It should come as no surprise that two niche genres in this day and age would have a lot of similarities. While niche for entirely different reasons; hack and slash games and fighting games were at one point seen as the same thing. Or, more accurately, fighting games and beat-em-ups. Both genres have certainly done well enough to separate themselves from each other. Beat-em-up games have effectively become your modern-day hack and slashers. Indie titles such as Super ComboMan keep the traditional feel of beat-em-ups alive, but it's safe to say that more weapon-focused, 3D action games have continued to carry the torch in the triple-A space.
While these games were everywhere and very popular in the past, these days they've adopted more negative stigmas of being too hard or boring and god forbid they don’t give you a 50+ hour campaign. But if you've been on the fence about dipping your toes into either of these genres or just curious as to how much they really do share between each other, keep these concepts in mind next time you boot up the game.
When it comes to hack and slash, we are referring to character fighters like Devil May Cry rather than the subgenre's traditional role-playing games in the vein of Diablo II. Obviously, certain titles cannot be defined by a single genre, so the term "hack and slash" may be stretched on occasion.
So, let's start with a simple one. When you knock an enemy down in a hack and slash or fighting game, you have a ton of advantage. In a fighting game, this gives you time for set-ups on your opponent. In a hack and slash game, this takes enemies out of a fight temporarily and even lets you hit them while they're on the ground. Some fighting games also let the player hit their opponent while they're on the ground, such as Tekken or Virtua Fighter.
Keep in mind that this doesn't automatically mean your safe in either game. Fighting games do give your opponent limited options on wake-up while some hack and slash titles grant specific enemies wake-up attacks. Make sure to be aware of your opponent's moveset in both genres.
9 Meter Management
Not every fighting game gives you a meter but most hack and slash games do. Or, at the very least, a special resource outside of your health bar that you need to observe. Managing the meter is incredibly important, especially against tougher opponents.
In certain cases, you may want to save your bar for the last round in the fight or for the boss at the end of the level. Conversely, perhaps the player opts to consume the meter now due to being on their last bit of health. Efficient use of your resources can be the key to success.
8 Frame Data
Probably most prominent in the Devil May Cry series, having a good idea of how long your attacks and movements take to execute and the properties of each is useful knowledge. Discerning the same information about your opponent is also valuable data.
It’s not exactly important to memorize the numbers in a hack and slasher as it is in a fighter, but having a rough estimate on enemy move timing can help to avoid unnecessary damage and help you learn the best ways to counter-attack just like in a fighter.
This one is probably one of the easier concepts to take for granted in a hack and slasher because it’s much easier to pull off than in a fighter. Canceling in a fighter requires the player to input a command within a required number of frames before your last move is finished recovering. Canceling in a hack and slasher is about as easy as just pressing the dodge button while attacking.
Some games make it a bit more rewarding such as jump-canceling in the Devil May Cry series. Other games like Bayonetta let you continue your combo after a dodge-cancel with the right inputs. While the execution of canceling in slashers isn't nearly as complicated to pick up as in fighters, it is there. Knowing what is and what isn't cancel-able, or what moves can be canceled into, is valuable information.
Have you ever been playing a game of Dark Souls and wondered why when a dragon starts breathing fire at you the moment you do a dodge-roll you take no damage? No, this isn't some sort of glitch or bug in the game. Your dodge-roll has what’s called invincibility frames built into it. I-frames for short, this is basically a period of time where the player character is virtually untouchable. A lot of special moves in the Street Fighter series use I-frames as a way to beat meaty attacks on wake-up.
I-frames are most notably utilized defensively in most slashers to always give the player the option to dodge any attack from any enemy. This is why an enemy's weapon will still clearly go through the player character's model while they’re dodging but you’ll take no damage.
5 Hit/Block Stun
This one is pretty obvious. Whenever you land an attack on your opponent, you will usually put them in a period of hit or block stun. Depending on the game and the attack, you have the opportunity for follow-ups.
Most hack and slash games give you automatic follow-ups on a majority of enemies because most combos are string-based. Fighting games are a little more intricate on how they reward the player with hit stun. Combos usually consist of a combination of links, cancels, and strings; eventually, the opponent should be stunned. Hit and block stun is usually heavily in favor of the player in a slasher while it's even for both parties in a fighter for obvious reasons.
4 Super Armor
While hit/block stun is in the player's favor in a hack and slasher, super armor usually isn't. It can also be specific to a character or move. Super Armor is a state similar to I-frames but it only cancels your hit stun, not the damage you receive for taking a hit.
Games like Street Fighter V give armor to certain EX moves or supers. Most hack and slashers give armor to larger enemies or when they enter certain states or do certain moves. In rare cases, the player can even obtain armor, such as in Dark Souls 3 when executing heavier moves or in Devil May Cry 5 when going into devil trigger mode. Being able to negate hit stun allows the player to keep up a steady offense in a slasher or surprise your opponent in a fighter. Though, you still need to keep an eye on your health bar in both cases to decide whether it's worth taking the risk.
Punishing basically refers to capitalizing on a mistake your opponent makes. In fighters, it can be boiled down to two situations: blocking and punishing or whiff punishing. Blocking and punishing is just how it sounds. Blocking your opponent's move and then punishing with your own. Whiff punishing is punishing when your opponent's attack misses completely.
In a slasher, the concept of whiff punishing it probably more familiar. Unless it's a game like God of War or Hellblade, which also provide a blocking move. The idea is to dodge or block your opponent's attacks and then catch them as they recover. Your standard counter-attack strategy. Games like NieR: Automata even reward you for dodging at the last possible second for an instant counter-attack. Simple, but certainly a concept a lot of greedy players tend to ignore when playing either kind of game.
Zoning is an interesting one. When you think of zoning in fighting games, you're thinking about the fireball game. Projectiles. Some sort of ranged move. While this is true, zoning is more or less just about space control. Projectiles just excel at doing this. In a fighter and a slasher, you have to think about your attack range. Its area of effect. Does this move hit behind you or above you? How far in front of you does it hit? It's much more prominent in fighters because you never want to use a move outside of its optimal range or there's a high chance you'll be punished for it. But you always want to make sure your opponent is always in your optimal range.
Most slashers do a pretty good job of making the player deadly from any range. So where does zoning come in? Well, zoning is usually used when you want an enemy in a specific part of the arena. Whether you want to separate them away from their allies or group them all up for an AOE move, smart enemy movement manipulation is always a useful skill. This starts with zoning.
I mean, of course. As much as it's more acceptable to actually be deliberate with your button presses, we all know that sometimes mashing the "A" button leads to victory. No fighting game or slasher is above this. They might all implement ways to punish the player for doing so, either through higher difficulties or through players that actually know what they're doing, but it doesn't make it any less fun. Especially when you actually manage to make something cool happen on-screen.
This instills that ‘wow’ factor in us when we see someone pull off a complicated sequence of moves. It's what makes these games special. They challenge the player to get better but don't feel like you absolutely have to just to have fun. It is just a game after all.