BY WILLIAM SWIFT
ON March 29th, the final update for Capcom’s Street Fighter V was released. Titled “The Definitive Update,” it marks the end of the game’s six-year life-span and attempts to leave the game in the best possible position for future competitive play. In many ways, this final update is Capcom’s final attempt to patch up the spotty legacy of Street Fighter V and leave it in as best of a place as it possibly can before releasing Street Fighter 6 onto the world.
The update is loaded with changes for every single character that the community is still trying to figure out. Furthermore, it adds a number of flashy cosmetics to the game’s already excessive cosmetic library, and two new visual filters for the player to experiment with. As the community labs away with these new features to try and rebuild the metagame, I am left with one question for Street Fighter V – how far have we come since the very beginning?
As a diehard Street Fighter 4 fan, I was eager to play Street Fighter V. I followed any development updates, listened to the sample music – I even pre-ordered the game, just so I could play the open beta in 2015. It was by far my most anticipated game release of 2016.
Yet all I can remember is disappointment with the game. I didn’t play it nearly as much as Street Fighter 4, and my lack of interest in V led to me dropping out of fighting games for years. I wasn’t the only one. Many critics and players found themselves disappointed by Street Fighter V on release.
So, in this review, I want to tackle two things. Obviously, I want to review the new update and determine how worthwhile the new content is, and if its changes to the game are good.
But I also want to look at what exactly happened to Street Fighter V over its six-year history. How has the community responded to the consistent growth of the game? Have the issues that first earned it criticism been addressed?
Ultimately, the question I want to ask is this: can the six-year support of Street Fighter V create a clean slate for the games’ legacy?
The Definitive Update
The Definitive Update, at first, might seem a little underwhelming for the fanfare it received from Capcom. Balance adjustments, new filters and some new alt colours are pretty underwhelming on the face of it. Most of Street Fighter V’s patches have done these sorts of changes and additions.
However, this is far from the truth. The sweeping changes of these patch notes are so long that each character has a page dedicated to their list of changes. The balance changes made are extensive and seem to fix many of the balancing issues that high-level Street Fighter V players have been talking about for quite a while.
The patch notes brought much needed buffs to some of the less popular, struggling characters in the roster, and really took some of the strongest characters down a peg. Personally, I play Ryu. So I had my eyes on the Ryu changes – and sure enough, a character that is typically considered underwhelming got some really solid buffs that have brought him back into the metagame. At the very least, I’ve made it out of the changes very pleased.
It’s not all positive, though. Many pro-players have been upset about the lack of changes to the newest fighter addition – Luke. Luke has been incredibly strong since he released in November last year, and many players were expecting big nerfs for the dominant character. Despite his dominance, Luke received light nerfs compared to his competitors. This has led to the disappointment of many players, claiming that Luke will dominate the game for it’s final year.
A personal favourite addition of mine is the new cel-shading filter added to the game. Street Fighter V, in my opinion, was always a bit of a visual mixed bag. Some characters look wonderful, like Ryu or Chun-Li. Many other characters unfortunately did not receive the same treatment, unfortunately. Ken especially has become a laughing stock for how poorly he has been modelled. The cel-shading feature helps to cover up some of the uglier bits of the game, which is much appreciated.
However, this new feature cannot be used online – making it functionally useless in single player outside of a prettier training mode. Alongside this, the other “Arcade” filter is absolutely hideous. It removes a lot of visual clarity, pixelates the screen and carries none of the appeal of the original arcade graphics.
The Definitive Update is lacklustre when it comes to content. The new skins don’t really add anything at all, just being palette swaps for the tracksuit costume. The cel-shading feature is very nice, but its inability to be used online is disappointing and its companion, the arcade filter, is repulsive.
The real star of the show is the massive number of balancing changes. They change the competitive landscape of the game and bring a breath of fresh air to the twilight of a game that has been going on for six years. If you’re looking for this update to be the smoking gun as to the quality of Street Fighter V – you’re going to be disappointed. But if you were looking for a time to get into one of the most active fighting games internationally right now? This new update is a great opportunity.
Looking Back: Six Years of Support
Street Fighter V released in 2016, after 8 years of Street Fighter 4 dominating the competitive landscape. Expectations were high from the fighting game community. The long-awaited sequel to Street Fighter 4 was finally within reach, and each of the new mechanics was encouraging. The new V-Skill and V-Trigger systems were seen as creative and game-changing by the pros’ who had played the game before release. However, even before release, there were concerns.
I’ve already mentioned Street Fighter V’s lacklustre visuals – but in the pre-release trailers, they were even more apparent. Ken especially saw a lot of criticism for his redesign and was the subject of many memes that made fun of his new “banana hair.” The game saw criticism for its “plastic” art-style. However, many expected these things to get changed closer to release.
Then the betas happened. I was there for the beta. It was a disaster.
For starters, the first beta was cancelled due to network issues. So, already – not a great sign. A second beta was announced, and people were still cautiously optimistic. The second beta drops, and yet again network issues plague it. Many people cannot access the game at all. They are locked into the title screen as the game fails to connect to the servers. Others quickly find that there is a bug in the matchmaking, meaning that the game is very rarely finding actual opponents.
The second beta closes. A lot of confidence in the community is waning for the game, but many assumed the problems will be fixed at launch.
The game launched and it became clear that they were not.
On launch, the roster was very small, and missing a lot of fan favourite characters. Fan favourites such as Akuma and Guile were missing, in favour of newcomers like F.A.N.G that were almost universally unpopular. A lot of the returning popular characters also saw their movesets simplified – leading a lot of upset character loyalists.
Alongside this, the single player options in Street Fighter V at launch were pitiful. The story mode was a joke – with incredibly easy opponents and no difficulty selection. There was no arcade mode, either. This left players who were uninterested in online play very little options with the game.
There were a lot of reasons to be uninterested in online play, too. The netcode was appalling. Laggy games made up a majority of online play. Alongside this, online didn’t have a character select – meaning you were locked into a character before you even started matchmaking. Both of these things alongside the confusing lobby system and the buggy servers that players were required to deal with made online feel like a waste of time.
All of this was exacerbated by 8 frames of input delay – an unusually high amount for a game like Street Fighter. For reference, Street Fighter 4 had 4 frames of input delay on PC. 4 frames might not sound like much, but it is a massive delay in a game where every frame counts.
Overall, this list of flaws left Street Fighter V in a grim state. Many remarked that the game was unfinished. It was a sad state of affairs for the grand follow-up to the biggest fighting game of the last decade. It still had an active competitive scene that Capcom was willing to support – yet many peoples trust in Street Fighter had been shaken.
But Capcom were determined to win them back – and they spent six years trying.
Patches upon patches started coming out for the game. First, new characters began releasing. Alex, a returning character from Street Fighter 3, was released in March 2016 – only a month after the game was released. The DLC characters were priced at $6USD each. This led to another controversy. Street Fighter V was already considered an unfinished game released at full price, and now Capcom was trying to charge more money for content? To many players, this was unacceptable.
Nonetheless, the DLC kept coming, and the game’s roster kept padding out. By the end of the first year of the game, the roster had gone from 16 to 22. Alongside this, the game had added new single player content. Individual story modes had been added, alongside a cinematic campaign known as “A Shadow Falls.” The story modes were received well – but “A Shadow Falls” was largely considered to be a waste of time.
In 2017, the game’s first revision was released, Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition. This revision of the game came with a bounty of new features and characters. It included every single character that had been added over the course of 2016 and 2017 – bumping up the roster from the original 16 to 28. Alongside this, it included two new single player modes, new moves for every character and the promise of another six new characters to be added to the roster. On top of all of this, each character got a new V-Trigger. This meant that the new mechanic that pros had been excited for in the beginning was finally starting to realize its potential.
Suddenly, Street Fighter V was turning heads again.
The content would keep coming. In 2018, the promise of another six characters was fulfilled – and yet another six were on the way. The roster had now gone from 28 to 40 characters. The roster complaint had been all but eliminated, as had the complaints about the lack of single player content. At the tail-end of 2018, the input delay concerns were finally addressed. With a patch, the input delay was lowered to about 4 frames – around the same as its predecessor.
In 2020, the revisions continued. Street Fighter V: Champion Edition was released. All previous content was released with it, again with the promise of five new fighters as DLC. This would bring Street Fighter V’s roster from 16 at launch to 45 – making it the largest roster in Street Fighter history. Alongside this update was the addition of alternative V-Skills, meaning that another underwhelming mechanic was now lauded by players for its depth.
That brings us to now, with this final update. There have been smaller balance patches and changes along the way, but that is the brunt of the major changes to Street Fighter V over its lifetime. The game is now nearly unrecognizable from where it began. Now, the game is considered one of the most solid entries in the Street Fighter series, with an active player-base and widely successful competitive scene.
Not every issue was fixed, though. The netcode is still poor, and the online mechanics are still very unstable. There has been nearly no effort put into fixing this aspect of the game, meaning that the online modes are unfortunately still behind many of its competitors. Alongside this, there is no way of compensating those who bought the game on release for full price. Capcom has since admitted that the game was unfinished – meaning that those who bought the game on launch purchased an unfinished product that they could only “finish” by spending more money. This is unacceptable, and no improvement to the game can excuse it.
So, were the updates enough? Did Street Fighter V reclaim itself from its horrible reputation and establish itself in history as one of the better entries in the series?
I think the answer is yes, and no.
Street Fighter V is an incredible success story for Capcom. To go from a critical lashing and shunning from both reviewers and players to one of the most popular fighting games on the planet right now is no small feat. As someone who has watched it happen in real time, it is incredibly surprising and encouraging for the future of Street Fighter. I can feel the difference in quality from day 1 to now, and it is night and day.
Yet I do not think it is possible for Street Fighter V to ever surpass the nightmarish launch it had, or the unfinished mess that the game released as. Every discussion about Street Fighter V must reckon with this aspect of the game – and it is better that way. As much as I enjoy what the game has become now, it doesn’t take away the years in which the game was simply not good enough. To try and forget Street Fighter V’s launch would be a disservice to the fans who pushed for better, and the developers who listened to them.
Street Fighter V’s history will always remain spotty, even in the face of its updates. However, now that the game is done – I hope Capcom has learnt their lesson. This whole six-year history of scrambling to fix Street Fighter V if they had taken the time to finish the game in the first place.
Here’s to Street Fighter 6.