Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance: Round 3

Hello again fighting game folk.  I’m sorry it’s been so long but I’ve had a ton of crap to do and while I’ve been writing somewhat consistently, I haven’t had the time to sit down and commit it all to the blog.  No longer!  I’m happy to present the third installment of WFGSLS, and this time we’re focusing on what might just be the most sensitive issue in the series.  Let’s dive in!

Round 3 – The Game and Its Players

If you want to boil a fighting game down to its most pure component what do you get?  Give up?  The essence of a fighting game is the competition it fosters.  At their heart fighting games are all about facing and defeating opponents, digital or human, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is the fight.  What matters is the victory!  I feel like I’m channeling a little Ryu here.

One of the most brilliant moments in fighting game history - Courtesy of Joe Madureira and Udonentertainment.com

I think of the fighting games of today like a game of pickup basketball.  To play and enjoy you don’t need any back story, character development, or an overarching narrative.  You need a ball, a net, and at least one other person.  There’s nearly infinite strategy and depth in a game of one-on-one basketball: a million ways to move and react depending on your opponent’s positioning, who has the ball, what you know about the other player, and so forth but it’s a very bare bones experience, that is to say, no frills attached.

And a majority of the community likes their fighting games this way.  In the heat of the moment no one cares that Liu Kang is fighting for the fate of Earth Realm or that Bison killed Charlie.  What matters is your spacing, the frame advantage on your attacks, whether or not you’re safe from punishment, and what your meter looks like.  Hardcore fighters are absolutely satisfied with that experience and that’s the inherent problem with fighting games and narrative: for many players, the competition and gameplay is enough.

The rise of the competitive arcade scene and the birth of home-grown tourneys and high-profile international tournaments like SBO and EVO undoubtedly adds credence here.  These guys and gals gather to test their might against the best in the world, not talk about the subtle intricacies of their character’s back story.  I’m pretty sure Mike Ross doesn’t play Honda to prove that sumo’s the strongest sport in the world, just like Justin Wong doesn’t use Rufus to get revenge on every Ken player he’s forced to fight against.  They fight to prove they’re the best, and that’s all they need.

Seth and Skisonic probably aren't talking about their favorite Street Fighter story moments - via Kotaku.com

Here’s a bit of proof I’ve sniped from the comments over at Shoryuken.com in response to my previous posts:

“From the day I picked up a controller to play X-men VS Street Fighter, and Street Fighter Alpha 3. I never cared for the story. Although it’s my personal opinion, all professional players should feel the same.  We didn’t come to hear stories. We came to fight.” ~ Odilon

“because no one really gives a damn. I would hope that the developer invests in the engine, balance, characters and extensive testing etc so my fighting game has the best possible gameplay. If the effort into the god damn story suffers, so be it.” ~ sebmaq

“With all the stuff there is to focus on in a fighting game, I actually prefer having less story so I can soak everything in.”  ~ ChapterB

“Why are people so obsessed with story in fighting games? It’s a fighting game. It’s about the mechanics not the dramatics. If you want a good story, go read a book.” ~ Jedah Doma

I just love that last one, “If you want a good story, go read a book.”  Anyway, so I’m leveling blame at the nature of fighting games, but also at the community that demands nothing more of them.  That might seem a little foolish, to blame poor narratives on players just because they enjoy what fighting games provide, but when their attitudes feed the continued development of fighters without adequate stories, it makes a little more sense.  Why should developers add story if the sales say they don’t matter?  Really, these two problems are connected and feed off of each other, a tale of souls and swords eternally retold.

Now keep in mind that I’m not trying to vilify anyone here.  If you love fighting games and could care less about the story, more power to you and it should be pretty apparent that you’re not alone.  Yet I think this mindset allows for the stagnation of the genre.  I remember reading a few comments saying that fighting games “can’t” tell good stories because it’s not in their nature, that they’re not built for it.

“Fighting games are not the stage for compelling story.” ~ bradlee289

That sort of thinking honestly saddens me and it insults the creativity and ingenuity of developers and designers while putting false limitations on the fighting game genre as a whole.  Just because we haven’t seen a great story or story mode in fighters doesn’t mean it’s not possible, it just means that we’ve become so familiar with “how fighting games should be” that we’ve stopped dreaming of the possibilities.

So what am I saying this time?  I’m saying that the narrative in fighting games suffers because when it comes down to actual competition, story isn’t necessary for victory.  I’m also saying that many players are satisfied with current fighting game tropes and don’t consider story intrinsic to the experience thus developers don’t spend time on narrative.

Yet there is hope!  Tons of commenters here at I Speak Comics and at Shoryuken.com recognize that storytelling could improve the depth of our favorite fighters and add a little something extra to our experience.  With the rise of console gaming, the decline of American arcades, and increased expectations for $60 games I think we’re in a very unique spot to see fighting game stories evolve in the next few years but only time will tell.

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46 thoughts on “Why Fighting Game Stories Lack Substance: Round 3”

    1. Are you joking? BlazBlue has such a convoluted mess of a story that it makes me wonder if it was one of those “too many cooks in the kitchen” deals.

      1. Blazblue’s story is actually geared towards those people who are fans of Nasuverse or Touhou: They like having tons of backstory and settings that has to be compiled to a thick book just to get the basis of each character, and enjoy having derivatives pumped out of the main product (i.e. the main Touhou games with tons of fanfics and fancomics, Tsukihime and its sequel, then pumping out Melty Blood). This allows a deep, immersive fictional world where there is so much explore and create as fans. Unfortunately, most people would enjoy a simple, linear story, so these products tend to be a cult thing.

  1. You are just a scrub, that’s more than likely interest in the story part of FGs because he’s such a scrub that he gets beaten badly by everyone.

    You want a story? go play an rpg already

  2. I really don’t see the point of the article here. Yes, fighting games are dumbed down in terms of story, but people play it for competition not for the story. The new MK has the most entertaining story mode a fighting game has ever had, but i feel that all that effort poured into making the story mode entertaining took away from the polish of the actual fighting. Not that I am criticizing Netherealm Studios for bothering with the story, I am a big fan of the MK lore in fact. Its just that this was supposed to be MKs comeback game. And although the fighting is better, its a bit unpolished for high level play. And if a fighter does not play well, then it won’t sell well. The fighting game genre survives on gameplay mechanics, innovation, and presentation.

    There is a revival of the genre because street fighter IV made developers realize that there’s still money to be made in fighting games. And Capcom did it with a fresh presentation and tight gameplay and some new innovative mechanics. The story is blah, but seriously, story telling in the gaming medium should be left to RPGs. Shen-Mu had an intriguing story, and good fighting mechanics but it wasn’t competitive since it was a single player game. But I think Sega had something there.

    The Dissidia series is also a great fighting game in my opinion, but the story is sort of murky and confusing. But the fighting is solid, and it actually saves the game from being mediocre. I think the only way a competitive fighting game could have a in-depth story is if it was adventure game first and a fighting game second. Something like “Streets of Rage” with a 1v1 and 2v2 mode aside from story mode. There, developers have to pay attention to the story being relevant to the fighting and slap on a mode where people could fight each other without having to worry about bosses and other thugs. But they may just end up making another Double Dragon fighting game.

    They run the danger of being a great adventure game and a bad fighter. Or worse, be mediocre at both since they focused on two things instead of one. And last I checked, mediocrity don’t sell a lot of games.

    1. Are you sure you don’t see the point of the article? I’m explaining the reasons why fighting games don’t have good stories… It seems like you got that. Regardless, you’re putting false limitations on the genre because you don’t know any better, because a great story mode has never been done well. Did you read the entire post?

      1. The problem with wanting a good story, is as the community members in your quotes say. When it comes to a fighting game, the mechanics, balance, character diversity, etc. matter much more than any story could, so investing effort into a really great story for a fighting game is wasting effort that could be used to tighten up gameplay.

        Would having an amazing gripping story in a fighting game be nice? I guess. But only if NOTHING was spared in making the game amazing to PLAY. When it comes to blame, I wouldn’t blame the community for making story second fiddle, I’d blame the people who would say “maybe they should focus more on story?” when it comes to fighting games if that ever came to pass and the gameplay suffered because of it.

        I’m totally a supporter of games as art, and games having amazing stories, but there is a time and a place for stories in gaming. Tetris doesn’t need to be a critique of capitalism with a cast of realistic revolutionaries fighting to usurp the government, and fighting games don’t need story. The $60 being spent isn’t invested in story mode. It’s invested in versus mode, and if it’s made right, will last for years, or in some cases a decade of play and still be great.

        So with that in mind, I think fighting games ALREADY get more value for your dollar than any other genre.

  3. There is a lot of story in these fighting games it’s just that the developers just don’t have a chance to show everyone’s story. It’s funny how street fighter n MVC3 suck at presenting their characters story but are at the top of tournament scenes while games like Blazblue and MK9 take the time and are at the bottom end.

  4. First a big complement to you, I really enjoy reading your Blog.
    You really hit spot with this 3rd part.
    I was really disappointed with Mvc3 Story telling, after you Beat Galactus what do you Get? Two lame pics and a few lines of text,…. For only One fighter. Where is the motivation? Just a damn Trophy….
    I miss the good ol videos like Tekken 3. And on a sidenote “The Bouncer” had good storytelling, although it wasn’t purely Beat’em up.
    So Long and thnx for all the Wfgsls

  5. Nice article.

    However, I DO want to touch on the culture of the fighting game scene. The article has a point, the fans care ONLY about the gameplay mechanics.

    There is a flaw here. The prevailing belief that story and gameplay are on the same chromatic binary of quality. That the fighting game fans actually feel as if it is inherently impossible to create a superb fighting game experience with a superb story. Not only is this an outright logical fallacy, but I think the culture of fighting games actually WANT this fallacy to be true.

    You have to give kudos to NRS for doing what they have done with a fighting game. Not only did they get off to an amazing start gameplay wise, their story is seriously one of the best in the genre.

    In short, I will conclude that even though it is patently illogical, fighting game fans WANT the truism that better story = worse gameplay. So much in fact, that they lack the capacity to accept the even more true reality that both are absolutely possible to be executed with excellence at the exact same time in the exact same package. And within that culture, it actually MATTERS to them that fighting games keep into this realm of creative limits. To them, it’s an absolutely frightening thought that a tournament worthy fighting game could have a story that would rival The Odyssey.

    1. I think it might not be quite the logical fallacy you make it out to be. Leaving aside the absolute nightmare of having 12-30 “main characters”, the fact of the matter is that these games are made on a budget, and to a deadline. Money and time are finite, and if you think about it for a moment, it should be pretty easy to see why this is a problem.

      In an ideal world, you’d be able to hire the people you’d need to cover the various requirements involved in making your hypothetical “awesome fighting game with an equally awesome story”, and you’d have all the time you’d need to properly polish it before release. Unfortunately in our world this isn’t the case, so you usually have to sacrifice something. Otherwise, in trying to do too many things, one or more of those things isn’t going to get done. I don’t WANT this to be true, but it is.

      The reason fighting game players seem to regard story as unimportant is because it is the one thing you can skimp on without affecting the gameplay. Yes, we want our balance and gameplay to be rock-solid. We cannot compromise that, otherwise, what’s the point. The next most important thing is that we want our characters to look cool, and do cool stuff. Because they’re our representation in the world of the game, so then WE can look cool, and we can do cool stuff.

      Who the characters are and why they’re fighting each other is a pretty distant third place now. Yes, it’d be nice if things made sense, or there was an awesome narrative, but ultimately that’s rather unimportant, because for the duration of the game, my character is ME, and I’m fighting because I want to beat down all these other punks who want to prove that they’re better than me.

      It’s not that we don’t want our story, but it’s the compromise we’re willing to live with.

  6. LOL at dissidea. TBH, the reason I first played WW was because of the back story on Guile. I played through arcade mode to see what the end of his story would be like. I was a kid, and it was on my older sisters SNES. But it nabbed me. I wanted to play Guile, not only because his unique character design brought me in and I thought he looked cool, which was back then, not all anime looking like Ryu and Ken, but I also wanted to play him because he was an avenger, and sought out to kill the murderer of his best friend, Charlie. I know it isn’t much, but when I think of fighting games, I think of the story to bring you in, and the competitive scene to keep you there. That’s def how it was with me at least.

  7. I just ended reading this, and I think this can be the most possible reason on why Fighting Games don’t have good story like you said. Top/Hardcore players care more about training, learning combos, etc. Although I’m also like that, I’d love to play Story Mode first if the game has it.
    However, I don’t think 5-8 hours gameplay on Story Mode will “dumb down” or “retard” the experience you already have, some top players actually say that.
    The new Mortal Kombat clearly has the best Story Mode a fighting game has ever had (at least, in my opinion), it’s very entertaining and it makes you wonder what’s going to happen next.
    Also, I was really excited with the MvC3 trailer reveal last year, so excited that I kept tracking every single information there was. However, I’ve heard they contracted Frank Tieri to make a strong story for MvC3, however that didn’t really happen but I think it makes a lot more sense after seeing this Part 3 post you made, MvC2 was a very competitive game, so is MvC3.

  8. I think I understand, all hardcore gamers want is a fighting game that is well polished but is that something the casual gamer wants? I don’t think the casual gamer wants to spend time figuring out frame advantages and which specials have super armor properties they want to have fun and the best way is to give that game a good story. With the decline of arcades in America do you really think a game with just bare bones game play is going to sell. The only reason I feel Street Fighter 4 and MVC3 made a huge comeback is because they simplified the game play making it a noob friendly game giving casual players the illusion because they can competitive because they can pull off string of combos with ease where all they’re doing is mashing and spamming. In a way it’s good because it brought the competitive scene back but I feel like they are repeating history. Street Fighter 4, Super Street Fighter 4, SSF4AE they did the same thing with the sf2 series. Since vanilla made so many sells they decided to make more iterations of the same version to please the same crowd with promises of a more polished game play a more balance and now they are saying that AE will be the last installment of the street fight 4 series. Now my beef with Capcom is that if they make a sf5 do you think the people who played street fighter 4 will play that game? The people played and love st2 turbo don’t like the the sf4 series because it’s to easy to play. They feel they were wronged because here they were playing sf2 having to do the actual motion to do the shoryuken while in sf4 there’s a shortcut to do it and with that shortcut it’s real easy to do a FADC. So in a way gameplay mechanics is not always the solution there could be a gameplay feature in sf5 that will replace the focus attack. sf4 fans will hate for bullsh#t reasons because it’s not like the focus attack. Same thing with MVC3 not a lot of MVC2 fans do not like the idea of have every character capable of taking down another character in a matter of seconds with the same 100% combo. Sure there were infinite’s in MVC2 but those required actual skill to do it. So yeah like I said before gameplay always doesn’t cut it.

    Instead of just concentrating on just focusing on the gameplay mechanics that only satisfies competitive gamers don’t designers think they it’s an even better idea to satisfy the fans you have and get newer people interested in so that it can expand the community even more. Story is a good way to get new people interested in the game. A perfect example is the mk series in the nineties. How did a western game mk1 2 3 and Umk3 become so competitive like street fighter at that time. surely it wasn’t for gameplay because everyone b!tched about how everyone shared the same moves such as the uppercut and the leg sweep. It was the immense amount of content it had in ARCADES such as test your might and kodes to unlock certain abilities like unlocking human smoke, that and receiving a buttload of publicity for being a violent that it became very addicting and soon there were enough people to make it competitive. There are still people who think that the mk scene is dead after UMK3 but it was never dead there are still A LOT of people that play UMK3 competitively and with the new mk9 it helps that community grow even more because they not only went back to 2d, something that hardcore players loved, they added a story and to a lot of single player content that the casual player to enjoy, and with that abundance of single player content they had in 4 all the way to Armageddon(yes the were and are people that still enjoyed those games solely because there was so much to do.) that will keep them occupied they will eventually become competitive and rejuvenate the mk scene.

  9. With deadlines developers have to meet, it can be difficult to have the story of an amazing rpg, and the gameplay of anything Capcom makes (Im bias so what? lmao)

    I heard that the new MK had a pretty boss story mode, but I havent finished it yet XD, infact I’ve barely played the game much at all =(. Gameplay wise, its cool, but I think I like Street Fighter more…. but moving on, nowadays they just mainly leave the storytelling to spin off anime, movies, or comic books.

    Having said all of this….. I would like there to be a game that DOES have amazing gameplay mechanics and a good story to tell. I think one day this will be done.

  10. The feedback you’ve been getting has been sad. There are so many games today with amazing gameplay and mechanics without having to sacrifice the integrity of the story for them, so why shouldn’t fighting games be the same? With the amount of money and resources companies have now, along with the price tag, it’s not wrong to expect more. Why are people being so pissy and not getting that?

      1. Probably because companies like capcom seem to not have enough resources to even get good online(SF4, MVC3) and whatnot. You are ultimately asking companies to spend more on something. It’s not just an effortless advancement, it might take time, effort, and money from something else.
        Maybe some of those who would enjoy such a story mode would join the fighting game competitive community, but that’s uncertain as to whether it’d be significant enough.

        You may as well tell RPG lovers that their games desperately need a large minigame unrelated to the rest of the gameplay. They just won’t care and would rather the developers focus on something else, even if perhaps that minigame would get the series some more sales.

        And again, ignoring the development effort aspect, this idea makes about as much sense to competitive fighting gamers as telling chess players they’re to blame for not trying to get a story for chess.

        So, no, not “’nuff said.”

      2. Additionally, you have to consider that time is probably effected by having robust story modes. If BBCS/BBCT didn’t have story modes, they might have come out a few months earlier. If they tried to add a robust story mode to SSF4AE, it might not come out in time for EVO. Obviously, competitive gamers want their games out earlier as long as the gameplay and netcode doesn’t suffer, and they ESPECIALLY want to avoid it missing major tournaments.

        Another reason that could explain the resistance is this whole “You’re to blame for these low standards that make the genre stagnant!” attitude. First of all, it sounds a lot like the average game reviewer who makes people hate gaming journalism. You get a wonderful sequel that has big gameplay changes, and the reviewer’s comments on the gameplay are minimal and asinine, and all he can talk about is “This sequel sucks because I don’t personally enjoy fighters, it should have a rhythm gimmick/leveling gimmick/whatever other stupid idea that would be a monster to responsibly adjust the gameplay to or is simply only relevant to the tastes of people who don’t like the actual game in the first place.” It’s like if a review said “This RPG sucks because it doesn’t have FPS elements in the combat. I don’t like RPGs and this needs to have FPS elements for me to give it a good score.” Of course, RPGs fans would protest that there are more than enough FPSes on the market and that efforts should go to other elements.

        Your attitude, like the attitude of some reviewers, is much like someone grabbing someone on the streets and saying “YOU NEED TO GET CONGRESS TO SUBSIDIZE MY REFINERY IN MINNESOTA! YOU’RE AT FAULT FOR BEING SATISFIED WITHOUT ONE AND FOCUSING ON OTHER THINGS!” Maybe that refinery is desired by some businesses/people, but this average joe is going to resent being told what to pressure the government about, especially when he doesn’t see its relevance.

        Additionally, “low standards?” lol. Fighting gamers already spend plenty of time bitching about/at developers that fundamental gameplay mechanics are borked, that netcode is nowhere near as good as it could be, that the button set up is just retarded, that there’s no spectator or rematch option or ability to keep track of wins, etc. etc. They have a lot more fundamental issues to get developers to do right before the spend time and energy pressuring about side things that they don’t personally care about but other people might enjoy. “Stop complaining about crashes and imbalances and start complaining about how there aren’t enough mini-games!”

        And lastly, “stagnant,” lol. This is part of what makes you sound like a random, disconnected reviewer. It’s like if in the chess “genre” there was a year when a bunch of amazing chess-esque games like Shougi, with huge and interesting gameplay changes, were coming out, and chess games were called “Stagnant” because most didn’t have achievements.
        This is practically a second golden age of fighters, except without all the shovelware of the 90s to clog the market. It looks like through 2013 there will be tons of promising releases. We may even get a mainstream 3d fighter with projectiles that play a large role in Tekken x SF, which could have a major impact like the vs series and guilty gear had in terms of airdashing, mobility, zoning, and meter.

        Basically, the reaction of fighting gamers makes sense because your reaction to them makes no sense and lacks real context.

      3. You wrote a ton without saying much of anything. Let’s break this down: developers want to get games out sooner so they don’t add story modes? In a genre that’s never put an emphasis on story or story modes I would say that’s not even a factor especially since when they port to consoles they add VERY LITTLE to the experience.

        I don’t see how I’m anything like a hateful video game reviewer. I love fighting video games and they are absolutely my favorite genre, but I’ve noticed that when fighting games add stories or dedicated story modes they never do it well. I’m not asking for something to be put in that wasn’t there initially, but rather that developers spend time refining a piece of their puzzle.

        I honestly think you’re confused as to why I’m doing this series. I’m explaining why fighting games don’t have stories. These are the reasons. None of this makes me sound like a random, disconnected reviewer because I’m not reviewing a game. Your last paragraph… I’m not talking about gameplay here, I’m talking about story… Try reading the other two posts before this and maybe you’ll get it. Nice try though.

  11. All a fighting game needs in terms of story is an intro for each character, personalised victory quotes, a rival match or two and an ending. To see the game’s ending is partially why people play solo arcade games (but yes, its mainly to have fun playing the game). So why not make the story sections meaningful? The writers and cut-scene animators don’t have anything to do with the actual gameplay side of a game do they and the budget for a game would not be lessened I’d imagine. If you took all story sections away from a game, the gameplay itself wouldn’t be effected.

    Videogames have moved on from the eighties. Every game usually has a story now whatever its genre. Its rare to find an action game that doesn’t have some sort of story these days. Gone too are the days of the mindless shooter where its just you and hundreds of faceless generic bad guys to kill. Now you could probably write an essay on your character, who you’re fighting against, why and how by the time you’ve finished the game.

    A modern action game, even a fighter, without a storyline is like a modern silent movie; it was acceptable back in its day but we’ve moved on as technology and expectations have progressed.

  12. Nice read. Keep these up, they’re actually kind of informative.

    Personally, The main reason stories suck so bad is because Developers do nothing to promote canon pre- or post-release. Even something outside the game itself like on their website would generate a bigger buzz surrounding the story which can be built upon in the next game. The devs have enough resources to make a helluva lot of costumes but not enough creativity to actually write anything wondrous. SF especially, everyone just that came out of the woodwork for some inane mediocre reason and now wants to be THE BEST!

    Gameplay, however, is the most important thing FG’s have to offer, and it really breaks my heart to see companies severely overcharging for an update/balance to a game I’ve already purchased. Paying for colors, that’s one thing but re-paying for the most essential component of the game is just bullshit.

    Just my 4 cents

  13. Well, honestly, you ARE basically doing the same thing as saying, “Chess is stagnant and needs a better story.” The people who play chess as a game wouldn’t care.
    Adding a story brings in more people or makes a portion of those who play the game for the game itself enjoy the game more, but most of those who already enjoy it really just don’t care.

  14. Okay, so you don’t care/want/like stories in Fight Games, right? Takes away from the game play, right? Fine, why not go the extra mile and get rid of character design, artwork, and stages? Have large white block figure A fight medium white block figure B. Figure A can do suplexes and DDTs all day and block figure B will do crMk into a fire ball projectile. So if you really don’t care why Ryu does does a Hadokuen or why Sub-Zero wears blue, and you want developers to focus on cancels, advantage frames, punishment, and the whatnot… that’s what you get: Generic fighter A sees a game over screen because Generic Boss S just blasted you with a generic ball of energy with nothing but black in the background.

    But who cares? Online is lag less and everyone is in the same tier group, right? :\

    I’m not saying FG need Shakespeare, but I pick up a new franchise because the characters look interesting. I start with a character because he/she looks. I learn the character to understand their moves. I wear t-shirts, get costume sticks, get wall papers of that character because they have a interesting story and personality. It’s one thing to be indifferent, but can you really say “I don’t want to know why Sol Badguy has his sword, so don’t put it in the game if everyone isn’t in the same tier list.”

    Developers need to make money of a product and sorry to tell you this but the fighting game community is very picky. Not everyone is going to buy BlazBlue, Mortal Kombat, Super Street FIghter 4: AE, and Tekken Tag 2. they’ll get maybe two or three of those games and master one or two of them. Where do they get the money to finance that 60 FPS 1080p Steve Fox rush down you’re doing on some scrub sharing the same decent netcode half a hemisphere away? From that scrub who bought all the mentioned titles because he thought the cover characters looked cool and buys all the DLC because the story kept him for more then a day.

  15. The hardest part, I think, with trying to give a substantial story to a fighting game is not just the story itself (writing a *good* story is hard enough as it is), but to actually execute it in a way that gives itself to the mechanics, while not interferring with the fighting game itself, seems to be far more difficult.

    I mean, Dead or Alive has some semblance of a story, but it’s done so ham-handedly, you may as well be watching the Live Action Dead or Alive movie…

    …taking a page from Extra Credit, if there is to be a good story in fighting games, the following needs to happen:

    1. Companies need to hire *Professional* writers. I mean, seriously, how many times is *being the best* going to be used as an excuse?

    2. Companies need to make these writers work alongside the designers and programmers upfront so that they can get some solid integration in the game mechanics.

    While there’s no guarantee that it’ll work, it certainly has a better chance of happening, as opposed to the writers being told to tack on a story after all the programming and designs have been done in the first place.

    At least, that’s how I see it.

  16. To a great extent, the mentality of fighting games not requiring good stories and people not minding is a geographical issue.
    I come from Nigeria where gaming culture in comparison to the more gaming oriented parts of the world is quite low, we dont have arcades and tournaments are held once maybe twice a year.
    So when we come together to play, the focus is as much about the mechanics and fadcs as they are about whether Akuma Evil Hado trumps Gouken’s power of nothingness.
    Point is, since we dont have as much to engross ourselves in game wise we’ve come to dissect the entire package of the game storyline included.

  17. Humans ARE afraid of change. Always have been, always will be. With gamers, this is especially true.

    I’ve probably stated this before, but with fighting games, the majority of the community is full of arrogant pricks who look down on anyone who doesn’t do what they do. If you’re not one of them, you’re a “scrub”, a “noob” or some other cruel term. It’s like this for every series, too.

    People just don’t realize the importance of narrative in fighting games. For example, The King of Fighters. Iori Yagami has had the ability to use purple flames in every one of his appearances…EXCEPT XII and XIII. Now, if there were no story (at all) to explain this, you’d have no idea why his playstyle had changed so dramatically.

    Of course, very many players don’t care why, which is part of the problem. They don’t care about the who or why of the characters they use. They just want to go to EVO or wherever and pwn everyone for the sake of their own ego. Another catalyst is the lack of interest in stories in general. Most people nowadays would rather look stuff up on Wikipedia or something than take the time to learn about the cast’s struggles through their eyes. On a broader note, not a lot of people read, either. They’d rather watch the movie version simply because its faster…whether that version is good or not. With simple mindedness like that, it’s no wonder narrative is looked down upon.

    With all this in mind, it’s important to remember one thing: solid narrative is possible. Case in point: Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. All three games have a robust Story Mode to go along with the standard Arcade Mode, with MK going above and beyond the call of duty (no pun intended), by giving the heroes their own chapter in the truly epic story which spanned the first three tournaments.

    Fighting game developers should take notice of these feats and strive to reach this level, while ignoring ignorant cries that it’s useless. It is possible to give fighting game stories plenty of substance. We just have to be willing to TRY.

  18. I think that in your idealism about the best of both worlds, and your bottom-line statements about players being satisfied by only the competition seems misguided.

    Most fighting games, combat sports, or even many team sports, the stories and values are given to you by its players and combatants. We do not really care if it was Guile or Chun-Li that won the Street Fighter tournament because we KNOW from watching EVO that Daigo won with Ryu, at least for that year.

    In a real-world analogy, do we really care that Manny Pacquiao sings on Jimmy Kimmel Live, or became a state governor? Obviously we know about it because we follow the sport, but we clearly do not care as much because what matters is the harsh training and brutal skill we see in the fights themselves. Or perhaps we find ourselves more enthused by the baseball scandals, football gambling, and the sexual assaults.

    Adding unnecessary drama and offtopic storylines when there is already excellent story in the players themselves, the comebacks, the training, the fights themselves: Fabricated sidetracking simply cheapens the purity of the sport.

    If you can say yes to that question, then I suppose it is acceptable to understand why you would want these things in fighting games. However, it raises two major questions:

    1. Whether this “stagnation of the genre” you speak of applies to said games, because if anything fighting games, fighting sports, and pretty much all forms of competitive sport have grown over the last decade (must be those stories right? lol).

    2. Whether you actually understand competitive sport/fighting games and their supposedly “false limitations”?

    However I think it is safe to say that in terms of being a thought-provoking article, it definitely succeeded. Thank you, gaming’s Armond White, for taking us on a clever ride indeed.

    1. You’re clearly confusing your own gameplay experience (player stories, comeback, training, tournament hype, what have you) with the in-game story. What about all the people who don’t go out to tournaments and simply want to enjoy their fighting at home? Where do the people who don’t watch team sp00ky’s streams or Wednesday Night Fights stand?

      “Fabricated sidetracking”? Surely you jest. The story is built into the game and it’s been languishing there for the past 20 years. By giving us interesting characters and a vibrant universe for them to fight in, developers pique our curiosity. Why do they fight? Who are these people? These questions are no different than those sports fans ask about their favorite players, otherwise why would we have things like ESPN Magazine? That’s not “fabricated sidetracking,” that’s called immersion.

      1) Name some legitimate ways in which fighting games have really grown over the last decade. Go ahead, try.

      2) I’ve been playing competitive sports all my life, and fighting games since I was 10. I’d like to think I understand both, and I absolutely understand that when gamers say, “fighting games can’t have great stories” that is a “false limitation” placed on the genre through ignorance and fear of change.

  19. Every one of these articles is WIN! I’d like to think though that fighting games are starting to consider taking their narrative affairs more seriously. Mortal Kombat and the soon to be released Dead or Alive both have a Story Mode separate from the Arcade affair. That’s a step in the right direction. Also in my last post I commented on Virtua Fighter’s total lack of story and its absence in the American tournament scene. While there are other factors, the lack of personality and narrative dynamic makes me think that as trivial as the story of fighting games are, they give character, novelty and longevity.

    Technically, Street of Rage, The Bouncer and Shenmue all qualify as beat-em-ups or RPGs but it shows the potential to mesh fighting game mechanics and narrative. Dissidia managed to do this, though the story offered was kind of unorthodox from their standard affairs. However, there’s a game called Star Ocean: Till The End of Time that managed to fit a fighting game inside their RPG. Granted, it has the feel of a minigame, but the fact remains that there are some decent attempts at the meshing of a competent fighter and compelling story.

    This maybe why we need new fighting game IPs. Skull Girls isn’t enough. Games like Street Fighter may not be willing to lead the charge and Tekken has led the charge in the attempt to incorporate the narrative element into fighting games but it’ll require more daring attempts. I think Blazblue may have made some decent strides though I haven’t truly immersed myself in the game. From newer characters, newer fighting engines, newer possibilities.. Not to say that the old guard is defunct or lacking, but some variety or potential innovation from alternative perspectives could lead to a revolution.

    What’s more, why can’t we have both? Why am I not allowed to have a Heavy Rain/Dead or Alive or a Mass Effect/King of Fighters? Most fighting games already have multiple endings and in most of them you need to wait for the developers to tell you which is cannon. If you have multiple endings in the guise of a single cohesive narrative that allows for multiple endings and closure for the player, what’s the harm? If King of Mass Fighting 2 comes out and continues your unique playthrough where you left off and you happen to have a fighting game in there? If properly balanced, any game can have a compelling narrative and should be able to sate the desires of those who seek competition. Who are we to limit the creative potential of the fighting game medium?

    Another thing to address is the required modes in fighting games, practice, multiplayer, online, then what? Arcade? Time Attack? Survival? A story mode adds a certain amount of longevity to a $60 investment. The Kombat Tower in MK is a great step and the customization options and scenario modes in Tekken are also a good touch. Street Fighter has minigames and even the 3D model collecting in the 3DS version. Dissidia manages to just go overboard with the potential goodies that are waiting to be unlocked. I for one wouldn’t mind a fighting game that tried to go for Little Big Planet style innovations…

  20. What I think is funny, is everyone is talking about “top players” and “hardcore players”, and how all they care about is the game play. I’ve been playing fighting game for over 10 years now, been to a few tournaments and been around the, albeit short, block a few times. And you can consider me a hardcore fan.

    And I, for one, would love a nice story. Not only am I a Street Fighter player, I’m also a writer. Seeing wonderful fiction being put into the mix doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Yeah, we’re spending loads of cash for a game. Yeah, we’re looking for polish in the game play. I haven’t played the new MK yet, but people tell me of all the problems with it. But what about SF4? It’s had 3 versions out already. The mechanics are already solid. The game play, refined. Capcom could spend like a month working on a decent story mode. I mean they have all these different modes they’re throwing out, why not a nice, in depth, story mode?

    Playing Street Fighter, for me, is about the experience of playing. Not just competing and winning. It’s about being depth. Look at other competitive games like Star Craft. They have a rich, engaging story AND wonderful game play mechanics that’s beautifully balanced. Are RTS’ the only genre that’s allowed to have their cake and eat it too?

    I know that the thrill of winning and competing with other people is the main draw of playing a fighter game, but look at the SC2 players; the game play and balance was a given already, it was wondering what happened to Kerrigan is what I was wondering about. Don’t get me wrong, I NEEDED to see the changes they did to the units and game play, but it’s really not everything. Like they say, winning isn’t everything.

    So why shouldn’t we get more for our money and get a decent story? Why can’t we enjoy our fighting game on more than just one level?

  21. The article is actually biased and fallacious to the side of hardcore and tournament players without taking any consideration of the lost sales to casual gamers. There are two types of gamers in the fighting scene, tournament players and casual gamers.

    Tournament players do need a very polished gameplay mechanics such as the always evolving balancing such as Street Fighter 4 and its addons. Casual gamers would need more entertainment such as plot and story character development to keep them from returning or reselling the game. There were many occasions casual gamers brought Street Fighter 4 back to the game store with various reasons such as it was too hard or i didn’t see the point in this game etc. Street Fighter 4 was a total tournament and hardcore fighter, but it lost sales to the casual gamers. It can be very difficult for a new casual player to pick up Street Fighter and play without frustrations.

    The new Mortal Kombat however is for both for hardcore and casual gamers. Anyone can pick it up and play it to enjoy the story mode, challenge modes, versus modes, etc. There are plenty of things to and keeps the casual gamers more glued to the game. For the tournament players, I do agree that the fighting gameplay mechanics need to be a bit more polished, because you can easily do other specials other than the intended one such as cyber subzero’s freeze ball becomes his teleport move in the middle of a combo, and it can be frustrating because i’m playing on a fightstick.

    I’m not saying that Street Fighter 4 is bad with its sales or anything, it just lost some sales to the casual gamers. Videogaming is all about the enjoyment of the game and developers should spend all of their time to create a nice sensation for both types of gamers. I’m a fighting game enthusiast and I play both styles, hardcore and casual, and sometimes its hard to see casual gamers pick up tournament style fighting games such as Street Fighter and cant figure out the mechanics whereas its interesting to see the casual gamers pick up the new Mortal Kombat, Tekken 6, Soul Calibur and still enjoy the first time experience of the game mechanics.

    1. Yet another person who didn’t read my entire article… I know it was a little long but really, is it so difficult to read the entire post before commenting? As to your first sentence: No, it isn’t. I can see where you might get that if you only read the first two paragraphs but there’s quite a bit more after the picture of Ryu pwning Sagat.

      The fighting game community is not split into two camps, that’s far too divisive a statement with no allowance for shades of gray. What about the hardcore gamer who doesn’t go to tournaments or the casual who does? The rest of your silly comment basically touches on many of the points I’ve been addressing in this series. Le sigh. Thanks for being redundant.

  22. Loved the article! but I DO have a question that I’d love to have answered,sorry if its not on topic.

    If players affixed on gameplay honestly don’t care for the story or characters, then why do games like arcana heart get ignored due to those very same elements? ( I read cases in which people flat ignored the in-depth gameplay and features simply because it looks like a pedo fest)
    That seems to show that, at some level, players who are in it for gameplay seem to care about a developed world in some ways imo.

  23. Story doesn’t really matter to fighting games, period. Yes there needs to be a reason for each character to fight and other things, but anyone moderately into fighting games doesn’t exactly care. Why? The story mode is finite, lasting usually 5-10 hours. Who cares about 5-10 hours when over thousands are played to perfect one system alone? To insist that fighting games need story and that people are just in the way of progress because they are scared is condescending and ignorant.

    Good effort though, always nice to see conflicting viewpoints.

    1. Never once, in any of these posts have I said that fighting games need stories. In fact I think I’ve said just the opposite on numerous occasions. I know fgs don’t need stories. Current fgs, economics, and history prove that. I am more than moderately into fighting games and I care about their stories a lot. So much so in fact that I’ve collected Udon Entertainment Street Fighter comic series because I wanted to read a compelling SF narrative and man did Ken Sui-Chong deliver!

      As I said above, I’m not insisting that fighting games need a story and I never will, but stories would add depth and virility to an oftentimes bare bones single player experience, especially for those casual gamers uninterested in hardcore or tournament play. Insisting that a certain type of fighting gamer stands in the way of change? That’s neither condescending nor ignorant; that’s the truth.

  24. Personally, I’m cool with it either way. I will admit that sometimes backstories compel me to play certain characters, but that’s not always the case.

    Also, $60 for a game, and story has to matter because of that? For some I suppose, but in a competitive standpoint, I look at it like this. I have played close to 4,000 multiplayer matches in SSF4, for a game that cost $40. Do the math, and that’s a penny per match, where that could’ve easily translated into $1 per game in the arcade. If I had to go to an arcade for my games, I would’ve played a lot less matches, or paid $4,000 to play the same amount of time. (give or take, depending on how many consecutive wins I accrued) And with Soul Calibur 4, I’ve probably played the same amount (most of my play has been offline, so I can’t even begin to count how many matches I have played). I bought it at $60, so that’s 2 cents per play. Once again, well worth the $60 price tag to me.

    Fighting games aren’t the only genre to suffer from this mindset either. I know people who have played Halo 3/Reach, who have never touched the campaign mode, but just jumped straight into multiplayer and never looked back. I was guilty of it as well in 3. But for the time I played, I had a lot of fun, so I can’t say that my purchase wasn’t worth it in that case either.

    If a fighter came out with a spectacular story, would I praise it? Yeah, and I would even go through the story mode to experience it myself. But would be a breaking point for whether I buy it or not? Doubtful. I think whether the gameplay is up to snuff matters a lot more than a good story. That goes true with any genre, but for absolute replay value, I think goes 1,000 times over for fighters.

    Maybe it’s limiting the genre, but I think it would be hard to make a case where defeating a subpar or insanely difficult/unfair AI in a fighter for a story trumps the multiplayer factor of the game, so as long as the game plays good, I will buy it.

  25. Yeah. It makes no sense that we have to choose between gameplay and story. It isn’t impossible to put both together. Sure fighting games are competitive, hell, my weekends are full of them. But. There regularly there’s moments you’d like to actually see something else, sit back, relax and shizzle. This is when you usually pop in any of your story driven game. Why couldn’t you just go have an “adventure” with characters you love to see or love to beat? If gameplay is so freaking important to someone who has no idea about coding mechanics there can be a good story too, you don’t need to care about that. Doesn’t matter if it creates dozens of paradoxal plot holes for sequels as long as you can “do something else” and sit back for a while. Mortal Kombat vs DC and new MK just about made it happen. Some could say that’s why their gameplay was broken in some aspects. I say I have very rarely seen succesful launches for fighting games since Xbox 360/PS3 madness. I just hope for the best in the future. Games can have the depth and action packed together with both gameplay and story, they don’t have to be on the screen same time. It’s like having sex on the motorcycle; sure sounds cool enough but damn that’s tricky. This is the main problem with internet and gamers these days, we just make too much absurd demands and make wishes/decline others at the very same time and expect that only our questions will be answered. Sucks to be a developer these days. Even trolls are becoming serious about their agendas.

  26. People don’t buy fighting games to see the next installment of a story. But for many people, a fighting game without some sort of story (endings, but also intros and rival matches) would feel like something severely missing. I doubt I’d care for Juri and Hakan at all if it weren’t for their intro, endings and rival matches telling us who they were. Sure they’d still play the same but I personally care about fighting game characters the same way as any other fictional character be they from an action movie, tv show or comic. I think Juri is cool not because of how she plays but her personality and attitude towards the likes of Bison and Seth. Sure I enjoy reading good books and watching good movies, my favorite fictional characters just happen to be Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and Guile.

    And you can’t bring up the events from the movies, tv shows and comics to explain/argue who the fighting game characters are or what happened. They just get dismissed as being non-canon since Capcom didn’t produce the fiction themselves; that only what happens in the games themselves is the real storyline and everything else is fake.

  27. This comment is directed at Who thinks he can compare a videogame with chess. To begin with their cannot be a story in chess cause their is no narrative BUT!!!!! Chess has a lot of story attached to it. Its a game born out of Chutanga and Petteia which are indian and greek games. We c’ant trace very well the birth of the game but it should be about 600 B.C so chess has a LOT of story to it. Not only that but every proffessionnal player knows the history of chess troughout the ages it went through. Casual chess players don’t understand any of this tought they think of chess as a good strategy game but nothing more. Chess is almost a science in itself. There was a study about different intellectual activity and jobs to evaluate which made the biggest use of the brain and Professional chess players rank on top followed by Surgeons and Classical concert pianist.

    All of this just to say that you can’t compare a fighting videogame with chess. Yes both involve strategy. Fighting games use the basis of chess on a strategic level but nothing more than that still its a really strategic genre for a videogame. HOWEVER not all gamers play games for the same reason and nowadays if you really want to have a succesful game in any genre you need to satisfy the gaming community not just the hardcore fighting fans. With the arcades dying out more and more and consoles taking over completely in a very short future the only profits a game will make will be out of their sales as a videogame, not as an arcade game. Because of that i think that fighting games will need to be more versatile so they can sell to the gaming community and not just to the fighting community. I had zero expectations with MK9 and didn’t want to buy the game cause i really wasn’t expecting very good mechanics. We all agree that Mk is not the Next Virtua Fighter but it has good mechanics for an MK game and can be competitive. Besides that, it has a well made story mode compared to every other fighters, lots of unlockables, the challenge tower, a ton of Achievements which, sadly, is also pretty important for a game today. It also has the fun factor the Fatality and X-Ray. The artistic side of the game is also a big big advantage over other games. Now with that said check out the results of the first week sales lets say on ps3. MK9 sold 296 885 copies of their game on week 1 while SSF IV sold 134 344 and MvC3 253 365. Mk is actually the most sold fighter in week 1 of the new era of fighting games. Why is that? Cause Mk has things that other fighters do not have like ….. story.

    Just to say that you should think just a little more before saying someone is ignorant or talking about something you obviously dont know anything about <>. The only video games i play are fighters and ive been playing since Street Fighter II the world warriors. Ive been to japan just to go play Virtua Fighter 5 final showdown recently. The point is: I love fighters for their mechanics which is why i worship VF but i think that in today’s market a more versatile game with some story or more evolved 1 player experience is the key to being successful. Vf has absolutely no story and is probably the most gameplay and mechanics oriented fighter ever. Which is probably why we wont get any VF5 final Showdown outside japan which is a shame cause the game is really really good and not as hardcore has it had become.

    Thank you Sumoslamman for your blog. I do agree with your line of tought. And sorry for my bad english everyone its just not my primary language. 😀

  28. I actually agree fighting games should have more story. Don’t get me wrong, balance and gameplay are paramount, but I compare (for myself) the amount of time I spend on fighting games versus games with actual story (Mass Effect series, InFamous, and the like) and I spend WAY more time playing those types of games instead of fighters. I spend maybe 2-3 months on a fighter then give it up when I have no story to fight for. Sure, constant competition is GREAT, but for myself, I like a story I can always come back to. A story I feel emotionally connected to and I’ve never felt emotionally connected to a fighter. My connection to fighters has always been more “mechanical.” It’s great for awhile, but if there’s no connection, where I care about the characters, their motivations and where they came from or are going, then I lose interest after a awhile. Just my 2 cents.

  29. When I got back into fighting games around ’03 or ’04 with a used copy of Alpha 3, I always thought story mode was part of the experience. And to fully enjoy that experience, I needed to beat the game with every character and view all the endings with my own eyes. I create characters and scenarios in my head so I enjoy a good story. I eventually made friends with people who loved fighters too and discovered the bigger competitive scene, watching a trailer for one of the Evo DVDs with the Daigo parry and the MvC2 combos changed things for me. I realized that story mode was secondary to everything else but I still feel it’s important to fighting games.

    Plot gives these characters personality, a reason to like them. We can enjoy watching any given sports event, but once in a while we’re curious as to what gives them motivation to play the sport. Same thing with fighters, a story mode, even the smaller ones, give the game and its characters personality. With out any personality, you’re left with a boring experience. Look at Virtua Fighter. Dozens of characters to choose from, each with their own style and techniques. But there’s no story mode and it makes the characters completely generic and almost forgettable, totally lacking in fun. Dead or Alive has story to it, but all of the characters have little or no personality so if you didn’t look at any of the backstory they had, you’d think they were all cookie cutter designs. So no matter the level of play, you gotta have something extra to make everything come together.

    There just has to be something. You don’t really need sweeping epics like Blazblue, Tekken 6 or Rival Schools. Just a few moments to give characters depth. I’d still say 3rd Strike and S.F. IV have the best story modes. Each character has their own drive, some are linked to others and only a few lead to something even larger, and it works for me and it all makes sense. Everyone meets with a final boss and most of the time it’s not canon, the only reason everyone fights Seth or Gill is because they’re the final square on the board game, you can’t finish the game until you roll the dice and move your piece over every square.

    1P mode and versus mode are both enjoyable for their own reasons. 1P so you can chill out and take it easy, versus so you can see who’s top dog and make your own story.

  30. I thought BlazBlue was too epic. I didn’t understand how the stories all connected together for a while if they were even supposed to be connected together.

    Why can’t the true final boss be optional? The standard end boss would be connected to the characters storyline like in Alpha 2 which would then have an ending related to beating your personal end boss, but if you wanted to fight Shin Akuma for example as the final end boss, you’d have to fulfill various requirements to do so. This wouldn’t be a canon fight in the storyline but a challenge for those who are playing the game.

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