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5 Street Fighter 5 characters who have relatively balanced risk vs. reward

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • January 11, 2021 at 7:37 p.m. PST • Comments: 36

In our endeavors to try to express our hopes for what next comes down the pike, both in terms of Street Fighter 5's final chapters and the beginnings of Street Fighter 6, we frequently point out a lot of the negatives we want to see changed. That's definitely a necessary piece of the equation, but you also want to encourage the continuation of what's currently working.

We're all well aware of how frustratingly bad Alex is, as well as how enraging the overpowered nature of Akuma and Urien are, but what about the SF5 characters that have found a good stride and make for intriguing opponents instead of demoralizing ones? We've come up with five such roster members who we feel make the real time problem solving puzzle of SF5 an intriguing and rewarding venture.

We've routinely experienced some fairly negative emotions coming out of many a Street Fighter 5 match, and while some of that is simply the pain of losing, it does feel like there's often an added sense of injustice that really adds salt to the wound. In simple terms, said sense appears to stem from an improper balance of risk and reward, where your opponent's payoff is simply too great for the amount of perceived work that's done.

It's not only top tier characters that are guilty of this, by the way, as the closer to mid-tier Laura is still very much a robbery character who can do all or most of her significant damage via guess-heavy V-Trigger 1 sequences. G is another low hanging fruit example, though he is a bit stronger than his Brazilian counterpart.

When we face off against the characters below, we tend to leave with a feeling of fairness whether we walk away with a victory or not. Matches against these fighters usually present more obvious strategic choices that we can actively engage with and ultimately lead to an exciting and intriguing sense of competition.

It's not that these roster members are perfectly made or that they don't have overpowered abilities. In fact, you want some exceptionally strong stuff to keep things interesting and fun, but it needs to be have appropriate risk/general effectiveness, and these characters hit that mark relatively well.


Sakura doesn't usually break the top 5 for most tier lists, but she's very clearly able to get the job done. DNG|Nauman proved Miss Kasugano has what it takes nearly a year ago when he won EVO Japan 2020 with her.

Sakura is very much a footsie character with a mean standing short that she can hit confirm into some pretty gnarly offensive sequences. Her rush down is no joke as she is able to put opponents in scary, disadvantageous states where they'll be eating many throws in order to avoid combos that can rapidly carry to the corner.

She has clear strengths that seem fun to play off of, but doesn't resort to thoughtless or overly easy antics for massive rewards. When fighting against her, you quickly learn to dance around that standing short and never to leave yourself at -4 since she can punish so effectively with it. Said dance is strategic and very often makes for calculated and rewarding back and forth.


Zangief, for all intents and purposes, is the granddaddy of fighting game grapplers. This particular archetype tends to be a little less nuanced than others in that command grabs really tend to come down to higher stakes and more binary decision making, but they've surely found an acceptable place in fighting games.

The tried and true risk vs. reward dynamic for command grab characters tends to be in their approach. That is, if they can get close, they gain a pretty powerful advantage where you expect to have a hard time escaping or defending. The battle isn't fought when they're near, but rather becomes more about keeping them at bay and whittling down their life bar while doing so.

In current Street Fighter 5, Zangief plays this game quite well in that he very clearly has a hard time (perhaps still a little too hard in some matches) getting close, but has tools to appropriately take advantage when he finally does so. He also doesn't have a lot in the way of brainless ins, so the battle is usually more about the defender being pristine while the Gief player tries to throw them off their game.

While this is very stressful, it still feels relatively balanced in terms of risks and rewards. Regardless of where life bars are at, Gief might end the round when he gets in. This doesn't happen so often that it's a sure thing, but happens frequently enough that it balances with how hard he has to work to find a good opening.


Kage got substantially better in the Champion Edition patch and was speculated to be one of the top tiers of this season when we were all first reading the patch notes. Things did not play out that way, though he did get a good bit better than he previously was.

The damage output that "Eviler Ryu" is capable of is no joke, and he's got some powerful potential with his V-Trigger mix ups, Raging Demon, and general rush down. That said, his range in the neutral isn't the best and he relies on whiff punishes from ranges where higher tier characters can get more for less.

One of the biggest things hurting Kage in SF5 is Akuma. The game's best character tends to overshadow the other shotos a good bit, but if he gets hit hard enough then others, like Kage, will have their time to shine. If the silliest top tiers were appropriately regulated, Kage would thrive a good bit more than he does right now and, unlike said silly top tiers, his risk vs. reward is at a healthy status.

Like Sakura and Zangief, Kage has his advantages (Raging Demon, V-Trigger stuff, and rush down potential) but the work he has to put in to get them feels just. We don't tend to walk away from Kage matches feeling robbed, but rather outplayed, and his stubbier reach presents us with a clear weakness to strategize around.


This might be our most outlandish pick, but hear us out. Blanka has evolved to become something of a troll, and there's a clear and unique objective with such characters. You don't want them winning a ton, which Blanka does not, but you want to give them a Hail Mary kind of chance at any given time.

Blanka can be played thoughtfully and with plenty of intent, but is often at understandable disadvantage while he does so. Capcom did give him a pretty bonkers V-Trigger 2 that he can definitely get into some shenanigans with, and it does kind of suck to lose to, but it doesn't really violate expectations when it comes to the Brazilian beast.

The character seems to achieve what those who play him are more or less looking for. While somewhat frustrating (and again, that's kind of the point) his V-Trigger isn't so good that he's sapping the fun away from the experience. His ball and command grab shenanigans are pesky, but can be countered or nullified with some strategic moves and planning. His risk vs. reward factor, though at a relatively odd place, feels appropriate.

When it comes to troll characters, Capcom seems to have found a pretty healthy approach with what they've done with Blanka in Street Fighter 5.


Karin is almost certainly the strongest character on our list here, and has long been one of SF5's top contenders. Her overall power has been up and down over the years, and she's not quite as good as she once was, but Karin has almost always boasted a good balance of effort vs. payoff.

Similar to Sakura, Karin is a footsie based character (probably the most effective one in the game) who relies on whiff punishes and single-hit confirms to dole out the damage. Her walk speed, normals, and slightly larger window to confirm her Tenko with are clear advantages, but players really don't get training wheels while using her.

Especially in the hands of great players like PG|Punk, Miss Kanzuki is one of the strongest, but her wins still feel earned. There are plenty of online players who tend to resort to less calculated tactics where they'll do things like repeatedly perform her flying overhead, mix up unsafe options with her V-Trigger 1 follow ups, or try to sneak her V-Trigger 2 into -2 situations, but we've also found those tactics to easily countered and more often beatable than not.

This isn't an exhaustive list of characters who have relatively balanced risk and reward, and we'd love to hear other and additional opinions on the matter. Here's to hoping that Capcom makes good calls in their upcoming SF5 patch as well as their development decisions with Street Fighter 6 in the future.

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