STORIES THAT ENCHANT THE MIND
It’s frustrating to be a part of the fighting game space. A genre that was once popular with gamers of all stripes, it’s now relegated into the land of niche communities. Many would claim it was the advent of first-person shooters that knocked fighters off their throne, which may well be a contributing factor.
Another reason for this fall from grace, however, that often gets ignored by both the fighting game community and brawler devs is stagnation. There’s a distinct lack of risk-taking on the part of development companies who are likely trying too hard not to lose the hardcore fans of the genre. Very few are daring to improve their titles both in terms of player approachability and feature functionality.
Fantasy Strike, an indie fighter designed by the legendary David Sirlin, has recently come out of early access and into the realm of free-to-play to demonstrate that fighters can evolve.
As any fighting game player worth their salt will tell you, the true beauty of the genre lies in its mind game based strategy. Defeating an opponent by unravelling their gameplan and crushing every option they have is a feeling that is hard to come by in other competitive games. Getting to that point as a new or more casual player, however, is mired by the genre’s obsession with mechanical execution.
Fantasy Strike does away with the elaborate motions and foregoes the complex frame-perfect combos and puts you straight into the heart of things. Every move has its own button or combination of a direction and button, meaning you don’t have to spend time outside of the actual gameplay to play. What’s interesting is that Fantasy Strike gives you the option to assign jumping to a button instead of the up direction, effectively turning it into a move you have to consider. It’s a neat little psychological trick when you consider that jumping is a risky commitment in a lot of fighting game situations.
This all isn’t to say, however, that Fantasy Strike is an easy game to get good at. While the simplicity of its controls makes it an approachable game, the winner will always be the better player. Every tactic, every move, every trick your opponent throws at you is ‘A’ and like a detective, you have to find the right solution. Battles in fighting games are like intricate puzzles of figuring out your opponent’s tendencies and what makes their character strong. The difference in Fantasy Strike is that applying the pieces to this puzzle isn’t a frustrating battle with its controls. All you need to do is focus on the match in front of you.
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
Fighting games at their core are multiplayer games, this is undeniable. The lion’s share of players out there don’t pick them up for their storytelling prowess and AI battles. It’s all about testing your might against human opponents. All the more baffling how most fighting game devs refuse to implement good netcode into their games.
Fighting game netcode has been a solved problem since the first stable release of GGPO – a middleware for playing fighters online – in 2015. The creator of GGPO, a fighting game player himself, employed a technique called “rollback” which effectively make online matches feel more like their offline counterparts.
Fantasy Strike employs a proprietary version of the rollback netcode which delivers an incredibly smooth experience. I have played several matches with players from various parts of the world and can attest that for the most part, they have been both playable and enjoyable. What’s more, Fantasy Strike makes finding matches incredibly easy through a one-click-queue system.
Pick your character for casual and team for ranked, click a button and you’re queued up for both modes. You can head into training mode or view any of the character spotlights while you wait. It sounds like something not worth mentioning. However, I have elected to spend plenty a short downtime to get a few quick matches thanks to how quick and easy it is to do so.
Possibly one of the most frustrating aspects of fighting games is their tendency to hide crucial information. Whether through vague UIs or lack thereof, there are details hidden behind the seams that oftentimes leave players scratching their heads. Take frame advantage, for instance. Without any clear visual representation for why your opponent can continue to hit you, you’re often deferred to reading long spreadsheets to find gaps in their offence.
That is, gaps in their animations as fighting games are heavily dependent on them. Fantasy Strike uses colored hit and block sparks to indicate if you are at advantage or not. A move that lands with a blue spark on your opponent’s block means you are clear to keep going while a red spark signifies the end of your offence. It’s a simple idea that brings such an important piece of information to the forefront.
In the words of one of the greatest fighting game players of all time, Tokido, fighting games are something great. They are extremely rewarding because of the sheer amount of concentration and skill they expect of you. The frustrating part is how the space itself has refused for years to open its gates to more people by creating approachable experiences.
At the same time, publishers are making up for perpetually locking their games in a niche status by riddling them with microtransactions, including DLC characters. Fantasy Strike’s features coupled with its approach to free-to-play that makes all characters available without paying a dime are more than just a gaming package; they’re a call for a better fighting game standard. One that can potentially bring the genre back to its glory days of yore.
Yannis is a veteran gamer with over 25 years of experience across the spectrum of genres. He enjoys spending time with his family, livestreaming on Twitch and occasionally dishing out unsolicited dad advice. Also catch him on IG.
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