What should be prioritized in making a fighting game? Is balance near the top?
The way I like to put it is, Balance is the least important thing that is still important. It’s way more important for the game to be fun than for it to be balanced.
In terms of sales success, I’d say it’s important to have a lot of characters and good single player content. Also looking good is a big factor.In terms of making the game good, it’s about making Rock-Paper-Scissors loops. It’s about making it so there’s a good web of these RPS loops going around everywhere, so you can beat everything in a couple different ways, usually varying by scenario.
Fitting into these loops and creating new loops is what makes something like Parrying nuanced.
You want to avoid situations like Rock-Paper-Scissors-Bomb, where bomb blows up rock and paper, but gets defused by scissors, because options like that strictly replace existing options. No reason to play paper when bomb does the same thing but better. You can sometimes fit options in like this, but only if they lose to other things.
It’s also a matter of making different RPS loops for different parts of the game. Different attacks gets stressed in the wakeup game compared to neutral. Neutral has hit > throw > block > hit, Footsies have poke > throw > whiff punish > poke. KoF adds on top of that shorthop, which has its own triangle of hop > low kick > standing punch > hop. So you have all of these loops fit on top of one another and the game gets really complex.
In turn each character should emphasize these principles differently, so as to be deep in their own right. Each character should have a mix of moves that allows them to engage with unique RPS loops with all the other characters, and some of the core RPS loops that define the game. Also going back to my 4 criteria for depth, all the parts of a character’s moveset should emphasize each move having its own niche, each move having multiple uses, each move having some way for you to express skill, either through combos, or positioning, or otherwise, and each move having interactions and synergy with the other moves around it.
Even a simple game like Divekick has a lot of that third criteria, allowing you to manipulating the height and distance of your Divekicks to have radically different matches each time.
Balance is what you do after you’ve ensured the game and the characters are fun. After you’ve ensured that the game is about picking from a variety of moves to fit the situation and also counter what the opponent is picking.
Having a good concept for the game is also helpful, but that’s a matter of taste.