Screenshot: SNK

During Evo 2019, I sat down with Samurai Shodown director Nobuyuki Kuroki to discuss his work on the new game. Since the game’s release in June, players have noticed some character balance issues in Samurai Shodown. In our interview, Kuroki admitted he’s not a fan of making the power diversity in the game’s cast “too flat.”

Fighting games have always had strong characters and weak characters, and Samurai Shodown is no different. Kyoshiro Senryo, however cool he may look on the surface, is unfortunately pretty garbage due to, as some competitive players have explained, risky moves that don’t often equate to big rewards and a severe lack of advantageous tools. On the other end of the spectrum, the intimidating Genjuro Kibagami has had a huge presence in competitive play thanks to the relative safety of his attacks, the damage he’s able to output, and the breadth of options available to him during fights. Half of the competitors who qualified for the Evo 2019 Top 8 used Genjuro to do so, and an official tournament held the week before saw six Genjuro players in the finals bracket.

When asked about this discrepancy, Kuroki told me that while the team is likely to release a balance patch sometime in the near future, it might not make things as balanced as some players may hope.

“I feel that if you make everything too flat in a game like Samurai Shodown, it’s going to be boring,” Kuroki explained via interpreter. “There is a lot of character personality, even among how weak or strong they are. There’s going to be some balancing, but we’re never going to make it completely flat.”

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Balancing fighting games is a tricky prospect. Every change made to an individual character has the possibility of completely shifting the competitive balance for the entire roster. Ever since Street Fighter II heralded the beginning of fighting game competition as we know it, there have been winners and losers when it comes to relative character strength. Sean, for instance, was a powerhouse in Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact, only to later get reduced to being one of the weakest characters in the next installment, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.

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History has also shown that having villains, whether they’re players or just characters on-screen, has made fighting game competition more compelling to watch. In the case of Samurai Shodown, the loudest cheers during the Evo 2019 finals came when a competitor using Genjuro got put on their back, and although a player eventually won the entire tournament with that character, the animosity the community currently has towards the red-haired samurai has resulted in some of the most exciting moments in early Samurai Shodown competition.

Balancing must also take into account the varied ways in which players use each individual character. Kuroki noted the differences between Samurai Shodown play in Japan and the Western world. He sees players in Japan as more methodical, both in how they research and play the game, while Western players are more “aggressive” in his eyes. “But that works in this game,” Kuroki added. “The two different styles are kind of battling each other.”

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Samurai Shodown had an incredibly strong first showing at Evo 2019, both in terms of attendance numbers and the excitement of the competition itself, and it’s clear that the developers at SNK are looking forward to supporting the community moving forward. While Kuroki couldn’t speak to additional pot bonuses past the $30,000 the development team had provided for the competition over the weekend, he did say they are looking forward to supporting competition “in as many ways as possible,” including a world championship similar to those seen in games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, the details of which are still being hammered out.

“I really just want more and more people to jump into the game, play it, bring as many playstyles as possible, and keep growing the community,” Kuroki concluded.