With mainstream acceptance all but a lost cause, Street Fighter V went dark even for the diehards (read: apologists *raises hand*) in May and June after Capcom’s promised monthly updates managed to squeak just past the goalie in the closing hours of March and April. Capcom has bounced back in a big way though and this past Friday, July 1st dropped the biggest update to the game since its initial mid-February launch. Best of the additions is the Netherrealm-esque “cinematic story mode” teased since forever, but this update also brings along two new characters, Street Fighter III’s high school aged kunoichi Ibuki and classic villainious boxer Balrog, new character stages, colors and costumes, and refinements to the game’s online store.
That story mode, titled “A Shadow Falls” is your typical story driven fighting game affair, as previously mentioned, popularized by Netherrealm studios in the last couple of Mortal Kombat installments as well as DC Comics spinoff Injustice, and sure to turn up again in the upcoming Injustice sequel. Nefarious newcomer FANG has devised a plan to honor his lord Bison by placing seven “Black Moons” (think baby Death Stars that siphon power rather than emitting it) around the globe that somehow boost Bison’s signature “psycho power” as well as that of the soldiers in his army. Needless to say, it’s up to our usual gang of heroes to team up and stop him, this time by locating chess pieces that are the key to stopping the Black Moons (designed as a failsafe by the computer hackers kidnapped [shades of Watchmen, the graphic novel anyway] to develop the technology), weakening Bison and his forces to the point of their ultimate (yeah, right) defeat.
“A Shadow Falls” is a goofball love letter to fans that have stayed with this series from the beginning, echoing each game’s previous endings, the eastern and western animated adaptations and even the reprehensible 90’s live action version. Of course the plot barely makes sense and even manages to be strangely repetitive (Let’s infiltrate Bison’s base… again!) in the 3-ish hours it lasts, but you get to fight as and against most every character and even some bonus ones that will hopefully show up in full down the line.
Questionable narrative choices do abound though, especially to the hardcore Street Fighter devotee. Mild spoilers ahead I guess, but Ryu’s arc is particularly troublesome, seemingly having him finally attain control over his “killing intent” (the character’s main motivation since the Alpha days) offscreen with little fanfare, only to show up with this newfound power and basically “save the day” completely independently of the other characters’ considerable efforts. Okaaaaay. Capcom may deserve some credit for not having the entire enterprise be The Ryu Show Starring Ryu as most explorations into SF lore tend to be, but this kind of wasn’t the way to do it. We’re not given much explanation for Charlie Nash’s resurrection or the appearance of supernatural new Finn Balor clone/Akuma stand-in Necalli either. These developments were most likely saved for additional planned story DLC that will probably never see the light of day now given the game’s unceremonious death at retail.
Shadowy “fight god” Necalli’s origins and motivation remain a mystery.
Also disappointing are the myriad of technical issues that mar an otherwise sterling presentation, mostly concerning character models clipping through themselves and each other. Balrog’s hood and FANG’s sleeves are particularly egregious offenders but the worst is bit player Sean’s vest, which behaves more erratically and creepily than the (admittedly cool looking) symbiote goo leaking off of Necalli. Why not just remove these offending garments if they were spazzing out the graphics engine? It’s another little “lack of polish” head scratcher that adds up to a lot in a game that’s been plagued with them since its inception.
Still, even with these slight shortcomings it’s still a joy to play and anybody with even just a little bit of love for Street Fighter in their hearts owes it to themselves to run through it at least once, and it’s free, so if you haven’t completely given up on SFV yet (translation: thrown the disc as hard as you could in the general direction of the nearest GameStop) this is a great excuse to dust the game off and give it another spin, or for those still on the fence to finally take the plunge. It’s currently deeply discounted as part of PSN’s mid-year sale.
Story Mode’s other big plus is letting cheap asses without the season pass, or the “fight money” (*raises hand again*) to afford them, try out the new characters. Ibuki’s a little weird compared to her traditional feel, requiring a cool down mechanic to replenish her supply of throwing knives. I’m never really huge on status effects or stance changes in my chosen fighting game avatars so I doubt I’ll be spending much time with her. Balrog, on the other hand, feels great. Nice and weighty with a bevy of different charge punches, and a glorious rush down V Trigger not unlike Ken’s. An awesomely updated modern realization of ‘Rog’s iconic Vegas stage has been added, in addition to a vacation background for Karin (with a lovingly animated ocean) and several day/night variants of existing stages, which are all now available for in-game earned fight money in the slightly redesigned shop or (of course) for real money on PSN. The drawback though is that previously free DLC characters Alex and Guile are now locked behind a pay wall, and Balrog and Ibuki don’t appear to be getting any sort of similar “free trial period”. One step forward, two steps back, typical Capcom.
We’re also afforded a bite sized taste of the characters yet to be officially made widely available (though that hasn’t stopped hackers from jumping online with them), mix up queen Juri feels every bit as unpredictable as her fan favorite Super Street Fighter IV incarnations and Urien is a perfect realization of his Street Fighter III persona in both form and function, maybe even more so than Alex.
Though Capcom intended SFV to be a long lived base platform for future updates (not unlike Xbox One’s Killer Instinct) the game’s chilly mainstream reception may make Juri and Urien the last additions we see. You wouldn’t know it from the triumphant reaction of the fighting game community though, given the hype surrounding the game’s competition at the recent CEO event and the record breaking numbers scheduled to do battle at the upcoming yearly EVO Championship Series. Just like Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 before it, Street Fighter V may be an unloved and misunderstood child to the majority of the gaming populace but that just means that we dedicated fighting gamers get to have it all to ourselves, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.