The Wait, This Happened? Award: Arslan: The Warriors of Legend
Now, let’s be very clear here: Arslan: The Warriors of Legend is not a terrible game. It’s not even bad, really. It’s got great graphics, the story is presented in a stimulating way, and the gameplay is just about as Warriors as you can want, with the rush mechanic adding a level of scale no spin-off before it has managed.
So why did I barely remember that it was a thing? Why can I clearly remember the things I love from FOTN: Ken’s Rage or Pirate Warriors 2 or DW: Gundam 3, and yet can’t even remember the names of the main characters in this, ostensibly a far more effort-filled and tightly constructed product? I guess the short version would be that it all feels somehow…dull. The movesets for the characters are dull. The characters themselves, bound by the definition of a single season of the anime, are dull cardboard stereotypes. The music, while occasionally great and evoking the feel of epic battle, is mostly only “good” with very little that stayed in my memory.
Perhaps its biggest sin is that it’s so light on identity and content, and not only in a gameplay sense. Most Warriors games present multiple storylines, or extra modes or multitudinous unlockable characters. Recently, we’ve been getting alternate story modes or additional fighting styles. But here, you get one decently-sized story mode, where you’ll play as most characters for a single mission if lucky, with many of them sharing weapons (although credit to different fighting styles with said weapons) and barely getting any character definition. I swear, late in the story several younger characters show up who are supposedly the sons of characters from earlier and I could not, for the life of me, tell you who the fuck anyone was talking about. And that combat, aside from the above mentioned Mardan Rush (and even that just involves moving a bunch of people at once and bullrushing shit), lacks a sense of combat identity or impact that makes the best Warriors games pop, ie the constant dashing and dodging of Gundam or the meaty fisticuffs and rhythmic combos of Ken’s Rage.
Again, this is NOT a bad game. If you really are jonesing for some Warriors action, you can probably find it at a worthwhile price by now. And truthfully, it’s almost admirable that they even brought it over here considering the complete non-presence of the Arslan series in the states at the time of this writing, so top marks for taking a chance. Play it for a long weekend, peruse some of the sparse post-game content and put it on your shelf forever more.
Music Choice: One of the few missions where the game really came to life. That song name kinda says it all about the game’s “personality”, though…
The I Wish I Was Good at Fighters Award BURNING Edition: The King of Fighters XIV
My relationship to the fighting game genre has always been a curious one. The series that I like, I end up REALLY liking. I can tell you everything about the mechanics and mythos of Soul Calibur or Tekken with minimal prompting. I can gush about my favorite Mortal Kombat memories, or rant about balancing in MVC3 with the best of them.
And yet…I’m not very good at them. I don’t know why, probably my naturally impaired fine motor skills, but my fingers just lack the precision required for the more knife-edge movements of high-level play. Oh, I’m not the worst player I know. I’m usually capable of finishing the single player modes on hard mode, and have at least a functioning grasp of the mechanics. But since I don’t have the time or skill to reach those upper tiers, my experience with a fighting game is usually more based around how “good” it feels to me, ephemeral as that may sound.
Which brings us to this year’s choice. I’m familiar with KOF, even though the last one I played was in the 90’s, but I’ve still managed to keep aware of the series as a whole. However, something about the trailers for this one caught my eye, particularly because I first saw them around the time I was playing Street Fighter V. Now, I enjoyed SFV, and I think it’s a well-designed game. But it had problems, particularly when it came to initial single player content, and I am an avid proponent of single player content in fighters since it gives you a way to connect to the characters on a more personal level. To connect as, well, characters. Learn about them outside of the attention-draining stress of a match against another human. And being devoid of those modes made the fire burn less hot for SFV, I suppose. Ironic, given that I’ve been playing the fighters of the streets since the SNES days and the last thing you think I’d need is more time to connect.
Anyway, along comes King of Fighters XIV, positively overflowing with personality and charm. A huge and diverse, and a bit intimidating, cast of fighters, all with their own quirks and play styles. A visual identity that admittedly sacrifices a bit of graphical fidelity, but makes up for it with very expressive faces and character models. And a pretty bomb-ass soundtrack to tie it all up. And suddenly, I found myself falling in love with a series and setting that has been on the far back burner of my fandoms for literal decades.
Of course, all the personality in the world means dick if the game doesn’t play right, and yeah, there is a slight bit of skill ceiling involved here. This is an old workhorse of a series, and it plays as such, sometimes groaning under the weight of evolution and packed to the gills and beyond with systems and subsystems and cancels and frame counting and all that good stuff that makes my head spin.
But you know what? Even for a luddite like me, the simple joys of being able to pick from a literal legion of pugilists who run the gamut from “buff monster men” to “kawaii anime girl psychopath” or “tyrannical kung fu master/corporate CEO” and get some quick, fun fighting in WITHOUT feeling like I’m God’s punishment for professional players more than make up for any misgivings I may have about my own limited skillset. In short, while masters will find tons to sink their teeth into with the game, it works for the little people as well. And that’s something that needs to be celebrated as it feels somewhat rare in the modern fighting game landscape.
Music Choice: This was playing during the exact match when I realized “Oh shit, I’m having actual fun.” And even without the personal attachment, it’s pretty bitching, with that rocking-guitar that screams “90’s Fist-Based Disagreements are Awesome!” Bonus points for those who actually know what Ikari Warriors is.