A great new fighter enters the ring, but is it worth the cost?
Initially teased as an April Fool’s Day joke, Fighting EX Layer has finally come to fruition and to full release on the PlayStation 4 on June 28, 2018, after much anticipation from longtime fans of the Fighting Layer and Street Fighter EX titles.
There is definitely an undeniable charm surrounding ARIKA’s titles, and it shows in full force through every aspect of Fighting EX Layer. There is no doubt that this is a fun fighter with a massive amount of potential, but is its potential enough to warrant its current state?
Visuals and Sound:
The overall art direction for Fighting EX Layer is absolutely stellar, and it certainly stands out. Its art style is what initially drew me to the title. Characters are dynamic and uniquely designed. Nobody looks cooler than Skullomania, except for maybe Shadow Geist, he’s cool too. (I’ve found the most success playing as Hayate, however.) Stages are colorful and react subtly to the action — for example, tumbleweeds roll in whichever direction they are knocked into when on the Wasteland stage, and barrels get knocked over in the city location.
Perhaps this is the intended style, but the animations for the game seem a little choppy. It certainly makes combos look dynamic when executed, but they can be jarring for those expecting a more fluid look, especially when online lag only makes matters worse. The art direction can only take the title so far without the game looking flat in some instances.
Fighting EX Layer‘s sound design comes straight from the 90s and it shows through every sound effect and music note. The character themes perfectly match their subject and the stage themes set the mood well. It would be great for there to be a sound test mode in the future that allowed players to fully appreciate the wonderfully composed tracks on their own.
While a very minor criticism, I wish that there were subtitles for the intro sequences for fights. The characters are so full of personality and I wish (as a non-Japanese-speaker) I knew what they were saying to one another to flesh out the overall experience.
Combat in Fighting EX Layer is incredibly stylized with special moves taking characters across the stage with giant leaps and bounds. It feels great to execute combos and dash at opponents. You can also perform Super Cancels into all three available Super Attacks while dealing insane amounts of damage. Many of the features and systems are not explained in detail within the actual game and will require some quick reading of the digital manual to get the most out of what’s possible.
There are two methods available for inputs. The modern and simplistic Progressive input style only requires short directional inputs, usually in a single direction which assists newer players who may have difficulty pulling off certain inputs, and others who want to activate their special moves as quickly as possible. The traditional Classic inputs require the tried-and-true quarter circles, dragon punches, and full circle motions like in most fighting games. What may lead to some contention is whether or not players need to be on the same input settings in tournaments, as one method may lead to greater success due to its ease of use.
The Progressive input option is not the only accommodation for newer players to fighting games either. There are also Easy Combos, which can be turned on and off in the settings, that create an auto combo when dashing and pressing light punches or kicks. These easy combos end with a Super Attack, so proper utilization can lead to devastating results. Chain combos are also possible by linking together a light medium and heavy attack of the same kind.
One of the largest differentiators for Fighting EX Layer is the Gougi Deck system, ARIKA’s take on buff loadouts similar to the Gem system in Street Fighter X Tekken. Before the release of Fighting EX Layer, this caused a small amount of concern. Gems could be customized to create personal loadouts that broke the balancing of the game. Luckily, Gougi Decks are pre-constructed, which creates a sense of balance, but that doesn’t mean all Gougi are created equal. Some effects make players invisible or add several invincibility frames, which seem more game-breaking than simply getting a boost to speed or strength.
Gougi Decks help create even more variety for the roster by allowing players to utilize characters in entirely different ways depending on the Gougi Deck equipped. This means there is a ton to learn about every character on their own and with every combination of Gougi Decks. That’s a lot to manage, but through plenty of practice and understanding of one’s own loadout, consistent success should be in one’s future.
Fighting EX Layer is almost as bare-bones as it gets when it comes to a modern fighting game. There is an offline versus mode, which only allows two human players and no CPUs, a training mode, an Expert Mode, and a look at your unlocked Gougi Decks in detail under the Gougi menu.
Offline versus works as one would expect, but there are no additional options available to enable custom settings like the number of rounds or the length of a match. Players are able to choose their character, Gougi Deck, input style, color, and stage. There will eventually be additional Gougi Decks and color packs in the future, but none are currently available on the PlayStation Store.
Training Mode offers a variety of options without ever having to return to the main menu. Characters and Goigi Decks can be changed on the fly, Gougi can be activated individually, all together, or completely canceled. Additional details like Data Display, Command History, Advantage Display, and Input Delay that can be toggled on and off as well for the more studious fighting game player. The opponent has a large number of customizable options as well for their status, stances, guarding, guard type, recovery, and throw break. Those who like to test out combos against specific actions can find a lot to love about the multiple recording settings for general, after wake-up, and after-guard.
The Expert mode that assists players in learning combos for specific characters is not anywhere near user-friendly. The names of the moves will be the only things displayed, with no mention of inputs. So if you forget the name of a move, you will need to constantly return to the command list. Including the inputs necessary to pull off certain moves and combos would be beneficial for all players, a small touch, and a curious omission. Expert mode can be played in both Progressive and Classic input styles, so be sure to give them both a shot to see whichever is most comfortable.
There is one final offline mode hidden within the game, which is certainly one of the most curious decisions made within the game, known as Kumite mode. It can be found hidden within Training Mode and can be activated when adjusting the Opponent’s Status to CPU and the format to Kumite. From there, players can adjust the difficulty from Easy, Normal, and Hard. Kumite mode is a ton of fun. It is incredibly fast-paced, especially in comparison to say, Street Fighter V‘s Survival mode, which requires buff selection and loading between each fight. Fighting EX Layer‘s Kumite mode brings one fight after another without a moments delay. Players are granted a small boost in health after each match, so selecting a Gougi Deck with health absorption can’t be a bad idea.
Fighting EX Layer has two online versus modes, Ranked Match and Casual Match. The ranked mode works just as one would expect, with players competing against one another to increase their overall level to show off their skills. Casual Match consists of creating or finding a room for players to go head to head in a rank-free environment. There are no spectator modes available but players can view the leaderboard to see who’s on top. Also, additional details surrounding one’s personal statistics can be viewed in the Record tab, showcasing one’s rank, wins and loses, medals, and overall success against all other characters.
At first, my time spent online may take longer than some would prefer. There were frequent instances where it would take longer than ten minutes to find a match online when the only requirement was that players were within the same group. My connection quality standards started at 5 but were moved down to 3 at ARIKA’s recommendation, but the only difference found was an increased amount of lag. Also, while done to ensure there is no boosting performed to one’s rank, players are not allowed to rematch one another after a one person wins two total games. This makes that long wait for matches even more of a drag.
There are a variety of factors at play for my initially negative online experience. The install base is not all that large for the title so the potential matchups were not in an abundance. While my online gameplay is not affected in other games, Fighting EX Layer did mention the NAT type of my network could have some effect on the connection speed, according to my PlayStation 4, it is a NAT Type 2, not Type 3 which would incur the most negative effects.
After more extensive playtesting during higher traffic times a few days after the initial release finding online matches was not a problem. But don’t try your luck at any time before noon CST, I was able to get consistent matches back to back later on in the evening around 8 pm CST. Another learned tidbit was that players can begin their matchmaking search while at the main menu by pressing the options button. This allows players to peruse through other modes like Training and Gougi to brush up on their techniques while waiting for a match whenever the connection times grow long.
I had zero success finding a casual group to play with after multiple tries at different times on separate days. It is entirely possible that everyone who purchased this game is focused on competitive play, but it is not completely plausible. The idea that there are virtually no players using the title to play against one another casually is not encouraging for newcomers. This all could change with time, but there has been no indication of players making any more rooms nearly a week after release.
Fighting EX Layer is definitely a fun game, no doubt about that. The roster is diverse, albeit small, the moves are simple to execute, although a tad clunky, and the visuals are distinct, if not a little unrealized. This can be understood when dialing in the factors surrounding the development. ARIKA is a small studio without the resources of AAA fighting game developers and Fighting EX Layer is a true labor of love.
All that being said, $60 for the complete title, which comes with one additional character and set of Gougi Decks, is a bit too much to ask from those who are not die-hard Fighting Layer or Street Fighter EX fans. Sure there is a $40 version available as well, but even that price point seems to steep. The game doesn’t feel complete and while it may shape up into something great later down the road, in its current state it is far from being seen as a full-fledged release.
In the end, it becomes more of a conversation about supporting a developer than getting the full value of your dollar. Many will view Fighting EX Layer as an investment, expecting new characters and modes to be released in the future but is that how the general public will see their purchase when none of this is certain? Hopefully, the title will receive enough support to be polished into something truly exceptional, through devoted fans, and ARIKA’s hardwork.
ARIKA provided Shoryuken with a review copy of Fighting EX Layer.