I played in a Street Fighter V tournament yesterday. Suffice it to say, I lost. Still, I had fun; and at this point, that's maybe all I can ask out of the series as a longtime fan and an avowed fighting game scrub.
Yes, I'm writing this from the perspective of a casual player. I'm not going to pretend that I can write fluently about cross-ups and individual matchups. I have all the respect in the world for the prowess of the fighting game community, but they left me behind long ago. I'm the Street Fighter equivalent of the middle-aged parent who still plays pickup basketball.
Still, I've retained a certain affection for Street Fighter through the years. I discovered the series back when it first hit arcades in 1992; and like many gamers from that period, have continued playing it through its various console iterations up through Street Fighter IV. I've long been trapped in the fighting game genre's middle class - good enough that I can consistently beat my friends at parties, but not good enough to compete seriously.
I know I'm not alone, either. A friend of mine plans to buy a PlayStation 4 for the express purpose of playing Street Fighter V, even going so far as to purchase a pair of high-quality fightsticks. With all due respect to him, though, he's even worse than I am. Still, his love for Street Fighter is pure, and I respect it.
Anyway, with all of that out of the way, I'm comfortable saying that I like Street Fighter V. In many respects, the fundamentals of the series remain intact - the speed, the way in which every frame matters, the irreverent sense of humor that has given us characters like Birdie. But it's different, too. Ken, who has been my main since time immemorial, now has a fast-acting hurricane kick that moves at a diagonal rather than in a straight line across the stage. There are V-Triggers, V-Reversals, and V-Skills - timed abilities that temporarily grant characters increased power. And, of course, there are new characters like F.A.N.G, who bring new styles of their own to the table.
What's most interesting about Street Fighter V, though, is that Capcom is apparently interested in catering to scrubs like me - people who like the series and will watch tournaments like EVO, but feel overwhelmed by high-level strategy. They've been at pains to simplify the inputs wherever possible; and when the game begins, there's a full-blown tutorial outlining some of the new systems. In promoting Street Fighter V, Producer Yoshinori Ono has been vocal about his desire that it be as accessible as possible new players, but not at the expense of the pros.
There's a simple reason for this - eSports. League of Legends blew up because it was free-to-play and relatively easy to pickup, affording it a built-in audience for pro events. Capcom would like to take Street Fighter's existing competitive heritage and grow it into something bigger - a game that can possibly compete with the Counterstrikes of the world. To do that, they need a larger audience, which means broadening Street Fighter's appeal. Being a heavily skill-based game that requires a minimum of $60 to play, Street Fighter is at a disadvantage against the current eSports giants, but it has name recognition and a history that is almost without equal.
Will it grow beyond the fighting game niche? Maybe. It still has a perception issue among more casual players, and the cost alone is a significant barrier to entry. Being more accessible doesn't make it any easier to beat high-level players, as I discovered when Vince Ingenito from IGN ripped me apart with Rashid in the loser's bracket. There's a massive gulf between "good" and "competitive" in Street Fighter - one that I suspect many people will never cross.
Whether it's pure nostalgia, or familiarity, or just an appreciation for Street Fighter's distinct style, though, I just keep playing it. It has an appeal that transcends the boundaries of the genre, which goes a long way toward its longevity. In the end, the fact that scrubs like me are still playing it after all these years may be its greatest advantage.
A few more thoughts after an afternoon spent with Street Fighter V:
- Having spent time with the various new characters, I think I like Laura the best. She looks cool, she has terrific reach with her kicks; and if her attacks connect, they do some serious damage. It's also fun to watch enemies jump into electric projectile by mistake. Of all the new characters, I felt the most comfortable with Laura.
- Most of the other journalists, though, seemed to gravitate toward Rashid, who leans on a few relatively simple inputs that produce some devastating attacks. He has a flying kick that comes out incredibly quickly, and he tends to come in from awkward angles. Vince's Rashid moved around the screen so fast that I felt like I was standing still with Ken. I think he'll be a newbie favorite, but I also think he'll be a newbie killer.
- Most of the journalists, who were scrubs like myself, tried F.A.N.G. once and immediately switched to someone else. If you're a button masher, he's not going to do much for you. However, my old acquaintance from my 1UP days, Richard Li, seemed to take to F.A.N.G. immediately, and he's definitely someone I would call a high-level player. His strategy with F.A.N.G. was mostly to zone you out with poison; and if you got in too close, he would do a devastating cross-up combo and reset. That is the difference between a good player and a silly scrub like myself.
- Believe it or not, I actually managed to advance to the quarterfinals before being knocked down to the loser's bracket and subsequently losing to Vince's aforementioned Rashid. It was Karin who ultimately got the best of me. I was doing okay, but I kept getting too impatient and attacking recklessly. Her defining trait is still that haughty laugh from Street Fighter Alpha 3.
- As I said before, I'm a Ken player, and the term "flowcharting" - basically spamming shoryukens - was invented for me. I know I shouldn't, but it's so tempting when Ken's V-Trigger basically sets every one of this moves on fire. Love you forever, Ken.
A final note: No, I won't be reviewing Street Fighter V when it arrives a couple weeks from now - so don't worry, it will be in much better hands. But for all of my deprecation of my own skills, I still plan to pick up a copy of my own. If nothing else, I can still beat up on my poor friends.