Fighting games have officially been around for donkey's years, but being good at them has always been an arduous task. We do however live in an age of the Internet; a world in which we can Google (and frankly who actually uses any other search engine) any information we want—from combo explanations to video guides about hitboxes. And that is all well and good, but a game shouldn’t need to rely on years of work compiled by its fans to be playable, should it?
I picked up a copy of Street Fighter V with a single mission in mind: I was going to become good at it without using any of this outside information. It was just going to be me and my controller all the way. No fancy joystick thingy. No frame rate explanations. No hitbox guides. No tutorials on how to build one combo into another. I was just going to use the information given to me by Street Fighter V, and in case anybody hasn’t noticed, but prior to the 30th March that wasn’t a great deal.
Now, you might be wondering what constitutes being "good" at Street Fighter V. Well I did a bit of research into the various leagues of the game and they range from Rookie to Platinum. There is no way I’m going to ever make it to platinum—that requires levels of time and dedication that I simply do not have. So I thought I would aim for somewhere in the middle with Super Silver.
All that was left for me to complete my epic challenge was a timeframe, a deadline. When was I going to need to have reached my Street Fighter competence by? At the time of writing I’ve owned and been playing Street Fighter V for 3 weeks. My aim is to be in Super Silver league within 3 months of owning the game. Also at the time of writing, I have no idea if this is a reasonable target.
Onto the actual game though. After making short work of every characters story mode I felt like a king. My first online game (playing as Dhalsim) was an entirely different matter. Turns out the story modes are piss easy—even a baby beat them apparently. Suffice to say I got decimated. I barely knew the controls beyond block and that every other button did an attack. It was like watching a baby deer stand up thinking that was all there is to walking and for its mother to savagely beat it to prove it isn’t.
Upon realising that I was beyond rubbish at the game, I decided to try out survival mode on easy—again with Dhalsim. This seemed to be the right level of difficulty for my current skill level. While I completed it without much trouble, some of the fights were challenging. However, I was still lacking. I couldn’t do special moves when I wanted to. I didn’t know which basic attacks worked well together. I kept jumping in the air when I didn’t mean to. I was still a disaster.
After tinkering with a few other characters I finally settled on somebody that I was going to learn everything about. I tried Karin first, but found she required more button inputs than my meager brain could handle. Secondly, I tried Rashid. He was cool for a bit, and I liked the way he jumped around and did cool wind stuff, but turns out Nash is my man. Good ol’ Charlie Nash. He has some Street Fighter history I think, but having never really played a fighting game before, let alone cared about the story, I have no idea. In Street Fighter V, though, he is some badass Frankenstein monster chap with staples on his body. Plus he can teleport and who doesn’t love a bit of that.
My chosen character sorted, I set about the task of learning his every move and literally drilling his moves. I wasn’t allowing to get a cup of tea until I could perform 10 Sonic Booms in a row. I wasn’t allowed dinner until I could do 10 Sonic Slashes and then 10 Moonsault Slashes. I practiced the dreaded Z maneuver Tragedy Assault 10 times in a row before I could go to bed.
One of the first things Street Fighter had already taught by this stage was that I required discipline. I needed to commit and learn these moves so that they became second nature, because if I can’t do them in practice mode, how on earth was I going to do them while being punched in the face.
Finally, hours later with sore fingers, a bruised ego, and an enormous amount of respect for the game, I could do all of these attacks on command in isolations. Could I transfer this to ranked matches?
The short answer is, yes. The long answer is, hell no. Second lesson of Street Fighter is when you are battling an opponent the pace of the match is a big deciding factor—control the pace and you control the fight. When it was on my terms, then I was able to pull off cool moves and feel very proud of myself. However, I was rarely on my terms. With Ken spinning across the screen, Zangief stalking towards me like an ogre, and Vega jumping around like a bouncy ball—I struggled to know when to do any of my moves.
And there it was lesson three: don’t hesitate, commit. If you are going to rush your opponent and deal a low kick to knock them down, then finish it. Don’t get half way and panic because they look like they are going to do something dangerous. Don’t back off and give them space. Keep the pressure on and they will make mistakes. Use the wall at either end of the level to your advantage. If they do something, then react and counter. It’s called Street Fighter not Street Mighter-have.
That is a lesson I am still learning. I am naturally a stand back and plan sort of fellow. I naturally gravitate towards archer, mage, and stealth classes in other games. So, rushing in fists a blazing (quite literally in Ken’s case) goes against many of my natural gaming instincts to wait and pick my moment. That is all well and good on occasion, but I needed to get stuck in more.
Many an evening and weekend day went into learning Street Fighter V, and I can now officially say that I have reached Bronze League. I dropped right back out of it three matches later, but fleetingly I made it and I am now consistently hovering around it. I will make it back in and go up through the ranks. It will be slow and it will be frustrating. I will shout awful things at my TV and feel genuine anger along the way, but I’ve already felt the elation of a brilliant victory and the awe of a massive defeat. I have started my journey through this wonderous, dangerous, and life consuming land that is Street Fighter, and I am loving every minute of it.