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Analyzing The Balance of Character Variations. (July 2020)

Below is a list of characters that I personally believe have variations that can be justified to play, as well as variations that do little to justify playing them. Please note: this list does not focus on a character's universal struggles, and instead is ment to analyze which character variations are lacking or not lacking in terms of what they offer.

The characters are placed in their respective categories based on the following:
  1. The amount of play a variation receives, including casual and high level.
  2. Playing a particular variation does not put the player at extreme disadvantage for choosing it.
  3. The chosen variation offers an effective if not more effective way to play the character.
Complete: Character has three variations where each of them can be justified being played
-Liu Kang​
-Cassie Cage​
- Baraka​
-Erron Black​
- Jax​
- Skarlet​
- Kollector​
- Kitana​
- Cetrion​

Somewhat Lacking: Character has only two variations that can be justified being played
- Shang Tsung (Spellmaster, while improved, has too much startup and recovery on it's special moves. The jar of souls can also disappear off screen without the shang player knowing)

- Spawn (From Hell lacks safety, and loses arguably Spawn's most valuable tool: his projectile)

- Shao Kahn (True Kahn offers a powerful restand but the taunts have far too long of startup to ever be used)

- Johnny Cage (Shock Jock's parry finds little use and has a very impractical KB, while Caged Rage is very reactable high hit & offers little on hit or block)

- Kotal Kahn (Totemic 's Tecuani Maul and Pounce (cat specials) being safe on amp is a good start, however, the blood totems have little to no reason to be used in this variation, whereas in Buluc they do).

- Nightwolf (Ancestral's high cmd grab always side switches which would be fine, however, it has little to no reason to be amplified, and easily avoided since there are not many tick throw options with it).

- Noob Saibot (PItch Black offers the ability to combo off Noob's best string via Sickle Snag but Sickle Toss is a slow overhead zoning tool with a tight window to combo up close and little reason to AMP it anywhere past mid-screen. This special can't be comboed into either.)

- Raiden (Truth and Light has whiffing issues on hit with Jo push, loses electric fly, and lacks the safety that his other variations give him. This is easily the worst variation in the game.)

-Kung Lao (Order of Light offers a stance with new zoning options, cancels, but at the cost of losing confirms off most of his strings since his spin is replaced.)

- Sub Zero (Thin Ice gains Air Polar Axe toss which is an effective zoning tool. However, Frigid Storm is a slow mid projectile that has little to no use when Ice Ball exists. Death-Cicle Barrage is extremely punishable on block, has a limited hitbox instead of acting as a projectile, and remains neutral on hit. This move's only use is to chip out the opponent but due to Sub Zero moving backward, some portions of this attack may whiff and leave Sub punishable.)

-Jade (untamable sacrifices Jade's glow which is already a huge disadvantage. Additionally, a slow teleport that requires a bar, and exclusive normals/strings with several gaps make this variation lacking. Other than meterburning her parry to reflect multiple projectiles, the launching hit has no purpose as Jade can't combo into it, and is easily interrupted from a blockstring.)

- Terminator (Final Judgement switches Terminator's Shotgun out for grenades that unfortunately go away on hit/block. He has the option to disable the opponent's meter as well but this sacrifices damage and uses up one of Terminator's grenade slots. Meaning if you do get a hit after the incapacitator, you can confirm into a full combo.)

- D'vorah (Kreepy Krawler replaces Oviposter Rush for Flipping out which takes away her main option to stay safe. Additionally, Bombardier Beetle without being amp'd has a short range with no option to control it and it goes away on hit which immediately takes away all the value compared to Buzzed. Her flight requires full commitment and can't be cancelled early, making it very easy to shut down. Overall this variation is high risk, low reward.)

- Fujin (Cyclone has a combo starter off only one string, and a zoning tool that requires meter to do damage. This variation does provide safety via Wind Push, however, it is a zoning variation that put frankly, can't zone when a trade puts him at an immediate disadvantage. His combo ability and damage as a whole is severely let down by the tools this variation offers.)

Lacking: Character only has one variation that can be justified being played.
- Sonya (No Holds Barred offers parried with very impractical KBs since low parries are extremely rare to pull off. Sonya also doesn't have many flawless block gaps in most of her strings as well so using a parry to punish a flawless block isn't even an option. Ten-Hut is ment to enhance Sonya's zoning but requires lots of setup and has slow startup. The special moves from the K.A.T. can be used to gain plus frames up close but the mixups can be reacted to and sonya doesn't have a far reaching mid to take advantage of them midscreen. Ringmaster offers everything that Ten-Hut does but better, giving more reliable zoning tools via K.A.T. Orbital Drop and Energy Ring Cancels for combo extensions that lead to massive damage in the corner.

- Robocop (OCP's Finest offers a powerful cmd grab with nice corner carry, however, this cmd grab has very small range and knocks the opponent fullscreen in a variation where Robocop struggles against zoning. The cancels off of his straight projectile are extremely negative and are a gimmick since the projectile is a high when released, and with no option to keep it safe on block. The enhanced shoulder canon bombs go away on block and have no way to be combo'd into, making them basically useless. On Patrol gives Robocop solid round close options with a safe armor break. The only problem is Robocop can't even use it after all of his launching options, outside of a jump kick. Cheval Trap has a very small hitbox and long startup, preventing any setup possibilities. If that wasn't enough, the move is also bugged as specials like Jade's glow make her immune to the stun state. Prime Directive, as the name suggests, is the primary variation and the only one worth playing.)

Looking at MK11 from specifically from its variations, only two characters lack at least 2 playable variations, only 13 contain one variation that does not compete with the others, and 18 characters have all of their variations in a good position. If NRS can look into the characters who have a variation(s) that are flawed, the variety in which the player can experience the game will reach it's height, and as shown in the previous patch notes, NRS is already on the right track! Of course, this is my own analysis of the game's variations, and should not be viewed as a fact. Please feel free to give your own thoughts as which character variations could use a bit of love and thank you for reading!
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Kitana can absorb Jade’s glaive and that green bitch has enough time to dash forward and punish her with a shadow kick. The recovery is atrocious and needs adjusted. You can’t even absorb multiple projectiles because, for the most part, it doesn’t last long enough.

Edit: And while we’re on the subject of variations being designed to allow different play styles to flourish per character, I feel the need to remind people that this game wasn’t designed like MKX’s set variations from the get-go.

People loved the beta because it allowed us to create the character we love how we saw fit. Fast forward to release, and we’re stuck with the 3 “variations” that NRS felt are competitive by throwing whatever mix of moves they deemed necessary out of their grab-bag of specials. Certain things still don’t make any sense.

Giving Kitana Edenian Twist tied to yet another useless KB requirement without Ground War. Giving Sindel float as a staple with literally nothing to do from it. Making any “zoning” variation just an amalgamation of every projectile special they made for the character.

IMO, the whole system is just a hot ass mess.
Spot on.
People loved the beta because it allowed us to create the character we love how we saw fit.

I was lucky to play in both the beta and the stress test and absolutely loved the custom variation options... I was really disappointed when they dropped that, which is partially why I stopped playing the game a month after launch. I’m back now and having fun, but I’d like this game a lot more with custom variations as tournament/KL standard.

If they ever allow it (which I suspect they will, I think they’re holding out for longevity reasons/breathing new life into the game), it would have to be accompanied with a significant balance patch (or just giving some more people better abilities).
If they ever allow it (which I suspect they will, I think they’re holding out for longevity reasons/breathing new life into the game), it would have to be accompanied with a significant balance patch (or just giving some more people better abilities).
I don't see customs happening. What I see is that the left over moves being applied to one of the three rank variations or make it a base move.
Yeah, that could happen as well.
Either that or each variation has 1 thing that's mandatory and the rest can be customised.
Johnny Cage V2 always has the camera but the other 3-4 slots can be changed, V3 has the shoulder thing and 3-4 slots is custom. Of course this means that You can't make a V3 variation of camera+shoulder but it gives leeway for customization AND can be balanced easier since NRS just has to balance around 3 possible starting builds.
I like your reasoning , but I can't fully agree with your complete character list. Frost-byte , Clean Cut , and New Era, offer no competetive advantage over Artic Anarchy , The Spins and Eternal. Frost byte gives up sure damage for potential damage and the worst overhead in the game. Clean cut and New Era have the exact same gameplan as The Spins and Eternal , except they're worse in every way.
Strongly agree that Frost-byte has the worst overhead in the game, possibly in any NRS game. It offends me how bad it is haha.