Street Fighter 5 – five years on

The past, present, and future of Capcom's flagship fighter.

2021 will marks a fair few gaming anniversaries, but the one that stood out to me while looking through the list was Street Fighter V. It has been five years since we first threw down in the base game, followed by two overhaul updates, and yet Street Fighter V is still steeped in negativity. I wanted to take a look back at its original launch, the problems it faced, what it’s like to play in 2021, and what the future holds for the franchise.

First, let’s take you all back to February 2016. At the time, I was embroiled in the fighting game community (FGC) in Brighton, UK, who were increasingly more excited for the release of Street Fighter V in the run up to launch. However, when the game landed, the disappointment was palpable. Some loved it, but most weren’t happy with the direction Capcom had taken. The complaints were varied, ranging from the slightly “wet” aesthetic (which still persists) to the lacklustre base roster, but there were many of them.


Street Fighter V at launch: what went wrong?

What is comes down to though, was there simply wasn’t enough of a game at launch, and it was obvious that this was because of the live service model that was adopted for this iteration. In principle this was a great decision – forgoing the multiple Super and Arcade iterations of previous Street Fighter games – for a more consumer-friendly approach. However, with such a sparse single player offering, Street Fighter V didn’t feel like a full package, especially in contrast to fighting games such as Mortal Kombat X and Tekken 7. And then, of course, Capcom inevitably pulled a U-turn in the following years with the release of both Street Fighter V Arcade Edition and Street Fighter V Champion Edition.

In terms of design issues, the brand new V-System was an interesting enough concept, but it was just that in the beginning, a concept. Rather than the game-changing mechanics such as the Parry in Street Fighter III or the Focus Attack in IV, the V-System felt half-baked at launch. In fact, I would argue that this set of mechanics didn’t truly come into their own until the Champion Edition in 2020, which increased the number of V-Skills per character, giving the player the choice of two V-Skills and two V-Triggers for each.

Finally, there were the online features of the game, and oh boy did they mess this one up, with the worst of it being that it launched with eight frames of input latency. This is already bad, making it difficult to pre-empt opponents and keep combos going; but then when you added the inevitable additional lag from the internet, Street Fighter V became borderline unplayable at points. Add this problem to the online competitive scene and the Ranked Match system, and you had a ton of frustration from fans that even resulted in an apology from Capcom themselves.

Is Street Fighter V worth playing in 2021?

But, five years on, how is Street Fighter V looking from a gameplay standpoint and it is still worth playing (or picking up if you haven’t yet)?

From a modern perspective, Street Fighter V isn’t a bad package. With 40 characters, both new and returning, with a whole host of mechanics through the V-System, a variety of game modes, and countless costumes/stages, the Champion Edition release is bursting with value amid a plethora of content.

Street Fighter V still has a fairly solid footsie structure – the combo links are more forgiving to make them easier for newer players to execute, and the roster as it stands is pretty diverse. The Arcade Mode has different runs for each of the phases of Street Fighter from the first game to IV, which is a fantastic nod to the history of the franchise. The UI is far clearer and more stylised now too in the most recent editions making for a more pleasant visual experience.

It is, in essence, a good fighting game now – mostly.

In fact, in the most recent iteration of Street Fighter V, there are only two issues that still stand. The first, persisting from launch, is the online side of the game. The built-in online lag, although reduced now from 2016, still leaves the online environment dipping into being almost unplayable at times. This is even more noticeable in the last year owing to newer fighting games appearing that have far better net code, or older ones adding rollback net code post release. We’re looking at you Guilty Gear.

The second is one that has come more with time, and that’s the balancing issues of the game. Although Street Fighter V appears to be balanced on a surface level, many of its dedicated fans would claim otherwise. Which aspect of the game itself is unbalanced differs from person to person, but the move sets come up a lot, especially the power differential between the V-Triggers. If you wanted a far more technical breakdown than I could make as to why that is, there is a great piece over on EventHubs from last year about precisely this issue.

What it comes down to with Street Fighter V is that the game is, well, fine and has been for a while. But “fine” isn’t quite good enough for one of the most popular fighting game franchises of all time. You can get a fair amount of fun out of it, and I would honestly recommend the Champion Edition if you have even a passing interest for its value alone, but this iteration doesn’t quite live up to the legacy of its predecessors – even five years on.

What’s next for Street Fighter V?

This being said, Street Fighter V is still growing, with Capcom’s upcoming Winter Update livestream due to reveal a new mechanic for the game and more information about the first character of the fifth season of fighters, Dan Hibiki.

With some legacy characters incoming such as Rose and Oro, and even a new crossover with Akira from Rival Schools, there is the potential here for a decent final year for the game. It’s just a shame that the best of Street Fighter V came so late.