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August 31, 2017

Street Fighter V, 1.539 Years Later

I just love the fact that I dumped 100,000 points of Fight Money into unlocking one of the earlier Season 2 characters in Street Fighter V literally three days before the announcement of the next character -- who then proceeded to drop two days later.  Like, I was under the impression that I’d have more time to play, both to get used to my new choice (Kolin) and earn at least a little money towards the next (Menat).  NOPE.  Boy, do I feel like a clown.

Anyway, Street Fighter V.  It’s been out for a good while now, and both it and Capcom have taken heat.  More, and more, and more scorn has been flung their way, to the point where -- if you go strictly by the comments sections online -- one out of every three people hates the game.  Is that a fair assessment?  Well, having put some time into the game, and with so much time passed since its 2/16/16 release date, I think I need to put my own thoughts out there.  At the end of the day, I can only speak for myself.

Still, let me say this to start: the people that like (or love) SFV are entirely justified.  And the people that are disappointed in (or hate) SFV are also entirely justified.

But enough of that.  Here’s what I think.  Ready?  Here we go!

--For some people, it may not seem like much of an effort on the devs’ part to “inject life” into the game just by tossing in more characters.  But you know what?  I think that they really do help in the long run.  Having, learning, and using whatever World Warrior pops up is a key part of the experience, and it keeps things fresh.

--To wit: up until a few weeks ago, I only played SFV once in a blue moon.  But once I decided to try expanding my stable of characters to choices I never would’ve gone with before?  Suddenly I’ve found a ton of new reasons to play the game and get better.

--That said, I’ve run into a weird problem: I can never make any major gains or losses in Ranked because I switch out characters on a whim.  So I’ll lose a ton of points while trying to learn Zangief, but once I get over the hump I’ll earn them right back.  Then I’ll lose those points with Chun-Li, and then earn them back over time.  I haven’t taken the fight online with Kolin yet, but I get the feeling I’ll be withering away in Ultra Bronze for a while yet.

--Granted I was in Silver before, buuuuuuuuuuuuut…well, I took FANG out for a spin a while back, and that was a mistake.

--Speaking of Ranked, there’s something that’s been bothering me for a while: how is it that I can still fight against people (like Ken players) who rely on the same braindead tactics you’d expect from Day 1 in SFIV?  Are there just some people who can slip through the cracks by relying solely on jumping roundhouse into sweep, and random EX Shoryus? 

--Now here’s the big issue: I don’t know if it’s a problem on my end vis a vis my connection (since it’s a problem my brother also suffers through), but for whatever reason I keep getting matched up with guys from other countries -- and because of it, I have to fight matches with absurd levels of lag.  Apparently that’s a reality even if you narrow the pool down by region.  Should I blame Capcom, or curse my miserable fate?

--Seriously, sometimes I don’t even recognize the flags these online warriors are flying.  But even in cases where I’m up against rival Americans, there are times when the lag is…severe, to say the least.  I want to say I dreamed this, but I swear that the lag/rollback netcode was so bad at one point it completely negated the Super I landed with Zangief.  Or maybe it was the work of an enemy Stand. 

--Now let’s talk characters.  Going from SFIV to SFV was a huge loss for me, because Capcom dropped virtually every single character I played regularly.  T. Hawk?  Gone.  E. Honda?  Lucky to cameo in Alex’s story.  Dee Jay?  Basically given the Yamcha treatment.  I’ve only got Guile left, and even then he was never my first choice (as much as I like the character).  So up until the past month or two, I was basically strapped to Birdie, Rashid, and Necalli.  And in turn, Necalli was only a VERY occasional choice.

--I don’t know the Season 2 changes intimately (let alone the Season 2.5 changes), but I heard that Zangief was much improved from the outset.  So naturally, I started trying to use him in matches.  I won’t say he’s my favorite grappler, but he’ll still do in a pinch.  He may have lost his green hand, but he can still make it work by playing things slow and steady with a piledriver every now and then.  Also, I don’t know if this is a popular opinion, but I actually think his SFV super is way cool.  It may just be one suplex, but it’s a suplex that drives foes into the ground just by flexing a little more.  That’s rad.

--I haven’t really gone on about her before, but I’ll set the record straight now: I think Chun-Li is among one of the coolest characters -- not just in SF, not just in fighting games, but overall.  She’s the first lady of fighting games for a reason.  And without a doubt, I think that from a visual standpoint she looks incredible in SFV -- beautiful yet strong, graceful yet fierce.  Of course, that just makes the reality much harsher.

--The problem I have is that I’ve never really, seriously played Chun in any capacity -- mostly because I was afraid I didn’t have the execution needed to play her.  I couldn’t do jack crap with Honda and his Hundred Hands; what hope did I have with Lightning Legs?  But since SFV has painted itself as a more beginner-friendly game, I think the gates have finally been opened.  I’ve learned a bit with her, and I can use her in actual matches with relative success.  “Relative success” being “at the end of each session I will almost always end up breaking even point-wise”, but at least I’m not losing everything I have.  I can’t wait to play her again.

--…Is what I would like to say.  But I walked in on my brother one day, and he was knee-deep in using Chun-Li for his online escapades -- and doing way better than I ever could.  Even if I set aside the fact that it was wholly disheartening to know he would go on a tear (except when he lost -- I really should talk to him about lowering the game’s volume when he plays), there’s still an unspoken rule between us.  We don’t play each other’s characters unless one of us has abandoned said character for a sufficient, obvious amount of time.  So I thought it was safe to pick up, Chun, only to get smacked because of it.  WELP.

--I’ve still got a “pocket” Chun-Li, but I put some time into R. Mika as an emergency measure, just in case my bro sank his teeth into the World’s Strongest Woman and decided to never let go.  I do have a weak spot for grapplers, and Mika is one entry on a VERY short list of female grapplers (which is a problem, for sure, but that’s a discussion for another day).  Now I need to learn some Nadeshiko combos.  Or maybe I’ll just het her belly-flop down to setup a sneaky secret command grab.

--I haven’t taken Mika online either, and won’t until I have a stronger understanding of her buttons and moves.  My big concern?  She might be too volatile to consistently give me what I need to survive.  As I recall (at least from tales of Season 1), she could blow up an opponent in a matter of seconds once she got started and/or snared them in the vortex.  Can I do that consistently?  I have my doubts, but nothing has been confirmed or denied yet.

--For posterity’s sake: I’m mostly okay with Mika’s default costume.  It’s not my favorite, but it’ll do -- and to be fair, I think it’s a step up from her Alpha 3 costume.  I do think she looks better in her cheerleader outfit, her Story costume, and the recently-released school uniform; honestly I think I’d be more excited to play as her if I had easy access to any one of those.  But that feeds into a problem I have with the game.

--Overall, I do like SFV.  But these days, it seems like I -- and others -- like it in spite of everything.  That is, it continues to be a good game in spite of Capcom’s interference (or lack thereof); the business side of the equation really does interfere with the final product in frustrating ways.

--As an example: like I said, I like Chun-Li, and I was (and still am) ready to put some serious time into playing as her.  To facilitate that, I decided that I’d use some of the Fight Money I stocked up to grab some of her other costumes.  “That office lady outfit looks pretty cool.  I should get it,” I thought, unaware of my crippling naiveté.  It turns out that -- for now, but probably for months to come -- you can’t use the currency you earned in-game to grab it.  Your only option is to plunk down cash.

--I thought that the whole purpose of Fight Money was to circumvent having to use real world money.  But in the end, Jim Sterling had it right: the in-game currency is only a pretense, with the game distorted and psychological warfare employed to get you to buy a cosmetic item that would’ve been unlockable a decade ago.  “Oh, yeah, you can use Fight Money to buy whatever you want!  Until we decide that the new content is just too labor-intensive!”  “Oh sure, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to earn Fight Money!  Now you’re free to grind out money at a slow and unreliable pace in order to gain exorbitantly-overpriced trinkets.  Fun!”  It didn’t have to be there, but this is AAA culture and Capcom wants a stake in it.

--Credit where credit’s due: it could’ve been way worse.

--It wouldn’t be as big of a problem if there was a fair and balanced approach to earning FM and unlocking the content you want; countless games have had in-game shops with items obtained via in-game purchases, and that’s been a system that’s worked for whole console generations.  But in SFV?  Gotta grind through trials to get a few Fight Pennies.  Gotta clear Survival Mode to get cash and alternate colors, even though Normal difficulty is basically braindead until the last 5 stages, wherein the AI starts blatantly reading your inputs.  Gotta scrimp and save, because you have to choose between grabbing one of the new stages or unlocking one of the new characters.  Unless you play religiously every single day.

--And what’s it all in service of?  Even if you overlook whole “THERE’S NO ARCADE MODE!” complaint -- which to be fair is a viable one -- there are still missing features that have yet to be implemented.  Matchmaking is problematic.  Promised content (like the nostalgic costumes) went months without updates.  Release windows for new characters have been missed, not to mention that trailers or even basic status reports were MIA.  Individually, it’s possible to overlook these problems and press on with the game -- but the fact that there are so many observable problems, and problems that haven’t been fixed to this day means that Capcom screwed up.  And Capcom doesn’t have a lot of leeway for failure these days.

--It’s a shame, because the core gameplay is still there.  If you understand what to do and when to do it, then SFV becomes less about hitting those inputs within a fraction of a fraction of a second and more about controlling the flow of battle.  That’s how it should be.  It’s still recommended that you learn more than just jumping roundhouse into sweep, of course; still, fundamentals outstrip extended, resource-dependent, ultra-long combos.  Read the opponent, manage your moves, and fight judiciously.  That’s what it’s all about.

--It should go without saying at this point, but…seriously, don’t jump whenever you feel like it.  You don’t know how many matches I’ve won (and lost) by way of a successfully-landed anti-air.  That’s especially the case when you have anti-air Supers to be mindful of (Rashid has one, as does Bison -- and those are the two surefire ones I know off the top of my head).

--I’m still new to Kolin, but her standing roundhouse exemplifies one of the things I enjoy about SFV: it’s got some serious impact to a lot of the moves.  With Kolin, if you land that big boot, you’ll feel it in your bones -- not to mention open up some new combo opportunities.  Regardless, it’s a way to help players get engrossed in the fight; nothing says BATTLE quite like a screen-shaking blow.

--Speaking of Kolin: bold choice for her to brave harsh blizzards while letting a decent-sized chunk of her thighs hang out.  I guess that’s the zettai ryouiki at work.

--I got around to trying Abigail finally.  I feel like my first impressions are a bit weighted to one end because I did so against my brother -- whose endlessly-pressuring, high-mobility, only-I-get-to-attack fighting style is what I liken to “a selfish lover” -- but he seems OK.  He’s really big, which means he’s probably vulnerable to certain combos and moves that’d whiff on others.  Fighting against Menat and her Soul Spheres (especially when you don’t know how to counter that) is a hassle.  He’s so slow, he makes Potemkin look like a Lamborghini.  That extends to his normals, too, which means even a crouching medium punch has insane startup.

--But in turn?  He’s freakin’ strong.  Even a basic combo into an EX move seems like it does monumental damage, to say nothing of his command grab.  I’d imagine he’s even more of a terror once you learn how to use his other moves (or even learn his other moves), like his command run and his slam attack.  Until then?  His V-Trigger state alone makes him dangerous because -- setting aside his charge-ready punches that become unblockable -- he also gets a power boost, just like Birdie.  If my guess is right?  If an Abigail corners you, start praying.

--There have been times when playing SFV has made me long for Guilty Gear.  Why?  Because even if GG is considered by many to be the harder game to play, I value it for offering multiple, viable defensive options.  If you have the meter for it, you can blow someone off you, steadily repel them (while negating chip damage), stop their offense cold with a well-timed attack, or just burst to cancel their combo immediately.  That’s all on top of the defensive moves each individual character has, whether it’s a reversal-ready DP, a counter, an anti-air, or whatever.

--Meanwhile, SFV has…V-Reversals, and that’s basically it.  I know that some characters have to be better at taking pressure than others, but that feeling of helplessness when you’re getting attacked isn’t what I’d call pleasant.  Nor is the fact that you know what your opponent is doing, but you don’t have a good, instant, reliable answer to it.

--On the whole, though, it seems like this is a game that dramatically favors offense, and I’m not sure if that was the best move.  Off the top of my head, I know that Ken, Laura, Karin, and Rashid all have dedicated moves that help them get in faster.  Chun-Li and Balrog do as well, albeit in different forms.  Then you’ve got a whole host of characters that are part of the Screw Fireballs Club -- like Bison, Nash, Menat, and hilariously enough, Ryu.  That’s just based on their V-Skills; it doesn’t take into account the myriad anti-fireball moves the cast has.

--Sometimes, you have to get up close and personal.  That’s fine.  But having played this game for as long as I have, it seems like - up until recently when Guile climbed up the tier list -- SFV has a strong slant toward rushdown and pressure, and in-your-face action.  And, okay, that’s not my favorite fighting style, but it’s fine to have some characters prioritize that.  Now it seems like all but a couple of characters prioritize that, and even those that don’t are still pretty decent at it.

--It makes me wonder if they dropped guys like T. Hawk and Dee Jay because the devs couldn’t figure out how to make them super-fast, in-your-face types of guys.  Same goes for Honda, too -- although I’d think that with Hundred Hand combos, he’d fare a little better.  Or the will to go buckwild with his data.

--Are there still footsies in SFV?  Depending on who you ask, some say yes, and some say no.  I say yes, but with an asterisk.  Yes, some characters have normals that let them fight at their pace and distance, as per their strategy.  But even if that’s true, there are a lot of buttons in this game that don’t have the reach you’d expect or even hope for.  Ryu’s crouching medium kick is a famous example, but it’s hardly the only casualty.  There are gifs of normals that just flat-out whiff, and it’s frustrating to have happen in an actual match.  Part of the reason why I play Birdie (and started to use Chun-Li) is because I wanted a button that could at least come close to outranging others.  The alternative is to walk into someone’s attack range and get clipped because of it.  (Though of course, there’s more to footsies and normals besides pure range.)

--Granted, it’s still entirely possible to make fighting in the neutral game work for you; I’d imagine that’s what forward and back dashes are for, after all, and pro players like Punk are making it work.  But SFV’s “lack of footsies” is a meme for a reason, and it’s one more point of contention -- a real sour note -- that this game didn’t need.

--…But maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan, who cares about the fighting game shit in a fighting game?  God, the soundtrack is so incredible, and they just keep piling on the hits.

--So, like, there’s input lag in this game.  Originally, it was set at eight frames; somewhere along the line, Capcom reduced it to roughly 6.5.  It seems like such an inconsequential thing, but I’m starting to suspect that even a guy like me -- someone that probably has turtle blood running through his veins -- can feel it.  My inputs in a number of cases seem totally wrong, not just early or late.  My blocking doesn’t register.  I swear on my bones that I’ve input the proper commands to stop jump-ins, but they didn’t pop in and I lost because of it.

--Admittedly, I’ve wondered if it’s less of a problem with SFV and more of a problem with the PS4 pad; it feels like I get more execution errors there than I did with, say, the PS3 pad or the 360 pad.  That might be something worth looking into.  Then again, I don’t have nearly as many problems when I’m playing Tekken or Guilty Gear.  Given that?  And given how many times dear old big bro has wailed into the night about how much he’s crippled by those accursed eight frames?  I’m inclined to believe that, once again, those who leverage complaints aren’t just doing it because all the cool kids are doing it.

So at the end of the day, I have to be frank.  Yes, I like SFV -- but even if that’s true, I recognize immediately that it’s not in an optimal state.  The last time I played online, I managed to do pretty well for myself with the proper actions and reactions against my opponents.  And it felt great, no question.  It truly was the romance between player, player, and game.  But then that romance went belly-up when there was such a severe lag spike that we jittered around the screen like we were stuck in a corrupted QuickTime Player file.

It’s so disheartening to know that there are these issues with the game, even now.  I want to go on this journey with SFV -- to find my own answer in the heart of battle -- but thanks to Capcom, it feels like I have to walk on a road covered in hot coals, caltrops, and Lego bricks to do it.  And it shouldn’t be this way.  Not with THE marquis franchise, the lord of the genre’s old guard.  I don’t know what it’ll take for SFV to redeem itself -- to become something that people are still playing because they love it, not just out of obligation -- but I hope that something gets done soon.  I really, really do.

So, Capcom?  I know I said this already, but I’ll say it again: come back.

Now then.  Let’s see how Marvel Infinite turns out.

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