Strip the game down and start fresh has been Capcom’s mantra for Street Fighter V. Capcom wants a game both veterans and new players can enjoy. At its core, Street Fighter V features far simpler fundamental gameplay than its predecessor. Street Fighter V is great in its current form, but it will be even better post-launch as the year rolls on thanks to new content being released over time. It is a game that is easy to learn but hard to master and that concerns me.
Accessibility is the key to any new fighting game release. Ultra Street Fighter IV became so complex that new players coming into the game have a hard time with the steep learning curve. Capcom slashed the amount of characters on the roster from 44 in Ultra Street Fighter IV to 16 in Street Fighter V. The game retains the series’ trademark special moves and super moves, but novices will appreciate the more forgiving short combo system and high reward for punishing players who make mistakes. Street Fighter V also adds V-Skill, V-Reversals, and V-Trigger systems to the series. Every character has them and they provide variable abilities to each character.
V-Skills generally function as a special move and some can be altered with a combination of holding a direction and pushing the medium punch and kick buttons. A character like FANG tosses out a poison ball that floats horizontally across the screen, while Cammy performs her classic spin knuckle. But hold a direction and if she’s close enough, Cammy can actually pass through her opponent and end up on the other side, resulting in more options for approaching the opponent and opening them up for attacks.
V-Triggers add a new dimension to Street Fighter. Force some characters like Ryu or Cammy, they enhance their attacks, adding more hits to Cammy’s kick special moves or giving Ryu’s punches and special moves lightning properties. Other players use V-Trigger defensively, like Nash’s ability to teleport, which helps him escape his opponents while possibly setting up an offensive opportunity if the opponent isn’t ready for it. V-Triggers can also extend combos and that’s where things get deadly when you’re up against advanced players. They’re extremely useful tools and while one should always monitor their meters and resources in competition, if you have the opportunity to put someone at a severe life disadvantage using your resources, you should do it.
Capcom ditched Street Fighter IV’s auto-pilot gameplay that took players out of the game. When you lose in Street Fighter V, you should have a fair idea of why you lost because you’re losing to the player, not to forces outside of your control. This is great to get new players interested in competition but novice and expert players are all starting on the ground floor. Getting smashed repeatedly online could drive players away before there’s content implemented to help them out.
I freely admit I’m not a great Street Fighter player. I’ve had better days in the series. I know enough about the game’s fundamentals that I can pick it up and play. In my experience with online matches to this point, I’m getting destroyed, or bodied as we call it in the fighting game community. I understand part of it is the learning curve. I don’t know all the match-ups. I’m still getting used to timing and distance on jump-ins and most of the attacks. I’ve never felt more discouraged so quickly in any fighting game I’ve ever played and I’ve been playing them since I first laid eyes on a Street Fighter II arcade machine when I was a freshman in high school.
I know why I’m losing because I’ve been playing fighting games long enough to have that understanding. Many new players will come into Street Fighter V, jump online, and get blown up. But since Capcom wants to turn the casuals into more dedicated players, they may not understand why they’re losing. They won’t figure out the match-ups between characters. Lastly, they don’t have access to any trial modes that can teach them more about the game beyond the basic tutorial when they first load it up. Players will have to seek help from online and local communities, which are often more than happy to provide it but Capcom could’ve had more foresight to let novices hit the ground running in Street Fighter V.
However, I love the stripped down design of Street Fighter V. It reminds me of getting back into the series when Street Fighter IV launched back in 2009. Capcom took a similar approach to Street Fighter IV because Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike became too complex and oriented toward high level play. Street Fighter V punishes bad decision making. Executing a proper combo with a Critical Art finish or playing a tight match and stealing a victory via a great read on your opponent feels fantastic. The more it happens, the more I want to experience it so I keep chasing after the wins.
Unfortunately, for anyone looking for a good single player experience in Street Fighter V, it isn’t there yet. Story mode contains a short chapter for every character. If you don’t skip the cutscenes, it might take you roughly 10 minutes per character to finish a chapter that has you fighting two or three characters in one round matches. I am impressed to a degree with the cutscenes. They still use static 2D art, but Capcom brought in long-time Street Fighter artist Bengus to do the artwork, and it is leagues better than the awful cutscenes in Street Fighter IV.
Once you’ve completed Story Mode, your other solo options include Survival Mode and Training Mode. Survival Mode pits players in an endless battle against the CPU. Health does not regenerate, and it’s game over when you die. However, you earn points to purchase upgrades or health. It’s something to do but it can get old fast.
If you’re serious about competition, you’ll likely find yourself in Training Mode a lot. You can adjust settings for a variety of scenarios to learn combos or how to approach a standing, jumping, or crouching opponent. You can also play with a setting that allows you to record actions and reset yourself based on those defined actions. This would be helpful when trying to learn or master something very specific. If you find you’re in an area that lacks a local community and you need practice without playing online matches, you can set the AI to fight back and set the difficulty. It isn’t quite the same as learning the game from another individual, but it’s all Street Fighter V has at the moment. Throughout all the single player options, you can leave an option available for the network to seek online matches out for you.
It feels awkward to review a game with one eye on what’s available now, while the other looks at what’s coming. A Spectator Mode is expected to come soon after Street Fighter V’s launch. Challenge Mode with Tips and Trials Modes will be available in March. The game’s more in-depth Story Mode, which Capcom says will rival the stories in other recent fighting games, won’t be released until June. Street Fighter V definitely appeals to the veteran player in me. However, Street Fighter V’s glaring hole is the lack of tools to help someone like me who desperately wants to improve. I have the resources outside of game to help me but a newcomer who has no knowledge or experience with the fighting game community will struggle. Players are already getting good and they’ll only get better in that month when Capcom updates the game with better tools for learning the game.
Street Fighter V’s foundation is strong and, like Street Fighter IV before it, the game will evolve. Competition will be fierce but satisfying for anyone who invests the time and effort to improve. The cast is diverse, and every character feels unique. Even with Ryu and Ken still in the game, they play vastly different than all the previous Street Fighter games. I’m stubborn. I’ll take my lumps in Street Fighter V because nothing is more satisfactory in a fighting game than the moment when all the time and effort comes together and I start piling up wins.