How much does balance mean in a fighter, really?

I went to a little friendly tournament series last week and had a blast. Hadn’t really gotten a chance to play fighting games with anyone in a while… and had some interesting conversations while I was there. I’d like to get some more opinions about one of those discussions:

Is a fighting game really worse if it isn’t balanced?

The immediate answer to this is usually yes. If a game isn’t balanced, then it can be less fun to play because some of the characters just aren’t worth using. I don’t think the real answer is quite this simple though… games can be great even if the balance is pretty far out of whack.

And I’m willing to back up this with some simple examples of popular games: Street Fighter III, King of Fighters <fill in number here>, Neo-Geo Battle Coliseum, Marvel Vs Capcom 2, Tekken (most of em’), Soul Calibur, etc. I love all these games, and I don’t think you’ll find too much dissent about them being classics. Yet most of them have balancing issues (although some more serious than others).

Street Fighter III (I’m just talking about 3’rd Strike, since that’s the only one I really remember anymore) is incredibly good, but it clearly has divisions between the upper and lower tier characters. If you look at the pro gamer lists, usually 70% or so of the people use Chun-Li and Ken. The rest are scattered among a few other characters, with most of the roster being ignored. When was the last time you saw someone really good with Twelve or Sean?

Marvel vs Capcom 2, despite having a huuuuge roster, has maybe 20 characters you’ll see consistently - probably less. The majority of them just can’t stand up to the others. Yet the game is still a blast. KoF and NGBC fall into these lines as well.

Okay, you probably get the point of what I’m trying to say. I guess my feeling about games is that if there are enough characters in the “useful pool” that can compete against each other, then the game can be fun. If the pool of characters that is really strong is just too small, then the game suffers because most people looking to compete at it will just use the same people.

I’m interested in hearing other people’s feedback on this…

Balance is relative. So long as a game doesn’t degenerate into 1 dominate strategy, the game has a chance competitively. Depending on how fun the gameplay is will determine peoples tolerance for balance issues. People like to talk about Marvel being broken all day, but there is a top tier of about 6-8 characters who are all pretty equal. For that community, that is balanced enough.

As a side note, I think its silly to insist a certain percentage of characters should be playable in any given game. If a game needs to include 100 characters in order to get 12 of them right, it doesn’t bother me.

Depends. Balance in diversity is what makes some fighting games stand out the most. SF2 is the prime example, every characters has at least 1 reason to be picked up. And then you have some other “balanced” but dull and boring fighting games because every characters has their own fireball, dragon punches/kicks, and so on. Of course balance is very hard to attain with this method.

So long as the game allows multiple strategies to be effective, whether through a couple of characters (Marvel) or a larger amount of tournament viable characters (I dunno, SF2?)

Balance isn’t a big deal honestly, it’s important that maybe 5 or 6 characters, or even 3-4 are playable, but it’s really the game engine that makes it good. In fact, most games develop a top 3 or 4 (like, every competitive game out).

It’s when a game has a top 1 character that is MOST definitely the best in all matchups that balance is an issue, even with 2 it’s a problem.

Counter characters > balance although I guess that’s technically the same thing.

I have to disagree with most of the posts above. I agree that balance is overrated (quoted from Zakuta) and in the end it’s kinda impossible.

However, I truly believe character viability should never be left by the wayside.
Many good games regardless of the character balance seem to allow every character to be used at high level.
Games like MvC2 and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike are fun to watch but seeing the same few characters becomes tedious.

I also think the players who play games with bad character viability are the ones who don’t mind it as much.
Mainly because they are so used to it, but in reality no one should get used to playing 3 out of 20+ characters.

Anyway, each to their own. However, I don’t like when games look like this.

Tekken is a better example for the large roster that is balanced

but most tekken characters are effective pretty much for the same reasons…
safe launchers, strong juggles, juggling lows etc.

i’d rather go with koichi taking 1st place in DF using i-no.

Garou :wonder:

being balanced isnt everything.

If it is, then Karate Champ is the game for you


balance means nothing to me if a game is fun

cue some guy coming in and saying that kevin beats the whole cast 9-1

And yes it’s all about fun and variety. MvC2 only has so many top characters, but you can find a strong character to do what you want. You can run away, turtle, zone, lockdown, rushdown in MvC2 and win, because there are top tier teams for all of those playstyles.

And then on the other hand you’ve got something like Samsho 5 Special, which is one of the most balanced fighting games ever, and also one of the most boring fighting games ever. 5sp is what happens when the logic for balancing the game is ‘nerf everything’.

Kevin beats the whole cast 8-2

Balance is important, but it’s not the most important thing a good fighting game needs. All fighting games will have a top 3-6 characters which are top tier and used most often.

A good game needs variable playstyles and characters.

O. Sagat in ST is very dominant over most of the roster, but the game is varied enough that it doesn’t matter.


Kevin is awesome, but I seen him in person get worked by Grant, Gato and few others. His meter gaining shit is amazing, but when both players hit that P-power, the game changes. Super spammers are not going to be successful in MOTW. When a game has enough awesome subsystems, the shitty characters can break through. God, I miss playing mow.

I think your stance on balance is true by default, soley because it happens that way, I think HD Remix stands a damn good chance at having the closest thing to a perfectly balanced fighting system, the only other games I can think of like that are maybe GG and Garou, but niether of those titles have had decades of play at a high level to “play test” the game.

We shall see how important true balance really can be (hopefully), ST was already reasonably balanced, I am interested to see if the previously under picked characters at Evo will start to show up more often… (Blanka, T. Hawk, Cammy, Guile, etc)

I think that a truly balanced fighter brings a games true variety out in full force (Because all the fighters can be truly competitive).

If the ability of lower ranked characters to compete depends on every character having a bunch of the same good moves, I don’t know if you can call that “balanced” in any positive sense.

Funny how I was just reading one of David Sirlin’s older articles concerning balance in fighting games and this topic appears today. Take a look at this informative article if you haven’t already; it discusses how diversity and balance tend to be inversely proportional to one another, cites a few examples of different games in different genres dealing with this issue, and even discusses about fighters that are so broken, it tends to balance itself out in the end! Good academic read: (Part 1) (Part 2)



Ok let’s say you like 3-4 characters out of a 25 character cast. Now you like these characters and all and don’t really want to play with other characters as seriously. Now you put in hours strategizing and training only to find that said 3-4 are bottom or low tier. Now you have 2 choices.

a)Play with the best tiered character not because you like them or want to but because you want to win. Then feel cheated that only 1/4 of the 25 character cast is playable at high level.Oh and the characters your liked are garbage and are not useable at all. I mean its fun playing with characters that you don’t care for or like just so you can win.Have fun!

b)Don’t play with them and get owned over and over agian until you start hating the game itself and become apathetic to fighters in general(the whole reason why fighters are a niche genre and madden is king).

3 out of 70 characters that are winnable with is broken beyond imagination. I mean if they just made 30 characters that are winnable out of 70 it would be still broken but almost respectable balence-wise.