Street Fighter V has been out for a few months now, all of its season 1 DLC characters have been released and Capcom Cup is this weekend. Since its launch, Street Fighter V has received a very mixed reception from the fighting game community, with some hailing as better than its predecessor and some claiming it is a step back from years of fighting game evolution. Street Fighter 4 grew into a very knockdown and mix-up heavy game, filled with options selects needed to deal with these nearly unwinnable situations. The series’ fifth iteration has attempted to do away with these flaws but unwittingly introduced some very strange new problems to the mix.
Street Fighter V is the biggest fighting game in the world right now, at a time when fighting games are at their biggest, and it’s bothersome that all other games in the genre are largely ignored in favor of a heavily flawed and, honestly, poorly-designed game. SFV aimed to tone down the mix-ups and options selects from Street Fighter 4 by largely removing the knockdown and setup game and making the style more footsie-oriented. Street Fighter has always been about controlling space so that should take the priority over mix-ups. However, as with most modern fighting games, SFV is very over-designed. The thing about fighting games, and competitive games in general, is that players will always find the best way. They will always find ways to exploit the system. It doesn’t matter what the designers intended to be good or bad, what matters is what wins. The design behind SFV screams to its players what they are allowed to do and what they are expected to do. Everything has a proper answer or solution, with every attack designed with a specific purpose. This might sound like a good thing, and for most games, it is, but in a competitive game, this leads to limited, repetitive gameplay and often excessively weak or strong tools. Needless to say, Street Fighter V has a lot of problems.
The most obvious issue that everyone and their grandma has been complaining about is the 8 frames of lag, now 6.5. This is such an obvious problem that it’s impossible to even try to understand the logic of a company purposely incorporating it into the game. There is no way to completely remove input delay from a controller to a console but it should be minimized whenever possible to increase players responsivity. Reaction is excessively important in fighting games. That is what allows moves to be viable. If a move is too slow, it becomes useless. That’s why fighting games tend to have attacks that only take a fraction of a second to become active. If attacks worked in real time with the ability to block instantly, no one would ever get hit. Inversely, if the input delay is as massive as it is in SFV, it becomes harder to react so attacks and options that should not be viable suddenly turn out to be, leading to a messy game that rewards “bad play” or techniques that are inconsistent and only work because the opponent is handicapped in some way. The input delay has been lessened, but it needs to be minimized completely, especially considering how fast attacks are in this game.
There are many deceptive visual elements in Street Fighter V. One of the major ones is the wakeup timing. For some reason, Capcom decided it would be a good idea to have a character visually get up off the ground and stand still for a moment before their knockdown invincibility runs out and they are vulnerable again. This decision makes no sense and leads to deceptive gameplay that creates random situations, punishing players for making good or bad decisions almost equally. Meaty attacks are extremely important in fighting games. Hitting someone as they get up gives the attacker more of an advantage and prevents the opponent from escaping. However, trying to time this attack visually, especially compounded with the input delay, results in a whiff that leaves the attacker open and allows the defender to now take the advantage simply because the game was on their side, not because they made a good decision to escape. It can even work in reverse and make it seem like the defender was already up so they try to get away, but in reality, they cannot move during that period. It may not seem like much, but this is huge in fighting games. This is not a major issue competitively because the solution is to always use the same specific timing, regardless of visual cues, but fighting games shouldn’t be about counting frames and specific, repetitive set-ups. Players should be encouraged to improvise and adapt, not memorize. This deceptive timing scares away weaker players and I’ve even seen high-level players mess up it up and be punished for it. An easy solution is to do what many other games do and allow the opponent to get up whenever they want, thus avoiding specific setups, but also allow them to be hit as soon as they are up, creating an accurate animation that can be easily adapted to.
People who play enough fighting games will often complain about one move or another hitting them from across the screen or comboing as it barely scrapes their toe. This is due to the fact that games generally have hitboxes that encompass the entire attack and a hurtbox that encompasses the entire character. Any interaction between these two causes a hit, no matter how weird it looks or how distant the attack was, and this is the essence of fighting games. Unless they have unique properties, the general rule of thumb is that attacks are almost always at their best when used from the farthest distance possible while hitting at the latest part of the attack possible. This tends to create the most advantage for the attacker and is one of the most prominent parts of Street Fighter as a whole, this constant spacing of attacks. This means that, in a fast-paced match, the players are not concerned with whether an attack is hitting a toe or a torso, they’re concerned with it hitting something. Abel’s infamously outstretched hands allowed him to be comboed in ways that most of the cast couldn’t be simply because the tips of his fingers could be hit by attacks. This main seem strange, but it’s natural when players are attempting to hit something with a fraction of a second of reaction time. Street Fighter V made the strange decision to exclude parts of elements like arms and feet from a character’s hurtbox, resulting in what most people refer to as stubby normals. This is why most people, especially when the game came out, felt like their attacks weren’t hitting when they should be, leading to a slower, less responsive game. Similarly, this creates many unsafe situations for players trying to hit with a move that allows them to continue applying pressure only to see it go straight through an opponent’s arm, resulting in a heavy punish from their adversary. Design like this is the enemy of footsies and intuitiveness. It makes the game both harder and less fun to play. The hurtboxes and hitboxes simply need to be accurate to encompass the entire character. They’ve been that way for years. There’s no reason to change it now.
A somewhat more minor but still inexplicable issue due to these hurtboxes is the strange throw ranges. Throw ranges in Street Fighter games have never been accurate to the animation or even character size, but the ones in this game are particularly egregious. Due to the wildly different models and walk speeds coupled with the inaccurate hurtboxes, throw ranges make no visual sense and benefit some characters far more than others. Bison has an infamously large throw range despite his slow walkspeed while Zangief, with a similar throw range but a much bulkier model and even faster walkspeed has a hard time throwing anyone. Similarly, other characters with much shorter throw ranges such as Urien and Juri have seemingly great throws in practice. This could be attributed to their fairly fast walkspeeds but that wouldn’t explain Bison’s case. It actually has to do with their smaller and thinner character models. Due to the placement of the throwbox in SFV, large characters suffer since their throwbox is wedged inside the model while slimmer characters reach even farther out than their arms do. This is not only a problem because it makes throws, which are already fairly strong in this game, much more rewarding for part of the cast, but also ignores the visual elements of the throw completely.
Coupled with all of these other problems are the more limited movesets. When SFV was being revealed to the public during its multiple beta sessions, it became immediately obvious that many characters had much more limited tools compared to previous games, with the given reason being that each move was now more useful and unique. Close attacks were removed entirely, many other normals and combos were gone, and playstyles in general had been revamped with several special moves lost in the process. This more streamlined approach was somewhat welcome as it made characters more unique and gave individual attacks more purpose. However, some of these decisions became extremely limiting for certain characters such as Juri, who sits at the bottom of most tier lists, lost all her zoning abilities, and struggles to find a defined playstyle.
A big problem with these more limited movesets is the existence of meterless invincible Dragon Punches. Only some characters have them and every single one is considered a threat by top players. They are often placed at the high end of tier lists and tend to do well in tournaments. In a game as offensive as this one, an option like this is game changing, not only because it can get the opponent of you, but because of the threat it creates. Some characters have EX DPs, which are okay, but many characters only have armored moves, which only serve to make throws even more powerful. Against a character like this, players can throw freely on their opponent’s wakeup because there is no way for them to be punished. Yet against characters with meterless DPs, a throw attempt can cost them the round. This greatly shifts the favor towards the defender during an attempt at offense, which is the most viable method of winning at this game.
Along with the moveset changes, gone are most defensive options with the removal of DP FADC and invincible back dashes, replaced by the lackluster V-Reversal system. The first change is welcome. The second is not. Many modern fighting games seem to have a strange obsession with offense and with shifting the tide entirely to favor the victor. I’m not a defensive player. I tend to prefer fast-paced games that force quick decisions and reward action. I do not enjoy playing slow characters, but I do think good defense should be rewarded to some capacity. Players should not be punished for blocking, they should be punished for getting hit. By removing the majority of defensive options, SFV has made it astoundingly easy for any player to turn the tide. Perhaps that was the intent, but that is exactly the opposite of what a fighting game should be. The more hits it takes to defeat an opponent in a fighting game, the more boring but skill-based it is. The less hits, the more random but exciting it is. It’s the job of the designer to find a balance between these two. SFV clearly favors one over the other. Nearly every change from Street Fighter 4’s system has been to nerf defense. This is not Street Fighter. The game should be about a constant back and forth, little victories. Damage should come from footsies, not combos, and if stun occurs, it should be because the opponent got outplayed, not because they guessed wrong twice. This results in a game that feels simple, boring, and unfinished. I was not a fan of SF4 but I might actually prefer it to this game. Elements of Street Fighter are there but none of them work as they feel like they should.
For The Future
Since Capcom has promised constant updates until 2020 and they will most likely announce the next batch at Capcom Cup, now might be a good time to posit and suggest changes. Fixing the 6.5 frames is a given. There’s no reason for this to exist in the game and it only hinders players. Similarly, the netcode needs major buffs right now. It’s unbelievable that a company as big as Capcom should have worse netcode than most indie fighters.
Requested change number two: fix the wakeup timing and the hurt/hitboxes. Do I think these changes will actually happen? No, not at all, but it would be nice. Some hitboxes will be tweaked to buff or nerf characters but I expected hurtboxes to remain mostly untouched and nothing to be done about the wakeup timing or any of the misleading visual elements of the game. This is still something I think needs to be addressed.
A major change I think desperately needs to be made is the return of invincible backdashes. There was no reason to remove them. That greatly simplifies the game and punishes good reads.In a game that is overly offensive and tides can turn from one lucky guess, defensive options should not be removed from the game.
A big change that I believe will come somewhere down the line is new moves. One of the earliest trailers of the game showed Chun-Li doing a spinning air kick that allowed her to continue the combo on the ground. I think this was a very important reveal. Looking at early footage, and even the beta, it seems like characters were slowly nerfed over time, with their options limited. This resulted in a seemingly less fun game but I think that’s the point. I believe that, over time, new mechanics and new attacks will be trickled into the game to flesh it out and “complete” it. Capcom has said that they will continue to update SFV for years and most people took that as being solely for content and balance but I think it also applies to system mechanics. I believe Capcom did this not only to be able to keep the game constantly fresh with many planned updates but also to allow people to adapt to a lesser number of options before being introduced to more.
While I do not think Street Fighter V is currently a very good game, with at even just some of theses changes as part of the promised updates, I think it could at least come to deserve its current popularity. Right now, I think SFV is a huge disappointment, especially compared to its early trailers and is, at best, a microstep above 4. I hope Capcom listens to fans and addresses at least some of these issues as most of them have been voiced many times before. Since its launch, the game has been plagued with nonstop complaints ranging from gameplay faults, to network instability, to glitches, poor load times and accessibility, and several very questionable decisions from Capcom. The game itself has proven far less successful with the casual crowd than they had hoped and while I hate to see the FGC’s most popular game in such a bad light, I believe people need to demand more. Capcom will have to deliver one way or another.