Street Fighter V Review: Pulling A Few Punches

Alright.

Let’s address the hulking hobo with a red headband in the room.

I used to hate fighting games.

 If you haven’t already shoryuken’d this review and any thoughts herein, hear me out. Until three years ago I had only dabbled in the oft daunting arena of pixelated pugilism that is the competitive fighting game scene. Sure I still had my fair share of Marvel vs. Capcom, Dead or Alive, SoulCalibur, visions of loss screens still splashed across my retinas growing up, but I was always player two. I was always the kid pithily pummeled by Daniel down the lane, match after match mashing madly only to emerge with blistered thumbs, a few pennies in the pockets where my quarters used to be, and a little less self-esteem each time YOU LOSE was plastered blindingly on a CRT TV. It wasn’t until Street Fighter III: Third Strike years later that I’d change those splash screens to WIN and would learn how to fight (but not really). With this in mind, Street Fighter V is both one of the least and most accessible fighting games I have ever played.

 

Capcom’s latest entry launches with sixteen characters and an ambitious promise to add six more downloadable each month into the summer. You have the series stalwart world warriors, (Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, etc.) aged from the last game (some sporting new hairdos), five battlers returning from the shadows of the much neglected Street Fighter Alpha series, and four brand new challengers: Laura a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu grappler with multiple throws and electric hair (literally), F.A.N.G. a lanky Chinese underling of Shadaloo with tons of poison traps, Rashid a fast-footed-tornado-kicking-posh-prince of a Middle Eastern family, and resident ancient warrior/cannibal with high damage rushdown attacks (and an even higher temper) Necalli.  

Necalli's damage output is brutal and suits more rush offensive playstyles.

All four characters are unlike any I’ve fought with or against prior. Each character is complete with stylish combos and cheeky personalities brought to life with the game’s gorgeous but grounded waterpaint inspired aesthetic and some the catchiest character themes since the demise of arcades. Seriously Capcom has recorded the best soundtrack since my beloved Third Strike, Rashid and Ken’s reimagined themes still beats in my head. What’s most impressive about the Street Fighter V cast isn’t the graphics, sound, new fighter additions nor the notably average roster size, rather it’s the expanded ease of execution with each character.

More than half of the roster plays via basic quarter circle motions placing the emphasis less on difficult inputs and more on learning higher levels of play as soon as possible. Even the notoriously more complex likes of Vega or Nash hardly resemble their past move sets with charge moves as a whole almost exclusive to the traditionally charge Chun Li and M. Bison who themselves, along with the majority of the classic cast, are slightly altered for ease.

Rashid's wind specials coupled with his V-trigger might make him the most agile fighter in the game.

Never has it been easier for me to jump into a match as Vega and immediately pull off Flying Barcelonas or Zangief’s Spinning Piledriver or at the very least find some semblance of basic bread and butter combos. Capcom and storied Co-developer Dimps has retooled every character’s movelist and that is a welcome win for casual players who want to hop in and admire their newfound flashy specials as well as those competitive pros tracking the top tier lists. Of course, that isn’t to say the roster plays or feels the same for that matter. Each character has enough unique moves and variety in normals to soothe any fears of a roster of Ryu clones with more depth than ever to satiate those championing a main especially when using the game’s new V-Guage.

Building upon the super combos (called “Critical Arts” this time), and EX special moves of past iterations, the appropriately named V-Gauge introduces a striking new layer of strategy breaking down into three different mechanics: V-Skills, V-Reversals, and V-Trigger. The V-Gauge works like this: Depending on the fighter, every character has two or three bars of V-Gauge. You gain gauge by performing a character’s single (or two in Rashid’s case) V-Skill or V-Reversal. V-Skills are activated via two medium buttons and can be anywhere from Ken’s “Quickstep” that propels him sprinting towards an opponent quickly closing a gap to Karin’s “Meioken” which translates to a flurry of punches that deal high damage and guaranteed knocks-down against any foe. V-Reversals are unique counter attacks initiated by pressing all kicks or punches while blocking and can swiftly punish attackers while building your gauge. Both of these mechanics ultimately serve to max out your V-Gauge and activate the V-Trigger (via pressing heavy punch and kick), essentially the cure-all tactic that can act as a last second crutch to victory with boosted specials and attacks hitting harder for more damage at faster rates.

 Though the effects of V-Trigger may vary widely between characters, with some being ostensibly unstoppable and others suited to more specific situational usage, the V-Gauge equips you with a new reliable means of offense. I can’t tell you how many matches I’ve used Ken’s Heat Rush V-trigger, increasing the damage of my specials and hit counts to incinerate any would be challengers with fiery graphical flair. Once learned the V-Gauge is perhaps one of the most intuitive, easy to use systems I’ve played with in modern fighting games.

A total re-haul of the nearly decade old SFIV net code, the online suite of Street Fighter V hits where it counts but is questionably lacking in some key areas. The new Capcom Fighters Network (CFN) encapsulates every aspect of the game’s online experience already enabling a host of involved features for those willing to brave broadband battles. Beyond giving quick access to leaderboards or saving instant replays of matches, under the umbrella of the CFN you can create your own online fighter profile complete with the latest stats of your favorite character, win-lose streaks, player levels, and adding particularly addictive fuel to the competitive pyre: league points.

Player heatmaps lend to the CFN's feeling of global connectivity. And, yes, I live in the greater Oregon environs...

There are two types of online matches available: Casual and Ranked. Casual matches are your standard versus matches gaining only experience to increase your player or character level, but Ranked matches are where you earn League Points or, more terrifying a prospect, loose them all. Bronze, Silver, Super Gold, and more ranks this reviewer will probably only dream of ever busting my knuckles on the ground levels, the League system and League points go a step further than the new player or character level additions. Every time I entered a ranked match, seeing the crimson gradient text wrap around my screen instead of the inviting cool blue of casual matches, my thumbs would twitch to position, pulling my head a little closer to the screen and body to the edge of the seat I would soon begin squirming in. You may think all player incentive systems are arbitrarily created equally but there is a marked difference in tone and level of play on display in the Ranked pool. Leagues and League Points engender real consequences and gravity to each match. Will I progress to Gold if I defeat a two thousand LP toting Birdie? Or will I drop back to Silver having lost against a Cammy with an even lower LP? Every match becomes a do or die proposition with measurable merits and perils that may not be for the faint of heart.

It must be said matchmaking as a whole is smoother than ever and seamless, with a quick press of a button you can go into training mode or relax in the menus till the game automatically ques a match and syncs you with an opponent. And when it does, after two weeks of stabilizations, Capcom has admirably assuaged the stumbling launch day server woes and for the most part matches are now not only quickly found but more than highly responsive in game, give or take a few laggy underwater connections. All of this is particularly worth applauding in light of the game’s cross server play between PC and PS4. I played against many a PC rig with my PS4 setup and saw no immediate advantages on either platform both balanced if not identical. Like any online component, however, your mileage and mbps may vary.  

If all of these battles against random, potentially League Point leeching, players puts you off (as there is currently no penalty for rage quitters, no loss of LP only your time), the Rival system allows you to register rivals from Daigo to Daniel down the lane and keep track of their same suite of stats or LP, even invite them to a private Lobby. Granted you’re out of luck if you and more than a single buddy want to party up as there is currently a two player maximum Lobby occupancy in a surprising launch misstep, regardless of plans to expand said max to eight players with a patch later on. It’s these relatively minor oversights that collectively reveal the inherent problems of Street Fighter V.

Fight Money (FM) is Capcom’s new in game earnable currency that lets players substitute real money to buy additional DLC characters and costumes without the need to ever pay a another fistful of quarters. In practice it’s a bold move unprecedented amongst competitors in the genre in regards to open purchasing options. As of right now, however, its implementation is functionless, the store to use your FM unavailable till the fabled March update, but the delay isn’t the real point of contention. More importantly Fight Money as it is currently tendered is horribly under-distributed. Remember Ranked matches? Well winning a single match nets you fifty FM which on its own may seem like a modest amount but when considering how much characters and costumes you are supposed to spend this faux money on it quickly loses any veneer of generosity.

Caught between a rock and...

Caught between a rock and...

A DLC character will cost 100,000 Fight Money, and alternate costumes will cost 40,000. Saving you the math that is approximately two thousand matches a month, not just matches but won matches just to make ends meat for a character download. Regardless of it’s free money moniker, the investment of time and the fact that losses don’t provide any modicum of FM will be undeniably steep for many, save for the hardcore FGC which is where Capcom is blatantly banking on. For those unwilling or unable to reach the monthly quota, Zenny is the game’s premium currency you can purchase with real cash, converting $1 for 600 Zenny or $6 for a character.

For all intents and purposes the prices themselves are industry standard. Fight Money as a concept is peerless, challenging those standards by providing players with an in game means to earn all DLC free, but the requirement to additionally win matches, let alone gaining nothing for single player play in any solo or offline mode beyond character level is disappointing. This effort to emphasize online play is expected and outright required for a competent fighter today but this is where the schism of Street Fighter V becomes most jarringly apparent.

If you’ve been wondering where the single player component of Street Fighter V factors into this review, and why it’s been peculiarly omitted up until now, it’s because, unfortunately, the current offerings are not much to write home about. You have: a meek “Story Mode” positioned as a two hour prologue to a more realized campaign set to release in June (which is notably free mind you), a local Versus mode that works flawlessly, Training mode that is readily equipped to self-critique but does little more to teach new players beyond a hadouken, and a debut Survival mode. That’s it. And for many that’s all they’ll ever need or wanted but this doesn’t excuse the dearth and poor execution of offline and single player content as a package, especially when looking at Story and Survival mode respectively.

The Story Mode’s length of two hours wouldn’t be a complaint and is in fact much longer than most fighters of past and present permutations, but it’s the curious lack of difficulty select that lends to some of the worst, laughably easy AI fought in a fighting game. Of the three, sometimes as little as two, battles in a given character’s story mode I bodied any and all CPU with little effort, only grazed by a few spry punches out of the many perfect matches and, believe me, I’m not exactly Lupe Fiasco. More than likely you’ll play Story Mode to see your favorite character’s misadventures and the game plays plenty of homage. Dropping cameos from Sakura to Oro the scenarios, voiced (with varying dub quality) and burnished in imaginative alternate costumes, are worth the little time it takes to complete. Superseding previous entries, the story on hand illustrates a laudable effort from Capcom to invest in Street Fighter’s lighthearted world while rewarding longtime veterans with some fantastic fan service which is much appreciated.

Ultimately you could chalk up the easy AI as a favor to those who just want to catch up with characters and watch see a few stylized but rough un-animated illustrations that look more like storyboard first drafts than the polished art gracing other Capcom games from artist Bengus’ portfolio. You can even skip the battles outright if obliged but, with the lack of an arcade mode in any capacity, for many Story and the new Survival mode will be their only means of single player battles which comes with its own set of troubles.

Using the score earned each match in Survival Mode you can purchase supplements to varying effects.

Surmised to be the stand in for a traditional Arcade mode, Survival mode pits you against fighter after CPU controlled fighter in a bid to top high scores and unlock alternate character colors. Here at least Capcom included difficulty selects with Easy, Normal, Hard and Hell. Ranging from ten to an appropriately hellish one hundred matches consecutively. Each match concludes with a board of bonuses and buffers to spend your score on from health regeneration to CPU difficulty spikes, doubling down on difficulty for the chance at double score gains.

Initially the lack of an Arcade mode may be justified with this new mode placating players with relentless rounds of AI like Arcade. And Survival mode certainly scratches that phantom itch of an arcade like experience but with a catch. Just like in Story Mode, Survival is plagued with terribly easy CPU’s taking about twenty matches before any begin blocking or throwing a punch. Worse yet, choosing normal, hard, or even hell will still start with the same AI difficulty build, taking dozens of matches before the game is engaging again. While providing more content for the single player portion, by forcing players to effectively plow through droves of dummy CPU before confronting some semblance of a challenge, Survival mode isn’t nearly as respectful of time nor possesses the same easy elegance of a simple ten round Arcade mode which makes it total absence all the more confusing.

Without shying away from the glaring launch stumbles or lack of substantial single player content, the game of Street Fighter V is indomitable. If Capcom delivers even half the quality the package already boasts with its impressive moment to moment gameplay, then Street Fighter V has more than enough potential to be the best entry in the series storied history, and that’s saying a lot for diehard Third Strike fans like myself.

Adding the RPG-like elements of player and character levels, addicting eSports edge of Leagues and new mechanics like the V-Gauge allowing for unfathomable depths of techs and tactical possibilities poise the game to be one of this generation’s finest fighters so far. That said I can’t in good faith recommend Street Fighter V to those unwilling or unable to fight online, unless fighting friends in local versus in which the game is incontestably superb.  

 Street Fighter V is both one of the least and most accessible fighting games out now in that it provides an unprecedented online experience for the franchise but doesn’t do much in the way of helping new players become proficient enough to enter that space. As much as it can be argued fighting games have never and will never need a competent story feature, and as much as you can pass the game along as it exists now to the hardcore who will play Street Fighter V till the next game and well after, nothing is created in a vacuum. When competitors like Mortal Kombat X, or even Guilty Gear Xrd have a more feature rich single player offering its egregious the once indisputable king of fighters (no, not that King) has been so handedly dethroned, had its crown taken in the genre it helped define. As disappointing as these aspects maybe you’d be hard pressed to find a fault in the gameplay and, once everything is patched and done, It’s up to the players whether Street Fighter V reclaimed its own crown.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: As is the nature of fighting games (Street Fighter V in particular) I will endeavor to update this review as consistently and significantly as Capcom does the game. Consider it an organic review patch of sorts.

UPDATE #1: Story Mode "Review"


Hayden is a Senior Editor and resident rambler of Biya Byte. You can follow his trail of salty tears as he climbs the SFV bronze ranks on Twitter, or challenge him to a match on PSN (Search: DracoBlade712) if you need your daily self-esteem boost.