Pick YOUR Top Tier

To Celebrate the Return of the SOP Blogs, I’m reposting one of my favorite articles that I wrote for the SOP Website back in the day.  Enjoy!  (or don’t)



It’s a well known fact among the SOP Universe that I’m a huge fan of fighting games.  I don’t particularly consider myself a great player, but I always enjoy engaging in a few rounds of virtual fisticuffs with other members of the SOP crew.  Recently I picked up Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate, and have been enjoying it a lot.  In a discussion with LordVermin, I told him that I think there are two major factors that have made this game more fun for me than Vanilla DOA5.

  • The fact that I actually have friends to play the game with this time around, I credit this to Koei Tecmo’s excellent idea of creating a free version that could be played online against people that have the full retail version
  • The addition of two characters I really like, Momiji and Rachel.

The latter comment got me to thinking about the importance of finding a character you like when playing a fighting game, because I feel that greatly improves ones enjoyment of said game.


There was a video posted a while back in the Fighting game community where a well known player “encouraged” people to “Just pick a top tier,” meaning pick a character that is on the high end of the tier lists.  I do NOT subscribe to this theory for two reasons.


  • If you do not enjoy playing as the so called “Top Tier” characters, or they do not fit your style of play, then you are doing a disservice to yourself.  If you enjoy rushing down and attacking your opponent constantly, then Sagat is probably not going to be a good choice for you, regardless of where he stands on the “Tier Lists”
  • Tier lists change over time, and with each new version of a game.  That mid tier character you like may suddenly get a buff or somebody may discover some new tech that makes them more effective.  See Crimson Viper who was originally considered fairly low tier when SF4 first came out but as people discovered how to play as her, she was considered more powerful.  Another example would come from fellow SOP member Eckertmania who took a liking to Abel in Vanilla SF4.  At the time, Abel was considered middle of the pack at best.  But once Super SF4 came out and Abel got a really powerful second Ultra, he became a very powerful character, and Eckert already had a good base to work on with him.  On the flip side, are you suddenly going to drop a character you like using just because they suddenly got downgraded on the tier list?  I hope not.

The best thing to do is find a character that fits your playstyle well, or that you otherwise enjoy, whether it be because of their appearance, design, personality, or whatever.  If you enjoy and have a connection with your character of choice, you’ll be more inspired to learn and get better with that character and subsequently enjoy yourself more while learning.  Also, most modern fighters are balanced enough that there usually aren’t many characters that are truly hopeless.  Individual matchups are more important.


Another dumb thing a lot of players do is follow the “flavor of the month”  Last year, an Adon player won EVO, and this year a Gen player won EVO.  Both of these are pretty uncommon characters among the masses, and I’m sure that after these tournaments, plenty of scrubs tried picking up Adon and Gen and found out, that these are HARD characters to get to learn to use well (especially Gen)  unless you REALLY like these characters, it’s better to just stick with whoever you’re maining now.


It’s pretty well known that in many fighting games, I have one or more female characters amongst my list of mains.  I feel like I have an affinity for female characters.  Why?  I dunno.  Maybe I like hot chicks, whether real or virtual.  Maybe it’s because I like characters who are fast.  When I was a kid, I found myself attracted to Chun Li in SF2, so I started playing her and she became my favorite character of the group.  This started a lifelong affinity (some would call it an obsession) with Chun Li.  I also used Guile, but that was mostly due to him being the most powerful character in the early days of Street Fighter.  When Champion Edition came out, I started playing as Bison because “It was cool to play as the final boss”  In the Alpha series, I started playing as Sagat more because I liked how powerful and menacing they made him look as compared to his SF2 incarnation.  I started liking him even more as Capcom retconned out the fact that he was evil and made him more honorable which carried over to SF4.  I NEVER mained Sagat in Vanilla SF4 just because he was top tier, I mained him because I liked him as a character, and the fact he was top tier was a bonus.  I still main Sagat in SSF4 AE even though he’s been toned down.  I also took a liking to Rose in the Alpha series because I liked her design a lot, but I can’t touch SaviorGabriel in that regard.  His obsession with Rose is legendary.  When Super SF2 came out, and Cammy was introduced, I took a liking to her as well.  She wasn’t a very powerful  character in those games, but she was still fun to use and she’s become a strong character in other games, mostly Capcom vs SNK2 and Super SF4 where she’s currently considered one of the best characters in the game.


One of the reasons I never got into SF3 very much was the fact that I never really liked any of the characters.  I’ve never really been a Ryu/Ken guy (although I have started picking up Ryu in Super SF4) and most of the rest of the cast didn’t do anything for me.  They looked like a bunch of Darkstalkers rejects (Oro, Necro) or were otherwise really lame (Sean, Remy)  The only exception was Dudley, who revolutionized the concept of a “technical” boxer.  Prior to Dudley, every boxer in a fighting game was a big dumb brute like Balrog, but without any of the charm Balrog has.  (Anyone remember Axel Hawk?  If you do, you’re lying)  Unfortunately, by the time 3rd Strike came around and Chun Li returned to the mix, fighting games had died out for the time being, I never even got to PLAY Third Strike until it came out on Dreamcast. I also never cared a whole lot for 3rd Strike, or the ultra l337 elitist crowd that surrounds it.  Fortunately Dudley made a comeback in Super SF4, so I can enjoy him in a game I actually LIKE, even if I can’t play Dudley for crap.


When Mortal Kombat first hit the scene, I found myself following what would be a lifelong rule I had for fighters which was “Pick the chick first” and maining Sonya.  Partly because of her leg grab which could do sick damage and was hard to avoid, and partly because of her kiss of death fatality which my grandfather thought was hilarious. I also used Sub Zero and Scorpion like everyone else did.    When MK 2 came out, Sonya was nowhere to be found (well actually she was chained up next to Shao Kahn, along with Kano)  So I found myself using Kitana because I could do big damage with her combos, and also Shang Tsung, because “He could turn into anyone else, and he was the final boss so he’s cool” (although the only people I can remember how to turn into are Scorpion and Kitana)  Kitana wound up sticking with me as a main character throughout the series (except in Ultimate MK3 where she completely sucked, although fortunately I had Sindel in that game who played kinda sorta like her)  I also picked up Johnny Cage in MK9 because he’s so hilarious and is a solid character to boot.


I tend not to like picking the “main hero” character in most fighting games, because I like to go against the grain and play somebody different.  I don’t touch Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat, and up until recently, never played Ryu much either.  One major exception to this rule would be in the King of Fighters Series.  It’d be very rare to see me playing KOF and not running the Legendary Wolf, Terry Bogard on my team.  Terry is a classic design and one of the most memorable fighting game heroes of all time.  Oh yeah, and Mai Shiranui usually bounces her way onto my squad as well.


I never got hugely into Tekken or Virtua Fighter on the whole and looking back, I think it’s because none of the characters really drew me in.  My “Pick the chick first” rule led me to use Nina (and Anna) Williams and Sarah Bryant respectively, but even they were kind of generic to me compared to other female characters who I played as in other fighting games.  But I DID get into Soul Calibur in a big way and a good part of that would have to be Ivy Valentine.  Damn she was hot.  I loved her design and when Soul Caibur came out on Dreamcast, I spent a lot of time learning how to use her effectively and she’s been my main in that series ever since.  Except for Soul Calibur 3 and 4 where they decided to overcomplicate her (and she’s already a tough character to use) by giving her multiple stances and all this crap.  Note:  I’ve NEVER been good with any character who switches between different stances.  That stuff throws me off.  Whenever I see a character go into an alternate stance, my first reaction Is to get out of it, because I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do.  I was overjoyed when they took the multiple stances out of Soul Calibur 5 and she started playing like she did in the older games, but in Soul Calibur 5, I spent more time making my own characters anyway and ignoring the main cast.


I have had a hard time getting into the BlazBlue series.  This is partially due to the game having a lot of complicated mechanics, but I also feel like there wasn’t a character that I liked enough to inspire me to learn those mechanics.  I liked Litchi and Iron Tager, but Litchi was tough to use, and Tager was so immobile that he made Zangief look like Manami Toyota in terms of agility.  I got much more enjoyment out of Persona 4 Arena which was also made my Arc System Works and uses a somewhat similar engine, but since I’m a huge fan of Persona 4, I find that I like the character a whole lot more (especially Kanji and Yukiko) and don’t mind having to master the mechanics.


In games with established characters (I.e. licensed games like Marvel vs Capcom or Injustice, or Mascot games like Smash Bros or Playstation All Stars) you’re not going to catch me using characters that I don’t like in the source material, no matter how they’re ranked.  In Playstation All stars, my mains are Nariko, Ratchet and Kat, because I like the games those characters represent.  (Really it doesn’t matter because every session I have of PS All stars eventually degenerates into me, Vermin and Gabe playing the video version of Smear the Queer by triple teaming on Dante or some other fruit)  My mains in Injustice are Superman, Wonder Woman and to a lesser extent (because she’s new) Zatanna.  I also like Batman, Killer Frost and Solomon Grundy, but I don’t consider myself as adept with them.  If I don’t like a character in the comics, I’m not going to pick them.  Aquaman is considered one of the best characters in Injustice, but I’m not going to pick him regardless.  Why?  Because he’s freakin’ AQUAMAN.  (Yeah, I know, he’s got mad sharks)  I’d still pick Superman and Wonder Woman even if they weren’t “Top Tier” because they’re my favorite characters in the comics. And really, why would anyone complain of those two being top tier, when even in the canon of the comics, they’d probably beat the piss out of most of the rest of the roster in a straight fight anyway.  Vermin plays as Lobo even though he’s considered near the bottom of the tier list, because he loves the character (and he usually beats my ass with him anyway, although he has yet to face the wrath of the Mistress of Magic yet….. )


Speaking of low tier characters and our esteemed webmaster, Vermin has been maining Zangief since the early days of SF2.  Gief of course, has been considered low or bottom tier in nearly every game he’s been in, except for Vanilla SF4 where he was near the top.  The trail of tears and piledrivers left in Vermin’s wake should be enough to prove that tiers aren’t always everything.  Vermin is also responsible for the “Big, Black and Bald Corrolary” which places a high value on characters that are big, black and/or bald.  He also came up with the revolutionary concept of the “Troll” character, which is picking an obnoxious character like MODOK or Noob Saibot and spamming annoying stuff while going “NYEAAAAAAAAH” into our headsets.  He has also been known to search for the “Biggest, ugliest motherfucker on the roster” in each game he tries.  So as you can see, everybody’s tastes are different, and his are pretty much the direct opposite of mine.  However, SF4 is where I finally started picking up grapplers, because I could finally do a 360 motion with consistency, which was my barrier to entry in previous games.  This also led me to pick up other grapplers, such as Hakan or Solomon Grundy.  If there’s a character who uses a lot of wrestling moves, chances are I’m going to give them a play once I’m done trying out all the hot chicks.


SPEAKING OF hot chicks (man, two segways in two paragraphs, I’m on a roll), that brings us to Dead or Alive, which is the game that spurred this entire conversation and article.  Despite the fact that like half the roster is full of hot chicks, AND people who do wrestling holds (and even hot chicks that do wrestling moves, I never really felt a connection with any of the characters up until Ultimate DOA5 came out.  Kasumi was probably the closest I had to a main in this series.  Tina is a hot chick with wrestling moves, including an Ocean Cyclone Suplex, which should make her like my favorite character ever, but her accent really annoys the hell out of me.  I also like Mila who is new to the series and think she has a cool style with her MMA Fighting, but I haven’t really gotten adept at using her yet.  The addition to Momiji and Rachel to the series gave me two characters I can connect with.  Rachel is a hot blonde in black leather who is really tall (she reminds me of Ivy), and I liked Momiji since I first saw her in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2.  She has the perfect mix of hotness and cuteness that I find irresistible (and yes, hot and cute are two different things)  Plus both her and Rachel are fun to play, I especially like running them as a tag team)


Sometimes the rule of picking a character you like or one where you like their design just doesn’t work out.  When SF4 was first coming out, I was really looking forward to playing Crimson Viper and Gouken.  I thought Viper was a really cool character design and who WOULDN’T want to play the original Shoto badass Gouken?  But in the end, I don’t main either character.  Viper requires a really high level of skill to use effectively, beyond my capacity really.  And I just don’t care for Gouken’s style of play.  However I DID end up liking Rufus, whom prior to seeing in action, I thought he was the stupidest design for a character ever, but his hilarious personality won me over.  Similarly, in Ultimate MvC3, I was really excited for Phoenix Wright’s addition to the roster, since I’m a huge fan of the Ace Attorney series.  However, try as I might, I couldn’t make him work as a character (mostly because he sucks and is really hard to get anything going with)  If this happens to you, don’t fret.  Either keep plugging away till you GET good with that character and make them work, or just try someone else.  Who knows, you might be the one that finds that new piece of Hakan or Phoenix Wright tech that propels them to the top tier.


Like I said earlier, most fighting games these days are balanced enough that there are a lot of viably competitive characters.  The key isn’t to start at the top of some tier chart and work your way down to find your main.  The idea is figuring out which character YOU can use effectively, because it’s a lot easier to start learning with a character you enjoy and have a good grasp of the fundamentals with as opposed to playing someone you DON’T like just because they’re at the top of some tier chart, or some guy won EVO using them.  And you’ll probably have a lot more fun that way too.  And unless you’re in the .1% of players who are good enough to make a living playing fighting games, isn’t having fun the entire point?