A number of times, I have seen people who are legitimately good and interested in action games and action game series decline to play fighting games because they “aren’t good enough” or “aren’t interested,” under the presumption that there are staggering differences between the two genres. Personally, I think the two genres are much more related than most give credit for until you study the similarities a bit more closely.
This is a discussion that lends itself much more to a long-winded and broad-scale talk, and I only want to focus on a few particulars. This is not a post that will exhaustively discuss every single point that I wish to convey, but rather attempt to summarize a coherent argument as to why action game players may want to reevaluate reasons for dismissing fighting games.
First, let’s examine the related history between fighting games and action games, and let’s do so under the lens of a pioneer in both of those categories: Capcom. While Capcom is best known for its Street Fighter series, they also led the ’80s and ’90s in multiple arcade titles including the Final Fight series (whose many characters would later appear in various Street Fighter titles). In 2D fighting games, direct parallels can be drawn to each other in regards to combat, even though one is more technically limited than the other: Street Fighter 2‘s innovative combo system was originally a glitch that became a core feature, and it became central to the fighting game experience after that. In 2D side-scrolling brawlers, the combo system itself is a bit more limited- you typically don’t need 6 buttons to play them- but you instead are treated to much different types of resource management such as health restoration, management of your remaining lives, and potential for special moves in games such as Streets of Rage. While both are focused on combat mechanics, their approach is different even though they are also similar in many regards. This becomes muddier when we approach the modern day- we have titles like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry that give us huge combo potential but are definitively action games. Part of that comes back to the difference in resource management and focus on specific combat mechanics, i.e. your combos in both are much more oriented towards maximizing a damage output against an AI opponent rather than attempting to open up a human opponent with use of frame traps, zoning, etc. These mechanics can still be present, certainly, but they are also applied differently because the nature of their use isn’t intended to be competitive or nearly as in-depth, and in the case of Devil May Cry, you are taking down entire groups of enemies and not going 1v1 in all circumstances. These explanations might sound vague and not entirely related, but they come back to a central point: fighting games focus and hone in on that combat mechanic for their intended purpose of combating that opponent. Their approaches to combat are intrinsically related even if they have explicit and deliberate differences.
Second, I want to examine Hideaki Itsuno, which is also why I discussed Devil May Cry above. Itsuno is a legend in both action and fighting games, having worked at Capcom for virtually the entire duration of his career, famously taking over the dumpster fire of development that was Devil May Cry 2 and turning it into something that at least worked functionally, even if it still wasn’t good. After that, he was given virtually complete creative freedom for Devil May Cry 3, and directly turned the DMC series into what it is today. What some may not know is that he was also a director for several legendary arcade fighting games for Capcom as well, including Rival Schools, Project Justice, Power Stone, and Capcom Vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001. You might ask, why is this important to what I’m saying in this post? And I bring it up specifically because Itsuno’s experience in fighting games is what helped turned the DMC series into the incredibly stylish combofest that it plays as today. In fact, had he been given the time to properly course correct with DMC2, that game might have been a good head start to DMC3 and played much more similarly. Instead, he had to take those lessons and apply them later when he was given a more appropriate chance to utilize everything he knew about combo potential and apply them more properly into a 3D action game scenario.
So, why is any of this relevant to the other? Simple: action games and fighting games are intrinsically linked and their systems are similar enough that there should theoretically be more crossover than there is. Often, you will see fighting game players have favorite action games such as DMC or Bloodborne, and even apply jargon from fighting games when discussing them. However, it seems that action game players- especially ones who deem themselves more casual fans- don’t tread over towards the fighting game side as much. Perhaps it’s because there is a view that the genres are more different, or that fighting games are only for the “hardcore” type of player. But therein lies the beauty of fighting games: they are whatever you want them to be, whether it be appreciating them in a competitive sense, or using them as a social lubricant. There are players who sincerely don’t care about learning frame data because that isn’t what they value from the fighting game experience. There are players who simply want to be able to play as interesting characters from particular series. Simply put, there is not a universal and singular way to enjoy fighting games, especially in the second Golden Era of fighting games when there is a scene for every type of style and flavor and ways to obtain them all at relatively little or even no cost.
My point is, the mechanics are there and contain plenty of crossover, even if it seems daunting or impossible to transfer. I have friends who are objectively great players at action games who insist that it’s “too hard” to learn Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, and it might be- but not for the reason they likely think. The skill gap is largely not existent, rather, it’s a mental gap keeping people from picking up a whole genre of games that may end up being even better than they know. And I want to foster a bridge that helps people scale both sides- every game contains a measure of learning and applying those learned principles, and fighting games are no exception. But there is already more in common with those action favorites than you may know or immediately realize, and there is likely a fighting game and scene out there you could connect with. I hope some of this helps bridge that gap- whole worlds are open to you if you’re willing to look.