Fantasy Strike takes recognisable moves from other fighting games but removes the difficulty of performing those moves, meaning there's no joystick twirling or lengthy combo strings required. I played the free demo of Fantasy Strike this past weekend. It feels it was created by someone who wanted to break the habit of using the joystick to crouch or jump in.
Fantasy Strike, currently in development by Sirlin Games, makes a lot of changes to the 2D fighting genre in an effort to simplify it and make it more accessible to newcomers. The game takes a note from Super Smash Brothers' book in that every character has the same set of controls. Just as every character in Smash has the same input for a Smash attack, every character in Fantasy Strike has the same input for their Super move: A and B, pressed simultaneously. Same goes for the rest of the required inputs.
Just like in Smash, the differences are in character size, speed and spacing. Sure, the A button performs a neutral attack for every character, but you're going to have to try each fighter to figure out what that looks like. Once you figure out the basics, you'll be able to switch characters without having to suddenly learn a Z joystick pattern or the rhythm of a double quarter-circle.
The hardest and weirdest part, for me, is the jump button. Last weekend's demo is subject to change, but for the moment the game relies on using the jump button rather than pressing upwards on the joystick to jump. You can change the controls so that pressing the joystick will trigger the jump, but in my experience this made it more difficult to perform an angled jump-in. I changed back to the button and retrained my brain to follow the game's intended defaults.
Fantasy Strike doesn't employ the up or the down direction on the joystick. To perform an angled jump, you press the jump button and left or right on the joystick. Fantasy Strike doesn't allow any control over the arc and angle of a character's jump, either. There's a back-jump animation and a forward-jump animation. That's it.
There's also no dashing and no crouching, so if you've spent a lifetime pressing down and back to crouch-block in Street Fighter, Fantasy Strike will throw you for a loop. This limitation made me realise how much I had grown to rely on crouch-blocks and dash-ins as a Street Fighter player. Fantasy Strike forced me to find other ways to get across the screen.
The only tools left to control spacing are those that are specific to each character. Valerie, the rainbow paintbrush-wielding fighter, has a jump-plus-special move that can work as a diagonal cross-up or a quick escape route. I relied on that until I got better with her combos, some of which take her across the screen fast enough to serve as a dash. Rook, a grappler made of literal stone, moves with agonising slowness, but his throws have a longer range than most of the other characters.
By making button inputs simpler, and by making all individual moves do about the same amount of damage, Fantasy Strike puts the player's focus on spacing and closing the gap, rather than memorising combo chains and drilling input rhythms.
Spacing is an all-important foundation to any fighting game player's skills, but without more variation in potential movesets, Fantasy Strike feels like the checkers to Street Fighter's chess. It suffers from the same problem as checkers: There's just not that much to it, so it gets repetitive. But sometimes it's nice to just play some checkers, you know? Doesn't have to be all the time.
Sirlin Games is still crowdfunding for Fantasy Strike on Fig with a planned release in 2018.