Fantasy Strike Review
Fighting games can be a rather complicated affair. So much so, that a new wave of accessible fighters have emerged over the last decade. Games like Fantasy Strike, a 2D fighter with a simplified button layout and a deep strategic metagame. The question then becomes one of balance. Can the easy controls still allow for a complex combat experience? Thankfully, Fantasy Strike does an admirable job in walking that particular tightrope.
As tempting as it may be, don’t skip the interactive tutorial! Fantasy Strike has a control system just different enough to trip you up if you’re unprepared. In fact, every character feels utterly separate from the others. I decided to test out Geiger on a whim, and immediately got creamed. Half of my attacks didn’t work. I floundered for several rounds before uncovering his true identity as a charge character. Imagine my shock! After that revelation, things went much smoother. Unlike the other fighters, Geiger demands a certain precise rhythm. Either you fight on his time, or not at all. Each character I picked up dragged me through this cycle of frustration, elation, and understanding. Such is Fantasy Strike.
Every Fighter Feels Fresh
If the simple controls are meant to speed up the learning process, the hit point system speeds up the matches themselves. Rather than a single massive health bar, fighters have between five and eight hit points. It takes at least two good hits to erase a single point at once. That is, unless you pull off a badass combo. Then you can erase 75% of the opponent’s life in one thunderous assault. Even with all my practice, this is still something I can only manage by accident. Shameful, I know. Yet the fights still fly by in spite of this. Even needing four victories to finish an opponent, you can wrap things up in less than three minutes. I’ve watched Valerie’s health dissolve with helpless awe, all in three moves. While this can frustrate to no end, you can give as good as you get. Every savage pummeling is a learning opportunity in progress.
Counters have always been the bane of my existence in fighting games. Not in Fantasy Strike! Whereas counters used to require perfect input timing, now all you have to do is nothing. The Yomi counter system turns counters into a viable, utterly necessary game mechanic. The solo campaign is built specifically to hammer this into your head. After five ordinary matches, you face off against Midori. These counters are only good against regular grapples, which are Midori’s whole deal. I spent hours getting crushed into paste by this merciless goon. Even knowing what to do, he still presents a next-level challenge in the field of counter usage. If you’re very good, you can kick his ass without throwing a single punch. Super grabs are a whole other problem, however.
Between the beatings received and the mysterious move sets, Fantasy Strike comes with a most curious difficulty curve. The controls are dead simple, yes. But this leaves more room for punishing gameplay and essential strategy. You’ve few moves to master, but master them you must. It’s either that, or face annihilation at every turn. But for once, the constant ass-kickings I endured were hardly a deterrent. The path to competence is a clear one. Your failures serve to teach you exactly what went wrong. The action is fast but digestible. I found myself throwing every fighter at every fighter just to see what stuck. Soon enough I was stringing together strikes, specials, grabs, and counters with frantic grace.
Crisp Counters and Crushing Blows
Every fighter is a new learning experience, one that demands the full measure of your focus. To master a single fighter requires time, practice, and dedication. That being said, there’s not a lot of them. This may throw you off at first. Ten characters? Where’s the rest of them? Or so one could wonder aloud. Yet, any other characters in the mix would end up diluting the unique balance. At present there’s a proper mix of all the major play styles. More fighters would just mean slight variations on existing archetypes. This would be aesthetically pleasing, but devoid of any significant substance. If there are more characters added, they’ll have to be real game-changers.
Fighting games come with their own language, one assembled out of controls, concepts, and character types. We’re so well-versed in this dialect that it can be jarring to try and pick up a new one. Fantasy Strike lays this daunting task at your feet with comfort and ease. Before long, you’re wholly absorbed in the game’s unique rhythms. At the same time, you’re learning the basics common to all fighting games. When to block, when to counter, what moves work best, and when. With a little patience, you can pretty good at this game. Yet if you spend enough time in these trenches, you’ll end up better at all of them. While it’s not perfect, Fantasy Strike is a rock-solid entry in the larger fighting pantheon.
***A PS4 code was provided by the publisher***
- Simple, accessible controls
- Brilliant counter system
- Fast-paced matches
- Shockingly steep learning curve
- Already want more fighters
- Super grabs are the worst