The 80’s were defined by plastic cartridges that required a good blowing. Despite the fact that it is a complete lie, Super Mario Bros. 3 may be the definitive game of that bygone decade of wizardry. The 90’s saw cartridges give way to discs, and Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 7 both defined the new gaming experience in their own ways. The start of the 21st Century saw us go from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 to Demon’s Souls in the span of ten years, but it was a decade generally defined by solitary console experiences mixed with the occasional smattering of of online interactions. The Wii’s couch-based waggle or Rock Band’s fantastic plastic seemed to capture the public’s attention a lot more easily than Xbox Live.
And the defining experience of the teens of the 2000s? That’s the four-year boondoggle that has been Street Fighter 5.
Full disclosure: Street Fighter 4 is and was one of my favorite games. It is the game that, in 2008, revived the “official” Street Fighter series for the first time since Street Fighter 3, initially released over a decade earlier. Now, that’s always been kind of a misnomer of a factoid, as the Street Fighter series never completely went away, what with Street Fighter battling SNK or the X-Men or whatever Ryu decided to stick his fist in this week, but Street Fighter 4 was technically the first real Street Fighter in what seemed like centuries, and it was received warmly merely for its existence. And then it turned out to be a great game, too! Hooray!
Street Fighter 4 captured the fun of the original Street Fighter 2 through easy-to-learn special motions and combos that seemed to crop up naturally when jump kicking with Ken over and over again. The story aped Street Fighter Alpha with small, basic pre-battle “taunts” between fighters, and everybody got a cool anime opening and ending to further cement the fun of the traditional arcade mode. And, as an added bonus, you could whale on a second player until the cows came home online or locally (depending on the version, sorry 3DS). It was everything you could ever want a Street Fighter title to be.
But nobody cares about that. What we care about is the roster. Street Fighter 4 launched in arcades with a total of 17 playable fighters (the original twelve of Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition, Akuma, and four totally new contenders). That number grows to 19 if you include the two non-playable boss and secret boss characters. From there, the home version (released a few months later), added six new fighters from Alpha and Super. So, right off the bat, you had a roster of 25 on your home system. Three or four updates later, and “Ultra” Street Fighter 4 hit its endpoint with a grand total of 44 characters. That’s pretty amazing for the traditionally restrained Street Fighter franchise (SF3 barely got past 20), and, in a way, absolutely everything a Street Fighter fan could ever want. Look at this sweet roster:
So, yes, Street Fighter 5 already had a strike against it when it launched on the same system that could play Ultra Street Fighter 4, but had a roster that looked like this:
That’s 16 world warriors as an initial offering. Coincidentally, that’s exactly one less than Street Fighter 4 offered at launch. Still four new characters, but less OG fighters, and no unique bosses or hidden martial artists. None of the new class from Street Fighter 4, either. This was not a great first impression.
At its launch, many people claimed Street Fighter 5 was a “paid beta”. This seemed apt, as the traditional trappings of Street Fighter were all but missing. There was a story mode for each fighter, but it was two or three fights with little more than a biography screen. There was a survival mode, but it was the same predictable lineup every time. And, most disparaging of all, there was no “arcade mode” at all. And you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone! The lack of an arcade mode or unifying, overarching story was concerning, but, don’t worry, guys, DLC is coming! Street Fighter 5 will be whole soon! Don’t yell at us! It will get better!
And this was made all the more disappointing by the potential seen in the base of Street Fighter 5. Many old fighters returned for SF5, but they were starkly different from their older versions. Ken now felt like an entirely separate entity from Ryu. Chun-Li didn’t have to rely on hammering the kick button. Dhalsim had projectiles that matched his slow and stretchy punches. Birdie got fat. And Charlie Nash, our Guile-expy, was some kind of revived zombie back from the dead, but, more importantly, he didn’t have a charge projectile. Dude was sitting and blocking in the hyper-active Vs. series, but here he is with a quarter circle motion. The implication seemed clear: there would inevitably be DLC for the “old” characters, but they would be as new and different as F.A.N.G. and Necalli.
And Street Fighter 5 did attempt to crawl out of the grave it had dug for itself. A complete (and, frankly, surprisingly quite fun) story mode was released a few months after release. Around that same time, many new fighters were introduced. The likes of Guile, Balrog, and Ibuki did give the impression that initially planned and established fighters were showing up late to the party, but, hey, it costs a lot to make a fighting game nowadays. If Capcom has gotta charge a little more than $60 to make Street Fighter profitable, and people are willing to pay those fees, that’s just the state of the industry. Not like Capcom hasn’t proven its ability to make fun games in the past.
Except… purchasing characters in Street Fighter 5 was… a little more interesting than usual. You had options: you could just outright purchase a Season Pass (or individual character) with real-world dollars and cents, or you could save your hard-earned cash by spending “fight money”, the funbucks you can win through playing Street Fighter 5 online and off. At first blush, this seems like a pretty good deal: if you play the game a lot, you are rewarded with in-game currency that can buy you more game to play. Unfortunately, in practice, anyone that has ever played any title with earnable gold/experience/mini medals knows what happened next. Exploits for the system were discovered, millions in fight money could be earned in an evening, and why would anyone ever spend their real money when fake money was so readily available? Free money is better than… uh… not-free money!
Thus did we see Street Fighter 5’s first arms race. For some, Street Fighter 5 was a simple fighting game. For others, the real fight was between players who wanted as much game for as little money as possible, and Capcom, who wanted its most dedicated players to pay for their dedicated improvements, dammit. Exploits were found and quashed and found and quashed again. New costumes were released that dropped the concept of “fight money”, and absolutely required a credit card. And through it all, somebody, somewhere, against all odds, must have been spending something on new backgrounds.
And then the season passes started accumulating. The first “season” of fighters all appeared in the story mode, and it was hard to shake the impression that they were originally intended for the initial release, and their presence here was just an unfortunate side effect of that “beta” release window. And, while half of these characters were interesting in their second appearance in the franchise (Urien, Juri, Alex), the other returning favorites seemed much less remarkable than their redesigned contemporaries. The “new” Nash was an entirely different animal, but “premium” Guile? Not so much. This would prove to be the norm for new-old characters that we’d see in Season 3 & 4, but Season 2 promised entirely new characters (almost, damn you, Akuma), so at least we’d see some good ol’ fashioned Street Fighter innovation with those dorks. Granted, we’d have to pay for it, but that was getting to be par for the course with fighting games anyway, right? And who could resist the allure of Zeku, the very confusing ninja? Nobody! That’s who!
And then we got Season 3. Season 3 made us all feel like assholes.
Street Fighter 5: Season 3 was officially dubbed Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition. It was released nearly two years after the launch of Street Fighter 5. In addition to four returning friendlies, it would also include two new characters (or one new character, and one maybe kinda sorta Street Fighter 3 returning face/mask). But, more importantly, it would include the long awaited return of Arcade mode! And it was an Arcade Mode that itself contained a multitude of modes, with rosters and styles meant to evoke the good vibes of previous Street Fighter titles. Battle through the original Street Fighter ladder, or relive the halcyon days of Street Fighter 2 with world warriors flying across the globe. You’ve got options! And best of all, this whole package was now available as a complete and easy starting point, so you could nab the entire released roster for a song!
Street Fighter 5 was finally a complete package! It was out of beta! And if you had paid $150 for multiple season passes and the base “beta” game already, ha ha, screw you! That’s just the price you pay for early access to Ed!
But don’t worry! Arcade Edition offered all new ways to fleece customers old and new. Fight money seemed to stabilize at this point as something that is generally not exploitable, and now it was time for Capcom to introduce new and exciting reasons to horde your cash. Loot boxes! Yes, you could get that cool Air Man skin for Rashid, but you’d need to visit Menat’s fortune telling booth to blow your hard-earned cash on a deck of tarot cards that will maybe unlock the outfit you want. Or you’ll just earn another color for Vega. Whatever! It’s all just a side attraction, so don’t worry, feeding some poor sap’s gambling addiction doesn’t really impact your game. You just have to sit there and be jealous that Sakura is out there repping Mega Man Legends and you can’t do a thing about it.
But loot boxes were not enough for Capcom. In order to further promote insane decisions, Street Fighter management decided to go full hog and cram as much advertising as possible into Street Fighter 5. You could earn extra fight money (for those delightful loot boxes!) if you chose to wear a costume for your fighter that is plastered in advertising. Considering some fighters’ outfits are “a thong” or “a slightly larger thong”, this led to a few combatants earning delightful sponsor belts. Dhalsim is really into the Capcom Pro Tour. Seemingly embarrassed by the whole situation wherein an immortal, soul-devouring godling has a significant soft spot for sponsorships, Capcom quickly dropped ad support for Street Fighter 5. But “ad style” is forever there, an indelible scar on the face of costume selection. And Capcom has not shied away from including ads you absolutely cannot ignore on any and all loading screens. And there are a lot of loading screens! That’s another problem I keep forgetting to mention!
And then, after literally hundreds of dollars’ worth of DLC, after loot boxes designed to drain your reserves for the merest chance of a reward, after introducing “Season 4” fighters by eschewing “cheap” passes and making each ala carte, after introducing advertising because Street Fighter 5 has got to make some coin somehow; after all that, Capcom has announced that 2020 will see Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition. It will include every fighter, two new ones, every (previously loot box-based) costume, and whole new moves/triggers for the existing roster of 38. The game will be $30. If you already own Street Fighter 5, it will cost $25 for the upgrade. If you already spent a couple hundred dollars in a vain attempt to earn a sweet reference to Cannon Spike for Cammy, or if you bought all those costume packs individually on the sale that coincidentally happened before the very weekend that Champion Edition was announced, well, once again, and we cannot stress this enough, screw you. There should be some new loot boxes available shortly for all your gambling needs.
And, yes, all of this nonsense absolutely makes Street Fighter 5 the game of the decade. The moral: even profitable franchises have absolutely no idea how to be profitable.
Look at Street Fighter 5’s arc. They tried everything! They’ve got paid DLC! They’ve got mobile-esque “fun bucks” for purchasing content! They’ve got lootboxes! They’ve got season passes! They’ve got advertising! Capcom stopped just short of making Street Fighter 5 a literal MMORPG (and, let’s not kid ourselves, the online rankings are meant to foster that kind of community). But did any of it add up to… anything? No! In the end, just like Street Fighter 4, we wound up with a final roster around 40 fighters, an arcade mode, and an interesting story mode.
In the end, if you look at Street Fighter 5 as a whole, you still wind up with three distinct “versions”, just like Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, and Street Fighter 4. For the end user who purchased Street Fighter 5 at each of its three stages, Street Fighter 5 seems to be exactly like every other Street Fighter and its predictably iterative ways. However, from a management perspective, and from the nitty-gritty of owning the game and upgrading it at every available juncture since the game was released four years ago, you see a very different story. You see a game that tried everything it could to squeeze every last cent out of one of the most popular videogame franchises in history. Arguably, none of it worked. Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition is just the same basic “final” version of a SF game as Ultra Street Fighter 4 (complete with Rainbow-esque “let’s just have fun with it” additions). On the other hand, you could claim all of this was an amazing success, because there are people out there that spent $20 on Game of the Year, all DLC Spider-Man the Game in 2019, but spent $250 on Street Fighter 5 over the course of nearly half a decade. Street Fighter 5 wasn’t just a game, it was an experience, and it had to be profitable. There were so many suckers that signed up for everything from launch, every Zangief retro costume, every extra fighter, every beach beauty background, that Street Fighter 5 had to be a huge success. … Right?
Because if Street Fighter 5, the latest in possibly the most popular fighting game franchise on the planet, if after four years of trying everything, if that Street Fighter 5 can’t be considered a triumph, then what hope does any other game have? What is the current state of gaming if an established company with an established IP can’t figure out how to make it all worthwhile after literally years of trying? What does that mean for the very concept of gaming as we know it?
Street Fighter 5 is the face of a decade of gaming. And that is terrifying.
FGC #467 Street Fighter 5
- System: Playstation 4 exclusive! … Or it’s also on PC. And arcade, I guess?
- Number of players: Okay! This one is easy! It’s every human being on Earth! All fighting! Always fighting! But maybe just two at a time.
- Character Creation: Look, I spent the whole article talking about the nitty gritty of how Street Fighter 5 came to be its current form, let me talk about the world warriors for a second. I’m generally saddened by Street Fighter 5’s new trend of introducing dudes for filling in character relationships and not just “a random bloke from Turkey” like in the olden days. There are somehow three (or maybe even four) characters that are all Balrog’s ersatz family, and I could not imagine a more boring concept for fighter creation if I tried. Rose’s student. Guy’s master. Gill’s secretary. I appreciate that they’re trying to expand the lore and relationships of established characters, but maybe they should stick to what’s important: introducing a dirt wizard that is also the president of the world and maybe a robot.
- Favorite New Fighter: He’s not entirely new, but Abigail being a (literally) gigantic gearhead that incidentally joined a gang called “The Mad Gears” is some inspired/half-assed characterization. But what’s important is I can finally play as that gargantuan dork that ruined my SNES Final Fight runs back in the day, so I’m happy.
- Favorite Returning Fighter: Can I just complain for a moment about how Sakura’s story mode saddles her with “maybe I should just retire and have babies”? There is no universe where Ryu would ever wind up settling down to become a family man, and it sucks on every level that the “future” for Sakura is supposed to be some life of domestic bliss while her senpai runs off to other universes to punch werewolves. It’s a little depressing that the best Capcom can come up with for one of its iconic heroines is following the ol’ biological clock.
- Favorite Costume: Katt the cat lady is a skin. Breath of Fire does exist!
- They got robbed: One side effect of DLC is that new characters from the original crop seem to be almost completely forgotten. Rashid and Nicalli got to be significant players in the overall story, but F.A.N.G. and Laura are almost completely forgotten by the universe at large. Which is a shame! I would really like to know how many Brazilians have electrical powers, and possibly why!
- Did you know? My arcade scores reset every time I boot up the game. Is that information only saved for the week or something? Or are there so many updates, my old score is void thanks to being earned under old rules? Do you know?
- Would I play again: I am a sucker for Street Fighter. Why is Seth a lady now? I will know, and I will get her arcade ending. It’s inevitable.
What’s next? And, on a much more cheery note, we’ll dig into the other game that encapsulates the 2010s. Please look forward to it!