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Game Anatomy: Super Combos


Copyright Bandai Namco, Toei Animation, Arc System Works, and Akira Toriayama (please support the official release)

Back in high school, Guilty Gear X was my jam.  I picked it up second hand when I was a junior in high school, tired of playing Smash Bros. Melee.  I had never really gotten into Street Fighter like I wanted to, and once the shock of blood and guts wore off, I grew tired of Mortal Kombat almost immediately.  Guilty Gear, being a slick anime fighting game where the game looked and played like my favorite cartoons stuck with me, and it helped that Arc System Works gave the system a ton of depth.  It wasn’t Virtua Fighter depth, but it made Street Fighter II look like a baby’s game.  Look, that shit was important when I was 17 years old.  Guilty Gear XX, which I picked up a year later, was even better, with more complexity and cooler characters added in.  I always felt like I was getting better, like there was more to master, but eventually, I hit a wall after a couple of years of playing.

Part of this is because I never got much in the way of competition.  I’m the only one in my circle of friends who bought fighting games, and at the time, online wasn’t really a thing.  Nor were arcades.  The other thing, though, was that the depth and complexity of Guilty Gear was insane.  Arc System Works made everything more complicated with Blaz Blue, and a year ago, I even tried out Guilty Gear Xrd and felt left behind.  I had come to the understanding that depth and complexity didn’t have to be the same thing, and this is where Dragon Ball FighterZ comes in.  That is the worst title ever.

Dragon Ball FighterZ (ugh!) might be the best fighting game ever because it does something that seems like it would be counter intuitive and would cut down the games depth and skill ceiling drastically.  It makes it so all of the characters use the same inputs, and, more importantly, combos can be made just by tapping one button, or a simple combination of buttons, over and over again.  It sounds like button mashing, like the little brother system of game design, but it actually works.

The game does have a traditional combo system, yes, and it can chain different combos together, but the main bread and butter of the system is the Super Combo system.  I use an X-Box One controller, so I can tap X over and over again, which can give me a strong, five to ten hit combo, provided I keep up the rhythm.  This sounds cheap, but since I’m using X, I can generally keep the enemy staggered long enough to do the whole combo, it’s a light attack, so the damage is lower.  It’s fast, sure, but it’s also easier to block the initial attack, and because it’s so fast, if I do get blocked, my recovery is going to be slower.  A lot of this will be due to human error, because I’m likely to assume I hit before I even finish the inputs, hammering on the X button, instead of blocking their inevitable counter attack, but there are mechanical issues as well.  If I miss, I’m open, and if I’m open, they can do the same to me.

Even more, the Super Combo system looks cool.  Each attack in the string is contextual, and it changes the animation.  This means it’s much easier to get the spectacular looking combos that people see in the anime all the time.  The whole fight is literal wall to wall best of Dragonball Z, with crazy blasts and huge, multi-hit combos the whole time.  By stringing together animations, which change based on where the player is, what attack in the string their doing, and what their previous attack was, it makes the game seem much more inviting.  Yes, even the newbie scrub can do the cool attacks, which incentives the players into staying.  The simplicity of the Super Combo means that even new players can do things that look cool, which will teach them to continue to working at the game in order to do more cool stuff.

What works best about it, though, is the simplicity.  Sure, it doesn’t have the crazy amount of stuff you can do as in something like Guilty Gear XX, but so much of that extra stuff is super high level, and very difficult and finicky to input.  I’ve NEVER done a Roman Cancel in a Guilty Gear game.  I can’t even remember how to do, and even when I did, I couldn’t get it right, because doing it was so complicated.  The Super Combo system has none of that.  Much like Smash Bros., the game instead focuses on stringing together basic attacks, and making combos from that.  This means the fighting is more focused on mind games, positioning and reflexes.  Anyone can do the same stuff, and it’s all on the same layout, so who can do it the fastest?  Who can use the right Super Combo or Super Attack at the right moment?  Who better able to string a special move or Super Attack into a Super Combo?  Those questions become more important at a higher level than anything else, making the depth much more accessible and easily explored without sacrificing a skill ceiling.  Daigo is going to tear me apart, period, no matter how fast I can hammer X.

Now, the game has only been out for a couple of weeks, so it’s hard to say if this will be as successful at the competitive scene as it seems, but so far, fighting game veterans are saying the simplicity means they can do more with less.  That’s a good thing, and a good direction for fighting games to go into.


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