Are Fighting Game Singleplayer Modes Evolving?

Yu_Narukami_(Persona_4_Arena,_Story_Mode_Illustration,_2)

One thing I’m starting to observe change in fighting games with the genre’s renaissance since 2008 is the way they handle singleplayer content. It’s always been a secondary thing for fighters but I’m glad to see more exploring what they can do with it.

One-on-one fighters are one of the oldest video game genres mainly centered around multiplayer. They’re also one of the only arcade genres to currently survive in the mainstream. For most of the genre’s lifespan on consoles singleplayer has pretty much meant arcade mode. Most of the time the content on the disc was pretty much what was in the arcade cabinet, maybe with some extra unlockable things. Now I’m playing through Persona 4 Arena’s Story Mode which is actually a 40-hour adventure game. You also have recent advances from Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm Studios.

The earliest example I recall of a fighter with robust singleplayer content is Soul Calibur. I think that’s one of the main things that set the franchise apart on consoles — it actually gave you a lot to do when you couldn’t find any competition. That something was an adventure game-style quest mode where you beat special challenges to unlock characters, music, art, and a bunch of cool modes. I feel like the best version of this was Soul Calibur II’s Weapon Master Mode since it let you collect equipment. Soulcalibur IV expanded that to the point where it almost felt like an RPG. I ended up spending 60 hours out of a 72-hour period on that game’s Tower of Souls. Too bad Namco somehow forgot that part of the franchise’s appeal when pressing Soulcalibur V to ship without most of its intended quest mode. Hopefully that changes whenever they make the next game. Maybe it was pressure from the tournament community to focus more on the competitive aspect, but does it have to be one or the other?

NetherRealm got some notice when it made the new Mortal Kombat singleplayer mode into a single linear story. The tough thing about fighting game storylines (and I follow them probably a lot more than most fighting game fans) is, going through arcade mode with each character by necessity creates a canon where that character wins, but the sequel has to decide which ending was the real canon. Mortal Kombat just doing one storyline where you briefly play as every character solves multiple problems simultaneously: It defines a single canon for the game, it encourages players to try out every character for a bit, it provides a singleplayer “campaign” long enough to satisfy standard campaign length, and it does that without having to become some kind of bloated quest mode like Mortal Kombat Deception and Armageddon. I just wish they hadn’t made the last Shao Kahn fight so stupidly hard, especially for people who aren’t Raiden mains. I never dug too far into NetherRealm’s Injustice: Gods Among Us but people seem to like that game’s take on this story mode too. I imagine it has a bit more relevance to more people because it features mainstream American comic book characters.

And then you have the visual novels of Arc System Works fighting games. When I stumbled upon the one in the first BlazBlue game I was understandably flabbergasted. A visual novel in terms of interactive gameplay is pretty much the polar opposite of a fighting game. If you’re one of those people who bought an arcade stick for these games you’re sitting there just mashing the X button of a $130 controller for 30 minutes between each match. When you think about it, it’s really the same as Mortal Kombat’s cut scenes but conveyed in text. The only way I could justify that is if Arc System Works makes its games on much smaller budgets. Really, if it weren’t for the voice acting in these visual novels I’d probably just download text transcripts and convert them into eBooks to read on my iPad. I’m not saying I’m down on visual novels, it’s just that they’re a weird thing to put in a fighting game.

The only reason I’m enduring the one in Persona 4 Arena is I actually care about Persona 3’s and Persona 4’s casts of characters. In fact I’ll go as far as to say that, for me, the original Persona 4 game is basically a visual novel with full 3D character movement, some dungeon crawling, and a lot more storyline choices. Theoretically I could say the same for Mass Effect and Dragon Age. There’s much to be said in the argument over where visual novels even belong in the medium of video games — I hate the idea of a game’s main selling point being a non-interactive story, but I’ll still enjoy it if it’s actually well-written. I’m sticking with Arena’s visual novel because it’s actually a pretty good one with above average voice acting and English localization. I’m also anticipating the one in the upcoming sequel Persona 4 Arena Ultamix. I hear that instead of a separate story for each character, Ultamix will just have two large stories, each with multiple characters which sounds a bit similar to Mortal Kombat’s story mode.

I’m also anticipating what the 3DS Super Smash Bros. will do for its singleplayer content. The most advertised mode in that regard has been Smash Run, which looks like a strange kind of mini dungeon crawler. The other is Solo mode which looks to be a smorgasbord of fights and minigames. It seems like the 3DS game won’t have anything on the level of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary mode. Maybe I should take a look back at Melee’s Adventure mode.

Capcom — the central company of the fighting game community, doesn’t seem to give much of a crap about singleplayer content. Probably because they and the competitive community are satisfied with each other. I still think it’s a shame. I think there’s some lost potential there to maybe give Street Fighter a more robust tutorial or at least something to encourage people to try out every character. The most they could manage was putting certain characters behind unlock walls in Street Fighter IV’s original release. What I really want is some kind of Final Fight game using Street Fighter IV’s engine or at least its art style. I can understand if SNK doesn’t have the resources for a ton of singleplayer content.

BULLETS:

  • I haven’t commented heavily on GamerGate because, honestly, I’ve seen a bunch of other blog posts and articles that have articulated my feelings as well as I ever would have. I might come back and list a bunch of them. Though, I will say here that I have been bummed all day from seeing Jenn Frank — one of the earliest people I remember following in games writing, being pushed out of this line of work after nine years.
  • One of Jenn’s articles. http://t.co/6f0Nph3XKp
  • Story of a guy who survived an ISIS mass execution in Iraq. http://t.co/An8Cdz4x5F
  • On to some lighter news. Ronin Warriors just got re-licensed and is coming back to DVD next year. http://t.co/VRgTq18sc7
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