The 'Definitive' Guide To Picking a Main Fighting Game Character

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These are the factors to consider when picking a new fighting game character

Okay, so maybe the term 'definitive' is a tad dramatic as we are talking about video games. However, we've all had that problem when starting out in a new fighting game — picking a character to main. For this article, I will discuss Street Fighter V a lot since it is the fighting game I've had the most experience with recently. Understandably, picking a main might seem like a trivial topic, but as I discovered, it could be a bit of a hassle, especially if you have limited experience with a game or looking to change your character.

For instance, I recently became reacquainted with Street Fighter as I haven't played it since SFIV, which was a couple of years ago. So, I booted up the game and immediately picked Ken since he was someone who I had some decent experience with. Within an hour, I had decided that Ken was not going to be my guy for the new game. After some trial and error (pretty painful if you ask me), I have settled on Rashid (this is not a permanent decision — yet.) After the incident, I became curious, what's the psychology behind picking a main character in a fighting game? After reading up (both on forums and even the occasional academic paper), I came to the conclusion that there are a couple of ways to go about picking a character, which we'll examine in a little bit.

Also, this is a situation that works with most fighting games, including Mortal Kombat, Marvel v Capcom, Guilty Gear, and other fighting games out there. So don't worry about my emphasis on Street Fighter as you can recognize this pattern in other games.

Design

I can confidently say that a character's design is usually pivotal in people's decision-making processes. I can never forget the first time I saw Ken Masters; he looked so cool that I just knew I wanted to use him. It was the same with characters in other games, think Sub-zero in Mortal Kombat or Combo in Killer Instinct. A character's design is the player's first interaction and sometimes is all that is needed to get someone to like a protagonist. Think of all the iconic characters from years past like Dante from the Devil May Cry series, his badass cloak, and silver hair was so iconic that Ninja Theory caught a lot of flak for messing with the design, and it was hardly surprising that subsequent entries into the DMC franchise have seen Dante revert to his former self. Gamers are very attached to the character designs they are used to, and this only goes to show how important the character creation process is.

 

Another example that showcases the importance of character design is the issue with Birdie from Street Fighter. The official Capcom usage stats show that he is used sparingly by most players, and I believe this has a lot to do with his appearance. In the latest installment of the classic fighting game, the British enforcer sports a rather interesting design with his iconic mohawk accompanied by an oversized belly and a generally unkempt appearance. Also, on the character select page, he is shown licking his chain, and it gave me creepy vibes, so I imagine some other people feel the same way. Naturally, design can't be the only thing that has affected his frequency of use, but I daresay it contributes to it quite a bit.

 

Ken vs Zangief
Alternate Ken design

Playstyle

Playstyles are a big deal in the fighting game genre. There are different types of playing fighting games from the rushdown experts to the more cautious individuals who specialize in keeping opponents at bay with projectiles and so on. Fighting game characters can be divided into three broad categories:

  • Rushdown fighters
  • Grapplers
  • Zoners

Most people are already well versed with these fighting game terms, but on the off chance that you are a newbie, it is important to explain each sub-category.

Rushdown

These are really aggressive fighters that get in your face any chance they get. Therefore, they are great in close combat and excel when they have their opponents pinned in a corner. One of the biggest examples of a character like this is Cammy from Street Fighter. The leggy fighter is incredibly aggressive and, in the right hands, can completely decimate an opponent without giving them any space whatsoever.

Grapplers

These are the big boys in fighting games. Grapplers are generally huge characters who have a lot of health to make up for their deficiencies. On the other hand, grapplers are very slow, which can be seen as a weakness, and their size means that there is more for the opponent to aim for. But, if you can master these fighters, their high damage output can be put to some excellent use. Fighters like Zangief from Street Fighter and Big Band from Skullgirls are some of the more common examples of Grapplers.

Zoners

As the name implies, these are fighting game characters that manage space really well. They are also adept at keeping opponents away with projectiles while waiting for an opening with which to strike. Zoners tend to have great defenses and usually make use of charge attacks. Guile from SF is one of the foremost zoner fighting game characters, and his ability to win opponents with patient play and strategic combos is a big reason for his popularity.

There are other playstyles available for gamers, but these three are some of the most common, and you will find fighting game characters that fit the bill in any title you pick up. Therefore, identify the playstyle you are most comfortable with and pick someone who suits it.

Zangief's CA
Zangief's critical art

Story

Like it or not, stories are essential to the fighting game genre. What is the use of bringing together 10+ characters to fight each other with no reason or story? Understandably, this isn't the most significant determinant of a player's preference, but for some, it is pivotal. A story helps you connect with a character in a way a simple design can't. When you identify with a character's story, they become relatable, and you are likely to see them as an extension of yourself. Most importantly, a good story makes you like a character, and this is important as you are more likely to main a character you like and practice to ensure you know how to use them. So, if you are into characters' lore, then read up on your favorite player and see if their story connects with you.

The importance of a 'Pocket' character

A 'pocket' character is a fighting game term used to describe a secondary character. This is an option you go for when your primary choice deals with a bad matchup, which is a common theme with fighting games. Recently, END Shine used his pocket Juri to win a game against an opponent whom he couldn't earlier defeat with his Ibuki. Most pro players have a secondary character, and they are able to use this to handle difficult matches that they might otherwise not win. That said, it isn't impossible to do without a secondary character, as evidenced by Smug, who has, for the most part, stuck with Balrog in Street Fighter V.

Mortal Kombat story mode
Via comicbook.com

All of the above might be useful to a new player or someone looking to change up their regular character of choice, but these are by no means the only factors to look at when picking a character. Personally, I would say that the most important thing to consider when selecting a main character in a fighting game, be it Marvel vs Capcom or Blazblue, is how much fun you can have with the character. There are several pro players who use zoners like rushdown characters and vice versa; the most important thing is to like who you pick as this is a huge motivator when it comes to practicing and getting good. On the other side of things, if you can't relate to your character, you are unlikely to want improvement.

So, hopefully, this 'definitive guide' has helped you somewhat. With all I've written, I have also become motivated to get better with Rashid on Street Fighter...or maybe I should try again with Ken.

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