Street Fighter X Tekken's controversial Gem System has overshadowed a lot of the positive things the 2-D fighter does. The tag-team battles between the two most-popular franchises in the genre are fun. The gameplay feels closer to classic fighters than Street Fighter 4 was. Aside from nagging sound and graphics issues that the developers plan to fix, the game's netcode is smoother than previous efforts. It’s a Capcom game with a tutorial.
But that glowing elephant is still in the room. The Gem System allows players to equip power-ups to strengthen characters or help new players. The developers also locked more of these accessories and other goods on the disc for later use as downloadable content to the fury of fans. I previously wrote that this mechanic wasn’t a good fit for the crossover, and playing SFXT didn't change my mind. It seems, however, that Capcom is using this as an exercise in getting us to like something little by little.
Gems come in two flavors: Boost Gems and Assist Gems. The former buffs your combatant based on fulfilling requirements like blocking several strikes or tagging in your partner. You can do things like improve Kazuya's attack strength or defense, make him move faster, and increase the rate he gains super meter. The improvements are noticeable and will become more important later on, but right now they don't dramatically affect how you play the game.
The latter and more despised group includes tools that automatically block attacks or break throws for the cost of some super meter. The issue here isn’t whether a bad player can use these handicaps to beat a good player — it’s whether a good player can abuse them. Commentator David "UltraDavid" Graham discussed on Shoryuken.com's podcast (posted before Capcom revealed its DLC plans) practical ways to use the anti-block gem for both offense and defense. Even if these strategies prove to be ineffective later on, why do they need to be in the game in the first place?
I understand the appeal of the mechanic even if I don't like it: Many players enjoy equipping and tinkering with accessories in other genres, and this feature could draw more people into fighting games. Then again, gems are unlike any other mechanic because they represent the first time that DLC influences the actual gameplay. Right now, you can only get some gems through pre-orders and the special edition. Some of them have the same activation conditions as those in the standard selection but with no drawbacks, and hackers have found content in the game’s data that gives even better benefits.
Naturally, fans believed that was meant to incorporate a system like in many free-to-play games where you have to buy upgrades to stay competitive. I was more annoyed with that prospect than I was with the extra characters, costumes, and colors that are also under virtual lock and key. Capcom has since revealed that it will release nine free packs over the coming months totaling to over 60 gems. None of these are from the pre-orders, but it at least tempers some of the complaints.
Currently, tournaments have banned gems not due to balance issues but because it takes so long to set them up between matches. A future patch promises to make this process faster by allowing you to select your layout through the character-select screen, though it's still up in the air whether organizers will accept it. Regardless of what tournaments decide, the majority will spend their time online where you can’t dictate what is allowed and what isn’t.
I believe Capcom is using this DLC to ease players into this system, alleviate fears, and keep casual fans interested longer. SFXT producer Yoshinori Ono believes customization is the wave of the future, and with the Street Fighter franchise and a rumored DarkStalkers sequel under his watch, we'll see what becomes of this trend. Between the competitive concerns and the controversy about the locked content, however, the question is whether players will accept this vision.