A few weeks ago was a fantastic fighting gaming weekend for me with a new alpha build of Fantasy Strike hitting, AND getting access to the Street Fighter V beta on PC and, luckily, I had the spare time to play for hours too.
First of all, SFV. Although I was able to play SFV briefly before on the first PS4 beta phase, I only had time to play a few matches, and it was practically unplayable for me on the PS4 gamepad – which is a terrible piece of crap for fighting games – so I really couldn’t form any opinions at that stage. Seriously, what is it with Sony and really poor gamepads? I wasn’t keen on the original PS1 pad – and every pad they’ve done has been universally worse than the competition during each console generation…. but anyway, back to Street Fighter – I was really enjoying finally getting to play it on a proper joystick. I was messing about with Navan on the waiting-for-Ranked Match training stage with each of us taking in turns to play as the CPU dummy and the other would fight the next online challenger that came along.
Unfortunately the excitement of being able to play it online and on a joystick started to dissipate as we tried out the characters on offer. The only character in the dismal selection in this beta I had any familiarity with was Ken. I felt quite disgusted with myself playing as Kenneth – but this is what this beta reduced me to. Even in the HDR beta with only Ryu and Kenneth, I only ever played with Ryu!
Don’t get me wrong, I was still having fun, but I’m pretty awful with Ken and I don’t enjoy his playstyle at all. We started to try out all the other characters but really none of them suited me. I was struggling with all of them with execution wise too, as whilst Necalli had one charge move, I think that was it for the entire available beta cast. But he certainly didn’t play like anyone I enjoy playing in any other fighting game… Let’s look at my Street Fighter mains throughout the years and see if you can spot the pattern:
Street Fighter II Championship Edition (Arcade): E Honda. Whilst I probably played on some World Warrior arcade boards as a kid, this is the one that got me into SF2, and Vs Fighting games, and the one I remember playing enough to have a main character. (I also played SF1 before SF2 existed, but that’s not relevant to this discussion for obvious reasons). The reason why I picked Honda? Because the only special moves we knew about were ones we’d figured out ourselves, and I’d found all the mash button ones – and when I was in trouble I discovered that could do the Hundred Hand Slap and walk forward. This made it the most effective special move anyone knew of at this point, and proved to be an amazing strategy against people who didn’t know how to block (which hardly anyone did, we rarely if ever got the luxury of a dedicated cabinet with any guide as to how to do things. It was all word-of-mouth stuff back then). I also found the prospect of playing a huge guy with an at-the-time immense sprite really quite appealing – possibly because I’m rather slight myself in real life.
Street Fighter II World Warrior (SNES): Guile. Once I discovered the value of anti-air moves and more people started to be able to do fireballs, I found I wasn’t enjoying Honda so much. I really wanted a fireball character, but I couldn’t do the ‘hadoken’ motion reliably at all, and I could rarely ever do dragon punches. Enter Guile – the perfect character for me at the time. I still remember the epiphany I had when I figured out I could charge for both my Sonic Boom AND my Flash Kick by holding diagonally down and back – and then the similar excitement again when I realised I could do this immediately after jumping.
Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES): Guile.
Super Street Fighter II (SNES): Guile.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Arcade): Guile/Dee Jay. I didn’t really get to play this game that much at the time as the arcade was too expensive for me to play that often, and there was no home console version (excepting the 3DO, which no-one I knew owned) to play until later into the Saturn’s life, when I was already playing on newer SF Zero, KOF and Vampire series games mostly. After years & years of play on gamepads only, I was really hamstrung trying to play on joysticks at the time, and I was also dismayed that Capcom had given Guile – the character I had mainly picked because I could perform all of his moves competently, a Super move that I could rarely ever perform! So at times I had started to pick Dee Jay more because I could do his Super, and also, I seemed to do much better with him vs the CPU than I did with Guile now that he had an effective chargeable anti-air too (I hadn’t like him at all in standard Super).
Street Fighter Zero, All versions (Arcade and Sega Saturn): Nash. I dabbled a lot with amusing newcomers like Birdie, Sodom and Dan. But whilst Nash was pretty awful in most of the series, and I found it desperately unfair how they made his Somersault sometimes air blockable whereas dragon punches always seemed good, Nash was always my main.
Street Fighter III New Generation (Arcade): Oro. A chargeable fireball and anti-air! Yup that was the new guy for me.
Street Fighter III Third Strike (Dreamcast): Remy. Well, how’d you think I got my gaming nickname? As awful as Remy is, he’s still my main by far vs an unknown opponent. Although I’d still have to pick Oro to beat some of my regular sparring partners for some matchups… But Remy’s still my favourite character in Street Fighter’s history.
Street Fighter II Turbo (Xbox 360): Guile. No reason to change on the 360 from the SNES, except now I had a decent joystick too.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (Xbox 360): Dee Jay. Despite the awesome change to Guile’s super move in HDR that meant I could actually do it with ease – although by now I was getting proficient enough on a joystick, and had a good enough joystick, that I could actually do Guile’s super pretty ok even with the original motion, I switched to Deejay early in the life of HDR. I was getting much better results with him online, and he was specifically much easier to play in the Blanka matchup, which I seemed to get a lot online at the time. Ironically I lost to the only Blanka I played in a tournament setting at HDR with Deejay anyway 😉 (I still won my bracket though). I also loved having a more effective crossup and great poke normals which really suited my style that tends to be more aggressive than I should be when I play as Guile.
Street Fighter IV, All versions (Arcade, Xbox 360 and PC): Guile. Even when they added him in later versions, I wasn’t a big fan of the SF4 version of Dee Jay, although I can play alright with him. I also found it helped me a bit when I was playing both SF4 and HDR to play as different mains in each game to stop me from getting my muscle memory even more mixed up. Of course I mainly play Dan online these days, but if I actually want to play my best to win, I’m always picking Guile by a huge margin in SF4.
So all that rambling (there’s a reason I’m posting this under Musings 😉 ) was really just to make a simple point – my favourite archetype SF character is a down/back charging character with a charge projectile and an anti-air, and I’ve pretty much specialised in that style of character throughout fighting games. Although I have become reasonably proficient with a few other styles through the years, particularly in non-SF games, when I’m playing vs top competition, these tend to be my best characters still.
So in the SFV beta I was really out of luck with the choice of Kenneth, Necalli, Rashid, Karin, R Mika or a horrible non-charge version of Claw. And I started to get a bit frustrated and things started going pretty badly. I lost maybe 10+ matches in a row which is pretty unheard of for me playing vs randoms, and even though the online standard was reasonably high in the beta, it still wasn’t any better than I was used to from playing other fighting games online. I kept playing though due to the limited time I had on the beta and because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get the game to run on my rather dated PC compared to Navan’s. Overall though I had a pretty negative feeling about the game, mainly because there was just too much unfamiliarity all at once for me to get to grips with it. Many hours later (and after installing a new graphics card borrowed from Navan) I managed to get the game running ok on my own computer. Now in familiar settings now with my own TV and kit, I seemed to calm down and was able to think more carefully about what might work with Ken – and I promptly got a 3 game win streak. Then something even stranger, and as it turns out better, happened. I fought versus a Nash. I had no idea how this had occured. I thought at first it must’ve been a PS4 gamer and different characters were available on the PS4. But as soon as I hit the pause menu and movelist, I noticed I could see Nash’s moves too. Clicking back to the character select and yup, sure enough, I too could choose Nash – which of course I immediately did. Whilst he’s now also not a charge-move character, he seemed to make sense to me in a way that non-charge Claw didn’t at all, and at least it was a character I loved, even if his moves are now totally different. I started to click with him pretty quickly, admittedly I was playing him in a very odd, probably-unintended and non-optimal style trying to zone and use his strange kick slash moves as pseudo-flash kick anti-airs, which they are really hard to use as, but still… I was now winning a fair share of matches, and more importantly I was starting to have fun in a way I hadn’t at all earlier in the beta as now I had a character that could attempt to play my kind of preferred playstyle.
Checking online revealed that Capcom had announced they were going to unlock more characters during the course of the beta… and as soon as I went back to the game… Dictator became available.
Switching to Dic made things even more fun. Whilst I went back to Nash a bit and tried out every other character as they became unlocked, the fact that Dic was at least an all-charge character meant he felt far more fun and familiar to play for me than any other character by far. Yeah he’s nothing like any of my mains in previous SF games, but I had actually played him quite a lot in SF4 too, he was actually probably my second best character in Super SF4. In particular one thing I’d loved about him a lot in Super SF4 and why he’d become my ‘2nd’ for a time, was that he was a charge character but with an instant motion-command Ultra move. That meant I could do to some interesting mix-ups and ‘surprise super move’ tricks catching people off-guard when they knew I didn’t have a charge – this was similar to the tricks I used to play with Remy’s super arts in SF3 too. Sadly they changed Dic in later versions of SF4 so I moved away from playing him much, but in SFV this property has returned to his moveset, so I was really enjoying that aspect of his moves again.
By the end of the beta, now able to play with characters I enjoyed, whilst still experimenting with all the other characters, my feelings about SFV had completely reversed. I was cackling with joy doing my best impression of Dictator’s laugh (Norio Wakamoto voice of course, I’d changed most of the voices to Japanese) rather a lot of the time whilst playing. Overall I found this beta a really positive experience and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on the full game – now coming even sooner than expected in February 2016. Here’s some further thoughts on the game I had during the beta:
- I liked that there was much less ‘jab jab’ hit confirm style combos. Sure there were some combos that you could start with LP or LK, but in general this has been significantly de-emphasised since SF4 and even earlier versions of SFV going by watching video footage online.
- One particularly great feature of the combo system I noticed whilst in the training mode between fights is that longer hit-confirm combos can actually do LESS damage than easier to execute but less ‘safe’ combos. For example a LP-MP-cancel to special combo 3 move combo, does less damage than just a MP-cancel to special 2 move combo move.
- Throws seem really weak on paper in SFV, with what feels like an incredibly short range (it feels even shorter than SF4), but because there seem to be so many dangerous pressure strings, you actually have to respect them as a potential mix-up. I found if you block a cross up, meaty or even a jump in, you’re pretty scared in SFV of a potential throw or block-string follow up. Also the fact there’s no Option Select ‘Crouch Tech’ meant I was landing throws much more often in SFV when I was on the offense – and it didn’t really affect me when defending, since I generally mess up or forget the Crouch Tech in SF4 and go for ‘proper’ throws/techs anyway.
- I’m not sure if I like this or not, but it seemed there wasn’t many safe reversals at all. Even with Ken, LP Dragon punches seemed to trade or even get stuffed a shocking amount, especially as a reversal vs deep jump ins or meaty attacks it felt like. I suspect Ken’s HP Dragon has more invincibility though, and maybe Ryu’s do, but I didn’t really try these moves and characters enough to be sure.
- The (seeming) lack of decent reversals coupled with the ‘Crush counter’ system – meaning if you whiff a move like a dragon punch, and are hit out of the recovery, you can be hit with an extra long combo – meant that offense seemed pretty highly rewarded in SFV, moreso than SF4, again, despite the seemingly weak throws. Fights seemed to have a lot of momentum to them, meaning that once you land an attack – even a blocked hit – you often felt like you could press the advantage with pressure a lot, and conversely when you were on the defence, you have to be very careful when to press buttons to try and swing things back to gain the upper hand, even if you seem to have an appropriate reversal move – it might be too risky to try it.
- Projectiles seemed to be rather too weak and in too small amounts for my tastes. They’ve since announced Dhalsim as the first true ‘zoning’ character in SFV so he may redress the balance a bit. But for most of the time in this beta there weren’t many fireball characters, especially given the amount of characters that had really good options for dealing with projectiles.
- The lack of chip damage KOs hurts projectiles too – but in general, I liked this idea. It lead to some really tense low-life finishes, but conversely made it feel extra bad when you die to a large stun combo…
- Stun is really quite powerful in this game and quite frequently occurs too. Again I suspect this maybe to try to give an additional edge to offense over defense. The only problem with stun-based gameplay, is that it leads to strange situations where after a knockdown or combo, one player is left at 1 light attack away from being stunned. This is fine from a gameplay perspective, it changes the risk/reward and creates a localised slippery slope effect – but it just looks really bizarre and unnatural when one character is suddenly stunned and collapses from just a tiny prod in the shins… I’m not really sure what to do about this though, other than possibly making only certain moves capable of causing an actual stun.
- The netcode seemed very good, but they desperately need to add a way to filter on ping and PC performance. To be honest, my PC was really struggling to run it, so I was probably the one lagging matches some of the time. But the important thing was that it was rollback netcode similar to what was used in HDR. This means, with a good connection to your opponent, it feels just like offline, and even with a terrible connection, you can still do all your moves properly – you just can’t see where your opponent is or what they are doing precisely at all times. To be honest, with a bad connection, it’s barely preferable to non-rollback netcode as it’s still pretty much unplayable, but at least you accurately train your muscle memory in terms of your own execution, as that always remains a constant with rollback. This is the opposite to the horrible delay netcode that was used in SFIV.
- I unlocked the ‘ultimate victory’ achievement in the beta by getting an opponent to ‘rage quit’ on me 😛 Now quite why anyone would do this on a beta when your ranking, win/loss, scores etc don’t even count is rather questionable, but regardless, there’s nothing wrong with quitting a match really if that’s what you want to do. The problem as ever, is the lack of a game loss penalty for it. I noticed I didn’t get credited with the win (didn’t get any Fight Money or Character experience points), and I assume my opponent didn’t actually take a loss either. So that’s awful, and will be a big issue for Capcom going forward into release if they don’t sort it out. Given their new-found focus on online and attempts to make the ranking and online tournaments a much more serious thing this absolutely must get this fixed before release. It will also wrankle non-competitive players I’m sure who want to grind for Fight Money if they are randomly not getting any from a proportion of their wins.
- I couldn’t really tell what was going on with matchmaking and ranking systems, as it seems they weren’t always working. Sometimes I’d seem to be able to see mine or my opponents rank etc and sometimes I couldn’t – both before and after matches. So I pretty much gave up paying much attention to this. What was clear though was that you would have plenty of grindable stats like an ‘experience’ level with each character and Fight Money which you’ll be able to get by playing to unlock future SFV content including new characters they are planning to release etc. In the beta as an example once you got enough Fight Money you could unlock an additional background. This is all cool of course, as long as it has some kind of proper skill-based ranking and matchmaking systems, even if these are obfuscated in some manner. It feels like this will be the case, but I still can’t really say for sure.
- I really liked the limited access to super meter. It always felt like a big decision when to use EX moves or Super moves, especially when in SFIV it often feels like you can throw out EX moves pretty much whenever you like, since you’d always have another “super” – your Ultra – available anyway. I also found that super meter gain was pretty low. I’d sometimes finish the first round without ever getting a full super bar, even without using EXs. Again this contributed to it feeling like a precious resource you should decide carefully when to use rather than something to spam or use in every combo.
- Your other meter, the V-meter is closer to an Ultra in that you tend to gain it really fast, and it only lasts for that round – so like an Ultra meter it has the “use it or lose it” effect, which I’m neutral about. Tactically, its uses seemed to vary a lot. In some matches with some characters it felt like an important resource but at other times it felt almost useless. With Dic, sometimes I wouldn’t want to use his V-Trigger as it would change the properties of his special moves, and not always in a way I was finding useful – for example his scissor kick gained some amount of forward teleportation when his V-Trigger was active, but that also meant some of his combos with that move wouldn’t then work. In these situations I should probably have been focusing my use of V-meter into V-Reversals but that wasn’t something I’d gotten used to thinking about or using yet. With Nash, both his V-Trigger and Super meter felt so incredibly useful you were always wishing you had more of both at all times. Plus you could combine the use of both of them into devastating mix-ups and combos too – but you’d have to decide if it was worth blowing all your meter resources in that kind of manner too often. Fun stuff!
- V-Skill moves were strangely not always useful at all – in particular Dic’s “fireball reversal” and Nash’s “fireball consume” were the two I most played around with – yet most characters (at least in the beta) don’t have projectiles so these moves were basically useless the majority of the time. I’m not sure if this is really an issue at all, but it did seem rather odd.
Subsequent to the beta, it appears 100% certain due to data leaks that Guile will be added to the roster fairly early into the life of SFV, so, assuming he doesn’t undergo drastic changes like Nash, it looks like my time with a new style of main character in SFV will be limited.
Time for a Fantasy Strike!
Enough about SFV for now, I also need to mention that this even more interesting fighting game is coming along really well. By backing it’s creator on Patreon, I’m able to get access to updated alpha builds periodically. This is intriguing by itself to see how the game is being developed over time. The latest build now has four of the Fantasy Strike characters available – Grave, Jaina, Rook and Valerie – and there’s already an enormous amount of variety in moves and playstyles available within the simple-to-execute systems the game is using. What’s particularly interesting for me, is, given the discussion above about how my character choice in fighting games has been in good part determined by how well I could execute their moves, as well as the utility of those moves, that in Fantasy Strike I am able to execute everything. Once you realise this includes all the combos too, this is actually a completely new experience even for me in fighting games – and actually has my mind boggling about how to even pick a main. I first imagined what a Fantasy Strike fighting game could be like (and what got me into Yomi, Puzzle Strike and other Sirlin Games originally!) thanks to Sirlin’s first article about the character Onimaru from back in 2012. The concept of a no-combos fighting game character appealed to me so much as it covered one of the major weaknesses in my execution ability – I’m awful at long rapid strings of motions and presses needed to do most combos in most fighting games these days. So I loved the idea of including a character, even in a really complex fighting game, that was tailored to my execution abilities, even if not my playstyle particularly. But now that Fantasy Strike is going with it’s super-easy to execute design, it’s opened up the possibility of playing as pretty much anyone for me – and I have no idea who I’ll end up favouring when the game is finally released. Maybe I will actually prefer to play a rushdown style combo character when I’ve got the ability to execute all of their attacks? Right now, if I had to pick a main I’d probably say I enjoy Grave the most, as I really like his fireball based gameplay, his wide variety of options, and both his super moves – but it maybe just because he’s the character that I have the most experience with, as he’s been in every build since the start – or perhaps it’s just because he is the most graphically complete so he looks the best too… On the other hand I have really enjoyed playing Rook too already, who is nothing like any character I’ve ever mained before in a fighting game – so I’m really not sure, and this open world of possibilities is incredibly exciting to think about, and highlights a wonderful aspect that simplifying execution has on a game.
At the time of writing I’ve not yet been able to play vs anyone else on the current build – and I’m too good at fighting games for playing the basic alpha AI to be that much fun for me – I don’t think I’ve ever lost a match to the AI, even whilst messing about with new moves and characters. However, on one of the previous versions with Grave, Jaina and Rook, I did get the opportunity to unleash the game on a decent sized group of fighting game fans for playing some really fun casual matches – and the result was great. I think everyone enjoyed the game, and particularly players that weren’t as adept at Street Fighter style games were loving the fact they could now access all the moves and tactics thanks to the easier execution. One newer player who struggles to do SF-esque special moves, who is more familiar with 3D fighting games, even managed to beat almost every other player in my group at one point at “winner stays on” – which proved to be lots of fun hype amongst my friends. It was really great to see someone, who wouldn’t normally get that kind of opportunity to beat players with years of execution practice, able to win a good share of matches at a new fighting game – and again, this is courtesy of the great design of Fantasy Strike.
I think the best comment one of my friends made was: “even at this early stage, you can tell this is going to be something brilliant” – to which I agree. Dragonheart!