Are fighting games too reliant on multi-hit combo systems? Before we go on, a little history is in order.
The idea of combos began as a bug in Street Fighter 2 (like many of it’s common systems, actually). Essentially, the recovery of an attack is shorter than a target’s hitstun, giving you a series of uninterrupted attacks. Along with an early form of buffering, combos became examples of top level play in the early fighter communities. Capcom allowed these bugs and embraced them in later versions of Street Fighter 2 (including the first Combo Counter appearing in Super 2). Combos were welcomed into fighting game development, and expanded to include juggles and dial-a-combo structures. Killer Instinct’s entire engine focused on combos of (then) crazy length. Even 3D fighters came out embracing combos, with Virtua Fighter introducing preset strings of attacks that defined 3D fighters indefinitely.
So where did combos in fighters take us? Well it revealed that certain bastards aren’t above discovering, and exploiting, infinites. It also separated the regulars from the timing experts of the fighting community. Just about every fighting game worth it’s salt has a Combo Counter to let you know how many hits you landed after mashi- formulating your last attack package. It’s just a normal facet of fighting games.
But is it required? And is it even an indicator of skill anymore?
I remember me and my buds getting better at Tekken 3 and Soul Calibur in the late 90s. We got good at our chosen characters and developed a kind of play that varied from what the general fighting community adopted. We had a tit-for-tat ‘where will I attack’ format where we took the Namco fighter’s style of high/mid/low hit areas and made it a guessing game. We’d try to trick out each other with various stances and patterns of the characters. For all we knew that’s how Namco intended.
Then we finally met up with other gamers outside of our own living rooms, some great players, and… exchanged philosophies. We learned that the Namco fighting game landscape was rife with combo strings and technical traps in both Tekken and Soul Calibur series. For a time we thought we were playing it wrong the whole time! Then we noticed that these players were not used to blocking low. A small detail that evened up the landscape just a bit. We were mystified at how clueless they were regarding rather simplistic attack patterns that weren’t dependent on long juggles and tech traps. Still, their style was superior and we needed to play to win. We adopted this style of into our own and became better for it. We never really did abandon our philosophy, however.
I bring this up because I’ve noticed Soul Calibur and Tekken crept slowly toward being combo-centric games. For me this was an acceptable yet annoying change of climate. I looked at Tekken videos showcasing ridiculous strings of juggles that just didn’t speak to me a fight - but a game of launchers to get your opponent on some inescapable intake of damage. I imagine Tekken 6 will still allow our kind of gameplay, but new videos confirm even more reliance on juggles. Soul Calibur 4 features a Combo Counter, a first for the series. Street Fighter 4 features a rather open combo system, with Sakura loving every moment of it.
You know what I see when I watch these so-called ‘tournament videos’? Endless strings of combos and jockeying for opportunities for more combos. I mean this is great for something like 3rd Strike, where big combos are limited to training mode set-ups and you need to think on your feet. Killer Instinct of course is a concept fighter for combos. But I’m not impressed with 10+ hit strings in Tekken and impossible juggles in Soul Calibur. To me that does not present a fight, but a contest of dialing in buttons without fear of reprisal. I had silent disagreements with this convention for years, keeping it in until now.
I think new fighting games should lessen the need for combos and increase other forms of offensive strategy.
Now this isn’t me whining about bringing fighting games to adjust to our methods, oh no, that’s not my intention. I like a good combo, I just don’t like a game being defined by it’s combos. Khuntry and some others can attest that I am an agent of gameplay balance and competitive structure. I personally believe both opponents of similar skill should have nothing but their own minds and characters in a fair engine that did not bow to a specific player’s style. In short, a character for a player’s style is fine, but not an entire gameplay engine. And most of these engines are combo-centric.
So how do you guys feel about combos and how fighting games use them? Do you think they should flourish or succumb to more open systems that celebrates a broader range of player’s styles?