By Robert Johnson Jr.
Arts & Features Editor
That’s the length of a round in Arc System Works’ 2005 fighting game, “Hokuto no Ken” (HnK) – “Fist of the North Star.”
If anything, aside from unorthodox, that 77 seconds are a projected length of the first round’s events.
The following two rounds, though – in a best-of-three set – have the potential to blow up … all from a single hit.
Two competitors navigate their character across the screen, using a variety of ground-based movements – such as running and dashing – and air-oriented options found through airdashing.
However, one of these competitors has to be careful – the Big Dipper-shaped gem formation under their character’s health bar is empty, and the other player is one short combo away from instantly killing them, securing the match.
A faint series of pecks escape from the speakers, and after a few seconds, the opponent who was in danger before … is already dead.
The triumphant horns of “Sentoo,” an instrumental version of “HnK’s” theme song, “Ai wo Torimodose,” blares throughout the venue. Many Japanese men crowd around the victor – a victor representing their team in Seikimatsu Butoukai, the annual national team tournament for “HnK.”
Hosted by Yasuaki Matsuda and his team on Feb. 23, the event marked the ninth Seikimatsu Butoukai since the event’s inception in 2011. While the event itself does not bring in numbers similar to Matsuda’s other annual “Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike”-adjacent event, Cooperation Cup, it is still a favorite of the Fighting Game Community to spectate.
The tournament is a 3-on-3 team affair that gives way to many ridiculous scenarios – infinite combos, setups that lead to instant kill attacks, players performing those same infinite combos long enough to the point where their opponent’s character bounces off the ground in a manner similar to that of a basketball. … The possibilities are endless.
Seikimatsu Butoukai is not only a competition that informs spectators of who the best “HnK” players are in Japan, it is also a showcase of an utterly bizarre fighting game that is still dearly beloved by fans of not only the source material, but classic anime fighting games.
The infinite combos are not easy – far from it – they require an amount of precision and many, many years of practice to truly master, and the same case applies to instantly killing your opponent in combat without input errors.
In my mind, I like to think that I have better-than-decent execution as far as moving my joystick and hitting buttons goes, but in “HnK,” I begin to develop a case of “spaghetti fingers.”
That’s what makes watching Seikimatsu Butoukai a real treat – you’re seeing people play a game which, as of Dec. 7, will be turning 15 years old. The manga the game is based on, for comparison’s sake, will be turning 37 in September.
These players have fine-tuned the way the game is played, and in doing such, they are experts in a game that sticks to the “easy-to-learn, hard-to-master” analogy that all fighting games follow.
If you ever find yourself wanting to watch some world-class action in a fighting game that’s almost old enough to ride Jagi’s motorcycle, I implore you to check out Game Newton’s archive of any of the Seikimatsu Butoukai tournaments on Twitch.