Yatagarasu: Attack On Cataclysm
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