Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also available on: PC
Alright, there’s the short version, and the long version. The short version is simple; Street Fighter V promises to make the franchise easier for newer players to pick up and enjoy, while keeping the strategic depth and complexity that seasoned players expect. However, the current package lacks all of the features that new players would be drawn to, with the promise of it being added later. This causes a feeling of the final product being rushed out the door half-finished, even if the core game mechanics have been tuned to a pretty meticulous science. If you’re content with that explanation, skip to the end of the review, read the score, and you’ll have all you wanted to know.
If you want to know precisely why I feel that way, then read on. It’s a lengthy read, but I’ve written it to be a fast one. I am going to critically assess an inspired, yet incomplete product from one of my all-time favorite franchises. For better or worse, this is the initial version of Street Fighter V, and God help me, this is my honest review of it.
Story Mode is the first option on the menu, and it’s effectively meaningless in its current state. It has no tutorial aspect to teach new players a character’s methods, adds little to nothing in the way of plot development and is far too short to be effective at either of these things. A planned update is supposed to expand on it. Next up is Versus Mode, and that’s just local one-on-one, which is standard stuff for any SF game.
Survival Mode is next, and it’s an interesting concept, just used in terrible ways. You choose one of four difficulty levels with an increasing number of stages — ten stage Easy, thirty stage Medium, fifty stage Hard or one hundred stage Hell — and you fight opponents to clear the circuit. You score points for eliminating enemies, then at the end of each stage, you can choose from a number of randomly-chosen modifiers. These cost a set number of points, all of which are mutators for how your next match will play. You can buy health, meter charge, higher defense and attack, and even point multipliers in exchange for being saddled with gameplay handicaps.
The prizes are costume colors for your chosen character, which used to be unlocked by just playing the game. Now, they’re walling them behind a massive, time-consuming series of challenges. In a game that’s supposed to be catering to new players, this is a poorly-conceived reward system. Titles, I can understand, but costume colors are borderline cruel.
Also, my time with the game in its pre-release review phase was marked with multiple server resets that forced the (re)creation of my Fight ID, and each time this happened, the game kept record of clearing the survival levels, but took away all of my earned costume colors. This caused me to replay the mode in order to get them again, but it happened more than once. If Capcom doesn’t patch that out soon, they’re courting catastrophe. It was a source of immense frustration for me, and it caused me to swear off Survival Mode out of fear of losing things I spent quality time earning.
Challenges Mode is coming in March along with the Shop, which means that the game is launching with single-player options in “wait-for-it” mode. This is never a good look. Training Mode is the same as it’s ever been, with all the requisite options accounted for. What it doesn’t have is any sort of walkthrough for individual characters, even though the game has a “How To Play” tutorial that plays when you first start the game. For a version supposedly focused on bringing in new blood, not having character-specific tutorials is not only a missed opportunity, it’s a full-scale mistake.
When indie fighting games like Skullgirls can properly introduce players to every character in the roster, we should start expecting the same from AAA products with far higher budgets. Especially when the game is coming from the company that made the genre what it is today. Purists will undoubtedly cry “tutorials do nothing to teach you strategy and theory,” and they’re partially right. However, they do serve as a wonderful introduction point to the game itself, and mastering them gives new players a stronger foundation for learning strategy and theory.
This helps eliminate one of the most major and ever-present walls between button mashing and purposeful action, and the genre needs this if it’s going to take that next definitive step. You should still work to hone your skill at the game, but the game can and should teach new players through something more substantial than a trial mode or a command list on the pause menu. It’s 2016, people. Let’s at least try it.
Finally, there’s online play. You’ve got Ranked Match and Casual match options, plus a “Battle Lounge” option to create custom matches where you can invite a single friend to play. That’s supposed to be expanded upon with a spectator mode and multi-player rooms in a future update, but again, this is stuff that was already in past versions of the game, so it not being here at launch further indicates a rushed release.
Now, we’re on to the game itself, and this is where I start discussing mechanics. I am going to explain important changes, and I’ll do my best to make it easy for everyone to understand. There’s a lot that’s different between SF4 and SFV, so there’s a lot to learn and get used to. Movement and jumping isn’t as floaty, and everything seems to have more weight / gravity to it. This isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing, it just is what it is, and you have to adapt to it in order to get your bearings. The best thing that I can say about the game is that one-frame links are a thing of the past.
For those who don’t speak metagame, a link is the act of connecting two normal attacks before an opponent can block them. Since the game runs at sixty frames per second, a one-frame link would require a player to nail that button press at 1/60 of a second. Even professional players can’t stick those all the time, and yet, those sorts of feats are essential for high-level play in just about every fighting game. In SFV, the smallest window for a link is three frames, which means you can nail it in 1/20 of a second, which is still stringent but much easier to consistently hit.
In my opinion, this is the best thing SFV has done, bar none. It allows newer players to get easier access to higher-level play strategy and combo construction, which is great for giving a sense of accomplishment to people looking to get into playing fighting games. However, link timing being more lenient doesn’t remove the need to work hard, as you still have to time your links correctly. You still need to master fundamental concepts to excel, but now, you have less work to do in order to get there.
This is counterbalanced by special moves feeling stricter, in terms of buffer execution. For the uninitiated, buffering a special means executing and launching the special move while the linked hit is still being performed, thus “canceling” the animation of the current hit while the opponent is still unable to block. Buffering Ryu’s Hadouken — the oft-cloned blue fireball the series is known for — from a crouching medium kick still works, but it feels like it must not only be done faster, it must be precise. I think this is a good thing, as it teaches players input accuracy while lessening link difficulty, which makes for a pretty fair system overall.
The game’s cast is interesting and varied, mixing ever-present heroes, familiar standbys, long-requested side characters and four new characters. All of these characters feel unique, whether it’s stemming from changes to their movesets or simply from bringing something new to the table. Old favorites have a lot of differences in SFV, and using new characters well involves utilizing playstyles that might be somewhat alien. In this, the game succeeds with flying colors, especially when the V-Skill and V-Trigger systems are taken into account.
Each character is dangerous in their own way, and with more time and more hands playing, the metagame between them will only deepen. That said, SFV seems to favor three things above all else: mastering basic fundamentals of spacing and priority, capitalizing on the mistakes of the opponent, and knowing how to block effectively. Everything else is window dressing, and this back-to-basics approach serves the game quite well.
The roster will expand with time, but with two monetary systems in the game — Fight Money and Zenny — in the mix, I’m sure that paying for them with real money will be a far more convenient and attractive option than earning them in-game. I doubt they would offer a Season Pass if that weren’t the case. You can preorder that stuff right now for a large initial investment, and I’m sure that it’ll be less expensive than paying per item. I can almost guarantee that unlocking characters will be an arduous process, and if you feel like playing anything else except SFV, you may want to consider your options, no matter how unsatisfying they may be. “Free” unlocks will likely involve significant effort, and I truly hope to be wrong about that.
The graphics are pretty, and the series has never looked better. Backgrounds are varied and pop with little details, the characters move well and have loads of personality. The only negative I have is the “screen door” look that shadows on characters have in the PlayStation 4 version. The music is alright, I haven’t really warmed up to the soundtrack yet, and I don’t know if I will at this rate. It’s not bad, though.
I must note the ability to use PlayStation 3 fightsticks and fightpads, because even though I think it’s a wonderful gesture, it’s not used well. It takes care of those who already purchased special equipment to play these games on last-gen systems, and Capcom and Sony both deserve a lot of praise for implementing it. The only problem with it is that it requires a DualShock 4 controller to be paired and active in order to use a legacy controller, which is incredibly inconvenient. When the wireless PS4 controller disconnects due to not being used, it cuts the connection to the legacy controller in the process. You’re also stuck burning out the battery on a controller you’re not even using.
The driver was created by Skullgirls developer Lab Zero Games, and their PS4 port of Skullgirls allows for PS3 pads and sticks without a DualShock 4 connection. Even MikeZ noted that Capcom isn’t using their driver correctly, which is yet another mind-boggling, tone-deaf decision coming from Capcom, a company that’s supposedly the genre’s brand leader.
I’m having a massive crisis of conscience here, because every fiber of my being is a proud, screaming Street Fighter fan. I should love Street Fighter V like a family member. The problem is, I don’t. It’s not a bad game in the slightest, in terms of mechanics. It’s not even a bad game in terms of being a product, but it isn’t as fleshed out as it could be, or even should be at launch. The metagame itself has undergone major changes that will cause new and less experienced players to stand a greater chance against pros, and I feel that expert players will be defined by patience and attentiveness from here rather than timing skill. This is something that anyone can accomplish doing on a consistent basis, and that’s a great thing.
There’s a lot to love, and that helps to outweigh any potential negatives, some of which are based purely in personal opinion. Most of those feelings likely come from a difficulty in letting go after the flawed greatness that was Street Fighter IV (and really, every Street Fighter game falls under that “flawed greatness” category).
I like it, but I don’t love it. I think its best is yet to come, but I know that its best is likely to come with an additional price tag attached to it, at least in some fashion. I think Street Fighter V has the potential to be the best Street Fighter ever. I just don’t think it is right now, and I feel that this has a lot to do with the people behind SFV wanting it to be the headline event at EVO 2016 instead of EVO 2017. Nothing more.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.
This glorious new emperor has very little clothes on.