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Virtual Fighting - Surprisingly Accessible


I don’t want to speak too soon and jinx it or anything, but I think Virtua Fighter 5 might have one of the best difficulty curves of any fighting game I’ve ever played.

And this coming from a game I was expecting to be massively complicated and extremely difficult.

Weird, right? I know.

To be clear, it certainly is massively complicated, but the game seems to acknowledge this fact. It doesn’t hammer me over the head with difficulty right from the start and just expect me to catch up like most do. It gives me plenty of room to be a total n00b at first. It gives me the time to build both skill and confidence without being stupidly frustrated by a game that seems impatient for me to be much better than I actually am.

What a freaking concept!

I didn’t think fighting games were capable of that. I’ve never played one like this before. I don’t quite know what to think.

I’ve long thought that one of the most glaring thorns shoved in the side of the fighting game genre is a difficulty curve just this side of a sheer cliff. Most games mercilessly toss you straight into the fire and then sit back and laugh at your pain as your will to continue slowly goes up in smoke.

How do these games expect me to magically know how to play a game I’ve never picked up before? Isn’t this the age of the hour-long tutorial before the game even begins? Isn’t this the age of catering to the new player? Isn’t this the age of drawing the interest of the audience that has never so much as looked in your direction before?

Fighting games don’t seem to have gotten the memo.

Down to the very last one of them, they seem to be positively antagonistic toward new players. The most I’ve ever seen a fighting game do to help me “learn” is slap on a Simon says input matching mode in the practice menu, and even this isn’t common. How matching move inputs is supposed to help me actually learn how to use the moves I have no idea. Maybe I’m supposed to pick it up through osmosis or something.

So whenever I pick up a new fighting game, I’m inevitably faced with the prospect of hours upon hours of mind numbing trial and error as I discover for myself what the hell I’m supposed to be doing, all the while getting handed my ass by the computer on the easiest difficulty setting. Most of the time I dare not even hope to be able to beat any of the included modes, as they’re all tuned to superhuman difficulty and topped off by indescribably and unnecessarily frustrating boss fights.

Who finds those blasted game-ruining boss fights fun is a different but equally maddening issue I’ll try not to go into here.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that goes through this process. Is it any wonder that fighting games are a niche genre? The only people brave enough to play them anymore are those people that have been doing it for years. Little surprise, then, that this recent “resurgence” of fighting games in 2009 is largely a parade of old franchises with nary an original property in sight. Well, except for BlazBlue, but I’d hardly call that psychedelic freak show “casual friendly” and, let’s face it, it’s more or less a modern re-envisioning of Guilty Gear anyway.

I’m honestly beginning to think the entire genre clashes with my playing style and, furthermore, doesn’t give a shit about it either. 

Virtua Fighter doesn’t really fix most of these problems. I still have to grope around in the dark for my own answers to how things work and the reason I had success doing that so quickly in such a complicated game was only because I was familiar enough with the characters already to make a beeline toward the fighter with the training wheels glued onto her heels for stupid n00bs like me.

But what the game does do right is give me a little room to breathe. Sure, Normal difficulty in Arcade mode requires you to at least sort of know what you’re doing (perfectly acceptable, as the label is, after all, “normal”, not “stupid beginner mode”), but in a game with such an extensive Quest mode, who cares about Arcade mode? 

Quest mode, I think, is where they really nailed it. Here you have a choice of a number of different arcades where you can face off against virtual opponents, unlocking items and gold that you can use to customize your character. It’s quite addicting. Even better, there are a couple of decidedly beginner-friendly arcades where even a novice like me can kick the virtual butt of every opponent that comes my way.

Challenging? Maybe not. 

Empowering? Definitely.

Through my long string of easy wins (over 50 matches won without a loss!) I slowly learned the character I was playing with and added more moves to my arsenal, one at a time, becoming an ever-so-slightly more competent player, all while not wanting to hurl my worryingly expensive fighting stick through a wall.

It really is amazing stuff.

Look, in the grand scheme of things this is small potatoes. Heaps more work needs to be done and truckloads of innovation piled on top of the decaying corpse of the fighting game genre before I can consider it even close to modernized or accessible or what have you. This genre is in staggeringly desperate need of innovation.

But compared to the other nightmarish experiences out there awaiting newcomers to other fighting games, I’m both pleased and surprised to say I found Virtua Fighter 5 a nice step in the right direction.

Go figure.

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