jail whenever he feels like it, you gotta love the dude's style. Plus, he uses a wrench for his focus attack in SSFIV, you know I'm going to love that.
In my more reflective moments, I've wondered if Cody isn't a stealth criticism of some of Capcom's more belligerent fans. He's a sour man who has long since lost the spark of passion. He keeps fighting because it's the only thing he knows, but even that's become boring and routine over the years. Unimpressed, detached, and cynical, Cody is basically every long time fan that haunts the SRK forums, dumping on every change, patch, and new game, yet buying it up just the same.
But then I throw a rock at someone, hear that classic "ha HA!" gale of criminal laughter, and I forget all about it.
Vega is a Spanish ninja, who is also a nobleman, who is also a bullfighter, who is also a cage-fighter, who is also an assassin for a terrorist organization, who is also a serial killer in his (presumably scarce) free time.
Did I mention he's also a crazy self-obsessed narcissist? Yeah, Vega is a character that comes with a bit of baggage.
After dropping Ken, briefly (and tragically) flirting with Balrog, and finding out the hard way that I'm not good enough to use Abel, I picked up Vega in SSFIV. Despite his average-to-low status on the tier lists, he quickly became my undisputed main. In fact, he's the only character I've ever been good enough with to be considered legitimately competitive with. His emphasis on pokes, mobility, throws, and short but high-damage combos meshes with everything I enjoy in modern SF games (now if only he had a decent anti-air move or a real reversal).
I've used Vega for years now in my on-again-off-again relationship with SSFIV. It might just be the sheer amount of hours I've put in playing him, but he's become by far my favourite fighting game character of all time. From his joyously fun playstyle, to his ridiculous quips on the win screen (his SFxT version is written as a complete psychopath, while his SSFIV version comes off as a delicate dandy complaining about having to touch characters like Zangief and Hakan), I enjoy everything about him. Except maybe his appalling vulnerability to divekicks and wake up pressure.
So my favourite character is a preening narcissist who cheats? Yeah, I'm not going to think about it too hard.
Ok, so Killer Instinct is tragically lame, I won't dispute that. But get this, Fulgore can turn his head into a machine gun. Yeah. End of the fight, the opponent dizzy and on his last legs, Fulgore just grabs his head and *pop! BLAM BLAM BLAM!!* dead dude all over the place. Killer Instinct might be a joke of a game, but Fulgore's sheer audaciousness will always have a place in my heart.
He's such a product of the mid-90's I have no idea how they'll make him cool for his inevitable release on the Xbox one reboot of KI. But if what they've done to poor ol' Robocop is any clue, maybe our beloved robots of yesteryear are better left to rose tinted cyberglasses.
Always a snappy dresser, Lex Luthor shows up clad in a magnificent robotic suit in Injustice. Fit and ready to lay the smack down on some meta-human scum using the gift of (mad)science!
You've got super strength? You're faster than the speed of sound? Think your magical jewelry makes you hot shit? My boy Lex simply DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK. He's got rockets in his feet, a graviton generator in his chest, and an axe edged with Kryptonite. Bring it.
Sadly, Lex is in a neck and neck tie with Lobo as the weakest character in the game. His giant frame, sluggish movement, and slow to activate moves puts him squarely at the bottom of the charts. Projectile based douchebags like Sinestro have a field day with the infamous CEO.
But sometimes you have to suffer for what you believe in. And I believe in a bald super-villain wearing a robotic suit who was once the President of the United States. Godspeed you despotic madman.
Noob Saibot is super cool – in that lame mid-90's prepubescent boy way that isn't cool at all. He comes from the same dark corner of the teenaged psyche that you get Todd McFarlane comics and Heavy Metal magazine covers from. He's a ninja, FROM HELL, who looks like Darth Vader and attacks with GHOOoooOooOST POWERS. I may be a cynical old man, but the shrivelled grey heart buried deep in my mummified chest still skips a beat when I see something that unapologetically cheesy. I feel like Noob Saibot is the kind of character I would have airbrushed on the side of my van had I been teenager in the 70's.
Another low-tier-hero I fell in love with, Noob may have been doomed from the start to get his ass kicked by much more powerful kombatants like Cyrax, and Kabal, but goddamn did he have flair. A fireball that could invert the other player's controls or make them unable to block, combos that kicked the enemy into a clone of himself, and dear lord, his finishing move. Yeeeeouch.
Mean spirited even by Mortal Kombat standards.
Characters I've enjoyed getting sliced into pieces as -
Like many western nerds, I went through an awkward teenage phase where I thought Samurai were totally sick. Nothing could possibly be cooler than these dudes who were hard as nails, lived by a strict code of honour, and would quote poems as they died. So hardcore. I'd stay up late to watch the Shogun mini-series on the History channel, or see if I could catch an AM viewing of Ninja Scroll where they didn't censor all the lady bits and dismemberment.
I'll admit, it was somewhat of a sad period of my life.
As a result of this fascination, I ended up playing a lot of games involving sharp pointy things over the years. A lot of distinctly Japanese games and 3D fighters I normally wouldn't have been into, and I played a whole slew of whacky characters that just couldn't exist in any other type of game.
Years before we all looked like assholes playing Fruit Ninja on the Kinect, Ukyo was dicing up apples, and pears, (and people) midair with his eyes closed, making look easy.
Objectively, Ukyo embodies all the CLAMP-brand anime pretty boy stereotypes that make people roll their eyes. Pale, thin, delicate mannerisms, an elegant fighting style, and oh no, an incurable disease! WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP UKYO TACHIBANA?
But whatever, when I was 14, Ukyo was super cool. He was loosely (understatement) based on a real life Samurai – Sasaki Kojiro. According to the stories (that may or may not be true), this guy fought with an extra long katana he called the "drying pole" and had his own special technique dubbed "the swallow cut", so named because he was supposedly fast enough to cut a bird out of the air with it.
His illustrious career ended when a belligerent Miyatomoto Musashi showed up late and angry to a duel they arranged and caved his skull in with a boat oar like he was Dickie Greenleaf.
I know it isn't likely, but there is still some romantic part of me that likes to believe he recited some poetry as his brains leaked out of his ears.
I don't know why I like this guy so much. Maybe it's because he looked so authentic, so generic. He's the glowering humourless villain in a Lone Wolf and Cub story, doomed to be dispatched as an afterthought by the famed assassin. He'll wear that silly hat into the land of wind and ghosts.
Bushido Blade might not be recognized as a traditional fighting game, and it isn't. But that didn't stop me and my brother from spilling each other's blood in literally thousands of duels. Which I guess isn't all that much when you consider how many of them ended in a single quick slash. Somebody please tell Square that we are painfully overdue for a reboot of this quirky franchise.
I spent a bunch of time playing as the Highwayman type character in Buisido Blade, who was cool not only because was he a total ladykiller, but because he had a backup rapier he could whip out as a surprise and poke someone to death with, very cool. But Gengoro could do that cool sheath-style thing, and you just can't beat that no matter how many bonny sweethearts you seduce.
Soul Blade was a game heavily steeped in Eastern martial arts and weaponry. It featured a unique perspective on some often overlooked cultures and styles such as Korean spear fighting, and Chinese falchions.
So of course being the dumb white guy I am, I immediately picked the redheaded European dude in armour.
Latent ethnocentrism aside, I really liked Siegfried. He had easy to use combos, big sweeping attacks, and cheap ring-out moves. Plus, we had the same haircut at the time, and in his storyline, he had a troubled relationship with his dad (IE, he murdered him). Both of these were qualities I could root for.
As the series continued under the Soul Calibur name, and as Siegfried became a more important character in the story, he became inversely less cool. All of a sudden his hair changed from a glorious redheaded side part, to a generic Scandinavian ubermensch blonde. His storyline got even MORE emo (it started with patricide for Christ sake), and he went from a side character to the full on magic crystal Jesus of the series. I mean, his armour in Soul Calibur V is literally made of crystals and he can shoot a giant energy beam from his magic ice sword. Ewww.
This is why we can't have nice things Namco
Chosen Undead (Zealot)
Don't look at me like that. Dark Souls' PvP is every bit a fighting game as anything else on this list. It has it's own quirks, lexicon, and tactics. It's just super weird and happens to be tucked away in the middle of a single player game.
My experience with Dark Souls is not that uncommon. It immediately hooked me with its stark presentation, ball busting difficulty, and intriguingly mysterious story. I went through the game terrified of being invaded by another player, and not coincidentally, was slaughtered every time it happened. Flash forward 200 hours or so, and I'd beaten the main game multiple times, learned how to fend off invaders, and even, I'm ashamed to admit it, performed a few mean spirited ganks of my own as a Red Phantom. At this point in the game's life cycle, I wanted to test myself against other serious players. I wanted to duel.
Duelling in Dark Souls is always a dicey affair. Since there is no official matchmaking in the game (until the Artorias DLC anyway, and it sucks) or anything limiting player behaviour, ad hoc fightclubs and a general, and wholly unreliable, duelling etiquette organically coalesced to facilitate players who wanted organized PvP.
Although there are some common "duelling areas", and some loose guidelines (1 vs 1, let players apply their first buffs, don't kite the host into monsters, etc), you are never quite sure who is going to play by the "rules" (such as they are) or if the opponent is even down with a duel. There is a good chance you might just stumble into a random player's world, or be invaded by a bloodthirsty pirate who will gleefully backstab you as you meekly bow. Finding a "fair" fight in Dark Souls can be a feat all by itself.
But, oh sweet Christ, my Zealot just wrecked people. Built with an emphasis on strength and faith, my Zealot brought a massive two-handed Large Club enchanted with occult powers to battle. Unspeakable damage backed up with a few utility miracles, and perilously low defence from his midriff baring cloak and brass pants. He looked like a villain from a He-Man cartoon and fought like a beast. I had startlingly good results with his odd fighting style, way more than when I tried to build a more conventionally PvP oriented character.
Dark Souls is one of the only games I ever played where the super heavy weapons were actually balanced and fun. Every fighting game that features some useless grappler or unusably gimped "big" character should be ashamed – Dark Souls ate your lunch as an afterthought.
Characters I've enjoyed getting insta-air, unblockable, 19-hit comboed as -
Air-dashers are their own breed of fighting game. I'm a stodgy old man who was raised on the slower paced mechanics of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and will likely die by them (fighting games are going to get real high stakes in the near future), so I've never been super comfortable with the high flying mobility and near infinite combos that define the air-dasher sub-genre. Still, some amazing games like Blazblue and Guilty Gear are just so downright bizarre and loveable that I've played them for years despite being a perpetual scrub at them.
You might notice I didn't put any characters from the Marvel Vs Capcom series on this list. That isn't a mistake, I'm just ready to stop lying to myself and admit that those games aren't fun. Call me back when the game isn't dominated by Virgil players and a single guy who figured out how to make Morrigan throw more fireballs than God Himself in the Old Testament.
If you poked me really hard, I'd probably tell you Dr. Doom is my favourite character in that series. Humm, another super villain in a robotic suit who rules his country. I think I may have a type.
Testament seems like the kind of guy who has all the lyrics from Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory memorized, but let's not hold that against him.
Guilty Gear is another one of those games that I thought I was wicked sick at, back when my fighting game universe consisted of my brother and a few friends. I'm not saying we were bad, we had a good degree of skill for what was going down in our peer group – this was one of those games where me and my bro were locked in an arms race, always trying to one-up the other - but JESUS, have you seen some of the people on YouTube playing this thing? It's like an entirely different game!
But anyway, I played as a whole lot of characters in Guilty Gear. The cowboy Samurai (and probable sex offender) Johnny, Slayer the eternally smug vampire, and noted 70's Brit-Rock enthusiast Axl Low, but Testament is the guy I remember the best. He had all these funky moves, traps he could litter the stage with and use to set up interesting combos, a monster he could summon from the bottom of the screen, and this "gotcha!" reversal that would inflict a poison state on the opponent. He was like no other character I ever played, incredibly unique.
Plus, one of his super moves referenced the Metallica song "Master of the Puppets", and that was cool at the time (I mentioned I was a dorky white teenager, right?)
Hazama fights using Michael Jackson dance moves, puts Dhalshim to shame with his Go-Go Gadget reach, and is one of the most unabashedly villainous characters of all time. How could you not love this insufferable prick?
Seriously, I've never seen a fighting game boss put so much effort into being an unlikable dick. M. Bison seems like a chill bro when compared to Hazama's relentless, needless, straight up petty trolling. It isn't enough for him to kill someone, first he wants to make a few cracks at their expense, explain how genius and unstoppable his evil scheme is, and maybe tie a young lady to some railway tracks just for kicks.
He's a jerk for sure, but you have to appreciate his commitment to the bit.
Chie was kind of an oddball choice for me. While I usually prefer defensive characters with strong pokes and good control of screen space, Chie is pure rushdown all the way. And I LOVED it. I would plunk down for a session of Persona 4: Arena and watch those spunky dragon legs just go-go-go all night. I even bought the DLC colour pack and glasses for her so I could dress her up like kung-fu Velma from an alternate reality version of Scooby Doo.
But then I stopped playing P4:A. Wanna know why? Because our very own Strider Hoang broke my fucking spirit.
I thought I had a pretty good Chie going. I was going online, winning more than I lost, climbing up the ranks. Then me and Strider got into a lobby for some "friendly" matches.
He effortlessly destroyed me 15 times in a row rotating through almost the entire cast. You could actually hear my soul crying.
GG, WP, uninstalling, suicide.
Maybe I'll try again whenever they release the sequel.
Honourable mention for a bunch of characters I never got beat up as but love -
The Entire Cast of Darkstalkers -
I'm a huge poseur who never played much Darkstalkers. A few rounds in a bowling alley here, a bizarre session in a train station there, no more than a handful of rounds. In fact, I bought the Darkstalkers HD re-release on XBL when it came out and barely played it for more than 15 minutes. The most time I've spent on the game was with my girlfriend last week (and she bodied me!)
Suffice to say, I have no talent, no attachment, and no cred with Darkstalkers.
BUT HOLY SHIT THOSE CHARACTERS.
I love classic movie monsters and I love fighting games. A franchise that marries these two ideas is a slam dunk in my books. I'm completely happy just looking at the character art and stages for the game, never mind playing it. What kind of fucked up world are we living in that this didn't become a classic? How are we seeing a new version of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, while Capcom puts the kibosh on any hopes for a proper modern Darkstalkers? This is the kind of injustice U2 should write an album about.
I may never "git gud" at Darkstalkers, and it may never see a revival like other fighting games, but it will always occupy a disproportionately, one could say monstrously, large part of my heart.
I may whine and complain about my characters, but make no mistake, I love each and every one of them. I think fighting games live and die by their characters. A game can have have the best mechanics out there, but if nobody in the character list stands out to me, I'm just not going to play it (looking at you Virtua Fighter).
Fighting games have given us some of the most iconic and beloved characters in video game history. When you ask me to name classic rivalries, I think of Ken and Ryu, Sub-Zero Vs Scorpion. When I think about the hardest, most unfair bosses I've faced, I remember M. Bison and I-No. Some of the most audacious and hilarious character designs have come from fighting games; just look at the cast of Guilty Gear or Darkstalkers. I love the one-on-one action of fighting games, I love to compete, but at the end of the day, it's the characters that keep me coming back for another beating.