Endless High-Speed Running

This is gonna be one hell of a party.

So to date, my involvement in the M2K2/SDA community has lasted about seven and a half years, and although the time that I started really moving away from the hobby (which I almost completely glossed over in the previous post) was nearly three years ago, the sea was already shifting by that point. As it turned out, the speedrunning world was moving in a direction that I think is overall a lot more interesting and exciting than during my original experiences.

When I first entered the community, it was pretty small, and I felt this was simply how it was going to be. How many people are actually interested in seeing “expert” play? How many would even recognize it? The brutal realization if you go back and watch many runs that were on the site in 2005 or 2006 is that even most self-discovering members of the community didn’t really know what they were dealing with at first. (Unsurprisingly, this took me longer than most to realize.) SDA has always used a community verification process to determine what runs are suitable for publishing: volunteers watch the run to ensure that it meets expectations for video (so that you can see everything that’s going on acceptably) and play quality. In those days, the “finished” video was often the only product of a runner’s efforts; even popular games didn’t have enough players to rigorously search for techniques, and there was generally little if any indication of how much blood, sweat, and tears had gone into the recording.

Even near the end of 2006, it seemed to me that the majority of performances on the site had been completed by a very small number of players, maybe less than ten, often working in specific categories. One prolific runner in the early days almost exclusively played bad (wait, is there another kind?) N64 games, a couple had a large number of NES titles under their belt each, and one player (who was, much later, discovered to have cheated in multiple cases by splicing together different attempts to make a sort of “best possible” run) had records on all of the major entries in the Zelda series.

Their definition of major, not mine.

And the admins had other worries on their plates. In retrospect, these seem like silly growing pains, but there were perceived rivalries with two other websites: Twin Galaxies, and TASVideos (then called “NESVideos”). TG had long been a leader in classic arcade scorekeeping, and as the site expanded to track best times in console games as well, it seemed as if the “official” nature could hinder SDA’s growth. And TG still required video recordings of the playthrough, but these videos were never released by the site, leading to a small number of players who used the site’s scoreboards exclusively in a “save that shit for nationals” mentality, in fighting game terms. This was, of course, their prerogative, but I (and others) felt that it was petty and counterproductive.

The TAS community presented quite a different threat, with many players feeling that the demonstrations of inhumanly “perfect” play presented by its members would cheapen the impact of their own efforts. M2K2’s nate, driven partly by the effects on some of the best Super Metroid players, hoped to make a pre-emptive strike by trying to brand their work with negatively-loaded names. They never caught on, and while at first he was frustrated by the compromise “Tool-Assisted Speedruns” (feeling that “speedruns” should refer only to human performances), he eventually relented. By now, the knowledge base and standards of TAS recordings have risen comparably to SDA’s, to the point where once again the idea that anyone could confuse the two is usually patently absurd, if not for the same reasons as before.

But the steady growth of SDA through the years put all these issues at ease, and a large number of new members, inspired by TSA’s videos, created the first sort of “clique” in non-Quake SDA: the Ocarina of Time community. Which I know nothing about! Still, these became more and more common, and with the increased competitiveness and ability to find tricks, came much higher standards across the board. This had very little to do with my surrender, though: for me, the move from VHS recordings (which nate abhorred due to awful quality and compression artifacts) to DVD was the biggest factor. I decided I’d rather spend the money on new games than invest in, again, hobby equipment. And SDA was almost completely focused on the finished product, still. “Here’s a nice video! The best anyone has ever made, just for you!” The quality was rising, in all aspects, but the core of the site stayed the same. That was fine, but maybe…it just wasn’t right for me?

Then my good friend and then backend site guy Enhasa changed the game. Inspired by high-score boards on similar community websites (shmups, general arcade games, etc.), he presented a new “Casual speedrunning” forum on the site, along with fun “speedrunning tournaments” in which entrants would compete on games selected by him, that hadn’t been run before. He hoped that it would get people playing new games, more games, not just to get The Run (gotta use all this new slang I guess) but to mess around and have a good time. Well-intentioned as it was, it never really ended up working out the way he seemed to intend, but in my mind, it’s a clear point on the line between SDA and Speed Runs Live.

That one! Right there!

You know what?

I love Speed Runs Live.

At least, I do in theory; I don’t race much. Check out that race list and I bet you can figure out some of the reasons why! Point is, it’s a fresh and competitive venue for speedruns, where you’re not trying to beat some video a guy got once out of ten thousand tries. You’re trying to beat that guy right now. I’m also a fighting game guy and just love live performance in general, so really, it’s not that hard to see the connection.

And that leads into the current dominating form of speedruns: live streaming. Like a DVD recorder, I still really haven’t picked up on this facet of everything yet, but streaming has really changed speedrunning more than everything else combined. From the overwhelming popularity of Mario 64 superstar Siglemic, to the charity marathons and connections with other competitive communities (like Josh Ballard‘s ambitious fighting/mystery game tournament+speedrunning marathon Kings of Poverty, streamed by none other than the man Spooky himself), streaming has vastly increased the spectating audience and done some real good in the world at the same time. But from an inside perspective, the thing I find most magical is how it drives home the reality of speedrunning: there is a lot of fucking hard work, dedication, practice and perseverance. Siglemic’s stream monsters get as hype for a “reset” as anything else, which is something I never would have expected. It makes sense, though, if for no other reason than that people love watching it, and a reset means there’s going to be more.

The fact that marathon runs also often run into these randomly unavoidable disasters doesn’t have the same effect, since players just don’t start over to get it right, but there is the same sort of competitive undercurrent that you see in versus events. You’ve got one shot to do your thing, so are you gonna pull it off, or not? The great thing is that it’s still hype either way. Pull off that impossible trick as if it was nothing, and it becomes a legendary moment. Encounter bad RNG or some crazy scenario you’ve never seen before? People love trainwrecks even more!

But what I love most about the marathons is, once again, the “hobby” aspect. Even SRL has some of the cynicism and drama that creep in at times, with players who want to raise their rating scores more than their actual proficiency, for example. But people go to the marathons to share their stuff, play for a good cause, have fun, and most importantly, hang out with some friends. And those are the factors that drive me in anything. Not recognition, popularity, or winnings, but the opportunity to share the results of my hard work, something I’m hopefully proud of, with people I care about and just have a good time. And that’s the same reason I’m wary of “esports” in the fighting game scene. I’m just not that interested in dealing with people who think of these fun and cool things as chores. I’m not saying that there’s a lot of people like that, but it becomes more likely the more ulterior motives there are.

But for a lot of people, SDA is still the heart of the speedrunning scene, despite its slow upload pace. Insanely skilled players like Kryssstal (who has the Link to the Past record) who have streamed amazing runs over and over always get asked, “So when are you submitting to SDA?” And if you just want to watch the single best run, it makes sense. Especially with SRL and events filling the live and competitive niches in various permutations, SDA holding its spot as the record-keeper is only natural.

I don’t mind that it holds the most prestigious spot, and a lot of my best friends in the community are still most closely associated with SDA. But for me, and judging by my conversations with some other people, I’m not the only one who feels this way, these other aspects and having a community interface are worth a lot more. Josh, for example, doesn’t necessarily view himself as especially attached to any community. He once gave me a sports metaphor comparing the two communities, saying that record times are like individual season statistics (which are popular to compare but more “random”) and live events and performances more like full careers (which in many cases say more about who’s better overall). He may have lots of runs up on SDA, but he’s also excited to build interest in the community and events and especially to further the cause of live streaming. The most excitement I see from him is when he’s on his stream, doing marathon/session style practice (where you don’t reset and just go for it) and really interacting with his stream chat. It helps a lot that he plays fairly popular games and has an outstanding personality compared to a lot of speedrun streamers, but to me it just reinforces once again what I think he and I both love most about doing this.

I told you this wasn’t gonna end.

My future aspirations in speedrunning are not to become another “funkdoc,” although I respect and admire what he’s done quite a lot and consider him one of my best friends in the community. (I hope that’s obvious by now.) For starters, I really don’t have the ability to work with people’s nostalgia nearly as much. Like I mentioned, I didn’t grow up with many games (until I was about 13, all we really had was an Atari and Lemmings 1 and 2, which are awesome games but not really that great for speedrunning), and while I’ve certainly developed a soft spot for a lot of old games, particularly Genesis titles, I don’t see any reason to try and ape him other than sheer competition.

Instead, I see myself as much more of a marathon and semi-causal stream type of player if anything. That’s not nearly as simple as it might sound either, but a lot of the potential I see in speedrunning still draws back straight from the younger days of SDA, when every game was fresh and unexplored. It’s not that I want to completely shy away from competition, but I can’t find a whole lot of drive to “catch up” with players who I know love a given game much, much more than I do, whether it’s speedrunning, score-attacking, or fighting.

And my interest in playing semi-poverty doesn’t make the marathons any easier. PJ has made his name in the scene largely by becoming way better at stupefyingly bad games than they have ever deserved, but my alley is more underloved games that I genuinely adore. His strategy is better, not just because pure shock factor plays well in modest doses at marathons, but also because you always run the risk of coming to hate whatever you’re trying to master…unless you already do hate it! As less of a retro gamer, I can’t even really slip in obscure stuff that’s short enough to justify time slots; the shortest runs I’ve ever worked on to any extent were in the vicinity of an hour. ~1% of the time budget doesn’t sound like much, but the competition is just too stiff.

This year, I decided to pick up Devil May Cry 3 for the marathon, but it turns out I wasn’t the only one who realized that despite repeat performances from the first game in the series (and one from its semi-successor Bayonetta, neither of which I like quite as much as DMC3), the title which I assumed to be the most popular in its little sub-genre hadn’t made an appearance yet. We ended up splitting the characters, left to be decided at a donation bidding war, and while I have the good straw in terms of practicing, I’m not sure that I can beat Flicky in a reverse money match. His Bayonetta run and other random commentating went over really well with the crowd last year while my “having never done anything noteworthy in any online community” leaves me as a complete unknown, particularly to spectators.

On the plus side, Vergil is significantly easier to play than Dante, aside from a small number of rooms and situations where his slightly poorer movement really comes back to bite you. And all else failing I can surely get on the bonus stream, where the only real difference is knowing that only 1/5 as many people are watching. But looking towards future marathons, I think if anything my opportunities are going to be in digging up smaller, older games where it’ll be easier to justify time:popularity ratios. It’s true that I’m a bit jaded from knowing Uyama is never going to allow Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter in an AGDQ marathon even though it stands out as a truly stellar, quick and understandable RPG run, but more importantly it’s just exhausting to put in the kind of rigorous practice needed for a marathon on games that take more than an hour to get through all of. And more manageable games also just make better bite-size stream material, like the kind I’m expecting I’d be doing, as I certainly don’t have plans to quit arcade games anytime soon.

Could it really all fit together that nicely? I’m not sure, but I have plenty of time to figure it out. For now, this is a good break point. Next time, I’ll finally actually get around to some of my actual experiences involving speedrunning instead of just talking about related topics!

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Might Controls Everything

“I didn’t know you were a speedrunner!”

Yes, that’s a sentence I almost never hear, because most people don’t know there’s nothing to know. Or so I tend to think, every time I offhandedly mention it and get this kind of response. Of course, now that I’m writing this, I realize it actually serves as a nice way to kinda talk about my video gaming history and some other things, so that’s cool.

The first time I heard of speedrunning was in Super Smash Bros. Melee, which featured a few wacky minigames to entertain people whose friends/siblings weren’t available. In particular, one of these modes features a specially designed level, unique to each character, with ten targets, and generally some other obstacles, placed on it. The targets are destroyed if anything that deals damage normally in the game touches them, and the game keeps track of your scores on each course. Getting beneath certain total times (all of your best, added together) earns a few special rewards in the game, but where there’s something to do, there’s something to be better than your friends at.

I saw a set of these videos, and started trying to recreate them. And they were really hard! It didn’t take very long before I realized that these guys had played for hours on each level discovering and mastering these crazy trick-shots  and maximizing each movement. Even the “easy ones” that had been matched by several players were way out of my league, and I was just boggled. How did anybody have the patience and interest to do this?

(In case it’s not obvious, I’m not remotely a natural perfectionist. I was a lazy student, and so what I taught myself was to figure out the “good enough” threshold and reach it as easily as possible. I could get “good enough” at so many things when I was younger that trying to be The Best at even one thing didn’t ever strike me as interesting. Even now I fight with myself a lot over the point where I can stop stressing something.)

But that’s all beside the point. It was only about a year later that I played Metroid Prime for the first time, and since my mom had been pretty down on videogames when I was growing up and I had played very few, the entire experience was mind-blowing. I just had to play it more, and not only because it was amazing; I also didn’t really have anything else to play. (Except for Melee and Soul Calibur II, of course)

And so I was quite a bit less surprised when I discovered Metroid 2002, the evolution of a large GameFAQs community of players who had tried everything they could think of to get places they “shouldn’t” be, get items out of “order” and essentially just destroy Metroid Prime as much as possible. So I joined the community and posted for a while. I learned some tricks and got into some of the other games. This is the last time I’ll say this but…I still wasn’t big on the perfectionism part. It was just some new things to do and see in a game I loved, and still do.

From there it also wasn’t long before I discovered the sister site, Speed Demos Archive, which was originally a Quake community. But the admins of the two sites were good friends and shared a lot of common goals. Indeed, it was Radix of SDA who did the first well-known full game run of Metroid Prime featuring tricks the community had discovered, with “nate” of M2K2’s most enduring runs being on the Alien Vs Predator FPS for the Jaguar console. (In case you’ve never heard this bit of trivia before: it’s true. I couldn’t make up a joke like that!)

But M2K2 and the Quake section of SDA were intensely focused groups, with large numbers of players who had tread the same ground together over and over for years. In the early days of SDA, “other games” were in a completely different boat. Most runners practically worked alone, and as a result the level of knowledge on almost any other game, for players and viewers, was with full hindsight…absurdly low.

But hey, perfect for me, right? ha ha ha. I tried running a couple of RPGs, thinking they would be easy, but that basically ended in various kinds of disaster. I did record a full run on Fire Emblem 9, but never got the chance to submit it; the run that’s there instead is roughly an hour better than my version. My Radiata Stories run was somewhat less failureific on the surface, keeping ahead of the pace set by a Japanese player (who did the entire playthrough in one shot and wrote fairly detailed notes on his strategies that I copied heavily, but still), but was plagued by long periods of me giving up in disgust at the game’s randomness. By the time I had figured out how to play the end-game, I went back to look at my early recordings and realized they were way too sloppy to be an acceptable submission to the site. I think I may well still have more knowledge than any other player about the “segmented” (“save as much as you can and retry as much as you need”) run, but the idea of starting over to get the earlier parts right is nightmarish to me. It’ll probably never happen, but on the good side almost nobody cares about the game anyway! So that’s a relief.

Not that you're reading this anyway...I hope.

That doesn’t mean I’m not sorry, Molotov.

Despite that, I really came to love a certain niche of the community, and it was through those guys that I was first truly introduced to the joy of arcade games. First, it was shmups, and my initial “lol, playing for score?!!!?” viewpoint didn’t last very long as my skills improved and I started to find playing for survival wasn’t itself challenging enough to hold my interest in most cases. Soon, I was playing video games that I actually wanted to get good at? More importantly, I fell in love with the genre and truly found reason to care, in large part because progress is so unambiguous, not even realizing I was just as outclassed as I was in Metroid Prime. By the time I found out, it wasn’t a deterrent at all.

And when the community reached a point where people wanted to meet up, it was fortuitously scheduled around a good hang-out: Magfest, a huge party for video games and game music. Despite the wonderful buffet of arcade games that some (incredibly generous!) people brought out to share with everyone, I walked away from that first year with just the slightest taste of three games in my mouth, knowing I wanted much more.

The first was Espgaluda II, the sequel to my favorite shmup (at the time). Cave had just started porting their games to 360, so it seemed possible that maybe, far in the future, I’d get to own my own copy of the game. It didn’t take as long as I expected.

The second, Beatmania IIDX. I’d played piano for 13 years, so the game clicked for me right away. As soon as I got home I called my (amazing) local game store to see if they had a copy. They did, and it became my first true game obsession, and still really the game I’ve gotten best at, ever. (That doesn’t mean very much.)

And finally, Street Fighter IV. Not sure what exactly the deal was there, whether it was just promotional or some guys who owned the thing, but there was the guts of the arcade machine, a pair of sticks, and a huge projector to show off the game to everyone in the gigantic ballroom. I don’t even like the game that much now, but yeah, I’m more or less one of those guys. I mean yeah, I loved Senko no Ronde long before, and I had a friend who introduced me to Immaterial and Missing Power, Akatsuki Blitzkampf, and Samurai Shodown V Special online before that, but while I really liked those games, it was obvious that this game would have something those other ones didn’t: a lot of freaking people to fight against. (Wait, two things: my favorite character from playing SFII at the neighbor’s when I was 6, Chun-Li) So I was naive, and now I really just want a few good friends who care about a game about as much as I do, but at the time? Mind-blowing in the extreme.

And so, when the next year’s meetup came, and people schemed to absolutely top it by hosting a charity speedrunning marathon (which would become the greatest and most successful to date), I still had my close friends. I still went (although my one true pairing had his trip interrupted by tragic news).

But my heart had been stolen. I didn’t actually think about speedrunning much, and certainly didn’t have anything to contribute. I went, I hung out rather anti-socially and slept a lot, I went to Magfest again as much as I could to play Beatmania, and only after it was over did I realize what an amazing thing I’d all but missed out on.

Still, I wasn’t motivated, and when life changes pretty much precluded my chance to go again, I was only kind of bummed out. Sure, there were more people, more games, and over three times as much money raised for the Prevent Cancer Foundation again, but what was I supposed to do? In 2012 I again managed to make the trip, but with so many people that I really didn’t even know at this point, and with the only game I was considering playing being utterly godawful to practice, I could only shrug once more. I really love DC, my sister was there, and I made it to Magfest again (although the wait for Beatmania was excruciating this time for a bunch of reasons), so it was a fantastic vacation. Still, I got asked “so what are you going to run next year?” way too many times. (Seriously though, I appreciate that you guys (who aren’t reading this) care.)

With trends continuing, it looked hopeless. I’m more into fighters than ever before, and with even more people and a tighter schedule requirements, I couldn’t possibly get on the lineup except out of pity. It was elementary school recess all over again. How was I supposed to stage a comeback?

But after a couple months, I found my X-Factor. In March, I started working (slowly, and still slowly) on a new game, that I knew I loved, and was somehow also popular. At the same time, it had been dead on SDA for many years (a Japanese player submitted an amazing run, but alas, his community’s rules didn’t match up with our site’s, and it couldn’t be accepted). It was perfect; could this finally be my chance to shine?

Maybe. This is getting long, and cutting off now just leaves me more to write about. But for now?

I’m motivated.

Fair and Balanced and Redundant.

So I was talking to my man Jamaal at the tournament today about my core gripes with Persona 4 Arena, and I ran into a common issue I have: I love semantics SO MUCH that I end up with these specific definitions for similar words so I can use them in contrast to each other. But it’s not so easy to load those words for other people so they can understand what I’m trying to say.

So for today’s episode of “opposite synonyms”: “Fair” and “Balanced,” in a sort of theoretical game sense. Generally the word “balanced” is meant in a sort of complete sense, like “you can choose whatever character you like and have a reasonable chance of winning against other characters.” The reason I prefer “fair” for this usage is because in a competitive game the player with superior effort, knowledge, or experience coming into a game should generally be favored. If you want to beat that guy who knows more than you, you’ll have to work for it. I feel that “balanced” implies a more specific context, one in which options metaphorically weighed against each other come out equally. But let’s talk about what it might mean to be “fair” in a very basic sense.

first google image result for "balanced"

Or maybe it means a stack of coins that stands up BY MAGIC!

The board game Go only has one “kind” of move. You place a stone of your color (black or white) on an empty space on the board, and then it becomes the other player’s turn. This is kind of a meaningless “balance” assessment compared to fighting games, but it turns out that the player who goes first in Go has a marginal advantage that makes it easier to win the game. In other words, a game of Go is not completely “fair.” There’s a simple score adjustment that’s often used to attempt to correct for this disparity. But I also said, “a game.” Go offers another straightforward solution: simply have the players trade stones and play again.

Needless to say, this wouldn’t be viewed as a sensible option in fighting games, and it certainly isn’t a passable method for determining which player is the best at winning in a given title given the natural constraints of the genre. But at the same time, I don’t believe that the fairness of the game itself is what draws players, or spectators for that matter. Virtua Fighter is commonly considered to be a very fair game, but it’s languished in obscurity in the US forever, while wildly unfair games like Marvel and Third Strike have sat on top of the scene. Individual players may lose heart as they find it harder and harder to win with their preferred character, but clearly not everyone is casting aside games just because some characters (or even a lot) are really, really bad. Fairness in this sense is obviously somewhat subjective, but when you see extremely potent trends like Chun&Yun or Marvel 2’s little flock of enduring top tier teams it’s difficult to dismiss unfairness as just a point of view.

So by “balance” I mean a lot of different concepts related to the options a player has in a given moment in a round, rather than the “big picture” of a whole game beginning from a default state. Stuff like risk versus reward, resource investment, and overall “momentum.” A lot of these aren’t easy to attach value judgments to, because strict systems where coming back is super hard like Marvel 2 aren’t necessarily appropriate for all games and certainly not every player likes them. And a game where options are “too” balanced, with risk and reward heavily normalized, often turns out to just be boring, with exciting moments and creative setups being difficult to come by. (I feel that this is something quite a few of the characters in Blazblue have struggled with.) Even the illusion of balance can be valuable in its own way; I don’t think there are many people at this point who see 3S as a game where low tiers have a good chance of winning, but the game’s nature allows for insane, unbelievable moments nonetheless.

But there I am, lapsing back into “fairness.” The thing is, fairness is still tied closely to balance. If something is really, really unfair, there’s probably a huge imbalance behind it. To finally get around to talking about Persona 4 Arena: the matchup between Kanji and Elizabeth is probably the most strikingly one-sided in the game. And the core issue is Elizabeth’s crouching B attack: a move that’s simply unbalanced (in this specific case, and to a smaller extent in others). Every character’s crouching B is intended as an “anti-air” move; something that punishes the opponent for jumping at you. Elizabeth’s has a large hitbox that goes around about 2/3 of her body and stays on screen for a long time. In addition, it picks her up slightly off the ground, and, like most moves, leads into potentially devastating combos. Essentially, it’s one of her most important keepaway tools, and Kanji is a character with few strong options at a distance.

In other words, he has to get close, and what does he have? His main tools are:

Jumping attacks: B (his chair), C (a large double punch using the persona), and his leaping grab move. Needless to say, as an anti-air the crouching B beats (or clashes, which is basically as good) all of these unless Elizabeth times it very badly. Even if he doesn’t attack the game doesn’t allow him to block the move, so no dice there.

Ground normals. Unfortunately, most of them are too slow to win by virtue of frame data, and once Elizabeth leaves the ground Kanji loses a lot of good combo options, dramatically reducing his reward even if he manages to get a hit.

Throw options. He has a fast command grab, but it doesn’t “beat” crouching B unless he gets really close without Elizabeth noticing. He has a slower, invincible command grab, but while this will cause Elizabeth’s attack to miss the grab will as well, leaving him open for a punish. And he has anti-air command grab options, but while crouching B does lift Elizabeth off the ground, it’s not to a “jump” height at which they’ll catch her. Instead, Kanji will just Get Stuffed.

Finally, there’s his reversal. Generally reversals are intended as a tool for breaking pressure, not beating the other player’s moves when neither has an advantage, but Kanji’s has an interesting property: it automatically “guards” against anything that touches it while it’s active, and then counterattacks. In other words, if Elizabeth tries to use her move it will never trade or win, but instead touch and then cause her to be shocked. But of course, there’s a catch. If Elizabeth jumps or does nothing, she can wait for the guarding period to end and then score a huge combo. The reversal move, on the other hand, doesn’t lead directly into anything, only bouncing her away and preventing her from jumping, walking or running for a few seconds or until she gets another hit. Taking away Elizabeth’s ability to move freely does potentially help, but you still have to make another opportunity, making it a high risk for Kanji with poor reward.

Pillar of salt.

Now, speaking as an Elizabeth player, this matchup isn’t even fun in the slightest, and I’m not saying that to feign empathy for people playing a difficult character. It’s just incredibly uninteresting, but this is also kind of an intentionally ridiculous example. There’s only one other matchup in the game in which one player can force the other to massively overcommit by doing essentially nothing.

But even in matchups which are more or less fair (which is quite a large number of them) I don’t generally enjoy the game’s sense of balance. For one thing, I think the damage dealt by individual moves in P4U is often really high, which the game counteracts by introducing steep scaling very early in combos. I have a >90% win rate in random online matches with Mitsuru in even though I can’t do a single combo longer than 3 hits that doesn’t start with the enemy using a reversal (which, while extremely common, doesn’t at all account for that), while picking Elizabeth tends to put me on the receiving end of 2000-damage special moves and 3000-damage invincible supers quite often. By contrast, individual hits in King of Fighters XIII tend to be pretty weak, but in most cases-at least, ones that don’t involve Ash-it makes for a game where hit confirms and execution feel like they give good rewards proportionally.

The question of whether one is “more balanced” than the other is ultimately kind of meaningless. Either way, I’m dying to things (usually) that I know how to avoid but don’t always do successfully. I’m winning by getting openings whether or not I get the absolute most out of those hits or not. It’s not that I think the Persona developers’ decisions are categorically bad or that people shouldn’t take the game seriously and work to build the community if they really enjoy it, but the end result is that the game feels unhelpful when I lose and unsatisfying when I win, and I’ve started to think I’m just not really up for that when there are so many games I could be trying to learn that I might enjoy more.

Specific games aside, I think it’s much more useful to think about situational “balance” than overall “fairness” when comparing similar games or even characters. Just going “well these characters have a pretty equal chance against each other” doesn’t actually tell you very much about how to play, especially in a mirror match situation. Comparing options against each other is how the game actually advances, as people discover new tricks, setups, and combos, and as an individual player, it’s also the best way to improve your playing style and stop doing things that aren’t very effective. Of course, all this gives way to an even simpler way of looking at things: if you’re having fun, keep playing. And if you’re not, maybe you should try something else.