While spending more time at home for the COVID-19 lockdown, I could pick up all kinds of skills. I could learn to solder, like I've been wanting to for years. I could learn Blender for 3D modeling, or get some practical skills with a coding language. But instead, I chose to learn how to play fighting games. I've gotta tell you, I think it's working out way better than those other projects would have gone, because I discovered the secret to learning: all you need is spare time and an internalized sense of progression.
I've always wanted to get into fighting games, and in the last few years I've been especially dazzled by Arc System Works' anime-emulating 3D aesthetics. So when the studio put out Granblue Fantasy: Versus, I figured this was the one. Friendly pastel colors, familiar JRPG characters, in-depth tutorials, a one-button system for pulling off special moves? All at a time when it's socially irresponsible for me to leave my house any more than absolutely necessary? The stars were aligned.
At first I played through the tutorial missions to learn the basics of the fighting system, and even tried to learn some combos for Gran - the extremely vanilla protagonist who seemed like my best bet for a starter. I screwed around with the Arcade mode for a bit, which got my hopes up as I sleepwalked through opponents on normal difficulty, and made a start on the RPG-inspired story mode until I got tired of seeing characters I'd never met before talking like old friends. Did I mention this fighting game is based on a hugely successful mobile RPG that's never officially come out overseas? Yeah.
Anyway, after that, it was time for the true fighting experience to begin. I took a moment to reflect on my many previous attempts to attain fighting game competence. Going to the arcade, but being too self conscious to try to challenge anybody as a kid. Thinking I was getting decent at Soul Calibur on Dreamcast until I played against literally anybody besides my older brother as a teen. Buying Skullgirls on PS3 then just hoping that something would happen in my twenties.
The problem then, I reasoned, was that I refused to approach fighting games on their own terms. This time, I would knuckle down and commit to my coursework at the school of hard knocks. I queued up for my first online match.
Dear reader, I got wrecked. My vanilla shortsword lad was batted around the room by a busty elf with kind eyes and a giant katana. She's named Narmaya, and as I tumbled my way through the next few ranked matches, I learned that lots of people like playing as her. These lopsided wallopings would have discouraged me if I didn't already know they were coming.
I had decided from the start that my goal would be to learn, not to win. For example, I discovered lots of Narmaya players open their matches with a quick, long-range horizontal attack. I started dodging right at the start of the round. Every now and then I'd even get close enough to punish Narmaya's attack with a close-up auto combo. I realized that if she jumped in at me, I could crouch down and knock her out of the sky with Gran's anti-air heavy. Granted, for every single hit I landed, my opponent would cut into me with an extended combo that took a third off my life bar. But I was putting points on the board.
Unfortunately, there's only so much you can pick up in terms of practical skills when you spend the majority of each match getting smacked around like a plucky anime tetherball. I decided to give the online lobby mode a try, thinking its more casual atmosphere might make for a better educational environment. People didn't play Narmaya quite as much there, I found. They still beat my ass.
My lessons continued, though there were moments of doubt. At one point, I thought it was Gran, and not my own skills, that were holding me back. I never saw anybody else playing as him, so clearly he must be garbage. I went back to the Tutorial and Arcade modes to learn a new character, Katalina. Then I returned to the lobby and - unbelievably - I got wrecked some more. I don't know where Gran is on the Granblue Fantasy: Versus tier lists (and I stubbornly refuse to look) but I officially could not blame my spotless losing record on him anymore.
Even that moment of weakness was part of the learning process, a reminder to focus on fundamentals before I try to get fancy. In this case, "fancy" means playing a character that doesn't look like he fell off the cover of every generic JRPG from the last 25 years. I went back to Gran, and I went back to the lobby. I put in some more matches. And you know what happened, a half dozen games later? I got a win.
It wasn't against Narmaya - she remains undefeated. And the person I was playing against immediately switched characters then body slammed me through the floorboards with what I'm guessing was their main. But it was still a win. My training paid off.
I'm looking forward to getting another victory on my record in a few dozen games, but mostly I'm looking forward to learning more as I fumble my way toward fighting game competence. It's not like I have much else to do with my free time right now, after all. Aside, of course, from playing D&D online.
See the GR staff face off in a different kind of battle with our latest Challenge Radar quiz.