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The Futility of Simplifying Your Fighting Game

Gaming article by Matthew Fetrow on February 21, 2018 at 10:00 AM

In a recent interview with Destructoid, Daisuke Ishiwatari, creator of the Guilty Gear franchise, stated that fans of the long-running anime fighting game can expect the eventual sequel to have less complicated mechanics. As things are now, he feels that Guilty Gear has grown to be too complex:


After releasing Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 it's clear what we need to improve on. The key is to win over more users because of the complex controls. But if we implement everything the game will no longer be Guilty Gear. It's hard to balance out all the improvements. One thing that we have to do in the next installment is to reduce the number of systems [mechanics]; it's too complicated for everyone. You can expect that in the next game.

As you might expect, these words were met with apprehension and mixed reactions from long-time players of Guilty Gear and even non-Guilty Gear players alike. This begs the question that some might be wondering: why is this a problem? Isn't it good for the game to appeal to as many as possible to ensure financial success? Won't the lower skill barrier feel more welcoming to potential people who were initially hesitant to try the game, especially if they've heard how hard it is? These are valid thoughts, and to answer them plainly: it's a mixed bag.


Franchises known for their difficulty have had an issue that's been slowly coming up for the past several years: how to make their game more “accessible," a word that's been especially prevalent in the world of fighting games recently. It's more or less treated as a hex or curse by people who enjoy their hard games, for fear that dumbing it down would also cut down the skill ceiling, forcefully handicapping experienced players to play at a level they're already well beyond. Street Fighter V was and is still under fire by some for this, with criticism thrown at it for its perceived lack of neutral game (the process of both characters standing on or near the center of the stage, with neither at an advantage, seeking the opportunity to begin their pressure by whiff punishing, baiting, or other methods) and little viability for zoning (the technique of keeping your opponent beyond their optimal range by use of projectiles and ranged attacks) and instead favoring all-out offensive playstyles with little respect to defense.

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Other than affecting the skill ceiling and alienating currently existing players, the concept of making a fighting game easier also bears potential consequences for the title's competitive longevity. Anime fighting games are, by and large, heavily offense-focused, with top players capable of insane set play and seemingly endless pressure. However, this usually isn't an issue, because many mechanics offered by these games are centered around giving players multiple ways to defend themselves and help them get out of that pressure. Guilty Gear features systems such as faultless defense, instant block, gold burst, blue burst, blitz shield, and dead angle attacks. All of these mechanics are crucial to the game's variety of defensive options, and in the act of simplifying the game, some are almost certain to be removed. This could be a problem because in a series where offense is heavily accentuated, the ability to adequately defend oneself is is just as important, and an imbalance between offensive options and defensive options could hurt competitive presence, especially considering that Arc System Works doesn't have a $600,000 year-long world tour to keep top players obliged like Capcom does for Street Fighter V.

Even when putting competitive balance aside, the act of simplifying a fighting game merely places a bandage over the perceived broken bone that the developer wants to fix. Fundamentally, fighting games are competitive, and the “easiness” of learning the game's basics becomes irrelevant as soon as you encounter a player who wants to win just as badly as you do. Even casual players will eventually climb a reasonably steep learning curve. However, the thing they want first and foremost are easy wins, and you can't give them that while maintaining a competitive experience. The only way to offer that is to collapse the skill ceiling all together and introduce an element of randomness to gameplay that can help sway the results one way or the other with little effort, which would be nothing short of complete disaster, making wins hollow and pointless anyway. It's highly unlikely ArcSys would go this far, but it's the worst-case scenario for a company going all-in on catering to casual players to the detriment of competitive ones.

Obviously, it's not totally impossible to offer a game that's easy to hop into while still being competitive. Dragon Ball FighterZ, also made by Arc System Works, is more or less the current gold standard for “easy to learn, difficult to master." In fact, it was probably this game's success that made Ishiwatari consider simplifying Guilty Gear in the first place. However, the success of DBFZ has only about half (perhaps less) to do with the fact that it's a good fighting game. It's success is just as much owed to the fact that it's Dragon Ball, the most popular and far-reaching anime franchise that currently exists. Guilty Gear does not have that influence—not by a long shot. To think that it could touch anywhere near that level of popularity by only making the systems easier would be foolish at best. There's also the fact DBFZ is a tag fighter, so mechanics like assists and meta concepts such as team synergy add to the skill ceiling height, but they don't apply to Guilty Gear.

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At the end of the day, Arc System Works has proven themselves to be competent and trustworthy time and again, and if there's one company I trust to make a game “accessible” without spitting in the face of veteran players, it's them. However, it's an extremely fine line to walk. Instead of removing mechanics, I personally feel that they would probably be better off by making very in-depth tutorials and trials, which Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 already features. Every fighting game experiences a massive fall-off of active players after the first few weeks, and simplifying the game is unlikely to change that. Casual players don't care so much about “easy to learn” as they do about flashy graphics and lots of single-player/offline content that rewards them for doing pretty much anything (a point I discussed further in a previous article).

Either way, I'm a fan of Guilty Gear and I'm looking forward to what Ishiwatari and all of Arc System Works has in store for us in the future.

P.S. Out of all mechanics to remove, I'm pretty sure no one would miss danger time.

What do you think about the idea of simplifying a game to appeal to more casual players or be more "accessible?" Do you agree with it? Disagree with it? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author

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Matthew Fetrow

I've been playing video games since 4 years of age, and finally began to deeply invest myself into the world of fighting games in 2015 after many off-and-on encounters with games inside the genre. I have a preference for 3D fighters, but also enjoy Street Fighter, King of Fighters, and some airdashers. I'm also a big fan of RPGs and shmups.