Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax has a lot of good things going for it: a cast taken from dozens of light novels, some awesome looking Sega game-inspired backgrounds, and a neat sprite-based 2D artstyle. But none of that really matters unless the game itself is good too, right? Luckily, French Bread, developers of Melty Blood and Under Night In-Birth (an excellent fighter I played earlier this year), are on the job.
Like Under Night, the focus in Fighting Climax is definitely simplicity. Special moves can be performed entirely by quarter and half circles, automatic combos can be activated at the mash of a button, and reversals are established via a simple button combination as a universal mechanic of the game. Attacks ooze flashiness and give you satisfying feedback every time you land a hit. At a glance, Fighting Climax seems like a great introduction to fighting games.
Upon closer inspection, I’d have to revise that to “kind of a great introduction to fighting games.” Under Night took its simple mechanics and formed a unique compromise between crazy air-dashers and the basic, grounded gameplay of Street Fighter. It was easy to grasp and could teach you a ton about fighting games. Fighting Climax takes its simple mechanics and goes off in a bunch of crazy directions, which may not necessarily be easy to grasp for newcomers and could result in some really bad habits.
For starters, one of the more unusual additions to Fighting Climax is its assist characters. Similar to the very first Marvel Vs. Capcom, these assists are unique characters wholly separate from the full-fledged playable ones on the roster. Unlike Marvel Vs. Capcom, these assists have multiple attacks which makes them a little more dynamic in their uses. For example, Holo from Spice and Wolf has a useful assist where she comes out and whacks the opponent, but she also has a more unique function that heals you up and builds special meter.
Assists add a lot of variety to the game, but they also make it a lot more complicated. Each assist character has the potential to add layers of depth your combos, set-ups, and approaches, but it will take a while to figure out what each one does and even longer to figure out which ones compliment your character best. Assists are also being called out all the time, as the cool-down between them is pretty short. The screen gets pretty busy with attacks flying all over the place, making the game hard to follow to the untrained eye. However, even though they can be complex, I actually do get a kick out of seeing a new twist on the old Marvel Vs Capcom system, and unlike some other mechanics I do think the assists improve the game overall.
My real gripe with the fighting mechanics is the emphasis on universal reversals, called Impact Skills. For the unfamiliar, the classic reversal is Ryu’s Shoryuken uppercut, or in Fighting Climax, Shizuo ramming an opponent with a car door. I once thought easy reversals were a good idea in Persona 4 Arena, but I’m getting to the point where I really can’t stand how prevalent this concept has gotten.
When throwing out a Shoryuken in Street Fighter, usually one of three things is going on: you have a great read on the opponent, you have no other options, or you don’t know how to play the game. Reversals are a huge gamble, one better reserved for expert players, which might explain why their motion is typically more difficult than the average quarter circle motion. If your attack succeeds, you’ve done some damage and you’re in a great position. If you’ve been blocked, then you look silly and are likely in for some pain.
Fighting Climax takes this risky move, puts it into the easily reachable grasp of newcomers, and also buffs it out by adding tons of damage-absorbing armor to the attack. What might have been an ill-conceived desperation move from graduates of the Master Class of Ken has become an extremely effective way of catching opponents, whether the user meant to or not. I don’t want to build it up as some unbeatable strategy, it’s not, it has counters and the more experienced player can still pull out victories no problem. It’s just the principle of the matter that bothers me: it teaches new players that reversals are the answers to everything and encourages fights to turn into reversal wars, where the person with the better timing wins.
Other odd mechanics include the Trump Card and Potential systems. Trump Cards are powerful moves that can only be used a couple of times throughout the entire match. They come in the forms of attacks (Misaka kicks a vending machine into your face!) or power-ups (Kirito gets another sword!) and also give you other effects like free uses of assists during combos and making moves easier to cancel. Potential refers to different buffs that activate throughout the match after you hit certain requirements, like landing an attack or getting hit ten times to increase your damage for thirty seconds.
Both of these mechanics seem designed as pseudo-comeback factors. Unlike something like X-Factor from Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, these mechanics aren’t completely dominant, but it feels like a cheap way to spice up a match. More importantly, it teaches players to rely on something to save them rather than simply getting better.
All of these different mechanics seem to drive home the same concept: Fighting Climax emphasizes hitting as hard as you can. Damaging combos are easy to perform (even without mashing out an automatic one) and the damage you can do only gets increased with your assists, Impact Skills, and Trump Cards. A lot has been done to make playing the game easy, but don’t be fooled: it’s still easy to get beat up in Fighting Climax. The difference is that it’s almost as easy to be the one who’s doing the beating.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about mechanics I think could use some work, but don’t get me wrong. Like Under Night, at its heart, I think Fighting Climax is a fun game that feels great to play. Some of its sillier mechanics could use some tweaking, but that’s pretty natural for the first installment of a series with a sequel already confirmed to be on the way. As a fighting game, Fighting Climax provides some easy to perform and flashy entertainment, just don’t expect to learn that much along the way.