The idea of story in fighting games used to be laughable. With a genre built around competitive one-on-one multiplayer, why even bother? Sure, give us some degree of back story for why this motley crew has gathered for a fighting tournament – maybe show us an image or two at the end telling us how winning affected their world, too. But other than that, what do gamers need to know?
That was an acceptable line of thinking in the Nineties, but things have changed and tastes have evolved. Recent fighting games like Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, and Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 have all put legitimate effort into storytelling, while reviews for games like Mortal Kombat X and both Injustice games have actually designated story as a selling point.
This September, the fighting genre's most (un)storied crossover series makes its first legitimate attempt at spinning an epic tale with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.
Past MvC stories have amounted to little more than bare a premise, all in line with what the original's PlayStation manual describes with no more detail than "apocalyptic schemes." Every time, the only way to prevent said schemes is to pound the crap out of other randomly teamed iconic heroes and villains en route to a boss fight with Onslaught (MvC1), newly-created Abyss (MvC2), or Galactus (whose MvC3 appearance was at least set up by a pack-in comic written by Frank Tieri).
Having recently released playable content to PS4 and Xbox One that goes so far as to identify itself as a "Story Demo," Capcom obviously takes Infinite's new focus on plot very seriously. "This is the first time in the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise history that the team set out to create a full-fledged story mode," says Capcom Producer Mike Evans. "We've worked to make an all-new story about a merged Marvel and Capcom universe forged by a completely original, unique and surprising villain – Ultron Sigma – that forces the heroes to team up and fight against this new threat."
Set 88 days after an event known as the Convergence, Infinite's story demo reveals that Avengers enemy Ultron and Mega Man X nemesis Sigma have teamed to join their worlds using the power of the Reality and Space Infinity Stones – which fit nicely into their newly conjoined corporal form. On Xgard – a merged version of Thor's Asgard and Mega Man X's Abel City – Marvel and Capcom heroes set aside their differences as the game eases players into two-on-two battles against Ultron Drones, mind-controlled Xgardians, and an unwinnable final confrontation against Ultron Sigma himself. The demo serves as the prologue to Infinite, with the novel idea of battles that actually make sense in the context of the story – and at about 20 minutes, it lasts almost as long as it takes to best the entire path to Galactus in MvC3.
Every character in the demo gets at least one chance to fight, be it Captain America with Mega Man X, Thor with Nathan Spencer, or Captain Marvel with Chun-Li. "In this new universe, we wanted to be respectful of all characters and their history and make sure that each one of them had an opportunity to shine," says Evans. "We wanted to convey how the heroes interact with each other, their new world, and the chaotic situation they've all found themselves in all while providing a nice blend of high stakes urgency, lighthearted comedy, and unique gameplay moments."
The demo seems to go out of its way to team one Marvel hero with one Capcom hero each time – never, say, two Avengers fighting side by side. But Evans attributes that design choice to the inherently fun premise behind the game. "We want to have moments between the Marvel and Capcom characters that you wouldn't experience anywhere else," he says. "That said, the story formula changes within the context of the adventure, and so does the gameplay. We can't give away too many spoilers, but we are adding variety to the rules of gameplay and how the characters are matched up.
Evans is clear that Infinite bears no ties to any previously established MvC lore – but calling it a franchise "reboot" might be a bit of a stretch. "Since this is the first time we are telling the story of how the two worlds have come together, we see this as a fresh start to the franchise canon," he explains. "So, in that sense, we aren't rebooting an old story, but rather creating a new one. Newcomers to the franchise and fans of each universe that may not know the Marvel or Capcom characters will all get to come in and experience this story for the first time together."
With a clean story slate ahead of them, Capcom received a lot of support from Marvel's gaming division, beginning with the early synopsis and script-writing phase. "We worked closely with them on each revision, and they provided guidance when it came to the authenticity of the Marvel characters and the overall story structure," says Evans. "Once we had a story backbone that we were all quite happy with, Marvel provided feedback on the revisions, animation, music, and presentation of the overall story mode experience in the game."
As Infinite's point person at Marvel, Senior Producer Danny Koo is excited for players to experience what happens after the demo's conclusion, as the heroes race to free Thanos, Ultra Sigma's most powerful prisoner, and the only man who might know how they can save their worlds. Marvel fans don't call him "the Mad Titan" because he's a nice guy.
"As you probably noticed in the [second] trailer, the heroes must make an uneasy alliance with Thanos to find the Infinity Stones and take down Ultron Sigma," explains Koo. "We know the heroes need answers, and Thanos has valuable knowledge when it comes to the powers of the Infinity Stones. It's a 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'-type of scenario."
The trailer Koo mentions includes a few choice lines from Thanos, including one that reveals that Xgard isn't the only example of merged iconic locations in the game. "The Stone of Power lies at the heart of Knowmoon," he declares, speaking of a cross between Guardians of the Galaxy hangout Knowhere and The Third Moon, home to the Strider villain seen in the trailer, Grandmaster Meio.
"The Time Stone has concealed itself beyond time," Thanos continues, leading to Black Panther's statement that "Valkanda needs its king." It seems T'Challa's technologically advanced country of Wakanda has merged with Monster Hunter's Val Habar – and what's with his seemingly villainous attitude?
Also of note, Avengers Tower now features a decidedly more Capcom touch. "You will see in the story that, instead of JARVIS or FRIDAY, Mega Man X's Dr. Light is now Tony's A.I.," Evans reveals. "We have more environments still to announce, but it's safe to say that all the stages in the combined universe will be 'converged.'"
Evans won't budge when asked to describe more details about the actual Convergence event, but Koo at least offers a tease: "Players will see for themselves the sequence of events that led to the Convergence, and witness the moment the universes combined as they dive deeper into the story mode of the game," confirms the Marvel rep.
At the same time, Evans has a lot to say about the unholy alliance between Ultron and Sigma that led to all this Convergence mess. "They are perfect for each other – a match made in cyberspace," he says. "Ultron and Sigma are both robots, they both have similar objectives, and between them, they have the collective means to achieve their goals."
And, as it turns out, they like being one new mega-baddie instead of retaining their distinct identities. "As one, Ultron and Sigma become even stronger," Evans tells us. "By having two of the Infinity Stones, Ultron Sigma possesses godlike powers, ones they're very fond of by look of their merged appearance. Additionally, by combining, Ultron Sigma is able to use the Sigma virus to infect humanity and do his bidding."
Whether or not Infinite itself will infect humanity with a great plot remains to be seen. But even still – it's most likely got some kickass gameplay to fall back on.