After an initially botched launch, a steadfast Capcom has doggedly continued to improve Street Fighter 5. As the game turns four years old and updates to Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition, it's fair to say that mission has been successful. The result is one of the best fighting games of the generation.
When Street Fighter 5 first released, it was an infamous mess. It arrived with 16 characters - less than the first home release of its predecessor, with those characters immediately followed by DLC fighters that, via their inclusion the story mode, felt like they'd originally been part of the base game's design documentation. That story mode was also a DLC addition, by the way. At launch, SF5 was bereft of anything worthwhile to do alone but grind in training mode. It wouldn't even get a proper, traditional 'ladder' style arcade mode until a year and a half later, when the game got a free update to Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition.
This has been the story of SF5. It released in an unfinished state that betrayed the game's rushed status, but Capcom has done right by it. A lesser publisher might've dropped the game and moved on to the next, but a resurgent Capcom, perhaps buoyed by success in other avenues like Resident Evil and Monster Hunter, stuck with it.
That brings us to Champion Edition. This latest version of SF5 is available a couple of different ways. First, if you've never played Street Fighter 5 you can head to a store of your choice this week and pick up the new Champion Edition package. That includes all of the content, obviously. Second, if you already own a past version of SF5 your game will be updated with balance and systems changes from this new version free of charge, and you'll be able to play online and so on, even with those who have content like characters and stages you don't. However, if you already own the game and want to upgrade there's also a new 'Champion Edition upgrade' premium DLC that'll unlock all of the new content for one reasonable fee.
Upgrading to Champion Edition one way or another will mean you now have 40 characters, 34 stages and over 200 costumes. There's even some bonus extras like music tracks thrown in. That's almost all of the content that has released for the game with a few small exceptions.
Aside from that premium content, Champion Edition also includes all the other upgrades that came to SF5 between 2016 and now: a fully-fledged arcade mode, fighting chance, the cinematic story, individual character stories, missions, challenges and more. The main thrust of criticism against SF5 was always a lack of content: that is patently no longer a problem.
Despite ballooning in terms of the breadth of its content, SF5 remains a satisfying, edge-of-your-seat experience when you get a good match going. High-end players will forever debate the quality of this game versus Street Fighters 3 and 4 in particular, but it carves out its own tempo and style that has improved over the years of its release. In its current state, this is the most balanced Street Fighter 5 has been, and there's also more depth to encounters than in any other year prior.
Part of this is due to other additions made that have deeply impacted the flow of the game. Arcade Edition added a second V-Trigger, a special move that you'll be able to use a couple of times a fight if you're lucky. Champion Edition's main addition (try saying that ten times fast) is a second V-Skill, a special, quick-execute character move that actually builds the meter that lets you use V-Triggers. The V system is the thing that really sets characters apart and gives them a unique rhythm in a fight - and now you can choose between a couple of unique ones on each character.
The difference from the game that launched is perhaps most profound on the character select screen. Before it was all hues of blue, and you simply picked a character from the 16 and one of two or three costumes. Now you're picking a character out of 40, one of many costumes, a V-Skill and a V-Trigger - and the entire character select screen has a completely different user interface, shimmering gold to mark Street Fighter's 30th anniversary. Once you pick a stage, it loads into the fight way quicker than back then, too. Almost everything has changed.
That's sort of the point, really: Capcom could've upped and moved on to a Street Fighter 6 right away and took the public relations hit, but it smartly chose not to. Thanks to that dutiful parent grinding away at the problem child that was SF5 for so long, it has emerged from its difficult youth as a chiseled Adonis to rival even Gill. It is rich, it is deep, and it is satisfying.
A few issues remain. The in-game economy, part of an extensive drive to make 'all content free' if you're willing to grind in-game currency, is absolutely rubbish. That economy has been kneecapped in order to force real money to change hands - ironic considering Capcom is now giving away all the content it was meant to make you get your wallet out for as part of Champion Edition and the associated upgrade. There's also the problem of incredibly poor tutorials compared to basically every other fighter on the market and an often-problematic rollback-based netcode that can ruin online matches - but Capcom promises a solution to at least the latter of these issues in the coming weeks.
As the game is seemingly coming to the end of its update lifespan, the question of if Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition is superior to Ultra Street Fighter 4 is a can of worms we can finally open. For my money it probably doesn't best SF4 - there's something special about the way that game moves even if it is now ugly as sin in comparison to its successor - but Street Fighter 5 is easily one of the best fighting games of this generation, perhaps only bested by the dark horse that is Xbox's Killer Instinct.