The Problem with Fighting Game Characters

In case I haven’t made it clear before, I love fighting games! There are few things more fun than a one-on-one clash with another person! No RNG (most of the time, depending on the game), no teammates, nothing to get in the way. It is a true clash of skill. Whoever put the most time and effort into the game will win.

Unfortunately, they’re not exactly perfect. A good number of them suffer from lackluster online play, which can kill the value of the game super quickly. Many of them have mediocre or terrible tutorials, making it difficult to learn how to play. And most egregious of all: they suffer from some terrible writing.

Let’s be real: fighting games don’t have good story modes. Like, none of them. The closest we have are Netherrealm games, like Mortal Kombat and Injustice, but let’s be honest: those are still marred by awful writing. If you want to play a fighting game for its compelling narrative, you’ve clearly never played a fighting game before.

Which can be a bit of a problem, considering that fighting games are all about one thing. No, it’s not cool combos or shoving a knee up someone’s ass. It’s characters.

Fighting games are built on their rosters. If a game doesn’t have a wide, varied roster, it’ll have a hard time attracting players. Nowadays, a game with only ten or twelve characters is considered sparse. You need to give your players lots of options. Brawlers, grapplers, zoners, characters with long combos, characters with short combos, so on and so forth. You need variety to keep your fighting game compelling.

Also balanced. But that’s a difficult topic for another day.

Here’s the problem: on a writing aspect, these characters are often very flat and uninteresting. They often boil down to one personality trait and a generic backstory. They’re less characters and more ‘a cool looking set of moves’.

Let’s look at Street Fighter, since that’s the one most people know. Let’s break down some of those characters, shall we? Let’s make some enemies!

  • Ryu: honorable karate man
  • Ken: pretty boy karate man
  • Chun-Li: cool lady cop
  • Cammie: daddy issues and justice
  • Baraka: Tarzan without the character arc
  • M. Bison: dictator
  • Akuma: evil

Their stories boil down to: characters go to fight in tournament/ fight bad guy. Then they go back to doing what they always do. Ryu goes back to wandering the world, Chun-Li goes back to cop…ing (officering? being a cop). There is no character arc; they just fight some dudes, then move on with their lives.

Games that utilize characters from other sources have an easier time with this problem. Take Marvel VS Capcom or Dragon Ball Fighterz. Anyone who would play those games already knows those characters, so they may be initially drawn to them. People weren’t upset over Doctor Doom being pulled from MVCI because of his gameplay functions; they were mad that Doctor fucking Doom wasn’t in a Marvel VS Capcom game! But that affection is born from the player’s attachment to the character’s source material, not the fighting game in which they play them.

That, and the gags the community made around those characters. If you ever played Magneto in MVC2 or 3 without screaming “Where yo curleh mustache at?”, then you’ve been doing something wrong. Also, you need to watch the video that I’m going to link right here.

Let me help you understand that joke.

Now, don’t get me wrong. People can love these characters for all sorts of reasons. Some people would disagree with me and say they enjoy the writing, which is absolutely fine. Others enjoy them purely on a design or gameplay front, which is also acceptable. Whatever your reason for liking a character, that’s perfectly legitimate. No one can take that away from you.

I’m the same way. I main Wagner in Undernight purely because I like how she plays. In terms of writing, Vegito is about the flattest Dragon Ball character of all time, yet I can’t bear to remove him from any of my teams. Dan Hibiki is a pure gag character with a generic revenge backstory, but he’s so much damn fun that I couldn’t help but main him in Street Fighter 4!

Now, if only they’d put him in SF5. Give me an actual reason to play that piece of shit. Cause god knows the online ain’t gonna do it.

Now, I know most people aren’t going to play fighting games for the stories. Some casual players might, but people who love fighting games have abandoned the idea of a compelling narrative a long time ago. Because, while we love these characters for what they are, it’s rare that any of them are deep or interesting.

But I can at least say they tried. Sometimes. I know Capcom tried! But that’s how we got Marvel VS Capcom: Infinite. So… maybe it’d be better if they didn’t.

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