Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance: Round 1

I’m a sucker for a good story; I think most of us are.  A well-told tale transports you to a different world, a different universe, transforms you into someone you never thought you could be, and introduces you to people you never thought you could meet.  Stories terrify, inspire, inform, entertain and in the realm of video games add entirely new dimensions to the player experience.  We know that narrative in games is important (50+ hour long RPGs prove it), so after 20 years of fighting games why do the genre’s stories still suck?

Why don’t I have any idea what’s happening in Mortal Kombat?  What is going on in the Mishima Zaibatsu?  Does anyone know where the Alpha series fits into Street Fighter canon?  Welcome ye olde fighting game fanatics and storytelling strumpets to the first part of “Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance.”

During this series of posts I’m going to attempt to break down the reasons for the lackluster narrative and plot development in the fighting games of today.  Some are historical, like the first point I’ll be making, and some are theoretical, but in the end I hope to shed some light on the legitimate failings of today’s 1 vs. 1 fighters, their causes, and how developers and designers might be able to avoid these pitfalls in the future.  Let’s get started!

Picture courtesy of the incomparable Kineda.com

Level 1 – The Arcade

If any developer, designer, player, or writer absolutely needs to blame the current sorry state of fighting game stories on any one thing, they can blame it on the arcades, the place where this whole mad scene started.  The early ancestors of our beloved Street Fighters, KoFs, and Mortal Kombats saw their genesis in the arcades way back in the 1970’s and 80’s.  That’s where Ryu scarred the King of Muay Thai in the first World Warrior Tournament and the rest, as they say, is history.

Street Fighter hit arcades in 1987 and became an incredibly popular cabinet.  Without any formal explanation of how to pull off Ryu’s soon to be iconic special moves, players were forced to spend their hard-earned quarters figuring out the joystick motions and button pushes needed to throw their very own hadokens and shoryukens.  From there they would pit their skills against a host of martial arts experts in a bid to become the world’s greatest street fighter.  There was no plot, just the seed of a story trapped within Ryu’s drive to become the best, which has become a central theme in the Street Fighter mythos.

Street Fighter’s ending provides only a hint of Ryu’s masochistic obsession.  Thanks to Sonichurricane.com

And therein lies the first piece of the problem: the first incarnation of the most influential fighting game ever had no discernible plot.  Yet this dilemma is two-fold, the rest of the blame sitting solidly on the entire arcade mentality: player in – player out.  Think about it, most arcade games are incredibly difficult to just pick up and play well, requiring hours and hours and dollars and dollars to master sufficiently.  Combine that with flashy screen-obscuring explosions and break-neck speeds and only the players with the fastest reflexes and the best memory could ever hope to beat them.  Put all these elements into a cabinet, toss it into a crowded, distracting, noisy arcade and give players a single, solitary life (or three) and you’ve insured that gamers hoping to master the system will throw heaps of currency into your game’s gaping vacuous maw.

Why would a developer write an engrossing narrative for a game that was only supposed to be played for a maximum of five minutes per person?  Capcom wasn’t trying to forge a connection between the characters and players, but rather make a butt-load of money in a very short amount of time. They just so happened to create a compelling gameplay system for people to experiment with and exploit.  They knew they didn’t have much time to rope players into the experience, so better to grab them with their system than with a story.

As the arcade scene developed, more and more games copied the initial format of the Street Fighter franchise and its predecessors.  The “fight past a host of character in 1 vs. 1 fights ’til you reach the boss” formula remains unchanged to this day.  While the gameplay blossomed to include a variable cornucopia of new player choices: super meters, advancing guard, guard cancels, custom combos, dashing, aerial raves, and what have you, the format stagnated and would surely smell if anyone stopped to take a sniff.

Why don’t we?  Because we don’t need a great story if we have great gameplay, varied character design, and a community of players that wants to play at the highest level.  That’s what Street Fighter bred; a new generation of battle hungry fighting gamers, a hardcore group determined to compete and become the best.  At that level it doesn’t matter if you’re playing as the despicable dictator or the virtuous hero so long as you win.  That’s always been the draw, the one-on-one competition, Capcom knows it, and storytelling fell to the wayside.

Thus ends Round 1 of “Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance.”  Now you know what started this heinous snafu of craptastic character cliches and negligible narratives.  You can blame it on the arcades.  But while the arcade scene may be the progenitor of this mess, there are other, more diverse reasons for the sorry state of things so be sure to check back often so you don’t miss the next installment of “WFGSLS.




66 thoughts on “Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance: Round 1”

  1. Remember how, in all the buildup to MvC3, CAPCOM claimed they would have a professional story writer working on it, and the final product had Shuma Gorath (who gave Doctor Strange a run for his money) becoming host of a Japanese game show.
    So yeah, more than 20 years later, CAPCOM has apparently given up on even a pretense of storytelling, despite some of their other franchises (Resident Evil and Devil May Cry) being heavily story-driven, which may explain why they’ve been outsourced.
    Either that or they’re just absolutely incompetent.

    1. I do remember that and the gentleman’s name is Frank Tieri, a Marvel writer who’s probably best known for his work on Wolverine. I’ve met him once or twice and I follow his Twitter but I’m not quite sure what exactly he had to do with the game’s story. I heard that a comic came with the special edition. Did he write that? Regardless, I wouldn’t say that they’ve “given up” but rather storytelling in fighting games might be seen as a waste of time and resources, though you’ll notice that console released fighting games usually give players a bit more to chew on. I don’t expect a great story from a game like MvC3, or even the pretense of one, it’s the games with history and a digestible, tangible canon that I wish they would put some effort into. THANKS FOR THE COMMENT DUDER!

    2. Frank Tieri was responsible for a number of things. The over arching story where both worlds collide and Wesker and Dr.Doom team up to try and obtain the Cosmic power from Galactus (Comic sums that up with the Special Edition). He also wrote all the endings and dialogue as well as the taunts, win/lose phrases, quotes ect. Some exceptions is when it revolved around the Capcom characters he seeked assistance from Niitsuma the producer to help educate him on the backstory of each Capcom character.

      There was no promis of a really deep story ever, Seth and Niitsuma even said while there would be a better story it would’nt be the focus. The story is there just to make sense of everything. In MvC2 and 1 there was nothing there that showed how the worlds came about. Now there is. And finally Frank Tieri being a comic book writer knows how to make dialogue easy to relate to Western audience and was necessary if your gonna have characters like Deadpool or Dormammu in there.

      1. It’s a shame that the comic wasn’t made available to everyone because I like Tieri’s work and I’m really interested in fighting game stories (obviously). Ah well. Thanks for the info duder.

  2. Fairly nice article, but..

    “and what have you, the format stagnated and would surely smell if anyone stopped to take a sniff.”
    Vampire savior + guilty gear+3d fighters+capcom vs snk 2+kof2002+etc=stagnation?
    nope. As someone who has played plenty of genres thoroughly, like RTS, JRPG, WRPG, Grand strategy, shmups, FPSes, and various types of platformers, fighting games clearly stand out as probably the most dynamic and deep. It is a lot easier to get bored with the gameplay of most other genres, to “see through it” and feel like it’s artificial and feel no longer mentally and physically stimulated by it.
    Now, if you really treat video games more like novels and movies than like chess and basketball, then yeah, I can easily see boredom with the presentation, emotional connection, etc. But as far as gameplay goes, things like Vampire Savior, KOF, Guilty Gear, Soul Calibur and a bunch of smaller titles simply negate the idea of stagnation.

    Also, the arcade scene is not only to blame for the story mess, but for the genre’s glorious competitive depth. Formats give and take.

    1. I’m not saying that the format ie the gameplay, how you play the game, stagnated but rather the modes the games offer stagnated. Think about it, the majority of fighting games offer 5 modes: Arcade, Story, Training, Vs., Online vs. That hasn’t changed in 20 years. Mind you, this series doesn’t take into account gameplay, but rather the story of the games. Thanks for the comment!

      1. I would actually argue that that isn’t the case. I know that for a while Mortal Kombat had other modes, ranging from adventure style gameplay to RTS style trying to vary things up, though it was met with poor reviews I believe. But even in the current generation of fighters mission mode has become a staple and MvC3 has started throwing in shadow mode and the events. And perhaps the golden example of varied gameplay in a fighting game is the Tower of Challenge in the upcoming MK9. I would tend to disagree that there is any stagnation at all in the fighting genre, especially now that we’re witnessing a wonderful silver age of fighting games that’s causing a lot of developers to bring out their best.

      2. Mortal Kombat with adventure style gameplay? Are you talking about Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks? Mission Mode, the first that I ever experienced came with the release of Street Fighter 4 a mere 2 years ago. And when you mentioned RTS-Style did you mean that strange mode in Soul Calibur 3 where you could move around your characters on a strange board taking castles and stuff? I do remember Tekken 5 having an adventure mode that wasn’t very intriguing, but it did try to advance the story of Jin, the Devil Gene, and the Zaibatsu. But those hardly amount to anything resembling a renaissance in the fighting game genre. I will withhold judgement on the Tower Challenge, which was already done in Soul Calibur 4 though to a much more traditional degree. The fact remains that but for a few less than stellar examples, nothing much has changed in 20 years, though thank you for bringing up Mission Mode, I totally forgot about that 🙂

  3. Eh… you’re glossing over something that really should be touched on.

    Information present in the All About Capcom booklets regarding Street Fighter is quite funny, because many relevant things are touched upon. It outlines the experiences of the Street Fighter development team.

    Turns out that with Street Fighter 1, Capcom of America asked for a sequel because people in the United States really liked the idea of the versus fighting element. But what Capcom of Japan interpreted was that people really enjoyed the combat and setting, so they produced Street Fighter ’89, later renamed Final Fight. You’ll note that the bomb present at the continue screen in Street Fighter 1 becomes a staple of Final Fight. Capcom of Japan didn’t quite get that people like the special move motions they implemented and what not. It’s worth reading for fuller details on what I’m alluding to, but the gist is that you’re kind of glossing over important details to get to “versus fighting is great”, and Street Fighter 1 deserves a bit more credit than that.

    Street Fighter never quite gained popularity Japan until Street Fighter 2. Final Fight was more of a natural progression of the ideas present in Street Fighter 1’s core game and it shows. Street Fighter 1 really served as a template for two genres, not just one. That’s really worth noting in terms of directions taken and the ideas present. Because as far as the beat em up goes, that genre has definitely evolved in terms of presentation. It’s kind of hard to buy the “Arcade scene” as a reason for that when the developers clearly did what they wanted to, to an extent.

    1. I’m confused as to what your point is here? The Street Fighter/Final Fight snafu doesn’t have a place here, especially since I’m only specifically targeting the story of fighting games. It doesn’t seem to make a difference which games came out when because that still doesn’t change the arcade mentality. I’m not so interested in the how and why of a specific games release, but rather how they treat the story in each subsequent game. Street Fighter acting as a template for two games, while interesting, doesn’t have much bearing here. However, thanks for dropping this info man.

      1. My point is that the team pretty much did what they wanted, regardless of hardware. The premise for Mega Man was to make an arcade game that was really fun but also impossible to beat. One of the leads behind Street Fighter 1 went on to work on Art of Fighting, which has a much better presented story than Street Fighter 1. Strider Hiryu is an arcade game with cinematic cutscenes… like, to gloss over the fact that Street Fighter 1 spawned two types of games and then looking at the history of the development team, can you really say “Oh, they don’t put in a story because it’s an arcade game.” You could just as easily just add the ability to skip the scenes. It’s much more likely that Capcom jsut does whatever they want. The fact that Street Fighter 1 contains two separate ideas for games says a lot against the “It’s because it’s an arcade game” argument.

        The whole “Ryu scared Sagat” argument wasn’t even presented until Street Fighter 2 was made. I think it was more a case of Capcom screwing around than the hardware. There’s just so much evidence against “Capcom didn’t put in a story because it was an arcade game.”

  4. Substance being something that can only be given by story and plot seems kind of closed minded. After all, the depth in a good fighting game is the technical depth and/or competitive depth. Are those aspects of the game any less genuine or do they have any less substance? I think saying no is ignoring all the people who enjoy the games for those reasons and all the developers who spent hours upon hours working on a system that can last more than one playthrough.

    1. Whoa whoa whoa, hopefully you don’t think that I’m talking about the sheer totality of said “substance” as related to poor storytelling right? Hopefully I didn’t sound that whiny. I’m not focusing my efforts on trying to define and fighting games’ substance through the gameplay, but rather explain the reasons for a seemingly ignored chance at world building . Did you read the whole article? I touch on this at the end.

  5. To add to this, fighting game stories also fail because you need to come up with a reason why all these fighters are fighting and then why they are fighting you in a random order. World fighting tournaments or some artifact everyone is trying to find are the most common plot ever for these games. Then there’s production cost…

    Here, they must make a storyline for each character, because they don’t know what character you’ll be playing. With this in mind, whoever you play immediately becomes the protagonist of the storyline. That’s another problem. It ruins the chance for anything in-depth. You’re stuck with 1) Fighting random enemies until you reach 2) fighting character grudge match with rival, then finally 3) fighting the end-game boss that everyone fights. Then you earn your characters “if they won” ending. No alliances forged or lost; no friends becoming enemies or enemies becoming friends; no love-triangle or betrayals. Just you fighting until you get your “What if _____ won?” ending.

    Some games have attempted a story: for example, the story mode of Blazblue. It fails because you must read/listen through excessive amounts of text, with the occasional choice in-between. It’s easier to just read the wiki for the plot than to play the game. But one good step in the right direction is this: limiting what characters you can play, so that you play in the right order. I have to give props to Blazblue for trying.

    1. Thanks for the well thought out response man, these are all things that I’m going to try and touch on in my series. Greatest story mode ever? X-Men: Next Dimension. You could only choose certain characters during certain segments, not only forcing you to learn/play characters that you wouldn’t have otherwise, but really getting you engrossed in the story. There was no text, it was all cut scenes, and sometimes the battle conditions would be affected by plot (having to defeat an enemy faster than normal). I thought it was remarkably well done. However, that game got to use a crutch, it had 40 years of X-Men canon to lean on.

  6. I can answer your question. Capcom got real lucky when they hit paydirt with “Street Fighter 2” and they never bothered to flesh the story out because they were so busy trying to keep that gravy train rolling. The first “Street Fighter” was a modest hit, but it was nothing compared to the feeding frenzy started by the release of the sequel, Street Fighter 2. It’s rare when a sequel completely blows the original out of the water but that’s what happened with Street Fighter 2. The genre literally exploded overnight and there were fighting games everywhere.

    When other publishers saw the kind of money that Capcom was raking in, they hopped on the bandwagon and they ignored story elements, too as they were chasing that big payday. “Killer Instinct” was a great game but why were they fighting again?

    The fans, both the casuals and the hardcore, were too busy trying to beat the snot out of each other to really worry about a deeper story behind the game. You could be playing the game, trying to beat Bison and someone walks up, interrupts your game and if you lose, it’s like they took a quater from you. I know that after it happened to me, I personally emptied my wallet and blew my whole paycheck from my grocery bagging gig trying to get revenge on they guy that smoked my Ken with his Sagat.

    Now, some fans have always wanted a deeper story as well as deep gameplay, but I think we’re in the minority. When you think about it, Capcom is actually leaving plenty of money on the table. Street Fighter has plenty of beloved characters that people want to know more about, but I’ve learned not to beg people to take my money.

    Capcom is content with just putting out a game and having the story be a mish-mash jumble, because the majority of people don’t buy fighters with coherent storyline like SNK’s “King Of Fighters” or ARC Systemworks “BlazBlue”. When those games start to outsell Street Fighter or the Marvel series, then you’ll see some action.

    Truth be told, Marvel can’t tell coherent stories in their freaking comic books, so I’m not suprised by the lack of a story in “Marvel VS Capcom 3”.

    1. Haha, which questions are you answering? My series isn’t posed as a question, but as the beginning of an explanation. Thanks for the summation and you’ll definitely see some of this in my following posts. Definitely don’t agree with the “Marvel can’t tell coherent stories…” jazz but then I’m biased since I write for them. Good stuff bro.

      1. Sumo, I’m a fan of Marvel but I stand by what I said. They killed Johnny Storm? They Killed Captain America? Is the Kingpin ever going to appear in a Spider-Man comic again? There was no need for half of the events that Marvel has had recently. “Civil War” and “Secret Invasion” were terrible ideas and the people who thought that they were good ideas should have their fingers smashed with a large millstone.

        Speaking of Spidey, yeah it was a real good idea to have that cat from “Babylon 5” at the wheel. That show was treading water from day one and his work on Spider-Man was like having Ellen DeGeneres show up at a bachelor party as a stripper. A total letdown. That dude had Spider-Man getting beaten up by some clown dressed like Prince, who feed off the essence of people with powers based on animal totems. WTF?

        Yeah, I realize dude is a “professional” writer and he had his own tv show but he needed to be writing Spider-Man like Whoopi Goldberg needs to be doing nude scenes.

        Sumo, you work for Marvel but let me tell you that as a long time fan, I long for the days of Stan, John Byrne and Frank Miller. In fact, find Mark Waid, Tony Bedard, Chuck Dixon and Kurt Busiek–lock those cats up with long term deals and I’ll be happy.

      2. I suppose I see this differently from you just because I’m engrossed in sort of the business side of the equation along with my inner fanboy. Johnny will undoubtedly be back (don’t quote me on that incase he is in fact gone for good) and Captain America is back and better than ever. I think Civil War was an awesome idea, pitting hero against hero over issues of privacy and responsibility? Steve McNiven did some brilliant work and while I think we’re all fighting event fatigue, that was one of the more compelling events in the past couple of years.

        I like the Ellen Degeneres simile 🙂 but again, I really enjoyed the Morlun story arc and John Romita Jr. as always, did a top notch job with the art. I thought the Ezekiel character was a bit too gimicky, but other than that I thought it was solid. But then again, how long ago was that? That story must have been nearly ten years ago, maybe more. Obviously we have a difference in opinion here.

        I’m a long time fan as well and I don’t pine for the days of Stan Lee. Comics have become so much more and for it to move forward we can’t be continually focused on the past. There are some amazing comics out there man as well as some really brilliant writers for Marvel and for the rest of the companies out there, you just gotta give them a chance.

  7. I covered this a short bit ago on my own Blogspot blog as well, but it’s interesting to see another viewpoint on it. I definitely agree that it’s primarily the arcade scene that’s had the most impact on hurting fighting game stories, thanks to the “player in – player out” format you mentioned (which is a brilliant turn of phrase to describe it).

    To say that the meat of a fighting game lay in the gameplay would be an understatement of the worst kind. Back then, people weren’t inserting their quarters to listen to King Lear, they didn’t want to learn about War and Peace, they just wanted to punch each other in the face and fling magic energy balls at each other. In Street Fighter II, there were just a bunch of people who could leap nine feet in the air, spit fire, stretch their limbs, and do spinning kicks, and people would look at you funny for trying to make sense of it all. That’s not what they were interested in. What they were interested was kung fu fighting.

  8. Your article is claiming that in order for Fighting games to have substance, you need to have a good story. I think you are completely missing the point with fighting games. Think of it as Pro-wrestling: Sure, you have all those wrestlers creating a story, but mostly, you are just there to see the action. Narrative is mostly a side-feature, since most of the time, fighting games are meant to be competitive for human players, and when you are playing a competitive game (Video games, board games or even sports), narrative is only secondary. If fighting games were meant for single-player or co-op, and had terrible narratives, than yes, there is no substance in fighting games.

    1. Did you read the entire article? Did you even look at the title of the article? It’s “Why Fighting Game Stories lack Substance” not “Why Fighting Games Lack Substance.” I think you’ve missed the point of this post. Thanks for the comment though!

  9. Its true fighting game stories lack substance because the story is not needed for the overall enjoyment of the game. Take the most iconic game character for example Mario. When I first met his character in Super Mario brothers, it was a simple storyline. Mario went to each castle in 8 different worlds to rescue a princess who was being held by King Koopa. SMBRS was a simple story no depth and yet still engaging why, because of everything else within the world gave an allure that continued to keep me engaged. I compare it to being a story book with only pictures and no words. Same with Street Fighter it was the world, the different characters nad locations, with their own unique abilities and attributes and if I didn’t learn anything else about it that would have been enough for me. I can argue that not having an incredible storyline has made for some ridiculous characters but at the same time you can argue that almost every good storyline has some sort of comic relief. I would have loved to see some strides in the story. There was a great focal point dealing with the final battle of Ryu and Sagat in the first Street Fighter that left a Scar on Sagat’s chest and that was a step in the right direction. If Street Fighter had continued in this same manner by giving characters distinguished disfigurement like a limp caused from a previous battle, then those small things would have integrated into telling story. I’m interested to see what else you’ve got in store definitely are great subject.

    1. Thanks for the props man and I’m going to have a lot more content coming out in the future, touching on some of the things that you were hitting in your comment. Thanks!

  10. You know, I think, if any game series is really trying to push the story of things in the fighting medium, it’s Mortal Kombat. There’s always been story there, with intros giving the general plot, character profiles explaining backstory, and endings giving possible ways the story ends, with the next game giving some level of confirmation.

    The new Mortal Kombat (while also having what appears to be the best gameplay in the series by far) is taking this further with an entire story mode that covers the events of the game with fully voiced and detailed cutscenes, in between fights. Of what we know, with it opening on the conclusion to MK: Armageddon’s story, and moving to be both sequel and prequel as it retells the events of MK1-3 in cutscene form, but also with differences, as time is being altered.

    Add to that with all the modes that cover single player, and multiplayer (both online and offline), and it’s a meaty game. The Challenge Tower, Story Mode, Arcade Mode, Verses Mode, 1vs1, 2vs2 (with up to 4 people, if you want), Test Your Luck’s roulette for random match conditions if you want, a content filled Krypt, a decent sized roster (over 26 characters with unique styles of fighting, multiple costumes and fatalities), at least 30 stages (24 unique and 6 time variants, based on what I’ve seen), and that 2vs2 can also be done with Verses, Arcade, etc. The online having King of the Hill modes, Spectator Mode, lobbies and just joining friends, and that’s just all we know right now (or at least of what I can recall).

    I hope the game is good, does well, and inspires other companies not to skimp out on the content, but provide both good gameplay AND good amounts of content (that shouldn’t be mutually exclusive).

    All that said, I did enjoy your article. I agree that arcades did inspire the way fighting games developed. You want a game that allows for quick profit, and keeps them coming back for more, and the arcades allowed frequent quarter usage in fights both Player vs Game, and Player vs Player.

    Fighting games definitely benefited with the way they evolved, but now they can be able to evolved towards a more meaty experience, while still maintaining all of the improvements gathered over the last two decades or so.

    Though, what interested me in the article was that SFI’s popularity was in the US, but not so much in Japan, because I rarely ever hear the game discussed to any degree. Sure, SFII’s a popular game to talk about/play, but it seemed so rare to see more on the classic. I just find that rather interesting.

    But yes, I do wish fighting games could deliver on story more, while not ignoring the hardcore that love the genre so much as is. I think there’s more than enough ability in this day and age to satisfy more than one group.

    1. I hope the new Mortal Kombat is as awesome as you’re hoping, I really do. I agree that Mortal Kombat has been on the forefront of story development, but it’s been so mired in its own confusing continuity they’re going to need to retcon some stuff to make it easily accessible to new fans. That would be a huge step forward, especially fully fleshing out the story with cutscenes and everything. I’ll get into some of the other stuff you touch on bit more when I talk about consoles which are pivotal to enhancing the fighting game’s player experience. Great comment dude!

      1. Thanks! I tried to add what I could to the subject while also commenting on what you discussed.

        As for the story mode, while the plot happens as it did in the first three games, some details are changed through Raiden’s intervention with his past self. So, we’ll basically be getting the new canon of the series told out in full cutscenes (at least 2 and a half hours from what I’ve heard), so this should help with plotholes and confusing continuity.

        And I look forward to seeing the next part, as arcades really are only part of the progress of fighters. Eventually, they come home, then go online.

  11. Troll blog post is troll. Here is a hint, a series with a plot line is a bad series, period, end all. Stories make games bad. Zelda, ermmm try to figure that one out, Mario, good luck! Contra, oh boy, Castlevania, now there is a mind fuck. Quake, um…. errr… yeah, Unreal, haha.

    Good gameplay games rely on gameplay and not and crappy ass story. Bad games with horrid gameplay rely on a plot. If you are playing a game with a good plot, it’s a bad game and you need to hang up your mouse/controler/joystick and buy a blue ray player and just do it that way.

  12. Well, actually there is a very deep story in street fighter, Capcom may have not been very public about the plot but they have been very careful about it, let me show you: http://www.gamefaqs.com/arcade/583625-street-fighter/faqs/26094
    This is a summary of all the official history related information that Capcom has released about Street Fighter (including the already mentioned All About Capcom fighting games 1987-2000) and as you can see is pretty big.

    Now, I think it’s pretty rude to go and call a lack of substance in story. If you actually take some time and research the plots you can see they are very extended, even the old ones. Are they quality reading? not in most of the cases, but most of them are entertaining and as a PLUS (which is what story is in this genre) are ok.
    Taking for example guilty gear you can see that it has quite a story, but its not shove on to you, rather is an optional mode that you can access (a pretty well done by the way), but if you only play arcade mode you get the feeling that the story is a clunky mess.
    Anyway, as you mentioned before, since it is not a necesity, it is not taken care of. And when it does (for example blazblue robust story mode) almost nobody cares. So its kinda pointless (but appreciated).

    Lastly, the guy who was reffering about an MK with an adventure mode inside was refering to MK Deception (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsxPC1Tk6rU)

    TLDR, do your research, doesnt hurt. Fans can be very salty about details 😉

    1. If you have to go to gamefaqs.com to understand Street Fighter I think there’s a problem. I’ve read through this guide on more than one occasion (phenomenal read for those hardy enough to make it through) but the fact of the matter remains that if fans need to resort to actual, legitimate research to figure out the plot of a story, the developer dropped the ball. I understand what you’re saying here and I agree that some of the plot points in Street Fighter are deep, but they’re not well communicated. The greatest story never told isn’t a story at all.

  13. “X-Men: Next Dimension. You could only choose certain characters during certain segments, not only forcing you to learn/play characters that you wouldn’t have otherwise, but really getting you engrossed in the story. ”

    Actually, Blazblue’s story mode does have the “True Ending” which does force you to play with specific characters as they go through the canon timeline. I feel like fighting games have trouble making a good story for /every/ character involved, because half of the cast only exists to illustrate the setting of the universe, whereas the main characters in the story get a lot more substance. Of course, some games, like Guilty Gear have tons of small non-canon stories, although only BB makes any sense of it because they have the concept of the Continuum Shift to fall on.

  14. Well BB pretty much does well in this regard. Story Mode is almost a visual novel but when get to the true ending it makes sense.

  15. Since we are touching SF1, I think the biggest problem of the SF series is the great difference between SF1-2 and the rest of the series. We can’t say that SF1 had a bad story; it worked in simple fashion: there was that guy who participated in a fighting tournament and won, while the other guys had some minor profiles listed in the manual. There are great movies with that plot.

    Then SF2 came out and it had a really good story. Similar to SF1, most characters participated because they were professional fighters, and there also were two characters with a more developed story: Guile and Chun Li (at this point it should be noted that even these story-driven characters had fighting related jobs: soldier and policewoman). It all made sense, we had some world criminal holding a tournament for fun and a couple of heroes trying to get him while the other fighters fought for their own simpler reasons. Problem appeared when, after finishing the game, Capcom realized the huge hit they had, and figured that they should give Ryu a greater role as the Japanese character. And so, after SF2, we got a vagabond fighting Hitler to save the world, lowering the bar of sense and opening the door to fortune tellers and schoolgirls. And body-switches. And the dark side of the Force. And an elite guard made of kidnapped underage girls.

    That’s a big problem of most fighting games. They don’t really have a solid plan for storyline and its tone. They typically feature a cast of colourful characters and then they tell us they are the strongest fighters, fighting to save the world while having all sort of convoluted connections between characters to try to make them deep. The games with the best stories were the ones that chose an option and just went for it. Games like the first Mortal Kombats and SF1/SF2 featured fighters who fought, and their stories worked perfectly. Games like Art of Fighting or Last Bronx featured local stories with tough guys battling it out, and they also worked. It was the useless additions of stuff what killed most stories, especially since, as you say, some games were not initially meant to have that kind of stuff.

    I totally concur with your second paragraph. I have no fucking idea of what’s supposed to happen in SF4. And neither does Capcom.

  16. Once again someone who has seemingly never been inside an arcade before demonises arcade games as giant hoover-stylised cabinets that suck all the change out of your pockets as you walk past. Developers don’t actually make money directly from coins going into the machine (well, until AE and CS2). The design philosophy has always been about striking a balance between consumer and operator; it has never been about daylight robbery no matter how much people muse otherwise.

    One thing you can ‘blame’ arcade games for is providing the bedrock of skill-based gaming that has all-but evaporated catering to the modern generation, replaced with ‘narrative’ and games where mashing a single button for 50 hours is considered acceptable.

    Arcade games have real people you meet and interact with, you don’t need some subtext about a moody anti-hero saving the world from a camp Russian super villain for their ‘story’ to be interesting.

    1. I’ve been to many an arcade, spent a lot of time playing Soul Calibur 3 in East Lansing at Pinball Pete’s, though nothing really comparable to the Japanese scene. I did visit Akihabara while I was exploring Tokyo a while back. I think I went to… Taito? A really big Sega place too… Anyway, so an arcade isn’t about making money but rather striking a balance between consumer and operator? What does that even mean?

      I think what’s important here is recognizing that arcades have all but disappeared in the US, making arcade-style games a thing of the past. While a small section of the gaming market, the hardcore fighting gamer, will only ever need a solid arcade-style fighting experience, the genre can’t be expected to grow, nor the community, if no attempts at diversification and evolution are made.

      Arcade games do not have real people you meet and interact with, arcades do, so when you’re playing an arcade game all alone at home on your console, what kind of experience are you getting? You’re getting a tired format that doesn’t appeal to a very large audience for very long.

  17. I was disappointed that Marvel and Capcom backed out of their promised narrative in favor is simplifying things…again.

    On a broader note, I blame the state of the fighting game community. These days, all people focus on regarding this genre is who they want to take to tournaments. It’s a shame that no one knows or cares why the characters they use do what they do or how they do it. They just care who’s top tier and what combos to use.

    This got really bad once the genre went online. Not you’ve got achievements and gamerscores to worry about. Not to mention the risk of more arrogant players shunning you for your lack of skill or whatever.

    With all that fluff in the way, it’s only natural for narrative to lose focus and be reserved for the occasional OVA, comic book or what have you. And even then, those barely get any promotion outside of random bundles or “Special Editions”.

    Personally, I’m not likely to enjoy a game that doesn’t have a story if it’s meant to have one. I want to have a purpose beyond “saving the princess” or “defeating thine enemy”. Maybe some are content with that simplistic way of thinking, but not I. No purpose means wasted time. As far as fighting games are concerned, the competitive side is secondary. I’m focused on the heart of the characters I’m using. Sure it’s cool to discover a new technique or combo, but winning with them isn’t my sole focus. If all you care about is victory, you’re as much of a heartless glory hound as Adon.

    I admit to being rather bitter about losses myself. A close one I could accept. Getting destroyed was another matter entirely. If I could be defeated that easily at something I thought I was good at, what did that say about my other abilities?

    However, I’ve recently made it a point to not concern myself about such trivial things. My focus now is where it should be, to understand the characters I’m using and to learn from them to better my own life. In that respect, Ryu is my main character. Why? Because he is driven to better himself as a fighter and, by proxy, as a person. He does not have many friends, sure, but the ones he has made (Ken Masters, Chun-Li, Sakura Kasugano, Guy, Guile, Cammy White, even Sagat) are close companions he would gladly risk everything for. Heck, even Evil Ryu represents something: the constant struggle between good and evil that we all face, whether we know it or not.

    How did I come to realize all this? Simple. THE NARRATIVE. If it wasn’t there, it’d just be a fighting game. That’s it.

    Long story short (too late, I know), narrative is more important than most gamers realize. It gives the game a heart and soul and should not be ignored for a quick buck.

  18. Nice article. ^_^

    I too have often wondered how you could implement a good story into fighting games. I don’t think any fighting game developer has quite yet reached that “sweet spot” in terms of balancing the storyline with the game play. Blazblue is a step in the right direction with its story mode, but I know many people are put off by the lengthy dialogue exchanges. I feel that these cut-scenes would be more entertaining if they were anything more than just stills of each character talking to one another. Cut-scenes are definitely the way to go though. With BB, it gives players a sense of time, place, and purpose. With tourney style games (i.e. SF, Tekken), there is too much randomness with the “what if this character won” scenarios to have a coherent story.

  19. Reason why fighting game stories don’t work is because stories can only have ONE canon storyline.

    It makes finishing the game with any character other than the main character (for story’s sake) redundant.

    1. But how easily could that be rectified? So easily! We as fighting gamers are so close-minded because we haven’t been shown another way to do anything. Hopefully this series will shed some light on new ideas for narrative in fighting games.

    2. It doesn’t have to be that way. Even if only the main character beats the boss, the ending could detail what happens to the character after the events of the game. Or, maybe not all characters even fight the main boss, like in some Tekken games. Sometimes you’ll get an ending after beating Heihachi or Jin with certain characters, unless I’m remembering incorrectly. If you reveal in your sequel that a certain character never encountered the boss of a previous game, why give you the option of fighting that boss in the first place? I feel like it’s more of a combination of apathy on the developers part (due to the reasons mentioned in this article) and fear of doing something different.

    3. Street Fighter Alpha 2 came close to having a simple but effective method of telling a story – everyone has their own personal rival and end boss and true end boss (Shin Akuma). Endings didn’t usually contradict each other with no glaringly obviously contradictions. Everybody in the game is wandering the earth for their own personal reasons and meet up and fight with the other characters. It fell apart in SFA3 where everyone had Bison as their end boss (except Bison who had Ryu) – this lead to many “what-if” endings. The rival matches were more interesting though; some characters reference battles they had with other characters – E. Honda tells Sakura that he previously had a battle with Ryu, which he does when you play as E.Honda. Although I don’t want the whole thing to be entirely self-referencial, it would be more interesting if events that happen in one character’s storyline impacted another character’s storyline and the only way to understand everything is to play through the game with every character.

  20. I agree with @yiggs. Sure they could flesh out much more involved storylines in these games for each character, but there are too many conflicting circumstances.

    For example, if Lui Kang and Raiden are on the same “team” trying to save Earthrealm, then LK’s story could never have him fighting Raiden. So LK kills Baraka, and there’s a cutscene showing his death and advancing the narrative. But then what if a 2nd player joins and picks Baraka? How do they fill that gap? What if somebody avenges Baraka’s death in the story? But then the next player picks Baraka? What if the 2nd player picks Raiden, who was setup to be LK’s teammate in the story? How do you explain all of these matchups?

    I guess my point is that in a game that’s meant to be multiplayer, especially with the number of characters current games demand, any story tied to the action on the screen gets muddied very quickly… whereas a game like Heavy Rain can have a character die and then they’re just gone for the rest of the game. Even MK with their crazy story is all to fill in the events between games, or to give some context to new characters.

    Looking forward to the next installment though!

  21. dunno you but i feel that some games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, hell even King of Fighters have good and deep stories
    i think that its more a thing on how lazy is capcom in even trying to do some sort of background story for their chars

  22. Hey, I like the article! Can’t wait to read more. However, while I’ve only skimmed the comments, I feel like you haven’t addressed BlazBlue. That game had a legitimately good storyline. It took about 5-6 hours or so to get to the end of it, and there was even a twist ending! Plus, the story had a really interesting narrative style, and without going too much into it, I can’t off the top of my head name a plot that similar to it.

    Also, and I know this is sort of getting obscure, but remember Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure? They had a story mode in that game that basically paralleled the entire story manga from start to finish. What’s special about this story mode is that it really incorporated the fighting system into the story. So, for example, you’d get a bonus or open up a new story branch if you win a fight in the same manner as the character won in the manga. You might have to beat a character on the right side of the screen, or use no super moves, or finish with a certain move, or win by timeout, etc. The story was actually a good representation of the manga, too!

  23. Lack of plot focus has been mostly a matter of resource allocation: you want an arcade game to do well, you first need people to pay attention to it – so you have those attract sequences/intro animations.
    Once people are playing, the focus must be the gameplay itself, so the effort is on making sure that part works well – that’s time not spent animating scenes or adding dialogue. You leave that for the ending, as a (brief) reward of sorts, and historically for arcades the (creative) effort has been minimal.

    Fortunately console gaming has helped change that – but MvC3 certainly didn’t bother to question the reason for those, and it shows (I’m yet to buy the game, it’s a complicated balance between finally being able to play Haggar with a full move set, and everything else I don’t like about the game).

    You might want to give the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series a look – as Neo-Geo series, they were released almost simultaneously in arcades and the Neo-Geo console, so they allowed themselves some room to be enjoyable and nicely-paced single-player experiences, even if rough around the edges, considering nearly non-existent focus on plot at the time they were first released.

    The first game of each series has a simple plot: in FF, it’s tournament-based with a pinch of revenge, and AoF is simple enough to work like a bosses-only variation of a Final Fight plot, two guys hitting the streets to beat up people on the way to go rescue a girl.

    But the way they share a setting despite taking place in different decades, in the same city, leads to some interesting situations and implications.

    I recall getting a hold of the 1st FF game and seeing mentions in the manual of things like Tung having taught Geese and Jeff (whom Geese killed), Terry and Andy’s (foster) dad – apparently Jeff was the prized pupil and Geese was jealous. Back then I thought “who cares?”. The game didn’t need that, it didn’t seem to affect things in the actual game, although I guess them bothering to give puny bit of plot to non-playable characters was better than nothing. In the actual game, you’d mostly get Geese commenting on your progress and on the info he dug up on your character, as he eventually prepared to take you on once he became aware of the “revenge for Jeff’s death” motivation.

    Fatal Fury 2 comes around, the roster changes almost completely while more characters become playable. One such character, Cheng, turns out to also have been a student of Tung’s, and is not a guy one would feel very proud of being associated with. Tung is not a young man, we’re aware of him having had 3 students, 2 of them apparently involved in dodgy business who seems to not put his lessons to use, and one dead at the hands of one of the others – an implied failure to maintan a legacy with dignity.

    Art of Fighting 2 is released. Turns out Geese used to be a cop, and was involved with the people behind the kidnapping in AoF1. While that game mostly revolves around a tournament plot, it has dialog scenes for every possible match, and it’s about the Sakazaki family retaliating from the events of the 1st game. Ultimately they find Geese (who’s planning the building of the tower where the final battle of FF1 will take place) and Ryo gets very close to beating him (his moveset is notably different, missing the counters he’s known for), but Geese manages to escape when the lights go out – he is later seen commenting on how he needs to do something about Jeff, perhaps to prevent situations like the one he just escaped.

    FF3 an Fatal Fury Real Bout are released years later, revolving around people looking for ancient chinese scrolls implied to grant immortality – Geese has them by the end of FF3 beaten out of a couple of chinese twins possessed by their ancesters, and by RB everyone is dealing with him – he has his last battle then, which ends with him falling from his tower.
    Terry, his opponent and foster son of a man he killed, actually tries to save him, but he refuses – perhaps the memory of his escape from Ryo still haunts him, and being helped by an enemy would be more than he’d stand for – so he lets himself fall to his death, with a grin on his way down.

    Meanwhile, one of the twins he beat in the previous game, Chonrei, is getting a hold of the scrolls, and under protest from his brother, destroys them and the power that comes with them.

    A later games, Real Bout 2, while mostly plotless, would be remarkably consistent on a couple of different endings: Tung is now training Chonrei. An aging master who’s teachings seemed to have gone to waste found a student with the willpower to do the right thing despite personal cost.

    Later still, the plot of the 1st FF game would be retold in Fatal Fury Wild Ambition, and it would cover an important moment – in its intro we see Geese, with his younger AoF2 looks, confronting Jeff in unarmed combat, ending with Jeff’s death.
    While before that it could have been speculated that murder could have been by firearm or other impersonal methods, FFWA showed Geese fighting his fellow martial arts student whom their master had picked as a successor – someone who was supposed to be better than him, someone who should be able to beat him, like Ryo had practically done not that long ago.
    I like to think he was ashamed of himself for running away in AoF2, and decided to test himself on someone that should be better than him – it turns out, he won, but FFWA tosses in other subtle plot points, in the form of another former teacher of Geese’s, Toji Sakata, who deals more with grabbing and holding techniques, which are closer to Geese’s style in his modern appearances (and yet another was mentioned in FF3’s backstory, Mary’s grandfather).
    He beat his master’s successor, but he kept trying to learn and improving himself, developing a style of his own (I’m reminded of a dialogue in the 2nd Kill Bill movie about Bill collecting father figures…).

    By Garou MotW, we see Geese had a son, and while he seems to have had little contact with him, be bothered to pass on to him the essentials of what he learned.

    I figure that’s a fair amount of story for a small amount of characters, even if distributed throughout several games. Dig up more games in more SNK series and you’ll find a lot more, but I like the South Town/FF/AoF games for their fairly grounded plot for the genre, compared to KoF’s resort to clones and ancient forces at times.

    Recent games have managed to do a lot of things right, like not bothering with the concept of “rounds” for non-tournament fights – hopefully as times goes by we’ll see more things now taken for granted being challenged for the sake of more eloquent story-telling.

    And what I’ve seen so far of the Subspace Emissary mode in Smash Brother Brawl makes me optimistic toward the future – decent plot being told with absolutely no words.

    Even if it’s a genre where violence is nearly always the solution to all problems. Actually, the 1st Dissidia plays with this in Onion Knight’s confrontation with Exdeath.

    But hey, what do I know, I’m just a guy who plays fighting games for the plot.
    A game’s mechanics can change with each iteration, so whatever you’ve mastered in one might be useless in the next (must be a bit annoynig for the tournament folks), but a decent story and set of characters can be timeless (and forever marketable).

    1. Brilliant comment. I’ve only played a few of the Fatal Fury games but I’m glad you noticed that console gaming made the arcade mentality negligible. Great stuff man.

  24. One of the above posters reminded me of one of CAPCOM’s latest attempts to tell a real story: The Ties That Bind.
    It featured a completely gratuitous scene of the world’s worst ginger, Crimson Viper, torturing poor Cammy, including electrocuting her genital area and breasts, just to get Ryu to give into the Satsui No Hado. She’s never seen after this.
    So maybe it isn’t a bad thing for the Street Fighter series to feature little to no actual storylines.

  25. I wanted to comment but Ryan Brown took my speech and just killed it.. Took what i wanted to say and perfected it… However I will just say this article is great. I’ve asked a few friends who are SF addicts what they think of the story and the usual response is “I don’t care about the story I just wanna fight people” Further going to what Ryan said. The tourney scene and online scene has really killed off the need for a story line for good.

    I can’t say all fighters do this fortunately. Blaz Blue CS on the console does have a rather indepth story mode you can play. Also I find KOF’s story pretty intriguing because there is resources for you to find out what exactly is going on. The fact that it’s had Arc’s is great too. Ditto Guilty Gear…

    Anyway thanks for this amazing article hope the rest is out soon! I think I’ll do a video on this for YT as well as its something thats been on my mind as well.

  26. “Why don’t we? Because we don’t need a great story if we have great gameplay, varied character design, and a community of players that wants to play at the highest level. That’s what Street Fighter bred; a new generation of battle hungry fighting gamers, a hardcore group determined to compete and become the best. At that level it doesn’t matter if you’re playing as the despicable dictator or the virtuous hero so long as you win. That’s always been the draw, the one-on-one competition, Capcom knows it, and storytelling fell to the wayside.”

    Not to be snarky, but I honestly don’t see a problem here. I think you’ve shot whatever argument you’re building towards in the foot with this one observation.

    You are correct in your historical assessment that fighting games’ narrative capability is limited by its arcade origins. However, I honestly do not believe that these games NEED a coherent narrative — and I think I am vindicated by the two-decade iconic status of Street Fighter (and other fighter franchise) characters, even in the minds of people who no longer play fighting games.

    These characters were designed to be icons rather than characters because arcade players would not have the time to experience a full-fledged narrative. At the same time, ever since Street Fighter 2’s precedent, there cannot be one ironclad player avatar to frame the narrative through. We can’t suddenly go back and decide “this is Ryu’s story, he is the focal point of the narrative, we have to render Ken and Chun-Li and Sagat and M. Bison unplayable so it doesn’t mess up the narrative”.

    (By that same token, we can’t cop out and have every playable character ending be like “congratulations, but Ryu still wins, because you had the audacity to select a side character/villain instead of Our Hero”. Who wants to slog through twelve stages of fireballs and uppercuts just to be a footnote in Ryu’s history?)

    As a result of this precedent, pretty much any “traditional” fighting game narrative (I’ll get to Guilty Gear/BlazBlue in a second) has to be structured to artificially elevate pretty much any character to protagonist status. I do not view this as a WEAKNESS of the genre, but as a unique strength of a very different kind of video-game aesthetic.

    What you have to understand in order to enjoy a fighting game without worrying about how dumb the “in-game” narrative is, is that you’re not really playing it for the sake of your character’s narrative. The real story of a fighting game is the story of YOU (sorry for how corny that sounds), the player, selecting a charismatic character with unique strengths and unique weaknesses, and using that specific skillset to overcome any and all challengers, be they human or CPU-controlled. Your character is a conduit for your own video-game greatness, and it’s up to you to assemble inspiration and/or humor from your choice of character and what they represent to you.

    (“I’m playing M. Bison because he’s a drug lord with the power of flight. That’s pretty cool.” “I’m playing Ryu/Sagat because everyone else thinks he’s boring and cheap. I AM the devil’s advocate, baby!” “I’m playing Dan because he sucks in the story, but Capcom accidentally made him incredibly powerful to play as in this version of the game. Now THAT’S comedy!”)

    If you can get down with the amorphous absurdity of the fighting-game story experience, it can be just as rewarding as a more structured video-game narrative, whether you play fighting games with other people or not. This is why I feel that recent “story mode” endeavors in games such as BlazBlue are actually detrimental to the fighting-game aesthetic. It’s much less the insipid worst-of-visual-novel-meets-worst-of-shonen-manga plotline of BlazBlue story mode (an essay in itself) that offends me as it is how that narrative baggage forcibly spills over into the otherwise divorced “in-fight” experience.

    It’s one thing when Chun-Li and Bison have their brief little two-line Inigo Montoya moment at the start of the round. It’s an efficient formality that’s over with quickly so that the players can get right down to the real narrative — who’s going to win the fight between Satanic flying dictator and big-booty Chinese cop? But all throughout BlazBlue, even when you’re pelting Litchi with a brutal Tager combo, you have to put up with their whining about “oh boo hoo Litchi, why did you have to leave our awesome science club to rescue your old boyfriend from being a bee-spewing blob?” and “oh Tager why can’t you understand, this man needs help, being a bee-spewing blob ain’t easy!”. Would it kill you people to just shut up and FIGHT? All this insipid anime bitching accomplishes is to cheapen both the fighting AND what few merits the story possesses.

    I’m not saying “don’t have a story, stories are dumb”…just please, don’t beat me over the head with it. Let the absurdity of your game speak for itself without bludgeoning the player with “HEY THIS IS IMPORTANT, DON’T MASH THROUGH THIS”.

    In conclusion, no, fighting game narratives can’t appeal to everybody. It’s an acquired taste, and it’s not necessarily superior to the narrative structure of other genres. But I really don’t think the style needs to be bent over backwards to emulate other genres’ styles just to chase some imagined legitimacy. These are GAMES before anything else. The player’s own subjective, absurd experience should always be the first and most important part of any story a game attempts to create.

    That’s my take on it, anyway.

    1. I really like the thought that you put into this, however this isn’t an opinion paper. Just like the majority of us, you’re only talking about fighting games from what you’ve experienced and you’re not looking at where the narrative “could” go. You’re not thinking about the multitude of new ways a narrative could strengthen the game, and the ways to go about that, as a whole because honestly, it’s never been done well before. I don’t think that fighting games “need” a coherent story either, but I do think that it would help to create a more well-rounded experience for the player if they had one and open up more avenues for successful cross-media opportunities (comic books, movies, tv shows, etc.).

      Also, why do people keep saying things like

      “What you have to understand in order to enjoy a fighting game without worrying about how dumb the “in-game” narrative is, is that you’re not really playing it for the sake of your character’s narrative.”

      Hopefully that comment wasn’t directed at me, because I enjoy fighting games to an extreme degree and I “understand” just fine, but really why do players have to be selective about how he or she enjoys a game? Why should a player have to forget about the “in-game” narrative, something that’s been put forth by the developer (no matter how haphazardly), to enjoy a fighting game? These sort of arguments always confuse me, as though there is a right and wrong way to go about enjoying a game instead of holding a company like Capcom to a higher standard when it comes to developing their beautifully vibrant fictional world.

      “The real story of a fighting game is the story of YOU (sorry for how corny that sounds), the player, selecting a charismatic character with unique strengths and unique weaknesses, and using that specific skillset to overcome any and all challengers, be they human or CPU-controlled.”

      This is NOT “the real story,” this is merely your experience playing the game, we need to make a distinction there. Also, you may feel that the recent story mode endeavors are detrimental, but really they are part of a dedicated “story mode,” which attempts to further canon. You don’t need to play it and from there on out, you had a great comment, but it turns into a bunch of opinionated BlazBlue bashing.

      I think what’s important to get from this article isn’t that fighting games need or don’t need a story, I don’t think that I’ve ever said that, but rather why they might benefit from one that is well written and implemented. This series of articles attempts, as unbiasedly as possible I hope, to address reasons why fighting games don’t have good narratives. I didn’t shoot myself in the foot with that comment, but rather put forth probably the biggest reason why fighting games don’t have great stories: we, as players, have never needed them. We may or may not need them, but why don’t we have them? That’s the question I’m hoping to answer.

  27. I see how fighting games are in need of some juicy storyline, but just think about how Sumo wrote the article. Fighting games were meant in mind for a quick five minutes and get more playthroughs done in less time. Looking at how old RPGs take almost 110+ hours just to get the overall tagline of “I’m good, he’s bad, and in the end the road to defeat him was epic”, but this is acomplished in what-seven minutes of playing SF4 where Ryu vs Sagat ‘destined battle’ the tagline was “lets have an epic rematch” and it required no backtrack history of SF knowledge, and yet the overall theme is still getting across.

    It can be seen in most other games where a few lines can intrigue users to get more backstory which they may or may not fabricate depending on whats given to them in the game(s). What’s important is the proportion of time that this game-player epiphany amounts to, a ten-to-hundred hours for the most genre defining games but less than 10 minutes for a fighting game both new or old.

  28. Actually, the Blazblue series has an interesting and deep story that can only be fully uncovered by playing and replaying the story mode from each character’s perspective. There’s even extended info that’s carried on in animated bonus segments. Now that I’ve tried a fighting game with a real story, it may be hard to go back – at the least, simpler games will seem archaic. You seem to be writing about a hypothetical world where only Capcom makes fighters, maybe to prop up the assertion that fighting game stories lack substance? Admittedly many do, but the use of absolutes here really shreds the credibility of the argument.

    Pieces like “The “fight past a host of character in 1 vs. 1 fights ’til you reach the boss” formula remains unchanged to this day. While the gameplay blossomed to include a variable cornucopia of new player choices: super meters, advancing guard, guard cancels, custom combos, dashing, aerial raves, and what have you, the format stagnated and would surely smell if anyone stopped to take a sniff” come across as not only ignoring whole franchises like BB, and KoF, but even the birth of and experimentation with 3D fighters, and the existence of brawlers since before SF even existed. It also sounds like an attack on the genre as a whole. You think all fighting games have stagnated? Or that only the stagnant ones are fighting games? Maybe you just don’t appreciate the differences anymore?

    1. “Now that I’ve tried a fighting game with a real story” seems to add credibility to my argument. You’ve played one fighting game with a real story? ‘Nuff said.

      You’ve misunderstood my quote sir. The format of the gameplay, that is to say the staple of almost all fighting games, the 1 vs. 1 arcade component in which you just fight through a multitude of enemies to finally reach the boss, has remained unchanged in 20 years. That is an undeniable truth. For the Arcade segment of this series yes I’m using mostly Capcom examples, but that’s because Capcom created the most influential fighters of the period, defined the genre, and their success undoubtedly led to the creation of BlazBlue and KoF.

      In what way have 3D fighters changed the Arcade Mode experience? In Bloody Roar you fight through a host of enemies til you reach Xion, Uranus, or whomever. In KOF: Maximum Impact it’s the same. Soul Calibur has tried, multiple times, to create a decent story experience yet for me it still seems to fall flat. Do I think fighting games have stagnated? In terms of gameplay absolutely not! However, the ways in which the story is conveyed through the Modes leaves much to be desired.

      1. I think it’s largely a matter of semantics. If you’d said that many fighting games are like this, I’d agree wholeheartedly, but to say this is just how fighting games are makes it hard to take seriously when immediate exceptions spring to mind.

        I think it’s pretty broad to say the format stagnated, but if you only mean the progression through the game, then I agree that it’s common and didn’t see what you’d meant. Still, I think this is much bigger than fighting games – 2D shooters, 3D shooters, brawlers, even platformers typically pit you against a level boss on each stage, then a powerful final boss. The only difference in fighting games is that most tournament games (as opposed to Double Dragon, Battletoads, Final Fight, Devil May Cry, God of War, Bayonetta, etc) don’t have peons and modern examples typically don’t have minigames to pace the boss fights.

        I agree that in an arcades you’re not going to see a huge deep story. We’re also not going to see Final Fantasy in arcades any time soon, and even Half-Life 2 arcades are rare. Home releases can expand on it like BB did however, and only time will tell if this becomes a trend. I think it’s an inopportune time to declare that fighting game stories haven’t changed in 20 years since they recently changed, and now you can essentially play a visual novel with fighting and branching story paths with alternate plot lines and endings.

        As others have mentioned, there were various experiments in game progression too, like MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero, MK Shaolin Monks’ Mission Mode, Soul Calibur’s “Battle Theater,” Tekken 5’s Adventure Mode, or Tobal’s Quest Mode. Even if not masterpieces of storytelling, they certainly break up the formula of 1-on-1 fights capped with a boss that you say hasn’t changed to this day. Just because they don’t represent a “renaissance” in fighting games doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen and that no one is innovating in both the past and present.

        So as a general trend, I can see what you’re getting at, but I think the use of generalizations hurts the argument when it’s so hard to ignore all the exceptions to the absolutes that you’re declaring.

      2. In the recent past there has been a definite move to change the way stories are told in fighting games, absolutely, but the glaring exceptions that spring to mind are just that, exceptions, and very minor exceptions at that. I’m actually getting into this in my next post, but when you say “you can essentially play a visual novel…” you can do that in BlazBlue… that’s it. I think that the Arcade Mode is an intrinsic part of any fighting game, but again, it cuckolded the development of different ways to tell a fg’s story. The games that you’ve mentioned are great examples of experimentation but Mythologies wasn’t a fighting game technically, rather a sidescrolling adventure game hoping to expand the MK universe in a different way, and so in my mind it doesn’t count. “Battle Theatre” didn’t attempt to further the story of Soul Calibur itself, but rather 2 warring countries with no bearing on the fate of Soul Edge, but you hit the mark with Tekken 5’s Adventure Mode. That one counts for sure.

        I agree there’s innovation, but it’s relatively new innovation and often times still encumbered by arcade roots. The one great example that comes to mind is still X-Men: Next Dimension’s story mode, but I’ll get into that in a bit.

  29. One of the better attempts at storyline creation from a fighting comes from the King of Fighters series, particularly the Orochi saga. But part of the reason why I know so much about the story is because SNK embedded each story within it’s gaming how-to guides. Not only was each of Kyo’s move given detailed ways on how to apply it in the game, but it also gave me a description of how he learned that particular move and why. Now because I started playing KOF later (dream match 98 on Dreamcast) it never occurred to me that I was actually learning a storyline. What do you think, sumoslamman?

    Great article
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