Street Fighter 5’s new characters are excellent, but the game needs more than that to thrive

By Alex Donaldson, Wednesday, 7 August 2019 16:20 GMT

Last weekend marked the 2019 edition of Evo, the largest fighting game tournament in the world. Capcom had a classic Capcom experience: it lined up an amazing surprise for the fans to release during the grand finals, but stumbled at the final hurdle.

Hours before Evo was due to begin, the announcement leaked. Instead of a reveal to the roar of excited fans, Street Fighter boss Yoshinori Ono instead stood on stage to deliver an apology. A thankful crowd chanted his name nevertheless.

The three additions to Street Fighter 5‘s cast are all pretty exciting. E. Honda completes the original eight Street Fighter 2 World Warriors in the game, which many fans view as vital.

Poison is a fan favorite from Final Fight who made her main series debut in a twisted sort of way: a new character for the less-successful Street Fighter X Tekken, she was an easy port back to Ultra Street Fighter 4. In SF5 she’s been given a significantly different move set. While a few familiar moves from her SF4 incarnation remain, with a longer whip she now feels more true to her Final Fight self.

Then there’s Lucia, for my money the star of the show. Lucia might not be familiar to most, but she’s actually not an all-new character, having made her debut in 1995 SNES exclusive brawler Final Fight 3. Final Fight is set in the same universe as Street Fighter, of course, and has provided a wide range of additions to the cast including Poison, Hugo, Cody, Guy, Rolento, Sodom and Maki. Even one of last year’s Street Fighter 5 additions, Zeku, has a Final Fight connection – he’s the master that trained Guy.

Lucia has a great design that far outstrips her very nineties Final Fight look, a charming accent and voice over and a play style that seems particularly intriguing and exciting. Fans have been discovering really cool stuff since Evo, and I’m itching to sit down and get in the lab with her myself.

But as exciting as these characters are, one can’t help but feel like Street Fighter came out of Evo with the weakest announcements for this year – and it’s part of a greater narrative forming around the game. Put simply, what’s been added is nice, but the game needs more than this to continue to thrive.

It’s nothing to do with the leak, either: instead it’s to do with the current state of the game and the bizarre way Street Fighter 5 has played out this year. Since 2016, the game has been predictable: a season pass of six characters, a balance patch and a smattering of stages and costumes. Every year there’d also be some surprise new features, too.

In 2019, the game has felt dormant. There was one new character, Kage, at the end of 2018, plus the balance patch. Then not only was there no new content of substance, but there was also radio silence: other than saying there wouldn’t be a 2019 season pass, Capcom had no comment to make. Some wondered if the game was being quietly put on ice. At the end of May the silence ended, with Capcom confirming news for August – which meant Evo. It was good to finally get that statement, but the five long months of nothing was a shocker for the dedicated players who are most invested and spending money on the game’s exorbitantly-priced costumes. Capcom of course has every right to do what it wants with the game, but the sudden, unexplained shift from previous years was jarring.

As such it’s a relief to see Poison, Honda and Lucia join the game. The phrasing ‘summer character pack’ also gives hope that there’ll be more beyond this, that fire fueled by Ono’s confirmation more announcements are to come in November and December, plus rumors of SF4’s C. Viper and SF3’s Oro returning to the fray. Even with that considered, to be honest it still doesn’t feel like it’s quite enough.

Specifically, Street Fighter 5’s larger meta feels like it’s settling in a less dynamic place once again – the game needs more than new characters to keep it invigorated. Tekken 7’s season 3 is shaking things up by adding new moves to the existing cast alongside all-new additions – and that’s the sort of thing Street Fighter 5 really needs once again.

Capcom has done a major update like this once before, of course, with SF5 Arcade Edition adding second V-Triggers that changed every member of the cast in some significant way. But just as major changes arrived in Super SF4, then Arcade Edition, then Ultra, the same probably needs to happen here.

All of this is dependent on what is happening behind-the-scenes with this game and the inevitable Street Fighter 6, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fan speculation turns out to be partially correct – if these content packs are part of the process of winding down Street Fighter 5.

I wonder if this year might be the last for new content and next the last for SF5 as the main event on the Capcom Pro Tour esports events. I’d be fine with that, but if that turns out to be the case, I hope that SF5 can get a proper last hurrah and go out with a worthy bang with some serious game-changing adjustments and additions to its systems. Characters are nice, but they only take you so far.

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