It's certainly been a genre renaissance for the fighting game: a couple of years back we would have prayed for a problem as sweet as "too many games coming out, can't play them all". But here we are, with a spectacular year behind us and some of the brightest spots still to come in the new year. Life is quite fine for us aficionados of digital rock-paper-scissors.
Eighting (formerly fan-favorite arcade shooter developer Raizing) has been making 3D fighting games for some time, going all the way back to the rather rough Bloody Roar series. Like Treasure, they're excellent game designers who, realizing that strong design and original IP aren't profitable these days, simply do licensed products based on established properties. And by all accounts, they do good work: I never cared for the Naruto Gamecube games, but in their day they were wildly popular and very much preferred to their PS2 competitors by Cyber Connect2.
Having put together so many fighting games, 8ing knows what they're doing, and Capcom trusted them with perhaps the developer's biggest project yet: Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom. Eighting did a fantastic ground-up revival of the Versus series with all the accessible gameplay and wacky tricks we expect of it, but also an attention to techincal detail that was lacking in Capcom's own Versus games (a let's-see-what-sticks negligence that eventually resulted in the happy accident known as Mahvel).
Fate/Unlimited Codes is the game that 8ing made just before TvC (they released to consoles the same week, though), and their approaches are very, very different. TvC is a fairly heavy fighting game, but on the surface it's very accessible, with easy moves, lenient inputs, and simple combos for every character. The game goes deeper than that, as always, but a total beginner will still at least be able to work out the basics. Fate, on the other hand, is an experts-only game where the design philosophy seems to be that Guilty Gear's famously complex combo system didn't go far enough. There is no "easy combo" in Fate: at least no easy combo worth using. Even the basics in this game are precisely timed strings along the lines of Sol's Dust Loop (seen at 1:10 here) in Guilty Gear. You don't just juggle the opponent in the air and end the combo: you're often juggling from the ground or bunny-hopping around to complete an extremely strictly timed air combo. For example, here is one for my favorite character. I can do about half of that combo, at best.
In most games with combos like this (Hokuto no Ken is perhaps the best example, and likely the most thoroughly broken, overblown combo game of all time), these ridiculous strings appear because the combined efforts of the players to win go beyond what the designer originally intended. When you first see some of even the simplest combos in Fate, you might think them exploits or glitches or something. In Fate, on the other hand, this is not the case: the game knows about these combos and it is happy to demonstrate. Be careful with the enemy AI in this game: by the end of arcade mode the game will be embarassing you with combos that take a couple hours each in training mode to learn. As you will eventually see in Mission mode, these characters were actually built to do these things. It seems to have worked out: they're playing this at Tougeki this year, which is about the greatest honor a fighting game can recieve.
In theory, the combo is a wholly unecessary part of most fighting games: if you land a simple jab in a game like Melty Blood or Guilty Gear or Fate, the rest of the damage is a usually foregone conclusion. The significant thing was not that the player landed the combo, but that he broke the opponent's defenses. The game could make the jab land 25% damage every time it lands (and adjust damage for other hits accordingly) and little would actually change. But at the same time, that idea isn't terribly exciting, and even if superfluous, combos are simply fun and rewarding to pull off in and of themselves. And as with anything that's fun, people... take it to extremes. I've played a lot of fighting games, and Fate/UC has some of the hardest execution I have ever seen in one, with tons of moves that are hard just for the fuck of it: one weak special move requires that you make six button taps not too fast, not too slow, but just right, without even a visual cue to let you know what the hell you're supposed to be doing. It makes me miss Battle Fantasia. Oh, Battle Fantasia. You wanted them to be concise. You wanted them to be elegant. But they just didn't want to listen.
That said, you can't say a needlessly convoluted combo-based fighting game doesn't fit Type-Moon's needlessly convoluted fantasy visual novels. Just sayin'. Yes, it took me this long to bring up that the game is based on Fate/stay night, which you might have gathered already. We should probably address what this game has for the average Type-Moon nerd, which is to say a lot. There's a lot of respect for the source material here, with many attacks mirroring the events of the game (the shot from the game here is also what happens when Gilgamesh throws Saber).
In arcade mode, the game has an original story written by ol' Nasu himself, so if you can read that, knock yourself out. From what I saw, it wasn't much you wouldn't expect. The bulk of the single-player mode here is the mission mode, though, where quite a few scenes you'll remember from the original Fate game are present. The goofy minigames (mostly involving the parts in the story where Shirou gets hurt) give me a good, long, laugh, but you're gonna have to work your ass off to get them: missions are mostly about doing combos, and combos, as we have established, are hard. Still, if you do, you can run away from BerserCAR. Don't you want to run away from BerserCar?
I can really only recommend this game to people who are either already hardcore fighting game players or people who really love Type-Moon. If you're only in the latter group, be warned of the kind of difficulty we're talking about, and do not expect to clear Mission mode: hell, I don't expect to clear Mission mode. If you're into both, then you're peculiar, you're like me and we love the game.