It’s been years since the old Street Fighter Ex series was a thing, but old school developer Arika has finally returned with a natural evolution of what that series could have become with their own independent release. Let’s take a look at Fighting Ex Layer and see if it should have stayed as an April Fools joke or if it’s a dream come true.
Release date: June 28th, 2018
Price: $40 (Light Version), $60 (Standard Version)
Approximate size: 1.93 GB
Genre: Fighting Game
Developed by Arika
Published by Arika
Review On: PlayStation 4 (Currently Only Available On)
Fighting EX Layer has been crafted and designed specifically for the hardcore audience. Years of being gone from the fighting game genre hasn’t hurt developer Arika, in all actuality this absence has seemingly made them better. To start with, you have under fifteen characters with the exact number dependent on the version of the game you buy. Each character plays differently with unique attacks and styles. The goal is to be the first player to get to three victories and that’s easier said than done. The game tries to ease players in with an easier input method referred to as Progressive but the option to play using the original controls, the option referred to as Classic, is still available. Progressive, surprisingly, doesn’t add any advantages and really comes across as another way to play the game. Due to how long I’ve been playing fighting games, I stuck with the Classic control scheme but I never felt the game was unfair when I fought against those using the Progressive system. Regardless of which control input method is used, the game still flows and plays like prior entries this game is a spiritual successor to but with a twist.
These twists come from simple modern additions, such as being able to run to the opponent, to more dynamic and original ones, such as the Gougi system. The Gougi system gives players five abilities that can either enhance your character’s preferred play style or go against it in a positive way to give you more options at your disposal. It all comes down to the deck you choose before battle. These abilities are triggered by the actions you take during the fighting and has a large range of enhancements. These can be things like increased armor to abilities like teleportation, or more technical ones like Pierce that causes chip damage from normal attacks and/or ones like Erase Blow that cancels out projectiles with a heavy attack. Fighting game purists, at first, might be turned off by the mechanic but that is instantly a non-issue and forgotten as you fight. Arika doesn’t allow for customizable Gougi decks to keep things balanced and all they really do is add another dynamic layer to the already superb combat. It’s never an interfering system, it never adds any unfair advantages, and it’s a system I expect other games to adopt in their own interpretations.
When it comes to the fighting, Fighting Ex Layer absolutely nails everything. Fighting is fun, can be chaotic, and is balanced. Matches take the perfect amount of time and the Gougi system adds more depth to the already dynamic and deep fighting mechanics at work. Some animations are a little rough but, for the most part, it’s all phenomenal. This is, mechanically and gameplay wise, nearly perfect. Each character requires their own mastery, as they have their own combos and abilities, and this is one of the extremely few online games where opponents aren’t spamming projectiles. Online players are actually taking the time to learn these characters, to get better, and I’ve had friends try the game and fall in love with it. Fighting EX Layer is such a spectacular fighter and I fear it’ll be criminally underrated due to its price and lack of content. Speaking of content, let’s talk about what modes you can play.
The only mode available to play alone in this game is training mode. Training mode is actually pretty deep with the ability to record and playback actions for better understanding and study. The traditional options are there, such as making the A.I. a dummy or having them block all your attacks. Modern options, like searching for an online opponent, is present as well. Like most fighting games, this is where you’ll spend most of your time when you aren’t battling to hone your craft. You’ll learn what damage characters will receive with your combo and there is even input delay to prep you for less than stellar online encounters. Training Mode even has a survival like mode hidden within it, allowing you to fight against enemies in a traditional Vs. CPU, which the game lacks, and it’s better than nothing.
Expert Mode is broken into two options: Progressive and Classic. What this mode does is give you the name of a move or combo set and expect you to pull it off. Each character has a set of moves to pull off that start off easy and get more complicated down the list. It’s here you’ll learn what a character is capable of and gives you a better understanding of what their moves are. My only issue is that there is no way to put command displays on the screen and, so, you have to constantly pause the game to find the name of the move they want you to do and read what button to press. Other than that small irritation, this mode is great and being able to do it with both control types is great for novice players unsure of what control scheme is right for them.
There isn’t much else for single player gamers other than what’s mentioned above. Just like I mentioned in my BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle Review, the lack of an Arcade Mode is unacceptable. Arcade Mode is a staple to fighting games that has been around since the beginning and this recent trend of not including them or including poor iterations of them is one that I do not like. Not having a Story Mode doesn’t completely ruin anything because of how hit or miss stories can be in fighting games but no Arcade Mode is nearly a deal breaker. The lack of any real single player substance will turn a lot of gamers off, understandably so, and that’s a shame because of how great Fighting Ex Layer is. It is pretty cool that you have a Gougi section that explains all the decks to you and you can even look at each ability individually to see what it does and how to trigger it. The standard information box that gives you patch notes and information is present.
When it comes to multiplayer, all your traditional online elements are present. First off, leaderboards are there to see where it is you rank amongst the registered online players. Record is a pretty interesting section that offers more insight on you and how well you do with the game’s fighters. Stats are present, and show your win and loss record, as well as win percentage and battle score, and this is broken down in a list featuring all fighters. I thought I was better with Skullomania but after going into the Record menu and checking, Hokuto is actually the character I’ve had more success with.
This is exactly what it says, playing offline with a friend at home. This is the classic player 1 vs player 2 that defined home fighting games back before online gaming became so prevalent and potent. Offline is such a fun experience and playing with family and friends has resulted in both comical experiences and competitive ones. This mode also was a showcase and a real highlight for how great the gameplay is because I actually had a few family members that only played social fighting games like Super Smash Bros. actually love the game and found it addicting. A large part of that actually came from the Gougi system and how flashy it can make scenarios and how it all ties in to make you feel like an EVO winner.
I’ll admit that the least amount of my time was spent here for two reasons. The first reason being that I wanted to raise my rank and fight where the more serious players engage in, which is Ranked Mode, and the second being that there weren’t many players in the casual pool. I’m more than certain that this has to do with how little the game has sold thus far. The lack of a physical release, no preorder opportunities, and how difficult it was to find on the PS Store hasn’t helped it in the slightest. Those friends and family I mentioned liking it? Yeah, well, they had to actually search for it in the store after calling me because they just couldn’t find it. That’s a real shame because, as stated multiple times, the game is great. When it comes to its online connections, the game runs great. Even connections with three bars and lower ran better than a game, like, Street Fighter 2 on the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. The few games I found were good with little to no issues.
This is where you’ll find the most online encounters and each of my fights ran smooth. Connections and player count isn’t the issue in this mode. The issue here is how there is a large jump in level. New players will be faced off with those higher ranked players and the difference in skill is obvious. I think this goes back to only the hardcore fighting game audience buying this game, for the most part, and leveling up very quickly against themselves so when a new player shows up, he’s literally thrown to the wolves. This really explains why using Training and Expert modes are so important. Finding games isn’t as easy as the more popular games out there, like Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition and Dragon Ball FighterZ, but the wait isn’t absurdly long either. Personally, I’m just glad the game sold enough to have a healthy online player base with somewhat frequent finding of matches.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Arika and they’ve certainly made quite the return with this level of graphics. Right off the bat, I want to praise the game’s fighting stages. It’s an impressive level of detail and with a lot of variety in terms of location. Nearly all of them are awe inspiring vistas that looked as if they were pulled from postcards one would find at gas stations. Red hues take over the rocky mountain area as the sun beats down upon the dry land and the fighters as they engage in combat, a tumbleweed gently rolls by indicating there isn’t much in terms of wind for this blazing desert. It’s a testament to great game design to be able to show all of this with complete subtly. One map that is a true spectacle to behold is a fighting stage that screams inspired by nostalgic Street Fighter 2. A couple of traditional Japanese style homes, some damaged and slanted downwards, sit at the background while lit torches stand spread out on the fighting stage, defiant against the turbulent wind. Unlike the previous map mentioned, this one has a powerful continuous wind that has leaves bending and turning to its will. The true highlight of this map, however, is the night variant that has the beautiful night blue sky that is littered with stars. As a whole, it’s a gorgeous scenery to battle upon. The stages are a visual delight.
The effects that are given off when battling are some of the best in fighting games. Visual cues and flairs spark across the screen and adding another layer to the force of impact from an attack. Also, items and abilities received from the Gougi system are well animated and displayed to the point that you’ll be able to identify what the opponent is using by simply seeing the effect take place.
The character models are spectacular, nicely animated and detailed. The power of the Unreal Engine never ceases to amaze. D. Dark, for example, looks amazing as there is a nice sheen on his metallic body parts as he fights but he also is contrasted nicely with his cloth jacket flapping to his movement. You also have more traditional looking fighters, like Allen, who wears a martial arts Gi. The cast has variety in terms of design and looks. Fans of the old Street Fighter EX series will see returning characters faithfully recreated and newcomers will be surprised that a game funded and developed by a small studio can look this good.
There is a lot that can be said about this game, both good and bad, but one thing this game nails is its graphics. Fighting EX Layer looks great and runs silky smooth. Not once did I encounter any accidental visual blemishes, any performance hindrances, nor anything jarring and out of place in terms of graphics and design. Characters look fantastic and animate well, though some reactions to damage can look and feel stiff and may benefit from some more polish. Environments are that perfect blend of realism and fantasy, with the different weather effects and timing adding another great layer. You’ll see that there are some fighting games from triple-A developers that wish could look and run this well.
I’m not sure who chose the audio direction for this game, but man did they exceed all expectations. Starting with the music, it’s such a throwback to the earlier days of 3D fighting games. Upon start up, rock music plays with a nice rhythm that both ignites the embers of adrenaline and provides the anticipation of combat. When actually fighting, nice melodies play in the background that are lovely to listen to but never distracting from the task at hand. The developers have done a great job to balance this and every choice made has been selected to not take away from the spectacle of combat. Japanese voice acting is absolutely nailed, full of emotion as they are either attacked or attacking. Every attack has an accompanying sound effect that adds more depth to the wonderful visual display on the screen. None of it looks or feels out of place, it is all handled with care and importance. In such a dense genre that has a plethora of releases every year, it’s very difficult to stand out or to be able to make all the right choices. Arika, knowing their limitations and with their deep hope of future success, they have successfully accomplished all the correct audio choices.
Normally this section is a paragraph or two telling you the game was either fun and worth getting or not. This time, it might be a little different.
Fighting Ex Layer is one of, if not, the most fun I’ve had with a fighting game in a long time (Besides the underrated Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite). I review a lot of fighting games, I love them, but this one made the biggest impact for me. From being announced last year as an April Fools joke that became a reality through rampant fan interest, the game is so much fun. Very few games run great at launch, especially with its online components, but this game does. It’s impressive that such a small studio could craft such an amazing experience and it’s my fear that the price and lack of content will hurt it. Pricing the game at both $40 and $60 is very high for what it brings but when you realize that these prices are there for them to actually make some money and add more content, hopefully, down the line it makes it easier to pay this. When you actually play the game, it’s instantly apparent that the price is completely worth it because its so much fun. I’ve put enough hours into this game that I’ve gotten my money’s worth.
The lack of any real offline content definitely hurts it but with little resources, I can understand if the decision came down to either focusing on delivering a great online experience or developing a worthwhile amount of offline content. If that was the case, online focus makes the most sense. Offline elements aren’t really used these days, at least not to the extent they were back before online communities and gameplay became so huge. Had they gone the other route, focused solely on single player content, they would have been dead in the water. Yes, it absolutely sucks that there is no Arcade Mode but let’s be honest, the game would have sold even less and it would be even harder to recommend if it didn’t have online.
The online aspect of Fighting Ex Layer runs smooth, amazingly so, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I played an online focused game with no hindrances or issues of any kind… Besides this game.
Each character is a joy to play, unique and complex, and the Progressive control scheme is great for a new player to the fighting game genre. The sound in this game is a throwback to an older era of fighting games, it’s a great choice and compliments the flashy gameplay and wonderfully crafted fighting maps. Yes, the game really is gorgeous looking.
Fighting Ex Layer is a great experience, a great fighting game, and everything it has, it does well. I ask that you don’t let what’s not there discourage you because what is there is handled almost perfectly. I want to say that you shouldn’t let the price tag discourage you but we all value money differently. If this wasn’t a fighting game but, say, an RPG that had a lot of necessary or expected modes and content missing, I wouldn’t pay $40 or more for it. However, this is a fighting game and that is the genre I spend almost most of my time in (Character action games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry are probably where I spend most of my time in. In all reality, it’s a tossup) and, so, I’m more open to spending a steep price of admission because I’ll know I’ll get more out of it. Especially if I enjoy the game. This game really is great, it’s fun and addicting, and it’s a release that probably should have never become a reality. If you love fighting games, get this game. If you’re a casual player, I want to say you should get it, but I would emphasize that you only get it if you plan on sticking with it. It can be intimidating at first, but Training and Expert modes actually make a difference.
It is my hope that Fighting Ex Layer is a financial success so that more content can be made and so that the talented developers who have put so much on the line can make a profit as well. I know, as a consumer, we don’t really think about that point or care about it too much, but I think it’s important that we consider these factors at times. Looking at prior examples, Street Fighter V and Killer Instinct both launched in similar states and became better over time. Fighting Ex Layer deserves that chance as well. Also, Arika’s game didn’t have all the online issues those games had on launch. I hope this review has been good for you all and that I was accurate able to convey my thoughts and feelings on this amazing fighting game. I hope everyone gives it a shot and that it can carve an audience in this oversaturated (not a bad thing) genre.