3 Reasons Why Fighting Games are Better with Narratives

Jordan Heal

Ah button mashers, good old games with hours spent spamming combos as long as old GTA cheat codes.

Narratives within fighting games are often a centre point for debate. With story-driven focus only being implemented to give further substance to characters, it is entirely arguable that a narrative is not quintessential in developing a top fighting game.

A big issue with fighting games is that the story tends to become convoluted with more and more editions released – i.e. Mortal Kombat. MK initially revolves around tournament based competitions but with further sequels released the series breaks away to develop more interwoven narratives. The reboot, for example, expanded upon the original three games mythos and appears as an alternative timeline / update on the original narrative; with parts being entirely re-written.

With cohesion problems in mind, here is a look at why narratives are needed in fighting games:

3.) Technological Advancement

We no longer live in an era where we game in an arcade-like style. Naturally, at the beginning, fighting narratives weren’t a priority. The formulaic 1v1 fights up until a boss fight in arcade games in the late 80’s set a structured precedent for fighting games. In an advanced society such as today, we expect more from a video game.

The Mortal Kombat reboot saw a surge in the series with intertwining plot lines that link relationships between characters to enable a stronger narrative arc that lasts for the duration of the story. MK X is fully voice acted with unique dialogue exchanges between every member of the cast recorded. This gives a much stronger foundation to the game than very old fighting games where a small bit of dialogue is uttered by a character directly before a fight and only then.

If, we were to imagine a fighting game timeline – then yes, narratively, they are behind other games but they are still progressing and will continue to do so. The standard of narratives in fighting games can only improve.

2.) Realism

Putting fantasy fighting games aside, and focusing on sports fighting games, the concept of realism is why narratives are needed. Let’s go back to the PlayStation 2 days and, for example: Rocky Legends. The game’s timeline is set before the events of the first film spanning in-between the first four films. Rocky Legends allows players to take control of Rocky, Apollo, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago and witness their uprising in their respective careers.

True, the narrative for the game could be considered stale. But without it, the game would lack serious substance. Between the scheduled fights, training and progressing through the ranks, players feel as though they are enduring a boxing career. And that is the narrative in which young boxers becoming legends.

The nature of Rocky Legends necessitates that it needs a touch of realism. If one were to play exhibition fight after exhibition fight, it wouldn’t take long to feel as if game is lacking a good story to drive the action. And so, for a realistic effect, stories and narratives are highly important for fighting games.

1.) Anime/Manga games need a story

There are some games that, thematically need a narrative driven focus. One example would be the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series. Whilst the games feature good, fluid fighting scenes – the fights really don’t last for a long time at all. In fact, the game feels completely filled with cut scenes and images from the anime show.

Fans of the show would tell you that the biggest appeal about Naruto is its story and it’s progression. That isn’t emulated in the Ultimate Ninja Storm series, but considering the series isn’t a particularly great one in terms of fighting games, without a narrative the series would have struggled to sell any copies at all.

BlazBlue is a highly rated fighting game that has a better story arc than your average fighting game. It gives players choices, though, it is more text driven. Nonetheless, as a highly rated game where the mechanics aren’t flawed and with a stronger backing narrative, BlazBlue is a prime example of a narrative adding something extra to fighting games.

So, do fighting games need a narrative? Not necessarily. But with an added narrative element, a simplistic round-after-round experience can be made into an adventurous romp through a fantastic world – and that’s what gaming is all about.

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