Stylish Action is a sub-genre of action video games that involves unrealistic combat and the fun that comes from learning how to create it. 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. On TV Tropes, we call this Nintendo Hard — a term from the old days of console gaming where many titles were ported over from arcade cabinets designed to snarf up your quarters.
- Scoring as motivation to improve. Multiple difficulty settings, combo scores, battle reports, and chapter rankings give the player a tangible sense of progress, and more recent games may carry online leaderboards that let players compare their high scores against everyone else. The "Just Frame" Bonus is a popular way of applying this to individual moves; gradually mastering the tricky timing of a particular attack or defend lets players test their skill whenever they want.
If this sounds like stylish action games try to replicate the feel of arcade games, you're absolutely right — Hideki Kamiya (who directed the Trope Codifier Devil May Cry and its Spiritual Successor Bayonetta) stated that his inspiration for the game's combat came from his days of playing at arcades and finding the ability to make a cool move because he knew people were watching.
Some of the genre's alternate names are character action, cuhrayzee games, spectacle fighters, deep action, arcade action and extreme action.
Compare and contrast with two other subgenres: musou, which pit the player against entire armies of individually-harmless enemies, and "Souls" or "Soulsborne," the fan name for a trio of FromSoftware games (Demon's Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne) and others in their style that greatly prefer "teaching through difficulty" over combat depth or scoring systems.
The following are examples of the genre:
- Assault Spy: A spy themed "stylish, fast paced, pure-action game with a dash of comedy" on Steam and GOG.
- Astral Chain: This PlatinumGames title combines the gameplay of fellow Platinum works Bayonetta and NieR: Automata with a touch of The Wonderful 101 to create a game where the player takes control of not just his or her player character, but also a weapon called the Legion at the same time. Mastering the ability to control both the player character and Legion at the same time allows for creative and dazzling combos in what Platinum dubs a Synergetic Action game.
- 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.
- Blood Over: A 2D doujin game where players are encouraged to "overkill" enemies by effectively using the protagonist's guns and kick attacks as well as their partner to deal out heavy damage to their opposition.
- Bulletstorm: Described with the tagline of "kill with skill," it's based around racking up massive combos of "skillshots" that involve slaughtering your opponent in more stylish ways than just basic headshots (and repeating the same one often lowers your score). Becomes essential on the hard difficulty, since the higher your score is with the skillshot system, the more often you can buy ammo & upgrades for your weaponry.
- 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 aggressive fighting style through it's meter system and various Super Mode to keep the fighting fresh.
- Cröixleur: An arcade-styled doujin game heavily inspired by the Bloody Palace from the later Devil May Cry entries where players must quickly dispatch waves of enemies using various weapons of their choice under a time limit.
- Devil May Cry: The Trope Maker for 3D games, and the first game of which was directed by eventual Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya.
- 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: 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.
- Kingdom Hearts III is this, especially compared to previous titles, the combat is fast paced with a great variety of foes to fight, but an even greater amount of ways to take them down, including normal combos, magic, summons, rides, Keyblade transformations, Super Modes, and more, all of which is at the control of the player and can be unleashed, many times simultaneously for even greater combos.
- Kingdom Hearts II, especially the final mix version, is also this to a lesser extent, with a distinct amount of combo modifiers, fast paced gameplay, various drive form transformations for new combos and abilities, that can be activated even mid combo, and more.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 Youtube Channel
- 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.
- Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman: The Ur-Example.
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: The closest example to this from FromSoftware, it is notably much more quick in terms of action then their other Souls-likes, putting emphasis on aggression, using perfect parrys to deflect moves, and using certain types of alternate weapons and tools to find weakpoints in enemies.
- Spider-Man (PS4): A third-person open world action-adventure 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.
- Tales Series: Commonly compared to Fighting Games, while the combat requires endgame skills to truly master, the series prides itself on it's deep, combo-centric gameplay by RPG standards that rewards skillful play with GRADE (which act as currency to trade for modifiers in New Game+ playthroughs).
- Tales of Xillia 2 is the closest the series got to a full-blown one when playing as Ludger, since he has multiple weapons he switches between, as well as a Super Mode that looks like a Devil Trigger. Heck, it's to the point where his similarities to Dante were lampshaded by a combo video.
- 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.