Sometimes, paying homage in fighting games can go too far: Thoughts on Fantasy Strike’s Lum Bam-foo

By on December 13, 2017 at 1:00 pm
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Fantasy Strike from Sirlin Games, is a game that tries to appeal to all sorts of fighting game players. If you haven’t seen it before, the game strips traditional fighting game barriers in favor of a more accessible style — which proves effective. No need to learn long command lists or obscure mechanics, or to input complicated motions for special attacks. What’s more, the colorful cast covers most archetypes that you could wish for: rush-down ninjas, defensive zoners, grapplers, balanced types, and more.

Fantasy Strike’s latest character, Lum Bam-foo, debuted earlier this month with a spotlight trailer. “He’s a panda who loves gambling, as most pandas do,” the video touts, explaining the mechanics of the item-tosser. Apart from his large-ish normals, the panda’s forte is an arsenal of random items; from cakes that restore health and cherries that give super meter, to fireworks that cover the whole screen, and walking mini-Lums and mini-Rooks.

Archetypes are fine; they give us a guideline of what we can expect in terms of character abilities (ComboFiend infamously called them “functions.” in reference to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite) In my opinion, however, Sirlin Games crossed a certain line with Lum (and we’ll discuss an older character, DeGrey, as well). Rather than paying homage, Lum Bam-Foo is essentially a copy of Guilty Gear’s Faust – granted, not in every aspect, but particularly in his arsenal of items.

Instead of having a long bamboo stick, Lum has awkward-looking normals, a rolling attack which is good for picking up items, and a trampoline attack for rushdown. While Lum doesn’t match Faust in his personality or design, his item set — and by extension, his play style — certainly does. The fireworks are like meteors, the two traveling minis of Lum and Rook are the same (there was a multi-hitting mini-Potemkin in Accent Core), health items match, the coin is hammer-like, a bomb that hits both players, and finally, the Slot Machine is basically like Faust’s multi-item super as well. There are a couple of original ones, like the cloud and the Dice air super.

There’s another character in Fantasy Strike that should catch the eye of Guilty Gear players: DeGrey. For unknown reasons, his lifespan is unnaturally long (it’s thanks to Persephone, but the reasoning is unexplained), so DeGrey has a ghostly companion that he can send out.

Without mincing words, a lot of DeGrey’s moves are identical to Slayer’s moveset. It’s obviously intentional; after all, his attack is also called Pilebunker. Even the backstep used to be called Dandy Step (by looking at the spotlight video, it looks like it was renamed to “Counter-point Step.”)

The shameless copying is irritating, especially because I liked DeGrey when I played him. The ghost adds something to his gameplay; he seemed overpowered, even. When you look at the animations side by side, though, you can really see how similar they are. Does it really matter if one of his moves is called “Dandy Step” or something different? I suppose not; neither name fits his personality, though. He’s a lawyer, though I didn’t know that until the spotlight video told me.

We already know that it’s increasingly rare to encounter originality. While occasionally we can find something brand new, more often than not we see previous ideas used as blueprints for newer things. The phrase “Remix Culture” comes to mind. Lum and DeGrey aren’t the only ones who have very similar animations, and it extends to games other than Arc System Works’ Guilty Gear.

Remix Culture’s neighboring concept is “paying homage” or “tribute” to something. In fighting games, for example, it can be characters based on the legendary fighter Bruce Lee (and gamers sick of seeing them). A better example is how Dragon Ball FighterZ treats its source material — with reverence and respect, staying faithful to how the manga/anime portrayed its characters.

Coming back to Lum, it’s him that I find most problematic. Not only because he borrows so much from Faust, but also because the character doesn’t stand on its own thematically. Faust is a unique, fleshed-out fighting game character because everything he has suits his wacky personality: the way he moves, crouches, air-dashes, the weird invincible spin on his Dust attack, his paperbag head, and so on.

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Why does Lum throw a watermelon in the air? Is it there just because Faust has a bomb throw while airborne? It just doesn’t make sense thematically. To be honest, neither does the Gambling Machine super. The idea of a slot machine is that sometimes you might not get anything at all, but that’s not the case here. Lum feels like an awkward carbon copy of Faust who is missing a lot of his own spirit; he doesn’t take the gambling theme anywhere, nor does anything remarkable with it. It’s just a different dress-up for Faust’s inventory. Faust’s air bomb has a risk to it — it can explode in his face if it’s blocked close to him or destroyed with a special move. Where’s the gamble in Lum’s watermelon?

None of the panda’s items are much of a gamble. Sure, he can get hit by his own bomb or give the opponent a bar of health or Super Meter, but that’s about it. Why not make some mechanic where he can pull a slot machine and get temporary buffs or debuffs depending on his luck? I can throw ideas out, because just off the top of my head, there’s a number of creative features he could have. Fantasy Strike’s insistence on carrying over Guilty Gear’s mechanics shows a strange fixation on it. It doesn’t seem like they know as much about BlazBlue or Persona 4 Arena, which have Platinum and Teddie as Faust-like — but distinct — characters.

In some ways, paying homage to a certain archetype works, but I feel Lum goes way too far. For instance, compare the release of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger in 2008. At the time, we had no word on the next Guilty Gear game, and it was the first Arc System Works 2D game on the PlayStation 3. All signs pointed to it being a sort of spiritual successor to Daisuke Ishiwatari’s fighting game. Many fans looked to find their GG mains in the sleek new brawler, but it wasn’t easy. I recall seeing many threads online and people in person asking, “Who’s like A.B.A. or Zappa? Or Faust? Or Baiken?” Haku-men is a defensive character like Baiken, but with his limited dashing, a different resource bar, and parry system, I didn’t see much of my old main in him. Obviously, Jin and Ragna’s rivalry served as a remembrance of Sol and Ky. But imagine if the two played basically the same as their predecessors. Wouldn’t that cheapen the experience? They are shoto, balanced archetypes, but play vastly differently.

I think in trying to attract some Guilty Gear fans to their game, Sirlin Games dipped a little too deep into Arc System Works’ arsenal (and not only theirs, actually). Why would Faust mains want to play Lum, when they can already play someone like that in their main game? The same can be said about some of the other characters, like Setsuki, who has some similar moves to Street Fighter‘s Ibuki. Granted, the goal is to make a more-accessible game, but why borrow so heavily from those sources? As an avid Guilty Gear player, I can’t see why someone would — but maybe those who haven’t heard of Faust wouldn’t feel the same. The “gambling” panda is easier to play. I can’t vouch for other FGC members, and neither am I trying to arm pitchforks against Fantasy Strike: rather, I want them to do better. I want to see more originality, a creative spin, something surprising.

Trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible is a worthwhile endeavor, but if it comes at the cost of originality and creativity, the designers’ vision gets muddled. I feel that’s what happened to Lum, but it’s not too late to backtrack. Paying homage to the design of other fighting games is one thing, and when it’s done right, many of us appreciate it. Straight up copying is another story entirely.

Sources: Fantasy Strike; GREATFERNMAN


Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect Shoryuken.com as a whole.

Luke "Woocash" Siuty is a Chicago-based writer who specializes in ArcSys titles. A Guilty Gear veteran, he plays Baiken and commits atrocities by playing Sin when he's not busy pondering the ArcSys Cycle. He's always down to talk on Twitter, so send him tips. He's good at OS-ing in real life, not so much in video games, though.