I almost lead with “Street Fighter V was Capcom’s last fighting game”, and the gross falsehood of that should tell you all you need to know about Capcom’s state of affairs.
Ever since Street Fighter IV, Capcom has been struggling to capture the magic that their earlier sprite-based fighters had. Nearly every fighting game they put out from that point forward is defined by some kind of flaw. While Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom and Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 are beloved by fans, the rest of it isn’t so hot.
To run down the list, Street Fighter X Tekken is infamous for its pay-to-win Gem system, overpowered defensive options, and cookie cutter frame data and health values; Street Fighter V was and is a popular game that nonetheless seems to constantly be getting itself into mishaps and can make its biggest fans saltier than any other fighter even on a good day; Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers was a Super Turbo rerelease with two extra broken characters on a console with bad netcode; Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite turned out to be a game that, while playing well, gave a bad first impression with a lackluster story and poor visuals, and was annihilated by the prompt release of Dragon Ball FighterZ; Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition was called as such because it added an arcade mode two years after the original launched; and Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection was a bundle that didn’t have netplay for all of its games and had a version of SFIII: Third Strike that’s invalidated by its Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version.
So, technically, Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite was Capcom’s last full fighting game. Again, it’s a great playing game, but no one could tell that from its appearance so into the trash it went. Street Fighter V has been carrying the weight of Capcom’s fighting division on its shoulders for the past three years, and while it has been gradually improving, I can’t say it impresses me as much as any one of its EVO 2019 peers. With Capcom’s recent hot streak, they can surely do better in the fighting department.
So, how do they do it in this day and age? I’ve come up with three simple steps that, if followed, will be a surefire way to take not only Capcom games to the next level, but also the fighting game industry and community themselves.
Step 1: A brave new pricing model.
It’s time for the face of the fighting game industry to lead the way again, and that means implementing a “games as a service” model that works. The current way of doing things is a bastardized version of the way content used to be patched into arcade games, just with players paying for everything that’s not a patch. Street Fighter V may have its in-game “Fight Money” currency to lighten that load, but ask any player and they’ll tell you that the well’s pretty dry these days.
So, what is to be done? Well, the best thing is to look at the one game that pulled it off: Killer Instinct (2013). That’s right, it’s time for a big-name Japanese developer to figure out the free-to-play model on consoles, and with some modifications to KI’s method, here’s how they can do it. Release the base game for free with 4-6 characters and every available mode. No “Lite Version” here; if a mode’s done, everyone gets it.
There will be two core fighters (like, say, Ryu and Chun-Li) who will always be available in this edition. The other 2-4 will rotate every two weeks or so. The rest of the cast can be purchased piecemeal as they are released, or in seasons. And if players want, they can invest in a full-price Founder’s Pack that nets them everything, forever. Cosmetics will be floating around, but they can all also be earned in-game — and not just through some nonsensically difficult survival mode! Nobody wants that!
Step 2: Give the people what they want.
Casuals make up most fighting games sales. Casuals grow the fighting game community. Casuals are important. And casuals want three things: one, convenience. Not just “accessibility”, though that is nice, they want convenience. That’s what a free game with a full array of modes does: it gives them something they can download and play, the only barrier being an internet connection. Another convenience: good online that gets matches quickly, keeps ‘em as stable as possible, and punishes bad behaviour.
Two, casuals want single-player modes. Story and Arcade are givens. Try to flex your creativity as much as possible, and give the people something to chew on for a while. And that means good AI, too! Design a story mode that teaches players how to play like a regular video game. Walk them through the different types of mechanics, attacks, and situations they’ll find themselves in in Versus mode organically, slowly building up someone who has a solid base to start fighting other players. If that means sneaking in an online match near the end to show them it’s not so bad, so be it. And for the rest of the content, see what you can come up with! The sky’s the limit, especially if you start adding modifiers to fights.
And three? What casuals want from a fighting game, above everything else, is to be wowed. They want presentation, they want visuals, and they want a roster. Give ‘em camera cuts, give ‘em an art style, and give ‘em all the characters they could want. And that brings me to Step 3.
Step 3: Do what must be done.
For Step 3, I propose that for their next big fighting game, Capcom doesn’t make Street Fighter VI.
They make Capcom Vs. Capcom.
Every time I see that Capcom’s added another in-house crossover costume to Street Fighter V, I look up. I glance at my bookcase. And on top of it, I see my Capcom 30th Anniversary Character Encyclopedia, filled back-to-front with highlights and forgotten faces from across Capcom’s rich history. There’s something in there for everyone, even if they don’t know it yet. From the 1986 Legendary Wings’ Michelle Heart to Asura from 2012’s Asura’s Wrath, Capcom has a crossover-worthy catalogue second only to Nintendo and their Super Smash Bros. franchise.
And that’s why people buy into Smash: not because the gameplay is accessible at a low level (though its separation from normal fighters is part of it), but because the cast is filled with legends. And if they weren’t legends before, Smash made them legends! That’s what a crossover is capable of! That’s why guests in fighting games became popular again after Smash for Wii U and 3DS’ cross-company mascots and Tekken 7’s Akuma; people remembered that they’re exciting, and vehicles for new mechanics in unusual contexts! Come on, Capcom. I know you can emulate those effects. Let’s see one more from the grandpappy of fighting games, just for old time’s sake.
Those are my three steps for a surefire home run with the next Capcom fighting game. With a functional free-to-play model, a presentation that draws in casual players, and an all-star roster (while giving the Street Fighter brand a rest), Capcom is in the perfect spot to have another game they can support for the whole next console generation – without the miasma that followed Street Fighter V. Honestly, the worst thing Capcom could do right now is announce a next-gen revision of SFV at Sony’s inevitable PS5 blowout stream/event – though, with their current output for the game, that doesn’t feel likely.
I want nothing more than to see Capcom back on top, producing cool games like they used to. Even if I missed the bulk of it, they were a driving force behind the arcade scene back in the day, and they have the receipts to show for it. Let’s hope that Capcom still has it in them to bring the energy and passion in some of their other recent works back to fighting games, and throw down another instant classic.