It may not be Third Strike, but Street Fighter 5's neutral game seems to have reached a much more respectable level

Less input lag, normal move recovery, larger hurtboxes...

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • January 10, 2019 at 7:28 p.m. PST

The evolution of Street Fighter's neutral game has been discussed quite a bit in recent years, no doubt fueled by the stark departure Street Fighter 5 was from Street Fighter 4, and the similar departure SF4 saw from Third Strike.

It was probably Third Strike that imprinted the concept and gravity of footsie play the most into the SF community, and 3S remains a title that is looked back upon with much fondness and a palpable sense of "purity" in terms of neutral play.

We recently ran an interview with 801 Strider wherein he spoke on the neutral game of Street Fighter 5, not putting it in the best of lights.

"That's where Street Fighter 5 fails, is in neutral," he said. "Normals weren't really built for whiff punishing or playing that back and forth game... they were built for fireworks, they were built for getting that big hit and going in."

That interview was done back at Capcom Cup, the day before the Season 4 balance patch was announced and released. I very much agree with Strider, and have said just about as much more than once here on EventHubs before. That said, I'm contemplating changing my tune at least a bit given recent adjustments.

People have sometimes replaced the term "whiff punishing" with "wish punishing," alluding to SF5's favoring of reads over reactions.

I think it's worth bringing up here that this might imply that true whiff punishing involves raw reaction. That is, you see the normal come out, you identify it, you press a counter normal and it hits. That can happen with some heavy buttons, but it's really never been the case with mediums or lights.

It's more about context clues, observation in patterns and efficient spacing that allows you to whiff punish these kinds of normals. You can, however, raw react to a move actually landing and then convert the hit into a combo, also known as hit-confirming.

I wouldn't argue for a second that Third Strike isn't the golden footsie standard, but after watching some of the Cooperation Cup 17 footage from this last weekend, I found myself seeing perhaps more similarities than differences when I compare to how Street Fighter 5 feels here in Season 4.

Please hear me here, this article may not be a statement as much as it is a question for those that have played a good deal of both 3S and SF5. I've probably logged a total of less than 10 total hours playing the older title, and am quite aware there could be plenty of nuances that have escaped my radar, but especially in this sequence between cream of the crop players Nuki and Rikimaru, it felt a lot like the recent SF5 matches I've been playing:

Click image for animated version

In this clip, both players whiff at least 20 crouching medium kicks each over the course of nearly 50 seconds. They also both land a few hits that they do not cancel into Super, and then Nuki eventually connects the dots and takes the round for his team.

What would the traditional Street Fighter 5 equivalent of this looked like? Perhaps a few seconds of neutral dancing until one competitor performed a safe, forward moving attack that they cancel into V-Trigger and get a free 50/50 that can easily translate into nearly half life damage.

That's traditional SF5, but recent developments have certainly pushed the game in a new direction. The above Third Strike round actually features a lot more of the kind of play I've been seeing in S4 of SF5, especially with characters like Kage, Chun-Li, Necalli and Karin.

Perhaps the most obvious of said developments was the input lag reduction and stabilization, which went into effect back in late October.

If you search through the Season 4 patch notes you'll notice a recurring theme throughout that sees a lot of hurtbox expansions both in terms of size and time on screen.

It seems Capcom made it a point to address SF5's neutral specifically in this update, and even introduced a new character with stubby normals and great buffers that seems to have to play the footsie game to stand much of a chance.

Blasting back to the Season 2 changes we also notice that whiffed normal recovery times were commonly increased by two frames. Though we can easily argue that if this was an attempt by Capcom to make the game more footsie-based back in 2017, it surely wasn't enough.

What that does say to me is that Capcom has, slowly but surely, been making progress away from the ridiculous chaos that was SF5's neutral game upon release, and has driven it closer and closer to the standard we acknowledge in 3S.

Are there still silly, neutral-negating moves and sequences in this current title? Of course there are. I'm not at all saying we've reached 3S levels of neutral here in 2019. What I am proposing is that Capcom has made a lot of progress in SF5, and that they deserve a certain level of acknowledgement for doing so.

Like I said earlier, this is more of a question than a statement in some ways. I've laid out my reasoning here, but seeing as I'm not exactly a 3S expert, I'm happy to hear any and all arguments against it from those that might disagree. With that, I look forward to seeing what people have to say about the idea that Street Fighter 5's whiff punishing and overall neutral game has gotten to a respectable place.

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