Fighting game noobs beware: your button-mashing days are over…probably.
With Street Fighter X Tekken just over two months shy of its debut across major gaming platforms, gamers around the world are already taking sides – it’s an unofficial Team Tekken versus Team Street Fighter fanboy faceoff. The merger of the two iconic fighting titles isn’t the only thing Capcom’s upcoming game has going for it, however, as it also boasts the potential to one-up the entire fighting game genre with the GEM system.
Revamping the fighting game standard might be a bit of an overstatement, but the GEM system can at least leave its mark in the genre. While not an entirely original concept, Street Fighter X Tekken’s GEM system is unique in how it’s used. Among 57 standard gems, 5 are Assist GEMs that constantly provide assistance to the players using them in exchange for a handicap in other areas of gameplay, and 52 are Boost GEMs that boost one of five statistics like attack or defence if the characters encounter the conditions that trigger them. Players can choose three different GEMs to equip before a fight.
That doesn’t sound like much in theory, but in practice it might make all the difference. Take the standard Assist GEM “Easy Input” for instance. It allows players to make use of their characters’ special moves with fewer controls than they would otherwise have to combine. So instead of a down + forward + X + O, all a player has to do is a forward + X (this is not a specific move example, noobs).
In contrast, all of the Boost GEMs increase points in certain statistics of characters. With Boost GEMs, the player needs to clear a condition for the GEMs to be triggered. Let’s say you have a defence Boost GEM equipped and it is triggered when your character is hit a certain number of times. If while playing you are cornered into a multiple hit combo and your defence Boost GEM kicks in, it increases defence points for your character by a certain amount, reducing damage incurred.
The premise is simple enough; it’s the strategic element that adds depth to an otherwise straightforward fighting game. It also provides real world assistance (as with the Easy Input Assist GEM)and in-game fighting boosts at the same time. Will this take away from the simplistic allure of the genre? It depends.
Personally I’ve found it refreshing to bash demons in Devil May Cry right after a ridiculously difficult level in Splinter Cell. The run and gun (and slash) gameplay in Devil May Cry reflects the unassuming game formula of most fighting titles, Street Fighter and Tekken especially. The problem is – and I’ve encountered this many times before myself – is when button-mashing noobs can chain accidentally awesome combos on you despite your “mastery” of the fighting game you’re playing.
“Mastery” of a fighting game or game character is itself a dubious concept, especially if the game lacks certain technical depth and digresses into a competition of repetition and cheap shots. I loved Mortal Kombat 3 on the SNES, and I could wipe the floor with anyone using Noob Saibot, but after endless fights where I use three to four variations of the same old moves and specials, it just gets old.
This is the case, I’ve found, with a number of fighting games with few exceptions. This is exactly why Street Fighter X Tekken might be the next biggest thing in fighting games not only because you can finally get to match Ryu against Kazuya, but also because it incorporates technical depth lacking in most of the previous Street Fighter and Tekken titles. The GEM system could potentially launch both titular fighting games into the ranks of cult-hits-turned-mainstream-trends like Guilty Gear and technically masterful fighting games like the Soul Series.
This may be my personal preference, but Guilty Gear, particularly games after Guilty Gear XX (or X2), presented a lot of technical fighting with Tension Attacks and Teching. While Street Fighter enthusiasts were chaining together repetitive Hadukens, Guilty Gear X2 players were mastering Selective Teching and Instant Kills. Tekken could have gotten to the next level, but the depth of technical gameplay remained subpar, at least compared to the weapon-based unique techniques in Soul Calibur titles. Soul Calibur is the closest you can get to a Devil May Cry two-player versus mode, minus the demonic speed. I recall some of my gaming buddies staring each other’s characters down for a full minute, feeling each other out and sometimes even feinting moves, and then unleashing hits, grabs, counters, and critical finishes in a few seconds.
It’s undeniable that Street Fighter X Tekken is already a highly anticipated game owing to its combination of characters alone (despite some griping from hardcore gamers about the character lineup announcements), but can the game go beyond that and become intensely involving and technically challenging? Is the GEM system even worth the hype?
I would say yes, it is. It is neither a novel feature nor an exceedingly bold one, and many players would probably even ignore it completely at first, but it’s one buzzing trend that’s worth keeping an eye on. In the end it will meet one of two fates: fighting game fame or lame.
Here’s to hoping it doesn’t fizzle out into oblivion.