Fight for the Future: What Cinematic Story Mode Brings to Street Fighter V

By on July 7, 2016 at 4:30 pm
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Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect Shoryuken as a whole.

Assurance: minimal spoilers for the new story mode follow.

On July 1st, Street Fighter V got the biggest upgrade to date: two more of the promised six new fighters, many new stages and costumes available, the Zenny currency thrown in the bin–and the long-promised and much-anticipated Cinematic Story Mode: “A Shadow Falls”. In the main menu, it’s now dubbed the “General Story,” versus the “Character Story” that now covers the individual story segments we’re already familiar with. This new story DLC is intended to make SFV to a more complete package, buffing the single-player content and giving us the full overview of SFV’s world and storyline. Does it meet those criteria? In my view, “A Shadow Falls” does not completely deliver on what was promised–instead, it delivers more promise, more potential than finished product.

As for the “cinematic” part of this new story mode: I loved it. The story is perfectly in tune with Street Fighter anime, or the UDON comics–cheesy, predictable maybe, over the top certainly, following its own ridiculous Street Fighter logic. It fleshes out the Street Fighter V world and characters well, while setting up for events to come in Street Fighter’s timeline (i.e. Street Fighter III). The animated in-game models are impressive to see in this format–when untimely clipping/physics bugs don’t wreck the effect–and some of the cinematography is outright spectacular. The voice acting is usually excellent, and the characterizations are absolutely on-point; F.A.N.G in particular steals the show as the thoroughly despicable and hilarious sycophant he is. As a new method of storytelling in a Street Fighter game, I’d call it a complete success.

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When you aren’t watching these cutscenes, however, you’re fighting–and here is where the new mode stumbles. I found it jarring to shift between enjoying the visual storytelling to actively fighting, worsened by constantly switching characters depending on the scene. Now, difficulty isn’t a significant issue: for most of the regular playthrough the AI is comparable to the Character Story mode: presenting no challenge, and boring. It ramps up near the end, closer to the higher end of Survival mode’s “Normal” difficulty. But it does share Survival Mode’s unpredictability, and toughness can suddenly jump up unexpectedly. On the second (“Extra”) playthrough, it seemed to me the difficulty stayed at around that upper level–and fights often became frustrating, being stuck using characters I’m not as comfortable with.

Admittedly, sometimes fights at crucial story moments do still feel satisfying to win in the context–but overall, frustration is the strongest feeling I took away from this aspect of the mode. I found very little “fun” in these fights. They can be skipped–but that begs the question: what is the point of the fights if you can jump right past them? Why include them at all? Because there’s a wealth of new content to show in these fights, that’s why: areas of existing stages we can’t see in regular play yet, entirely new and detailed environments, and enemy fighters with what appear to be full, interesting movesets–particularly the Dolls. (And of course, we get to try out Juri and Urien as well in a few bouts.) This contrast left me torn–there was so much new, interesting material, but I still didn’t enjoy it here.

For the most part, I would have much rather seen more of the dramatic, stylized combat we see in the cutscenes, and saved the new assets for playable modes we could really dig into. The story mode fights are still single rounds, often with doctored gauges and V-Trigger states to tip the scales one way or the other. Prior Street Fighter bosses were often overpowered too, of course–but your fight against them came after beating other CPU opponents on “even” terms, allowing you to get into a groove with the fighter of your choice. These fights are fleeting, and don’t provide enough time with a single fighter to feel a sense of accomplishment from a play perspective. I imagine some of the “casual” market might not mind, and might be OK mashing (or skipping) their way through the fights; but it seems like clumsily shoehorning gameplay into the storytelling for the sake of having interactivity–any interactivity.

This interlacing of playable fights with cutscenes is arguably an evolution of arcade structure–but it doesn’t substitute for it. Arcade Modes have provided a much meatier gameplay experience. While covering the storytelling well, in terms of single player gameplay this new mode does not provide comparable satisfaction. It would have been better to separate the two outright: I would much rather have the story scenes cut into watchable vignettes, and the new fighters and stages built into some new challenge modes; it would suit them much better, and give us more opportunity to appreciate them. We still don’t have a means in this game to fight the CPU 2/3 rounds, or more–SFV’s fixation on single-round structure is tiresome.

And yet, maybe this DLC is really right in character for this strange experiment that is Street Fighter V. I absolutely want a new experience from SFV, and this mode is indeed something new–even if the execution is rough around the edges. While I still don’t think SFV needs an Arcade Mode specifically, this does not fully deliver the single player content the game needs. I feel this mode should have been part of the game at launch; it would make more sense to preview all six of the upcoming DLC fighters, rather than just the currently remaining two. It still feels like Capcom is playing catch-up with SFV, patching and building bit by bit–again, a “service”, not a static product.

So it goes with Street Fighter V: brilliant and flawed, simultaneously pushing the envelope while coming up short. This “General Story” fills some of the gaps, but leaves me wanting more. Waiting for this game to be “finished” is futile, and maybe we’re a bit closer to “complete”… but I think there’s still a fight ahead for this game to secure the future it deserves. If Capcom goes on to effectively utilize the potential content teased in this update, this game’s future could be very bright; for now, the shadow lingers.

Shoryuken.com Editor-in-Chief and performing member of Kita no Taiko. Street Fighterin' since there was only a "II" in the name.