Until a few months ago I was under the impression that fighting games were entirely impenetrable. Then I played Fantasy Strike.
Developer: Sirlin Games
Publisher: Sirlin Games
Release Date: July 25th, 2019
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Switch, PS4
Created with accessibility as a core tenet of its design, Fantasy Strike is a fighting game that released this past summer. The goal of the game was to be simple enough for new players to understand it, but deep enough for anyone to enjoy. As someone fascinated by, but unable to grasp fighting games this pitch sounded too good to be true. Having played it for several weeks, I can safely say that Fantasy Strike delivers in spades on its promise.
Before I begin, let it be stated that I’m reviewing Fantasy Strike from the perspective of someone with little prior fighting game experience. If you’d like additional context on where I sit with the genre I’d recommend reading this first.
The biggest success of Fantasy Strike is how inclusive it is. Sirlin Games have gone to great lengths to make sure the game is approachable to newcomers. One way this is achieved is through streamlined controls and combos. The most complex action you’ll perform is holding a direction of movement while pressing an attack button. Combo strings are similarly simplified with most being two or three moves. In both cases there is little execution barrier, so even novice players can begin playing immediately.
There are also visual cues used to convey pertinent information. Whenever a fighter lands an attack a coloured spark will appear. This represents the move’s speed relative to your opponent and informs when it is and isn’t safe to attack. The sparks also change size in relation to the length of a potential opening. For example, if your opponent uses a slower attack the result on contact will be a large red spark. If you manage to block said attack that’ll be your cue to throw them on the pain train.
Additionally, Fantasy Strike labels specific actions, such as cross-ups or counter hits, so there’s no question as to what is happening on screen. As a newer player it can be frustrating to do what you believe is the correct thing only for it to fail. This is doubly true if you don’t have any idea what you should have done. As a result, these cues help to teach less experienced players and allow them to understand what works and why with very little ambiguity.
The final aspect that makes Fantasy Strike so approachable is the compact roster and move-lists. There are ten unique fighters each with a handful of moves. Every character has a highlight video featuring their moves, combos, and situations where they do and don’t excel. You’re able to quickly experiment with each fighter, derive how they play, and understand what moves they have. Wherein other fighting games you can spend hours determining if a character is right for you, it is refreshing that Fantasy Strike helps to simplify the decision making process.
In a vacuum each of the elements above would help to make Fantasy Strike more approachable than its contemporaries. In combination, each of these aspects helps to accentuate the others creating an inclusive environment that wants every player, regardless of skill level, to engage with and excel at Fantasy Strike.
In today’s day and age a competitive game can live or die based on its online experience. Thankfully Fantasy Strike’s online is remarkable. A piece of third party software known as GGPO is utilized to make online matches run as smoothly as offline play. My mind is still blown by the sorcery at work when playing people all over North America and Europe without any hiccups.
In addition, the UI is also highly optimized. Getting into matches is as simple as pressing two buttons. You select online from the main menu and then what match type you’d like. Even friend matches are simple. You select the person you’d like to play from your friends list and then they’re challenged to a match. This may seem like a weird thing to highlight, but with the volume of games that completely bungle their online experience the elegance of Fantasy Strike’s UI and online speaks volumes.
Oh, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention cross-play while on the topic of online. Players from all platforms are able to play with one another. There is one exception however. Due to Sony’s former stance on cross-play, PS4 and Switch players are unable to play with one another. Despite this, cross-play being present is a huge boon and keeps the community playing together.
Update: As of December 2019 cross-play works between all platforms without exception
As previously alluded to, there are three types of online modes: casual, ranked, and friend. While these game modes are fairly self explanatory the ranked mode is of particular note for it goes against the grain. When playing ranked you must choose three fighters instead of one and win a best of five against your opponent. The trick here is that you have to win at least one match with all of your selected characters. This results in intensely fun matches, made more-so by the potential for late game comebacks.
There are also a handful of offline modes. You’ve got a classic arcade mode where you face off against five random fighters and a boss. There’s also four different survival modes where you fight against an increasing number of foes on a single health bar. The real treat is boss rush though. Here you defeat empowered versions of the fighters. Following each match you select power-ups to make yourself stronger and unlock additional attacks. The more bosses you defeat the more hilariously overpowered both you and your opponents become. If you ever wanted a mode that is the epitome of smashing action figures together this is it.
A practice mode also exists with all the standard features. You can set your target dummy’s behaviour, see your inputs, observe frame data, perform combos, and test in slow-motion. The tools in this mode hold more value for an experienced player, but it does offer a controlled environment to practice in.
Finally, I’d like to mention the community. This factor is external to Fantasy Strike, but is a huge part of why I enjoyed it. The official discord server, which can be found in game, is home to the game’s best players many of whom will jump at the chance to help a newbie. They make excellent sparing partners and can give pointers if you’re struggling with certain aspects of the game. Having a strong community is integral to the long term success of an online game and Fantasy Strike’s is pretty good.
Fantasy Strike achieves the seemingly impossible by making a fighting game that is inclusive for players at all skill levels. Everything from the game’s controls, combos, visuals, roster size, and move-list have been carefully crafted to create an approachable game. With all the game modes you’d expect, plus the excellent boss rush, a great cross-play online experience, and a stellar community there is simply no reason not to give Fantasy Strike a shot.