Yata­garasu: At­tack On Cat­a­clysm

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Bit of a mouth­ful, isn’t it? Even with­out its sub­ti­tle, Yata­garasu is still too much of a tongue-twis­ter, but fret not, we’d like to pro­pose an al­ter­na­tive. How about Fourth Strike? The three-per­son dev team may be com­posed of for­mer SNK staff who built ca­reers by work­ing on the King Of Fight­ers se­ries – and some of its fea­tures, like su­per jumps and short hops, fea­ture here – but it’s a Cap­com game to which Yata­garasu owes by far the greater debt. So great, in fact, that at times it feels more like a spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to Street Fighter III: Third Strike than a brand-new game.

To be clear, that’s no bad thing. At times it can be brazen in its mag­pieing, but there is ev­i­dence here of PDW Ho­tapen seek­ing to build on, to im­prove, rather than sim­ply to copy. Take, for in­stance, Third Strike’s much-loved defin­ing me­chanic: the parry. It has been re­vived here, its in­put split from stick mo­tion to but­ton press and di­vided in two. Back in 1999, Cap­com sim­ply asked that you nudge the joy­stick to­wards an op­po­nent at the mo­ment you were about to get hit, which would cause you to de­flect any kind of at­tack so long as you got the tim­ing right. Here, you have to hit one of two but­tons depend­ing on whether you think the in­com­ing fist or foot is go­ing to hit high or low.

For all the magic of Third Strike’s parry, it could be a lit­tle brain­less at times, and gave the at­tacker only one way to counter it: not at­tack­ing when your op­po­nent ex­pected you to, whether by de­lay­ing your in­put, go­ing for a throw, or just do­ing noth­ing. Now you can mix things up, aim­ing high when ex­pec­ta­tion dic­tates you will be hit­ting low, or vice versa. It’s a log­i­cal evo­lu­tion of, and a fit­ting trib­ute to, a clas­sic me­chanic, af­ford­ing the same dra­matic swings in mo­men­tum but re­quir­ing more ef­fort and guess­work – some­times ed­u­cated, some­times not – from the de­fend­ing player.

Sim­i­lar thought has been put into su­pers, here dubbed As­sas­sin Arts. While Yata­garasu fight­ers only have two such moves apiece (in Third Strike, some had three), you take both into bat­tle in­stead of pick­ing one at the char­ac­ter se­lect screen. The choice you make is which one to ‘re­in­force’, in­creas­ing its dam­age out­put by 20 per cent and re­tain­ing the other op­tion as backup. It’s a clever de­ci­sion, since As­sas­sin Arts are, like most fight­ing game su­per com­bos, sit­u­a­tional – one might go through fire­balls, the other use­ful against jump­ing op­po­nents – and giv­ing the player just one op­tion has al­ways felt a lit­tle re­stric­tive. Yata­garasu’s way is, by con­trast, em­pow­er­ing.

Not ev­ery­thing has been quite so thought­fully han­dled. Third Strike’s Uni­ver­sal Over­head, for in­stance – a short hop­ping at­tack avail­able to the en­tire cast that passes over low blows and hits high – has been brought over un­changed. Yet de­spite this ap­par­ent lack of imag­i­na­tion, it is ar­guably even more im­por­tant here than it was in Cap­com’s game. You still can’t combo from it, but it’s another way of keep­ing the op­po­nent guess­ing, easily per­formed and use­ful for clos­ing space, es­cap­ing pres­sure or sim­ply get­ting a quick dig in to fin­ish a round. For the lat­ter, there’s another twobut­ton at­tack that, while a lit­tle slow to start up, is un­block­able. It, too, has no combo po­ten­tial, but is another easy-to-use tool de­signed to keep your op­po­nent on their toes.

Much of Ho­tapen’s work with Yata­garasu seems to be built on a sin­gle foun­da­tional prin­ci­ple: giv­ing you a broad set of tools and fo­cus­ing on the psy­chol­ogy of the fight­ing game over its tech­ni­cal­ity. It is a game of reads and re­ac­tions, not com­plex combo strings; it has a high skill ceil­ing, but it is skill born of the mind first and the fin­gers sec­ond. Its most com­plex in­put is a tap of a punch or kick but­ton, which, when pressed on the first frame af­ter an op­po­nent’s at­tack hits you, will re­duce the dam­age re­ceived by five per cent. It would be vi­tal in a tour­na­ment set­ting, cer­tainly, but is easily and safely ig­nored by mere mor­tals.

To be clear, how­ever, this is not a dumbed-down fight­ing game aimed at be­gin­ners. You’ll still need your ba­sic skills – your stick mo­tions, the abil­ity to can­cel nor­mal at­tacks into spe­cials and spe­cials into su­pers – but the con­tem­po­rary fight­ing game is about so much more than that, be it Street Fighter IV’s one-frame links or Killer In­stinct’s 100-hit com­bos. The cast plays to fa­mil­iar archetypes, of­ten ex­tremely so. Kou, with his fire­ball, flam­ing up­per­cut and aerial spin­ning kick, shares more than a three-let­ter name with Ken Mas­ters. Jet is a white, blond-haired Dud­ley, bor­row­ing many of the gen­tle­manly boxer’s moves and even combo set­ups. Juzu­maru, with his Rekka-ken punch strings, is a close re­la­tion to Fei Long; Ko­taro pinches air­borne dag­ger throws from Ibuki; and a creepy, blank face­mask can’t dis­guise the burly Chadha’s ob­vi­ous debt to Zang­ief.

This is no great sur­prise given that Yata­garasu is inspired by the fight­ing game’s first hey­day in the 1990s, and its de­vel­op­ers cut their teeth at a com­pany that started out in the genre by lift­ing me­chan­ics and movesets al­most whole­sale from Cap­com’s games. Yet while it is ob­vi­ous from the minute you lay eyes on it – never mind sit down to play it – that Yata­garasu is rooted firmly in gam­ing’s past, it is pre­cisely that old­fash­ioned spirit that makes it feel so fresh to­day. Per­haps it was con­ceived sim­ply as a game by Third Strike fans for Third Strike fans, but at a time when 2D fight­ing games have be­come so de­fined by the height of their tech­ni­cal skill ceil­ings, it feels like some­thing of a state­ment. It might not be as easy on the eye as its 2015 con­tem­po­raries, but it’s an aw­ful lot more hon­est, a cel­e­bra­tion of the same ba­sic psy­chol­ogy – high or low, left or right, block or throw – that orig­i­nally cat­a­pulted its genre into the main­stream.

It is a game of reads and re­ac­tions, not com­plex combo strings; it has a high skill ceil­ing, but it is skill born of the mind

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