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Monday
Oct092017

« Arika’s Mysterious Fighting Game: Evo impressions, recent updates & the future by Josh "funkdoc" Ballard, part 2 »

(Part one of this article can be found here.)

After talking at length about the gameplay systems found in Arika EX, Funkdoc looks at the individual characters found in the playable build as well as the way the game has changed as Arika continues to work on it.

Character Notes

The Evo build had 3 playable characters: Kairi, Hokuto (whose name was changed to Shirase since then), and Garuda. They got this honor by being the first three characters Arika created for Street Fighter EX, and I enjoyed all of them.

Kairi has his EX2/3 look, but he plays much more like EX1 Kairi. His fireball is the traditional shoto style, and his Hurricane Kick now works like the standard SF Ryu version. He can also Hurricane Kick in the air now, which is new for him. He lost pretty much all of his additions from EX2 and 3: the teleport, the level 3 beam super, the divekick that makes him bounce on impact, and the ability to divekick after his air fireball super. He doesn't even have his level 1 Raging Demon clone from EX1.

Kairi is the obvious "all-around" character, as he has good counters to this game's rushdown but can do it pretty well himself. His Dragon Punch is obviously a nice guard cancel, though not quite the best in my view. The main issue I noticed with him is that it can be awkward to combo his chains into supers, since he only has one short-ranged super on the ground.

Garuda is a character whose core playstyle has changed quite a bit from past games. He's more offensive here, as the dashing chain combos enable him to get plenty of safe chip damage from his chest spike. As mentioned earlier, the spike can also stop opponents from blindly rushing in. I will note that his Dragon Punch hitbox seems to have been nerfed—I don't recall it whiffing on opponents' crossups nearly as often as it did at Evo. Though I find him a lot more fun than in previous games, I suspect he'd turn out to be the weakest of these three characters in their current state.

Shirase (sticking to this name for simplicity) was the one who really took me by surprise. Though I always liked Hokuto's design, I had never played her much in the older EX games. Here, though, Shirase turned out to be easily my favorite of the Evo cast. She's most similar to EX2 Hokuto, meaning the original EX moveset with Bloody Hokuto's launch super.

In the SFEX series, Hokuto had low damage potential (outside of system goodies like Excels and tags) and tended to be best played as a defensive character with her strong normal moves. Arika EX's dashing and chain combos have completely changed her identity, as Shirase was by far the strongest offensive character of the Evo three. The chains help address her core damage problems, and the dashing fits perfectly with her command grab. The command grab also received a buff here, as she can link after it with crouching MK; Hokuto was limited to a crouching LK link in the older EX games. This is quite significant since cr.MK combos into her elbow special, meaning she gets full "bread and butter" combos from the grab. I also think her command grab could the best guard cancel in the game, as it gains startup invincibility when used for that. The follow-up combo potential almost makes it feel like Rose's punch Alpha Counter in Street Fighter Alpha 2! Of the characters we've seen so far, Shirase strikes me as the toughest to balance since she has good normal moves and a pseudo-backdash to go with her rushdown/grappler game and guard cancel.

Revelations Since Evo and Fuudo vs. Nemo

Last month, Arika EX was featured on Daigo Umehara's stream. There were plenty of matches showing off the Evo reveals Skullomania and Darun, along with Q&A with the developers. The clear highlight was the reveal of Allen Snider as a cast member. Allen and Blair Dame had only appeared in EX1 and Fighting Layer, so Blair seems likely to show up in this game as well since she's the more popular of those two characters. The developers mentioned that the initial cast on release will be 10 characters, but more will be added over time. Arika created exactly 10 original characters for EX1 (if you don't count the Cycloids), so most are suspecting those will be the first 10 for this game. That would mean Blair, Doctrine Dark, Cracker Jack and Pullum in addition to the ones we've already seen. They also suggested that Street Fighter EX2's Excels (custom combos) will be an ability in one of the Gougi decks. I had mentioned in my previous article that Excels may be seen as too inaccessible for a modern fighter, but Arika might think they're best off targeting a more hardcore audience with this game. They're clearly aware that EX2+ is still played competitively, as they've shared tournaments like 2 Old 2 Furious on their social media accounts. All in all I think Excels would be a smart move on their part—now give me a deck with Momentaries and I'll be in heaven!

More recently, we got to see an Arika EX exhibition match between Japanese fighting game legends Fuudo and Nemo at the Tokyo Game Show. The match featured an updated build with many significant changes, some of which were already discussed in the Gougi System section. Besides those, the other deck that's been changed is the one that I saw the least at Evo: the Aggro deck. This deck is mainly built around increasing your damage, and its centerpiece ability (Rampage) built your damage by a percentage that increased with the number of attacks you landed during the match. In the TGS build, Rampage now has a timer on its damage buildup; you need to land a hit before the timer runs out or else your damage will return to its normal level. You can build this up to a 10 percent damage boost on all attacks with a good offensive series, and that's in addition to the other damage-percentage boosts that are part of the deck! Fuudo made good use of this deck with Allen in the first-to-five exhibition:

Blink and you'll miss it! Note the use of Allen's Triple Break super to beat the armor.

Given that I and most others ignored this deck at Evo, it was fun to see it get some love. The new damage timer is a neat way to add some tension to the match!

However, Nemo ultimately took the set with the character/deck combination I felt was the strongest at Evo: Shirase with the Miracle deck. Miracle gives you four of the best abilities in the game and an easy way to unlock all of them at once: keep a full super meter for 20 seconds. These abilities include the super armor, combo breaker, guard cancel and one I haven't discussed called Guard Break. Guard Break changes your universal overhead into an unblockable attack that stuns opponents for a followup combo, and it's normally the toughest ability to unlock. Miracle's special condition takes care of that problem, and Nemo outright said on the TGS stream that the Guard Break is too powerful when combined with the super armor. He went on to prove this in the exhibition:

The beginning of this round is the part to watch here. It's ridiculous when you realize that Guard Breaks don't use meter in this game!

I was shocked to see Miracle completely unchanged, and can't imagine that lasting too much longer. It's mostly the armor that needs nerfing, but I'm also worried that it's too easy to unlock the whole deck. Even with toned down armor, I still think this deck could be too strong for characters with great guard cancels or fast universal overheads. Hopefully this gets a close look before release!

After the exhibition, Arika revealed Doctrine Dark as their next character. He's one of my favorite designs of theirs, but I worry that his zoning won't translate to this game and its hectic pace. His ground explosives will be great for stopping dashes, but anti-air will be an issue if his wires aren't adjusted. They could just give him back his Dragon Punch from EX1, but his anti-air wire from the later EX games is much more unique and I'd rather see them make that work. Nobody thus far has stood out as extremely weak, so I'm optimistic.

We also learned some new details on Arika's plans for the game. Jiyuna subtly hinted at them adding more moves in the future, specifically in response to someone asking about Kairi's Raging Demon. Excels were brought up again as a possible Gougi ability, and the developers said that they want to add anything they can think of to the Gougi System. Most importantly, it was confirmed that players will be able to create custom Gougi decks in the finished game. That's far from surprising, but I'm concerned that this could lead to samey decks in the long run. I'm a big fan of premade decks that balance strong abilities with weaker ones, and I hope the customization doesn't remove that element; my wish is that they exclude the most powerful options from custom building.

Looking Ahead

One of the consistent themes of the TGS stream was "fun." Jiyuna often brought up the creativity and sheer fun factor of Arika EX, pointing out that this type of philosophy is missing from today's fighting games. In an era where seemingly every developer thinks a fighter needs to become an esport to have a chance in the market, I share his sentiment. Arika seems to be purposely building a playground of wacky ideas for players to experiment with, not caring in the slightest about a pro tour. It's an obvious case of zigging while others zag, and I think that's going to draw a larger audience than they expect. There are plenty of players out there who aren't entirely satisfied with the more stoic offerings of the modern era, and the Gougi System is the opposite of stoic. There's a reason titles like Jackie Chan in Fists of Fire still enjoy a cult following, and Arika EX is doing more than any other current fighter to tap into the spirit of those "poverty" classics. It's a niche I'm glad to see served again!

Though I had assumed this game would only attract fighting-game veterans, I'm beginning to see a bit more potential with newcomers and more recent players. The game's visuals help a lot—stream chats constantly point out how much better looking it is than Capcom's recent work, which is a first for Arika! Also, as I mentioned in my previous Arika article series, many newer fighting-game fans adore the EX series for its music and character designs. Arika EX is starting with their most popular characters and will feature a new soundtrack from the same team that worked on the older games, taking care of that aspect. The Gougi System may attract fighting game players with a background in other games as well, given how it incorporates non-fighting game design while remaining accessible. Finally, this game plays at a much faster pace than previous Arika fighters or modern Street Fighter; in my experience, speed tends to be one of the most attractive qualities to those newer to fighting games.

All told, though this is far from an AAA game, I would argue that it's one to keep an eye on. Those of you lucky enough to own a PS4 will have access to an open beta near the end of this year, so I highly recommend giving it a shot if my Evo experience was any indication!

Special thanks:

  • Jiyuna and the rest of the fine folks at Arika for giving me press time with the game as well as all of their other work on this project
  • Capsule Entertainment for their video of the infinite blockstrings with the meter Gougi
  • MountainManJed for clarifying some things and always being willing to talk Arika games and engine specifics
  • SuperFX for offering to publish my previous article series and this one

 

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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