Anyone who has played a version of Street Fighter IV will remember that a defining feature of the game, and one thing that separated it from other Street Fighter games, was that it encouraged a sort of defensive and responsive form of fighting. That is to say, people could use their Focus attack to absorb damage while moving forward and preparing an unblockable attack. Not to mention gaining access to a character’s most powerful move, the Ultra Combo, mostlrequired taking some punishment first to fill up a Revenge Gauge. While it is not to say giving players a chance to counterattack when they may be losing is wrong, Street Fighter V forgoes this mechanic entirely by replacing the Revenge Gauge and Focus move with the V-Gauge and its related abilities. When I finally got my hands on the game at the show floor, I honestly have to say this may shape up to be my favorite Street Fighter yet.
What it all comes down to is after my first few matches of Street Fighter V, I felt more capable and dangerous than I ever have with a new fighting game. This is thanks to the V system, which by the way is but one of many of SFV‘s plays on the number five and its Roman numeral equivalent. As you may have heard, the V-Gauge is coupled with a V-Skill, a V-Reversal, and a V-Trigger that seem unique to each character. This allows you to have more than just one trick up your sleeve in every round of every fight that the opponent cannot match and must instead figure out how to counter. In low level play, where admittedly I fall under, the V system let me push forward in an already short round. Take my man, Ryu: his V-Skill is a parry which will block a normal hit or a projectile without taking damage, all while adding to his V-Gauge. Many other characters simply cannot do this unless they use their V-Reversal, a powerful character-specific counterattack that eats up part of your V-Gauge and requires a forward command the moment you successfully block something. The reason for why a simple parry which increases your V-Gauge is so nice is that you now take chip damage from what looks to be everything. That’s right, if you do not use Ryu’s V-Skill parry, then even if you block, that HP bar will still go down. On the bright-side, unless you’re hit with a Super Combo, you cannot be KO’d with chip damage. On the even brighter-side, this turns Street Fighter V into the more aggressive fighting gamer that many have been wanting.
Some noticeable changes were made to encourage you to fight back as soon as you can, or “Rise Up”. On top of the fact that blocked attacks still hurt, your dashes and quicksteps no longer seem to have invincibility frames. So even if you quickstep right when you’re about to get hit, if that hit looks like it hit you, then it hit you. Also, characters generally move slower than before. The hits generally do more damage now, so every time I hit someone I could look at their HP and see a dent. It felt good. However, the hits themselves are also slower, there is more wind-up before a strike and more recovery afterwards than in past games. For relative novices like me, this means I did not need to look for that rare opening in someone’s defense, I could instead push forward whenever I think I see a pause. For more advanced players, this means that even more mistakes will be made, and even more moves will be punishable to a great extent. Perhaps most importantly, your Super Combo meter and your V-Gauge gain fast. Since both the Super meter and the V-Gauge gain from landing hits, using special attacks, and even taking damage, you have access to your advanced arsenal far sooner than before and in each round. After a one or two exchanges of punches, maybe three kicks, a tornado kick, and two fireballs, my Super Combo meter was about full. That’s not to mention my V-Gauge, which seemed to always be full, and allowing for V-Trigger, far earlier than I would need it to be.
After two rounds, I grew more confident in what I had at my disposal because half way through a single round, I could usually already use my Super Combo and had already activated V-Trigger. Every round was explosive, every round had plenty of room for both myself and my opponent to give it everything we had without worrying about the next round. It felt awesome, and more importantly, it felt very fair. Since characters have such different V-Skills and V-Trigger abilities, not to mention their base move-sets, I was often taken by pleasant surprise by what each character could do. Cami, for example, has a short-lived but relentless V-Trigger that makes her special attacks hit many more times than normal and then chain into another round of multi-hitting moves immediately after. I found out the hard way that against a half-decent Cami player, V-Trigger means I can not make a mistake or a scary chunk of my health will be gone in a blink. Every character has a V-Trigger benefit of a similar nature, Ryu’s makes his hits stun for longer, allowing for even easier combos. Nash’s V-Trigger transports him behind the opponent upon activation, another sudden maneuver that caught me by surprise. All this goes into the idea that when you use your V-Trigger, you better be ready to lay down some hurt. This isn’t to mention your Super Combo and the EX versions of the special attacks, which contribute the raw power you quickly have at your disposal in every single round. The ability to turn the fight around is easily in your hands, and in your opponent’s hands, making every round just as much a struggle for dominance as it is a struggle to survive. That is not say, though, that the V-Trigger is game-changing – because it is not. Your V-Trigger does give you a boost, but it does not give you a huge one, meaning it is not there to lean on. Instead, it is another character-specific tool in your box. So every time I could do something awesome, which was pleasantly very often, I also had to earn it and actually make it happen. As a result, Street Fighter V somehow feels even more about skill now than before. This is aided in the fact that though every character is even more defined than before, they all feel similar enough in that nice Street Fighter way.
One minor issue I have is with the boobs. Like what seems to be every single modern fighting game made with 3D models, the female fighters in SFV have liberal breast jiggle. When I see Cami, who is ripped like Arnold Schwarzenegger, with some bouncy water-balloon breasts, it kind of extinguishes my fighting spirit. Even if at times, it seems out of place enough to be funny. Speaking of, the game is absolutely gorgeous, animations are very smooth and there is a large amount of detail put into the backgrounds. Characters look amazing, their muscles are fantastically defined, and their faces are excessively detailed. Going back to issues though, a more important gripe from my time with the game is that the reduced speed and harder-hitting nature of the moves may just lead to slower, high damage characters simply getting even more powerful. Take a look at Birdie, who is a large grapple character who can power himself up and focuses on close knock-downs. He has high HP and can do massive damage in a single move. In my experience, these abilities benefited from how Street Fighter V does not currently allow anything resembling a particularly fast style of play, and the fact that he will do even more damage in V-Trigger.
To sum up, I saw the potential for things to actually get boring fast for advanced players as, though the game is much more approachable for new players because of the reduced speed and enhanced damage, I can see it resulting in a competitive experience that is only equivalent to the sum of its parts. Which is concerning, since there are not that many parts. I also didn’t win a single match I played, but like with Dark Souls or Bloodborne, I didn’t feel too bad about it. It was my fault, my mistakes; the game gave me everything I needed to combat a opponent who could give me everything they had, and the better fighter won. I must say despite it all, it was the most exciting series of losses I have had with a fighter in a long time. I look forward to mastering Street Fighter V, and for the first time, I want to master as many characters as I can. The greatest thing about Street Fighter V so far is the systems seem pretty simple at first but can result in a wildly eventful round from start to finish.
Look forward to Street Fighter V next Spring for PC and PlayStation 4, I know I do.