Happy birthday Street Fighter! To celebrate your 29th birthday and Street Fighter V’s full character roster, let’s go down memory lane. Let’s talk about the past and present of Capcom’s premier series, how it’s traveled from Japan to the west, and how a small, pixelated, redheaded Japanese man became the beefy warrior we know as Ryu today.
Street Fighter was released on August 30th, 1987 in arcades across Japan. Its main character, the redheaded martial artist Ryu, fights opponents all over the world to prove his strength and defeat the “King of Muay Thai”, Sagat. He could also fight his blonde American clone, Ken, in the two-player mode.
When it was localized for PC in 1989 America, its name was changed to “Fighting Street” and had an added Mount Rushmore stage because what’s more American than fighting as four stony presidents watch you? It was brutally difficult, hugely successful, and it left old-school gamers a legendarily bad audio clip.
Four years after Street Fighter, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior broke people’s minds when it hit arcades worldwide in 1991. Not only was it graphically beautiful, but it invented combos, simplified controls, and internationally inclusive eight-character roster. Ryu, Ken, and Sagat were all still there with massive visual differences, but so was an African-American boxer, a pro-wrestler from the USSR, a Special Forces operative from the US, and more.
Some of these characters had their names changed from the Japanese to international versions to avoid lawsuits, but these name changes still cause confusion to this day. Regardless of this, Street Fighter II broke many records and was Capcom’s best-selling game until 2013 with 20 million sold copies and 2.3 billion dollars in arcade profits.
Street Fighter Alpha was released soon after in 1995, and while it made enough money to warrant two sequels, it lacked the innovation that Street Fighter II hit the world with. To further problems, games like Mortal Kombat kicked off in 1992 America using realistic looking characters and motion capture while Tekken blew people away in 1994 Japan with its fully 3D arenas and characters. Fighting wasn’t just a 2D plane anymore, and Street Fighter had to get with the times.
Street Fighter EX was Capcom’s answer. SFEX was still on a 2D plane, but had 3D models, bizarre characters like a crime fighting car salesman in a skeleton costume that would never appear again, strange mechanics, and looked like a new beginning for Street Fighter. While critics loved SFEX, its competition was Tekken 2 both in the arcade and on home consoles, which is widely regarded as one of the best 3D fighting games ever made.
After Tekken 2, Namco seemed to have Capcom by the throat, but the company had a trump card – Street Fighter III. People laughed at Capcom when they returned to 2D, but their new characters lead by an American wrestler named Alex instead of the Japanese martial artist Ryu are some of the most interesting mechanically and story wise decisions to date. All of this came to a climax with Street Fighter III: Third Strike in 1999.
While SFIII never saw the commercial success that SFII did, it introduced parrying to fighting games, had never before seen special moves, and revolutionized 2D animation. Not only that, but it’s left the FGC, or fighting game community, with EVO moment #37, one of the most famous moments in gaming history. Tekken may have won at 3D, but SFIII: Third Strike was, and still is, considered to be the best looking, feeling, and most competitive 2D fighting game ever made by many people.
Unfortunately, things didn’t stay the same. During the mid-90s arcades outside of Japan were having about as much success as Blockbuster is having these days thanks to people choosing PC’s and home consoles over just clinking quarters into arcade cabinets. Arcades were, and still are, dying, meaning that arcade genres like fighting games were going with them.
Nine long years passed after Third Strike without another Street Fighter game, but finally in 2008 Capcom struck gold again when Street Fighter IV came back in 3D and hit arcades. After a few months exclusively in Japanese arcades, SFIV helped revitalize American arcades when a new generation of gamers flocked to Capcom cabinets to try out the new Japanese fighting game with an old legacy. And Capcom still had it.
SFIV made Ryu the face of Street Fighter again and received “universal critical acclaim,” selling 3.4 million copies worldwide, and generating two sequels over six years. Capcom put it on eight platforms including PC and mobile for the first time, and probably put out more costumes than AKB48 collectively have. SFIV was the most widely competitive fighting game during those 6 years, only having Capcom’s other fighting game, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, as any competition. By the end of those six years Street Fighter IV had a roster of 44 characters, 27 stages, 8.6 million copies sold, and Capcom had brought fighters back into the spotlight and into our homes.
Now we come to the present with the latest installment – Street Fighter V. Just this last February, the game was released to waves of 7/10s and suffered from slow servers, a small character list, as well as barely any single-player content. Though thanks to a steady stream of patches and DLC, now there is five more characters (all fan favorites) and a story mode.
While SFV’s story is still being written, it hasn’t had the success of SFIV or the fanbase of SFIII yet. Failing to meet early sales targets has hurt SFV’s chances at any sequels or later success, but with each patch, new character or stage, general opinion of the game is steadily improving. While it’s missing sales targets so far, the latest game is still the most successful fighter for the fighting game community ever made. SFV broke EVO’s ‘most entrants’ record in just four days, and is continuing to draw in the “hardcore” or competitive gamer crowd with players from all over US, Brazil, and Japan even if other gamers don’t care for it.
And that’s just the mainline games! There’s also the crossover games, Sunday morning cartoons, anime movies, censorship controversies, a two decade old legal dispute with Arika, but I’ll save those for Street Fighter’s big 30…maybe. All the SFV DLC is finished now that Urien is a playable character, but my love for the franchise is as irrepressible as R. Mika’s muscle spirit, so when there’s news I’ll be all over it faster than a 3-frame jab right here on pixeljudge.com. Stay strong world warriors, and good luck finding the answer that lies in the heart of your battle!