According to Steam, the last time I played Street Fighter V was in June of 2016.
Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. After all, I have a huge backlog of games that I’ll never revisit and an even larger pile of shame that I’ve never even started. But this is different. This is Street Fighter, a series that has influenced me in ways that reach beyond the gaming medium. It was my first real interaction with a community of liked-minded individuals, all of whom were much much more skilled than me. For that reason, it also instilled in me a tremendous amount of patience. Every weekend, I was to be the punching bag, the training dummy; the scrub. Every loss was a learning experience, and over time, the dummy started punching back.
Our game of choice at the time was Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, though the truth of the matter is, there was no choice. Outside of Marvel, which attracted a different sort of player, there was nothing else. The fighting genre was on a significant downswing, leaving the dedicated core to embrace the current Street Fighter, despite its comparative unpopularity.
I say “current” because it’s important to point something out about the fighting game community – for better or worse, they don’t move backwards. Once a new installment in a series is released, that’s the canonical game, even if it’s actually inferior to those that came before it. That’s just how it works. When Street Fighter V hit stores, even in its blatantly unfinished state, the door was shut on Street Fighter IV and the community migrated over. Didn’t matter if your favorite character didn’t make the roster. Didn’t matter if you weren’t a fan of the new systems. This is the one we play now.
While I’d had nearly a decade with 3rd Strike, I was a much more casual player of SFIV, accepting early on that I would never catch up to even the middle of the pack in terms of skill. This was in part because I started the game too late, but also because I simply enjoyed other games too much. While missing the zeitgeist surrounding any game launch can be a bummer, fighting games consider it a competitive necessity; the knowledge arms race often starting even before official release dates. If you don’t get in at the ground level, it’s basically impossible to keep up. This is why I bought Street Fighter V on launch day, wanting to recapture the feelings I had so long ago of hitting skill barriers over and over I knew I’d be able to overcome via sheer persistence.
And then I stopped playing it for a year and a half.
I’ve always made a point to be clear that I really enjoy the round-to-round fighting aspects of Street Fighter V. Whilst I will always hate the 3D art-style of the modern games, wherein even young children have gigantic hands and feet, SFV brought back a sense of impact and speed I felt had been missing from the previous game. So why did I stop playing? Well, there wasn’t much to do. The online matchmaking at the time was shoddy at best and the single player offerings were, frankly, insulting. The best method of earning Fight Money (SFV’s in-game currency) was via a tedious survival mode, which required you to spend an absurd amount of time engaging with the worst part of any fighting game – the A.I.
So with time and distance, I’d hoped the game would take shape. Things seemed rough, for a while. At times, it felt like the community was playing SFV out of sheer obligation, since, again, they couldn’t go back. The only option was to wait and hope it would get better.
Eventually, to the surprise of no one, Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition was announced, featuring all of the relevant content from the first two seasons of the game, along with new gameplay adjustments and a proper arcade mode. There was, presumably, no better time to dive back in and see what had changed.
After downloading the required updates and starting up Street Fighter V for the first time in so long, I was bombarded with 12 pages of notices, detailing some of the new replay features. I was then hit with 4 more pages advertising the latest DLC.
It’s important to note that every player received this update, but only brand new Arcade Edition customers were given the characters, so my account was still how I’d left it back in June 2016, meaning that half of the roster, most of the stages, and all of the special costumes were still locked for me. I’d purchased one character, Juri, back in the day, and I still had some left over Fight Money, so I had a bit of a head start. Upon pursuing the store for more fighters, I’d made it my mission to unlock Menat, an Egyptian fortune teller that seemed to share a lot of characteristics with my old favorite Rose.
New characters in SFV, assuming you don’t want to just shell out the real world cash, cost 100,000 Fight Money.
I had 19,400.
Thus began my quest to earn as much Fight Money as I could. It’s a concept that sounds great on paper – allowing active players a way to earn DLC by simply engaging with the various modes of the game. The FM system, unfortunately, also shines a light on one of Street Fighter V’s biggest problems, one that has plagued the genre as a whole for as long as it’s existed – a lack of communication. There’s really no way of knowing how much Fight Money you’ll earn for completing a particular mode until you’ve already done it, and sometimes, you just don’t earn any at all. For reasons I still don’t understand, I never received the 30,000 FM I was supposed to for completing the time-consuming and horribly written story mode. I did, however, earn a bunch for menuing through each character’s “demonstrations”, which are non-interactive guides designed to introduce concepts to beginners. While I appreciate the gesture, even the demonstrations themselves seem incomplete, arbitrarily picking one or two special moves to detail, along with the slight possibility of telling you what a new V-Trigger does.
I then jumped into online multiplayer. It is a fighting game, after all, so I could only assume that that best path forward was to test my skills against those that are a year and a half ahead of me whilst I tried to recall basic Ryu combos. I fared better than I thought though my first victory left me with a bittersweet feeling as it was revealed I’d only earned 50 FM from the encounter. Using my junior college level proficiency with numbers, I’d then quickly determined that I would need to win 2000 online matches to unlock Menat.
Not play 2000 matches. Win. If you lose an online match, you get nothing.
So the message was clear – the only reliable way to earn Fight Money is to go through every single player mode with the entire roster. Over a year later, my biggest issue with Street Fighter V still existed. To access most of its content, you either need to spend real money or engage with its least interesting parts for a prolonged period. It’s also worth mentioning that characters aren’t the only thing you need FM to unlock. It’s also needed for stages, profile titles, and even costume colors. There are other “premium” costumes you can’t buy with Fight Money at all. You need to spend four actual dollars to unlock each one.
Despite all of this, I still really like the part of Street Fighter V where I play it against other people. It felt good to dust off my Hori fight stick I’d overpaid for years ago and just play a damn fighting game again. No matter how much it wanted to nickel and dime me, I was still wiling to forgive once I’d proven to myself that the system worked. ‘Maybe there’s something to this’ I told myself. If anything, it’s an effective way to make sure your player base sees all the game’s content, and it’s not as if I need to unlock everything to enjoy myself, right? It’s just one character. I can do this.
At most, I’d determined, it would take me about three days to grind out the currency I needed. I tried another survival run, just to see if it was a bad as I’d remembered (it was). Then I went into arcade mode, which asks to you pick a themed ladder based off a previous game in the series. For example, if you pick Street Fighter II mode, you can only choose and fight characters from that game. To amuse myself, I picked the Street Fighter 1 path, just to see how they’d be able to account for practically no one from that game being on the roster. Capcom’s solution was to sort of shrug and demand I face Final Fight holdover Abigail instead.
That feeling seems to encapsulate Street Fighter V’s design ethos as a whole – a giant shrug. I hate feeling that way since it’s convenient and reductive. You don’t make a Street Fighter game that plays this well without a tremendous amount of talent and care. But Capcom as a whole is in a weird place and it’s only natural that would carry over to their flagship franchise. I can’t call Street Fighter V a bad game, but it is a game that only modern day Capcom could produce. In a year and a half, a lot’s been added to the game, but the overall vision doesn’t seem any clearer. It’s a series of bandages covering up a wound that’s still bleeding through.
At the end of my three day grind, I felt like I’d seen most of what Street Fighter V had to offer. More specifically, I’d seen most of what it had demanded of me, and at the end of that journey, I looked up at my Fight Money total – 70,900.
That’s right, 30,000 short.
It’s time to step away again. Sorry Menat. I’d love to meet you, but I’ll have to take a rain-check for now. I thought I was ready. Apparently, I still need some more time.