Ahh, friends! FRIENDS! Today is a very special day for me. You see, today, unlike other days, I get to spend here on this internet talking to my fellow Retroware colleagues about MY FAVORITE GAME OF ALL TIME, EVER, in this week’s Franchise Fatigue.

Now, that in itself is often a loaded statement. Does “favorite” mean “best?” Not usually. But here’s the thing – if we were using any sort of rubric to quantify that “favorite” means “game I’ve spent more time playing than any other” then Capcom vs. SNK 2 would easily take that crown. Without question, and without equivocation, every single time I find this game somewhere – in my closet, on the internet, et cetera – I put it in and play it. I’ve played every single version. I’ve played the arcade version, the Dreamcast version, the PS2 version, the Gamecube and Xbox versions. Whenever I come across an arcade  that has this game, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and plug in anywhere from 50 cents to 5 dollars. If I’m having a long or stressful day, nothing quite calms my withered soul like putting on some music and plowing through Capcom Vs SNK 2‘s now-predictable AI.

Kyo and Ryu shows you what happens WHEN POWER AND TECHNIQUE COLLIDE

Bear in mind, I’ve been doing this approximately once every few months since the game was released in late 2001. I’ve been steadily playing this game for the past 11, almost 12 years. I know damn near everything about it; every obscure technical feature, weird bug, and tournament match-up.

Am I any good at this game? Not really. Over the past 11 years, I’ve steadily rose to the enigmatic level of competent player, but hardly competitive player.

But first, some context! Capcom Vs SNK 2 had the misfortune of being a VERY complicated fighting game that is overabundant with technical systems and options that dynamically alter the way the game is played. Aside from simply tossing in characters from the respective rosters of Capcom and SNK fighting games, CVS2 liberally borrows elements from those games as well, matching them together with relative success. First of all, the method of choosing characters and building a team itself is entirely up to the player – the first game, the original Capcom Vs SNK, tasked you with building a team of anywhere between one to four characters, and it used a very unique “ratio” system to do this. Essentially, certain characters were worth a certain amount of “ratio points,” and you had to make sure they all added up to the number 4. Ryu and Ken were both worth 2 Ratio Points, for example; characters like Geese Howard and M. Bison were worth 3; and other characters like Dhalsim, Blanka, and Yuri were only worth 1. So, you couldn’t exactly build your own Dream Team as you saw fit. You couldn’t have a team with both Geese Howard and Terry Bogard, fighting on the same side, as that’d put you over the Ratio Point limit. It also had the unintended side-effect of allowing 4-character teams, which drove Fighting Game Tournament organizers nuts. 4-on-4 matches would drag on and on, endlessly and needlessly.

CVS2, then, allowed you the chance to assign your own Ratio Points, with two caveats: gone were 4-character teams, so the max amount of characters you could use stopped at 3, and you could assign Ratio Points to whatever character you desired. You want a Ratio 1 M. Bison fighting alongside a Ratio 3 Sakura? Go for it! A painful Ratio 3 Zangief paired with a spry Ratio 1 Kyo Kusanagi? You got it, buster!

THEN, after all that rigmarole, you had to select a “Groove.” First off – I love the word “Groove.” The idea of calling a system of meter-building that governs your usage of Super Moves a “Groove” is a wonderful idea that could only have been dreamed up by non-English speakers. There are six grooves, mashed together from the storied histories of Capcom and SNK. C-Groove is borrowed mostly from the Street Fighter Alpha games; you have 3 levels of Super Meter, which can be stored and used depending on which button you use to activate the Super Move. A-Groove comes from the V-ISM from Street Fighter Alpha 3, allowing you to active your own “Custom Combos” where you can freely cancel any move seamlessly into another. P-Groove comes from Street Fighter III, giving you a no-frills all-purpose Super Meter plus the option to “Parry” attacks if you have Godlike timing. S-Groove is from King of Fighters 94, where you “Charge Up” your super bar manually, and also when you sink below a certain portion of health, you can unleash and literally spam the screen with an unlimited amount of Level 1 Super Moves. N-Groove is from King of Fighters 97, where you build up “Stocks” that you can either use to power up your attack strength or burn into a Level 1 Super Move. K-Groove is an amalgamation of Samurai Shodown and Garou: Mark of the Wolves – the only way to grow the meter is either by taking damage, or “Just Defending,” which is blocking an opponents’ attack just in the nick of time. Once you get a full bar, you’ll start glowing red and the meter starts draining, giving your character an INSANE damage boost and the opportunity to launch a Level 3 Super Move.

That’s not even to mention all the different mobility options and bonuses each Groove offers. C, A, and N-Groove lets your characters do a Roll, which grants you limited invulnerability; S-Groove gives you a Dodge move, granting you invulnerability while standing perfectly still; P, S, N, and K-Grooves let your characters do a short “Hop” instead of a full Jump; and then there’s different ways the Grooves handle damage scaling, Super Move strength, wake-up options, and so forth. That’s to say nothing of the effect of Roll Cancelling, a bug in the game where you quickly cancel a Roll into any Special Move, essentially giving your character invulnerable. There was debate in the Fighting Game Community for a while about whether or not Roll Cancelling was considered “Game Breaking,” therefore, non-competitive, but it was eventually considered a good thing when Roll Cancelling was revealed to give certain lower-tier characters a competitive edge for the first time since the game was released.

An intro to the weirdness of Roll Cancelling, and also a gratuitous excuse to listen to Earth, Wind & Fire.

So, if you aren’t quite the Fighting Game Aficionado that I am, those past two paragraphs probably gave you a headache. That’s sort of the problem, really; Capcom Vs SNK 2 gave dorks like me an endless amount of options, and for the hardcore fans, that amount of control allowed them to personalize their choices against their competition. If Sakura is your favorite character in a fighting game, don’t worry, she can stand toe-to-toe against top-tier characters like Sagat and Blanka if you pick A-Groove, where the combination of Roll Cancelling and Custom Combos makes her a devastating foe. But for the casual Street Fighter fans in the audience, all of that is just gibberish.

Capcom Vs SNK 2 definitely suffers, from anything, of too much of a muchness. Nerds like me loved the plethora of options to screw around with. Meanwhile, the more casual, less-intense fighting game fans were used to stuff like, I dunno, Soul Calibur, which is pretty easy to pick up and play. You don’t need to set Ratios or Grooves; you just pick which character you want and go with it. Capcom Vs SNK 2 was basically on the tail end of Capcom’s devotion to fighting games as one of its core outlets. After this game and the similarly convoluted Capcom Fighting Jam, Capcom canceled most of its in-development fighting games and let the Street Fighter brand lay fallow. It’s telling, I think, that when Capcom finally gave one-on-one fighting games another shot with Street Fighter IV, it was the complete opposite of the kitchen sink approach they gave this game and the similarly nuts Marvel vs Capcom 2. There’s no options to screw with when you choose your fighter, you just picked your favorite character and you were ready to rock.

I do miss the opportunities to play this game with other people, though. Small but dedicated fans have kept this game in the competitive eye, thanks to the efforts of sites like iplaywinner.com and other Japanese tournaments. But unlike, say, Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Marvel vs Capcom 2, CVS2 hasn’t had any major online play component since the Xbox port in 2002. Right now, the game is only available on modern systems as a “Playstation Classic” on the Japanese Playstation Store. Capcom has said that they’ll be releasing the Western version “eventually,” which is nice, but that discounts anything like competitive online play.

So, the only chance you’ll have to play this game competitively is to be lucky enough to live in an area with a hardcore and dedicated Fighting Game Community. So, if you live in San Francisco or New York City, or Japan, you’re in luck! Anywhere else, well – unless you can make the drive, you’ll have to set it up yourself.

Here, for example, is what happens when two of the best Japanese players – Daigo and INO – play this game.

And that’s a shame, because this game is awesome. Once you start understanding all the subtle yet huge ways you can alter this game to suit your needs, you can play it for HOURS, just screwing around to see what works best for you and your team. Me? I like K-Groove Geese, Rock, and a rotation of Sagat (if I’m trying to win), Raiden (if I’m feeling silly), or Kyo (if I want to show off my combo skills). I’m trying to get the hang of A-Groove, since I’m particularly awful at Roll Cancelling and A-Groove is the only way to effectively use the wacky Art of Fighting stalwart, Todo.

It’s all a game of choice, really. What’s your team? What’s your Groove? Or is all this too cumbersome? For most people it is, but I’ll be playing this game until arthritis takes my damn fingers away.