In these final days before E3 2015 kicks off properly, I got to do something that few outside of Capcom have been able to: getting my hands on an early version of Street Fighter V.
Having been there to see the first live Street Fighter V gameplay during the Capcom Cup finals last last year, I was pretty excited to try the game for myself. Part of the reason—being honest—was that I wanted to see how it would be different from Street Fighter IV. Even though visuals alone don’t a fighting game make, the huge style and graphical difference between each previous chapter had helped cement that they were new, original projects. Street Fighter V, in some ways, looked like an upgraded version of its predecessor with a different real-time filter applied. Could this actually turn out to simply be a tweak of SFIV, or would this really be a fresh path for the legendary fighting-game series?
At its core, Street Fighter V is still Street Fighter—that hasn’t changed. However, SFIV this is not. Having only spent an hour and half or so playing the latest build of the game, it’s hard to fully explain—or even appreciate—all of the differences. Still, that was enough time to prove that fact to me. I love Ultra SFIV, but I’ve got an excitement for what Capcom is putting together here that it can’t satisfy. In a weird way, SFV feels to me like a spiritual continuation of Street Fighter III, much like I couldn’t stop seeing SFIV being one for Street Fighter II. When I told that to decorated member of the fighting game community and Capcom employee Peter “Combofiend” Rosas, he actually disagreed with me—at least in terms of overall speed, which he said was noticeably faster than either SFIII or SFIV.
Thinking more about what I played, I guess it’s the style, the atmosphere, the attitude that made me think that way. Street Fighter V, in some regards, feels like a more serious, “grown-up” take on the franchise. Again, maybe I’ll change my mind the more I play, but I couldn’t shake that I was playing something that really was working hard to do its own thing.
There’s also evidence of that in the fighting engine itself. Gone is one of Street Fighter IV’s most notable tactics, the damage-canceling Focus Attack, replaced with a new, easier-for-all-players-to-grasp “Variable System.” This gives birth to three new techniques: V-Triggers, V-Skills, and V-Reversals. The last of those, V-Reversals, will be somewhat familiar to Street Fighter Alpha players, as they work very similar to alpha counters. While blocking (and with enough of your V-gauge filled), pressing forward and all three punch or kick buttons can get you out of a tight jam and give you the chance to regain the upper hand.
The other two new aspects of the Variable System are where things get especially interesting. In recent years, there’s been a trend in fighting games of giving each character a technique or concept totally unique to them among the cast, and it feels like that’s the kind of idea Capcom is going for here. Forward, high punch, and high kick together deploys a V-Trigger, while forward, medium punch, and medium kick gives you a V-Skill, each specific to every fighter. (The former requires a full V-gauge; the latter is available as often as you’d like.)
When playing as Ryu, for example, activating his V-Trigger gives extra power to his hadoukens for a limited time, boosting them with guard-break properties. His V-Skill, on the other hand, acts almost like a Street Fighter III–era parry. Chun-Li’s V-Trigger makes many of her attacks multi-hit, and her V-Skill is a diagonal jump no other character can perform. For Nash, his V-Trigger is a quick teleport in one of three directions (depending on which way you were holding when hitting the buttons), while his V-Skill lets him absorb basic projectiles to build up his V-gauge. Finally, Bison’s V-Skill also lets him snatch up fireballs, but instead he’ll send them back at his opponent. His V-Trigger, meanwhile, boosts his psycho power, speeding him up—he players slower than before by default—and giving his moves additional psycho properties.
At first, it seems a little bizarre to enable powerful abilities via such simple commands. Really, though, it’s like any attack in fighting games—worthless unless you know how to use it. Making the V-Triggers and V-Skills easy to perform doesn’t instantly give players skill they wouldn’t otherwise have.
While not all the changes were quite on the same level as totally new combat features, I did appreciate a number of little things I noticed. The character models are a really nice step up from SFIV, giving the cast a more refined, detailed look over what we were previously given. And while Capcom’s fighters are still sporting the same outfits we’ve seen for far too many years now, they’re at least dressed in a new sketch-style effect that’s interesting yet never overstated. Chip damage can only end a round if it comes from SFV’s iteration of supers, Critical Arts—at least as of this moment—and when a new round begins, each player starts on the side of the screen they were last on.
Even from the videos included in this writeup, it might be hard to convince you at this point that Street Fighter V really is going to be very different from the years of fighting-game experience we’ve now had thanks to Street Fighter IV. It’s still, of course, too early to make any definitive statements about how the final game will end up—but I can absolutely say that I’m far more excited with what’s coming in Capcom’s fighting franchise than I was before. I still have a lot of hopes and hesitations for how things will turn out from here, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that, as the roster expands, it won’t just become another dumping ground for Street Fighter II characters that refuse to give their place in the spotlight to fresher faces.
Still, Capcom, congratulations: You’ve got my full attention now.