A love/hate relationship with 3D arena fighters

I have a love/hate relationship with 3D arena fighters. I love fighting games in general; it’s a genre that has completely captured my heart and soul, and I love them very much.

I say this as someone who didn’t grow up playing fighting games; sure, I knew what Street Fighter was and who Ryu was, but I never would have been able to tell what Guilty Gear or The King of Fighters was. I grew up playing almost entirely story-focused games and while I still love those, with some of my all-time favourites being famous titles like The Witcher III and Final Fantasy VII, fighting games now rank pretty highly in terms of games I keep coming back to. 

But 3D arena fighters are a distinct subgenre: games like the Naruto Ninja Storm series are classic examples, and the My Hero One’s Justice titles are a more recent releases in the genre. It’s time to go over some of these games and talk about the love/hate relationship I have with them. 

My Love/Hate Relationship with 3D arena fighters

The love

I would classify the games developed by CyberConnect2 as classics of the 3D arena fighter genre, and they are games I often go back and replay — good Lord, have I had my money’s worth out of them over the years. The Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series in particular managed to merge its 3D arena fighter gameplay with the incredible visuals and fighting choreography that Naruto is more broadly known for.  

The games kept the fighting feelings fresh with the introduction of new powers as you followed along with the story mode. It also incorporated numerous different combos through the use of the analogue stick plus the attack button. While these combos may not have appeared too different from one another in terms of the damage they did, they looked different and gave a better look at all of the important and signature attacks that the cast are known for. 

Alongside this was the huge cast that expanded as the series went on, allowing for the inclusion of all sorts of different characters with a massive variety of different playstyles. If you wanted to play the classic Naruto or Sasuke, they were right there for you. However, maybe you really like playing the distance game — so in that case, you could play a character like Deidara, who focused on projectiles. Maybe you love puppeteer characters? Sasori is a great choice, in that case. 

One of my favourite parts about these games was their use of quick-time events. I know, I know, I too generally don’t like the inclusion of quick-time events in most games either. However, when it comes to some of the crazy shit that happens in battle manga and anime sometimes, it just wouldn’t work if you had to take full control of it.

The use of QTEs allowed the scenes to play out in a way that gave an incredible scene a faithful in-game representation of how it once appeared on screen or on the page, while also not leaving the player just watching. Plus, there was an added incentive to do well in the QTEs by being rewarded with extra scenes if you performed them well. 

The hate

Not every 3D arena fighter is like this though; some of them, sadly, feel like quick cash grabs to capitalise on a series’ current or rising popularity — My Hero One’s Justice is a good example of this. The first game was originally released back in 2018 when the My Hero Academia anime was in its third season, and the hype of a huge arc coming in the form of the Overhaul arc was on its way.

It was the perfect time to release a video game adaptation of the series, but the game was lacking in so many areas — its graphics, story mode and even the in-game fighting mechanics were nothing too special. It’s by no means unusual for a popular anime to end up with a mediocre video game adaptation, though; good God, One Piece has had its fair share of garbage video games over the years, though most of them aren’t 3D arena fighters, at least.

The absolute cream of the crop when it comes to miserable 3D fighters is none other than Jump Force — a game that could have been everything shounen fans could have ever wanted, but which failed in almost every single regard.

They had all the pieces of the puzzle: the rights to all of the most famous shounen characters from the last 30 years, and what did they decide to do? Make a game where “anime” looks “realistic” — something that literally nobody wanted.

The dream

When I think of dream games, there are a couple that come to mind. One is a franchise-wide Final Fantasy fighting game that plays similar to Guilty Gear. The other big one is either a Smash Brothers-style or a traditional 2D fighter Shounen Jump game. Jump Force had all the pieces to make this happen, but instead of one of the greatest anime crossovers of all time, we got a game where Frieza T-poses out of frame.

Thankfully, the new Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure All-Star Battle R looks to be taking a step in the direction I was hoping for. It looks as though CyberConnect2 is taking the best parts of Jojo’s unique style and meshing that together with a 2.5D fighting game that looks similar to something like Tekken. Here’s hoping it ends up being more Ultimate Ninja Storm than Jump Force!

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Conor Evans
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