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Video Game / S4 League

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The 'Circle' Arena

"S4 League in the building!"
"Start! Show me your S4!"

S4 League was a free-to-play, online, third-person shooter for the PC by Korean developer Pentavision, published in Europe (and catering to International players as well) by Alaplaya. It ran from 2007 to April 29, 2021, with the European server being the last to shut down.

Similar in genre to GunZ: The Duel, but approaching from a very different angle, the game placed a heavy emphasis on team-based gameplay, with all the game modes' winners being decided by the teams' overall scores and presenting itself in a sporting, rather than violent light wherever possible.

There were nine main game modes:

  • Deathmatch (DM), your usual team deathmatch mode. Players try to score points for their team by killing players on the opposing team.
  • Touchdown (TD), wherein two teams compete to get the Fumbi (a kind of little, humanoid, cyclopean... ball thing) from the center of the arena to their opponents' goal, the highest number of goals at the end winning the match.
  • Battle Royal (BR), a basic free-for-all mode with no teams. No, it was not a Battle Royale Game.
  • Chaser, a one vs. all where the one has dramatically increased health, speed, and damage. The rest compete only to survive and deal the most damage to the Chaser.
  • Captain, an arena mode where all players start as "Captains" with dramatically increased HP. A Captain who is killed will respawn like normal, but will lose their Captain status and revert to standard HP. Whichever team kills the opposing team's Captains first wins the round. Typically, there are multiple rounds in a single match.
  • Siege, a territorial control mode where players try to score points for their team by occupying bases until they are converted into their bases, while preventing the opposing team from doing the same. Teams gain points by having bases and collecting point items. Notably, the only mode in which all of its maps can support up to 16 players, while other modes typically only support up to 12.
  • Arcade, a multi-stage story mode that pits up to four players against CPU opponents as they try to fulfill various objectives.
  • Practice, a training mode that allows players to earn small amounts of money firing at sentry turrets on their own and generally just getting the hang of things.
  • Conquest, a survival mode. Player's goal here is to defend the "Cube base" against waves of computer controlled opponents, and to defeat the boss at the end of last wave.

The S4 in the name stands for "Stylish eSper Shooting Sports"; Stylish from the surprisingly deep and vibrant character customisation the game offered for its genre (after character creation); eSper from the abilities players could choose from, such as energy shields, flight, or invisibility to name a few; Shooting due to the game's emphasis on gunplay; and Sports, because the game claimed to be an 'Online Sport', even going so far as to divide matches into two rounds, complete with a half-time dance from the mascots and a halfway decent automated commentator. Herein lied another oddity of S4 League: it presented itself as 'real', and in a way, it was. Thematically it's a virtual reality gun-play competition participated in over the internet by players using a PC-based client - as played with a bit by the game's trailer, and further emphasized by the computerized aspects of the graphics, which are at times reminiscent of TRON and .hack.

While comparable to other online 3PS games such as GunZ, S4 League was praised for being much smoother, easier on the hands, and significantly less open to exploitation (though not completely immune) than most, with a nice degree of simplicity that avoided monotony by having arenas that are all visually unique and require wildly varying tactics and styles of play. It also received significant praise for the level of polish it displayed, both in graphics and gameplay, not to mention its unusual visual style and emphasis on teamwork.

Also, S4 League shares a number of visual and musical elements with the DJMAX series, also by Pentavision. A PSP version of the game was created, which, while different in some ways, still routed through the same servers as the PC version of the game for online play, meaning PSP players could compete alongside PC players. It was never released outside Korea.

This game provides examples of:

  • Allegedly Free Game - Averted, to an extent. Those who purchase and use any real-money costing items will have access to a different set of servers altogether from those who do not. The benefits alone don't really add up to too much unless you really start forking over for it.
  • An Adventurer Is You - Not much, but S4 does touch on this, occasionally. With its heavy emphasis on teamwork, certain character set ups - while far from compulsory - will perform better in certain roles than others. For instance, a character with a Sentry Gun, Heavy Machine Gun, Railgun and Wall or Shield skill will generally make a better goal keeper than a character with a Revolver, Plasma Sword, and the grappling Chain skill, who themselves would probably be better as a ball runner. You might also see The Healer, and by and large most characters sit between The DPSer and The Jack. Alaplaya's website makes a few suggestions to this end.
    • The in-game shop has also begun selling item packages built around these specific roles.
  • Announcer Chatter - From the same announcer of the DJMAX series (JC of vocalist/rapper fame). In fact, some of the comments are reused for DJMAX Trilogy. In Touchdown matches:
    "Run run run!" "Whoops! Go get the ball man!" "Warning! Go to your goal post!" "It's lookin' bad, man!"
  • Anti Poop-Socking: The game reports your play-time once every hour.
    • In addition, after so many hours it starts to cut down your Experience and currency gains.
      • The reduced experience with time has been taken out, so much for moderation
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Depends on what you're doing.
    • Deathmatch and Touchdown can be between two and six per team.
    • Arcade and Conquest are four.
    • Chaser is between four and twelve.
    • Battle Royal is between two and twelve.
    • Played with that the maximum number of weapons per character is three.
  • Arm Cannon - The Cannonade, a conical energy cannon that partially covers the user's forearm. Not to mention the 'Smash Rifle', a strange, rapid fire, seemingly energy based weapon, also usable in melee, shaped like a shield and strapped to the user's forearm.
  • Awesome, but Impractical - The Rescue gun, which lobs healing grenades. Too bad you can't heal yourself and you CAN heal enemies with it. It also has limited ammo, and the Mind energy is still more efficient, despite healing only one person at a time.
    • Though, the healing enemies part is now moot, with the grenades now healing enemies for around 5-10 HP. Before the buff, it used to heal enemies for around 20-30 health and allies for around 35 health.
    • The Katana, which, being a weapon with a set of quick attacks, is very good for 1vs1 sword matches, but is nigh useless in gun matches, due to its low damage output. Being the only melee weapon incapable of killing a player (with full health) in one combo, it lets the victim retaliate, which often gets the attacker killed by close range gunfire, while they struggle to reach their target with the sword.
    • Dual Magnum is a set of dual pistols which's trademark is ability to perform stylish acrobatic dodges while shooting, a feat unseen with any other weapon. They also got slight autoaim. Their flaws? Everything else. The damage is excruciatingly low, critical hits are random and rare, and the ammo limit is egregiously low (just barely enough to kill 2 or 3 healthy players with total ammo). Even as a finisher they're outperformed by most other weapons.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit - Some of the costumes.
  • Batter Up! - The Storm Bat.
  • BFG - Possibly covers the Heavy Machine Gun and Cannonade weapons
  • BFS - The Plasma Sword.
    • The Sigma Blade in awakened form.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation - Most English text in the game is at least intelligible, but is riddled with questionable grammar, spelling errors, and poor word choice, giving it a slightly "broken" feel overall. Memorable examples include "You Are Won the Match!" (thankfully the announcer gets it right), and the "Senty Nell" turret weapon, which was clearly intended to be "Sentinel", but didn't quite make it (one wonders if the translation team uses the Telephone Game for inter-office memos).
    • There is one particularly egregious example with all player characters in Arcade cutscenes called "she" and referred to as female, even with a male character.
    • Oh, yes, and the broken grammar of some of the mission descriptions make them hard to figure out. It can take a while for players to figure out that "throw down the opponent X times using Y weapon" actually means "get X kills with Y weapon."
  • Boom, Headshot! - Attacks impacting with a character's head are reported as 'Critical', and deal twice the damage of a normal hit. Somewhat justified in that S4 League has little problem making clear it's taking place inside a computer game.
  • Bottomless Magazines - Most - but not quite all - of the weapons have unlimited ammunition, but quite limited capacity between reloads. Of course, again, S4 will proudly justify this by just barefacedly being a game.
    • A system where all guns have limited ammunitionnote  was tested in the game years ago but received a large amount of fan backlash that the idea got scrapped.
  • Broken Record -
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory - AP items provide more stats than their PEN counterparts. Then there's AP++, known sometimes as "Premium Items" which provide even more stats. And if that isn't enough there's Forcepack Capsules which have a chance of providing weapons which are arguably the best items around.
    • It may seem AP items are not so overpowered in swords-only mode, like some people like to say. Wrong.
  • Capture the Flag: Touchdown mode, though it plays a bit more like soccer meets CTF, there's only one Fumbi, and it has to be taken to the enemy's goal, not yours. If you will compare to another video game series, it's best likened to Unreal Tournament 2004's Bombing Run mode... even though that game has regular CTF as well.
  • Cel Shading - A major element of the game's graphics style. However, it's a bit of a hybrid - cel-shaded, yes, but with a secondary gradient between dark, light, and lightest as well.
  • Chained by Fashion: Ophelia. Made more so after being defeated by Lilith.
  • Character Level - Ranks. An odd version, in that it's more of a Bragging Rights Reward than anything else. It has a few discrete effects, but no system-based influence on gameplay. It doesn't even unlock new weapons, as all weapons are available to even the newest character, if they can afford them (and all come with a five hour free version after a brief tutorial). However, due to balancing you can often tell the strength of a team by the ranks of its players. Ranks run: Newbie, Rookie, Super Rookie, Semi-Pro, Pro, S1, S2, S3, S4, with numeric sub-ranks denoted by the number of lines beside a player's rank symbol.
    • It's also worth mentioning that the levels are also absurdly hard to get - S4 rank has been calculated to take over 10 years of in-game playing time, most players hover around Semi-Pro to Pro.
      • Note that this got changed, now you go from pro to S4 directly without the need to pass through S1, S2, S3 and character levels got reduced from 100 to 80 which still takes a lot of time but doable.
    • There are also specific channels for most of the ranks, though most still gravitate toward the non-rank restricted 'free' channels.
      • A recent adjustment, likely to discourage people from remaking their accounts over and over to stay in the Rookie channels and harass newbies, gives a gradual increase in PEN income as rank increases.
    • There are also Combi levels which is basically a recruiting system where you can get 2 sets of clothes that can't be gotten by any other way, They are mainly cosmetic as they give the same stats as normal items but unlike normal items these sets are permanent.
  • Charged Attack - The Railgun and Cannonade will both do much, much more damage if charged first by holding down the fire button.
    • Also the Airgun and special attack of Twin Blades, Breaker, and Katana can be charged in the same manner.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience - Player apparel is Palette Swapped to show team affiliation. Each player sees their own team as green, and the opposing team as red. Since this means (atypically for a team-based shooter) that teams are not objectively distinguished by their color, S4 refers to the two teams in a match as "Alpha" and "Beta".
    • Not quite true. Rather, players will see their own team in the colours the players chose to wear, be they green, blue, yellow, purple, whatever. The opposing team, however, are seen as wearing red. No Palette Swapping is seen by a player for their own team, however this does mean that there is never a red variation available for any outfit.
    • Chaser mode takes an interesting turn on this, as the character designated Chaser is somewhat implied to be infected with a computer virus and driven temporarily insane. As such, while playing as the chaser, all a player will see of the other characters, are their red-veined silhouettes.
  • Combos - All of the melee weapons have combos of varying length and effect. The game also lists the numbed of 'Combo' hits ( attacks that have hit in close succession ) on the right. Needless to say, these numbers can get rather high when using automatic weapons.
  • Critical Hit - Aim for the head for shooting weapons, be as close as possible to your target with a melee weapon, and with weapons such as the Mind Energy or Mind Shock, aim the crosshairs on a target and be on the same elevation. Several newer weapons have a mechanic of dealing criticals randomly instead.
  • Cycle of Hurting - This can be easy to pull off with melee weapons, and will often happen to Chasers if people decide to fight back. How? Step one: Take at least three people with melee weapons that can cause Knock Back. Step two: Let them go to town on the chaser. Step three: Repeat until the Chaser dies. Have allies shooting at the Chaser is optional.
  • Darker and Edgier - Two Words: Iron Eyes. The updates the game recieved during that season turned the menus dark colours, and added weapons, one or two of which don't feel so right in S4's world of ludicrousness because of their design being so serious looking.
  • Death from Above - Possible by shooting people with the fly skill.
  • Death or Glory Attack - Sigma Blade in awakened mode is ridiculously powerful and it can quickly demolish even players stacked with premium gear, but miss one hit, and you're wide open for attacks. Once you awaken it, it constantly drains your SP and you're unable to switch weapons, which means getting stunned by Plasma Sword or Counter Sword's block is an almost guaranteed instant death. In this state, any attack which hampers your movement may be fatal. It doesn't help that awakened Sigma Blade's attacks are rather delayed and clumsy.
    • Melee weapon attacks in general are powerful, but risky, since almost all of them leave you immobilized for a brief moment.
  • Deflector Shields - The 'Shield' skill, which will protect against incoming fire that isn't either Melee, Mind Shock or a Cannonade, and takes a small chunk from the user's SP with each hit as well as slowly draining it while active.
  • Drop The Hammer - The Breaker.
  • Dual Wielding - The Twin Blades. Two blades attatched to chains both capable of generating magnetic fields for attacks.
    • The SMGs and Dual Magnum for shooting weapons.
  • Emote Animation - A number of emotes are available, linked to voiced phrases one can transmit to their own team. Unfortunately, many players seem to have the highly annoying habit of, on the victory screen, endlessly spamming emotes without even letting the voice or animation finish.
  • Energy Weapon - Most of the game's weapons use solid ammunition, but a few (Cannonade, Smash Rifle, are clearly energy based.
    • Also, all weapons are instant-fire: there is no leading required for any of the weapons at all.
      • Other than the sniping weapons (Cannonade & Rail Gun), which require leading under certain conditions.
  • Escort Mission - A few in Arcade Mode.
  • Exactly What It Say Son The Tin - S4 League is an online gunplay competition played over the internet, and makes no attempt to claim otherwise. It does, however, have stories inside its 'part of the real world' setting, such as .hack-esque viral infections for players to defend against in the new Arcade mode. The game at times seems to share similar perspectives on the 'computer world' with the aforementioned series, too, though its deliberate acceptance of the real world as, well, the real world, mostly averts Cyberspace while in a curious way offering players a little more immersion.
  • Expansion Pack - Season 1: Dark Lightning. Features three new maps, three new weapons, and three new Chaser Viruses.
  • Game-Breaking Bug - Not out of bad game design, but rather out of a major bug that has yet to be fixed. In Chaser mode, occasionally, one's camera will not return to the character correctly. One form of this bug lets you still play, but renders the player without a HUD, while the other form of the bug will lock the camera in place with the character free to move around without it, rendering the round completely unplayable.
  • Gangsta Style - For some reason, your character insists on holding the Sub Machineguns, and the semi-rifle sideways whilst shooting.
  • Gatling Good - The Heavy Machine Gun, which is named a bit awkwardly for what it really is.
    • The Turret packs two of them, dual wielded. They look more like chainguns, but the description states they're, in fact, dual gatling guns.
  • Gotta Kill 'Em All - The Chaser in Chaser mode. Meanwhile, all other players have to Hold the Line.
  • Hand Cannon - The Revolver's proportions are a little silly.
  • Handguns - Of course, it's a revolver bigger than your head, and seems to think it's a shotgun, but... and then of course there's the more modern style 'Handgun'
  • Ground Punch - Counter Sword's jump attack.
  • Have a Nice Death - "You were dominated by _____! What a shame!"
  • Healing Hands/Healing Shiv - Mind Energy, a 'weapon' shaped like a large metal glove, that functions in a similar way to Mind Shock, but rather than draining a target's health with a short range energy beam, it restores it.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal - Only the currently selected weapon, of a maximum of three, is shown anywhere on a character.
  • Invisibility Cloak - The Invisibility skill, which operates like classic active camouflage, including visibility ranging from invisible while still, hinted while moving slow, blurred but noticeable while running, and all but ineffective while dashing.
  • Justified Trope - The backstory means that the artificiality typical of games is justified as being a side-effect of S4 League being a computer game in its own fictional universe. (Compare with the Animus in the Assassin's Creed series.note ) Ignoring the obviously fictional content of Arcade Mode for a moment, one can actually go a step further, and make the argument that S4 League is, in fact, completely real, in that it is both in reality, and thematically, an online sport played through a client designed for use on a normal, personal computer.note 
  • Katanas Are Just Better - Season Three introduces these as a melee weapon.
  • Knock Back - Some weapons, like the Revolver, can cause the target to flinch.
    • Blown Across the Room - Then there's weapons with the "Blow" property like the Storm Bat and Counter Sword, which will send the target flying, potentially into a Bottomless Pit.
  • Kobayashi Mario - 'Extreme' level Practice Mode approaches this, with the impossibly accurate Sentry Guns spawning all over the place in large numbers, often very sneakily, and capable of downing a character in only a couple of hits. Meanwhile, the player is expected to achieve an inordinately high score against an unforgiving clock.
  • Nintendo Hard - Dear God, the Shield License Test.
  • One-Hit Kill: Several of these. The Storm Bat's Jump Attack, the a fully charged Railgun attack, and the Spy Knife's Right-Click attack will all one hit kill if critical.
  • Power Fist - The 'Counter Sword', a weapon comprised of a small sword, for the weapon's weaker attacks, and a large fist used for powerful area attacks.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner - When you become the Chaser, a near unstoppable force with tons of defense, a big damage boost, and the miscellaneous buff here and there, the announcer is more than happy to say one for you: "You are the Chaser. Bring it!"
  • Revolvers Are Just Better
  • Ring Out - Being cast off the side of the arena will usually cause a character to 'die' when they strike an invisible wall some twenty feet below the floating arena's lowest point. It is, of course, possible to recover from this using the Flight skill, or Anchor if you're still close enough to grapple onto something and rescue yourself. A favourite tactic of that-one-guy-with-the-Plasma-Sword-waiting-behind-the-train-in-Station-2.
    • Don't forget Chaser Games in Circle.
  • Sarashi - Lilith. May or may not be for Suppressed Mammaries.
  • Short-Range Shotgun - The Revolver. Also averted with the actual Burst Shotgun.
  • Sinister Scythe - The Exo Scythe. Its unique force-pack version, the "Death Scythe of a Skeleton" is even more sinister.
  • Spin Attack - Storm Bat secondary attack. This (apart from CS spamming) is the best method for quickly damaging multiple enemies at once in melee combat. Critical hits will occur if bat user taps the secondary attack button in a synchronized succession.
  • Stationary Wings - The wings given to users of the Flight skill while it's in use tend only to move while the character is pushing upwards, though they change position depending on whatever else their user is doing.
  • Stone Wall - Metallic, kind of in the same light as Halo: Reach's Armor Lock, except... different... instead of being invincible, you just take much less damage, some of which is relfected back at the person who dealt it. It also slowly restores your health, making it the only way for someone to heal by themself, it's a bit more practical overall.
    • Recently revealed to be not-so-breakproof by the troper. Oh no, the guy I've been chasing just threw down a sentry and went metallic! Sword the sentry, empty your magazine on point-blank headshots.
  • Stripperiffic - Some of the outfits; a particular culprit being the 'Silklace' line. Others, like Indian Mode, are modest to the point of aversion. All the same though, few of the outfits look like they'd be in any way useful in real world combat. But justified, like a lot of the tropes on this page, in that the game openly admits to being an online game as part of its concept.
  • Stuff Blowing Up - Some would have you think that this is the only use for the Cannonade.
    • Don't forget the Mine gun.
      • Earth Bombers too. They have such a large explosion, it hurts allies as well.
  • Swordfight - Particularly the 'Swords Only' rule set.
  • The Faceless - GMs. On the rare occasions they appear in a match, GM characters (not to be confused with Moderators, who just get big yellow text in the chat windows) appear as black-jumpsuited players wearing Fumbi-esque helmets with opaque white face plates.
    • A silent NPC character appears during the tutorial with a similar form.
  • Theme Music Power-Up - In Chaser Mode, if you start the next round as the Chaser, the music changes.
  • The Medic - Anyone who decides to pack a Mind Energy or Rescue Gun.
  • Timed Mission - Played with. Deathmatch and Touchdown matches are split into two halves, much like many sports. When the first half's time expires or when either team fulfills half of the match's quota (whichever comes first), the game goes into a brief halftime show during which players watch a silly little routine by a squad of Fumbi and can switch between characters, then the timer resets and the second half begins.
  • Virtual Paper Doll - A remarkably hard element to make use of, due to the game's somewhat unforgiving economy. Still, since the 'missions bug', which undermined half a player's estimated income, was fixed, buying and selecting outfits for the character will no longer break your bank and leave you incapable of playing, if you don't spend your money foolishly. In a way, this adds a somewhat nice layer of validity to the game, really.
  • Weak Turret Gun - Well, there's the Sentry Gun, but it's a bit of an aversion. You plonk it down, and it sits there shooting stuff until someone blows it up. However, it does run out of ammo, and it can't be knocked over. It's also pretty tough, too. Even more averted by the Senty Nell, which, while more akin to a land mine in effects, looks and operates very similarly to a normal turret and makes ruddy certain it won't fall over by drilling a metal 'root' two feet into the arena floor.
    • Not to mention that a +0 Sentry Gun can take up to 44HP with a full 4-hit combo. That's 44% of a normal player's life. Add pushback effect on each shot, have the opposing player flinch when they get hit, AND they see through Invisibility, and you have one of the most annoying weapons in the game. The fact that a player can carry only 3 on himself for each respawn would balance it out, but given how often they die during a match it's hard to place all of them during a single life.
      • Add the fact that Sentries auto aim and the average character has 100hp, and you realize why tournament play restricts setups to only one sentry per team.