Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm – A Modern Take on Classic Mechanics

By on July 3, 2015 at 10:15 am
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There have been a lot of fighting game launches in the past year or two, and every time a new one comes out I load it up, go to training mode, and start hammering in long combos and trying out various setups that I’ll need to start playing the game. This week, a copy of Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm ended up in my lap, and I was greeted with a bread and butter combo of crouching short twice into a dragon punch. When it came time to play a friend, the game quickly broke down into tense segments of walking back and forth mixing in normals in attempts to punish whiffed moves or gain ground. Then I baited a bad jump-in attempt, parried it, brought down the most unholy of punishes, and holy crap I want to keep fighting towards those moments until my fingers stop working.

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Yatagarasu is not a new name on the fighting game scene, and many players have been looking forward to update Attack on Cataclysm since the successful Indiegogo campaign closed some time ago. Developed by a team of three ex-SNK staff members, the title borrows much of its own design from the late 90s and early 2000s, the most obvious influence being Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. I’ve been playing and diving into the game over the past week, and I’m here to talk about what to expect from the full PC release of the game, as well as my own personal takeaways. As such, I’m going to be diving head first into the meat of how the game plays, then we’ll talk about the features of the game enthusiasts are likely to care about, primarily how the online is handled.

As I said before, the obvious comparison most Yatagarasu players will make are to 3rd Strike. The game has a similar art style, is focused more on the ground game, and features a familiar parry mechanic. However, reducing the game to just those aspects would be a huge disservice. Yatagarasu has clearly learned from more modern design since 3rd Strike’s release, and has formed its own strong, unique identity alongside its inspirations. The devs have even retooled the parry mechanic to fall more in line with their own ideas of how the mechanic should play into the overall risk vs. reward structure of the game.

Yatagarasu’s parry system, or Button Locking, functions much like you’d expect; you parry a move with a slight screen freeze, then can instantly perform an action in an attempt to counter the move you parried. You can even parry out of blockstun in a similar fashion to Red Parry. The big difference between the way the mechanic is used here and in other titles is that in Yatagarasu, Button Locking has been assigned to two separate buttons alongside the four others used for attacks: one to parry highs and one to parry lows. An icon under your character’s health bar lights up denoting parry attempts, showing which you chose. This slightly alters the mechanic’s use when compared to to simply tapping a direction on the joystick, but the differences don’t stop there.

yata-review-5Obviously, there are consequences for guessing incorrectly. If you are wrong when selecting your parry type, your character will enter a special counterhit state known as BL Counter. When getting BL Countered on the ground, a character will take additional damage as well as incurring more hitstun from attacks, opening them up to a large punish. Since there’s no air blocking in Yatagarasu, people will attempt to parry while in the air to avoid getting anti-aired. If you fail a parry attempt while airborne and are BL Countered, you won’t take bonus damage but will instead enter a juggle state where similarly massive punish combos can be dealt out. Every time you input a parry, no matter what, you are taking on extra risk against the reward of successfully negating an attack.

That’s a long-winded explanation, but it shows the clear distinction the devs intended with their version of the parry mechanic, and it’s present throughout the entire game. Superjumping forward resembles a King of Fighters hyperhop: it’s low, quick, and hard to anti-air at some ranges. Characters also take double damage from normal moves and 1.5x damage from supers while superjumping. Backdashes are fast and build space, but are only invulnerable to throws and not strikes. If a move is invulnerable and can be used as a reversal, you can bet you won’t find a way to make it safe. The game has delay wakeup, quick rise, and incredibly few instances of hard knockdowns in order to limit set ups that create zero risk situations.

This philosophy of design even finds it’s way into the throw tech system. The game uses two button throws, and if a player techs a throw during the later frames of the throw tech window, they will be left at disadvantage. This directly limits option selects based on delay teching, which strengthens throws and ups the pace of matches. Crouch teching does exist in Yatagarasu, but the game actually forces out jab in that situation. All crouching jabs can be parried high or low, meaning all parry attempts beat this basic option select. Additionally, every character has a universal overhead that rewards a combo on crouching opponents. Those overheads are a small hop that can go over low moves, beating those options as well. Offense is strong in this game, and if you want to make an attempt to get out you will need to actually commit or incur some risk. In all my attempts to find option selects to cover this, I couldn’t find any way to not incur some type of additional risk enforced by the mechanics.

The end result of this design is that every interaction in the game feels intensely rewarding. Over the course of my matches, I felt like I was being rewarded more for understanding my opponent rather than by doing better combos or setups. Footsies are a huge focus and feel great, combos are short and not overly damaging unless you eat a big counterhit, and most pressure and okizeme attempts involve reading defensive options rather than catch all setups. That’s not to say the game is without dishonesty, though. Eating Kotaro kunai or Azure covered fireball setups is still bullshit, but again, the reward on those scenarios still falls in line with the rest of the game.

But none of this would really matter if Yatagarasu didn’t have a fun cast. The game ships with eleven characters (no need to unlock anything!) and they manage to be pretty diverse by catering to numerous playstyles. The two shoto-esque characters resemble Yatagarasu’s closest equivalent to clones in other games, but they have their own strengths and weaknesses while still playing similarly. The two sword girls are also sprite swaps, but play vastly differently. One is a charge character who resembles an offensive Balrog, while the other has a command sprint that can be used for run-stop pressure and an aerial move that’s like a toned down version of C. Viper’s Burn Kick in Street Fighter IV.

The roster covers returning archetypes as well, with designs that I will say are pretty obviously derived from 3rd Strike. I mean let’s be real, Jet is an altered version of Dudley with Genei Jin and Chadha is a newer spin on Hugo. The new additions to the cast feel fresh, Kotaro in particular, and I’m confident most players will be able to find a character they enjoy despite the relatively limited selction.

yata-review-4So now that I’ve spent entirely too much time going over how the game plays, let’s talk about what you actually get in this $15 package. Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm ships with a good amount of stages, brought to life by lovely artwork and high energy rock tracks. The commentator system is neat, as it adds gameplay descriptions from notable Japanese and American personalities, but I chose to play with them off most of the time to avoid screen clutter. That being said, I did select Unlimited James Chen once and was assaulted with a barrage of puns, so if you’re into that sort of thing, this system will definitely deliver.

Attack on Cataclysm also comes with an arcade mode, but it’s really standard fare most players will have experienced in other games. The requisite training mode, however, is one of the best  I’ve used in awhile. The different options for controlling the dummy are great, and the game feeds a huge wealth of information back to the player. You can also set an input delay in order to simulate online play if you are practicing with that in mind. Past that though, features are definitely where the game falls short.

When I first launched Yatagarasu, I was greeted by a launcher that resembles most Japanese doujin releases. The game features a native 4:3 resolution, but I can’t seem to find options that allow for that resolution while in fullscreen mode on my desktop. The NESiCA release runs at 4:3 with character art filling the sides of a widescreen display, a common practice for games of this nature, but this feature is missing from the PC version. It almost feels like accessibility and presentation options were an afterthought to getting the game out the door now that it’s finished and working. I didn’t run into any performance or stick compatibility issues, but I’m still troubled by the lack of options to make the game be presentable on my system.

This also carries over into netplay. There are some neat social media features, but other than that it is barebones. Yatagarasu uses an IP based system that will be confusing for the average user at first, and asks players to manually set things like delay. Fortunately, it does feature full public lobbies and displays ping, so you can easily avoid the more advanced options, hop into a lobby with friends, and get going. You’ll still need to manually set delay, but the game allows you to do this at character select.

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Once delay is set, though, this game feels great. As of this writing, GGPO hasn’t been implemented, but Yatagarasu’s stock delay-based netcode honestly works just as well. Online matches feel fantastic, I can actually perform most actions and play footsies similarly to how I would offline. I was playing with connections up to 100 or more ping across North America, and as long as the delay was set right, everything worked smoothly. To be blunt, I would rather play this game online than the embarrassing attempts at netcode by major publishers in recent releases. That being said, until this game gets into the wild, I have no idea how the overall online features will ultimately pan out. There are few people playing online at this point in time, and the system could fall apart under stress, but I’m confident that on a one-to-one connection basis, the netcode will hold up and perform very well.

Let’s recap; for $15 you get an enjoyable and competent fighting game, a modestly sized but diverse roster, and the basic modes you’d expect from any other out there. Yatagarasu doesn’t have a lot of fluff tacked on, but for the price tag you’re not going to be getting much else. What is in the package is definitely worth the price of admission, as everything is fine-tuned and works incredibly well. Again, the only major complaint I have is that the launch interface could stand to be more user-friendly, and for there to be proper resolution options. If this were to be addressed in the future, I would have no complaints overall about the contents of this release.

In conclusion, I want to really commend the Yatagarasu team for putting together a truly remarkable fighting game in the current market. Attack on Cataclysm takes a lot of design themes and inspirations from a bygone era, and applies them without conceding to the design pitfalls that plagued games from that time period. It plays out with a strong emphasis on player decision, and keeps things simple while leaving tons of room for depth to emerge. If you’ve been looking for a game to really flex your fighting game muscles, this is something you’ll definitely enjoy playing.

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Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm is currently available to backers of the game’s crowdfunding campaign, and will be publicly released on July 7. Special thanks to Eric “Juicebox” Albino for lending his expertise during the writing of this article.