Cracked Knuckles: Grappling Vs. Strikes

CrackedKnucklesHead

Welcome to the inaugural entry of “Cracked Knuckles,” a column in which I combine my lifelong adoration of video games with my love for hitting shit.

Luckily, games are full of fist-based violence. From old-school beat’em ups to modern, open-world opuses like Sleeping Dogs, there’s a whole world of gaming violence out there. We even have fighting games, a genre based entirely on one-on-one (or sometimes team-based) conflicts between different-but-mostly-equal opponents. And many of them bring some martial arts flavoring to the equation. Let’s look at the flagship characters of these games.

Street Fighter: Ryu and Ken are karateka, their style (Ansatsuken) is loosely based on Kyokushin Karate. Trivia: Kyokushin Karate was formulated by Masutatsu Oyama (born Choi Yeong-eui) in 1964. It and its offshoots (such as Enshin and Ashihara) are notable for practicing knockdown, bare-knuckle competition. Despite Ryu and Ken’s designation (along with Akuma) of being “Shotos” (in deference to Capcom’s original assertion in the US that they practiced Shotokan Karate), the character whose fighting style is most similar to Shotokan Karate is Makoto, with her longer, linear stance and fast, dashing punches (also seen in Uechi-Ryu Karate).

Tekken: The entire Mishima family features prominently, and they all practice a form of Mishima Karate (except for Jin, in later games, who practices “traditional Karate” instead). Mishima Karate seems fairly traditional, especially in Heihachi’s case, with long, deep stances and moves that appear singularly powerful.

Mortal Kombat: Liu Kang is usually our main character, though we’ve had games that don’t even include him as a playable fighter. His style seems to be a heavily stylized form of Chinese martial arts, most likely based on Bruce Lee’s Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do. This is supported by his penchant for lead-hand strikes and flying side-kicks (as well as his, erm, unique vocalizations).

Virtua Fighter: Akira Yuki is the poster-boy for the Virtua Fighter series. Despite his obvious Japanese ancestry and clothing (he’s wearing a tattered dogi), Akira’s style is Hakkyoku-Ken, which sounds very Japanese until one realizes that it’s pretty much a literal translation of Bajiquan, meaning “eight extremities fist.” The latter is a martial art from the Hebei province of Northern China, with a focus on short, powerful movements, low stances, and strikes with the elbows.

Dead or Alive: Kasumi, Ayane, Ryu Hayabusa, and (later) Hayate. They’re ninja. In the context of the Dead or Alive universe, this seems to mean they can do whatever acrobatic and impractical (if not downright impossible) flippy shit the devs thought looked cool at the time. There might be a loose basis in Japanese and Korean martial arts for some of their repertoires.

These are, as far as I’m concerned, the most representative individuals when it comes to martial combat in video games.

There is not a single grappler on this list.

And, in fact, when grappling does work its way into a fighting game, it’s often as a bit of an afterthought. Sure, each fighter has a couple throws (maybe more, in some games), and there are characters like Zangief (Street Fighter) and King/Iron King (Tekken) who are largely based around “command throws,” but these characters are more inspired by professional wrestling than anything else. Oddly, both Tekken and Street Fighter have characters with “mixed arts” based on “Judo,” which is a completely grappling-focused style (while modern, Kodokan Judo lacks much in the way of a ground game in competition, since its focus is predominantly on gaining “ippon” by way of a complete throw, it should be noted that Judo’s newaza is related to the much more complete ground games of both SAMBO and the increasingly popular Brazilian Jiujitsu).

Silva Sweep

Probably not what you think of when someone says, “Sweep.”

Image Source: Attack the Back

The aforementioned fighters, Paul Phoenix and Abel, do little that resembles Judo. Sure, it’s in there in some of their throws, but Paul’s most damaging single move is a punch, and one of Abel’s ultras involves a long string of strikes followed by a throw that uses none of the body mechanics on which Judo relies.

Dead or Alive fares the best in this respect, actually, with characters like Bayman and Leon who use arts that resemble Combat SAMBO, mixing their striking with takedowns that actually transition into submissions. They don’t hold these submissions, many of which would be fight enders or at least leave the opponent at a severe disadvantage through limb destruction. Even in this case, when the takedowns and submissions are applied, there’s either complete resistance on the part of the opponent (they avoid the move entirely) or none (they simply fail to react). It ends up looking stilted, just as the techniques, themselves, look a bit ridiculous when they’re applied as though they’re “grabby strikes,” doing damage by virtue of the character having had control, rather than any real pain of injury they would have inflicted.

Compare:

To this:

Notice how clean those both were, but how we see nothing in the way of resistance in either. Now look at the same technique applied in competition:

Not as pretty, is it? That’s the reality of things, though, whereas video games are very much beholden to the Rule of Cool when it comes to martial arts.

That’s sort of the problem when it comes to grappling in video games. To the outsider, a grappling match, or an MMA fight that has gone to the ground, looks like little more than two adults humping each other on a mat, gradually jockeying for position and control while a million subtleties play out beneath the surface, eventually culminating (maybe) in a brief instant of explosive movement that results in a either victory or at least a dramatic change in position. Striking, though, is easy to understand. There’s less in the way of leverage to worry about, fewer tangles of limbs, and a lot more impact. A lot more blood and bruises, too. It’s fast-paced, dynamic, and transitions well to the gaming landscape. Grappling, in contrast, is awkward even when done by games in which it’s a core mechanic, such as UFC-Anything and EA Sports MMA.

Will a developer get it right some day? Maybe. Perhaps the next edition of EA’s UFC series will make it both meaningful and engaging, but for now, electronic entertainment is very much a striker’s game.

The Persona Q 3DS XL Is a Bittersweet Victory

Atlus' Persona Q Special Edition 3DS XLPersona Q, Atlus’ mash-up of the Persona universe and Etrian Odyssey‘s masochistic dungeon-delving, is getting some hardware accompaniment when it launches this winter (November 25th, for those who crave such knowledge). It comes in the form of a special edition 3DS XL dolled up to look like a monolithic, blue grimoire. It’s a GameStop exclusive, with a retail price of $199.99.

I loved Persona 4. I had the good fortune to review the expanded Vita version of the game back in the day, and found myself playing it long after the review had been submitted, edited, and posted. As one might imagine, I’m also excited for Persona Q.

Additionally, I’ve been in the market for an awesome 3DS XL, as I’m currently using the much less ergonomic (though badass) Zelda edition 3DS.

Zelda Limited Edition 3DSI skipped the aesthetically disappointing A Link Between Worlds edition (sorry Josh, but it is) and, unfortunately, the Shin Megami Tensei IV 3DS XL never made it to the States. The Persona Q edition should scratch that itch, so why am I torn?

Because this comes right on the heels of Nintendo announcing a brand new edition of the 3DS and 3DS XL with distinct hardware upgrades and, in some cases, exclusive software. Now Atlus’ full-price last-gen 3DS XL (which doesn’t even come with the game it’s named for) is a short-sighted purchase at best, with an unequivocally better option on the horizon.

So, “Yay,” because the west is finally getting a Persona-themed 3DS XL and, at the same time, a deflated, “Ugh,” because all the damn thing brings with it is existential (and financial) conflict.

The Terrible Translation of Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment

SAO Hollow Fragment vitaOnce upon a time, shitty translations of Japanese games were de rigueur. The Japanese language comes at conversation from a completely different standpoint than English, and with a wholly unique cultural context. A lot of ideas that exist in one language and culture simply don’t in the other, or aren’t so readily expressed.

Games for older systems also suffered from character limitations. While eight characters from the Latin alphabet is barely enough to write “Wirtanen,” Japanese uses two syllabaries and logographic kanji; each of the latter represents an idea, and combining them can present an entirely different idea. Eight characters can be enough for an entire sentence in Japanese.

While size limitations are no longer an issue, the cultural divide still remains. By and large, translation has improved; in addition to translators, who perform the actual task of converting the script from Japanese to English, there are now often separate employees whose role is to take the raw, English translation and rework it into something that is more palatable to a native English-speaking audience, improving its flow and phrasing as well.

SAO vitaIt’s pretty apparent that Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment had no one like that on its team. The translation is incredibly rough, and clearly little more than a draft. The script is riddled with typos and grammatical mistakes, as well as awkward turns of phrase and just a general sense that these people are speaking very differently.

One major tell is that characters often refer by name to the person with whom they are speaking directly. This happens fairly regularly in Japanese, due to the way it’s structured, but is completely out of place in English, giving the proceedings an oddly juvenile bent.

The real problem is that this poor translation carries over to the in-game instructions, which are so obtuse as to be wholly indecipherable. It took me far longer than it should have to figure out how the game’s combat worked and, since it’s really just not that complex, I felt silly for taking as long as I did.

There are other weird examples; interactive conversations between Kirito and other characters are completely nonsensical in every sense, and it leads to one’s “choice” (you can pick between “…” and “Great!”) being an absolute shot in the dark.

This is one area in which I really wish Bandai Namco hadn’t skimped.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, Your Last-Gen Roots Are Showing

Sword Art Online gameA quick history lesson: while Hollow Fragment is the first and only Sword Art Online game released in the west, there was a prior game released on the PSP in Japan.

Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment followed Kirito and company through an alternate story in which a glitch meant that, rather than “clearing the game” on floor 75, the characters remained trapped and had to explore the last 25 levels of Aincrad. If this sounds familiar, it’s because that is also the core plot of Hollow Fragment.

Turns out, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is actually an “HD remaster” of Infinity Moment, restructured and with additional content. The bulk of the additional content comes in the form of the “Hollow Area,” a new section of Aincrad that seems to exist outside of the standard 100 floor structure of the world.

But the core game is actually the same as Infinity Moment, from its plot and characters to its gameplay. It’s telling that, on the touch-screen Vita, the game has menus designed with the buttons and d-pad in mind (and requires their use).

SAO Hollow FragmentThe exceptions to these are the “Shift” and “Good” buttons, which are found at the lower-right and lower-left of the screen. They had previously been relegated to the down and up directions on the d-pad. I found myself using the shift icon on screen quite a bit, but it was easier to praise my party member (essential to keep one’s SP stores high and continuously launch powerful sword skills) with the d-pad.

Go figure.

I also imagine the camera is a lot more functional in the Vita version, now that the right stick is used to maneuver it. This feels a little janky at times, as it has odd acceleration, but it’s certainly manageable and beats absolutely any button or lock-on based system Infinity Moment may have used.

Sword Art Online Hollow FragmentThe absolute coolest Vita specific feature, though, is the completely extraneous ability to open the menu by swiping down on the screen. Yes, you can just press the select button, but considering this is how players summon their menus in the anime, it’s a really nice touch and shows that the team tasked with bringing the game over from PSP to Vita were fans of the source material.

The character models are relatively simple compared to what one might see in a native Vita title,  everyone from the show is immediately recognizable and they mesh well with the environments, which are certainly serviceable.

Still, Hollow Fragment is largely an upscaled PSP game. It does have a higher resolution — which comes with its own pitfalls when lots of characters are on-screen and the framerate plummets — but it definitely doesn’t feel like a next-gen title.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment Isn’t Afraid to Ask “What If?”


Leafa

NB: The following article contains spoilers for the Sword Art Online anime. If you haven’t watched it yet, get off your ass and do so.

[Read more…]

HD Remakes Look Exactly How I Remember Them

It was today that I first saw the initial batch screenshots from the upcoming HD remake of the original Resident Evil. This remake, based on the GameCube reimagining of the heavily pixelated PSOne original, has gorgeous new texture work, improved lighting, and a heavily boosted resolution that pulls the entirety of the frame into sharper focus.

But, to my mind, it looks exactly like the GameCube release. To a tee.

HD and REmake

For reference

Sources (left to right): Video Games Blogger and Laser Lemming

Place them side by side and, yeah, it’s obvious which is which. Just looking at the new shots by themselves, though, they don’t in any way strike me as a mind-blowing improvement over the original versions.

[Read more…]

Divinity: Original Sin — A Ball-Busting Illustration of Difficulty

Skeletons With Freaking BombsGeekParty’s David Roberts has hinted at how unforgivingly challenging Divinity: Original Sin can be.

Most of the time, this difficulty is welcome. It prolongs the life of the game and, seeing as Original Sin brings little in the way of randomness to the table (its world, and every encounter therein, has been painstakingly crafted by the developers), this means of extending your stay in the gorgeous and compelling world of Rivellon is certainly welcome. [Read more…]

The Multitudinous Boxes of Divinity: Original Sin

Divinity: Original Sin Containers AboundOne of the great things about Divinity: Original Sin is that it offers players a lot of freedom in how they interact with the environment. Almost any object can be moved around freely, as long as the character trying to do so is of sufficient strength. This is useful in puzzle-solving and trap-disarming alike, and also just adds to the texture of the game’s world. It also means that there are a lot of boxes lying around.

You can open all of them. Every. Single. One.

[Read more…]

Divinity: Original Sin Sails the Full Release Seas

Divinity: Original SinDivinity: Original Sin is out. I mean, you’ve been able to buy it for months now, but what you got was the game’s alpha and then beta phases. If you played, you would have frequently encountered setbacks as your progress was erased with practically every update, as the very structure of the game evolved and changed.

But as of June 30, the full release is on GOG.com. If you’re interested, you can pick it up here. That said, our goal at GeekParty is to provide a review of the game.

[Read more…]

Divinity: Original Sin Has Gained a Tutorial

beardy mcbeardsonEarly Access games are an interesting phenomenon, in part because they allow those outside the development community to see how things are prioritized. In the case of Divinity: Original Sin, my initial experiences back during its alpha (it’s now in beta, with the full release slated for June 30) were compelling, but rough around the edges. [Read more…]