Street Fighter V is the latest title in the marquee fighting game series that made fireballs, six-button layouts, and quarter-circle motions a thing. It's a reset of the franchise, with Capcom going back to the drawing board and crafting a title that still retains its high-level play, but allows new players even greater entry into the world of Street Fighter.
Simplicity and Variety
The starting roster is comprised of 16 fighters; series mainstays Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li are joined by returning challengers like Birdie, Karin, and R. Mika, and all-new fighters like Laura and Rashid. It's a solid roster and Capcom has worked hard to make each character unique in their own right. Laura for example, feels like she should be a kick-based character, but is actually a mobile grappler. Another new entry, F.A.N.G., adds a poison effect on certain attacks, which is a first for the series as far as I can tell. Vega is still an acrobat, flying across the screen every which way, but his charge moves have been changed to quarter-circle motions and the like, making him a more aggressive fighter now.
This commitment to uniqueness extends to the all-new V-System, spread across a few different concepts. First up, there's the V-Skill, a unique ability every fighter can access simply by pressing Medium Punch and Kick at the same time. Ryu's V-Skill acts as a parry, consuming a single hit if well-timed. Zangief's Iron Muscle is similar, but holding it down causes Zangief to walk towards his opponent. Ken's is dash, allowing him to quickly close gaps. R.Mika's V-Skill increases the strength of her throws the longer she's allowed to use it. The two-button activation means these special skills are available to all players regardless of skill level. Some are easier to use, but all V-Skills fit the character.
Next is the V-Gauge, which fills as your fighter takes damage and underpins the rest of the V-System. Fighters have either 2 or 3 bars of the V-Gauge and like Street Fighter V's Ultra gauge, the idea here is that players can turn the tide of battle if they're taking a pounding. A V-Reversal, activated by all three punches or all three kicks during a guard, counter-attacks and pushes an opponent away. It's great for a brief respite from heavy pressure and only costs one bar on the V-Gauge.
Then there's the V-Trigger, which requires a full V-Gauge. You activate the V-Trigger by pressing Hard Punch and Kick at the same time. Every V-Trigger heightens your fighter's abilities, kicking them into overdrive for a single attack or short period of time. Cammy's Delta Drive increases her speed and special move recovery times, an upgrades her Spiral Arrow for one shot. New fighter Necalli's V-Trigger is infinite, giving him new combos and making him stronger until the match ends. Nash's Sonic Move lets him straight up teleport for a limited time. Rashid throws out a huge whirlwind that can damage opponents and pushes Rashid's speed on certain special moves.
The V-System as a whole makes every character play very different, while still occupying the same game. Despite the variance in V-Skills and V-Triggers, the game feels relatively balanced at this point. Capcom was able to draw upon two previous betas, so every character feels like they have a fighting chance. I'm sure character tiers will appear eventually, but I think we're starting on an even foot here.
Capcom has made a host of other gameplay and balance changes as well. Every character has a single Critical Art this time around, as opposed to the options found in Ultra Street Fighter, and you can land a Critical Art from a combo much easier this time around. Normal attacks no longer change based on proximity; a hard punch is always a hard punch regardless of distance. There's a new priority system where the stronger attack wins in a trade-off. You have to be standing to escape out of a throw.
All told, Street Fighter V is a bit simpler, but it's also tuned to be a more offensive game. Like the Vega changes above, most characters are built to push forward and be aggressive. The only real exceptions are Dhalsim and F.A.N.G., both of whom require more setups and mindgames to deal great damage.
The core of Street Fighter V is great. You can take this game from launch right into tournament play with no issues. The problem is in the bells-and-whistles.
Not The Final Round
This time around, Capcom is treating Street Fighter V as a service. You buy Street Fighter V and the developer just keeps adding on new content. Some of that comes as free updates, some as paid DLC. Capcom has a robust content update schedule already in place, but unfortunately what you're paying $60 for today is pretty barebones.
You get the Story Mode, which features 2-4 character battles mixed with static hand-drawn and voiced cutscenes. You get Versus mode, letting you set up a match between local players. You get Survival mode, allowing you to tackle matches in succession, and Training mode, where you can practice your moves. On the online side, there's Battle Lounges, which are Street Fighter V's version of multiplayer lobbies. Then there's Casual and Ranked matches.
The problem is, there's a ton of details that are missing from that list above. The Story Mode is painfully short and there's no difficulty settings; veteran players will breeze through most stories in 10-15 minutes tops. Capcom has a full-fledged Story Mode planned for release this Summer, but that doesn't help you right now. Playing Story Mode wins you Fight Money and the ability to unlock an alternate character costume, but you can't actually acquire the costumes because the in-game Store won't be live until March. There's a block for a Challenge Mode on the menu screen, allowing you to pick a character and complete certain tasks, but it also won't be live until the March update.
Survival Mode has four difficulty settings - Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare - but at no point does the game give you any indication as to how long your Survival run is. I started on Normal and finished 30 matches before I paused and decided to check when Survival ends. It's 10 matches for Easy and 100 matches for the other difficulty modes, but there's no counter or anything in-game to let you know when you stand.
The game includes a basic Tutorial at the beginning, but if you wanted to learn a character, there's no mode like that in Street Fighter V. You just have to go into Training Mode with a guess-and-test mentality.
Online works most of time, but the options available are equally spartan. You choose your fighter for online play ahead of time, so there's no ability to counter-pick. Matchmaking takes 1-2 minutes and you're shuffled into the match immediately. If you want to rematch the same player, no dice, there's no option to do that. The Battle Lounges will eventually allow you to invite up to eight people, but currently, you can only invite one.
There's also weird login issues. I created a Capcom ID in my first playthrough and finished a few Stories, racking up some solid Fight Money. When I started up the game later, I had to recreate my Capcom ID, but my Fight Money was gone. The Stories were still completed, but the in-game currency I gained is just dust in the wind. [Note: I've been told this was apparently working as intended, with Capcom resetting the servers each day.]
Street Fighter V isn't bad, but it's missing so many quality of life features. Put this in an arcade cabinet and I'd say it's amazing. In a retail release, it feels lacking. There's so many features that other fighting games have nailed that are just gone here. If SFV was a car, the vehicle would sport a powerful engine with great handling, but it'd be missing air conditioning, heat, and windshield wipers. Street Fighter V is a Steam Early Access game without the label.
There's two types of players who should buy this game. Those who want to play competitively, or those who believe in the eventual scope of Capcom's vision. I think Street Fighter V will be an amazing game when it's done, but it's nowhere near done yet. As it stands, for a fighting game fan, it's just great. For everyone else, wait a few months.
It's a fighting game. As long as you're good with online, it'll last forever. If you're playing alone, this is a short fight.
Street Fighter V is a subtle, but amazing upgrade to Street Fighter IV.
Street Fighter V is a great core for the next generation of Street Fighter. The roster of 16 characters is varied, the game has been tuned to be easier for new players, and everything feels relatively balanced. Unfortunately, SFV is missing most of the bells-and-whistles we've come to expect from a retail fighting game. Capcom is updating the game, so it'll reach greatness eventually, but it's not quite there yet.