Another Installment in My Favorite Series!
I am a sucker for fighting games. Ever since I played the original Street Fighter at the pub next to my grandmother's place (that's certainly a story for another entry), I knew I had found my own personal gaming Nirvana. Yes, it was kind of an awkward game, but it was fun! This wasn't the original version with the big, hydraulic buttons though. This one had the standard 6-button layout that the series has used for every other installment. I didn't get to know that Street Fighter had a funky version with two hydraulic buttons that used pressure to decide the strength of the attack.
Anyway, ever since then I've been very attracted to the series and when Street Fighter II was released on SNES I worked my rear end off mowing lawns and washing cars to be able to afford it and an SNES (I was a Genesis guy back then). The funny thing was that then Capcom also started releasing the games on Genesis and I never bought another SNES installment as I preferred playing on the Genesis. Then I got the first two Alpha titles on Saturn, and even the Movie edition game. Also the 3D releases on Playstation (EX plus Alpha series), and III on Dreamcast, and all versions of IV on X360 and PC. I'm just establishing that I freaking LOVE Street Fighter, and I was pumped when Street Fighter V was announced... and then I learned that it's a Playstation 4 exclusive. That was crushing, but thankfully they also released a PC version and that's what I played.
So this post is actually going to be very biased in favor of the game because I love the series. It's my favorite video game series of all time and I even own the same versions across multiple systems. So to me, the release of V was a very big deal, and I was very pleasantly surprised when Steam had it available last night (I thought it was releasing today) and I skipped on a few of my responsibilities to enjoy it. Thankfully, I had pre-loaded it over the weekend so there was nothing to download. I was pumped and then... I played it.
They Blew the Budget?
I double clicked on the Street Fighter V icon on my Steam client and was presented two choices: to run the game or to run a low spec version. I have a decent PC, so I chose the normal option, the Capcom logo filled the screen and the little presentation video popped up. It was a step or two (or three) down from the Street Fighter IV presentation video. I still remember that one vividly as it looked so awesome with the ink lines around the characters and the cheesy but fitting "Indestructible" theme song (which I missed on the updates). The Street Fighter V presentation video is much shorter, has a far less memorable music track without any lyrics, and looks kind of weird. Meh, no good.
Ahh well, it's just an intro video, who cares right? So now the game immediately put me into a short tutorial amidst a sparring match between Ryu and Ken, with 3D models based on their Street Fighter Alpha look. The in-game graphics at this point sold me on the game as they look so vivid and animate so fluidly. Beautiful; they make up for the little cutscenes in between lessons that have no animation and look kind of like full page comic book art spreads. They work, but they look quite low budget. I think it would have worked out better to not include these panels and just have the in-game models acting it out.
Anyway, the tutorial was only useful for introducing the V-Trigger system, and it only introduces it half-way as it tells you how to charge the meter and you can practice charging it, but it doesn't have you practice using it once it's charged. Weird. There was also no explanation of EX moves (they work the same as in Street Fighter IV so if you played that, you already know what they do) or dashing. It had an option to skip it but I chose not to skip it, kind of hoping it would explain the changes made to the game but it isn't very useful at that. It also isn't very useful at introducing novices into the game as what's in there is too basic (press right and left to move, press down back to guard crouching attacks, press up to jump, etc.). With the way it started, I expected a tutorial with a scope comparable to BlazBlue Chronophantasma's tutorials. It's not even close.
Finally! The Main Menu Reveals Itself!
With the questionable tutorial now out of the way, it's time to get to fighting! I went into the options and cranked everything but anti-aliasing to the max. If I need to sacrifice a setting, I always start sacrificing that. I have no idea if I could have changed these settings before this point. All the options from the menu are visible from a glance without a need to scroll anything and I applaud that. I question the weird location of the Exit to Windows option; I guess they were baffled that they had to include that on a PC version and they decided to place it as one of the main options on the left. Shrug.
Anyway, I started exploring the menu, looking for an Arcade option as this is how I usually start up my fighting games: by playing the Arcade mode in order to get a feel for the characters. I couldn't find this option, so I settled on Story mode instead.
Story Mode? Seriously?
So I went into the Story Mode, expecting something resembling an Arcade mode with a chat between the characters before each fight. I was feeling encouraged after choosing my character (yes, I started with Ryu, sue me) as there were completion percentages and the game presented me with a screen to choose a story offering 4 options, 3 of them locked. I figured that meant that Ryu had 4 different stories to choose from and that only the first story was available. So I played through that first story and I was done in less than 10 minutes (and that's because the characters talk to each other before they fight, and they do so in the same comic full page spread style as in the tutorial). These were just 4 fights, one round each. Full Super Meter in each fight so just had to do a combo or two, then another combo finishing in the Super and boom, fight over. The CPU opponents didn't even try to fight back.
That's it? I noticed I got some points at the end of each fight that leveled up my Ryu (no idea what that does) and gave me some currency, but that currency can't be spent as the shop isn't in the game yet. I was confused, so I went back to the story menu with Ryu to see if I had unlocked any of the other stories and that's when another disappointment hit me: those boxes that looked like options to select another story for the character actually just represent each stage of the Story mode! One fight per box! So nope, no additional stories. I was done with Ryu's story. I tried Ken next and it was the same thing (except that Ken had one less fight than Ryu to go through). I was very disappointed. These were all one round fights, so I was unable to get a good feel for the fighting system and, especially, for the V-Trigger system.
On to Survival Mode!
Lacking content in Story mode, I decided to try the Survival Mode. I decided to play as Zangief here since I really like him. Again these were one round fights so they were over fast. The controls worked well; I was able to pull off the Spinning Pile Driver without a hitch. I was also able to pull off his Super (the one that requires a 720 degree motion and 3 punch buttons at once) easily, though it was an odd grapple and not his usual Final Atomic Buster. It worked, but I have no idea why they chose to change it. Unfortunately, this was not the only change. The Banishing Flat move is gone; it's vanished! He can no longer do this! This meant my strategy had to compensate for it (I usually used that move to shorten the range between me and my opponent) and I was thrown off my game for a bit. So I delved into the command list and lo and behold, Zangief has also lost the fast version of his spinning lariat and the 360 degree command throw with kick. It's been replaced with a half-circle kick throw that seems to function like it, but I haven't played enough to see if it is as good.
Anyway, at the end of each single round fight in Survival Mode you are presented with a menu that charges you for benefits. You pay from your current survival score for perks such as healing and stronger attacks. You can try to make it all the way to the end using as few perks as possible for a high score or abuse the perks and end the mode with a low score.
At this point I tried to get online to play in a ranked match, but it didn't work. I told the game that I accepted a match from any hardware (I am assuming that this is to choose between PC and PS4 players or both) and from any connection quality. No go. I waited about two minutes and there was no match found. I figured that maybe people weren't into ranked matches yet, so I tried for a casual match. Same thing. Getting frustrated, I figured to try for the Challenge Mode. Unfortunately, that mode isn't working yet. The icon is in the Main Menu, but it is dark, as if disabled, and you can't play it yet. I tried to open the Shop and got a message that it will arrive in an update in March.
I ended up in Training Mode, where I chose Karin. I used to like her in Street Fighter Alpha 3, and she was one of the characters that pumped me up the most for Street Fighter V. Unfortunately, she plays quite different here. In her SFA3 version she had a move like Fei Long in which each Hadoken motion with the punch button performed a strike, and successive motions in rhythm would have her perform a combo. She can't do that now unless you activate her V-Trigger. You need to fill a gauge before you do that, so that move isn't available most of the time.
Let's talk about the V-Trigger system now. In short, it's kind of weird. Maybe I'll get used to it, but I believe that the system wrecks game balance. The V-Trigger system has two components: the move that charges the gauge, which is different per character, so it is kind of like the Drive attacks in the BlazBlue series. It is performed by pressing medium punch and medium kick (Strong and Forward if you remember the old button names in arcade cabinets) and it does something different per character. This replaces the Focus Attack, which worked exactly the same for everyone in SFIV.
The problem is that some of the moves are so useful for some characters and some are so... useless for others. Maybe someone online (whenever I can finally play online) will prove me wrong, but I don't see a use for Ken's move, for instance. He does a short dash and performs a kick. It may be an overhead; the CPU opponent is so stupid that it never allowed me to gauge if the move may have been an overhead. The problem is that the gauge doesn't seem to fill unless the kick hits (or is blocked). So if I perform Ken's V-Trigger move, an opponent can just punish me or jump out of the way and I'll never fill his meter. Ryu's V-Trigger move is basically a parry. If you can time it right, he will parry an attack and fill his meter. That's useful! Chun Li's is an anti-air attack that can chain into an air combo. That's extremely useful as she's been denied her Tensho-Kyaku anti-air in this game (ok, she's been denied that move as an anti-air in all the main SF titles as she only has it in the Alpha series, but at least she could do it as a target combo in SFIV). Zangief's V-Trigger is a taunt that can take a hit without causing hit stun but if you hold down the button long enough, it hits the opponent. Mildly useful; it's much better than Ken's. So far, filling out the gauge allows characters to press the hard punch and hard kick buttons (Fierce and Roundhouse) to engage the V-Trigger gauge and that gives them extra attack properties such as flames or electricity for their moves for the duration of the V-Trigger gauge.
I won't really know how useful this is until I play online, but so far it seems that it's a very easy gauge to fill with some characters and a very difficult gauge to fill with others so I don't have a lot of hope for it.
Interestingly, the game feels amazing as most Street Fighter games do! Control is spot-on, hit detection seems very good so far, and character mobility and combo-ability seem good. Some moves got changed around such as Ken losing his medium punch to hard punch target combo but has a medium kick to hard kick target combo that can lead into the same combos as his punch target combo used to. His Hurricane Kick can no longer be performed in the air and has a weird arc reminiscent of the similar kick move for Ryo Sakazaki and Robert García in Art of Fighting / King of Fighters.
Killer Instinct (2013) Meets Street Fighter?
This is how my first impression feels like. When Killer Instinct was released in 2013 for the Xbone, it didn't have many of the modes that it has now. Its basic Arcade mode was a survival mode (with proper 2-round matches instead of the single-round travesties in SFV) and it didn't have a Story Mode. The big difference is that Killer Instinct was free, except that you could only play as the character that was offered for free during that week. You could do everything with that character though. If you liked it, you could buy packs to allow you as many characters as you wanted. Sure, it was unfinished and only had 8 characters at first, but it was honest about it. It was an online-only title with a sort of "Freemium" model.
Street Fighter V seems to follow that same model of things missing or incomplete but it charges $60 up front. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I would have preferred that Capcom have spent another month (or two, or whatever it took) working on the game until it could release a full product. As it is, without an Arcade Mode and with such a sorry story mode, it just doesn't work. It almost feels like an online match only product as you can't even set the CPU as the opponent in VS mode, but unlike titles such as Titanfall (totally different genre, I know) which have really good online performance, I couldn't even find a match to play in Street Fighter V. Granted, it's just been released, but that's usually when the most players are around to play.