Usually when a game first comes out, the first couple months are spent just trying to figure out exactly what the developers intended. It's a mini game that's both fun and frustrating at the same time. You'll look at a move and think “why is this move so bad, it looks like it should do something specific but it doesn't work for that at all. Why would they do that?” And the answer is usually because someone found something in testing. This time around since there were so many various builds that the public had access to and since everything is on youtube it's much easier to follow the trail and understand the reasoning behind various nerfs and buffs better than we could have in previous games.
This process has major implications for competitive play. If something is changed, I want to know WHY it was changed. If a buff was given late in the development process, it was given for a reason. It's a finger pointing you in the right direction. And a nerf isn't necessarily just a middle finger straight from Capcom to you. A nerf is telling the player “we want you to look at other parts of this character” just as often as it is a “we don't like you don't this, please stop!” And even when it's the latter, that can be a starting point just as much as an ending point. If Capcom thinks something is overpowered, this intrigues me. If you're telling me I can't have something, that just makes me want it even more. It makes me want to look for as many possible other ways to get whatever it is they took away.
So we're going to break down the first 8 characters now, focusing mostly on the changes that affected the character's overall gameplan. There are too many changes and too many builds to go over everything but I'll try to hit the biggest and most important ones. For the purpose of this exercise, I'm going to assume that Capcom is smart and they know what they're doing. Not all changes will work out exactly as they intended but I'm going to assume that all the changes have a purpose. Let's get started.
Ryu is a good place to get started because he's received round after round of nerfs. Almost every time a new build was released Ryu would have something taken away from him. This upset a lot of people who started calling the game Nerf Fighter 5 and what not. So let's look at the major changes and try to understand why things changed.
A lot of the nerfs Ryu received early on in the patching process were combo related nerfs and this is mostly because Ryu was the hardest hitting character early on. His medium hurricane lost the ability to hit crouching characters. This serves no other purpose than to lower his damage output off of common starters a little bit. Towards fierce into low fierce was removed during the third beta before the change was reversed in the final beta.
Back roundhouse into standing strong was taken away during the third beta as well. These changes were made so that the normals would retain their purpose but the damage output for landing one goes down a bit. This is especially important for the back roundhouse button which we've learned through the beta tests is one of Ryu's best buttons to throw out any time. It comes out in 8 frames, leaves him neutral on block and still leads to standing short into uppercut. They could have nerfed this kick even more and it would still be a great button to throw out there as often as possible.
Other combo nerfs were less for damage and more for function. He lost the ability to cancel out of crouching short into uppercut. So instead of low short, low short, uppercut, you can still do crouching short, crouching jab, standing short into uppercut for example, but that requires you to be closer and a string with two lows is easier to catch people flinching with. Also Ryu lost the ability to do standing strong into sweep as a link. This is an interesting nerf because the combos you can get instead of the sweep, like a low forward into fireball or crouch fierce into uppercut for example, will actually do more damage than just the sweep. But positioning is the key here, the game doesn't want you to pressure with safe-ish jump in setups or meaty back roundhouse.
If Ryu is one side of the nerf coin, Chun-Li is the other. Ryu was brought down damage wise by a repeated wave of nerfs but Chun-Li was mostly left alone. And at least for her sake the process seemed to have worked out. Most people seem to consider her to be one of the day 1 top tier characters largely due to things she had in the earliest builds.
Nash has had an up and down beta process. In the first public beta people hated the character. Everyone thought he was cool but they also thought he was surely the weakest. Then in the second public beta he was mentioned with Karin and Vega as possibly the strongest in the game. Even after a healthy wave of nerfs between the second and third public betas he was still thought of as a very strong character and that opinion has stayed the same going into the final build. Almost all the changes the character has gone through in the end come down to one question. How much safe pressure is this character allowed to apply?
A major nerf the character took between the second and third public betas was regarding his standing jab. At first a lot of people assumed this was a combo nerf. Nash could no longer go from his short-foward target combo into his jab-strong, or from low short to the jab-strong target combo. The jab would push away. And yes, this does affect the amount of low risk damage Nash can generate but the more important change was pressure related. Making the jab push away farther makes it harder for Nash to start sonic boom and moonsault slash pressure.
The moonsault slash was at the same time an overrated and underrated move during the betas. On the one hand Combo Fiend had to come right out and say “guys, this is a worse version of Adon's jaguar kick, don't be afraid of it, just hit a button and you stop it!” So the move became overrated for a time because people would just do moonsault slash, jab strong, moonsault slash, jab strong, etc. as a block string or just naked moonsault slash for no reason and expect to get away with it. This was never a great idea but people still complained.
But the move was also underrated because the threat of repeated moonsault slashes would allow Nash to start mixing in strong and fierce sonic booms at a range that could set up crush counter opportunities, overheads, dash into throw or low short mixups and that sort of thing. In addition to the previously mentioned standing jab nerf, Capcom changed the frame data on Nash's sonic booms just as a double nerf. Fierce sonic boom went from +1 to -1 on block at point blank and strong sonic boom went from -3 to -5. They really didn't like this strategy.
But what's interesting to me is that they left the frame data of moonsault slash mostly alone. They want the move to still have a purpose but just weren't so sure about the followups it generated. All strengths are still positive on block and you can still get one jab out, you just can't use the target combo to evaluate before committing to your next move. So there are still opportunities to create strong pressure with the move, it's just slightly more of a risk. You'll have to count on the opponent knowing that they're supposed to block after moonsault slash to do low strong into sonic boom and then carrying on, or a slightly unsafe low jab into sonic boom. But seeing as how strongly discouraged this kind of pressure was, it makes me want to know exactly what I can salvage going forward. This character wasn't supposed to be able to press this hard, so how much can I still get away with?
Another interesting change comes in the juggle properties of Nash's sonic scythes and v-skill. In the second public beta, Nash could do roundhouse sonic scythe and then EX sonic scythe for a big damage ender in the corner. They took it away by the time the third public beta rolled around and that seemed to be the end of that. But during the PAX build and the final beta, they gave a little something back in the ability to use v-skill as a juggle ender. This set up an interesting v-skill cancel to v-trigger teleport mixup in the corner but it also made me ask some theoretical questions.
That may be the newest way to use v-skill in combos and in blockstrings but it isn't the only way. How much should Nash risk trying to get a second v-trigger usage per round? It's mostly safe on block (-4) so I've noticed some Nash players using it in blockstrings or after fierce sonic booms. It seems like by adding juggle properties Capcom is gently reminding players that the v-skill is for more than just wiping out fireballs. Seeing as how v-trigger is almost guaranteed damage the way people are playing the game now, if Nash could get two v-triggers per round, he'd become a monster. Is it worth going out of your way for though? Time will tell.
Bison has possibly undergone more minor changes to his gameplay than any other character, even including Ryu. His general gameplan looks about the same, his combos look about the same so most people who don't play Bison a lot haven't seen what's going on here. But if you look closely, almost all of his special moves and some of his important normals have changed.
The scissor kick changed in almost every build up until the third public beta. During the E3 build the short scissor kick was slightly negative but still safe always. For the first build that Ken was introduced in, the short scissor became very unsafe and was easily punished, possibly as unsafe as -7 at point blank although no conclusive testing was done in this build. They changed that back to -4 for the second public beta where it's stayed since then. After that they started changing the forward and roundhouse scissors. From the third public beta onwards, forward scissors has been -3 and roundhouse scissors has been -2. So the move is actually backwards from Street Fighter 4, the higher strength versions are safer.
From the second to third public betas psycho blast was changed pretty dramatically also. The move went from -6 for jab, -3 for strong and -3 for fierce to -4 for jab, -1 for strong and +2 for fierce. The move was then buffed again in the final beta with a slightly expanded hit box, most noticeable on the fierce version of the move.
Then you look at the psycho inferno. For the E3 build and first public beta this move had frame advantage on the higher strengths of the move and was a charge move. Then for the second public beta it was a charge move but highly negative on block. And for the third and the final versions it became a motion move that was even more negative on block, -12 for jab, -11 for strong and -10 for fierce.
When you look at the three changes together the message is clear. Capcom is telling Bison players that they have to choose between minimal frame disadvantage and safety on block strings. They can't have both like with SF4 scissors or E3 build psycho inferno. The fierce psycho blast looks like the no brainer solution to all block strings but it's also easily interruptible.
Then you look at his normals. Low forward went through a pretty significant change from the second public beta to the third one. Originally the move was not cancellable but positive on block and able to link back to jabs or low strong. The move is now cancellable but no longer has frame advantage. Bison players are divided on this change. Is it a nerf or a buff? On the one hand for a character who walks as slow as Bison, losing meaty pressure is a big blow. But on the other hand, a move with good range that you can option select to scissors or walking forward option select to psycho inferno is pretty nice since walking away from Bison was solid strategy in earlier builds. Time will tell on that change.
There is no ambiguity with the psycho axe though. Changing the move from -1 in the second public beta to +1 in the later versions is a major buff. Previously Bison players were trying to find a use for a move like this, thinking that if it was going to be this slow it should at least be an overhead. But with frame advantage it allows Bison to get back in to create more frame traps without having to walk or jump. This is a clear signal from Capcom to use this move more.
In the end everything with this character is going to come down to speed and how the character is able to move forward and apply pressure. On pure walk speed the character is the slowest in the game, even slower than Dhalsim. He has no overhead and no real ability to tick throw. He has to spend meter to advance safely and create mixups once he's out either with EX scissor kick (+1 on block) or EX psycho blast which becomes a slow moving fireball that he can dash or headstomp behind. His walk speed means that he's missing things that most characters take for granted, not just in SF5 but in Street Fighter in general.
But in return he has things that SF5 characters aren't supposed to have. Capcom made a big deal out of hard knockdowns being out of the game. But Bison EX scissor kick is a guaranteed hard knockdown. Before the second public beta Bison's dash was changed to a teleport that allows him to phase through normals; it's less a dash and more of KoF style roll. He can also generate damage from his low short, with low short, low jab, standing short, psycho blast. In v-trigger you can cancel that to EX scissors or EX psycho blast to EX headstomp near corners making a low short a major damage dealer. Street Fighter 5 characters aren't supposed to have that, especially a character who has a v-trigger dash that's a built in left-right mixup.
I see Bison as an experiment more than a character. How effective can a frame trap character be without the threat of a throw? Is the white life mechanic scary enough that the other side is going to be afraid to block 3, 4, 5 strings in a row? Or will they just yawn and keep on blocking until they can finally get away and turn the tide? Characters who lack basic fundamental tools but have things that no other character has tend to be either really strong or really weak, rarely anywhere in the middle. They either have enough tools to overcome their fundamental deficiencies or they don't. I'm super curious to see where Bison ends up.
Just based on raw hours on public betas and locations tests, I've put more time into SFV Birdie than any other character. Here's the question I've been kicking over for months now. Is Birdie a grappler or isn't he? Let's look at the beta changes and his tools and try to find out.
It's clear that he wasn't a real grappler in the earliest builds and the first public beta. Players gravitated towards his pokes and hit confirms, especially off the low jab which was probably the single best normal in the game at that point in time. Even Tokido stopped what he was doing at E3 to mess around with Birdie's jab a little bit and when Tokido thinks he's found something, people should take notice, that guy is one of the best in the community at exploiting new games.
Even if jabs weren't going to be universally nerfed, clearly something had to be done. Command grab was one of Birdie's least important tools during the E3 build and the first public beta. What made him good was his strong midrange pokes, v-skill options, his 1 button anti-air with the low strong and that low jab. Players weren't fighting as aggressively with Birdie as Capcom had hoped since they didn't need point blank range to generate damage. At the time I posted in a few places that Birdie standing fierce and standing forward were unlikely to make the final build intact. A Capcom grappler just doesn't have those kinds of buttons.
But those buttons made it to the final version and will probably make it into the final game. Standing forward's hurtbox was tweaked a couple times from E3 but it's still an amazing button, borderline spammable in the mid-range. Standing strong also made it into the final beta intact as a counterpoking normal that combos into bull head.
But nothing was done to encourage the command grab until this final beta where the standing short was buffed from +5 on hit to +6. Birdie really only has two functional command grab ticks. Standing short into grab and point blank low forward into grab, the 3s Alex/CvS2 Yamazaki tick, usually done as a meaty since it's extra negative on block. Other buttons can be used but are much less likely and less suited for that purpose. Even with standing short being buffed a little bit, it's still not plus enough on hit to let the player react to the hit or block and then decide to finish the combo or go for a grab. The player has to decide in advance what they want to do. Going from a 3 light hit confirm to a 2 light hit confirm actually made Birdie play less like a grappler than he did in the earliest builds.
None of Birdie's other tools encourage grappler play either. The chains are designed to catch someone coming in. His v-skills are designed to be done at a distance, with the banana peel specifically designed to keep the opponent from approaching. He has one of the better one button anti-airs in the game with low strong. The aforementioned standing forward and standing fierce are distance pokes. The bull revenger hopping grab is only effective if the opponent is otherwise occupied at a distance either throwing a fireball or waking up. None of this toolset suggests an in close character at all!
I think Capcom is sending a clear message here. Does this mean Birdie's command grab is bad? No, definitely not, it may not have great range but has its uses. But if we're going to play the character most effectively out of the gate it makes sense to concentrate on the best parts of the character. I think the beta is telling us that Birdie is a strong character but not necessarily a grappler.
Cammy is another of the characters who partially survived the universal light to medium combo nerfs. She retains the jab to target combo link since the first hit of the target combo, back+strong activates in 4 frames. So thanks to this link staying intact, she's another of the characters who can break 200 for no meter off a light. Not quite as good as Chun-Li's since the target combo won't always connect but it's still important.
If anything, her light button pressure game has been encouraged. In the final beta this weekend her standing short was buffed from 0 to +1 on block and her crouching short improved by 1 frame also. Now on paper these seem like minor changes, just 1 frame here and 1 frame there, but it's a nice buff for her throw and frame trapping game. Cammy was already one of the more effective characters in the tick throwing game, this just reads to me like encouragement from Capcom to keep at it and keep playing her like a Street Fighter 4 character in Street Fighter 5.
Other than minor frame related changes, the main changes to Cammy all revolve around her v-trigger bar. From her introduction up to the second public beta, Cammy could do three specials in v-trigger but from the third public beta onwards she can only do two. This is a huge nerf and I was surprised people didn't make a bigger deal out of it at the time. Since the main function for Cammy's v-trigger is combo extension, this change basically turned her v-trigger into a SFV version of an ultra. You fish for a normal, land one, activate v-trigger and combo to spiral arrow into cannon strike and then it's gone. Whereas before you still had enough to either look for a dive kick, or take a swing with a safe-ish spiral arrow, or fish for a hooligan.
In compensation she had her v-skill buffed from +1 to +2 on block for the third beta. Then for the final beta the v-skill was buffed again, going from 60 damage on hit to 90 damage on hit. Any time I see two straight rounds of buffs on the same move that makes me take notice. Was the move that bad to begin with? Or is Capcom just trying to encourage Cammy players to try to get two uses of v-trigger per round? I'm not sure but just like with Nash, if Cammy players can consistently sneak a second v-trigger per round, her damage potential goes way up.
I think when I said that I was going to address the changes from the “Capcom is smart” perspective, a lot of people scrolled down to the Ken section. I don't blame them. Ken is the most visibly nerfed character from earlier versions of the game, even worse than Ryu. After the third public beta he was almost everyone's pick for worst character in the game.
It makes sense why people would think this since big chunks of his gameplan were removed. He lost his basic confirm off low short. Low short, low jab, standing short no longer combos, the standing short is just too far away. He lost the ability to combo out of a counter hit overhead. The target combo launches instead of leaving the opponent standing which lowers his combo potential. All of that is bad but it looks a lot like some of the nerfs that other characters got.
It's the changes to his v-skill that have people up in arms. It was not just a major combo tool, with standing fierce into canceled v-skill comboing to either low jab or target combo. It was also used occasionally as a mixup tool. Sweep canceled to v-skill was never safe but from the third public beta and onwards it's as bad as -10. Even worse, all hits Ken takes out of the run animation are counter hits, meaning the v-skill used in this way is so negative, he can actually run into crush counters! The move used as an in close mixup tool simply doesn't work. Either Capcom deliberately put in a tool that sucks or they're trying to tell us that it's used for something else. So it's up to the players to find a use for the v-skill.
If the move doesn't work from in close and we're operating under the assumption that these changes happen for a reason, the logical thing to do is look for uses outside the in close mixup range. What is Capcom trying to tell us to use this tool for?
Cancelled v-skill has uses as a weaker version of Sagat's kara tiger uppercut from SF4. Ken can control the air from ranges where opponents think it's safe to jump from. He can use stop short or step kick as a semi-credible mixup when closing from half screen or greater. In a game where most characters move like their feet are encased in cement being able to set the distance at will has uses. Say Ken throws a fireball at slow moving characters like Nash. On reaction Ken can step kick if he sees Nash try to absorb the fireball at roughly half screen distance, something Nash doesn't have to worry about against too many other characters. Are these uses as good as what Ken had before? Obviously not. But these are the types of things that Ken players should be looking for instead of trying to fit the square peg into the round hole.
Also it's a good idea to check Ken's other tools when looking at what range he's best at. And there's a strong case to be made that given Ken's toolset he should be fighting from further away than most people are playing him. It seems like most Ken players I ran into online are playing him at the low forward range which might be the worst possible place to play him. What other good tools made it through the adjustment process?
It turns out that many of these tools are in fact distance tools. Before the second public beta, Capcom adjusted the frame data on Ken's best distance poke, the standing roundhouse, making it -4 on block, basically safe in this game unless done way too close. His standing forward kick is a great range finder. Ken's short hurricane kick is also 3f startup, another tool that's best used at a range outside of where people are playing him. Ken can't threaten as effectively with air EX hurricane kick in close. But he can at slightly extended ranges.
As I said before, I don't think what Ken has right now is better than what he had during the second public beta but it's not like he has nothing. He has these distance tools. He has the best reversal punish in the game so far with 3f jab shoryuken and 4f EX shoryuken (the shoryureppa). A strong midscreen combo ender in roundhouse hurricane kick that leads to somewhat decent okizeme, which is great by Street Fighter 5 standards. These don't sound like “worst in the game” tools to me. Ken players will always miss what he once had but as long as they don't play him like he still has the old v-skill option, he's going to be a lot better off than people are saying right now.
Necalli's been all over the place in the beta tests. He's been both a full motion character and a charge character and he ended up a character with motion moves and a charge move...except his charge move doesn't need to be charged sometimes. Confused yet? I feel like Capcom was when they started messing around with his inputs.
Necalli never had the tools that charge characters in Capcom games normally depend on to get by. These characters usually need some kind of move that moves them forward and allows them to hold a charge. You look at past Street Fighter games and historically Bison and Blanka had slides that let them hold their down charge and Blanka's had the hop since ST. Guile had bazooka knee letting him push in while still holding a back charge. Vega had a slide and backflips. And they usually have at least one strong normal that they can use while holding a charge. Bison has his long range kicks, Blanka had low fierce, Guile had low forward, Vega had low strong. After 25 years of this Capcom has learned what charge characters need to get by.
Necalli never had these things. His low forward and standing roundhouse were the closest thing to a traditional charge character normal but they weren't as good. It seemed like they just arbitrarily made him a charge character because Vega and Nash became motion characters and they needed another charger for variety's sake. So making his uppercut a motion move was a major buff to the character. The one good thing about the “is this move charge or motion” drama is that it gained invincibility along the way which is always helpful.
Overall his toolset is designed more for offense anyways with command grabs and a semi-credible air mixup between the divekick, jumping fierce and crossup jumping forward. His walk speed was also improved a little bit, further cementing the change. He still has the reputation of being a slow character but his forward walk speed was buffed to just slightly under Chun and Vega and pretty close to Cammy.
He received another interesting offense oriented buff in the final beta that went mostly unnoticed. After target combo into v-skill, Necalli can now juggle with 3f moves like jab or EX raging light but also with low short or low jab. In the corner this creates an interesting reset possibility. He can go for meaty standing roundhouse, overhead, command grab, etc. Most people ignored this since there are more high damaging options that the character can go for but it brings up two major questions with the character going forward.
How much value should Necalli players place on the reset game? Clearly Capcom is letting us know that the character was designed with resets in mind, his EX command grab is a giant advertisement that this character has a reset game but so far I haven't seen that much of it. Even outside of the new v-skill buff, on the occasions that Necalli players land an EX command grab, they usually just finish with uppercut instead of going for a reset.
And secondly is it worth sacrificing damage to get into v-trigger earlier? V-trigger Necalli is probably one of the stronger characters in the game and his stomps become much more dangerous as frame trapping options. But is it worth it to combo into v-skill or make it a priority to harass with v-skill at the midrange? We'll see.