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Monday
Oct022017

« Arika’s Mysterious Fighting Game: Evo impressions, recent updates & the future by Josh "funkdoc" Ballard, part 1 »

After an extremely busy couple months, I'm finally back to talk more about Arika's new fighting game! It still doesn't have an official title, so I'll just use Arika EX since that seems to be the short working title. I played it far more than any other game at Evo this year, and was even allowed some press time with it—huge thanks to Jiyuna for that! I'll discuss my thoughts on the game after that experience, factoring in the revelations on Daigo's stream and the recent Nemo vs. Fuudo stream.

Changes from the Initial Build

A couple of the major mechanics in the April Fool's Day build were removed from the versions we've seen since then, as both sidestepping and the Roman Cancel knockoff are gone. In their place we gained the now-infamous Gougi System: the ability to choose from different "decks" of special abilities which are unlocked by meeting specific conditions during the course of the match. People immediately compared these to Street Fighter X Tekken's gems, but that doesn't quite capture the idea. A Gougi is more like a set of gems, and on the whole these abilities change the game far more than gems did.

Many suspect that the Roman Cancel was removed because it could end up being reserved for certain Gougi decks, but it would be highly unbalanced to give sidestepping the same treatment. My own hunch regarding the sidestep removal is twofold. First, there may have been concerns that stepping could cause camera weirdness and make it hard for the players to see their characters. Second, they almost certainly screwed up combos and moved characters off-axis when they shouldn't have been; older Arika fighters had problems with this on certain crossups and D.Dark's wire.

More on the Gougi System

The build at Evo had five different Gougi decks, most of which were a mixture of stat buffs (e.g. +15 percent damage) and entirely new mechanics to unlock (e.g. combo breakers). I'm not going to cover every deck in detail because the developers later mentioned that the decks were just meant for testing and may not be in the final game. I will instead highlight the specific abilities most likely to make it into the final game, as well as the most broken ones so as to point out where the system can go wrong.

It's also worth noting that every version of Arika EX thus far has used three out of five rounds for matches. This is likely meant to make the Gougi abilities more important, since all of them last for the rest of the match once activated.

To start with one of the abilities mentioned in parentheses above, a couple of the Evo decks had a combo-breaker ability called Illusion. This was activated by taking 300 points (one and a half life bars) worth of damage during the match, and it allowed you to escape a combo once per round. They seemed to be safe as well, not baitable like Arcsys bursts. The once per round limitation makes this fair if placed in the right deck, so I could easily see it showing up in the final game with no changes.

There's another fighting-game staple that I expect to remain as is—guard cancels! Three of the Evo decks had this, and the requirement to activate it was pretty easy: block 30 attacks. Any special move could be used as a guard cancel, and the game seemed to add some startup invincibility to moves that don't normally have any. They cost one bar of meter, so this is also a very fair ability.

One ability stood out to me as especially creative and balanced: Ghost. The condition to activate this is tricky (avoid all enemy attacks for six seconds straight), but so is the ability itself. When Ghost is activated, you turn invisible during your dash and for about a second after ending it! Invisibility doesn't have a good track record in fighters, but this has serious potential to open up the neutral game. Most people would assume it's meant for high/low mixups, but the game has other ideas; the invisibility ends if you use a Surprise Blow (Fighting Layer/EX3-style universal overhead). I think the post-dash invisibility will be the most important part, as you can use it to dash into throw or jump in or sweep. This was easily my favorite of the Gougi abilities on display, and I hope it survives.

The Evo build also featured some horribly overpowered abilities. I love broken garbage more than just about anyone, but these weren't even the fun kind of broken. That's why I was relieved to hear the comment about the current Gougi being tests rather than the final product! I'll quickly describe the worst offenders here to show the dangers of this system.

The ability I abused the most at Evo was the super armor. This had the same activation condition as the combo breaker and gave you constant armor for the rest of the match. The armor didn't even have a limit like, say, Sentinel's in Marvel vs. Capcom 2; the only things that stopped it were throws and other knockdown moves. The armor even worked in the air! This meant that if your opponent didn't have armor, they were forced to take huge risks to prevent you from dashing in with chain combos and throws. If both players had armor, you got to see some hilarious exchanges when they tried to combo each other at the same time. I think this idea could be okay for the final game if they allowed the armor to be broken with two quick hits, but certainly not if it remains in the state we saw. Unfortunately it wasn't changed in the Tokyo Game Show build used for the Fuudo vs. Nemo match, but it should be eventually as the players and commentators on that stream openly discussed how broken the armor is.

The other one that caught a lot of flak at Evo was the infinite super meter. Only one of the Evo decks had this, and it was a very weak deck otherwise. Nonetheless, it may have been the best deck there just because of this ability. The idea was as follows: once you used seven bars of meter during a match, you gained infinite meter for the rest of the match. Considering that you can cancel nearly anything into supers, and supers into different supers, it shouldn't be too hard to see where this would be a problem. I didn't experiment too much with this one at the time, but others did and found things like this:

Infinite meter leads to infinite blockstrings for Garuda! Kairi could do something similar with his two air supers as well.

In fairness, if you watch that full video, you'll see that guard cancels could stop the worst abuses of this. If you played a deck without guard cancels, however, you were screwed. Thankfully the TGS build toned this down in a clever way: changing the ability from "infinite meter" to "regenerate meter when you stop moving." This makes it work more like the meter in most fighting games' training mode, so it's not such a balance headache anymore.

In any case, the Gougi System is clearly at the center of Arika EX. In an era when most fighting games tone down the overall power level of their characters and systems over time, it pleases me to see someone going in the opposite direction. The desire for game-changing Gougi abilities will make it much harder to balance the game and keep it viable for competitive play, but I'm more optimistic about Arika's chances now than I would've been had they tried this 10 years ago. Even if the developers fail at first, they now have the option of patching the game as they go.

General Gameplay

There's plenty more to talk about aside from the Gougi System. Arika EX's walk speed, attack speed and hitboxes give it a similar feel to that of the Street Fighter EX series, but it plays much differently from any of those games. Why?

Unlike SFEX, this game combines King of Fighters-style dashing with Marvel-style chain combos.  Dashing adds a lot of forward momentum for your chains, which is the only way some chains can combo into specials. This game also has two-button throws like 3rd Strike, so you can instantly throw from your dashes. With such a strong emphasis on mixing up chains and throws when dashing, I actually tend to compare Arika EX to Last Blade. One concern I have is that there was no extra damage scaling for easy combo starters such as crouching LK; the Guilty Gear designers learned the hard way that the game gets less interesting when a low light attack gives the same reward as a standing heavy attack. If this game continues to focus this heavily on dashing and close-range combat, I hope the team at Arika addresses this somehow!

It's good to note that some characters have the tools to prevent constant dashing—Kairi has a solid fireball, and Garuda has the QCF+P chest spike. The characters lacking these things will most likely be the most offensive ones. I'm not too worried about a good balance in this regard.

Though this game had the standard three bars of meter, level three supers (or Meteor Combos in EX-speak) were nowhere to be seen. This may also turn out be an option reserved for certain Gougi decks.

One final point worth mentioning here is that the Evo build included an option for traditional or simple ("Progressive") controls. The simple control scheme made specials and supers much easier to perform, but almost nobody seemed to be a fan of it. The problem I had with it was that it was far too easy to get accidental special moves, since their motions were just one direction plus an attack button (e.g. f+P for a fireball). I'm not sure if this is much of an issue since no designers expect competitive players to use simple controls anyway, and they do their job well for newcomers.

Part two will explore individual characters, new information since Evo and Funkdoc's thoughts for the future.

Josh Ballard is a longtime veteran of competitive games, ranging from speedruns to the card game Dominion. The fighting game scene was his first love, and he remains a fan of old & obscure fighters. You can find his Twitch stream at twitch.tv/pslfunkdoc, and follow him on Twitter @PSLfunkdoc.

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