Last month, a new fighting game titled Fantasy Strike was revealed to the world. Being made by ex-Street Fighter developer/competitor David Sirlin and his team at Sirlin Games, this title has its sights set on both casual and competitive players alike. With extremely simplified controls and a low execution barrier for new players, while maintaining the strategy and depth found in classic and modern fighters for veterans, Fantasy Strike has something for everyone.
I recently got the chance to try out the alpha build of Fantasy Strike with Sirlin and his team at their booth at the PlayStation Experience inside the Anaheim Convention Center during the first weekend of December. I played between 60-70 sets with the Fantasy Strike team and PSX attendees in a three-hour timespan; during that time, I was able to get a good feel for the controls, core mechanics, and overall fun factor of the game in its early state so far.
Controls and Core Mechanics
Although I understand Fantasy Strike is still early in development, visually the game looks rather basic and bland. While the title does run at a steady 60 frames per second and sports a myriad of colors with a certain lighthearted brightness to it, the characters and stages the team had available were lacking in finer details, as well as smoother animations when performing normal actions and specials. I’m sure that will all be remedied and more polished once the final product is out on PlayStation 4, PC and Mac. Also, when it comes to sound effects and music in this build, there is still a long way to go in that department–but what was in the game was fine enough at this stage in this development. What really matters is how it controlled and played so far.
Controls are simple enough: X is your jump button, which is usually not the norm for 2D fighters–they’re more common in platform brawlers, like Super Smash Bros. Melee for example. Square is your regular attack button with neutral, left and right motions being pressed along with it to do different attacks, as well as to throw when up close (more on that later). Triangle and circle buttons are for your special attacks. No input motions are necessary to execute them, and pressing both of them at the same time activates your character’s super move both on the ground and in the air. Movement on the D-pad is relegated to just walking left and right, and controlling your jump arc when you use the jump button. There is no crouching in this game, as well as no dashes or runs. Every character has different walk speeds, so that makes up for the lack of extra universal movement options, since the main goal of this game is to make it very simple for anyone to pick up and play right off the bat.
It did take some getting used to the jump button, even though I have played Melee to death on a casual level since its release. Since this game seems to be heavily influenced by the Street Fighter series which I’ve been playing since SFII, having a jump button felt foreign to me the first few sets. After roughly 10 sets in though, it started to feel natural and having a control scheme this easy to use, I was able to move around freely and play some solid neutral on the ground while not having to worry about messing up motion inputs that could cost me critical rounds to close out sets. It felt refreshing to not have that added stress of executing hard combos and specials, and instead focus on more important aspects of the match such as spacing, offense, defense, and mind games between the opponent and myself.
Along with the easy-to-use controls and low execution barrier, the mechanics of FS are not only just as simple to grasp and understand at a basic level, it adds some unexpected depth and strategy for seasoned fighting game veterans to toy around with what’s underneath this surface of simplicity. From my time with the game, Fantasy Strike had three interesting and important mechanics: life bars, super meter and Yomi Counters.
Life bars for the characters in Fantasy Strike is not one long single life bar, like in other games, that gradually decreases with damage taken. Each character’s life bar is broken up smaller life bars instead that usually range from six to as many as eight bars. There is chip damage in this game, but it’s done a bit differently in Fantasy Strike: when specials and supers hit a blocking opponent, one of their individual bars starts to flash red. According to the guide, if you hit your opponent’s character while they are in a blocking position two more times while their life bars are in that flashing state, they will lose that bar and take damage. However if you don’t chip them during those four seconds that their one bar is flashing red, the bar goes back to its original non-flashing state and no chip damage is taken. This opens up an interesting meta when it comes to playing a defensive game where at a certain point you’ll be forced to go on offense instead of just sitting there all day taking free damage, which you can lose really quickly in this game if you’re not careful and don’t weigh both your offensive and defensive options correctly.
Speaking of offense, you don’t build up your super meter again after you use your super move by dealing or taking damage like in other games. Instead, your super meter has a cool-down period, and it refills after a few seconds go by during the match. While it sounds intriguing on paper, this might pose a problem in the long term by fostering too much reliance on supers–since they’re not only invincible for a long period of time after activation, but some of them do a lot of damage, which might get abused since the players won’t have to do anything to get the meter back again; the game does it for them. It’s one of those ideas where the whole concept of FS being easy to pick up and play might fall flat on its face. I would say in this case, the player should build it back up in chunks by going on offense, or if they take too much damage, but we’ll see where that goes.
The third and probably most interesting mechanic of the game is the Yomi Counter–teching and countering throws by not pressing any buttons and not moving at all. It’s a very risky tactic to use, but if you know your opponent wants to throw you, just do nothing and you’ll not only tech the throw, but you’ll deal some damage back with a freeze frame counter animation, and get a full super meter as a reward. This really boils to getting to know your opponent’s tendencies and conditioning your opponent to do or not do certain things during the match. If they like to try to Yomi Counter a lot, you can use it against them instead by actually just making them stand still by faking that you’re going to throw them and instead do a high-damage special, super or combo on them to make them pay for their mistake for not doing anything. This opens up a whole new mind game that hasn’t been explored in other fighters before, and it might make for some more exciting chess-style matches between players who know each other very well. However, getting rewarded with a full super meter might be a bit too much on top of damage you are already doing for landing a successful Yomi Counter. Maybe half a super meter bar instead?
First Impression Verdict
Honestly, I was skeptical about FS due to its extreme simplicity and not-so-stellar visuals (so far), but I was very surprised by how solidly it played even in its early alpha stages. Out of the eight characters that were available to play, I enjoyed learning Valerie (a blonde rushdown female fighter with a deadly paintbrush) and Rook (a stone golem grappler-type who feels like the lovechild of Zangief and The Hulk) the most. Even though I lost a lot of games to Sirlin, his FS team and other players, I was having so much fun just learning the ins and outs of the game while appreciating both its casual and competitive aspects.
Even though FS still needs a lot of work (and financial support, through Patreon) to be able to fix or spruce up some of its glaring issues, such as the visuals and sound effects of the characters and stages–as well as balance out some of the potentially awesome mechanics of this game–I think it says something when pro players such as Long “LPN” Nguyen, EG|Justin Wong and even ZOWIE|Bruce “GamerBee” Hsiang stopped by the booth during the weekend to play the game and left with a positive experience from it. The potential for FS is high, and with Sirlin’s veteran experience and his team of passionate staff members, I’m sure the finished game–with enough support–will be something great for everyone to enjoy.