How Virtua Fighter 4 ruined fighting games for me.

Specifically Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, but that difference isn’t important.

To get something out of the way quickly: I’ve never been good at fighting games.  My ascent up the playstyle ladder usually stops around “find a couple moves that work and stick to them”.  This isn’t through lack of desire to be “good” at fighters.  Before the advent of Internet video though (and honestly now as well), learning about fighting games involved reading ASCII hieroglyphs or knowing someone who could teach you.

(Admittedly, I can talk shop about MMO mechanics with the slightly-less-than-best of them, but the physical act of inputting commands is much less important in WoW than in Street Fighter IV.  MMO play is more about the decisions made before the fight and in-fight decisions measured in seconds versus the fractions-of-a-second scale for a fighting game.)

VF4 had this “Training Mode” that Wikipedia describes best:

The mode consisted of an encyclopedia of fighting game terms, complete character command list walkthroughs, tips on all of the games mechanics, recommended character combos, alternative options for failed combos, detailed command input timings, slow motion for frame counting and timing, and other useful training tips.

The Command Training was really what made it awesome.  You could go through a character’s list move-by-move and learn them by seeing your inputs in real-time and what the move actually was timing-wise.  You could also have the game do the move so you can see what you’re missing.

I’m sure a real person could beat me senseless, but I actually had a lot of fun going through the Quest Mode (going to different arcades, playing in tournaments, and getting customization stuff).  If I ever got stuck, I’d go into the training mode, learn a few new tricks, and get back out and win a couple tournaments.  It was by far the most fun I’ve had with a fighting game which is surprising because the Virtua Fighter series is on the technical-side of the spectrum and I am not technically-proficient in the least.

Now, the lack of such a mode in the next-gen fighters I’ve played hasn’t been a huge deal.  Dead of Alive 4 wasn’t very good and Soulcalibur IV‘s combination of character creation and the Tower mode were a blast to play with.

Enter Street Fighter IV (literally, in the mail today via GameFly).  SFIV’s move list is tiny compared to VF4′s but it is nearly unapproachable.  Its “Training Mode” that I entered into full of hope was just the usual “beat on this turned-off-AI”.  When I go the command list, I get icons that look nothing like the “QCB + K” that the fine folks at Shoryuken tell me is what I need to do C. Viper’s Burning Kick.

Screenshot of C. Viper's Burning Kick

(via Kotaku)

Now, it would be awesome if SFIV could tell me what’s wrong with my “QCB + K” action: am I too slow or am I not actually making a quarter-circle-back?  But, instead, I just have a turned-off-AI Ken to beat on hoping that I’ll get it eventually.

Of course, all this time spent raving about VF4′s amazing training mode (that wasn’t carried over to VF5 apparently) could have been spent learning C. Viper or any other character, but SFIV really doesn’t provide the tools that I’ve now come to expect if I can’t just learn-as-I-hit-things.

I have no problem going to Shoryuken or Calibur Forum to figure out what kind of fighter might suit my playstyle best or to learn some advanced techniques or to get down into the nitty-gritty of frame counting, but that isn’t what I’m talking about.

SFIV seems to expect that I know everything as soon as I put the disc in, which along with VF5 not continuing VF4 in having an awesome, robust training mode, is a real bummer.