Ryu’s quest to be the greatest world warrior is one that is forever ingrained into the psyche of fighting game fans. He’s long been the poster child for the franchise, once again gracing the cover of Capcom’s latest fully numbered series entry. This was a subtly calculated move by Capcom, as their intent was to make SFV a return to form, eschewing the flashiness and complexity the series has long been known for since at least the Alpha days. Like Ryu, Street Fighter V is simple, pure, and not much else.
SFV is something of a sea change for the franchise. Unlike its predecessor, Street Fighter 4, which was released in 2008 and saw numerous updates, character expansions, and gameplay changes, SFV in many ways feels like Super Street Fighter 2. Each character has a simplified move set, only one critical art (née super combo), and all share the same skill system. SF4 introduced the Focus Attack mechanic, where a combo press and hold of Medium Punch + Medium Kick would allow a player to absorb one free hit to either bait their opponent into a punishing counter or use the mechanic to cancel certain moves into other options. It was an interesting answer to SF3’s parry system, but the difficulty required to pull off high level cancels and combo strings meant that SF4’s appeal to the casual audience would lose ground. SF4 thrived in the pro space, becoming the gold standard for the world wide fighting game community and a yearly staple of EVO, the Super Bowl of fighting game tournaments. Yet, despite 4’s popularity Capcom knew they needed to recapture the casual audience. That’s where SFV comes in.
ANOTHER FIGHT IS COMING YOUR WAY?
SFV is a simple game. You pick a fighter, maybe a color, and get right down to business. Unlike 4’s Focus Attack system, 5 introduces a new mechanic called V-Skills / V-Triggers. Each character can press Medium Punch + Medium Kick to use a unique attack for each character, often skills that either set up or continue combo strings, but the truly unique gameplay changer are the V-Triggers. Triggers use their own energy bars, which are accumulated from receiving damage, unlike EX / Super meter which is earned from inflicting damage. Triggers can radically alter the play style of each character. Some are time based, while others are one off moves. They can cause characters to inflict increased damage, or add increased hits to all attacks. In each case a well used V-Trigger can reverse the outcome of any battle. Without playing the game or seeing it in action this can all sound rather complex, but it’s actually a simple risk/reward approach to the series.
While SFV only introduces 4 uniquely new characters to the franchise (Laura, Rashid, F.A.N.G., and Necalii), the 16 character roster feels completely refreshed. In keeping with the casual-gamer-friendly approach most of the characters are now input based, which means that if you couldn’t pull off Guile’s Sonic Boom or Chun-Li’s Spinning Bird Kick to save your life then this game is the one for you. Old charge-based characters like Vega or the Guile-inspired Nash have been completely redesigned to become input characters. Quarter-circle fireball motions are king in SFV. Capcom also decided to lower the difficulty of execution for all moves by introducing a hidden buffer window to the game’s engine. Gone are the days of frame counting and split second execution that pro players have made a living off of. Even a novice player can now perform reasonably complex combo strings. In these changes the majority of the game feels more offensively focused, which is a welcome change for the series. Calculated defensive play is still vital to success, but rushdown tactics and unique character V-Skill / Trigger usage is the name of the game. The majority of the roster feels familiar, yet unique and fun to play. Re-learning old character’s new intricacies and discovering new abilities is very satisfying.
When the game works it is incredibly fun to play, but therein lies the true problem of SFV: it is an incomplete game.
SERVER FIGHTER V
SFV was released on Feb 16, 2016, and in the few short weeks since launch not much has really changed or improved to the base game experience. To say that Capcom strived for a more basic and pure return to form is understating things quite a bit. Inexplicably Capcom chose to omit several rather common / key features from SFV. Currently there is no traditional Arcade Mode to speak of. In its place is an imbalanced Survival Mode that is an arduously exhausting string of 1 round fights with arbitrary difficulty spikes to unlock extra costume colors for each character. It’s a boring and frustrating substitute for real matches. Similar to Survival is a short form “Story” mode for each character that features three one-round fights bookended by illustrated story cutscenes that loosely explain each character’s motivations and connections to each other. Unfortunately this “Story” mode is also incredibly boring to play through, as it features uninspired writing, forgettable voice acting, and an odd visual style for the artwork, which looks nothing like the rest of the game’s signature inkwell style.
Bizarre design choices also affect the core game experience, as Battle Lounges for friends are limited to only 1-v-1 games, instead of the traditional winner-stays-while-others-watch systems. The party atmosphere of previous fighting game experiences is currently nonexistent, at least until the next major update is implemented (hopefully in late March). There’s a simple practice mode where you can set basic AI parameters to view and practice movesets, but a full training mode to learn fighter’s bread & butter combos is coming later as another free update. So for now, a player has to resort to the community to learn unique combos and techniques. As these single-player offerings are decidedly lacking in the content department, a player must inevitably turn to the true focus of the game: online multiplayer matches. Unfortunately this side of the game has been woefully deficient as well. At launch the game was simply unplayable. Connections to Capcom’s servers would last forever. Disconnects were frequent. And matching up with other players in either Casual or Ranked matches was a miracle at best. Oddly, Capcom created a new Twitter account dedicated solely to informing the public about server status and updates. In the weeks since launch these issues certainly have improved, but many issues still remain. General matchmaking can still take a long time, lag can still heavily affect gameplay, and unfortunately there currently is no system in place to punish or discourage the rampant rage quitters who plague the Ranked system. Capcom is encouraging players to share examples of these rage quit instances to their social sites and the community while they attempt to implement fixes, but in the meantime these are all real problems that are severely hampering the enjoyment of what is actually a great fighting experience.
Capcom has promised monthly updates to SFV. Their intention is to forego the annual expansion style updates of iterations past (Super, Ultra, etc.), instead choosing to add new content and gameplay patches over the course of the game’s lifespan. This is a complete 180 turn from their previous business model, and certainly a welcomed one on paper, but in the short term it means that as launched, SFV is an incomplete game. Over the next 6 months, 6 new DLC fighters will be added to the roster. Players can either pay real world money to use these characters immediately, or earn virtual earned currency to unlock them on their own time. New costumes will also be available for real money, and an all new fully fleshed out story mode update is promised for free sometime in mid-summer. The current SFV player base is already eagerly anticipating each new update to make the current game experience better, which should tell you all you really need to know.
HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER…EVENTUALLY
Akin to grading that newly signed draft pick who sometimes shows flashes of brilliance but has glaring flaws and much needed improvements ahead of them, SFV is a game that could provide a completely different and altogether satisfying experience 6 to 12 months from now. When the stars align and the server gods allow a connection to a hopefully respectable opponent SFV is a blast. Fights are frenetic, fast, tense, exciting, and most of all fun. To review and grade this game as is, three weeks removed from launch is to grade a game based on its theorized potential. You hope SFV turns into a hall of famer, but right now it’s a very rough rookie who you sometimes just want to bench but have to play because you paid big bucks for it. So that said, it earns a 3/5 stars from Geno Olvera @ The Review Crew.