Aesthetics & Characters
Graphics, Sound & Performance
Street Fighter 6 has some tough competition in this space with the recent showings of Tekken 8 and Mortal Kombat 1, two fighters that are trying to push realistic graphics as major selling points. If you've played or watched the betas, then you probably have formed your opinion on how SF6 looks and sounds.
Personally, I've really come around to how SF6 looks. The fighter models all look excellent, with only a few occasional poor choices for animation (Chun-Li, for example, has a few normals that look out of place). The personality given to the fighters is superb across the board. The idle animations, the way every fighter's posture, walking and blocking poses change when they're in burnout, the victory celebrations, the flourishes that happen after special moves or normals complete (Dee Jay is a standout here), it's all top notch stuff. The depiction of the SF characters isn't as photorealistic as Tekken or MK, but I don't think it needs to be. Street Fighter 6 finds the right mix of detail and goofiness to evoke memories of the older titles while pushing the franchise into modern hardware.
Since I'm extremely partial to cool fighting game stages, I want to give extra recognition to the stages in Street Fighter 6. They're all very well designed aesthetically, including some excellent remixes of classic stages, but more importantly, SF6 seems to have made it a priority to keep the lighting focused on the fighters in the foreground, making it super easy to keep track of the action. It seems the days of visual confusion due to background elements or intense color palettes are gone. I also didn't see any noticeable performance drops on any of the stages, a common problem in many other fighting games, although more testing would need to be done here to be sure.
For the music, SF6 has decided to branch off from the classic Street Fighter themes and reimagined the soundtrack in a unified hip hop style, a bit similar to the (now classic) 3rd Strike soundtrack's experimental drum 'n bass approach over 20 years ago. Like any soundtrack, there will be hits and misses for each person based on their tastes. I've seen the soundtrack criticized for going away from melody-driven pieces and more towards ambient fare, and while I think that is not entirely inaccurate, I will say that multiple themes have been stuck in my head nonstop after turning the game off. The Battle Hub theme in particular has several remixes that change depending on time of day and the riff that unifies all those tracks is super memorable.
Also, the ambient nature of the music means that being introduced to the tracks on Youtube made it hard to form a connection with some of the songs. If you're down on the SF6 music, I'd recommend waiting until you can hear the tracks in-game before finalizing your opinion. The way the tracks evolve between rounds and "feel like" one of the fighters on screen or the stage's location adds quite a bit to their value.
It's worth noting that there is support for a music player in World Tour and in Training mode that was not available in the review build of the game. I anticipate it will let you listen to classic Capcom tunes while you are exploring the open world or practicing combos, but I can't confirm how it works from my testing. I did not see an option to apply jukebox modes to versus fights, although you do have control over which SF6 track plays in that mode (between character theme, stage theme, or a rotating random track).
I played SF6 on a relatively weak computer by modern standards (i7-6700K, GTX 1070) and playing at 1080p/60fps was totally fine on above average settings. If you want to play at 120fps or higher, in order to further reduce input lag, you will likely need a better machine than this, although I did not tinker with the settings too much to see if I could improve performance. I'll leave performance testing of the game to more qualified people.
There are eighteen characters in the game: the World Warrior Eight (Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, Honda, Blanka, Zangief, Dhalsim), a few scattered returnees (Dee Jay, Cammy, Juri), and seven entirely new characters (Manon, Marisa, JP, Lily, Luke, Kimberly, Jamie).
I find it hard to believe, but somehow, all of them are extremely cool. It doesn't matter if the character was bland or divisive in another title, you may change your mind on them after seeing them in action in this game. Every character looks cool, but more importantly, acts cool during fights. While playing against the CPU, I frequently saw combos and moves that I wanted to learn how to do, even from characters that historically have been more focused on gimmicky play and not combo expression. Characters like Honda and Blanka have launchers, interesting juggle routes, new special moves to use in pressure, in addition to all their classic tools. I frequently said "that works??" while playing.
The power level of SF6 characters is off the charts high. The normals are extremely long (though thankfully quite whiff punishable), many specials are safe on block (especially if spaced at the tip), and the damage is extremely high due to Drive Rush and supers being readily available. Overheads are fast, safe, and can lead to combos when coupled with Drive Rush. Command throws are incredibly scary. Most throws lead to pressure mid-screen if you spend 1 bar for Drive Rush, or lead to pressure for free in the corner (every character with a throw loop in the beta still has it in the final game even if slightly adjusted, something I'm glad they kept). The corner is monumentally scary due to the threat of Drive Impact and losing all your drive gauge to blocking safe heavy pokes.
I'll quickly do a rundown of my very rough first impressions of the characters. To be clear up front, there's no way I can form a perfect assessment of these characters in my time playing training mode or against the input-reading CPU, especially without the community to discuss theories or watch matches. Please take all of this with a huge grain of salt; within a day or two of the game being released, my impressions of these characters will likely have changed.
The Beta Eight
In many ways, the beta fatigue of seeing these eight characters (Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, Guile, Juri, Jamie, Luke, Kimberly), nonstop for the last seven months, is unfair to them. They are all extremely cool and if any of them had been left out of the beta for the final build, we would be excited to see how they work. Ryu and Ken's redesigns are both super great; it's nice to be able to say Ken is cool again after questionable designs in SFIV and SFV. Luke's reputation from his guest appearance in SFV hurt what is otherwise a strong, goofy main character carried by a strong performace by his equally goofy English voice actor.
As far as balance changes from the beta, it's hard to say. Like with Ryu and Luke from the demo, the changes exist but they seem to be mostly micro-changes that require lots of character knowledge to find, and I simply don't know all the beta characters well enough to find them. Ryu and Luke seem to be identical to the demo. Juri can now perform OD QCF+K followups for 1 drive bar instead of 2, and her throw loop changed in the corner (but she is still point blank and plus after a dash).
Guile seems about as strong as the beta, where most people thought he was the strongest character. I tried doing a simple version of a Sonic Boom loop and it seems Bazooka Knee (back+LK) goes a few pixels shorter than the beta, which might break some of his loops, but maybe others still exist. All his normals and counter hit confirms into Flash Kick seem intact. In general, I would not expect any monumental changes to the characters from their beta balance.
The Non-Beta Ten
JP: What a cool and incredibly complex character. He has three projectiles (the spike, the forward-traveling ghost which can be faked, and the portal trap), and all of them differ greatly in use depending on the strength, so he has a lot to consider. Importantly, all of these moves are very weak to jump; they're all 50 total frames or longer (except the fake ghost), which means JP will have to really protect against people holding up-forward against him. He has a strong one-button anti-air, and a slower but high damage combo starter anti-air to help him out here. His combos are maybe the coolest in the game, especially those involving level 2 super.
All his traps go away the instant he is hit, but if a stray portal spike catches someone trying to pressure him, he can convert this into a big combo with parry rush and it's very fun. He's also not a slouch up close, with a safe on block pressure special (the cane swipe) and several excellent mid-screen normals. If you were excited for JP based on pre-release coverage, he meets and exceeds those expectations easily.
Dee Jay: Easily the biggest improvement among the returning characters. After years of being left in the dump as a barely functioning, forgotten character in Street Fighter IV, his new look and reimagined toolkit has made me a huge fan. Calling him the "rushdown Guile", as Ken might compare to Ryu, is pretty fair. Excellent midscreen buttons, bufferable specials without needing charge, and his moveset is now designed around fakes and sways, which leads to unique pressure and fun combos; cancel standing HP into fake fireball and link another normal out of it!
His level 2 super is really interesting, and you might be seeing it a lot since level 1 is not invincible. It's a deadly rave super where you have to press LP, MP, HP, LK, MK, HK in order to land all the hits. The light version of super has very easy timing and does 2600 total damage (the average level 2 in the game does 3000). The medium version allows you to press those buttons with specific timing to get music notes; if you miss the timing, you can still complete the super but the music notes disappear and your damage will tank down to 1700 or lower. If you complete the super perfectly, you get 2800 damage and can choose a finisher that lets you pick what side you end on. The heavy version has even tighter timing and does the full 3000 damage. Do you do the easy light version and accept lower damage, or do you try for the heavy version, risk messing up the perfect notes, all for a jab's worth of extra damage? Also, if you drop the deadly rave on any hit, you are left at +6, enough to link out of it for more combos.
Manon: The character that reminds me the most of Makoto in the game. While Makoto uses raw stun output to steamroll, backed by the threat of her Karakusa command grab, Manon uses the medal level system which levels up the raw damage; at max level, command grab deals 3700 damage, which is almost as much as a level 3 super. Makoto's fast dashes aren't here, but Manon's low and overhead specials go as far as a Makoto dash and are incredibly fast, with the overhead being easy to space so it's safe and the OD overhead leads to a combo like Elena's EX Mallet Smash.
I cannot overstate the range of light command grab; it goes farther than many character's sweeps. She is a huge threat at midrange and steamrolls super hard. Losing round 1 to Manon if she can get 2 or 3 levels will make the rest of the match a huge struggle. She can't easily combo into the hit grab unless she spends 3 bars on a Drive Rush, but if she does, she can turn any hit including a jab into a medal increase.
Marisa: What if Guilty Gear Strive's Goldlewis was a Street Fighter character? Marisa is an absolutely terrifying rushdown/midscreen bully character that will be among the top scrub killers in the game. No character has more plus frames than Marisa, a lot of it on forward-advancing moves, some even with (high attack) armor, and all of the moves do extreme drive chip, so your drive bar will melt if you block it out. Use of parry simply to maintain your drive is mandatory, which is when Marisa can threaten with command grab.
There are gaps to study, and as players get better at perfect parry, Marisa will have to slow down a bit. She's also weak on defense, with only her OD armor stance defending against strikes (and not throws). Even so, be prepared for the simple gameplan of doing a plus move and frame trapping with another plus move to win lots of games.
Cammy: Cammy behaves exactly like you expect, with excellent pokes, great walk speed, and strong air approaches. Dive kick is plus on block if you hit at the feet and feels as fast as SFIV's dive kick, although it has an extended hurtbox below it like Jamie's. Hooligan is massively buffed from past games, frequently used in combo routes and juggles and can be faked on approach, as well as having safe high and low options. Can you always just press an anti-air button as soon as you see Cammy do Hooligan? Maybe, but with the short-landing fakeout and the mental pressure of SF6, I have my doubts it will be that easy. Her combo routes are also very fun. If you're a Cammy fan, there is lots to love here.
Blanka: A historically gimmicky character has both more gimmicks and solid play than before. He now has a meterless launcher that can be used in combos, heavy Blanka Ball does a full bar of drive chip and is -15 but full screen away so punishes will be very scarce, and he now has an air Blanka Ball which functions a lot like a dive kick: it's safe at the tip, spacing can be easily adjusted with different strengths to cause tricky whiffs, and the OD version is monstrously plus on block (never lower than around +4 even hitting high on the head, and often much better than that). His inactive Blanka-chan bombs don't go away if he's hit, and will stay on screen forever as long as they're visible, so you can place one and find a way to activate it 20 seconds later in some cases.
Honda: Like Blanka, a traditionally one-dimensional character has been greatly expanded in SF6. He still has his normal gameplan of chipping with specials, except now the threat is drive chip. Headbutt is only -4 and seems to almost always leave him out of range of punishes, and all versions do a full bar of drive chip. Hundred Hands is now a motion input and the light version is again -4 and easy to space so it's safe.
He's still equipped with strong mid-range normals, with special mention to forward HK, a super long range low that can't be punished in footsies. Also like Blanka, he has a meterless launcher and can use his Hands buff to create tons of super fun combos that you wouldn't normally expect from a character like this (the Hands buff both lets him link out of Hands, and also cancel normals into Hands that are normally not cancelable).
Lily: A character that lives and dies by her wind resource and has a lot longer range than her small stature might indicate. While it is relatively easy to generate wind, when to spend it is the tricky part. The obvious use case is Condor Spire, as the wind version hits 3 times (from close; from farther away it's still only 2 hits and can be Drive Impacted) and leaves her point blank at +1, where she can threaten with command grab or a normal combo. The problem is, most of her combo routes need to spend wind as well, making it almost like a third resource alongside drive and super in all your routes.
If you want to spend all three wind stocks, you can do flashy juggles that include multiple DPs for big damage, but then you'll be without your main approach tool and will have to harass with back HP, an incredible grounded button that cancels into a safe wind charge. If you're looking for combo-centric grapplers, especially if you like resource management, Lily is a great choice.
Zangief: The grappler's grappler. Gief is the character with the fewest combo routes in the game, and really only one combo special that is finicky to hit at certain ranges that generates no oki. He lives and dies by playing footsies and grabbing you with the highest damage grab in the game, although every time he grabs you, he gets sent full screen and has to get in again. He also has the highest health in the game at 11000 (Marisa and Honda have 10500, everyone else has 10000).
It's really hard to assess how good Gief is or isn't in the game. I think knowledge of SFV Gief is quite useful here, as he has a lot of similar normals, including armored st.HP which is plus at full charge, and will likely have to play a similar grounded game to get close. It's notable that both his standing and crouching jabs are plus on block, unlike basically every other character, and all his footsies pokes have great on block frame data, so he can swing. And of course, he can use Drive Rush to slither into ranges at unexpected times, although with the reach of SF6's normals, you'll have to pick your spots well.
Dhalsim: The character I spent the least time with so far. Having not played SFV Dhalsim, a character he clearly takes lots of inspiration from, it was hard to know exactly what to look for. Teleport being a direction + 3P or 3K will ease the execution burden for players who struggled to do Tiger Knee motions, and he lacks Yoga Gale so he will have to use Drive Rush or other tricks to generate plus frames. Drill looks strong, being plus on block if you hit the feet, and a strong way to bait throws. How he interfaces with Drive Rush and Drive Impact using his long range normals is something the community will have to dive into after the game launches. He is maybe the best animated character in the game, though.
The main takeaway for me was how surprised I was at the characters' general cool factor, even characters I traditionally have disliked in old games. The team has put a lot of serious care into the animations, mannerisms, personality, and voice lines to make these characters as cool as possible, and all the various combo routes look awesome and make you tempted to learn pretty much everyone in the cast. The characters are clearly not just functions in this game, they are built with the purpose of making the fans happy.