Exploring Mystical Fighting
Continuing on from my previous article about my favourite 8-bit fighter, the amazing Way of the Exploding Fist, or Fist for short. The follow-on to that gem is Fist 2, which took the brilliant animation and clean fighting system of Fist and made a quite different game. This new direction split the fans of the first game, since some people just wanted Fist with extra features and improvements. Thankfully for me Fist 2 was everything I didn’t know I wanted; adventure with depth.
The crucial combat mechanic difference between Fist and Fist 2 was that Fist 2 had introduced a health bar. This was probably following on from Yie Ar Kung-Fu, although in this case it was a Chi bar. In my youth my dad had explained to me that against a skilled opponent, one successful strike rarely ended a fight, and that the bar was a combination of fatigue and health, and thus somewhat realistic.
Adventure had been added in to the mix of Fist 2. I imagined that all the time I had spent playing Fist had really been preparation for this new game. That my character was now leaving the temple, exploring the wider world and utilising all that training to defeat real enemies. That the stakes were higher, the fights were not just friendly sparring matches. I am sure a lot of people can relate to the idea and feeling they got when playing the GTA series; the freedom and feeling of an in-depth world, plus also the visual depth and in particular the jump from GTA2 to GTA3 and so on.
Whilst it is true that there had been exploration games that included fighting before Fist 2, they were done in a limited way, such as the Bruce Lee video game on the C64. Okay, a quick tangent since I had wrote in the last article that Bruce Lee didn’t have a big impact for me. Firstly I didn’t see any of his movies until a few years later. The Bruce Lee game came out in 1984, but it was really a platform game with two attacks. Even at the age of 8, the game’s plot seemed randomly thrown together, it was quite poor; although like the vast majority of computer games the plot isn’t really that important, but it often helps. The problems were: the game was too easy, lacked game depth, and crucially for me was not a fighting game. At least the movement of the character running was good, feeling both responsive and quick.
In the playground at school, Bruce Lee’s name was used all the time, so I had a vague idea of who this person was, despite him dying before I was born. To have his name associated with what could barely be called a fighting game was odd to me, even considering how young I was. Obviously these days we are used to the idea that film or celebrity tie-ins are nearly always garbage, and considering how many things over the years have metaphorically sucked the Chi from the Bruce Lee legend, this game overview shouldn’t be a surprise.
There were also several side scrolling beat ‘em ups over those early years, but they were not really exploration games. Whilst I did enjoy games like Kung Fu Master, Double Dragon, etc., I found them to be far too simple, as generally they only had a few attacks. They were quite formulaic because the opponents generally only did one or two things themselves, easily identifiable enemies allowed a player to recognise what attack type was incoming. These types of games were often about repeating the whole process to get a higher score and complete quicker; often completing the game quicker gave bonus points based upon how much time was left.
So before my tangent I had mentioned exploration. Well the thing for me was the idea that a good fighting simulator could form the foundation of an adventure game was amazing. I had also played such classics as The Hobbit, which as a text based adventure game was entirely different. The notion that you could find lots of in-depth opponents and have real fights was refreshing, plus it seemed more like the TV series Kung Fu, or the few martial art movies I had managed to watch. Also these were not like a ‘boss fight’ that requires a specific set of criteria to be performed, which also normally make all the normal attacks effectively useless. Each one-on-one duel felt legitimate, since they had the full range of attacks that my character did.
In addition to enemies there were certain zones that had environmental obstacles that required a character to have more Chi in order to survive. Special scrolls (trigrams) were hidden away throughout the game that made a character tougher. Also temples could be found that allowed you to heal through resting, plus were used to activate scrolls. Some temples were locked away, and these required that the character have already found a certain number of scrolls to gain access to them. So between the combat, environment, as well as locked areas, the game promoted exploration in regards to trying to become as tough as possible.
It’s not that this game was innovative, it is more that this game was well done, as well as followed up on a game I adored and meant a lot to me. Fist 2 helped form a huge part of my life-time interests. It was years till I played another good martial arts exploration game that had a big impact on me; that game was Oni, although that game received mixed criticism, I loved it. It was a few years later when another game hit that sweet spot for me, with Jade Empire. A special mention goes to Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, even though the core of that game’s design is stealth.
Whilst there have been lots of excellent games over the years fulfilling exploration and role-play, for some reason it is rare for those game types to be mixed with empty hand martial arts, and theme matters. Hopefully, one day somebody will make an RPG-MMA-MMO, although it would probably be absolutely terrible.
A few years after playing Fist 2 I went to high school, and at aged 11 I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). I loved D&D, like most role-players in part because of reading The Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings, but also because I wanted to play the wandering martial artist, like in the TV show Kung Fu or the game Fist 2. This would lead me to one of my favourite games Street Fighter 2, which I’ll explain about it in the next article, although it’s probably not what you’re thinking.