Cinematic experience or straight-to-DVD rubbish?
Regardless of your thoughts on Street Fighter V‘s quality, there’s no denying that it had a really rough launch. Despite being released at full price, it only featured a handful of gaming modes, an incomplete roster and was plagued with server problems. Although Capcom promised that more updates and content were on the way, it didn’t make up for the fact that they had sold what was essentially an unfinished game.
Fortunately, it seems Capcom have since delivered on their promises, with a regular stream of updates and new content that help justify the game’s price-tag – the most surprising and (possibly) most anticipated being its Story Mode, which was only released earlier this month as a free update. While Street Fighter games in the past have had some element of story, they were mostly relegated to the background and usually focused on each individual character’s journey – some of which having no real connection to the larger plot.
Street Fighter V marks the first time a game in the series has had a dedicated Story Mode, and Capcom did a good job of hyping it up with trailers that captured that cinematic feeling, partly thanks to its fully animated cutscenes. The game already had character stories that acted as tutorials and prologues to the main story but many fans were disappointed with the fact that they lacked proper cutscenes; instead they just consisted of still images with arguably, badly-drawn artwork. This one was set to bridge the gap between Street Fighter IV and III, explaining what became of the evil organisation Shadaloo and their leader, M. Bison. The question is, though, is it actually any good?
Titled A Shadow Falls, the story is about the aforementioned Shadaloo using satellites called The Black Moons to spread chaos throughout the world, which will enhance Bison’s own Psycho Power and make him invincible. Thus, it falls to our heroes to thwart Bison’s plan. That’s the basic gist of it but there are several character arcs that take place throughout, such as the resurrected Charlie Nash going on a vengeance-fulled quest to kill Bison, Rashid’s mission to find his missing friend and the appearance of the ancient Aztec warrior Necalli.
The story itself isn’t that developed or complex, but that’s not necessarily an issue. A story doesn’t need to have some deeper meaning or involve numerous side-plots that all expertly weave together in order to be entertaining. Sometimes, simple is better. Unfortunately, A Shadow Falls is almost too simple for its own good. The story could very easily be summed up in maybe only two sentences; when you really step back and look at it, not a whole lot actually happens. Granted, that’s ignoring any character arcs or specific character moments but even then, those moments seem almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
But that’s looking at the story as part of the wider Street Fighter hter storyline. On its own, there are plenty of neat moments throughout the story and its presentation in terms of camera-work and cinematography is great. As said earlier, all the cutscenes are fully animated which means the characters are very expressive in their movements and facial animation. There’s no obvious, awkward mo-cap where characters arms stiffly flail about, though sometimes the physics on things like long hair freak out a bit. It’s glaring but not enough to suck any drama or tension from a scene.
However, A Shadow Falls suffers from some other issues that ultimately hamper the experience. For starters, all fights are limited to only one round as opposed to the traditional best of three. Combine that with painfully easy enemy AI and these fights go by super quickly. There’s not enough time to properly become invested and, in some instances, it dilutes the tension slightly. Granted, the AI does become gradually more difficult towards the end but not by much, and you can unlock a hard mode by clearing the story once but, by that point, it’s unlikely you’ll ever want to go back to it.
You could make the argument that the decision for easier fights is to help attract newbies who might just want to enjoy the story without having to become experts at the game, which is fair enough but if that’s the case, then there should be a difficulty option from the get-go so those wanting an actual challenge can get just that. Plus, it’s unlikely that people who have little to no interest in fighting games like this are going to spend upwards of $60 just to experience a story that could be beaten within 3-5 hours. And you can even skip every single fight anyway which is especially baffling.
It’s a real shame since there are moments within the story where you play against non-playable characters like random Shadaloo mooks and Bison’s Dolls. These could’ve been pretty interesting to see, even if they aren’t given fully developed move-sets, because they’re something different, especially in the case of the Dolls who all have unique moves of their own – one can throw spears, another uses a megaphone etc. – but they easily have the worst AI and can be beaten so quickly that unless you just stand there and get hit, you’re never going to see what they can do. Hell, even if you do decide to stand there, your opponent will spend several seconds walking back and forth, crouching and jumping before deciding to actually bother hitting you.
Another issue is the use of the characters themselves. Unlike, say, Mortal Kombat X‘s story mode which only allows you to play as a certain handful of characters, Street Fighter V allows you to play as every member of the roster at least once (even Juri and Urien which, at the time of writing, aren’t even available to play normally yet). As such, you are constantly switching control between each character – one moment you’re Charlie, the next you’re Ryu and so on. This isn’t a problem since it allows every character to get a moment in the spotlight. The problem is how some characters wind up being horribly shafted by others.
A good few of them are only playable a grand total of once and contribute very little to the overall story, to the point where you wonder why they’re even here. They’re not even given any extra filler fights against random mooks, instead forever delegated to just showing up in cutscenes every now and then. It’s obvious that the story was written out first and the writers tried to forcefully shove some of the cast into it, rather than try and write a story that used each character effectively. The end result is a cast filled with extraneous characters, including Necalli who Capcom have been hyping up as this new and terrifying threat, only for him to exit the story without leaving an impact on anything.
This even applies to some of the supposed “main” characters. Bison does barely anything, choosing to just float about and let his new lackey F.A.N.G hog the limelight (who admittedly kind of steals the show on more than one occasion). Chun-Li is around but is only playable ONCE throughout the whole story. Even Ryu vanishes from the plot about a third of the way in and only returns to suddenly be the main hero. Honestly, only three of the playable characters are really important – Charlie, Rashid and F.A.N.G.
There are a tonne of missed opportunities for character interaction too. Most of the time, dialogue consists of characters just explaining things to one another. There are very few conversations or exchanges between the cast. As cool as it is to see The World Warriors coming together as a small army of sorts, they don’t really feel like a tightly-knit group of friends and more like a random bunch of people who kind of, sort of know each other.
There’s a scene where Guile and Zangief travel to India. This could’ve been a neat, little moment for the two to talk and develop some kind of camaraderie or something but they don’t do anything except fight more mooks. There’s a scene where Dhalsim travels to New York to find Alex and all they do is fight once and that’s it. There’s barely any interaction.
The worst example, though, is the relationship between Guile and Charlie. Or rather lack of relationship. Guile believed Charlie to be dead; his plot in Street Fighter II was trying to avenge him. Now he sees his friend and mentor alive but changed and the two BARELY talk to each other throughout the whole story.
In the end, A Shadow Falls is a mediocre disappointment. Aside from a few cool moments in cutscenes and the occasional bit of decent writing, it’s relatively boring to play and boring to watch. It might be harsh to criticise it since this is the first time this kind of thing has been done in the series but it certainly could’ve been a lot better. Hopefully, Capcom will try again in either a future update or sequel and build upon what worked and fix what didn’t, because this certainly doesn’t feel like it was worth the six month wait.
Final score: 2.5/5