I am beginning to see the level of dedication required to become competent at fighting games.
According to Steam, King of Fighters XIII absorbed twenty-two hours of my life over the past two weeks. How many hours did I actually play competitive matches? Zero. Absolutely none. I messed around in arcade mode a bit, but most of my time went to figuring out what the heck King of Fighters wants the player to do! Why would I spend so much time in training mode?
Most of my time took place in learning the myriad systems of the game. It uses a relatively standard super meter system, but also introduces a system known as Hyperdrive which allow you to cancel special moves into each other. HD Mode takes this concept further by making chaining special moves together possible, as well as incredibly painful Neo Max super moves (which you can only cancel in HD Mode, of course, from other super moves). You don’t need to know how to do elaborate combos to play, but they will come up eventually. Why not just familiarize yourself now? My reasoning seems solid enough.
To add on top of the obligation pile, the vast array of characters forces you to find people you like – not a simple task, given the paucity of clarity in this process. Many of these selections don’t fall into traditional fighting game archetypes either, making the selection process for learning rather difficult. Which character will work for me, and which moves can I perform under pressure? Obviously, I can do anything in training mode given enough time, but can I use said combo in a pressure situation? These are the sorts of calculations you make in your brain, and so far my ability to do things outside the safe harbor of training mode limits my ability to play effectively. Old habits return, and the suckage continues.
Furthermore, I frequently focus my game on defensive play. In most fighting games, I prefer to dominate the mid-range game through poking and annoyance; is it any wonder that I played Vega, and probably will continue to do so, in Street Fighter IV? King of Fighters doesn’t often make room for such allowances. To call it pure offense, especially when momentum’s concerned, would do the game a disservice. A good player utilizing hops (short jumps that increase your pressure game) and low attacks opens you up like the most effective can opener ever made. If you do not learn how to defend well, and frequently exert your will over your opponent, lights out for you.
Even then, you need to pick three characters, and know them well. King of Fighters operates under a 3v3 format, where each of your characters fights in order – lose one, and the next one takes its place, and so on. You don’t want to die so fast; your first character needs to live as long as possible to both build meter and remove your opponent’s threats at the same time. Later characters will hold more meter, making them more dangerous should you choose to stock it all. Of course, which characters do you place in which slots? In the whole roster, can you score the big damage with any of them in a gigantic HD combo, or dominate the field effectively without using meter? That’s a lot of questions.
Frankly, to make a cursory conclusion, King of Fighters literally makes zero allowances for the layman. The tutorial does not help you see the general flow in the match pacing, and I find myself learning more just by watching matches. Even the inputs change subtly from Capcom and ArcSys fare; when charge moves take approximately half a second to charge, it opens up the combo games quite a bit!
So, in sum: fighting games of this caliber often require eschewing other games. To learn its intricacies, to explore its depth and to remain unscathed, you must bring a mindset of complete and utter dedication to your own craft. Many fighting game players don’t play anything else for years; surely, there’s something to that level of craft.
I am reminded of the Levitical priesthood. Talk about dedication; as a tribe of Israel set apart for God’s purposes, they must follow a strict set of guidelines. First, as we know from Deuteronomy 18:
The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the Lord’s offerings by fire and His portion. 2 They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them.
In the ancient world, family and inheritance were part of the end game for any adult life. You wanted progeny, to be fruitful and multiply, thereby keeping you and your family’s name in the hearts and minds of future generations. This makes God’s promise to make Abram a great nation in Genesis 12 especially poignant. God makes Abraham into the father of a nation that, many thousands of years later, we still read and seek to understand – how much more famous could you get?
And yet, these Levitical priests, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, could not share in that inheritance. God cuts them off from their family for his service and his ways. They must learn the intricate details of service in the Temple, from the proper purification rituals to the exact methodology required to create an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Even then, it’s not like they had a choice in the matter; if you happened to descend from Moses’ brother Aaron, that became your lot from the get go. You lived off tithes from the other Israelites, and you were cut off from them at the same time – swell deal:
2 But bring with you also your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may be joined with you and serve you, while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3 And they shall thus attend to your obligation and the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die. 4 They shall be joined with you and attend to the obligations of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; but an outsider may not come near you. 5 So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel.6 Behold, I Myself have taken your fellow Levites from among the sons of Israel; they are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord, to perform the service for the tent of meeting.
Probably we shudder at that sort of dedication, especially to something we were born to do (not usually an issue in Western culture, of course). Thankfully, Christ gives us the choice whether or not to accept that task, and even in the darkest hour we can find comfort and rest in him. The level of dedication still applies to the new priesthood of Hebrews, but Christ simplifies it:
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
All of this and I’m still terrible at fighting games! I don’t feel competent enough to play them, let alone review them. But, you must start somewhere to get anywhere.