26 September 2016

Sometimes, appreciation takes a while to develop. In fighting games, there are times when you just don’t have enough understanding of the system. Worse, popular assumptions can influence your mindset. There is also the case where you just don’t like the game in general, whether it’s the mechanics, the aesthetic or something else entirely.

However, there are times when you finally “get it,” and the feeling is something akin to unraveling a new horizon. A fighting game that you thought you’d given up on is suddenly something you look forward to playing every week.

After months of inactivity, followed by a week or so of playing just for Manila Cup 2016, I finally get Mortal Kombat XL.

Round 1

When Netherealm Studios’ latest game came out last April, I was excited to play. It was just one year since I got seriously involved in the fighting games community through Smash Bros. Though I didn’t have any personal connection with the franchise, it was a good opportunity for me to learn something new. As Street Fighter IV was at the end of its course and Guilty Gear still felt daunting to me at the time, MKX seemed like the perfect title to broaden my knowledge and understanding of fighting games.

I gave up after three months.

There were so many things that I didn’t like about MKX. I didn’t feel like I have an advantage when I knock an opponent down. A round can end in two to three combos. Patches felt like they were done in response to community backlash, and a couple were devastating to the metagame. It could be extra disheartening for character loyalists when their main guy gets gimped hard. Finally, characters introduced via Downloadable Content (DLC) have abusable or unfair moves on release.

As for the community, I was much more naïve back then. Since the attendance for MKX tournaments was way smaller than other titles, I felt that it was a waste of time showing up. If I was to grow a scene, I wanted it to be something that I can see numerical growth. It was the same group of guys anyway, with new players popping up from time to time, before fading back to obscurity.

I walked away because I didn’t want to understand any more.

Runback

More than half year after I went inactive, I played again because of Manila Cup 2016. Mortal Kombat X became Mortal Kombat XL, which is essentially a definitive edition of the game. On a whim, my friends and I played again. Two good friends and MKXL loyalists visited us and gave a refresher course on the game. I’ve been playing Street Fighter V for months at this point, and though the two are dramatically different, there are still similarities in insight.

Maybe it was Street Fighter, or experience in the FGC, or the fact the Netherealm Studios managed to improve the game during its transition to XL, but I was enamored with it once more. 

In fact, everything I didn’t like about the game became the reasons why I’m enjoying it so much right now.

Accepting the wackness

Mortal Kombat XL is a crazy game. You can lose a round in two to three good combos. You can even lose while blocking. As long as your opponent has the resources, knocking him down does not always translate to advantage. Matches end so fast that best three-out-of-five rounds is standard, and even then tournaments go by quickly.

It’s a game of relentless offense. James “IPT.Promilman” Flores compare its flow to his other favorite game: Marvel vs Capcom 2. The speed and ambiguity of the attacks make defense difficult but rewarding if pulled off quickly.

Once I accepted this viewpoint of MKX, my appreciation of the game increased tenfold. The seemingly wild and oppressive combos and mix ups now made sense. I’m now eager to see what difficult set up one player is going to try and how the other is going to defend. 

Of course, I still have qualms about certain characters, what decent fighting game scene doesn’t? As long has top players prove that there’s character variety in the upper echelons of the game, it’s all good.

Passion over popularity

Community, no matter the size, is still community. That’s what I learned from Mortal Kombat XL. The Macayan brothers, purveyors of the Mortal Kombat scene, and Netherrealms Games in general, never gave up. Even as numbers dwindle, they and other passionate people continued to create tournaments, teach players, and spread their love of the game.

During Manila Cup, the MKXL Top Four was personally one of my favorite events. The natural breakneck pace made each game an edge of your seat experience. The storyline of Migo “IPT.Migosan” Macayan’s run for a back-to-back championship was felt, taking vengeance on the man who took out his brother and one of his closest friends.

One more round

If we look at modern fighting game titles, Mortal Kombat XL’s lifespan is pretty short (around two years). I say this because Injustice 2, Netherealm Studio’s next title, is just around the corner. As is with the current trend of NRS fanbases, many jump ship towards the new. As cynical as this might seem, but there might not be another Mortal Kombat XL next Manila Cup. 

Of course, there is also a chance that Injustice and Mortal Kombat can coexist. Similar as to how Smash 4 and Melee became separate communities, the NRS titles could also become scenes of their own.

Whether MKXL is nearing its curtain call or not, there is only one thing I should do for the scene. Instead of slowly inching away from it as before, I plan to be as active and as excited as I can. Even if it’s just going to play with friends, learning a character (though I would want to master Slasher Jason first), or showing up at a tournament, every opportunity I could grab to support the game, I’ll do so. 

In the end, it’s not how many are in a community, it’s how passionate they are. The people who loved the bloodiest, goriest, most violent fighting game franchise taught me something heartwarming: It’s never too late to give something a second chance.