Street Fighter V Preview

Learn to fight, not to flail.

Let's not beat about the bush. Street Fighter V may just look like an upgraded version of Street Fighter IV, as you might discern from the graphics in the game's latest reveal trailers made possible by Unreal Engine 4. Indeed, a part of me thought, "Why this wasn't just another Super-Duper Ultra version of SFIV?" But in my three-hour hands-on time of a very early PS4 build of Street Fighter V behind closed doors, I understood that the battle system alone is enough to warrant a completely new installment.

Taken altogether, Street Fighter V lowers the barrier of entry for newcomers when it comes to learning the inputs but pushes the learning curve toward pro players with the skill-based replacement of the Ultra gauge (aka Revenge Gauge) with the Variable system. While the Variable gauge builds similarly to the Ultra gauge and drains completely at the start of the next match (so use it!), it doesn't grant a free Ultra Combo that can instantly change the tide of battle. Instead, the Variable gauge is segmented into multiple units, much like the EX Super Combo gauge which is only three segments long now (instead of four), and can be used in two distinct ways: V-Triggers and V-Reversals.

Requiring the entire Variable gauge, which is two or three segments long depending on the chosen fighter, V-Triggers act vaguely similar to V-ism from the Street Fighter Alpha series. Activating it transforms the properties of numerous maneuvers for a certain length of time (longer if it's three segments, of course); for instance, turning Ryu's fireballs into charging electric ones that have multi-hit and guard-breaking properties. V-Triggers work differently for each character; for Nash, it allows him to teleport away from danger and get in some free combos from behind. Or perhaps throw a Sonic Boom in one direction and teleport behind for some tricky attacks from both sides.

V-Reversals, on the other hand, works similar to Alpha counters and only cost one segment of the gauge. Each character has a different V-Reversal, but it's essentially a combo breaker in case you need one, so at least in my estimation you can expect many top-level players using V-Reversals instead of V-Triggers. It does take getting used to. I failed to use the V-gauge multiple times until it was too late, but pro players should have no trouble navigating both this gauge and the Super gauge.

Despite having the letter 'V' in front of it, V-Skills don't require any Variable gauge at all and, like the other 'V' skills, act differently for each character. Using the MP+MK command, V-Skills take the place of Focus Attacks and essentially give each character an extra move for special occasions. M. Bison's can take any projectile and reflect it back at high speed (did he steal this reflection ability from Rose?), whereas Nash can absorb projectiles and raise his own energy bars with them. Chun-Li's V-Skill allows her to leap diagonally forward and can get some aerial kicks in to continue the combo if she's lucky, and Ryu's allows him to parry attacks like he's from Street Fighter III. So yes, if you have insane Daigo-like parrying skills, it may be time for Ryu to become your main.

As for input changes, the move list that we were given surprisingly didn't have any full-circle movements. Now that's not too surprising given that Ryu, Chun-Li, Nash, and M-Bison don't have any of those movements, but it's indicative of the streamlining. Chun-Li rapid-kick doesn't require furiously mashing of the kick button and is now just a quarter foward-circle input. Nash's movelist has no charge moves whatsoever, perhaps as a way to separate him from the Guile-clone idea, and his Sonic Boom is also just a QFC. We'll see if this streamlining will affect the rest of the cast.

Capcom isn't sharing too many other details about Street Fighter V… including the story. All I can surmise is that Nash, whose covering half of his gray face like some Phantom of the Opera, has returned to kill someone in particular (perhaps M. Bison or Seth) and that he now has a Gill/Urien jewel embedded on his forehead. Yep, Guile is not going to be happy. As Street Fighter V will be exclusive to PS4 and PC, the game will be optimized for the PS4's specs and it will surprisingly have cross-platform play between both platforms. The online modes will be run on Capcom's proprietary "Kagemusha" netcode, which is a fancy name for something that I haven't tested yet. On a related note, as a testament to its commitment to the eSports community, the second season of the Capcom Pro Tour will last 40 events, with equal distribution in North America, Europe, Asia, and Wild Card, with $500K in prizes.

The release date for Street Fighter V has yet to be announced, but according to Capcom's latest earning report, it should at least come out during Capcom's fiscal year which ends March 31, 2016. The build I played should be available at E3 on the show floor.