Full Disclosure: The reviewer backed the game’s Indiegogo Campaign at the $10 level, which provided him with an alpha, beta and pre-release version of the game.
The parry is one of fighting games’ greatest treasures. It’s responsible for the most memorable moment in the fighting game community, EVO Moment #37, which crossed into the online mainstream at a time when fighting games were more than a decade removed from their Street Fighter II tipping point and four years ahead of the Street Fighter IV revival. Parries, as the Moment #37 demonstrates, are the biggest payoff for mastering a fighter’s hyper speed chess game; a full parry like the one Daigo Umehara performed against Justin Wong sends a powerful, unambiguous message: “I got you.” It’s exactly what you want when playing a game about reading your opponent’s moves and reacting to them.
Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm isn’t the first game to chase the spectacle of the parry. Capcom’s been chasing it ever since Street Fighter III: one of the Grooves in Capcom vs. SNK 2 allowed you to parry; the trailer for Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3’s “Heroes and Heralds” mode ended with a recreation of Moment #37. Street Fighter IV’s Focus Attack is a pseudo-parry. In Street Fighter V, Ryu’s defining trait is his ability to parry. So Yatagarasu follows a long lineage of games attempting to capture that EVO magic.
But Yatagarasu is the first game to chase the parry as part of a more dedicated homage to Street Fighter III. Of the game’s six buttons, two are reserved for high and low parries (in Street Fighter III, you parried by pressing forward instead of blocking). The game has red parries. If you get caught in an opponent’s combo, you can perform a sort of quasi-parry by pressing the corresponding punch or kick button of every move hitting you, reducing its damage 5%. It both mitigates and doubles down on the risk of parries: You can mash parry buttons while blocking, since you use buttons to parry, but if you press the wrong one, you take more damage and open yourself up to longer combos than if you hadn’t done anything.
It’s an interesting risk-reward balance that speeds up an already fast game. Yatagarasu ends up playing like Street Fighter III with SNK alumni; parries, universal overheads and multiple supers per character mix with high jumps and the wilder side of Samurai Showdown’s aesthetic. The sprites and backgrounds are also steeped in Street Fighter III’s beautiful sprite work. You won’t have to worry about fighting games’ modern comeback mechanics or slowing rate, but you won’t get much in the way of new systems, either.
Combos, too, veer closer to Street Fighter III’s bursts of damage than Guilty Gear or Marvel’s page-long strings of basic attacks, special moves and supers. It’s a game oriented around quick exchanges during the neutral game (the period of time when players trade jabs at a distance, hoping to catch one another in a string). The end result means you have plenty of chances to recover from a bad exchange, but each of these minor exchanges happen so quickly and build on one another in such a way that a great player will decimate a novice on the high-low guessing game alone.
What anyone chasing the parry tends to forget is that it is rarely the glorious, hype-inducing spectacle videos like Moment #37 make it out to be. Sure, the potential’s there, but most of the time, a parry lasts less than a second, and you’ll most often see them catching fireballs thrown from a screen away, or punishing an overzealous player caught off guard, resulting in a quick reversal of fortune that, again, doesn’t last too long. Parrying is powerful, potentially game-changing. But it isn’t “Let’s go Justin!” followed by a mind-blowing, once-in-a-lifetime moment. It’s much more subtle and less bombastic than we’ve given it credit for. It’s a single pop amidst the noise of pows and super moves.
Yatagarasu also cultivates aspects of the fighting game community outside the games themselves, including in-game commentators ranging from high-level Japanese players to American fighting game staples. They’re an interesting addition, but the voices, their excitement, their tempo and their poignancy all ring hollow. The character select screen is a cacophony of voices and blaring music, as an announcer bellows overly serious nonsense and multiple selected commentators spout phrases longer than the time it takes to select two characters. In-game, it’s reactive, pointing out big combos and failed opportunities to capitalize on pressure. But it’s a far cry from the actual excitement you’ll see in real commentary, or even clowning with your friends as you play each other at home.
Another large problem is that for the average player, Yatagarasu may as well be Latin. Owing, perhaps, to the limited development budget, the game lacks any sort of explanation for its various systems, and has little to do if you want to learn the game on your own. You get two arcade modes (character-specific and overarching) which are little more than short dialogue exchanges between ten or so fights. Modern fighting games may be burdened with trying to reproduce exciting comebacks, but they do it to engage outsiders with fighting games, something Yatagarasu doesn’t strive for in the least. Call it paired down and bereft of fluff, but without that entry point, there’s a good chance the game will flounder aside from a small, but dedicated following.
That following is important to fighting games, both as a spectator sport and as multiplayer games that need a following to stay relevant. They may have needed fresh blood back when Street Fighter IV revitalized the scene, but now it’s a crowded field. A little too crowded to accommodate a game requiring port-forwarding and AppLocale to properly work (the developers are planning on implementing the more streamlined GGPO post-launch). Pre-release, online’s been a bit sketchy. The netcode’s been great once you set it up, with only a few terrible exceptions in ranked play.
A bigger problem is that I haven’t found more than four open lobbies at a time, and many of them are outdated by the time you load them up. I’ve been able to host my own lobby, exit, and then see it as an option when I go back and search for matches. Hopefully the servers get an influx of players on release, but without that, the game may flounder before ever really finding its footing.
And that’s a bit of a shame, because despite its bare bones feature set and lack of trail-blazing, Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm is a fun game. But in chasing the glory of the fighting games of yesteryear, it forgets that those games came out at a time when dedicated players were always looking for something new to play. Now, this fixation on being a “real honest fighter” may end up alienating many of the people it needs to capture in order to succeed. Without that player base, it could easily wind up being just another also-ran, dying before it can have its own Moment #37.
Yatagarasu Attack on Cataclysm was developed by Yatagarasu Dev Team and published by Nyu Media. It is available for the PC.
Suriel Vazquez has written for Paste, Kotaku and several others. You can follow him on Twitter.