VOICE OVER: Callum Janes
WRITTEN BY: Johnny Reynolds
To master these fighting games, it will take the utmost skill. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we'll be looking at fighting games that are tough due to their complex mechanics and varied rosters. Our countdown of the hardest fighting games includes “Dragon Ball FighterZ” (2018), “Super Smash Bros. Melee” (2001), “Under Night In-Birth” (2015), “The King of Fighters 2002” (2002), and more!
Script written by Johnny Reynolds
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Hardest Fighting Games. For this list, we’ll be looking at the toughest fighting games to master due to their complex mechanics and varied rosters. As always, we’re only including one entry per franchise. Which of these do you think is the biggest challenge? Is there one we left off? Let us know in the comments.
#10: “Dead or Alive 6” (2019)
It may be the franchise that gave the world of gaming jiggle physics in its female combatants, but that doesn’t mean “Dead or Alive” isn’t a competent fighting franchise. Team Ninja’s sixth main installment is the most violent in the series, which is fitting considering how tough it can be when going up against other players. It actually introduced new mechanics designed with newcomers in mind, like simpler combos and extended juggling. The developer leaned into this “easy to pick up, tough to master” angle to make “DoA 6” an esports title. But when you give easier mechanics to a fighting game pro, that just lets them unleash their fury quicker.
#9: “Super Smash Bros. Melee” (2001)
There’s a very good reason the second “Smash” has been kept thriving by fans as a competitive fighting game. It was such a leap forward from the first in terms of…well, everything. But for the purposes of this list, the mechanics were miles ahead in both speed and complexity. Nintendo never intended for it to be part of the competitive scene, and so “difficulty to master” depends on certain self-imposed rules. If you face a “Smash” player with no items on Final Destination, that’s when you’ll figure out if you truly know how to control your mains. It comes down to perfecting your fighter’s moves while being able to read the rest of the giant roster at incredible speeds.
#8: “Street Fighter IV” (2008)
While any player could find the original “Street Fighter’s” stiff mechanics frustrating to say the least, the fourth game actually requires skill. And quite a bit of it if you want to face other players. With nearly a decade in-between main entries, Capcom transitioned the famed series to the modern era while bringing along staple features. The result was a game almost universally praised, and with that came players that wanted to perfect their skills. Most characters in “Street Fighter IV” are ridiculously well-balanced, but with a multitude of combos, some of which are incredibly difficult to pull off even in the story mode. It’s no wonder it had competitors breaking out arcade sticks, nor that Capcom released several versions.
#7: “Skullgirls” (2012)
With gameplay inspired by “Marvel vs. Capcom 2,” stunning hand-drawn visuals, and over a decade’s worth of support and tweaks, “Skullgirls” has become one of the most beloved fighters of the modern era. Across its now 18 characters, players can fight solo, or in teams of two or three. It features a bit more balance than its inspiration, which means it’s a bit tougher to do well against a player that really knows what they’re doing. Gameplay is exceptionally quick-paced, and every character has a variety of unique, often over-the-top moves that can easily become combos. “Skullgirls” always had tremendous competitive potential and finally got to play with the big boys when it was added to EVO in 2022.
#6: “Dragon Ball FighterZ” (2018)
There are few IPs better suited to the fighting genre than “Dragon Ball Z.” And while the franchise has seen more than its fair share of entries, the 2018 all-out-brawl is definitely the strongest. Which means it’s also the hardest to master. Players choose 3 characters from across the franchise’s history and duke it out. While pretty much any combination of buttons results in some kind of mighty blast or superpowered punch, button mashing will only get you so far. Only those with lightning-fast reflexes have the ability to react to the overwhelming power radiating between the fighters. It also got plenty of post-launch support, including lots of new characters to get used to.
#5: “BlazBlue: Central Fiction” (2015)
Some fighting games are hard simply for the number of mechanics you need to keep track of. “BlazBlue: Central Fiction” is a 1v1 2D fighter like many others. But you’d be mistaken for thinking that simplifies things. Not only are there 36 playable fighters’ worth of moves to study and learn, but most characters move entirely differently, from jumping to floating to teleporting. They also have different ways to block different attacks. And all those different attacks can be canceled if they don’t connect, which means you need to get really good at reading your opponent. All that on top of the different guages that result in different abilities at different levels.
#4: “The King of Fighters 2002” (2002)
“The King of Fighters” series has been around for a long time and holds more than a few tough-to-master entries. But for our money, the one that offers the biggest challenge is the 2002 installment. With an impressive roster of 44 fighters, there are plenty of challengers to study and perfect. Figuring out their combos would already be tough, even if the game being over two decades old didn’t make its mechanics less forgiving. We know this because “Unlimited Match,” a remake that added 22 characters and tweaks to gameplay, is still hard as Hell when playing competitively. “KoF” is a demanding series, and “2002” stands as its peak in difficulty.
#3: “Under Night In-Birth” (2015)
It may not have as famous of a name as some others, but that should in no way discount “Under Night In-Birth.” This 1v1, anime-inspired fighter may seem like many others from the outside looking in. However, it requires a more tactical mind if you want to be victorious over your enemies. The element that gives you more balls to juggle is the GRD meter. This can be used in a variety of ways, both offensively and defensively, both broad and specific to each character. And if you use it improperly, it can result in a positive outcome for your opponent. The developers have released several versions over the years, refining the challenging mechanics for pros to sink their teeth into.
#2: “Guilty Gear X2” (2002)
“BlazBlue” isn’t the only challenging fighting series Arc System Works has under its belt. While some of the newer entries are more accessible, “Guilty Gear X2” is meant for the true champions. It comes with all the trappings that make other franchises from the developer tough, but with unique meters that require proper use and, above all, patience. The Tension Gauge fills or lowers depending on how aggressive you are against an opponent, which lets you perform a number of different techniques. There’s also the Burst Gauge, which fills throughout the fight and can interrupt combos. With both of these, it’s all about knowing when and how to use them, on top of worrying about each character’s individual controls.
#1: “Tekken 7” (2015)
“Tekken” has long been considered one of the most technical fighting franchises around. While anyone can pick it up and play, there’s a surprising amount of strategic depth for those willing to dive into it. Nowhere in these games is that more true than “Tekken 7.” Despite not being quite as flashy as other fighters, that certainly doesn’t make it simple. On top of the hand-to-hand combat the series is known for, the game added new features that require skillful planning, like the hit-absorbing Power Crush mechanic. Bandai Namco has also refined and balanced the game through numerous updates, making it an entry that does the “Tekken” name proud. It’s no wonder it’s been a major player at EVO for years.