Fighting EX Layer (Beta Impressions)
The Street Fighter Ex line of games have often been seen as the odd foster child amongst the other titles in the franchise; being the series’ first attempt at using 3D polygonal models instead of 2D sprites and not being developed by Capcom but instead the smaller company of Arika. The series spawned a bunch of often quirky yet charming characters such as the spiked demon Garuda or the skeletal superhero Skullomania. There has been demand for the EX series characters to return in both Street Fighter IV and V, but it was never met due to Arika holding on to the rights of said characters. Nonetheless, Arika have instead shown the cult following of the EX series their own fighting game called Fighting EX Layer, which has playable characters from the EX series. Currently, a beta of F.E.X.L is available to feed some of that nostalgia and have the mechanics and netcode of the game be put to the test.
There are six characters in this current beta. Anyone who knows their stuff with Ryu, Ken or Akuma should feel comfortable with either Kairi or Allen Snider; both of whom have very similar toolkits to the Street Fighter shoto characters. Darun Mister is pretty much the equivalent of Zangief with a selection of highly damaging command grabs. Skullomania is the most mobile of the current cast, but is not without some risk to his moves. Shirase (who’s essentially an evil/possessed Hokuto) is not unlike Karin from her Alpha 3 days; having a rekka series with different options and a counter which can have the opponent second-guessing their offense. Garuda has some decent tools like a reliable uppercut special, but at the moment it seems difficult to pinpoint where he excels in compared to the rest of the cast.
F.E.X.L is unsurprisingly very similar to Street Fighter in its core mechanics, using a six-button layout as the series and does and having 3 stocks of meter which can be used for supers. The EX series was also known for having your character being able to cancel supers into another super, and this feature is also in F.E.X.L. Combos are done a bit differently compared to the mainline Street Fighter games, as your characters will combo their normal attacks by buffering them in instead of linking the, (ie. using specific timing). Essentially, you have a custom target combo once you follow the prior buffered normal with a heavier normal (eg. Light Punch, Medium Punch, Heavy Kick, or Light Kick straight into Heavy Punch, etc.). Matches in F.E.X.L are also best of five instead best of three, which definitely is suitable for it’s faster pace, when compared to regular Street Fighter at least.
However, F.E.X.L throws itself a curveball with the new “Gougi” system. These are a selection of perks your character can receive permanently once certain conditions are met, such as a damage boost or faster meter gain. There are five selectable styles; Aggro, Juggernaut, Shinobi, Infinity and Miracle. While the concept of Gougi is definitely unique and interesting, I played enough matches to realise it will need a lot of balancing and tweaking, as some of the perks are too powerful and can be activated in a match far too easily. The Juggernaut Gougi in particular might be the worst offender with its super armour perk. If you’re knocked down ten times in the match (which is a very achievable condition), your character is from then on able to absorb a hit during the startup of their attacks, which wouldn’t be so bad if this perk wasn’t active for the rest of the match.
The two main modes on offer in the beta are a basic practice mode; which clearly indicates there will be more features for it in the full release, and an online random match mode. Matchmaking was pretty speedy for me once didn’t set my filter to 5-bar connections only. The netcode in the matches themselves was a mixed bag; going from little lag to loads of it against different opponents. Nonetheless, the infinite rematch feature is a nice feature, but it might be disposed if the full release does use a ranked leaderboard system. In terms of presentation, F.E.X.L doesn’t have the best-looking character models but is helped by it’s stylistic colouring and shading. The soundtrack on offer is decidedly retro as are the sound effects, which despite being considered placeholders, give F.E.X.L a unique charm amongst the more modern styling of current fighting games.
It’s early days yet, but F.E.X.L has much potential of being a solid fighting game, once Arika are proactively tweaking the Gougi System (amongst other things) to make sure it doesn’t to hurt it’s compatibility in the competitive environment of fighting games. With other EX series favourites Doctrine Dark and Blair Dame already confirmed to return to a later version of the game, you should definitely invest some time into F.E.X.L if you fancy some 90s style fighting game fun.