Street Fighter V
Yoshinori Ono spent a tremendous amount of our interview for E289’ s cover story talking about football. With Street Fighter V, he said, it was as if Capcom was providing us with a ball, kit, two goals and a pitch – all players of any skill level need to get started. At the time, it felt like a fair point. Now, we realise he was missing out on a vital ingredient: a coach.
Street Fighter V offers almost nothing to the beginner player. Its tutorial sits somewhere between an insult and a bad joke, walking you through movement, the three strengths of attack, throws, then Ryu’s V-Skill and V-Trigger. That’s your lot. OK, you’ve parried a Ken fireball using Ryu’s Mind’s Eye V-Skill, but what of the V-Skills that are unique to each of the other 15 warriors available at launch? Ken’s is a nippy forward run, Chun-Li’s a quick angled jump, Cammy’s a spinning backfist, and Birdie either eats a doughnut, throws a banana skin on the floor or rolls a can along the ground. You’ve activated Ryu’s V-Trigger by pressing both heavy attack buttons together, but what does it do? And what do all the other characters’ equivalents do? Capcom, bizarrely, is in no mood for sharing. The V (short for Variable) system is SFV’s greatest trick, stripping away the system-wide mechanics of previous games and replacing them with things that make each character feel unique and can help turn a fight on its head. The least the game could do is tell you a little about them.
Actually, it turns out that the least the game can do is an awful lot less than that – for the single player anyway. With a Mortal Kombat- style cinematic story mode coming as a free update in June, the ‘Story’ entry on the launch game’s main menu leads to a series of what Capcom rather apologetically calls ‘character prologues’ – a handful of single-round scraps against comically untesting AI opponents interspersed with voice-acted comic-book panels. They’re over in a flash – some characters have as many as four fights, most three, some just two – and the lack of opposition means you can win the lot by thoughtlessly pressing buttons, learning little about a character beyond a couple of minutes of backstory, and nothing about how the game as a whole should be played.
Then there’s Survival mode, which has some fine ideas but is shoddily implemented – a fair way of describing the game as a whole. Instead of the genrestandard health top-up after a victory, you can cash in some of your score for a Supplement – a perk, essentially, either restoring some health, boosting super meter or attack power or, in the case of the Double Down supplement, getting a score multiplier for your next fight in exchange for a debuff (half health, perhaps, or a full stun meter that means every hit makes you dizzy). While the AI’s a slight step up from story mode, it’s still terrible, and doesn’t really start trying until level 26 of Normal difficulty’s 30 levels. Supplements are randomised – you’ll always get one per category, but it might not be the one you want. So Survival runs follow a similar pattern: you mindlessly batter your way to the last few fights, scrape through one of the tougher battles then get dealt a bad hand with the health refill, start the next fight with a sliver, lose, and wonder why you bother. Pretty soon, you just won’t.
Elsewhere there’s a local versus mode, and a training room. And for the time being, that’s it. There’s no classic arcade mode – fair enough, perhaps, in a game that launches on consoles with no arcade release, but it does put SFV in the unfathomable situation of offering no way to play a traditional best-of-three-rounds match against a CPU opponent. Perhaps one will be added later on, though Capcom’s hands are already full in that regard. At some point in March it will add combo challenges, one of several features absent from SFV’s launch that were on the SFIV disc way back in 2009. While punishingly difficult in places, combo trials were an invaluable learning tool in Street Fighter IV. OK, you might never land the harder challenges, but you get information from them either way – which attacks can follow each other in combos, which can be cancelled into special moves, or how to best set up a super move (here called Critical Art, or CA). There’s nothing of the sort here, and Capcom’s stated aim of making a fun, accessible fighting game is entirely undermined by a singleplayer component that doesn’t take the wants and needs of the beginner player into the slightest consideration.
Also coming in March are eightplayer online lobbies, where you can spectate matches in progress while you wait your turn. The shop will open its doors too, selling Alex, the first of six DLC characters, and alternate character costumes (weirdly, completing story mode prologues unlocks new outfits that you can’t actually buy yet). Capcom’s roadmap for Street Fighter V’s first six months of life looks like the public development schedule of a game in Steam Early Access.
There’s a very good reason for all this, at least: the Capcom Pro Tour season kicked off ten days after SFV’s launch, and Capcom simply had to get the game into competitive players’ hands in time. Indeed, everything they need is here: a feature-rich training mode, plenty of online opposition, and one of the most thrilling, most deeply satisfying fighting games ever created.
And this, of course, is what matters most: Street Fighter V may be terribly structured, but at its core is a thoughtful reinvention of a genre that had become too complex for its own good. SFIV’s many little system exploits – the plinks and option selects, the fourbutton Focus escapes and invincible backdashes – have been removed. Combo timing windows have
The singleplayer component doesn’t take the wants and needs of the beginner player into the slightest consideration
been opened up considerably, with a three-frame input buffer bringing the fanciest, most damaging links within much easier reach of the less skilled. Even special-move commands have been simplified, with most now mapped to the quarter-circle motion.
Yet none of that means the game is now simple. What it may lack in technical complexity is more than made up for by the need to learn the intricacies of each character, since each is so different to the others. Even those who you think you know have some surprises: Zangief can combo into his Critical Art, or Spinning Piledriver you in the air. Dhalsim retains his keep-away stretchy limbs, but has also gained devastating combo potential. And Ryu and Ken are now two distinct characters with different playstyles, just as Street
Fighter lore has always insisted they are. The result is that you need to learn at least the basics of each character in order to stand a chance at success online. You don’t lose because you dropped a fancy 20-hit combo, but because you don’t know the match-up well enough. After a loss in Street Fighter IV, we’d often head to training mode to drill our combo execution. Here, we’re more likely to pick the character we’ve just lost to and spend a few minutes with their special moves and V-mechanics to better understand when, and how, to go in for the kill. The natural consequence of this is that, instead of picking a main character and sticking with them, you move around the cast, and have a reasonable handle on them all, finding new favourites where you’d least expected to.
That is precisely how Capcom wants it – and one of the rare areas in which it has appropriately structured the muddled framework it has built around the game. Post-release characters and costumes will be bought with Fight Money (FM), the in-game currency that’s accrued with ranked match wins and as you level up. Each character has their own levelling path, and each rank-up nets you 1,000 FM. An online win nets you just 50. The maths is pretty clear, then – a few wins ranking up with a different character is a speedier process than winning another 20 with your current main. And variety isn’t just good for the wallet – it makes for a more enjoyable game, too.
When it works, anyway. Despite four public beta tests, a spotty launch saw us kicked even from singleplayer game modes if the server connection dropped, while online play was either serviceable or unplayable. All kinks that will be ironed out over time, no doubt, but it simply reinforces the feeling that Street Fighter V was not quite ready for prime time.
The result, then, is something of a muddle. SFV, at its core, feels peerless. Capcom set out to strip away a lot of the overly complex nonsense and make a game players of all skill levels could play and enjoy, and on that promise it has delivered. Its launch roster of 16 characters is slender by modern standards, yet its cast offers such remarkable diversity that it doesn’t matter. Mechanically, it’s fantastic. Structurally, it’s a mess and a missed opportunity, designed in direct contradiction to its developer’s stated ambition. Those prepared to look past the faults, who either know what they’re doing or are prepared to learn the hard way, will fall quickly in love with the most exquisitely designed fighting game on the market. The rest should probably wait until it’s finished.
Ken is every bit as effective from distance as he is when he’s in the opponent’s face. His speedy forward dash, and new diagonally angled Hurricane Kick, mean he can anti-air opponents from surprising distances