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E for Effort: Becoming a World Warrior


I remember seeing Street Fighter II in a Club Nintendo magazine for the first time. Even to this day I can't quite put my finger on it but Street Fighter II just had something to it that made me absolutely crave the game. The only problem is that I was about nine years old and had barely gotten a NES. No way my parents were letting me buy that big 16-bit monster that was the SNES. From here on my life was like a quest to play Street Fighter II.

Every time my mom took me to the super marked, I'd rush ahead and glue my face to that arcade cabinet by the entrance. I tried my very best and probably a little more but no matter how much of a puppy face I put up, mom would not give me a coin. Despite my ongoing failures to wrap my hands around that oh so shiny joystick I watched hours worth of gameplay and you can bet that on the school playground, there was one little boy constantly throwing makeshift hadoukens at his friends.

Then one faithful day, I was at a friend's house browsing through his Game Boy carts and there it was. A beautiful square cartridge with that otherworldly Street Fighter II artwork on it. It just laid there, smiling at me, practically begging me to pop it into the Game Boy. Let's try recreate my reaction a bit. "What?! You have Street Fighter II? Can I play this? Really? Can I?!" The screen was tiny, the sprites were rough and I had only two buttons but hell if I cared. I was freaking playing Street Fighter II! Although by the time i did get a SNES, my love for Capcom's little gem had calmed down a bit and was replaced by other franchises like Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct, one thing was for sure. i was a natural born fighting game freak!

If i go over the games I collected during the PS2's lifetime, I find about ninety percent fighting games. Tekken, Dead or Alive, Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear, Capcom Vs. Snk, you name it. I've got them all. It is also in this era that I started feeling like there was a vital missing part in my life. That was an opponent. I could easily beat the hardest difficulty setting of any game I owned and while I've been going at it in the versus mode from time to time, nobody I knew was into fighting games as much as I was. Except for a tiny number of people that I could only play with once every few months, I always wiped the floor with everybody with two hands tied behind my back. There was no fun in this. I needed real human opponents of my own level to play with.

When I took my first trip to Japan, this was one of the major things I was looking forward to. I had heard tales of the this country and its game centers which were supposed to house the very best players in the world. I wanted to go there! I wanted to test my skills and see how far I would get. Little did I know I was in for a big surprise. I know what you must be thinking but that surprise wasn't the skill level I encountered. It were the controls!

With a severe lack of arcades in my home country, I had always been playing with a pad. I didn't have the slightest clue how to perform a hadouken on a fightstick and man ... was that frustrating. I hit a mental bottom. There I was in the country that invented my beloved genre and this stupid control barrier stood right in my way, preventing me from joining the action myself.

As I stood there, crying on the inside and just watching the Japanese gamers tearing away at all of my favourite games, I came to a second conclusion. Sitting there, wrecking my thumb in my solitary game room might have enabled me to beat Guilty Gear XX on the most difficult setting but I had no idea how to properly use a roman cancel.

I walked over to the Tekken cabinets. My playing style had always relied on heavy side-stepping and dealing single heavy blows whenever I found an opening. While this was quite satisfying to beat down the CPU and often awed my lesser skilled friends as I dodged all of their moves without retaliating, I realized how my style wouldn't lay a finger on these combo juggling Asians.

I remembered all the clan wars I had played in Counter-Strike and how I eventually joined one of my country's very best clans. If I was able to reach that level in an FPS, why wasn't I in a fighter? The answer is simple. Environment. Back in the CS days, I was frequenting cyber cafés and practicing online with some of the best players in my country. I could observe and play with better players than me while analyzing their strategies. In short: I had people to learn from.

Despite these setbacks, my desire to play on a high level is still going strong. Since I have been dating a Japanese woman for several years already, I was visiting the country frequently. I've often been looking in awe at those BlazBlue cabinets. This game looked so amazingly awesome but not knowing how to play any character yet combined with my control barrier and insanely skilled opponents, putting in a coin wasn't going to do much for me.

Still I wanted to somehow learn the controls and get better at these games. I decided to buy myself a copy of BlazBlue and play it on my friend's PS3 back home. I still didn't have a fight stick but I decided to do that part later. First I'd choose one single character to get good at and then when I'd finally be living in Japan indefinitely, I'd learn how to use a stick.

To fill the gap of having no people to learn from, I started watching several tournament videos on YouTube. Since I had chosen Litchi as my main, I got especially interested in this player named Manakan. I've spent hours on end in practice mode trying copy his combos.

Since almost a month now, I am living in Japan and the other week I was on my way home when I decided to stop by my favourite arcade and get some practice. As I walked through the doors, I noticed how two BlazBlue cabinets were empty even though a group of over twenty people were crowding up around them. Going in for a closer look, I saw they were both set to event mode. "Oh cool", I thought, "a tournament. Let's stay and watch for a while." Then suddenly the announcer shouted: "Player 2: Manakan!"

I couldn't believe my ears. Was I high or something? I quickly checked the list of entries and his name was right there in the first bracket. A young man separated himself from the crowd and my gaze followed as he sat himself down and moved the character selection cursor towards Litchi Faye Ling. "Goddamn it", I shouted in thoughts. The guy I had always been practicing with was sitting right there before me. Of course I couldn't pass up this chance so as soon as his match was finished I ran over and introduced myself.

He was absolutely astonished to have a European fan and as I told him about my struggle with the controls, he pointed to an empty cabinet and told me to sit down while he'd do some coaching. I couldn't believe this. Just a few weeks ago, I was sitting on my friend's couch, trying to copy his videos and now here I was, taking lessons from the man himself. We've been chatting it up for a few hours and hit it off so well that he agreed to have an interview with me for this very post.

My fellow dtoiders, it is my pleasure to present you an interview with a top level Japanese tournament player. Enjoy!

Metallion: Please introduce yourself a bit and how you got into fighting games.

Manakan: Thank you. My name is Manakan. I guess I started playing fighting games when I was just a kid and saw my brother play Street Fighter II. I got completely absorbed in learning single basic moves. Roughly, the games I have played until now are the Street Fighter II series, the Fatal Fury series, the Art of Fighting series, X-MEN Children of the Atom, Darkstalkers, the King of Fighters series up until 2000, the Guilty Gear series and now BlazBlue. There are a few more but these are the most important ones.

Metallion: Are there any among those that you are particularly fond of?

Manakan: That would be the Guilty Gear series. It's packed with awesome systems like Dust Attack and Roman Cancel. The tournaments were also really fun!

Metallion: I see. So even though BlazBlue is Guilty Gear's spiritual successor, you still prefer Guilty Gear?

Manakan: Hmmmm, If you really want to compare them, I guess I do like BlazBlue better.

Metallion: Could you give us a bit of an overview of what the fighting game scene is like in Japan?

Manakan: What do you mean by that?

Metallion: Yeah, I guess this might be a bit of a tough one...

Manakan: (interrupts) Oh, I think I understand. Before the year 2000 there were loads of people playing fighting games. Since then it has been dwindling over the years. The waiting times to play used to be immense but lately it's been getting less and less. I don't know about other people but personally, it makes me feel a bit lonely.

Metallion: The other day I was playing BlazBlue and another guy was waiting behind me. When I was done, he started playing on my machine and I soon noticed how he was much better than me. He could have easily whooped my ass and take my place but instead, he kindly waited for me to finish. Is this kind of courtesy common in Japanese arcades?

Manakan: I think that depends on the people, really. There are people who wait, there are people who give advice and there are people who will challenge you.

Metallion: I see. So it's not like there is some unwritten rule to let newbies practice or anything like that.

Manakan: Yep.

Metallion: Why did you choose BlazBlue and not another game? Why Litchi as your character?

Manakan: I was playing other tournament fighters too but as time progressed, more and more people were abandoning them. Also the lack of any sequel prospects in the Guilty Gear series was a major factor. As far as Litchi is concerned, she's got pretty long reach and I like all the tricky little moves she can do with her bou. Of course the fact that she's an awesome female doctor also helped. (laughs)

Metallion: Amen to that! I heard you're a Fate Unlimited Codes player too.

Manakan: That's right. I see you've done your homework.

Metallion: You use Dark Sakura, right?

Manakan: Yep

Metallion: Isn't it hard to keep up with two games at the same time on this level?

Manakan: Once you get used to it, it's not so bad.

Metallion: I see. How long does it generally take to get used to?

Manakan: I've actually been playing Fate since before I started playing BlazBlue but I guess it takes me about three months to get used to a new game.

Metallion: That fast? That's pretty amazing.

Manakan: I guess I can do that mostly because I've stacked up so much fighting game experience over the years.

Metallion: Yeah I guess that's right. I also get used to new games quickly as long as there isn't a fightstick involved. How many hours do you generally practice per day?

Manakan: Right now I haven't got so much time due to my job so I can't play every day any more. I guess it's usually between thirty minutes and an hour. When there's a tournament coming up, I make that two hours.

Metallion: Oh really? So you can keep up this level of play even with such little practice? Did you know the Korean professional Starcraft players practice about fourteen hours per day?

Manakan: (shocked) Fourteen hours? Isn't that like half a day?!

Metallion: Yep, that's right.

Manakan: So there are people who take it that far. I'm a bit surprised.

Metallion: Yeah but they're different. Gaming actually is their day to day job. It's pretty much the same as professional sports.

Manakan: Come to think of it, you mentioned something about these Korean pro gamers when we met right?

Metallion: Yeah, I did. Their matches are shown live on TV as well.

Manakan: So those people are practicing that much? Wow, that's amazing!

Metallion: I agree. Anyways, about how much do you earn in tournament prizes?

Manakan: I get pretty huge and colourful audiences at tournaments. When it's an official tournament, you usually get a trophy or some kind of prize for first place. As far as money goes, I think that's limited to a kind of tournament we call "tougeki". I can't enter those because of my job. (disappointed)

Metallion: So you're doing it mostly for fun?

Manakan: It might turn out that way.

Metallion: How is the competition level? Are there a lot of great players out there or are there a few winning everything?

Manakan: I play with people of all skill levels. Some times I fight stronger opponents, some times they're a bit below me and some times I just play with my family and friends. All in all the level of play really depends on the place you go.

Metallion: I see. Can you name a few places that have particularly strong or weak players?

Manakan: Weaker places I can't really say but as for a place with lots of good players, there's this place called Tachikawa Oslo. I haven't been there myself yet actually. I do feel like checking it out.

Metallion: Oslo? Is that an arcade?

Manakan: Yeah.

Metallion: Which city is that in?

Manakan: Tokyo.

Metallion: I see. I should find a lower level place before I can consider going there though. What do you believe is key to being a successful tournament player?

Manakan: I guess that's pretty much effort. You just have to work hard and do your best.

Metallion: So it's all a matter of practice? I wonder if I'll be able to do it one day. Right now it all seems like a different planet to me.

Manakan: I believe you can do it. Practice hard!

Metallion: Thank you. I'll do my best. Where do you see yourself after BlazBlue? Do you have any other games in mind yet?

Manakan: Hmmm, I haven't really decided what I'll play yet. Maybe I'll just keep playing BlazBlue forever. (laughs)

Metallion: (laughs) Then what will you do when the tournament scene disappears?

Manakan: I'll keep playing anyway for Dr. Litchi's sake! (laughs)

Metallion: (laughs) Yeah I guess she must be lonely after all the other players have left.

Manakan: You bet.

Metallion: Then for my final question, do you have any tips for aspiring players like myself?

Manakan: Basically to practice the basic input commands to death and get a firm grasp of the buttons. Also don't rush and play as calmly as you can. Learn one tiny piece, then another tiny piece and then another. It's best to take baby steps while you make your progress.

Metallion: Too true. I was thinking just that lately. I've gotten myself done in so many times by getting too excited.

Manakan: Yeah, I used to be like that too actually.

Metallion: Really? Hearing that you've come from the same place does up my confidence a bit. Manakan, thank you very much for this interview!

Manakan: You're welcome.

Special thanks to the following people:

My fellow fighting game fan Emillll and Starcraft commentators Moletrap, Diggity and Husky for helping me come up with the questions.

My good friend Yuko for correcting the questions in Japanese.

My girlfriend for helping me translate the final few bits and pieces that I couldn't do on my own.

Destructoid for encouraging lowly bloggers like myself so much.

Manakan for having this interview with me.

And of course, you for reading it!
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About Metallionone of us since 4:11 AM on 10.14.2009

I'm a dude that used to write cblogs regularly but doesn't do that any more.