There Are No Bad Fighting Games
==Part 2: Why All Fighting Games Are Good==
A lot of people I know that are really into video games are into nearly every genre (racing and sports tend to be exceptions). Fighting games, however, tend to be a bit divisive in that there seem to be some people that completely ignore them, and others who play them exclusively. While I have a spot in my heart for any game that is interesting or unique, I universally love fighting games for a few simple reasons:
-They are similar enough that you can pick them up, but diverse enough that there is always something new to learn
-The feeling of getting a good grip on fundamentals and basic-to-intermediate execution is cathartic
-You don't have to waste hours with them, a satisfying session could be 10 minutes (this is especially nice as you get older and have less free time)
-Replay value is inherent, not something developers have to shoehorn in
Let's look at those one by one:
All fighting games, assuming they aren't pushing the boundaries of other genres, have similar elements: Two characters square off, one-on-one, move around the screen and launch attacks at one another until their opponent's health bar is depleted. Most games involve some kind of system where you can block your opponent's attacks, reducing their damage or nullifying it completely. Each button not associated with movement (typically relegated to the d-pad/analogue stick) is usually associated with an attack. Pick up any fighting game, and it's simply a matter of figuring out which attacks are the best tools for the different situations, when to block, and when to launch a counter-attack. Once you've played a few fighting games, each new one you pick up is like a new adventure: What can I do in this game that I couldn't in the others (and vice-versa)? Is it more important to know when to defend, or which attacks are the strongest? Is there a big difference between the characters? In my opinion, the more diverse the roster of characters, the more interesting a game is, because there are that many more options to explore. Though, that's not to say there's anything wrong with picking the same two or three characters all the time - Hell, I've stuck with the same two Tekken characters since Tekken 3 - That's two decades!
You'll hear people that are really into fighting games talk about 'fundamentals' a lot. This refers to the basic skills which, assuming all else is equal, will lead you to victory. Say two friends pick up a random fighter they've never played before. Whoever is better at knowing when to block to reduce damage, knowing when it's safe to attack, and knowing when and how best to punish their opponent's mistakes will win. Theoretically. The next step for either player is to understand the elements that make the game 'interesting'. That is, what makes that game unique from other games. These aren't necessarily good things - a game could be 'broken' in the fact that throwing your opponent does double the damage of any other attack. That doesn't mean it's not interesting, it just means that the game turns from a contest of who can block and counter the most attacks to who can land throws better. In many games, the unique element is are 'combos', a (usually) deliberate system that allows a player to link their attacks together. It's these systems that often make the games seem inaccessible or even esoteric to those who aren't fans of the genre - and deters them from joining in altogether. On the other hand, taking a little time to learn them can be more rewarding than spending 10 hours in a dungeon repeating the same action over and over (though they may stimulate the same area of the brain, so who's to say what's 'better').
One round of a fighting game lasts until someone loses all of their health. Assuming a time limit is imposed (as they often are), this could be no more than a minute. For that reason, a set is usually best of three or best of five, making a single match last no longer than 5 minutes or so. Having up to 15 intense, satisfying play sessions in the span of a half hour is more than you can ask of any other game genre, especially when you don't have hours to sink into games anymore.
While it isn't unique to fighting games, if a game is fun and each session only lasts 10-20 minutes, you're going to find yourself going back to it time and time again. Developers don't have to think about creating games with 'fake longevity' like level walls in RPGs, not being able to access all content without multiple playthroughs, throwing hundreds of arbitrary items around the game would for you to collect*. All they have to worry about is creating a game with just enough depth and interest between the fighting system and the characters to keep players coming back for more. The bonuses and 'unlockables' that players whine about having/not having/having to pay for these days were originally installed so that more casual players would have a reason to play the game from home. Now that arcade releases are fewer and fewer (the latest entries of Street Fighter and The King of Fighters never saw an arcade release), we're seeing less and less of this type of content, and more focus on the balance of the actual game.
*This point especially frustrates me. Am I collecting these things because I'm obsessed with the feeling of closure you get from 'completing' a game, or because the gameplay really carries me that far? It's different for every game.
If you can't learn to appreciate the nuance between fighting games, and never quite get a grip on the idea of fundamentals, then it's not going to be the most satisfying genre for you. I'm sure the same could be said of many genres, especially those that emphasize head-to-head competition (1st person shooters, a genre I never really got into, comes to mind). One thing to note, however, is that a large part of the satisfaction that comes from fighting games is the time spent away from other players - mastering the game's systems, practicing on computer dummies or poor CPU AI, learning the unique properties of each character.
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