Alright, so Capcom’s latest entry in their legendary fighting game franchise launched with some severe online hiccups and half the game missing. No big. We’re all having fun now that game at least works. But there’s still that little issue that many of us are ill-suited to battle the shameless tier-whoring army of Ryus and Kens online. And here’s Street Fighter V with almost nothing for you to do besides getting your sanity and pride destroyed in PVP. What to do?
Well, there’s the Story Mode, which you can beat in five minutes each with two or three AI opponents who barely fight back, infinite Training Mode with nothing to achieve, and Survival Mode; these are the choices offered up by the biggest fighting game in the world and it’s a very poor selection for solitary gamers with only one way to fight legit AI opponents. Survival it is, then.
Survival is the dreaded fighting game mode where you, the gamer, must defeat rapid fire opponents in single round fights without the benefit of a full recovery between battles. Usually, it’s just a score thing we play a few times for our own vanity and then abandon, but this time it’s about the only game in town if you want to take a breather from the sharks, noobs, and spammers online and just fight the computer for a while to gain some snazzy unlockable costume colors.
It’s time to make friends with this usually avoided mode. It’s likely going to be a hell of a challenge for new and intermediate players, and maybe even more than a lot of pros are going to want to bother with. Easy difficulty lives up to its name with a meager ten fights to unlock your first alternate colour in five minutes or so, but after that you’re going to need skill, savvy, and a little bit of luck to claim your prizes.
I spent days running at Normal and sputtering out at the finish line of the thirty match gauntlet only to start all over to try again before I triumphed, and in that time I searched online for some tips and tricks and found nothing useful beyond obvious suggestions about maximizing my score. This wasn’t about score. This about my pride as a gamer. I’m a twenty-five year veteran of the series -albeit coming back from a very long break. Still, if I can’t beat the only legitimate single-player challenge in the game on Normal, what kind of loser am I? And no, I was not going to just pick Ken and dragon punch everything for an hour straight. I came to play, not to spam.
I’m still working on Hard difficulty while cursing Capcom for failing to put the most basic fighting game modes (no Arcade or AI Versus? What the hell, man?!) into a full-priced AAA product, but I love me some Street Fighter so I’ve got to work with what I’ve got on hand. So for those still struggling to unlock those Normal alts, I’m using my slot this week to offer up a few tips I learned the hard way to deal with the grind of Street Fighter V’s unforgiving Survival Mode.
I think my first mistake was taking Survival too seriously. After breezing through Easy and finding the first twenty or so fights on Normal a snap before suddenly being bushwhacked by a nasty difficulty spike, I put too much pressure on myself. At about the twenty-fifth fight, the AI steps up its game big time, but the game itself remains the same, which is to say kind of unfair and random. More on that later. The irony was that when I was beating my head against that virtual brick wall, I was psyching myself out. Relax; the game isn’t going anywhere, and neither should you.
By desperately trying to maximize my score and sweating making it to the end with muh points intact, I had been mentally exhausting myself for no good reason. I mean, what’s a score? Just numbers. It’s not like we get to write our initials for the whole arcade to see anymore. Rather than worrying about achievement, I found success by using Survival as a practice mode while I waited for online matches. Since most of the first twenty opponents on Normal were pushovers, I used them like live training dummies to work on my skills with my main character while the persistent matchmaking did its thing finding me real opponents.
Fighting games are really intense by nature and playing match after match for a prolonged period can see you getting worse instead of better as you go. Don’t be afraid to take a break if you get stressed. When I treated Survival casually as a vehicle to practice for online matches and only began focusing on winning when I got to the last five fights, I found myself more relaxed and clear-headed with less frustration and a better attitude when crunch time came.
In terms of maximizing score, careful use of between-round Battle Supplements is a gamble best taken in the early going while the AI is incompetent. Halfing your precious health bar, doubling your opponent’s power, or maximizing your stun gauge with Double Down could mean an ignoble defeat or an expensive recovery, but it’s a fairly safe bet in the first ten or so fights. You should have no problem amassing more than enough points in Normal to keep your health at a decent level, so this it’s completely unnecessary unless you just want the satisfaction of the highest possible score (see above). Deep into Hard or (god forbid) Hell difficulties it will be a different story, though, so keep in mind that a full health bar costs about two solid victories’ worth of points and stock up early if you dare attempt the higher challenges.
Filling up your V Gauge or Critical Gauge and upping your stun defense is a waste of points and should be avoided unless you get some kind of psychological kick out of it. Increasing defense now could save you points on buying expensive Health Recovery later so it’s usually a good idea to invest in that if you’ve got health to spare. Ounce of prevention/pound of cure and all that. And since you never really know if the next AI is going to decide to up its game and suddenly start punishing you, it could potentially save you a premature loss. Use Low and Medium Health Recoveries to top off when needed because High and Full will cost you big time.
Beyond that, you pretty much have to pray to the Street Fighter gods that the randomized post-battle Supplements give you as much health as you need for those critical final battles. It’s frustrating as hell when you beat a challenging opponent by the skin of your teeth and have your only option to recover for the next match be a pitiful Low Health Recovery that will be wiped out instantly if you slip up even once, but it’s going to happen. But at the end of the day, the Supplements are just that: supplements. You can only really depend on your skills and strategy (or perhaps an endless loop of dragon punches) to get this thing beaten .
Capcom’s persistent matchmaking system means that the game will search for online opponents while you play single player modes or go through the menus. It beats the holy hell out of staring at the “searching…” screen through their direct multiplayer interfaces. But do yourself a favor while you are running at Survival and set the Battle Confirmation option to “ask” instead of “automatic”.
It’s really aggravating that the approximate time to find an online opponent tends to match the amount of time it takes to beat the AI so usually, just as I’m about to land the last hit or am watching the finishing Critical Art animation, a match is found. On default settings, this interrupts your AI battle, takes you to the online fight, and then restarts the previous fight you’d just pretty much won. Annoying as hell. By setting the option to “ask,” you’ll get an audio cue when a match has been found and you’ll have a little over ten seconds to pause and accept if you want.
Beyond the annoyance of re-fighting an opponent you already had beaten flawlessly any number of times, there is another practical use for this in Survival mode. Since you don’t get free health refills after each match, you need to pay attention. If you take too many hits from your current opponent, you may not get the opportunity to substantially refill your health, depending on what Battle Supplements the game randomizes for you, so being able to choose to accept an online match depending on how your current AI fight is going to be helpful, especially when the difficulty spikes.
When I finally conquered Normal, I was getting clobbered by M. Bison in the final stage and escaped a likely KO by accepting an online fight. After the match, I came back and beat Bison’s smug, evil ass like it was Tuesday. Like I said before, you’ll likely need a little bit of luck, so it couldn’t hurt to leave that door open.
A big part of the challenge of Survival is the inconsistency of the AI. You could smash four opponents who barely even defend themselves and then run into a sudden combo fiend who blocks and punishes everything you do. Then the next six opponents may return to languid incompetence. This can sometimes lull you into a sense of complacency as you grind away, but with single round matches, you can lose in a hurry and end up back at the starting line if the computer suddenly decides to wake up and go on the offensive.
While I still suggest a casual attitude for the long haul of advancing round to round, if you want to get this thing beat, it’s also important to quickly recognize a threat to your progress and react appropriately. The last five fights of Normal are always going to offer a challenge to non-advanced players, but every once in awhile an earlier opponent will forget their place and get bad with you so be prepared to switch from that practice mindset to game time when your enemy ups its aggro. And once you get to those final rounds, be ready to entirely change your approach.
The thing about Capcom’s AI is that its programming is lazy as hell. Ideally, fighting the computer would simulate fighting a live opponent without all of the scrubby spamming and corner-trapping. But at the higher levels of Street Fighter, the game reads your control inputs and your opponent instantly counters whatever you do with superhuman reflexes. The higher the difficulty, the higher percentage of this bullshit you endure. This can make any attempt at offense an exercise in frustration that will likely end with a broken controller, a headache, and/or low self-esteem. After twenty-nine consecutive fights (not counting online matches) this is not how you want it to end. But how do you win against a computer who cheats?
The key to dealing with Capcom’s cheap AI in my experience is patient defense. The first twenty or so matches the opponent mostly just moves around and you have to aggressively pound on them to keep the game going forward. Do not get stuck in this mindset. When shit gets real and every attack you try is getting you eaten up by dragon punches and spinning piledrivers, it’s time to stop pursuing opponents and let them come to you.
After you’ve spent enough time in Survival Mode, you will notice that each character has certain attack patterns they tend to adhere to. Keep these in mind because a predictable opponent often presents simple solutions. But for aggressive, combo-happy opponents in general, defense really is the best offense. Wait for them to attack, block high if they are jumping, block low if they aren’t, wait for the opening, and then blast them with the nastiest thing you’ve got while they’re recovering. Then repeat the process until victory is yours. This should not only help newer players beat the odds and overcome the toughest AI opponents to clear Survival on Normal difficulty, but it’s also an indispensable skill for online matches.
Hopefully, my experiences will help some gamers cope with the present bare-bones release of Street Fighter V and earn those precious unlockables to parade in front of your shamefully basic online opponents as a badge of honour and perseverance. So with Normal difficulty down and out now it’s time to turn our attention to Hard and Hell. Hey, we beat thirty increasingly trying AI opponents in a row, what’s fifty or a hundred, right? RIIIIGHT?! Actually, I think I’m pretty happy with the colors I’ve got. Good luck.