Kick, Punch, it’s all in the mind
After nearly thirty years, the Street Fighter series has still been going strong. With more incarnations than most people can remember, the series is seen by many as the quintessential example of what the fighting game genre can aspire to be, and what the hardcore fans look for when it comes to deep, refined gameplay.
As the next installment is steadily coming out of its shell, there’s been reflection about the legacy of Street Fighter. With the many communities that have spawned from it — some shaping the way we view and think about fighters, and some players even going on to becoming celebrated for their skills — Street Fighter‘s impact on the genre and the fans is undeniable.
I was fortunate enough to be among the first crowd of fans at last year’s Capcom Cup to witness the first live Street Fighter V gameplay, in which Mike Ross and Combofiend battled it out with Ryu and Chun-Li. It was clear from the energy in the room that the fans were hungry for something fresh from the series. The atmosphere was electrifying, to say the least, and SFV gave them a pretty good tease of what’s to come. However, the folks at Capcom have been tight-lipped about sharing any details of their upcoming fighter. Though we’ve gradually gotten more info, such as the reveals of Nash and M. Bison as returning characters, we’re still in the dark about the raw mechanics.
Thankfully, the time has come for some details to drop, and with E3 coming up, Capcom figured it was time to show what Street Fighter V has to offer. At a pre-E3 event in the Bay Area, Capcom and members of the FGC working on the game opened the floodgates to share all things Street Fighter V. Not only did we get some first-hand knowledge of how the returning characters feel in their new digs on current-gen hardware, but we also got to toy around with the Variable System, Street Fighter V‘s brand new mechanic that will set itself apart from the rest.
So wrap your knuckles and put up your dukes — this fighter has still got some new tricks to pull.
Street Fighter V (PC, PlayStation 4 [previewed])
Release date: TBA 2016
Once Street Fighter V is released, it’ll be looked back on as a point in the series for many firsts. For starters, SFV is the first title in the series that will be available on only one console, but will also feature cross-play with the PC release. This is a big thing, as each platform for the previous installments tended to build its own microcosm of players. Not only will they play against each other, they’ll share the same patches and updates, which will keep them together and competing regardless of the platform they choose. Moreover, Capcom is ensuring that online play will smooth and swift as ever with its new proprietary netcode called Kagemusha. Using some sophisticated rollback-based netcode, the developers are invested to ensure that the online play is consistent and hassle free.
This is also the first in series to utilize the new and ever-versatile Unreal Engine 4. Though there were some concerns about whether or not Unreal could handle a title as twitch-based as SF, given the past iterations of the engine had difficulties with rendering and maintaining a solid frame rate, thankfully my time with the new fighter has made me a believer in the tech employed here. Not only are the visuals incredibly sharp and full of vibrant colors and details, the performance is rock solid. Simply put, this is the best Street Fighter has ever looked, and these images, nor the trailers, can match having the game played right in front of you.
But enough about the fancy visuals; you want to hear how it plays. Of course, with every follow up to a massively popular and well-loved title, there comes the ever important question: what did they change? As you could likely tell from the trailers, Street Fighter V looks very similar to its predecessor, taking advantage of the same mechanics, like EX moves for instance, but also the similar focus on defensive gameplay (SFIV‘s Revenge Gauge). Street Fighter V definitely maintains those elements, but does them in a way that makes them feel unique to this installment. For instance, the Super Moves have now been upgraded to the new Critical Arts, which still require full EX Meter. While many of the signature moves are the same (Ryu’s Shinku Hadoken and Chun-Li’s Hoyokusen, for instance), the Critical Arts are more deadly and flashier than the supers of past.
What I was surprised most by was that it goes further and features echoes to past SF titles — even some influences from Street Fighter III and the Alpha series. While I initially thought they were just call-backs relevant to the characters (particularly the appearance of Nash), I found that the developers have essentially incorporated many elements that were successful from past titles, sometimes re-contextualizing them in interesting ways.
After playing SFV, it was readily apparent that the previous trailers and footage we’ve seen haven’t done the game justice one bit. Especially when you realize that they’ve been keeping one of their game-changing mechanics a secret. And it’s one of the most interesting, engaging systems the series has seen in a long time. With the new Variable System, fighters can take advantage of multiple tactics and abilities that stem from the V-Gauge, an evolution of the Revenge Meter. As they build up bars of the gauge from taking damage or executing special V-Skills (character-specific support moves activated with MP+MK), they can use moves such as the V-Reversal, a powerful counterattack activated while blocking and pressing all punch or kick buttons (at the cost of one V-Gauge bar). But once you max out the meter, you can activate the special V-Trigger (HP+HK), which brings out the fighter’s true potential.
Despite some speculation, V-Triggers are not stance changes. The Trigger puts the fighters in a unique state for a short amount of time, where they can take advantage of unique buffs and some modified moves. Each character has their own unique take on the Variable System, which not only adapts to their own style, but does a lot to flesh them out. During my three hours of play, I got the impression that Street Fighter V is planning on enhancing the in-game narrative a bit by reflecting more of personality in the gameplay than ever before. For instance, Ryu’s take on the system is influenced by his experience as a world-traveled warrior, and during his time, he’s educated himself on different fighting styles, giving him the knowledge on how to best confront whoever he faces. In order to give you a better idea of what the Variable System is like, I’ll be giving you an overview of things for the four playable characters we know of so far.
Starting with Ryu, his V-Skill, called Mind’s Eye, brings the return of the legendary Parry mechanic from Street Fighter III. For the novices out there, Ryu can time his skill at the exact moment of contact to block off enemy hits with no chip-damage — and yes, it can be used for successive hits. Though in order to keep it balanced, it’s unusable in the air. Once his V-Gauge is maxed out, he can activate his V-Trigger Denjin-Renki, imbuing him with a powerful aura for a limited time and grants him the ability to charge up his fireballs, giving them guard break potential. Also, his fireballs are given lightning properties, and when they connect you’ll see brief flashes of the enemy’s skeleton. It’s a neat visual callback to SFII.
Chun-Li’s Variable mechanics focus on her maneuverability and dexterity during battles. As one of the more agile and aerial gifted fighters in the game, her Variable moves play on her strengths in a big way. For instance, her V-Trigger ability Ren-Kiko puts her in a powered-up state and gives her special moves extra hits. Her V-Skill, called Ren-Kyaku, is essentially a command jump that allows her to manually jump in any given direction. While this may seem like an odd skill, this command jump causes damage while leaving the ground and gives her ease of movement for some exceptional cross-up potential. The guys from Capcom I played against used Chun-Li quite effectively, and I left in awe of her acrobatics. It even made me want to shout out ‘eh, eh, eh!’ during her air juggles.
Next up, we have the return of Guile’s mentor and best friend Charlie. Since his last appearance in Alpha 3, things aren’t the same for Charlie, who now goes by Nash. His new look shows that he’s a changed man after his experimentation and torture by the hands of Shadaloo, and many of his former abilities have been modified, adopting a focus on swiftness and gap-closing maneuvers. His V-Skill, known as Bullet Clear, allows for him to absorb incoming projectiles and turn them into energy for his V-Gauge. For his V-Trigger, Nash does something a bit different. While many other characters enter a timed state that enhance moves, his trigger allows him to instantly teleport to a desired direction at the cost of his V-Gauge. Though this may seem a bit hefty of a cost for a teleport move, his V-Trigger can open up foes to a world of hurt if timed during a barrage of projectiles, leaving them vulnerable from behind or even in the air. By far, I had the most fun with Nash. He feels totally different from before, as his previous incarnations borrowed from Guile’s moveset, and I’m pleased to say that he’s truly come into his own for SFV.
Lastly, we have M. Bison. As the main villain for much of the series, he’s seen a bit of an upgrade since his last appearance. While older and a bit slower than his previous incarnations, he’s still got plenty of tricks up his sleeve. With a far more menacing appearance, the leader of Shadaloo uses his Psycho powers to a far deadlier effect. With his V-Skill, called Psycho Reflect, he’s able to conjure up a field of energy to bounce back projectiles and force them back at his enemies. As a charge-focused character, also sporting a modified movelist, this comes in handy when dealing with projectile-heavy opponents. With his Psycho Power V-Trigger, his abilities come into full effect, granting him increased speed and damage for special moves, and replacing his standard dash with a short-range teleport.
I was impressed with what the Variable system brings to the table. In Street Fighter IV, the Revenge Gauge was only used to build your Ultra Combos, which for a lot of the skilled players often went unused. Thankfully, Street Fighter V makes better use of the mechanic here by making it a more active element during fights. The system added a whole layer of nuance to an already tried and true system, and I was super pleased with how easy it was to pick up. Though you’ve likely seen the phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master” thrown out a lot for games, I feel SFV lives up to that in a big way. I suspect many of the pros and hardcore fans will have fun analyzing the depths of the Variable System.
It should be stated again at how gorgeous this game looks in motion. The frame rate was solid, and the new visuals have given the characters a greater level of detail. Though in some spots, it’s clear that the game has still got things to work on. During the London stage, which looks incredible by the way, the background visuals didn’t quite match up with what was going on in the foreground. For one, the frame rate was a bit off with the background action, which became a major distraction during battles running at 60 frames per second. But of course, this title is still a ways off, and it’ll likely be cleared up before release.
I have fond memories of growing up with Street Fighter II back in the day, and although I’ve kept with the series since, there were only a few titles that really blew me away and actively got me to up my game in order to compete with friends. Now am I saying that SFV matches those moments I had as a kid? Of course not. I only played a few hours of an unfinished build without the complete roster, after all. But what I did play showed a ton of promise, and honestly, I haven’t felt this excited about Street Fighter in a long time. It’s a great feeling having a new game in the wings, and I’m just itching to get back into the thick of it.
Be sure to check back with Destructoid during the week of E3. We’ll likely see more exciting titles from Capcom at the show. It’s certainly going to be a good lineup this year.