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Street Fighter 5's story mode is a spectator experience (update)

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The long-promised new addition is a lot more watching than it is playing

I've played the first hour and change of Street Fighter 5's upcoming story mode, and whether my news is good or bad depends on what you want out of a fighting game solo offering.

I know that's infuriating to hear, and not particularly informative, but hear me out.

The reason I was hopeful for SF5's story mode was because of how I grew up playing Street Fighter. Playing against the CPU, as one character, from start to finish, was a great opportunity to get a basic feel for a character, to feel powerful without playing against a moving goalpost of evolving human capability. It was a fun way to put time into the game that didn't involve other people.

Street Fighter 5 failed in this regard at launch pretty fundamentally. Characters had three to four fights each in the shipping prologue, which is miserly, but more strangely, each match was just one round long. It was a trifle, more of a tease than a meaningful play experience. It demonstrated a completely different priority for "story mode" than what I, and, judging from some online response, many others were looking for in a single-player mode, seeking instead to build an extremely complicated, interlocking fiction for Street Fighter.

Granted, it didn't really pull that off, but in Capcom's defense, it wasn't supposed to. It was just a taste. Though, in the buying public's defense, it was just one of many underbaked elements of Street Fighter 5 at launch. Capcom suggested that this deficiency would be addressed by the addition of a proper story mode to the game, but in my time with it, there's a lot more story added than there is game.

sf5 story mode screen 1

When you begin story mode, the biggest change to Street Fighter precedent is immediate: You don't pick a character. Instead, Street Fighter 5 takes you through various characters as the story bounces from thread to thread, introducing characters to each other and setting up competing motivations to ... do ... I'm not sure, actually. There's a lot of discussion of things happening, as if Street Fighter 5 is several episodes into a television show's season, and having played through all of the prologue content a few months back, I was completely lost.

Maybe things will make more sense farther in — it's hard to fault a game's story so early on, and I'll refrain from holding that against it yet. And Street Fighter 5 is very clearly presenting itself as an anime story, and I tend not to watch much anime. So I get it. The story probably just isn't for me.

That said, my time demonstrated some problems. The most superficial and likely to be unremarked upon is the continued fan service present throughout. In case you didn't notice, Street Fighter 5 is extremely interested in detailing its female characters' asses. It's particularly creepy with upcoming DLC character Ibuki, whose canonical baggy-ish ninja outfit has been replaced with a short-skirted schoolgirl thing that still includes a ninja mask because why not.

Street Fighter 5 is very clearly presenting itself as an anime story

You probably don't care about that, if my Twitter mentions are any indication. What you may care about is the structure of story mode. As in the prologue, fights here are a single round, which, at normal difficulty, could be over in seconds. Literal seconds. The story bookends to these fights can last minutes. For all but the most beginner Street Fighter players, you're going to spend 10-20 times more time watching Street Fighter 5's story mode than you will playing it.

When I was playing it, I often found myself confused about who I was supposed to be playing as — the point of view in each cutscene before the fight proved to be little indication of who the fight would belong to. I often wasn't sure which side of the ring I was on until after I got kicked in the face.

While the Capcom representative in attendance told me that I had played the first 90 minutes or so, it felt much shorter, so your time investment in the story mode will likely vary wildly based on your skill level. And your enjoyment of it will depend highly on how much you want to watch the Street Fighter cast interact — including a few unreleased characters, some of whom you can even briefly play as in story mode.

The Street Fighter 5 update containing story mode will also bring other changes with it, including the ability to spend real money on in-game cosmetic items and new characters. This is just in time to purchase the delayed Ibuki, whom I had some time to play with during my visit to Capcom.

sf5 ibuki screen

Ibuki is a lot of fun, though I imagine she'll be met with some frustration from many players due to both her less traditional mechanics and her general utility and potential for aggression. Regarding the latter, I'll just say that Ibuki has one of the most obnoxious forward heavy kicks in the game, one which leaps into the air above low blocks and, I believe, projectiles. She's also got a bomb that she can drop and kick around before it explodes, and can also combo into that bomb's explosion. It's all kinds of obnoxious being thrown into it, for example.

Interestingly, Ibuki has a projectile attack in the form of her kunai, but she can only throw five of them before she has to "restock" her supply, a command that takes some time to complete. She can throw them singularly in the air or on the ground, but she can also throw all of them at once, which leads to fun/rude combo opportunities.

Street Fighter 5's story update, along with Ibuki, is scheduled to release later this month on PlayStation 4 and Windows PC.

Street Fighter 5 - story mode still 1920

Update: Capcom announced today that it has decided not to implement Zenny, Street Fighter 5's long-awaited real-money currency. Instead, the company is adding real-money transactions — conducted through the PlayStation Store and Steam — with Street Fighter 5's June update, as an option aside from the in-game Fight Money currency.

"After extensive testing and development, we came to the conclusion that [Zenny] was not necessary in order to carry out our original vision for the product," said Capcom. The developer added an in-game shop with Street Fighter 5's March update, but did not implement Zenny at the time because the company wanted to "make sure it's fully tested and optimized before launching it."

Because Capcom had not yet introduced the ability for players to buy add-on characters with Zenny, the company released Street Fighter 5's first two post-launch characters, Alex and Guile, to all players for free. The plan was to keep them free until the debut of Zenny; now, they'll be free until the launch of the June update. At that point, players will have to either pay for downloadable characters with their PlayStation Network wallet or Steam wallet, or buy them with Fight Money (if they don't own the game's season pass).

Each new character will cost $5.99. New stages and premium costumes will cost $3.99 each, while story outfits and alternate stages will go for $1.99 each.