SSFIV: Arcade Edition: Focus, Focus

Super Ultra Mega Street Fighter Alpha Turbo Edition: 7

True to Capcom’s form of putting roughly 80,000 colons on the end of their fighting games, in 2011 they released Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, the sequel to the game they called the “definitive end to the Street Fighter IV series”.  Because in Capcom’s world, a sequel to a series is somehow another series.  And the end of that series…can have another sequel.  I’ll pause for a minute to let you mull that over.  Finished?  Great.

Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (from here on out to be referred to as SSFIV:AE because I’m lazy) is, in a lot of ironic ways that make me seem like a better writer, like it’s crazy naming system: it seems simple at first, but holds a surprising amount of depth beneath the surface as you get more and more experienced.

The first thing most people notice when they start playing SSFIV:AE is that it feels slooooooow.  Part of this is because its prequel, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, is a good deal quicker and snappier than SSFIV:AE.  The other part is because most of what Capcom was working on in the interim between SFIV and SFIII was the Marvel vs. Capcom series, which is famous for moving stupidly, stupidly fast.

Only ONE fireball! BULLS&%$
Only ONE fireball! BULLS&%$

What the people who complained about this slowness (“I pressed punch and he didn’t throw out 90 fireballs!! WHAT IS THIS PONG?!!”) tend to not realize is that it’s a deliberate callback to Street Fighter II…and that it works.  By giving SSFIV:AE a “downgrade” in speed, every hit requires more precision, and more forethought.  When a kick takes 5 frames to pull off instead of 2, there’s a much bigger need to make sure that kick’s going to land successfully, even if that doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time, and even if I just pulled that number out of my ass (look, I just know it’s slower than SF:III, ok?  Just…just go with it, people).

The other piece of the puzzle is the Focus Attack, which sort of acts like the antidote to the game’s measured pace, along with performing other duties.  Charging the focus attack allows you to soak up one hit, and stuns the opponent if it connects.  The idea is that it’s supposed to replace the parry system in SFIII, which allowed the player to stop an attack without the usual stun period that comes with a normal block.  The tradeoff is that you have to be skilled enough to hit forward or down at exactly the right time.

And, looks pretty damn cool.
And, admittedly…it looks pretty damn cool.

Instead, the Focus Attack takes out the timing needed for a parry, and replaces it with a long charge-up period.  This…isn’t the best tradeoff.  It’s not a bad system, that’s for sure.  It allows for a lot of interesting scenarios, and gives you a decent chance at stopping some attacks.  The problem is that that list doesn’t include most supers, some specials, and anything that hits more than once.  That includes combos, kids.

There’s also a way to cancel moves by using the Focus Attack.  The problem is that there’s a LOT involved in that, and it’s not an easy thing at all to do.  You have to land a hit, hit MP+MK right when that happens (pretty much the same timing window as a parry from SFIII, as a matter of fact), dash out of the Focus Attack to cancel it, and THEN land whatever move you need afterwards to make all those button presses before worthwhile.  It’s there to give you a little more mileage out of your combos, but there’s another thing already in the game that does that.  It’s called better combos.

I get it, Capcom.  You wanted to remind people that Street Fighter II was awesome, but make something fresh.  I get it!  And you did a good job!  But there’s a big difference between innovation and forced change, and as good of a game as SSFIV: AE is, and as great as it is having all those characters and balancing adjustments…it’s a little closer to that line than I’d like.  You’d think after making more sequels to their games than most companies make individual discs, they’d be starting to learn that.


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