The base concept for fighting games is so simple, it’s no wonder the games themselves have often done everything they can to make themselves extremely complex. That’s not to say they’re overcompensating for that simplicity, out of fear of ending up a fancier version of Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots, but rather seem to be logically expanding upon an appealing and understandable core, adding on and re-envisioning and finding new ways to make you think about the art of hitting someone until they fall down. This has taken some fighting games down the path of increasingly numerous and intricate systems, to the point where without some knowledge of those systems the game itself feels awkward, unfinished—these are games that, as a minimum requirement, ask for time investment and practice, to understand what the gauges mean, how to use your defensive and offensive mechanics and in what situations, and THEN you can actually get to knowing the ins and outs of each character (once you get to match-ups and frame data, you’ve already ventured into truly arcane territory.) This has led to games with a myriad of options to explore endlessly, but also means that a lot of games are just not pick-up-and-play friendly, aimed as they are almost exclusively at experienced to advanced fighting game players. By the mid-to-late nineties, when those types of fighting games were becoming increasingly common, some developers began to think of ways to bridge the gap, to make games that can be approached by less learned players, but are still interesting in their own right. Sometimes this means simply having fewer gameplay mechanics you have to learn, sometimes this means going back to the fundamentals and starting from there (as Super Smash Bros did), and sometimes that means making mechanics that can be used for different purposes at different skill levels.
The second post in this series was about fighting/wrestling game hybrids, and last week I wrote about some anime/manga-based fighting games—now, suddenly, here’s a post that combines both those topics!
Fans of wrestling games probably know all about the legacy of AKI Corporation, the Japanese developer who created some of the most beloved wrestling games of the N64/Playstation era, which included games for both the WCW and WWE, as well as Japanese promotions, over the course of three or four years. Beginning early on with an innovative combat system for its time, each new game built on the last, and by the time their reign as the top wrestling developer ended at the turn of the millennium, they had enough clout to bring attention to most of their post-wrestling ventures. They never had to stray far from their roots, though, and they put their experience to use in a number of new contexts; a notable example are the two Def Jam titles, which used a variation of their wrestling engine in games featuring real rappers off the Def Jam label. No one has any reason to expect games like that to be any good—except people who know AKI’s reputation.
I don’t watch anime, but because of the kinds of people I share other interests with in the big hobby Venn diagram, I end up learning about anime topics through social osmosis. It can be daunting and confusing being surrounded by references and jargon that seem utterly alien to you, which is why I thank my love of fighting games for at least giving me a footing—there are many, many fighting game adaptations of anime, and if one falls into my purview, it can act as my CliffNotes into some of the series people talk about. I feel like I can get a real sense of what these stories and characters are about just from the games, as the general simplicity of the fighting game format plus the drive of the developers to stay as close to the source material as possible (and also throw in as many references to it as can be crammed in) leads to them packing every animation full of meaning.