The story has never really taken the forefront in the Street Fighter franchise and Street Fighter V is definitely not going to be bucking that trend – at least not yet. The game takes place between the events of Street Fighter III and the more recently released Street Fighter IV – giving Capcom more creative liberty to bring characters from their lesser revisited games into the fold. Shadaloo, the evil corporation behind most of the wrongdoings in the series, has created a Death Star-like weapon with the capacity to destroy cities. Bison, the archetypal villain, controls this weapon while other fighters around the world set out (or are revived) to destroy Shadaloo and further their own personal interests.It’s an incredibly bare bones story and one that doesn’t really need to be told, that’s for sure. Street Fighter V is definitely not a game to pick up if you’re looking for a narrative experience similar to those delivered by game like Mortal Kombat X. Every character has a few basic story pointers that serve to “bridge” from wherever they last appeared into the current events of Street Fighter V, but those wanting a more substantial story experience will have to wait until the proper story expansion later this year.
Street Fighter IV was bright and colourful with what can only be described as a spirited presentation. Street Fighter V is no different – at any given moment in the game whether it’s the characters or the exotic locales, there’s always a wide array of bold and flashy colors on screen. It’s an interesting analog to other darker and grittier fighters available on the market like Tekken and Mortal Kombat, but one that suits Street Fighter. The game, from an artistic perspective, is incredibly stylish both in motion and in stills. Running at a very fluid 60fps, the way everything moves and animates gives the game a vigor and vitality that easily separates it from its contemporaries.
Thankfully, the more “out there” proportions of the Street Fighter IV characters have been largely eschewed in favour of more realistic looks. Don’t get me wrong – Ryu is still as buff as ever and Chun-Li could easily still crush somebody with her legs – but the stylistic design of these characters aren’t as over the top as they previously were. There were times where facial expressions or these strangely proportioned characters could get frozen in place during key moments of gameplay in Street Fighter IV and look deformed. Street Fighter V has none of this – the game runs smoothly, looks beautiful, and still retains what could now be considered the ‘standard’ Street Fighter look.The score was similarly designed with this mantra in mind – retain the ‘DNA’ of Street Fighter while also refining it to be something new. Street Fighter has always been about travelling the world, playing as different fighters from exotic locales and instilling that sense of wanderlust into players. You’ll battle on the streets of Brazil during a festival while loud flamboyant carnival melodies provide the perfect backdrop to your fighting. You’ll battle in the mountains of New Zealand while a light and airy tune complements your every move. The way that sound and vision comes together in Street Fighter V to create an ‘international’ atmosphere is to be commended.
The barebones story that gives background to the characters and what they’ve been up to is not afforded the same care and attention, however. They’re more or less presented as static images with a questionable art style and some voice work played over the top of them. The voice work is bearable – it’s nothing amazing but gets the job done. Even though previous Street Fighter games have told their stories this way in such a minimalistic fashion, the bizarre art direction employed for these segments makes some of the characters look like otherworldy ghouls you’d find in a CreepyPasta rather than the characters we’ve come to know and love.
Street Fighter V is bound to be controversial at launch as it’s clearly a game that’s trying to do many things, couldn’t get all of them done, and has made a compromise in order to release in time. As you’d expect, it’s a typical fighting game. You choose a character, battle against another character, and whoever depletes their opponents’ health bar first wins. Without a doubt the biggest issue with Street Fighter V is that it’s been designed from the beginning to be an evergreen project – that is – it’ll be renewed continually as time passes by. Without a doubt, this is what both hinders and yet strengthens it as a full price, retail product, but we will touch upon that later.
In Street Fighter IV, every character had access to a “focus” move which allowed them to absorb damage while dealing a counterattack to their enemies. This system has been completely retooled (and arguably scrapped) in favour of the new V-Gauge system. The V-Gauge is filled by using your own characters V-Skill. Once the gauge is filled, it can be spent on either a V-Reversal move or a V-Trigger move. It sounds confusing but it really isn’t – and this V-Gauge is separate to the Super Combo Gauge, which remains the same as Street Fighter IV. That is, you can save up the Super Combo Gauge to perform a more devastating critical art or instead use segments of it to augment your normal special moves with more power or abilities.Whereas every character had a focus move in the previous game, they now have a V-Skill instead. V-Skills are carried out the same way – by pressing both medium attack buttons – but every character has a different one. Ryu can parry attacks, Chun Li has a move that launches enemies into the air, Nash has a move that does damage but also negates projectiles. Vega has an oh-so-fabulous spin that evades attacks. All the V-Skills are unique and can be offensive or defensive, and while it means each character can be harder to pick up and play at a more competitive level, it’s hard to scoff at the opportunity to make characters all play different and feel like their own.
V-Triggers are more substantial and require a full meter to use – these are the ‘elemental’ effects seen in the trailers in the lead up to launch. V-Triggers provide power-ups for players or a one-off move that might attempt to turn the tide of battle. These commonly complement the character they’re designed for. For example, Chun-Li’s adds extra hits to all of her attacks which is dangerous when coupled with her lightning legs attacks. Nash’s is more defensive and allows him to teleport anywhere to either mix-up his approach to enemies or escape out of tough situations. Bison’s changes the way he moves and the way his special moves behave when executed. Once again, like V-Skills, the V-Triggers are a fantastic way to make sure each player plays differently and further increases the depth of the metagame.The characters are a good mix of new and old – some who have remained absent from the rosters of games that they might as well be new as well. But what’s even more encouraging is just how much work Capcom has put into making all the characters playable and accessible. Capcom have essentially lowered the skill floor for Street Fighter V which is encouraging as it enables more players to jump in and become regular players and eventually hone their skills. Some smaller changes, like the lesser reliance on dreaded “charge” characters also make the game a whole lot more accessible. Similarly, while it is definitely early to make this call, no sacrifices have been made to the depth of the game in exchange for this improved accessibility to newcomers.
And despite the fact that Street Fighter V is easily the strongest offering in the series, if not the genre yet in terms of gameplay mechanics and systems, it’s let down by what will eventually be its greatest strength; that it serves as a platform that will be continually expanded as the months go by. At launch, you’ll have access to a storyboard style story mode which won’t last more than a one two hours. You’ll have a survival mode. You’ll have a (comprehensive) training mode. You’ll have 16 characters. And you’ll have online modes, but that’s it. It’s a small amount of content that pales in comparison to what games like Mortal Kombat X and even Street Fighter IV launched with. Trials and challenges are missing but are promised to be coming next month, with a large story mode expansion coming in June too.But the online functionality is easily where the game will improve but isn’t quite there yet – we managed to play around forty or so matches in our time with the game. Unfortunately, only about a third of them ran without any issues and these included ones where one Australian player against another. When Street Fighter V is subject to lag, it’s odd. The game speed remains the same but the characters just teleport erratically. We’re convinced that these are just pre-launch server environments for now and may be fixed in the future given how rough it all was, and will update with a more detailed critique of the online components as Street Fighter V grows in the coming months.
But be warned – for now – only one player can play against another player in the “fight lounge”. What this means is that there’s no lobby support as of yet. Even more annoyingly, those who choose to play ranked or even casual matches without using the fight lounge cannot select their characters in these specific modes – but rather default to whoever you have select in your profile. It’s a nice touch to get into games quickly, especially those who play in tournaments and only dedicate themselves to a single character. But it’s a strange misstep to not include a character select option for at least online casual matches. We understand ranked, but not having the option in casual seems odd.In a rather encouraging move, Capcom have promised that all characters will be available for purchase using in-game currency or instantly unlocked using real world currency. This is encouraging because it doesn’t split the player base and means that everyone will eventually get access to the content regardless of financial position. The only content that will be available to players with real money will be premium costumes, which are purely cosmetic anyway. That being said, we also had issues with the currency system, though we are also apprehensively chalking that up to a pre-launch environment though it would be remiss on our part not to mention it.Street Fighter V is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to definitively give a grade to. Which is why, at this point, I’m not going to. Sony’s very own Splatoon – Street Fighter V establishes a very solid ground on which greatness can be built. The gameplay mechanics and the core combat is top notch – it’s accessible by newcomers more than ever before and at the same time has the depth that makes it so tournament friendly with higher level players. But there’s clearly stuff missing that probably could have been here.
It’s true that some Street Fighter fans probably think that nobody cares about single player content or even assistive modes like trials and challenges, and the debate about their worth is easily outside of the scope of this review in progress. But their absence is especially felt here especially when compared to its contemporaries. Street Fighter V is an astoundingly solid fighter, but it’s hard to definitively judge it until it’s expanded to what it should have been at launch. Props to Capcom for releasing early for the tourney crowds, however, it’s a bold move that’ll be interesting to see play out in the coming weeks.