Street Fighter V: Fighting Style

“Fighting games are dying.” It’s said time and again. With dwindling sales and a limited appeal compared to the triple-A games of other more popular genres, it can be easy to believe that fighting games’ health bar is somewhat diminishing. Yet despite their declining sales figures, fighting games have created one of the most passionate communities in all of gaming. That, in no small part,is down to the success of Street Fighter. As Capcom UK fighting games community manager Matthew Edwards states, “Street Fighter has been a mainstay of competitive gaming ever since Guile threw his first Sonic Boom.” 


Since Street Fighter II’s release in 1991, the fighting game landscape has changed. Now, fighting games are facing their biggest challenge to date. Low sales means less developers are willing to invest in fighting games and the genre could potentially end up as dead as the text adventure. At the same time, however, the fighting game community is in full bloom. As professional fighting game player Justin Wong states, “[The tournament scene] has grown substantially. Because of streaming and new technology, the numbers of tournament competitors and spectators has increased significantly.” While the games struggle to sell, the scene grows exponentially. 
“WHILE THE GAMES STRUGGLE TO SELL, THE SCENE GROWS EXPONENTIALLY”
Capcom fully understands that for Street Fighter V to succeed, it needs to work with the fighting game community. “Capcom is committed to growing the community and giving the tournament players a real incentive to push the game further,” says Edwards. Yet there is one in herent weakness to the competitive Street Fighter scene: it’s fragmented. While some tournament goers are still playing Street Fighter II, others are playing 3rd Strike, and still more are playing Ultra Street Fighter IV. And not only are there different games, but different systems too. “During the previous console generation, the Street Fighter community was primarily split between the three platforms:  PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, says Edwards. “This wasn't ideal as tournaments tend to be run on one platform rather than all three.”

It was to this backdrop of a large and passionate but ultimately fragmented community that Capcom announced its partnership with Sony, making Street Fighter V exclusive to PS4 and PC. It’s a move that seems to have been welcomed on all accounts.

As Olivier “Luffy” Hay, current Street Fighter IV World Champion says, “Sony will participate in Capcom’s business plan to emancipate the game, while the exclusivity of Street Fighter to the system will boost PS4 sales.” This announcement was followed with news that Street Fighter V would utilise cross-platform play, merging the PS4 and PC scenes into one, and thus unifying the online community. “One of our goals with Street Fighter Vis to have an online community that's less fragmented,” says Edwards. “If you’re [top on one system] you won’t have to check another leaderboard to see if you’re really at the top of the table.”

It’s clear that Capcom has big plans, not just for Street Fighter, but for the competitive scene too. For its plans to come to fruition, however, it needs to deliver on the game itself.

Running on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 (as opposed to Capcom’s own Panta Rhei engine), Street Fighter V is utilising some of the most powerful technology in the industry to ensure its place at the top of the market. Though only a few games have so far used Unreal Engine 4, they include the likes of Batman: Arkham Knight, Dead Island 2, and Tekken 7 and they all look stunning. While some gamers have complained that the early footage of Street Fighter V looks too similar to Street Fighter IV, series producer Yoshinori Ono has stated that the current graphics are nowhere near the final product. Street Fighter V is only approximately 20 per cent complete at the moment, and even at this early stage of development, there’s already cause for excitement.

Where almost all previous Street Fighter games have been cartoonish, Street Fighter V is far more realistic. Gone are the cutesy and rather flat character models seen in Street Fighter IV. In their place are more solid and lifelike character models, more like those in Namco’s Tekken series than what we’re used to seeing in Street Fighter. The backgrounds have been upgraded too, and now feature partially destructible environments similar to NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat and Injustice: GAUs.

Humorous touches also add personality: one stage takes place in a restaurant where a bowl of noodles can be knocked over onto a character’s head.

Of course, for the serious Street Fighter player, updated graphics and destructible environments are mere niceties. What ultimately matters is gameplay. Taken at face value, you could be forgiven for thinking that Street Fighter V is yet the same old fighting game that’s been consistently updated since 1991. Spinning Bird Kicks, Shoryukens, and, of course, Hadokens… it’s all very familiar. That, however, is simply the nature of fighting games. In a genre where for the past 30 years, two characters have stood face to face with a health bar above them, andhave continued to punch, kick and fireball their way to a knockout, it’s easy to think nothing changes. So far from the shooter genre (where 2D side-scrollers have become fully realised virtual worlds) or the RPG genre, where simple top down quests have now become staggeringly epic stories with enough characters and lore to fill an entire volume of encyclopedias fighting games are, by contrast, all about iteration and nuances.

Evolution in fighting games is seen not in complete overhauls but in refinement, in the constant perfecting of a character’s move-set, in Ryu’s Hadoken becoming the Shinku Hadoken, becoming the Denjin Hadoken, and the Metsu Hadoken; in Super Street Fighter II’s Super meter becoming Street Fighter III’s EX meter, becoming Street Fighter IV’s Ultra meter. Street Fighter’s evolution has been more akin to a sport than a videogame, with changes to the rules year-on-year leading towards a more perfect game. Soit is that each game has been a variation on a theme, a new take on the same premise.

One of the most important aspects of every Street Fighter game is the character roster. Street Fighter has always been a masterclass in character design. As commentator and former Capcom community manager Seth Killian says in documentary I Am Street Fighter, “There’s something powerful and resonant about the characters… you can find your self in one of the Street Fighter characters.” So iconic is Street Fighter’s cast that even a professional player will often choose their character based not on their moves but on how they relate to them. “I chose to play Rose because she’s a fortune teller, helping the other contestants,” says Luffy. “I’m of ten the type to give advice tomy friends, [so I find I can relate to Rose].”

Street Fighter characters don’t just make for exemplary iconography, though they’re essential to the core fabric of the game. Most shooters could star any character capable of wielding a gun. Street Fighter V’s characters, however, require perfect balancing. Only through a varied and balanced character roster can Capcom ensure that players of all different play-styles are given fair opportunity. So it is that while Luffy says, “Rose suits my play style as she’s a zoner who keeps her opponent away,” Justin Wong requires something different a character who allows for what he calls a “passive play-style”. He says, “I prefer to defend more than attack, and I only attack at the times where I think it’s safe to do so.” Grappler, rushdown, zoner, mix-up…whatever characters Capcom pick, they need to ensure that players can play in whatever style they've become familiar with.

Not surprisingly, Ryu and Chun-Li were the first characters announced. Both are characters who personify the ‘footsie’ style the traditional Street Fighter play-style. Despite being familiar, both characters are already showing differences to their previous incarnations. Ryu, for instance, Doesn't appear to be the same balanced character he was in Street Fighter IV, but more of a heavy hitter. His walk speed and moves seem slower than in Street Fighter IV, he’s regained his Street Fighter III Super Art, the Denjin Hadoken, and he’s found some meaty normal attacks we’ve not seen before.
“THERE IS SOMETHING POWERFUL AND RESONANT ABOUT THE CHARACTERS”
Chun-Li, meanwhile, has her Spinning Bird Kick and Kikoken fireball from Street Fighter II, as well as a Street Fighter X Tekken style ground-bounce that allows her to continue combos after a knockdown. Of course, this is just early days. Capcom continually tweaked and balanced characters even half a decade after Street Fighter IV’s release, so we’re sure to see numerous changes during Street Fighter V’s development.

Given their intent to unify the Street Fighter scene, Capcom is bound to take a thoughtful approach to the character roster, including characters from all major Street Fighter games in order to please as many fans as possible.The addition of Charlie Nash (Guile’s counterpart and fellow zoner) has already put a smile on the face of many older gamers the last time Charlie was playable was in Marvel Vs Capcom 2 in 2000 and, before that, in Street Fighter Alpha III in 1998. We expect to see faces old and new as Capcom fills out a predicted sixteen character spaces between now and the game’s release.

As for the overall feel and play style of Street Fighter V, Capcom is taking its traditional holistic approach to the game’s design, incorporating different aspects of numerous Street Fighter games to create a game that is at once familiar but also new.

If Street Fighter V leans towards any one of its predecessors, it’s Street Fighter III. Though the possibility of a return of the parry system is now looking more like a nay than a yay, there’s still plenty of 3rd Strike action in Street Fighter V. Take Ryu’s Super fireball, for instance. It’s not the Shinku or the Metsu from Street Fighter lV, but rather the Denjin hadoken, a Super Art from Street Fighter III.

Then there’s Chun-Li, who has a new spinning kick air-combo ender that looks uncannily like her Tensei Ranka Super Art from Third Strike. She's also rocking a new attack a lot like her Houyoku Sen attack the 3rd Strike Super Art that daigo " the Beast” Umehara famously parried at Evo 2004 to defeat wong. Add to this a Street Fighter III style EX meter, normal-cancellable Ultras, and the fact that certain moves appear to have Guard Crush properties, and it’s clear that Capcom are intent on satisfying the Street Fighter III fans, who are especially prominent in Japan, where 3rd Strike tournaments remain popular.

Street Fighter IV fans are also likely to be pleased with the direction Capcom is taking. For starters, the Revenge meter in Street Fighter V looks near identical to its predecessor’s Ultra meter (and even shares the pre-release ‘Revenge’ name). An attack similar to Street Fighter IV’s Focus Attack allows moves to be cancelled, leaving plenty of potential for combos we’ve already seen Chun-Li cancel her Lightning Legs into a continued combo, and can’t wait to see what combo-intensive players like Sako and Poongko come up with. Finally, there’s the nature of the combo system itself. The biggest combo we’ve seen so far has been Ryu hitting (what looks like) a jumping Fierce to close standing Strong to far standing Strong to crouching Forward and finally into a Denjin Hadoken. Though it’s yet to be confirmed, the timing and combination of attacks looks like a ‘linking’ system (timed button presses) rather than the chain combo system of Street Fighter X Tekken. Speaking of that crossover game; the ground bounce makes a welcome return, allowing for air combos to be continued for a short spell after a knockdown.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to the Street Fighter V formula so far is a stance change system which nods back to the Alpha series. The burning EX meter allows for a stance change that alters characters’ moves. Chun-Li’s stance change, for instance, doubles her attacks such that a Kikoken becomes two Kikokens. This could add a new element to the fireball zoning game as one fireball cancels the enemies attack and the other hits them. Interestingly, the animations that lead into these stances seem elementally charged. Ryu’s animation sees him enveloped in lightning (similar to the introduction to Super Street Fighter II, in which electricity wrapped around his body prior to him throwing a fireball). Chun-Li’s animation, meanwhile, incorporates water effects. It’s yet to be confirmed whether these elemental animations have effects beyond the visual.

By approaching Street Fighter V through a process of unification, Capcom should end up pleasing the vast majority of Street Fighter fans. What remains in question, however, is the new approach Capcom is taking to the offline tournament scene. While Edwards states that “Capcom’s always had some focus on the competitive scene,” prior to 2014, Capcom took a conservative approach to the community. The majority of tournaments for the past 25 years haven’t been run by Capcom but by hardcore members of the fighting game community, such as Shoryuken. com’s Joey Cuellar (Mr Wizard), Tom Cannon (Inkblot), and Tony Cannon (Ponder) the team behind the Evolution Fighting Game Series, the largest fighting game tournament in the world these days.
“PERHAPS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE TO THE STREET FIGHTER V FORMULA IS A STANCE CHANGE SYSTEM”
Capcom advanced its position within the competitive scene throughout 2014 with its Pro Tour Circuit, which brought some of the year’s best competition. “The Street Fighter 25th Anniversary and Capcom Pro Tour circuits have staged some of the hypest matches in Street Fighter history,” says Edwards. “These are all part of an ongoing commitment that Capcom has to competitive gaming.” At the Capcom Pro Tour Grand Finals in December 2014, Capcom advanced its position further, announcing that, thanks to its partnership with Sony, the total monetary prize pool for the 2015 Pro Tour would be $500,000.

This represents a major increase over the 2014 Pro Tour, in which Grand finals winner Momochi took home a comparatively modest $30,000. “By offering a prize pool of $500,000 for this year’s Capcom Pro Tour, the hope is that the level of competition will go through the roof,” says Edwards.

There are those, however, who question where the boundary lies between Capcom and the tournament scene which has been built by the hard work of fans. “Capcom doesn't so much want to take charge of the Street Fighter community as it wants to build a bigger stage for it to thrive on,” says edwards. Though some in the fighting game community will contest the point, Justin Wong says, “It’s great that Capcom is getting more involved with the tournament scene. The community is only going to get bigger and better.”

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