— Rosa from Bayonetta 2, spoken only when the player achieves a Pure Platinum combat grade
For some action heroes, it's not enough to just save the world; they've gotta look good doin' it.
Stylish Action is a sub-genre of action games that involves unrealistic combat and the fun of creating it yourself. Its main point is to use a deep set of mechanics to be stylish, rather than the style coming from the animations itself. In short, the style is because you, the player, are earning stylish combat through developing your skills, not just the character through what they're programmed to do.
Unlike most action games, stylish action is just a particular way of engaging players in combat, so it's crossed over with a few established genres including Beat 'em Up, Hack and Slash, and Third-Person Shooter. Since its mechanics give players a relatively large amount of freedom over how their battles go, the genre is basically the Wide Open Sandbox of action games.
Three elements are the backbone of this genre:
- Combat depth. The selling point of stylish action's combat is its variety. Most action games emphasize defeating your enemies, but stylish action emphasizes how you do it, so combat tools tend to be meant for different playstyles instead of being clearly better or worse than each other. Attacks and weapons can vary in range, speed, damage, knockback, launch angle, stun, and how much they move the player, and status changes like Super Mode, taunts, and Bullet Time add to this further.
- Teaching through difficulty. Stylish action enemies are meant to challenge the player unless they adapt; just like the player's combat tools, enemies will vary in how susceptible they are to particular fighting styles. Unlike most Hack and Slash games, there are no harmless one-hit mooks, so memorizing the behavior patterns of every type of enemy is key to surviving fights. Mistakes tend to be punished harshly to help the player recognize what needs to be improved.
- Providing some motivation to improve. Multiple difficulty settings, combo scores, battle reports, and chapter rankings give the player a tangible sense of progress and how much room they have to improve. The "Just Frame" Bonus is a popular way of applying this to individual moves, and mastering the precise timing needed for more efficient moves serves as a milestone in itself.
Trope Codifier was the original Devil May Cry. The director, Hideki Kamiya, stated that his inspiration for the game's combat came from his days of playing at arcades, where he often found the ability to make a cool move because he knew people were watching. Subsequent improvements to the genre have made Devil May Cry seem shallow by today's standards, but since the core vision behind it is the same, it remains the genre's most well-known example.
The genre has a lot of alternative names, including character action, cuhrayzee games, spectacle fighters, deep action, arcade action, and extreme action.
- Devil May Cry: The Trope Maker, and the first game of which was directed by eventual Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya.
- DmC: Devil May Cry: A franchise reboot of the Devil May Cry series from Ninja Theory.
- Devil May Cry 5: The numbered sequel to the DMC franchise.
- Bayonetta / Bayonetta 2 / Bayonetta 3: The Spiritual Successor to Devil May Cry, the most famous modern example, and exhibits every characteristic listed above. Both games are known for their wide selection of open-ended weapons, combos, and techniques, and defensive play revolves around well-timed dodging to trigger brief Bullet Time. The first Bayonetta is considerably less forgiving than Bayonetta 2, although combat in both games is famous for its complexity. A explanation of some mechanics can be found here and here, while an example of high-level play can be found here.
- Bujingai: A game that followed in the wake of Devil May Cry, except it uses Wuxia as a major influence.
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 a Spin-off of the Castlevania franchise in which you get to play as the series' Big Bad Dracula himself, both in his time as a human and as a vampire, the game encourages a varied and aggresive fighting style through it's meter system and various Super Mode to keep the fighting fresh.
- Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman: The Ur-Example.
- Fairy Bloom Freesia: A 2D indie title that features extensive ground-to-air combo capabilities similar to Bayonetta.
- God Hand: An over-the-top hand-to-hand fighter that lets players assign techniques to three attacking buttons in lieu of weapons. This was the last game made by Clover Studio before shutting down.
- God of War Series: A hack-and-slash series featuring chained swords, grapples, and magic as its combat components, and perhaps the genre's most basic example. God of War features easy-to-master combat, a few token combo setups, and a simple scoring system that rewards extended combos at certain lengths. While nowhere near as deep as genre classics like Devil May Cry, the series' accessibility makes it a good choice for casual players trying out stylish action for the first time. This video from God of War III shows the best of what the series allows.
- The Legend of Korra: Another PlatinumGames work, which features deep combat based around physical combat and "bending" four elements with different uses. While the scoring system is shallow compared to other Platinum games, its versatile combat and surprisingly harsh difficulty still make it one of the genre's most complex games.
- Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance: A challenging PlatinumGames title. The game's combat is based in bladed weapons and realistic cutting physics, along with Metal Gear stealth. Defensive play is mostly reliant on parrying attacks and potentially counterattacking with frame-perfect timing, while players can also "stab-and-grab" repair units from foes to recharge their health and energy. A example of advanced tech being used on the final boss can be found here.note The player in this video is cancelling the animations of two tech options, a slide attack and a sidestep-slash, by briefly entering "Blade Mode", the game's at-will Bullet Time mechanic. The sidestep normally grants brief invincibility, but when cancelled correctly with Blade Mode, the player can effectively stand in the way of an attack without taking any damage. This use for Blade Mode is never taught to the player in-game.
- Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae: Takes inspiration from the Bloody Palace mode seen in later Devil May Cry entries and Tamsoft's Onechanbara series as players faces off multiple waves of enemies in an arena with an end boss after waves have been completed.
- NieR: Automata: Somewhat simpler than some of Platinum's other works, and slightly more reliant on stats and equips, but it still requires precision for high-level play, and it's significantly more skill-based than your typical Action RPG.
- Ninja Gaiden: Primarily the Devil May Cry-like 3D games (and the God of War-like Yaiba to a lesser extent), the originals being a side scrolling Beat 'Em Up, and a high-speed action platformer trilogy.
- Nioh: From the same team as the above Ninja Gaiden games, it combines Ninja Gaiden esque mechanics with a Souls esque stamina bar and progression system.
- Rain Blood Chronicles: Mirage: A 2D game whose feudal aesthetic and style mechanics.
- Spider-Man (PS4): A third-person action game based on Spider-Man, released exclusively for the PS4, featuring air combos, web attacks, and environmental combat that gives the player a huge variety of tools to take down enemies, making fights extremely improvisational, as well as far deeper than any prior Spider-Man game. Featuring a large skill tree, including suit powers that allow for customizable special moves.
- Stranglehold: A third-person shooter produced by John Woo. Comboing in Stranglehold is based around interacting with the environment in scenery-chewing ways; props can be used for mobility, shot and dropped onto enemies, or destroyed to change the terrain of the fight. A simple scoring system rewards players for creative use of the environment and efficient shooting. The game's generous Bullet Time and basic, relaxed combat make it an easy choice for players getting used to gun combos.
- Transformers: Devastation
- Vanquish: A fast-paced third-person shooter from PlatinumGames. Guns, grenades, powerful melee attacks, and cover are standard fare for the genre, but Vanquish adds stylish action with two mechanics: the first is a high-speed powerslide that gives players unrivaled mobility, and the second is "AR Mode", an at-will Bullet Time that players can trigger only with some form of movement or low health, forcing the player to be active/risking themselves in combat, and combine with the game's basic mechanics to create combos. A video of high-level play in the game's first level can be found here.
- Viewtiful Joe
- The Wonderful 101: A Pikmin and Ōkami hybrid with an over-the-top sense of superhero scale, made by PlatinumGames and directed by Hideki Kamiya. Players fight by combining their team members to form "Unite Morphs," gigantic weapons and objects that can interact with the arena and its enemies in various ways. As with Kamiya's other games, new players can expect lots of difficulty, but the fast-paced combat is ultimately fair once it's mastered.
- Lost Soul Aside: Formerly a one man team made action game by Bing Yang (Now hired by Sony) that has aspects of the Teleportation system of Final Fantasy XV with Devil May Cry and Bujingai influences.
- Nelo: A game described by developer Magic And Mirrors as a "lightning fast, out of this world, genre-blending, bullet-hell, character-action epic"; it is currently on Steam in Early Access. Recent Gameplay from the Official Channel
- Assault Spy: A spy themed "stylish, fast paced, pure-action game with a dash of comedy" on Steam.
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