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Nov012016

« Review: Crown 309 Helpme, 309MJ and IST FLF-ST Korean arcade stick levers »

From left to right: IST FLF-ST, Crown 309MJ, Crown 309 HelpmeAfter some time of waiting for importing opportunities, here are some newer Korean arcade parts.

Crown's past arcade levers had a distinctive feel compared to those of competitors Myoungshin and the now-defunct Taeyoung. Not all players and arcades in South Korea were favorable to those models and leaned towards the solid Myoungshin Fanta lever, so Crown looked to provide a lever that can compete with it.

For arcade stick manufacturer IST, known for selling Crown parts, the company is looking to make its own lever similar to that of Crown's Japanese-mounted variants.

CROWN 309 HELPME, 309MJ & IST FLF-ST SCREENSHOTS

 

Crown 309 Helpme lever

The company asked the Tekken community in Korea including Helpme for input on new levers. While some designs never went past the testing phase, the 309 lever was the first to be publicly available.

Upon first glance, the 309 lever is more or less an amalgamation of Crown's past levers with aspects exclusive to the new model. When testing with the CWJ-303 and CWL-307, Crown's previous levers, the 309 is in the median range. The 303 levers emphasized longer travel due to the gate's wider funnel. For the 307 series, it aimed at shorter dead zones because of the large actuators and the construction of the bottom portion.

Crown removed those traits and combined what's left to create a new lever. This design can be interpreted as Crown's take, with aid from Helpme, of the Myoungshin Fanta lever. The bottom end is a black-colored version of what was in the 303, with the microswitches placed similarly to the Fanta. The top portion, featuring the neck gate, is from the 307—which has a narrower throw distance than the 303—and is also similar to the Fanta. Add the silicone grommet tension system inside, as well as a 16.5-millimeter actuator, and you have the 309.

The 309's tension stands at a Shore A rating of 35. This is lighter than the older Crown levers with silicone tension grommets at 55-60A. Helpme probably wanted the user to not worry too much about the tension being a problem so they could focus more on faster execution. Japanese lever users will likely find the 309's tension a lot more comfortable to use. As for those who prefer the higher tension found on the Myoungshin Fanta or Japanese levers with heavier springs, it might be looser than what's found in other levers. In case you can't adjust, the grommet can be swapped with either the original silicone models or even the latex rubber grommet found on normal Crown levers.

Different from other Crown levers is the actuator. Smaller than what's in the 307 and bigger than what's in the 303, the 16.5mm actuator was designed to have a balance of neutral zone and diagonal coverage. The 309 I received came with Gersung GSM-V0323A3 switches which worked well with the actuator except for one minor issue. Compared with the Myoungshin Fanta and a makeshift 309 lever I made using 303 and 307 parts, the coverage on single directional inputs seemed slightly narrower on the normal 309. Ultimately I don't think it's a big problem in the design and might not be hard to get used to. You can always swap them with other Gersung switches, but results may vary.

When playing fighting games, tests turned out mostly positive. For Tekken Tag Tournament 2, wavedashing, backdash cancelling, move execution and other abilities felt consistent. The looser tension helped improve input speed. Street Fighter V yielded similar results. The King of Fighters XIV was a slightly different story as I wasn't able to time inputs as easily due to the aforementioned narrower single direction zone. I can chalk that up more to my execution in the game, however, than the 309 lever itself.

Crown 309MJ lever

As for the Japanese-mounted variants of Crown's levers, the company improved its design to maintain easy compatibility with most consumer arcade sticks while trying to make them feel more consistent than ever.

The biggest issue with Crown's 309 lever is that it only fits with sticks or arcade panels that have certain screw holes as well as a 35mm hole to properly insert. As such, the manufacturer created a version for Japanese arcade sticks made similarly to the 303 and the 307. After trying those models, I realized that while they felt similar, they were were not as accurate as their bigger brother models. Crown went back to redesign the lever to give it more accuracy while easily working with most consumer sticks.

The 309MJ is one of the redesigned levers following this initiative. One of the dramatic differences in this model compared to the original Japanese-mounted version is that the neck gate is visually prominent. The original's gate lies flush with the mounting plate while the revision is half the size of the normal 309 in height. This allows the lever shaft to move more naturally, resulting in better accuracy.

Another difference is a change in silicone tension. Instead of 35A, the silicone in the 309MJ is a lighter 25A. Fortunately, both the 309 and 309MJ's neutral return isn't compromised with the lighter tension. Players transitioning to Korean parts will find the tension easier to work with than the normal 309. Like the normal model, the tension can be replaced.

Switches that came with the 309MJ were different from that of the normal 309. Gersung's GSM-1623A2 switches felt very similar to the GSM-V0323A3 set but with a bit more coverage in single directions. The change in switches provided minor improvements when playing KOFXIV. For TTT2 and SFV, nothing changed for better or worse.

Outside of one minor concern, Crown's 309 levers are the best the company has offered to date. The 309 doesn't emphasize benefits the 303 and 307 levers offer, but rather provides a balance that most players can use with ease. The normal version can compete with the Myoungshin Fanta as a lighter take on the already existing lever, and the 309MJ is a well-thought-out improvement that is just as good as the mainline model. Regardless of what arcade stick you have, these Korean levers from Crown are two of the better options out there.

IST FLF-ST

While IST in Korea is known more for selling complete arcade sticks than making parts, it's interesting to see the company go out of its comfort zone and try something different.

The lever bears similarity to Crown's first generation Japanese mounted levers with the gate flush to the mounting plate. The only obvious difference is that the gate is more pronounced than the ones by Crown. This gives the FLF an improvement in movement similar to the 309MJ.

Inside the lever is a tension grommet shaped like the one found on a Myoungshin Fanta, but it uses silicone material instead of latex rubber. IST seemed to aim for lighter tension and consistency found in silicone after prolonged use. The lever definitely nailed the former, but it might take some time to really see if the latter does last.

Instead of screws only keeping the switches in place in the bottom, IST utilized a stability plate to prevent them from moving the slightest bit. This method was adopted from the Airbag Lever, a Korean lever modified with specialized parts to give a unique feel. Unlike the Fanta levers that normally feature Gersung switches, the FLF instead goes for the more sensitive Panasonic/Matsushita switches. While the switches are of good quality, they feel bogged down by the large stock Fanta actuator in the FLF.

This switch and actuator combination does become a hindrance when in practice. The lever feels very flimsy when playing multiple fighting games, especially TTT2 and KOFXIV where there is more directional inputs required. This combination plus the silicone tension resulted in a lot of unintended inputs. It was the hardest Korean lever to adjust to because of how sensitive it is. I later experimented with ways to improve its feel by replacing the switches, swapping actuators or even changing the grommet. Results for modding were worse than using the stock parts.

After thinking about it, the FLF might be catered to players with specific needs. Since my left hand moves loose when using a Korean lever, this might not be for me. Those who have tighter movement will probably have more leeway with this lever. For me and everyone else, Crown is a better option. It's an interesting experiment for IST to make its own lever and see how that work stacks up. Ultimately, the FLF is more of a niche for those looking for a Korean lever that can easily work on Japanese sticks.  

The Crown 309 Helpme (request for normal Korean mounted version in the order page), 309MJ,  and the FLF-ST levers are available now on IST's global webstore. The 309 will be available on Etokki in the near future.

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