So Y2K was the last time we had the chance to play a fighting game using characters from the ARIKA’s characters such as Kairi, Skullomania, Hokuto, Doctrine Dark, Garuda, and Cracker Jack (or Jack as he is now known as) in the last installment of the Street Fighter EX series in Street Fighter EX 3 which also marked the end of a partnership between Capcom and ARIKA. Who is ARIKA you may ask? They are a group that is made up of former Capcom staff that left in the mid 90s to form their own gaming company and eventually made a deal with Capcom to produce the Street Fighter EX series (the first ever 3D Street Fighter) as a quasi-sequel to Street Fighter 2 (although not considered canon to the timeline and an alternative take post SF2). After a 2017 April Fool’s joke that teased a potential new game from ARIKA that garnered significant fan reaction and demand for a new game, ARIKA unveiled their latest self-funded game FIGHTING EX LAYER!
Fighting EX Layer is a spiritual successor to both the Street Fighter EX series as well as the original one off Fighting Layer. Graphically this game looks really really good, even better looking than Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition and even post graphics update King of Fighters 14! The level of detail shown in the characters costumes down to the texture of the characters hairs and the particle effects from special moves. The level of detail here is truly a marvel to look see especially in motion. Where this falters however is the fact that the game has lifted assets directly from Street Fighter EX and gave many a some facelifts while many are exactly the same for better or for worse. For me its something that at times does bother me and at others it doesn’t and I’m ok with that….to an extent. While it is cool to have the gameplay back from the EX games I would’ve like to see more diversity and expressiveness in each of the characters in how the move and attack beyond their special moves; as it is, every character has the same jump, advance, retreat, base air attacks; it really can be jarring especially in 2018.
So why do I not slam ARIKA for this? Because they are a small development team that self funded this game as a passion project for the fans that will be a game that will continue to be worked on to be bettered as time goes on. Basically I’m patient enough to see this game evolve beyond what it is and before anyone comes at me with Street Fighter V was an incomplete game for 2 years and lacked an Arcade mode; let me set the record straight. Capcom is a AAA (sometimes) company that has access to way more funding and resources than a small company such as ARIKA does. The fact that they were able to make the game as quickly as they did given the limited amount of time that they had is truly astonishing.
The gameplay is fast and frenetic which can be a bit jarring if you’ve never played an EX game and are coming from SFV. There are two modes of controls that you can select from which are the “Progressive Style” which makes moves very easy to pull off and also a “Classic Style” that allows you to play with the standard button mapping. The button layout is the same as Street Fighter’s with the 3 punch and 3 kick buttons and you’re able to grab with the same input as well as perform special moves in the same manner as well. The biggest gameplay difference is that it utilizes a combo into Super Art feature that King of Fighters 14 uses and that’s by repeatedly pressing either the Jab punch or Short kick buttons up to 3-4 times and on the last attack it will trigger a Super Art which you can also Super Cancel into another Super Art by inputting the motion and button for another Super Art, If you have up to 3 bars stored up then you can Super Cancel up to 2 times straight from the auto-combo or from any other situation.
Does this make combat easy and wins a guarantee? Yes and No. Combat is very easy to get into and very fluid and while the auto-combo does have some annoyances when you face off against someone online or the CPU (which abuses the auto-combo and Super Arts to the Nth degree); there are checks and balances in place which prevent them from being so damaging that they break the flow of combat and make the gameplay unfair.
There’s also the Gougi system that, in the simplest of terms, is basically a system of card decks that are selected based on what playstyle that you prefer (i.e. aggressive, defensive, balanced) and offers you different buffs that can be activated by doing specific things while in battle and many automativally activate once certain conditions are met. Think of it like the gems system from Street Fighter X Tekken but not anywhere near broken or as flawed as that was. Some buffs will allow you to do extra damage, others will allow you to super jump across the screen, and others will give you extra defensive buffs and super armor. Regardless of which Gougi you select it will be balanced out as no one Gougi overpowers or outperforms another.
For the roster you have a good selection of combatants to choose from with around 12 Warriors to choose from with only about 2 of them playing similar to each other (Kairi and Allen Snyder both being Shotos) while Shirase and Hokuto being the same character with the exception being priority of attacks, damage outputs, and over all aesthetics of their looks (both are the same character just one is the “Evil” version). You’ll definitely find someone to that you’ll enjoy playing as given the amount of variety that there is with everyone on the roster. Now many will want a bigger roster than what is currently offered because they are used to games coming out with on average 18+ characters at launch (except Street Fighter V which honestly didn’t bother me); now ARIKA has promised more support and more characters down the line and for the time being we have 12 characters to choose from and that’s not a bad thing.
Now what about the modes you may ask? Well you have Online VS, Local VS, Training (with a hidden VS CPU mode buried in it), Expert Mode aka Challenges Mode, Gougi (where you can check out the different Gougi decks), the PlayStation Store, Options, and Network Reconnect…..and that’s about it.
So I’ve noticed that many are very unhappy with the fact that the game does not have an Arcade Mode and does not feature a Story Mode and while I can understand those being issues I ultimately am not bothered by this as I play fighting games to compete against others not so much to engage in a story or Arcade mode. ARIKA has stated they are working on a single player arcade style mode yet as far as a story mode, well that one has been stated to be a no. Now keep in mind this is not being made by a AAA developer and also not made by a massive staff so when I see comparisions drawn to SF, KoF, Guilty Gear and the like; I try to keep it in perspective that this is a different situation that didn’t have the major backing that those titles did. Now many have compared this to Skull Girls and said that came with way more, however, Skull Girls is a 2D animated fighter while this is an Unreal Engine 4 2.5D Fighter using 3D graphics, that’s a big difference and not at all comparable in my opinion.
The online is surprisingly rock solid with no frame drops or hiccups in any of the matches I had, although I didn’t get into a lot of online matches to begin with given that not many people are playing online or potentially even own the game yet. Netcode was stellar, nuff said!
Fighting EX Layer comes in two different packages for purchase. One is the “Light” version which gives you a minimal amount of Gougi packs and all the main characters while the “Standard” version gives you all the Gougi packs, characters, and Hokuto available from the get go. Price wise they run you about $39.99 for the Light version and $59.99 for the Standard version. Which should you go with? For many the Light version will be sufficient for them to get their feet wet while the Standard version gets you everything (minus the extra color packs) and also goes the extra mile towards helping support ARIKA (something that I decided to do). There is controversy from many in the FGC that the game is ultimately an incomplete beta due to lack of modes and features that the EX series and the original Fighting Layer had, however, that’s basically up to one’s own self to judge as I don’t believe its something to be mad about because my stance when it comes to games or anything really is that you have the “choice” to either buy or not.
Could the game have come out at a cheaper price? Sure it could’ve but we as gamers don’t know what the costs were to make this game and also as I stated earlier, this was a PASSION PROJECT for the fans so take that as you will.
All in all I am personally happy with the game as I see a lot of potential and as of the time of my writing this the game is already going to be at EVO for competition which already is a great thing and shows that there was definite love and desire for this series to return. Could it have launched better? Yes but that can be said of anything so that’s not my battle to pick.
Ultimately if you’re looking for a different experience than what is currently being offered then I definitely say take the plunge and play this game as it is KASANOVA APPROVED! The layers of depth to the combat system along with the variety in each fighter and awesome stages and music are simply too good to pass up and again, this game has MASSIVE potential to be the shakeup that the fighting game scene has been needing for a while now. It’s casual friendly and also competition ready with a very balanced roster.
For now it is digital only in the West however in Japan you can get a physical copy and should the game do very well we can expect to see a physical copy of the game and possibly a STEAM version down the road although I’d personally love a Nintendo Switch version but as it is this is a PlayStation exclusive. You simply can’t go wrong here and for fighting game fans and especially those of us from the Golden Days of the 90s scene, this is THE game to buy.