That may sound like a loaded title, but we’re at a very volatile time in the FGC. Although there are many games coming out, some of which are very good, and fighting games (thanks to eSports) are bigger than ever, Street Fighter V continues to rule the roost. I have my own thoughts on SFV, but you don’t have to take my word for it because, whatever the reason may be, among both casual and competitive players, the general reception for the game seems to fall between massive disappointment to outright revulsion. There are few people who actually like the game and fewer who say it is better than older SF titles and other games it is currently competing with. However, due to legacy power and the large sums of money being put behind it, it remains the biggest fighting game in the world.
With the upcoming Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (that I have my own, not entirely negative, thoughts on) looking like another failure with lackluster graphics, the removal of beloved mechanics, greedy DLC practices, and a disheartening alleged roster, people are starting to look at Capcom with a much more critical eye. However, Capcom has always been at the top. That’s what people expect and that’s where most of the established competitive players are. When your livelihood relies entirely on your skill, you tend to do what you’re good at. So the player base that grew up on Capcom games will continue to play Capcom games, feeding the cycle of money and popularity that keeps Street Fighter afloat regardless of its quality.
But you know what else people grew up with? Dragonball Z.
I’m not a huge fan of DBZ. I did watch the series as a kid and enjoyed it to a certain degree but I feel there are many other similar series much more deserving of a good fighting game (One Piece, Naruto, Jojo, My Hero Academia), if only for the much wider potential variety in character ability. However, I do recognize the immense popularity of this series, which may be the most important element of this game.
Last week, it was announced at E3 that Arc System Works, developers of Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, and countless other anime-based fighters, are working on a new game, one inspired by that beloved property that defined the late 90s and early 2000s for kids everywhere and created a generation of anime fans.
Any other anime and it would have been exciting news simply for the marriage of a cherished franchise with a proven developer (much like Persona 4 Arena), but the fact that it is Dragon Ball Z is what makes this game a significant moment for the future of the community. Persona proved that, no matter how popular a property, a game won’t have staying power in the FGC unless it adheres to certain rules, but DBZ’s popularity, especially among competitive fighting game players has the potential to break all these rules and change people’s perception of non-Capcom games.
Here are some key points to consider when thinking about the effects this game might have.
Ease of Play
I feel like Persona 4 Arena and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom are both games that will go down in history as influential but under-appreciated. P4A has gone on to influence several modern games such as BlazBlue, King of Fighters, and Street Fighter V with simplified inputs, easy combos, auto-combos, universal defensive mechanics, and no chip death while TvC was an obvious inspiration for MvCI with its two person team mechanics, lesser emphasis on assists, and burst mechanics. The latter games have all reached a much wider audience than the former despite borrowing many of their mechanics, mostly due to legacy power and the FGC’s general distaste for anime games.
One common misconception, specifically with mechanics tied to P4A’s influence, is that easier execution and a lower barrier of entry results in a less complex and entertaining fighter. Exhibit A is SFV, which was designed to appeal specifically to newer players and is widely regarded as simple, limited, and sometimes random, with many experienced players feeling like they have a much higher chance of losing to relative beginners in this game, regardless of skill gap or time put into the game. Many high-level players also decry the lack of unique player techniques and signature moves since all players can execute all mechanics and combos with the same facility.
However, this perception is primarily due to SFV’s significant and far-reaching influence. The reason SFV is shallow and random is because it purposely limits options and favors hype comebacks over consistent skill. This does not mean, in any way, that a lower barrier of entry causes a newer player to be able to match up to a stronger player, nor does it mean that mechanics that are easy to pick up can’t provide depth or execution for players looking for that sort of thing. This was most obviously proven in P4A, but is still apparent in many newer games, such as BlazBlue: Central Fiction, Tekken 7, and Guilty gear Xrd, that are incorporating beginner-friendly mechanics while retaining the core of what makes each game fun. SFV is the primary culprit for implanting this idea that execution equals depth in people’s heads.
Dragon Ball Fighter Z now has the potential to change all that. As a game based on an existing property, this fighter will undoubtedly reach a very wide audience of DBZ fans. To capitalize on that, much as they did with Persona 4 Arena, ArcSys will most likely incorporate many beginner-friendly mechanics, such as auto-combos and easy inputs. Also, due to its use of the Xrd engine, we know that the game will be a fully fleshed out, complex fighter with mechanics that reward practice and skill at a high level. It is an ArcSys game after all. The difference here is that the Dragon Ball license will make people pay attention. People won’t drop this game because it’s anime and people won’t judge this game because it has simple mechanics. People will play it. And when they play it, people will realize that the game has depth and complexity and execution and skill and technique and whatever else a would-be competitive player looks for in a fighting game.
And that will be the first step to people putting their hands on their chins, tilting their heads, and quietly contemplating, “Wait, why am I playing Street Fighter V again?”
A War Between Team-Based Games
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is slated to be released this September, much earlier than most people predicted based on the game’s announcement date and the footage that was shown. As in, the game looks unfinished, unpolished, and uninteresting, and the time allotted does not seem like enough to deliver a product that will push this game’s quality beyond that of its 2011 predecessor. Although I believe the Infinite is a step in the right direction in terms of tag mechanics, its graphics and roster are an enormous step back from a game that came out 6 years go. Couple that with several characters already confirmed as DLC when the entire main roster is, as of yet, unannounced and the implied promise of an Ultimate version down the line (or at least a couple more DLC characters), the hype for a new Vs. game is being drowned out by Capcom’s… let’s call it a lack of self-awareness.
Then, much like Goku himself, cue Dragon Ball Fighter Z coming in to save the day at the last minute. It is set to be released in early 2018, a few short months after MvCI, despite currently looking a lot more finished. This is the first time there will be two major team-based fighting games out at one time, which will obviously put them in direct competition, and based on the nearly universally positive reception DBFZ is getting, things aren’t looking so good for Capcom.
This game provides players with not only the first competitive 2D Dragon Ball Z fighter, but it also borrows mechanics from older Marvel games, putting it much closer to Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and 3 than Infinite. This will draw in many older Marvel fans and split the fanbase in a way that will cause people looking for a more genuine and classical Vs. experience to flock to DBFZ, potentially limiting MvCI’s audience.
Dragon Ball Z’s undying popularity, in conjunction with Arc System Work’s reputation for quality, will push this game over the top, beyond what each individual element could achieve on its own. While I don’t think it will kill MvCI (nor do I want it to), I think this game has the potential to match, or even surpass it in popularity.
Popularity of Anime Games
Anime games have historically gotten the short end of the stick in the FGC. Capcom has always been on top, with SF and whatever else they have out at the time to complement it. Netherrealm Studios has, since 2011 with their Mortal Kombat reboot, established themselves in second place with both MK and its Injustice sister series. Throw in the odd KoF or Tekken, with smaller but enduring player bases, as well as the hugely popular but not quite FGC, Smash Bros., and you get the general makeup of what’s popular at any given moment and the games that are guaranteed at the yearly Evolution Championship Series tournament. Anime games, despite being massively numerous, tend to get the least attention, with Guilty Gear and BlazBlue being the only titles that have retained a modest but consistent popularity, with the latter seemingly on its way out.
Guilty Gear’s newest iteration has found some success, thanks to its reimagining of classic gameplay, extensive tutorials, jaw-dropping visuals, and uncompromising stance on its mechanics, but regardless of the game’s touted quality, people still play SFV more, despite regarding it as a far inferior product. However, I believe that this new DBZ fighter will push past these legacy boundaries and reach a high level of popularity beyond that of your average anime game. Do I think this game will overthrow SFV? No. Do I even want it to? Not really, at least not if it improves. I’d rather have a good SFV than none at all. But I do think that this game will help open people’s eyes to what games can be good and what can make them good. I think it will help bring anime games into the limelight and encourage people to give more of them a shot. I think it will rival Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite in terms of popularity.
This is a very exciting time, with a very exciting game on the horizon that has nearly limitless potential as a competitive fighter. With SFV’s unstoppable popularity despite the constant derision it has met, it’s time to shake things up a bit. I think many people in the FGC aren’t happy with fighting games right now and I think many people outside the FGC don’t see much reason to come in. Capcom’s strategy to cater to new players by simplifying games has not worked because it was never about that to begin with.
Easy to learn and hard to master is a common phrase that gets thrown around very often but, seemingly, despite their position as the premier fighting game company, Capcom has never heard of it. With SFV creating a huge amount of ill will and misconceptions about fighters all while hogging the spotlight, things haven’t been very fun lately. Now it’s time for ArcSys to step in and show people how it’s done. I think Dragon Ball Fighter Z is just the kick in the rear that the FGC needs to evolve into its next form, where games are fun and easy, complicated and hard, and encompass all the things that make fighting games so great.