Story modes in fighting games DO matter
For the past several weeks, I've been trying to wrap my head around the arcade mode in Street Fighter X Tekken. After multiple play-throughs with different teams, I have come to a conclusion. My conclusion is that arcade mode in Street Fight X Tekken is horrible. Holy heck, is that mode bad! In all honesty, I don't think there's any argument that can be made in favor of that game's "story" mode. It's not good, it's not fleshed out, and it doesn't take advantage of its great cast and lore.
Some fighting game aficionados may argue that "fighting games don't need a competent story mode" and that "fighters are played for their competitive design." Bullsh*t. While I certainly agree that fighting games are most strong when played with other individuals, I couldn't disagree more with the statement that fighting games don't need a fully realized story mode.
One of the first instances I can remember where a fighting game actually provided some semblance of a compelling plot is Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The Subspace Emissary took each of that game's characters and tossed them into one seamless world where they all interacted with each other. It was fresh, it was compelling, and it was fun. No, there was no dialogue, but that didn't take away from the fact that Nintendo actually wanted to include something more than the typical by-the-numbers narrative, and it did exactly that.
Fast forward a few years after Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Warner Bros. Interactive and NetherRealm's brilliant fighter, Mortal Kombat, managed to deliver what is easily the best story mode in fighting game history. Seriously, it's that freakin' good. Like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mortal Kombat managed to take each of its characters and create a genuine and compelling world for them, delivering the tales of the first three Mortal Kombat games in one uninterrupted package.
Unlike Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mortal Kombat's story mode featured tons of dialogue in its awesome cutscenes which really helped make the story feel more natural and real. It was a story mode that was good not only for its genre, but in general. It truly was a campaign mode, and because it lasted about six hours, it rivaled the single-player campaigns featured in plenty of other games on the market.
Not even one year later, and we get Street Fighter X Tekken. When you think about the possibilities that a crossover between Capcom and Namco Bandai's two famed fighting franchises can deliver, it really is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, when the final product shipped, we get the typical arcade experience: Pick two characters, beat a bunch of other characters, and look at a couple of paragraphs talking about the events that unfolded immediately after you cleared arcade mode.
Now, if you actually choose two "official" partners, you get some neat cutscenes when you start playing arcade mode and when you clear it. Pick any two characters of your choosing, though, and you're stuck with generic stills. That's all there is, and it's utterly disappointing.
The thing is that even if you pick an official duo, two FMV scenes aren't really all that impressive, even if they are pretty decent, especially when you compare arcade mode in Street Fighter X Tekken to story mode in Mortal Kombat. And yes, I completely understand that Capcom's brand of fighters is meant to be played competitively, but given the unique nature of this particular crossover, there could have easily been a lot more. A deep story arc with exciting plot twists, interesting character interactions, and a novel ending would have been great. Instead, we got some text.
Now, I completely understand that arcade mode is meant to emulate the arcade experience, and playing against AI rivals only to see that a new challenger has found his or her way to my game courtesy of the online component in Street Fighter X Tekken is certainly exciting. But there could have just as easily been an added story mode--something that would have taken complete advantage of the two universes being represented in the game. Just imagine how grand that would have been.
Fighting games are great, but they could be even better if they featured a worthwhile story component. Mortal Kombat proved it, and even with its downsides, Super Smash Bros. Brawl proved it, too. Genres have evolved and become stronger over the years. Fighting games have also changed, but mostly in terms of mechanics. The genre would benefit from more games like Mortal Kombat--games that aren't afraid to explore their lore and characters. It's a shame that Street Fighter X Tekken didn't follow suit in that respect, and I truly feel that Capcom wasted a great opportunity ,but maybe, just maybe, Tekken X Street Fighter will take full advantage of that same opportunity.