Now, I’m not the most easily insulted person…okay, I lied, I’m offended rather easily, but I did not like the fact that Jordan, the crew captain, invited me to a battle and then shoved me off on this Comet girl. I mean, I’d already read her play-style from across the room, so why was she the first to sit down and challenge me? Besides, if I was picking up on the hierarchy correctly, she was a ‘soldier’ or whatever. In other words, the lowest rung of their arbitrary ladder.
“Don’t underestimate her,” GG grinned, clearly reading the trace irritation in my eyes.
A fair request, though it may have been a little difficult to actually follow through on. Comet sat in the hard, industrial chair beside me and took ownership of her controller. Anarchy’s patented orchestral rock theme played through the crappy television speakers as we navigated menus. When the character selection screen appeared, I shot straight to Brave, my main and character of choice. Comet already had Dax and Petre selected from the previous match, with her tag keyed in under the second player’s slot. I followed suit and added Myth under player one.
Comet thumbed a scythe of brown hair from her eyes, “Ready?”
But I had already moved on to the stage selection screen. Now, a brief 101 on the layout of Anarchy matches, if you’re a layman. Each match takes place on a two-dimensional arena, which is usually floating in the center of the screen. A character icon floats at the bottom of the screen so players may track the condition of their character at all times. Each round begins with the combatants appearing on the field in a course of light. Unlike most arcade fighters, there are not health bars which deplete as characters are attacked, but a number which floats over the character icon to represent how much damage they’ve received. This is referred to as ‘Damage Debt’, ‘Debt’, or simply ‘DD’. Debt increases with every consecutive strike against your character, starting at zero, and can go all the way up to one thousand, though it practically never reaches so high in casual or tournament play. The higher the debt you rack up on your opponent, the further their character is propelled with every attack they receive. Eventually, they start picking up enough Debt that they fly off the arena. The purpose of Anarchy is to increase the Debt enough so you may kill your opponent by knocking them outside any four sides of the screen (a.k.a. the “Blast Zone”), losing them a life, or ‘stock’. Tournament matches generally run you at three stock per standard play.
As for the arenas themselves, RequiaTek created Anarchy with over twenty-five maps, featuring iconic locations from all of their represented franchises. But some of the maps have natural setups, interrupters, or design schemes which notoriously disturb the flow of battle, or arbitrarily do harm to certain players, rendering the stages useless in tournaments, where an individual’s skill should not be hindered by luck-based hazards. Consequently, there are only eight stages allowed in competitive play, and among those, the only stage props are some organization of platforms strewn about the arena. Sometimes the platforms move or change shape, but nothing actively tries to hurt you.
We selected one of these stages. A strictly bare-bones sort of arena with only a main plateau and a couple platforms idly strewn above it, equidistant from each other in a triangular shape.
Ushering in the start of the match was an enthusiastic, reverberating tenor voice: “3, 2, 1…” As the countdown made its course, our characters glowed into existence on the stage, the background filling in with the cosmetic of a war-torn forest, blood-red banners flapping in the light of a broken dawn, “…Begin!”
I sunk into the zone and engaged Comet. We played in relative silence, and it was impossible not to feel the gaze of onlookers as the match pressed on. I knew some of them were watching for fun, but others were judging me, weighing my performance against predisposed standards. As such, I didn’t pull any punches.
But this Comet girl…she was better than anticipated. There was something odd about her play-style I couldn’t quite pin down. My damage debt clocked in at 77 by the time I stole her first stock. Dax and Petre, the boomerang-wielding monkey and his kooky bird compadre, rematerialized in light above the stage and dropped, beginning their second stock back at 0 debt.
I was clearly winning, I thought, but it didn’t feel like it, even as I applied pressure and continued to increase the gap between our scores. Able to afford a few glances to check on small things, I cut my attention towards Comet herself. Hair had fallen back in front of her eyes, but she hadn’t brushed it aside, attention full-bore on defeating me. The way she held the controller was correct, but somehow wrong, like she wasn’t used to it, yet.
I’d racked up over a hundred debt on Dax and Petre when I misread the trajectory of the ape’s boomerang and it dragged my character off into the abyss, costing me a stock. No big deal, really. I still possessed a tremendous advantage.
Sweat gathered like a mantle near the roots of my hairline. When I finally took Comet’s second stock, I was aptly in kill range for my second as well. One strong hit and Brave would be off the screen.
GG and Davis were both chuckling at my flank, practically eating my frustration like candy. They knew I knew something was wrong, and that I hadn’t figured it out yet.
“You’re not even,” I whispered mindlessly under my breath. I was going to say ‘good’, but caught myself before speaking something offensive. It was true though. Comet wasn’t good. In fact, she kind of sucked. The way she maneuvered her character was extremely amateur, and she failed to utilize any of Dax and Petre’s few decent combos.
I blinked as our characters clashed mid-air and hers came out on top. A proverbial potato sack of bricks hit me in the skull at thirty miles an hour as I drowned in sudden revelation. Comet wasn’t good at the game. She couldn’t capitalize on the physics-based engine, couldn’t predict where I’d go or what I’d do, and had no idea how to fight my character or use her own. But she did have something.
Nervous laughter chuckled out of my throat, “Your timing is ungodly.”
Her only answer was a half-smile.
Comet was a new player, so she didn’t understand the idiosyncrasies of Anarchy or the particulars about each character, but her ability to time attacks so they’d connect perfectly was uncanny. All of the best ways to execute offensive combinations and strategies were still a mystery she needed to unravel, but she made up for the handicap by having a master’s level skill with a single, fine detail of the game: precision and hitboxes (the range a character’s attack can cover). This point is something that professionals are always working to refine, and she already had it down. Like being able to disassemble, rebuild, load, and cock a gun, but never having learned how to fire it.
The dormant potential was astonishing.
Nevertheless, I eventually changed tact and came out the victor, if only by a small margin. Only about ten seconds after the match ended did I realize how much I was trembling.
“Davis,” Jordan said, with no particular inflection.
Suddenly Comet was out of her seat and Davis filled the absence, lifting the controller.
“Any feedback?” I asked.
“Not yet,” Jordan said.
Davis and I repeated the ritual of selecting our characters and stage, with him making a modification so the tag of player two read ‘Merc’. We picked a completely flat arena, with no additional platforms in any capacity.
My main, Brave, burst into life upon the screen, facing down Shiva, the moon maiden.
Shiva was tricky because she was a very range-oriented character, while Brave’s best utilization was through aggressive, in-your-face battle tactics. This meant that by nature, we were bound to completely contradictory play styles.
Davis offered up a fist-bump as the countdown dwindled, and I hit it, maybe a little too hard.
The match began and lord on high, if Davis was not one of the most flighty players in existence, then dip me in molasses and call me Juniper. He took the ‘range-oriented’ strategy to an obnoxious extreme and my respect for him was falling like an anchor through the Marianas Trench. You’d swear it’s like he was paranoid of taking any debt at all, even if it meant ultimately giving him the advantage. He just ran and ran and ran. In the meantime, he took pot shots at Brave until I’d accumulated over sixty debt.
“Is it irritating?” Davis asked, continuing to rain shards of ice and light on my character as I desperately tried to close the gap and volley some swordsplay into his overly-defensive, teeth-grinding retreat.
My fury must not have been hidden very well. “Nope, we’re good,” I lied, feeling the red flush through my face.
When at last I predicted his movements enough to land a blow, he used Shiva’s up-special, which is basically Anarchy jargon for the recovery technique most characters use to try and return to stage after being knocked off. But he used it while still on the stage, warping him to the other side, further away from me.
“Oh my god!” I ached to stand in protest, but restrained myself. Shiva warped beside me again and aptly propelled me off the side with her strongest melee move. Brave died and returned to the stage with his debt back at zero.
Clutching the controller, I was afraid I might break it, as Davis showed no remorse in recycling the same unholy strategy until I’d lost my second stock, him still sitting at thirty debt on his first.
However, during my final stock, he abandoned nearly all of the strategies (or lack thereof) that he’d fallen back on to that point, and intentionally made a push towards Brave. When I approached, ready to rip his phony crap to pieces, I found that, while I was able to connect a few swift strikes, he had me completely outmatched. I lost the set without taking a single one of his stocks.
But my initial rage had been diffused. “Why,” I sat dumbly, “Why were you playing in such a disrespectful way if you could overcome me in my own element?”
Davis grinned, “I didn’t know I could beat you, but I wanted to see how you’d react. You don’t handle stress or spammers very well. I didn’t mean anything mean by it, but you should probably work on that.”
An exasperated sigh fled from over my shoulder, Jordan rocking his head back and forth, weighing my performance, “Sid.”
I do not want to burden you with the details of my matchup against Sid, but there are some items worth mentioning. Firstly, he was the most evenly matched opponent so far, which was a great relief after I nearly went nuclear on Davis. Second, he had an incredibly vocal act of self-deprecation if he made any mistakes, which according to his incessant complaining was apparently every three seconds or so. Third, I’m pretty sure he hated me, as he kept muttering vulgarities about Brave which were too low for ears not attuned to small things.
Some details on my main. Brave was the hero character from RequiaTek’s arguably second-largest franchise, Seeds of Victory. It was a turn-based, tactical role-playing game, where the player directed various units around a battlefield to try and outwit the cunning and strength of the opposing army. It was set in various sci-fi inspired landscapes, but the storytelling mirrored more classic fantasy narratives. The game was family-friendly and would never use such language, but Brave was basically the bastard son of an elite galaxy official, cast aside at a young age. Growing up on the bloodless, evil planet of Victory, Brave grows into a capable and rebellious swordsman ready to fight against the oppressive government. But things go awry, and Brave’s lifestrings are cut, landing him at the brink of death, where his comrades resurrect him through the magic of technology. In so doing, Brave becomes a scientifically-augmented creature of miracles, where he leads the resistance to cut down Victory’s sinister rulers.
Brave’s model in Anarchy is a high-definition rehash of the original SoV model. Young, sharp male face. A singular blood-red eye, compliments of a robotic friend who was felled in battle. An artful splash of anime-inspired white hair. A few mechanical limbs where the old ones had been destroyed. Twice-plated black and silver armor with a Japanese haramaki wrapped about his waist. And lastly, two katanas of cybernetic makeup, each ebbing with an ephemeral red glow along their edges.
He was the quintessential hero character. None of this weird crap like Bluffy, who was a demented clown spawned from a clan of shinobi, or Dax and Petre which were little more than children’s cartoons. No, Brave was a man. An android-man. And he was a freaking baller.
Brave was also a rather high-standing character in Anarchy, sitting somewhere in the top tier of the pantheon.
So, despite being a great player, arguably even better than myself, I defeated Sid with one stock remaining. If we’d had a second match, I might have lost, but Jordan called up GG before we ever had the chance.
GG turned my face into pudding. The pinpoint accuracy of his every move combined with his ability to anticipate my actions made it look like I was a fledgling player, an infant who was neither potty-trained, nor understood why I should care about this mystical thing called a toilet. He was the vice-captain of the team, I supposed. If he weren’t good, it would have been disappointing.
“You rely too much on Brave’s counter when your debt goes above one hundred,” GG stated flatly, as if he were reading me a homework assignment, “It’s not very useful in the first place, and you become easy to telegraph the more you do it.”
“I know,” I said, remembering Perry’s feedback about my overabundance of countering.
It didn’t help that GG mained Solar and Luna, a duality of psychic twins which had some of the best combos available in the game. And by god, did GG knew how to use them, too. Solar and Luna are obscenely difficult to master on a technical level, but to those who put the time into learning the twins, you were automatically slated as a more than formidable opponent. Together, they were considered one of the top three characters in Anarchy.
Our match ended with me having only taken one of his stocks.
Lastly, Jordan took up arms against me. That matchup went surprisingly well, actually. Being that he was the captain, I expected to get my butt hammered pretty badly, but I didn’t. I mean, I lost. Like, I got freaking destroyed, but it wasn’t too bad. And I finally learned his main and game tag.
His tag was “Burndaddy”, and he mained Brave, albeit a different skin of the character. ‘Skin’ being a term for a different color scheme. I’ll be the first to admit, he was a long shot better than me as well. He knew all of the staple technique combinations any serious Brave player should be familiar with, and was fluid with all of them. Perhaps the only reason I did as well against Jordan as I did, was because I knew my opponent. Sure, his skills were more fine-tuned, and his cunning a little more intuitive than my own, but I still understood the best ways to use Brave, and could predict many of his actions through my own hours of hard work. I lost, but I’d cost Jordan two stock, and that made me proud.
Licking his lips, Jordan dipped his head with a smile, “Good games, Joel. How long have you been playing?”
“A couple years,” I answered.
“Have you ever been to a tournament before?”
I paused. “Yes,” I answered, “Only a couple, and in a remote part of Colorado when I spent a summer with my grandparents.” That was sort of true. I’d gone to tournaments to watch, but they weren’t in Colorado and I never spent a summer away from home. It just seemed more credible and impressive if I had some sort of history on the tournament scene. Suffer me to not only be a complete noob, but look like one, too.
“You’re pretty good,” Jordan continued, “How would you feel coming back here Monday after school and playing some more? As I was saying, we have an opening on the team,” his eyes cut away quickly and then back, “Sorry. I’m not saying the spot is immediately available just like that, but you have potential and I want to get a feel for your worth. You are good. I just want to see if you’re consistent.”
Perry jumped on my brain like a trampoline. I started to retrieve my backpack from the desk where I’d laid it down, “I am interested. I can do that,” I looked at each of them for a moment, “Would it be alright if I brought someone with me?”
Jordan and Sid’s eyes narrowed like they were on the same wavelength, but Sid remained quiet. Jordan’s jaw flexed with a light grinding, “That,” he worked to excavate the proper words, “should be fine. I cannot promise anything will come of it, but if you’d like to bring someone else, you may.”
The captain’s hesitation drummed at my chest with unexpected intensity. They only had one open spot on the team. Would I have to compete with Perry if I brought him?
I still needed to let him know. He would love to meet these people and play with them.
“That’s understandable. Thank you.”
I opened the classroom door to leave.
“Peace man,” Davis said, pocketing his hands in his scarlet jacket, “See you in the halls.”
“Bye, Joel,” Comet smiled.
GG nodded at me, his golden hair bouncing.
And Sid…Sid just…glared.
I decided not to pay it much mind, and shut the door firmly in my wake.