Fantasy Strike, a fighting game from David Sirlin (a designer on Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix), his finally landed on Switch, PS4, and PC. Having not known much about it before the PR emails started landing in my inbox, I was intrigued immediately by the bright visuals and colorful cast of characters. With Sirlin’s history, a game like this would surely have to stand on its own for it to garner any respect from one of the toughest genre fan bases out there. Fighting games are no laughing matter when it comes to fan service and reliability. But Fantasy Strike does aim to be different by way of its gameplay. It claims to be both accessible enough for anyone to pick up and play, while still offering enough depth for hardcore fans to find a reason to duke it out. As someone who falls sort of in-between those two pools of fans when it comes to the genre, a casual and a hardcore, my goal with this review to see just how fun a game can be when it takes simplicity and strategy over combo craziness.
I don’t believe that since I started this journalistic venture that is Player2Reviews, that I have had the pleasure of reviewing a fighting title. It is not that we have not had the opportunity, but rather I have often felt in a weird, self-ostracized position when it comes to the genre. I have a deep appreciation for fighting games that goes all the way back to the original Virtua Fighter titles (I grew up on Sega) and has since stemmed to buying the $100 versions of both Mortal Kombat 11 and Injustice 2 in recent years. But my lack of writing comes from feeling like I do not deserve too, since I do not practice combos, learn in-depth strategies, or even remotely like playing Street Fighter. While that last one is not a realistic reason, I just have often felt, for the same reason I do not review realistic sports games, that I would not be doing the titles justice for their competitive aspects. And in the same way Fantasy Strike hopes to stand out because of its difference, I hope to write about a fighting game even with my personal feelings about why I shouldn’t. So while this review may be less for the hardcore and more for the casual fighting fan, I still know I have the ability to give it a more then fair analysis, one that hopefully helps give readers a good footing on what to expect should they decide to play. So as a more casual leaning review, let’s start with one of the most important things at face value a fighting game has: It’s gallery of fighters.
Like I said, the colorful characters are one of the main things that grabbed my attention in the press releases. There are only 10 characters, which I find to be rather low personally, but I like the uniqueness of each in terms of their design. There is a lot of Asian inspired flair throughout Fantasy Strike, and that resonates in their characters too. Hell, there is a gambling Panda as one of the fighters. There is also Grave, the Wind Warrior, who kind of represents the standard generic entry level samurai, Rook, the golem who is absolutely broken to face or play with (more on that later), and Midori, the chubby balding master who seems like he should be a Viking but is way more into martial arts then he should be. Oh, and he can turn into a dragon. So yeah, a bit of variety here. My personal favorites, design wise and for fighting, are Degray and Geiger. Degray has a bit of a Dracula look to him, but has the ability to have a ghostly woman hold a character briefly so you can slow them down in combat. Geiger on the other hand is a watchmaker, and uses both gears and manipulation of time to his advantage during bouts.
Now, my current issue with the cast is that there is not much variety in their backgrounds. The cast, outside the non-human characters, are predominately white. I probably have never really complained about this in any reviews, but as a game about a fighting tournament, as most games in the genre tend to be, usually the cast is a bit more varied. Grave and Setsuki both seem to be of Asian origin, but even they can be mistaken for white. You can also change the skin tone of some characters when changing their color scheme, but even then, that does not really give that character’s background the same treatment. Maybe it is just me, but it just seemed very noticeable given the exceptionally small cast of 10 fighters. My additional problem with the cast is that not only are they mostly poorly voiced, but the characters verbally say the name of the move they are performing, pretty much every time. I get it, it can sometimes be a trope in fighters, possibly stemming back to the days of “Get over here” and “HADOKEN” blaring in arcades, but hearing the character Valerie say “RAINBOW” about 9 times in a row when the CPU spams the attack just does not sound as cool as Scorpion or Ryu saying iconic moves.
So, where can you see these characters in action you ask? There is a variety of game modes, whether it is your standard online play (ranked or unranked), as well as 5 different single players modes and of course, local multiplayer too. I spent most of my time with the single player modes, as I found the online modes unreliable, both after and before launch. More on that shortly. Your single player offerings are most of the standard affair. You have arcade mode, where you fight 6 people and are greeted with intro/outro “cut-scenes” to give way to a bit of story on the currently played character. There is also a daily challenge that can only be played once per day, and you will get some stats on your performance to know where you stand against others trying it out too. Additionally, Boss Rush, Survival, and Single Match are all present too. I found Boss Rush to be rather fun, probably the most fun of all the modes actually, as you face 8 “bosses” in a row, where different variables may come up. The kicker is that you get to pick a power-up before each match, which is carried over through the rest of your matches, in attempts to let you strategical try and combat these variables your opponents may start to throw at you. It is easily the most engaging thing you will find in the entire package.
The single player stuff is pretty standard, for better or for worse. I did not care much for the stories present in the arcade mode, especially given that the voice over work is so bad. My main gripe overall, is that there is absolutely zero incentive to keep playing. There is no progression in single player modes, when choosing a character you see a grayed out option for costumes, but no evident way of getting them (I see nothing online that hints at it either), and no additional characters to unlock. So your playtime, outside of testing yourself or seeing endings in the arcade, truly feels pointless at times. As an arcade styled fighter, I again can understand to a degree, but if you want to make the player feel appreciated you have to throw them a bone once in a while.
You can progress in online, however, which is good to see. My issue on that side of things though is that in all my attempts, after waiting a few minutes to link up with a player, I was almost certain I was never facing a real person. Moves from the enemy were jagged, stiff, and timed oddly. Additionally, the usernames seemed totally generic. One person I fought was “Grappler”, another was “Child”. With these in mind, I found myself just going back to single player. If I was going to be facing CPUs, I may as well have the ability to pause it. I find the online experiences in third party Switch titles to typically be pretty lacking in activity, and for a fighting game, it definitely hinders the experience to not be able to challenge others in Fantasy Strike.
Alright, we finally made it. Let’s dive into the actual fighting, shall we? Fantasy Strike is trying to do things in the genre differently, and successfully does so through its core mechanics. It keeps things simple, with each character having an attack, a special, a timed special, the abilities to jump and grab, and last but not least, perform a super. Each character is unique in their attacks, as they should be. There is no crouching, so dodging that way or performing different moves at different heights will not do you any good either. There is a way to dodge grabs however. Some can be jumped out of, which I find appropriate, but the other way to dodge is called a “Yomi Counter” where you will successfully dodge the grab if you are not pressing ANYTHING on the controller. I found this feature to be a bit too far out of left field for me to appreciate it, as most of the time I did it by complete accident. There is a lot of grab spamming in this game, so it can come in handy, but boy can it be annoying to not counter the grabs in the heat of the moment.
The actual fighting is very solid, depending on what character you are using. Here is where things get a bit tricky in terms of my feedback. I like the fighting at its core, but boy is the game unbalanced. For one, health is not universally across all characters, and it really should be. Characters like Rook and Midori have more health then others. Secondly, these are two of the most broken characters, as their attacks can be easily spammed, giving them another advantage over the competition. Lastly, these two characters also have easy to land attacks that do more damage others. For a game that favors simplicity over combos, this is an issue, because the health structure is not a common one. Instead of attacks doing different percentages of damage to a singular heal bar, each characters has several blocks of health, in which one is removed for each hit landed. Certain attacks and grabs with these two unbalanced characters do two blocks of health worth of damage, which is typically reserved for most characters Super attacks. See the problem here? There is no consistency. I do not like the health system being varied, and in conjunction with the varied attack powers, just makes some fights against these two highly unfair.
The game runs rather well, with the occasionally hiccup, and I think it looks exceptional in handheld mode. It is vibrant and colorful, making the Switch version of MK11 look like a complete misfire. I am sure there are some technical strengths that a title like MK11 has that made it a lot harder to keep up visually, but it is just a good point of reference for how solid Fantasy Strike actually does look.
The game has a lot that it does right, but not enough to outweigh what it doesn’t. I had fun in plenty of my fights, but ultimately felt unrewarded when I would put it down. It is just not a very satisfying game to play, at least not long-term. The seeming lack of a strong online player base, at least for the Switch version, means I will not be competing with other real players anytime soon, which is a real shame because the game may truly excel there, but that remains to be seen on my end. The characters are great on the surface, but there is not enough of them to represent a real cast fit for a tournament. The game has good form, but lacks the discipline to truly shine the way it sought out to do. Fantasy Strike misses the mark, but not without leaving somewhat of an impression.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review.
Final Score: 6/10
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