With EVO 2020’s cancellation and the many controversies that came to light, it may seem like playing Smash Bros or Street Fighter would leave a sour feeling. But the players have risen above and kept the games going. Through streaming, tournaments are still able to continue and a whole batch of newcomers have joined the ring to practice combos and research tier lists. Indie game developers have also entered the playing field, giving more options to choose from. One can feel intimidated by all the titles. I will break down what to consider when picking up fighting games and which ones to start with. Win or lose, you can’t escape from crossing fate.
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Respect the Clock and Your Spirit
The first thing to consider is the amount of free time that you have. Respecting your daily schedule and sticking to your allotted time is important, whether you want to test your might in ranked matches, become a tournament player, or even play casually. It may feel like you aren’t investing enough time at first, but sticking to your time limit will force you to play more purposefully and focus on improvement.
A major beginner’s trap is setting your expected goal too high. When I first went online in Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition (SF4AE), I picked Vega and told myself, “Okay, don’t stop until you win two matches.” I figured that was a reasonable enough goal. So I went online and got matched with a player who seemed to be a beginner like me. I won the match but the rounds went back and forth. I wanted a rematch but the other player left so I re-queued, got matched, and went in. I was beat convincingly but I thought I could win if I tried again, so I opted to rematch. My opponent obliged and I was beaten again.
After that, I only played a handful of losing matches, angrily quitting after only an hour. I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted because all that mattered was winning. I never tried to think about what I did wrong or how to adjust to the different players I ran into. Looking back on it, I struggled with defense and didn’t do anything to improve my blocking.
Vega is known for his charge moves where he wall jumps and strikes from the air. I didn’t know how to be aggressive with a charge character so I stuck to “turtling”, where I crouch-block (holding down and back) in place and wait for my opponent to make a move, and then finish the motion to pick them off with the charge move. However, I would never block neutral (hold back) or overhead (hold back and high) so I would eat every neutral and overhead attack. If I changed my goal then to something like “Guess three correct neutral/overhead attacks and block them”, I would train my defense and then attempt countering after getting confident with blocking.
I share this story to illustrate how the wrong mindset and attitude can ruin the tried and true process of every video game: trial and error. Not everyone gets it right the first time, nor do they breeze through without making a few mistakes. I should have just played first to see what my strengths and weaknesses were and set a goal accordingly to improve what was lacking. Taking that first step is what allows you to learn what you need to learn. It may be nerve-wracking, and it will be frustrating. But losing will hurt less each time; more importantly, you will start to win.
Enter the Salt Mines
The next thing to consider is your online community. Obviously, games like Street Fighter have higher active player counts. However, games with less players require more work. You’ll have to check if there are fan forums on platforms like Reddit or Discord. Navigating these requires finesse, especially as Christians. You will encounter some vulgarity here, so steel yourself. It will take time and interaction to decide if the community you joined will provide a healthy experience.
Most of these communities, in my own interactions, are fine as long as you only engage for specific reasons, like if you’re looking for people to play against or you want to figure out how to play a certain character. Many will try to tell you what they think is the correct way to play the game. There is no such thing as a right or wrong way to play in fighting games…unless you’re getting destroyed in ranked. Then it’s time to hit the forums and ask for help.
As long as you are respectful of each group’s rules, you will have a valuable resource that will produce camaraderie. Like in your church, engaging with your community is just as important as the purpose of being in that community. With fighting games in particular, the interaction feels a bit more special because you’re in direct conflict with another person. Experiencing winning and losing will bring out the parts you’re proud of and the ones you may be ashamed of: Praise, laughter, anger, “salt”. Being in contact with these emotions will allow you to temper them, which in turn improves your attitude.
Check Your Gear
Despite what people may tell you, you can use whatever controller you want, but I’ll give a quick rundown. Standard controllers (or pad controllers) come with consoles, so they will be the most common and comfortable to choose. Input execution on the analog stick is loose, but you can use the d-pad instead if that’s more comfortable. I would recommend picking up a separate controller specifically for fighting games, as the varied movement is more common and can cause more wear-and-tear.
Arcade sticks have more precise input detection on the joystick and more responsive face buttons. However, they’re clearly bulky and you may need to take time to find your most comfortable position. Gaming keyboards are also a good option and arguably have the best input precision. However, depending on the brand and age of the keyboard, you may need a converter and a compatible controller if you want to play on console.
There are also modded controllers (or mod sticks), like the Hitbox Arcade and Mixbox Arcade, which offer unique button layouts for players who don’t feel comfortable with standard controllers. A keyboard, arcade stick, or mod stick are significantly pricier than pad controllers, costing up to $150-$200 for a decent controller. But they’re well worth the investment and can last longer than pad controllers.
Okay, this next one’s a bit controversial and not everyone understands the issues. This will depend on your living circumstances, but if you want the absolute best and consistent online matches, a wired ethernet connection is the way to go. The biggest reason why this happens is packet loss. Packets are the pieces of data sent to and from your computer (or console) over the Internet. Packet loss is when packets fail to reach their destination. This usually happens when a network is congested or when a connection isn’t stable like a WiFi connection, which uses signal transmission. This isn’t terribly noticeable in web or cloud applications because there are protocols in place to reset the connection so it completes without the user noticing the delay. However, in real-time applications, like with online streaming or online gaming, that can’t be done, because as soon as the connection drops, it needs to restart. More specifically, for the game you’re playing, the match’s connection restarts. This leads to connection lag and timeouts that are common.
WiFi packets are lost often and, in games with less-than-ideal netcode, can stack on each other, delaying the connection for so long that it triggers a disconnect. High-speed ethernet cables are, thankfully, not terribly expensive, costing up to $25 to cover an apartment space. For houses, buying a powerline network adapter and a pair of 5-ft cables will let you use your power outlets as a makeshift ethernet connection for about $50.
Decide Your Destiny
As stated before, there are many titles to choose from. Personally, you can jump into any fighting game you want to try. But which one do you go with? The categories for fighting games are very broad. It’s roughly split into the legacy franchises like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, anime fighters which are currently dominated by Arc System Works’s library, and the indie fighters which fall into one of the previous two.
A New Challenger Approaches
There are now a decent bunch of gateway games that help players understand the more advanced concepts in fighting games without worrying about the input execution. The following games are ones I recommend if you want to ease into fighting games before picking up one of the legacy fighters.
Divekick, originally made as a joke about spamming overpowered moves, is a fun two-button-only fighter that emphasizes spatial awareness. Each character has a unique trait, making Divekick a good starter on learning a character’s unique tools and how they match up against the rest of the roster. With Divekick‘s small moveset and one-hit knockout (OHKO) rounds, understanding mistakes from your losses is faster and adapting feels more fluid. The game’s comical atmosphere also takes the pressure off and is fun to play in short bursts.
Footsies is a minimalist three-button fighter (attack, left, and right) created by @HiFightH. Footsies emphasizes neutral combat, which centers around poking at your opponent with fast weak attacks to catch them off-guard. The game emphasizes decision-making and whiff punishing, which is predicting your opponent’s attacks and countering. Footsies is a surprisingly excellent warm-up game before picking up a legacy game like Street Fighter 5, which focuses on neutral combat. Footsies is on mobile and recently came out on Steam with online multiplayer for $4.
Fantasy Strike attempts to be a stepping stone to fighters by simplifying the input execution, mapping each action to a button. The characters are categorized to zoners, rushdown, grapplers, and wild card, similar to the heroes in League of Legends. Personally, I feel the characters’ assigned categories are too broad, but the game’s universal moveset makes learning their intended strategies easier. Fantasy Strike is free-to-play, has solid online features, and tutorial content for each character. However, it plays down blocking fundamentals which are crucial to most other fighting games. I still think Fantasy Strike is a decent game for strengthening decision-making skills, but temper your blocking if you ever make the jump to another fighter.
Though I rated the game fairly low in my review, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid is another good beginner fighting game due to simplified inputs. However, this game offers a different flavor with its team-based 3v3 combat. Though still bare-bones in gameplay modes, it now boasts 20 characters with more on the way. Its universal moveset and loose combo system make the game really fun to play. Starting with Battle for the Grid is an easy stepping stone to other team-based fighting games like the Marvel VS series and Dragon Ball FighterZ. It’s also the only fighting game right now to offer crossplay across the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC!
Killer Instinct (2013) is a good game to start with because of its core mechanic. The biggest strength to KI is the combo breaker mechanic, a defensive move that allows the player to break out of a combo if they can guess what move the opponent is going to do next. Since combos only deal permanent damage if completed with an ender, this adds a fun dynamic to matches because there’s risk and reward to both the attacker and the defender. KI delivers a very unique fighting game experience that fans still enjoy today.
The Wheel of Fate is Turning
Next, I’ll cover the popular anime fighting games…which is basically every Arc System Works (ArcSys) fighting game that’s been released recently. I don’t have as much experience playing these games so I will describe the significant differences as I see them. Because even though I’m covering these in one category, each game feels unique to each other.
Guilty Gear Xrd Rev. 2 (Xrd) is the latest title in ArcSys’s long-standing Guilty Gear series, known for strong character-unique traits and focus on air combos. Xrd features some of the best tutorials in fighting games, aptly explaining the game’s elements—such as the game’s distinct approach to “cancel” mechanics, whereby the player can purposely interrupt one action in order to perform another—and how they can be useful at high level play. In fact, Xrd‘s tutorials were such a huge step up in accessibility for new players that they were the best fighting game tutorials for a while.
Dragon Ball FighterZ (DBFZ) enjoyed a huge surge of players on its release due to the massive popularity of the Dragon Ball Z IP. It is currently enjoying a resurgence due to its third season pass with the addition of Master Roshi, one of the most requested characters for the game. DBFZ is a team-based 3v3 game which makes this an easy recommendation if you’re jumping off from Battle for the Grid. The added focus on aerial combos will be a decent challenge to learning more intricate combos.
I will point out, however, that DBFZ has more defensive mechanics that may seem unexpected given the presentation of the game itself. It is also one of the few fighting games to incorporate player-friendly accessibility into its moveset as opposed to having an easy and standard button select. Auto-combos can be done by mashing the light, medium, or heavy attack button, and each button has its own auto-combo string. This is an awesome addition because it doesn’t mentally downplay anyone’s skill level and allows the player to do the combos manually if they’re confident enough to pull it off or even come up with one of their own.
Granblue Fantasy Versus (GBVS) is ArcSys’s most recent release and spinoff of the popular mobile game, Granblue Fantasy. The moveset changes in GBVS are the most interesting, combining simple inputs for special moves as well as auto-combos from DBFZ. Again, the option to do the moves manually are available by default. Also, there is a benefit to manually inputting the special moves. If the player does the simple input of a special move, it goes into cooldown and cannot be used for a few seconds. However, if they do the manual input, the move will be stronger and recharge faster. This is an excellent way to reward the player to practice the manual inputs while encouraging them to play more technically. GBVS is also enjoying a resurgence with the start of its second season pass, so now is the best time to join.
The Next Stage of History
I will now go over a few select indie games that stand out from the rest: Skullgirls, Them’s Fightin’ Herds, and Rivals of Aether. These titles boast high-quality gameplay as well as strong online communities.
Skullgirls holds a special place in my heart. I followed this game during its DLC Indiegogo fundraiser and crushed its initial goal of $150,000 within the first day and topped it more than five times over. Playing this game was what got me into playing fighting games again during college and actually changed my whole outlook on video games in creative and social aspects. In light of the unfortunate closing of developer Lab Zero Games due to many circumstances with its management, I think the game is still a great testament of passion and experience from an amazing dev team. That’s why I can confidently recommend Skullgirls as a fighting game worth getting into.
For a game of humble beginnings, it stands as one of the best I’ve ever played. Skullgirls is another team-based fighter but it allows you to control how many members you want to play as: three, two, or even one character and the strength and health is adjusted accordingly. The tutorials are well-done, taking the time to explain every fighting game aspect the player will need to know as well as solid breakdowns for each character. For a long time, I considered Skullgirls to be the best Western-developed fighting game ever.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds is a fighting game with four-legged animals that was originally a fan-game of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. However, after a cease-and-desist claim from Hasbro, dev team Mane6 were not discouraged and proceeded to repackage their fan-game into its own creation. The game’s mechanics are fairly similar to an anime fighter, but the combat feels more like an off-shoot of Street Fighter 2 where each character has a core archetype and playstyle. Also, the tutorials in this game are really good. The tutorials are actually challenging and also they’re reinforced by the game’s story mode, which actually plays like an adventure game! There is also an amazing online feature called The Salt Mines, a cooperative online mode where a group of players collect salt and fight NPC monsters in a charming 8-bit overworld. This is actually a really fun party mode and why I recommend this game.
Rivals of Aether is a Smash Bros clone that actually manages to not feel like a clone game. From the ground up, it was designed to be a competitive fighting game but it feels just as good to play like Smash Bros. The characters all have interesting mechanics that encourage decision-making. The only caveats I have about the game is that some of the characters you’ll want to try in training mode first so you at least understand how they work, and some of the tutorials don’t work as intended, requiring the player to start over. At the very least, it’s another quality game to play if you’re not feeling like playing Smash Bros.
The Heart of Battle
Finally, I’ll talk briefly about the big hitters: Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat 11, and Tekken 7. These are arguably the most popular fighting games with the most coverage online. Two of these games went through rough patches at the start, but all three are still good experiences that live up to their name. Each game is still going strong with new seasons, meaning new characters and changes.
Street Fighter V (SFV) and Tekken 7 are receiving big balance and moveset changes in the next major update, making this the best time to get into the games. SFV has been the long-standing staple of 2D fighters, having set the standard to practically everything about fighting game mechanics. Meanwhile Tekken 7 has dominated the 3D fighter subgenre with the refinement of its core gameplay and aggressive promotional strategies.
Capcom tried to change things up for SFV by making advanced mechanics easier to perform. This caught a lot of backlash from veteran players who were used to SFIV‘s more methodical gameplay that’s always been a part of Street Fighter. SFV encouraged more aggressive gameplay with user-friendly mechanics. Since the release of Champion Edition, Capcom has worked hard to bring the game up to the quality fans expected from them. SFV is still an incredibly fun game that rewards decision-making and unique playstyles. With their fifth season leading to crowd favorites like Dan and Oro in the future, Capcom appears determined to make their fans happy.
Tekken 7 has been enjoying a long string of success since its console release back in 2017. Its focus on 3D movement and strong attacks makes the game feel natural and fluid to play. Bandai Namco changed up the tried-and-true gameplay by adding Rage Arts and Rage Drives. These are not only easy-to-use tools for new players. They also reward veteran players with extended combo potential. Bandai Namco promises that they are not done with Tekken 7 and that they will continue to provide the best experience.
For Mortal Kombat 11 (MK11), Netherrealm Studios is teasing a new season after Ed Boon recently stated that they plan on continuing to support the game. MK11‘s online features are robust, offering lots of tower events that players can do alongside online matches. Netherrealm also attempted to make this game more accessible to new players as well by adding defense mechanics and changing up the offensive mechanics from MKX.
Disclaimer: Mortal Kombat 11 has extremely graphic violence and the gear features contribute to the depiction of that violence. I strongly recommend you do not pick up this game if you are even remotely uncomfortable with blood, viscera, or the visual depiction of death.
Whew, that was a doozy to get through. This article was a pretty big undertaking. I wanted to share my passion for fighting games with all of you. I think fighting games give us the opportunity to engage with our emotions more constructively. They can also be rewarding in surprising ways that aren’t just about victory or loss. I hope this article helps those of you who are interested in fighting games or even sparks the interest to try them out.