Loyal NSFW Gamer fans might remember last year’s column by a certain asshole writer that kindly and somewhat politely asked the industry to give me a reason to care about the storyline in my fighting games. I cited Mortal Kombat as the best example of a story in a brawler that I could invest in, and there has been no shortage of entries in the genre ever since Street Fighter IV helped reignite it.
One year later, we now have Injustice, the next game from NetherRealm and unsurprisingly, it’s a solid effort. Taking the heroes and villains of DC Comics and pitting them against each other is enough of a reason to pitch a video game, but rather than just create a Super Smash Brothers free for all, we once again got a fantastic story mode.
Is anybody else who makes a fighting game paying attention? You might want to start.
I never expected anything less than a shitload of content and effort on the part of NetherRealm Studios, one company who still seems to understand the inherent value of a full retail release. Anyone who attempted to unlock the entire krypt as well as complete the Challenge Tower in MK9 remembers the weeks, if not months it took them to finally get a look at Mileena’s demonically delicious body in her flesh pit outfit. Thanks to a Teen rating, no such thing will be happening with Harley Quinn, although that’s why there is NSFW Gamer‘s upcoming original feature devoted to the winner of our recent poll!
Now that my shitty and shameless plug is out of the way, let us be clear: having the license to use DC Comics characters was not the reason that Injustice has a compelling story to tell. Am I interested in the idea of Superman going apeshit and slaughtering The Joker after being forced to murder Lois Lane? You bet your ass I am, but this isn’t exclusive to the fighting genre. Rocksteady has already put out two incredible Batman titles in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City while Sucker Punch introduced us to the world of Cole McGrath and inFAMOUS, a truly realized comic book character inside a game without any Marvel fanfare. Licensed or not, creative characters can exist if simply imagined.
So what the hell is taking fighting game developers so long to wrap their head around this concept?
Part of the problem is undoubtedly the genre itself. In a fighting game, all you do is beat somebody in the face until they fall over and cannot get back to their feet. Thanks to the wonders of Google, I stumbled upon a blog by the name of I Speak Comics whose author places blame on arcades for the lack of a developed narrative in something like Street Fighter. While I understand his point, especially considering that Ryu scarring Sagat’s chest happened in the blueprint game for just about every fighting game ever created, Mortal Kombat also started in the same location: the arcades. I have just as many memories of defeating a player twice my age in a dimly lit mall space as I do of pummeling someone half my age online.
Yes, Street Fighter IV began its life in the arcade before finding its way to consoles, but Soul Calibur V has no such excuse. Namco Bandai’s latest entry in the series that once earned nearly universal perfect scores with its debut on the Dreamcast was criticized for the one hook that a home fighting game should make a priority: the story mode. Same goes for Dead or Alive 5, and if you tell me you have managed to make sense of the plot in that series, you’re a goddamned liar who deserves to be deported.
One notable exception that came out of nowhere was Persona 4 Arena, a spinoff of one of the most beloved PlayStation 2 RPGs ever released. Not only was this a quality fighting game, but it expanded on the story of Persona 4 if hardcore fans wanted to tear through the dialogue-heavy story mode. This could be a golden opportunity as well as an untapped resource for other games out there: rather than make another sequel or remake, why not introduce a new entry in the form of a fighting game?
They did it with Dissidia for Final Fantasy, so why not give this a try with something established like Metal Gear Solid, maybe a side story that takes place some time between two of the main games in the series? Dead Space would make for one hell of a fighting game and teach new ways to dismember Necromorphs. Can you imagine if Rockstar took the time to put the effort they put into every game they make and used it toward a fighting game?
Considering Sony’s raging erection for all things independent in gaming, I hope someone out there who is thinking along the same lines as I am is crafting a fighting game that we can all eventually experience properly on a system. Injustice was not a simple cash-in, but given total freedom, I would love to see what somebody on the scale of Skullgirls can imagine if the goal is to make us remember the game for more than just the combos we pull off. I have thrown more fireballs in my lifetime with Ryu and Ken than I will ever be able to remember; why not explain to me exactly why I am doing it? Give me more than “Oh, shit, there’s another tournament. I gotta win this one too!”
If this doesn’t fit in the fighting genre, maybe those characters can expand out of their comfort zone and into an action game–
Oh, wait. I forgot. That never ends well.