Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect Shoryuken as a whole.
When Street Fighter II hit arcades in 1991, it launched the standard model of one-on-one fighting games that’s still played to this day–but that aspect of the game lived parallel to the quarter-munching single-player battle against the CPU. That experience–fighting increasingly difficult CPU opponents in the 2/3 rounds format until you reach the boss character–is deeply coded into Street Fighter DNA. This was how Street Fighter told us about its world and characters: through powerful bosses, rival fights, mysterious hidden opponents, and the short cutscenes and exposition between.
In the original Street Fighter II, the Four Heavenly Kings were true bosses, and the only way to fight them was to play through Arcade Mode. Their iconic stages and themes spoke volumes about their importance; when you got to Las Vegas and faced Balrog, you knew the game just got serious. The tension could only build: the confusion of Vega’s strange fighting style, the fear of Sagat’s raw power when you knew you were almost there–leading, maybe, to the sheer terror that was fighting M. Bison. Reaching and defeating them was a trial of guts, skill, and coin–and later, when Akuma threw M. Bison down to challenge you at the end of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the appearance of a hidden boss even more powerful than M. Bison was a big deal. The concept of the single player Arcade Mode is central to Street Fighter as a game–which is why it’s significant that Street Fighter V has abandoned it.
The Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III series continued and expanded on this model with more hidden fighters and expanded narrative elements. But the presence and importance of video arcades gradually diminished; when Street Fighter IV came on to the scene in 2008 as a triumphant return of the Street Fighter franchise, the gaming landscape it arrived in was much different than the one known to SFIII: 3rd Strike almost a decade earlier. But Street Fighter IV was (and still is) an arcade game at heart, following in the same footsteps as its predecessors. At the launch of IV, Arcade Mode was still a given, even as the game pushed into the new world of online player vs. player and downloadable content. The Street Fighter IV series were arcade games feeling out the new possibilities of an always-connected online world.
Street Fighter V is the first mainline Street Fighter title to launch without an Arcade Mode. At its February 2016 debut, it was immediately criticized for how lean a package Capcom sold us. The online beta offered so much promise behind the unresponsive menus, under a gray veil assumed to be lifting on retail release. But the game hit the streets with key functions still grayed out–no Challenges, no Shop, a brief and ridiculously easy character-specific Story Mode, and a Survival mode–it left the strong impression that we’d paid for an incomplete product. The lack of strong single-player options was particularly frowned upon: Survival mode lets you battle against the CPU, but it has a very different dynamic than the classic 2/3 rounds feel of an Arcade Mode, and none of the narrative. Video game webcomic Penny Arcade voiced what much of the gaming community was thinking: Street Fighter without the Arcade Mode wasn’t Street Fighter at all.
This lack of a satisfying single-player game in SFV deserved all the criticism it got. Other publishers have only increased the single player content for the home versions of their arcade games; for example, Arc System Works titles offer quite robust single player content: in addition to its Arcade Mode, BlazBlue Chronophantasma features Abyss Mode, Score Attack Mode, Unlimited Mars Mode, and Highlander Attack Mode, piled on top of an ever-expanding storyline told through its Story Mode and “Teach Me, Miss Litchi!” episodes. Comparatively, Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, part of a franchise that has no arcade version, includes options such as Classic, All-Star, Event Mode, Special Orders, Smash Tour, Multi-Man Smash, Home-Run Contest, a Stage Builder–practically drowning you in single player diversions.
For the casual player, trading blows with the CPU is clearly a vital part of the Street Fighter experience; however for competitive players, the CPU AI can never match the challenge of a human opponent. Capcom made a deliberate choice with SFV to focus on player vs. player, be it online, or in local casual and professional competition. The increasing focus on the Capcom Pro Tour has shifted Capcom’s attention to the aspects of the game that operate outside of a single player and their own console. In doing so, it may seem that a hole has been left in the game, a sense of emptiness–yet this is a logical progression in the development of the Street Fighter franchise. Street Fighter V is, importantly, the first Street Fighter game to launch solely for home platforms instead of the arcade, and it has a different design goal. This is a clear reflection of the environment SFV is born out of: the fall of the local arcade, the rise of the online lobby.
Street Fighter V was made to be a part of the new world that SFIV only just started to explore. Made to be always online, always connected–an evolving “service” instead of a static game state. Supposedly we will never see Super Street Fighter V, or Super Street Fighter V Turbo–Street Fighter V will be a constantly growing, changing entity on its own, without revisions or new editions. Now, as we’re well into June and the long-promised Cinematic Story Mode is imminent, we’re getting a more and more complete picture of Capcom’s vision for Street Fighter V’s future.
If that vision had included an Arcade Mode, it would probably look very much like Orle-san’s YouTube mock-up video; made using existing SFV game assets, along with generous new text and some creative edits, this shows us a classic-style Street Fighter V Arcade Mode run–complete with story sections, rival fights and Necalli as a the bonus boss fight.
Orle-san’s video is a fitting tribute, but it also shows plainly how dated the Arcade Mode sequence is. It is comfortable and familiar–because we’ve seen it many, many times before.
In a game that didn’t originate in the arcade (and will most likely not appear there, though Yoshinori Ono has not ruled the idea out), what purpose would an Arcade Mode serve? We’ve lost the surprise of hidden boss characters–PC data miners would find Akuma’s code before he could ever jump in to menace us. The upcoming Cinematic Story Mode looks like it will be more than adequate at revealing SFV’s lore and narrative, making an Arcade Mode redundant for that purpose. Street Fighter V is clearly a game that wants us to fight each other–instead of the CPU–as much as possible. The Arcade Mode is a vestige of a different game, from a different time; as nostalgic as we may be for that classic style, better to let Street Fighter V live and breathe in the now, and grow into its own destiny.