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Why oppressive top tier characters are a terrible thing for fighting games

Character representation and styles are heavily mitigated by some fighters

Posted by Jonathan 'Catalyst' Grey • June 21, 2019 at 7:48 p.m. PDT • Comments: 52

"Well, someone has to be #1," is a phrase I see thrown around a lot in fighting game community circles. People enjoy simplistic explanations for things in life, because who doesn't like easy solutions to complex problems?

Issues arise when a simple explanation doesn't tell enough of the story. One of these instances is overall character strength in fighting games.

Most would agree that character variety is a good thing in fighters. You get to see new tactics and strategy, as it's not a wash, rinse, repeat scenario of the same matches for an entire tournament.

Talk to most fans of Street Fighter 3 Third Strike, and they'd likely agree there are only so many Chun-Li mirrors you want to sit through.

It's also a good thing for the business aspect of these games, and their longevity, as developers are able to create new and interesting characters with a variety of styles to add nuance to their titles.

And this is where oppressive top tier characters are a terrible thing for fighting games — because they shut down certain styles and approaches due to how they've been setup.

An example from Street Fighter 5

To give a contemporary example, Alex is considered to be a fairly low tier character, who you rarely see in tournament. Besides him just not being a strong character, many Alex players say that his worst match up in the game is Rashid.

Rashid is one of the most popular characters in Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition, and he's typically regarded as a top 3 fighter as well here in Season 4.

Your odds of running into Rashid, online and in tournament, are pretty high. If you're an Alex player — not only are you not that great overall — you're running into match ups that are heavily not in your favor. Even if you level up considerably, the odds are stacked against you from progressing very far, because you're going to hit the same Rashid wall over and over again.

Knowing that this is going to be what your life is like for a long period of time is enough to stop most people from picking up a character to begin with — even if they have interest. And at that point, you may wonder why is the character even in the game to begin with if a decent portion of people can't pick up and play them.

This example here marks the large difference between a character who is strong — and one that is oppressively strong. Rashid is considered to be oppressively strong in Street Fighter 5, by some, due to the characters and styles he negates.

Knocking down a character like this improves many other people's quality of life, and therefore your odds of seeing uncommon cast members increase.

"You should buff everyone instead of nerfing them!"

This is another bit of FGC dogma I see thrown around in some circles, despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

It's 100% true that it sucks to spend a lot of time working on getting a character up to a tournament level, only to have them nerfed into the ground because the community deemed them overpowered.

It's also true that developers need to spend time and effort to be careful not to obliterate characters when they're tweaking them.

That said, buffing everyone to have overpowered tactics can be a recipe for disaster. R. Mika's "invisible wall" from her Irish Whip attack was removed from Season 1 to Season 2 of Street Fighter 5.

This was a significant nerf for the character, and while Capcom could have given all of the other fighters similar abilities, like to instantly corner someone, that probably would have had extremely lopsided effects on the rest of the game, as characters who specialize in controlling the neutral and playing in space would have felt this significantly.

Although fans of a character may not like it, sometimes the best course of action is a well thought out nerf, to preserve what the developers are trying to accomplish overall with the game.

Balancing fighting games is damn hard

I've been playing fighting games for close to 30 years, and in that time I have yet to run across a developer who said the balancing process was easy.

Nearly all of them, when it came to the subject of balance, said it was is very difficult.

Yet, there is a role we as the community can play in this process. By having healthy and thoughtful discussions and educating ourselves on what's happening in these titles, and what the goals are — we can give developers key insight into what needs to be done.

Back in 2013 Capcom asked the community for feedback on Ultra Street Fighter 4 in regards to how they could improve the game balance. This was a massive undertaking, with 20,000 user comments that had to be sifted through.

One result though was Ultra Street Fighter 4 being considered the most balanced version of the Street Fighter 4 series by fans.

These games we love being properly balanced is a good thing for everyone. We get to see the variety we crave, and more people are introduced to these titles, as they find characters and styles that fit what they want to do — and those things are actually viable to use.

And that comes down to the developers and the community figuring out what a healthy and fair experience looks like.

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