2008’s Street Fighter IV was less a new fighting game than it was a transformative event for the genre’s entire landscape. Seemingly overnight, the fighting game community exploded to near early 90s proportions, and the game itself heralded in a new era of advanced, detail-conscious design that elevated many existing franchises to technical heights they had never before approached. It would not be a stretch to attribute the rebirth of such franchises as Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct to the rise of Street Fighter IV’s meticulous approach to fighting game development.
Now, nearly eight years later, it’s time to revitalize the Street Fighter series once again, and this time, with a game far more adherent to its own tradition.
What Is It?
Street Fighter V is the sixth overarching installment (lest we forget Alpha) in the legendary Street Fighter franchise and represents Capcom’s long-term plan to transform Street Fighter from a gaming culture phenomenon into a widespread social platform. Street Fighter V, at least at the moment, only represents the groundwork of this platform, dubbed Capcom Fighters Network. Still, its presence is established here, and Capcom’s explicit move to make it a separate entity from SFV itself should excite long-time fans of Capcom’s fighting catalogue for what may be coming in the future.
The core system of the game is an effective antithesis to Street Fighter IV and its descendents. While both games use the tried and true “Jab Strong Fierce” control scheme that has stood the test of time throughout the entire series, Street Fighter V’s system takes steps to fall more in line with the classic titles – Alpha 2 and Alpha 3 above all – than did IV, which made fundamental changes to move interactions that required veteran players to unlearn large parts of the previous installments. This consistency, along with a two-frame input buffer that allows players to input the next attack in a combo during the final recovery frames of the previous attack, does well to simulate the feel of playing Street Fighter back in the day. Even just by slightly easing up on the level of execution required to perform “bread and butter” combos, the focus goes back to where Street Fighter has always been the most beautiful: the neutral game, where players are moving to control space and find an opening in each other’s defense.
Street Fighter V’s core gameplay is rounded out by what Capcom refers to as the V-System. This rather directly lifts Killer Instinct’s “Instinct Mode” under the name “V-Trigger,” giving characters distinct powered-up forms by spending a full meter, while also bringing back Alpha Counters (now “V-Counters”) and providing another character-specific free action called “V-Skill.” In contrast to Street Fighter IV’s Focus system, which didn’t always lend itself well to every character that ended up in the game, the V-System effectively wraps each of the game’s 16 fighters (plus DLC characters already available) in a customized system tailored to their own strengths and weaknesses. This bodes well for SFV’s long-term balance, as there isn’t a single uniform system that a character must be able to conform to in order to get results.
Why Should I Care?
Street Fighter series handler Yoshinori Ono has pulled no punches from the onset: Street Fighter V exists for the sole purpose of unifying and growing the Street Fighter community. As such, there is a clear and visible disinterest in lone-wolf players who might consume a game’s single-player content only to cast the entire game aside for the next big release. There’s a token story mode that serves as a bridge arc into the summer’s full cinematic storyline, and a survival mode to keep the game from being completely devoid of things to do on your own, but even then you’ll feel a distinct shove toward the online features. Your mileage may vary on whether this is a dealbreaker, a mere annoyance, or no problem at all.
Instead, Ono and his team have put a laser-like focus on delivering the best possible core Street Fighter game for the community to rally around. The fighting system itself marks a very strong return to form for the franchise, and the V-System allows for a roster of characters that is both highly diverse and highly balanced. New characters add a lot to the mix, while many returning characters have been reinvented completely, and everybody feels like they have a reasonable chance to compete. Even with the addition of four well-designed newcomers, Street Fighter V’s initial 16-character roster may look slim compared to the 44 Street Fighter IV ended with, but there are so many playstyles to be found within those 16 characters that you’re still bound to find someone you like. Failing that, new characters are being added steadily, so you might find the answer to your character search in the pipeline, which leads to perhaps the biggest change of all.
Street Fighter V is taking a very different approach for the franchise in its DLC policy. Not only can all DLC be purchased for free with the game’s Fight Money system, which rewards players largely just for playing the game, Capcom is taking it a step further by assuring players that any future upgrades will be delivered through this title. Street Fighter V is the only disc you will ever need to buy to play any iteration of the game that may emerge, an unprecedented value from the Street Fighter series, and certainly a welcome one.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Street Fighter V’s purchasability depends entirely on how you approach the fighting genre. If you’re the type of player to go it alone, get what you can out of the story, and spend some spare time here and there challenging the AI, the game will wear thin fairly quickly despite a genuinely interesting survival mode that takes light influences from SNK’s “continue service” concept from the 90s. If, however, you enjoy the genre most when in the company of friends and rivals, either online or off, there have been few finer examples of Street Fighter‘s particular brand of gameplay in the long history of the genre… and it’s only going to grow further from here.