Sound Theory – SFV vs MKX

Hello all! 2Tall here once again. I hope all of you are out living your lives to the fullest and enjoying all that it has to offer. Be great! While I usually handle character themes and how they change over the years, I wanted this Sound Theory to be a commentary of something different.

The year is 2016 and eSports are on the rise. Staples such as League of Legends and Counter Strike have occupied big stages and arenas for a while, but fighting games finally had their time to shine this year with Street Fighter V. Evolution Championship Series, EVO for short, had its debut on mainstream television with finals day of the SF5 tournament broadcast live on ESPN2. With fighting games now in the limelight, I believe it is of utmost importance for these games to have top notch presentation in every aspect, from aesthetics of the menus, character models (looking at you SF5), the HUD to the music and sound effects. For this write-up, I’m going to kompare and kontrast (see what I did there?) the music, sound effects and voice work behind Mortal Kombat X(L) and Street Fighter V.

Let’s begin with Street Fighter V. Over the years, the Street Fighter series has always had a lot of music in its games. It has background music playing in the menus and on the stages. It has character themes that highlight a particular fighter when they appear on screen as well. This is still the case in SF5, with its vibrant music everywhere it can possibly be within the game. There’s the menu music, which is solid though I definitely prefer the menu theme from Ultra SF4 and how it changed when you went into the sub menus. That was a really nice touch. Overall, the menu music in SF5 is good and gives you the feeling that a battle will ensue. It doesn’t get you as hype as the Ultra menu theme as the music is definitely slower and there’s less going on in comparison, but it does the job. Next, there’s character themes which are top notch. Everyone’s theme has received incredible remixes. It’s evident that attention was paid to the tiniest of details in these renditions of fan favorite themes. Ryu and Ken’s themes are great and don’t even get me started on Guile and Alex’s themes. They’re truly incredible. The stage music is also top notch. Bustling Side Street music sounds fit for a brawl on the street corner. In all aspects of the game, you feel like there’s quality background music. This, I believe, is great for eSports as it’s a major part of the presentation of the game and in order for fighting games to continue to gain popularity, presentation needs to get better and better.

As far as background music is concerned, Mortal Kombat X(L) is a relatively quiet game. It’s not that there isn’t background music, it’s just that it’s design is quiet. It’s literally music that plays in the background and that’s its only application. There’s nothing that jumps out at you. It’s not that I dislike the music, but I would never download it to my phone or listen to it outside of playing MKXL. In fact, default volume levels MKX only has music at 50/100 when everything else is at 90/100. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Default settings place emphasis on the character voice, announcer & sound effects and these areas are where MKX shines. The voice acting in MKX is the best I’ve heard in any fighting game. While the voice acting isn’t bad in SFV, the voice acting in MKX is just so much better. From the iconic announcer to each and every character. Their personalities shine through via the voice acting and it’s really great from a spectator standpoint. It’s great during the actual battle sequences as well. The characters actually have things to say instead of just shouting out the names of their moves or shouting a certain “HIYA” and “CHYAAAHHHHH” (looking at you Street Fighter), so it makes every battle more interesting from a presentation standpoint.

Something else that’s worthy of consideration regarding the sound design on MKX would be the sound effects. It is clear that there is a huge amount of attention to detail when it comes to sound effects. From the noises that are made when characters make contact to the grisly sounds of broken bones and punctured organs in X-Ray attacks, Netherrealm Studios put a lot of time and effort into the side effects. In fact, it turns out that some of the sound effects were created in pretty strange ways. Green Goo, plungers and the destruction of vegetables went into the creation of the sounds effects and that’s pretty cool. You can check out the video here.

In contrast, SFV has very generic sound effects. It seems that all light normal attacks have the same sound, as do all medium and all heavy attacks. When characters block attacks, those effects sound mostly the same as well. The only times things change up is when special moves are used and even still, those effects aren't exactly standout either.

So, which game has better sound design? Is it Street Fighter, with its emphasis on music? Or is it Mortal Kombat X's emphasis on voice acting and sound effects? It’s hard to say which one is objectively better. Since the two games focus on different aspects of sound design, I think it comes down to personal preference. Me personally, I like music, so I prefer Street Fighter. I’ve always thought that MKX was quiet, but I can see what they did with their sound design and I definitely have respect for it. For eSports generally, I think that fighting games will have to combine the elements of sound design from the both of these games in order to bring the overall presentation to that next level. We’re going to need great music in the background and great sound effects and voice acting. It will be interesting to see how far fighting games can take their presentation and it’s important that these companies continue to improve said presentation, as these fighting games are slowly but surely becoming more of a spectator sport.

Till next time.

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