Street Fighter is an extremely long-running franchise. Publishers and developers that produce such iconic IPs often face an impossible task at the behest of demanding fans: Continue to upgrade and improve the experience we love without actually losing the original feel and style. This becomes a complex balancing act where the designers have to try to embrace innovation and freshness without abandoning that which made the title so popular in the first place. Ironically, while Capcom appears to have struck a fantastic balance between old and new with Street Fighter V , a somewhat rocky launch and frustrating lack of content results in a great but occasionally bittersweet production.
But before we dive into the intricacies and nitty-gritty, let’s discuss the impressive visual presentation. You may recall those vibrant water-colored graphics on display in Street Fighter IV ; well, if you take that concept and combine it with a brilliantly drawn art style, you get SFV. The effects leap off the screen with palpitating grace, each character is lovingly crafted and given a personality all his or her own, and even the backgrounds shimmer with remarkable, eye-catching color and general appeal. I’m actually not a huge fan of a few of the new characters in terms of design but that’s merely subjective; I imagine some fans will love the look of new faces like Necalli, Rashid and Karin. The only other downside is when the game doesn’t perform quite as it should, which does impact the visual excellence.
The sound is another big highlight with unbelievable effects that assault the ear with relentless power and precision, and a wickedly effective, hard-hitting soundtrack. Music is often overlooked when it comes to fighters, but I never understood why . You can’t tell me that you aren’t more engaged, more excited, and potentially perform better when you’ve got music you like thumping in the background. These games are very often about capturing a rhythm, are they not? I think SFV’s soundtrack might actually be the best the series has ever had, as it features a blend of classic tunes (like character-specific ditties from classic Street Fighter installments) and new beats that are fast and slick. I’m not sure the balance between sound and music is quite right, though, but it’s a minor drawback and you can always adjust the intensity of such features. Great stuff in the audio department overall, that’s for damn sure.
As I said in the intro, SFV retains the polished and expected mechanics and amps them up with several hefty new gameplay features. This offers both established franchise followers and newcomers an attractive foundation, and should stop even the most dedicated lovers from opining about the past. Really, if you break it down from top to bottom, it’s almost exactly what the dedicated fan would want in terms of gameplay progression and innovation. For instance, the new V-Skill feature is a focal point that greatly increases the strategy of the game, and also encourages players to fully master their favorite fighters, as V-Skill is character-specific. And V-Skill feeds into another huge new feature, the V-Trigger, which is a single, devastating attack that is once again tied to individual characters.
Personally, the best aspect about these new features is that they lend more individuality to the fighters. Even though each of the characters have wildly different fighting styles and you definitely approach combat differently depending on your roster choice, the V-Skills and V-Triggers really make each character shine. Plus, considering the sheer importance of these features, you might find yourself playing with a fighter you never liked before, but now has bad-ass V-Skills and V-Triggers that make you feel uber-powerful. Some might miss Street Fighter IV ’s Ultra meter but frankly, I don’t. I think this is a better system because it encourages diligence and patience, and it gives each character a little more definition. When it comes to fighters, any sort of added character definition is a good thing.While I’m no fighting expert, even I know that the roster is critical.
The good news is that this particular roster of fighters is pretty damn solid: Not only do we have eight returning icons in the Street Fighter universe, but we also have quite a few new faces. As I said above, I’m not the biggest fan of their designs – nor do I like all their fighting styles and skill sets – but new is new, and they certainly add more flair and variety to the game. On top of which, the V-Skills and V-Triggers give even mainstays like Ken, Chun-Li and Dhalsim an infusion of freshness that is much appreciated. And don’t forget that some long-time fighters like Vega have received quite the overhaul, as they’ve got new moves and even physics alterations. At first, I didn’t think Vega should be without his claws (sacrilege!) but hey, he’s faster without ‘em…
I do believe the balancing is pretty decent, as none of the characters I sampled felt especially overpowered or underpowered. And given the size of the roster and the huge differences between the characters, that’s no mean feat. Of course, there are times when you’re convinced the fighter you’re facing is overpowered but the more you play, the more you realize that…nah, it’s just you. You just weren’t good enough that time around. I do know that many complained about the back-dash in SFIV being a problem, in that it could make certain characters borderline invincible (or at least a serious pain in the ass). But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore and the focus mechanic is gone, too. The bottom line is that nothing is really stopping you from ripping off nearly flawless rounds once you’ve gone to the trouble of mastering a favorite character, which definitely speaks to the overall balancing of the game.
I also think it’s pretty awesome that you can recover from just about everything very quickly. For example, if you get knocked down, you actually have three options for getting back on your feet, which means your opponent can’t continue to launch a sustained attack while you remain helpless. If you get up the right way, you can actually surprise your foe. In other words, knocking someone down isn’t an automatic open door as it has been in the past, which I really like because it means a purely offensive mindset won’t always work, even when executed by an expert. Besides, it’s more difficult to achieve a hard knockdown in the first place, which means for the most part, the two fighters are going at it, toe-to-toe, mano y mano, with little break in the action. It’s a nice push-and-pull system, I think.
Unfortunately, there are obvious problems, mostly in regards to lack of content, features and various performance issues. Some of this is just plain inexplicable to me; for example, you can’t play the CPU in a regular ol’ three-round match because for some ridiculous reason, there’s no CPU Vs. mode. There’s not even a standard Arcade Mode, which is a mainstay not only for this series but for any fighting franchise. I know Capcom is talking about delivering this “free Story Mode” upgrade in June but that’s June…this is February. And to not have the in-game store available until next month is another irksome detail, and one that only reminds me that we live in an age now where incomplete games are allowed to release, thanks to this new PC-like atmosphere where even console games seem to demand patches and updates immediately .
I’ve always hated that about the PC gaming culture and I always worried that if you gave developers the chance to fix issues and add to a game after it’s released, that simply gives them the excuse to release an unfinished product. The PC world has been dealing with that for decades and now we’ve got the very same plague in the console world. All we get here is a stupidly short story prologue for each character; the “actual” Story Mode is months away. Then there’s the fact that Capcom has clearly had to make lots of adjustments and improvements the instant the game released, and this was after a host of “stress tests” and betas. I’m sorry but considering all that, there’s no reason to see a slightly wonky and under-featured product on the shelf. That’s just wrong, no matter how you try to justify, rationalize or explain it.
Okay, I’m done with my rant. As relevant and important as that is, it’s also true that SFV delivers excellent gameplay and some very useful features. Training Mode is a huge plus for me because I’m no fighting expert, and this mode actually was extremely helpful and even entertaining. The tool-set that accompanies this mode allows you to be as in-depth as you like; you can even store actions and layer them atop larger sequences, so you can see what will and won’t work on the battlefield. Once you finish this and get your feet wet with some CPU battles, you can head online where the competition is insane and once again, Capcom is facing a few issues. There were matchmaking problems, for example, and a bunch of smaller hang-ups that I suppose are common these days. Still, I didn’t experience much in the way of severe problems, like major lag, crashing and burning, freezing, etc.
Street Fighter V marries fresh concepts and upgraded gameplay with the tried-and-true mechanics the fans have always loved. This, along with the technical achievement in terms of graphics and sound, is what will sell the game. For the veteran fans, there’s enough familiarity here for them to say, “yep, this is Street Fighter ,” but at the same time, they can’t complain about a lack of significant upgrades and alterations. The V-Skills and V-Triggers are just too important and impressive to ignore. It’s just too bad that we’ve got a bizarre lack of features in terms of single-player options, and not having the in-game store or this much-ballyhooed "expanded" Story Mode until later is another big problem. The performance snafus are being ironed out quickly but that doesn’t change the fact that they existed at launch. I refuse to gloss over that.
The Good: Excellent art work, special effects, and overall design. Awesome soundtrack and bad-ass audio effects. A great blend of new and old in terms of gameplay mechanics. Nicely balanced and diverse roster of fighters. The offensive experts don’t always have the edge. Great Training Mode.
The Bad: Depressing lack of features and content (no in-game store or full-fledged Story Mode yet). A few annoying performance-based problems. Online issues aren’t quite resolved yet.
The Ugly: “I can’t play the computer in a regular ol’ match. And no Arcade Mode. …you’re kidding.”