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September 2, 2015 / Jett

Street Fighter V Beta Impressions Part 2: The Flow of Combat

1400 words in the first article weren’t even close to enough to covering my thoughts on Street Fighter V. Spoilers: this one won’t wrap things up either. This will though, cover my thoughts on the flow of the game. Let’s get to it!

Just by glancing at the screen, Street Fighter V doesn’t scream next gen like Mortal Kombat X did when I first saw that. It certainly looks better, as the art and animations have been completely redone, but I don’t blame anyone for thinking that it’s just a small step forward.

Where the game shines is in its details. Faces and muscles are much more clearly defined, as are little details in each character’s clothing. Any sort of special effects added to special moves adds a nice touch of visual flair. What I like most are the subtle changes to the animations. In most fighting games, normal moves look the same whether they whiff, hit, or are blocked. For example, when Ryu does his crouching heavy punch and it whiffs, he follows through so that his fist stops around the same height as his face. However, if the move connects, his fist stops much lower, as it connects as a painful-looking gut punch. Taking that extra step is a really nice touch that gives the combat a more dynamic look.

The change in physics doesn’t stop there. Street Fighter IV in many ways was designed to mimic Street Fighter II as a means of attracting lapsed fans back into the fold. I didn’t realize how deep that connection was until I played Street Fighter V. In Street Fighter IV, the physics on hits is extremely similar to its classic precursor to the point where I took it for granted. With the new game, it became very clear to me that this didn’t move the same when I landed an anti-air crouching heavy punch with Ryu. Normally, opponents would bounce off the punch and kind of flip backwards out of it until they land. This time, the person getting hit doesn’t flip and they almost fall with a thud very close to where they would have originally landed in the first place. Besides looking different, having opponents fall so close makes a big difference in terms of how each player can respond as soon as the jumper lands.

In both cases, there’s a weight to the way that moves come out and connect that are very different and very satisfying. As a Street Fighter II or IV player, it’s also going to take some adjusting to. Since moves don’t behave quite the same, even though they look alike, the subtle differences will throw you off for a bit. In the long run, I’m glad that they’re willing to make such a big change to their physics and animation as a means of pushing the series over.

Those sweeping changes are immediately apparent as soon as you pay attention to the nuance, though there differences don’t stop there. When you get your hands on it, you should notice a big difference in the way that combos work. One of the biggest criticisms of Street Fighter IV was that the game relied too heavily on combos that required extremely tight timing. At higher levels of play, being able to perform combos with one-frame links became supremely important, even though the difficulty of these combos was out of reach for many. It took me years to just come to grips with the concept of tight links, and to this day, I’m not nearly as consistent with my combos as I want to be.

The newest game does a few things to mitigate that problem. For one, damage output has been adjusted in a way where short combos do a respectable amount of damage. Against a player who knows how to do bigger combos, a player with shorter combos can still be in it with one or two more good reads. Two, the reliance on linking light attacks into medium attacks has been mitigated. A few links of this nature work in this beta build, though word on the street is that those have already been removed from later builds.

Most importantly, a two-frame buffer of has been included to increase the timing window on link combos. What this means is that every combo in the game is a little easier to perform, making larger combo strings possible for a larger portion of the player base. For example, I was able to do two standing medium punches into sweep with Ryu on my very first try, while an equivalent Ryu combo in Street Fighter IV would take notably more practice to land with any sort of consistency. This is a monstrous change to how the game is played, as it opens the door for more players to kick butt in style.

Veteran players may whine a bit about the bar has been lowered, though it’s certainly not a baby mode experience. The timing for the more complex combos is still going to take practice, as you’ll have to memorize the timing for many different links in any given sequence. Expert players are still going to drop combos in the heat of the moment. On top of all that, landing large combos is still a satisfying experience that rewards practice and skill.

Best of all, it feels like each character has been thoughtfully designed to allow for a lot of offensive creativity. With the general ease in which moves connect, plus moves that have been designed to connect with each other in many different ways, there’s a lot of room for players to take authorship of their experience. Even Ryu, who is generally the most basic character in the game, has some really interesting combo possibilities that will excite beginners and advanced players.

For execution monsters like of Daigo and Sako, I think that the use of V-Trigger within combos is going to be a big part of what keeps players excited. For example, Ryu and Cammy can start a combo, pop V-Trigger mid-combo, and keep the sequence going in a now-powered-up state. Charlie’s teleport is more obviously made for this exact purpose, as he can appear and attack again before his opponent has recovered from his last hit. If Capcom can continue to provide characters with useful and exciting V-Triggers, then this aspect of the combo experience should prove rewarding for quite some time.

The end result is a framework that I think is a better middle ground than Street Fighter IV ever was. It makes it so that newcomers will have an easier time of elevating their skills while still rewarding their efforts with somewhat simpler combos. Meanwhile, players with a deft touch still have something to work for while being rewarded for going the extra mile. Better yet, they achieved this without the need for a desperation move like an Ultra combo to balance things out.

Another aspect of combat that has seen some tuning are throws. In the previous game, throwing became a very powerful tool due to the way throws were implemented. Certain characters could grab their foes from quite a distance away. They caused foes to be grounded for an extended period of time, which led to tricky mix-ups and eventually unblockable setups as the game evolved. Worst of all was the inadvertent inclusion of an option select known as crouch teching. By holding down back on the joystick and hitting both light attacks at once, a defending player could use that one input to defend themselves against multiple offensive options, which often stifled many close encounters with little effort.

Clearly cognizant of their past mistakes, throws have been adjusted to better fit the spirit of the maneuver. For one, grab ranges in general are shorter. Ryu used to be able to do crouching light punches and still be in range to grab. Now, any more than one crouching light punch will push him too far away. In regards to crouch teching, that technique has been completely removed from the game. As for the slow recovery time on throws, fighters now quickly rise from them, which nullifies their usefulness in setting up further mix-ups. All of these changes get a huge thumbs up from me, as it makes throwing a maneuver that can’t be mashed out as a crutch. Instead, you must be deliberate in your throws and throw teching to survive.

Let’s go back to the point about throws being quick to recover from now in the new game. This isn’t just tied to throws, as characters can now quickly get up from pretty much any move that causes a knockdown except for Critical Arts. Without the downtime caused from knockdowns shortened significantly, the overall pace of the game is faster.

The other notable side effect is that it greatly minimizes the wake-up game, as fighters spend very little time on the ground. I personally like the tactical layers that normally come with that situation, though it also led to players who devised their entire gameplans around knocking their opponent down once and then keeping them grounded through a series of mix-ups as they rise. Removing that from the mix forces players to work harder while better matching the spirit of combat.

At first glance, this may look like an incremental upgrade to Street Fighter IV. Once you get your hands on it though, the overall feel of the game is quite different thanks to all of the tweaking under the hood. It feels like a game that has been really thought out to find the right balance between accessibility and depth, as well as the balance between actions and consequences. There are two more beta periods to go before Street Fighter V‘s final release, but I’m anxious to get more time in and delve deeper into this abyss!

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