Happy 25th Anniversary — Street Fighter II

The European arcade flyer shows Ryu’s intimidating back and had three more pages describing the game and the basic fighting mechanics with custom drawings and screenshots.

In writing this article, one thing became painfully apparent — no one seems to know the exact date when Street Fighter II actually hit arcades in Japan or the United States. According to Redbull’s page dedicated to a slew of this year’s gaming anniversaries, they say February 6th. According to the Street Fighter wiki, it’s sometime in March. And according to this translated interview hosted at Shmuplations (originally published and saved at GSLA in Japan) with Akira Nishitani who was the director for the game’s development over at Capcom, February 14th, 1991, was when the final code was…well..finalized. So I’m going with that until a better date can come up.

What isn’t in question is the tectonic upheaval that Street Fighter II has had on gaming. I don’t even know where to begin other than to say that Street Fighter II is considered, by many, to be the godfather of the modern fighting game genre whose shadow has touched countless entries since its debut in 1991.

Conventions that are common today in fighting games — a (then) huge and diverse roster of characters to choose from, and combos, story-slides in between bouts — were popularized by Street Fighter II’s bold design while carrying some of those from the first game in ’87 such as six button controls. When it finally warmed up to crowds at the arcade (it initially got off to a slow start in Japan because it was often played as a solo experience and not as the 1v1 duel that it catered to), and in the West, it took off like wildfire.

Street Fighter II had the subtitle "The World Warriors" bouncing between venues from Japan to America with representative battlers waiting in each.

Street Fighter II had the subtitle “The World Warriors” bouncing between venues from Japan to America with specialized battlers waiting in each.

According to Polygon’s oral history on Street Fighter II touching on counterfeit units, demand was so much higher than Capcom could meet and as a result, provided a fertile niche for counterfeit machines to fill in the gaps. Yoshiki Okamoto, who also worked on Street Fighter II, notes that Mexico had 200,000 Street Fighter II copies — but knows that Capcom didn’t sell any to Mexico at all. No wonder Capcom looked at options like the suicide battery in their CPS-2 boards to protect their games in the arcade.

Final Fight was initially positioned as a sequel to the 1987’s understated Street Fighter by Capcom (which Okamoto didn’t design the game after) as Street Fighter ’89, but because the game was so different, and because the first Street Fighter wasn’t a huge hit, it was renamed to Final Fight.

Capcom initially wanted a sequel to Final Fight after seeing it do so well according to Polygon’s piece, but the reasons for focusing on 1v1 play had more to do with the question of how to get more money out of the game. In Final Fight, Okamoto reasoned, two players could cooperate together to get through the game doubling the potential profits. But the difficulty was determined more by the game.

But if you put two players in on a head-to-head basis, they determined the difficulty and potentially doubled how much cash could be made from the same game inadvertently giving birth to the “pay to stay” practice where the loser would have to chalk up the tokens/quarters to stay in the game until someone could knock the winner off the cab. SFII wasn’t the only game to have this — Gauntlet and other titles could have rows of gleaming brass tokens lined up along the monitor border, too — but it its case, it wasn’t the game that players were meant to line up tokens against. It was often whoever the winner dominating the cab at the time was.

Every fighter had their own look, style, and each stage its own theme song. There were also animated elements in the backdrop along with a few destructible ones. No giant turkey waiting in barrels or boxes, though.

Every fighter had their own look, style, and each stage its own theme song. There were also animated elements in the backdrop along with a few destructible ones. No giant turkey waiting in barrels or boxes, though. In this battle, the victory sign in the upper right corner shows that Ken already has one round over Chun-Li.

SFII also introduced a huge roster of playable characters, each of whom had dramatically different fighting styles and visual looks set against a cornucopia of backgrounds inspired by locales around the world. During development, depending on you talk to, the “combo” system was partly the result of a welcome accident — the developers were looking to ‘loosen up’ the controls per Okamoto’s suggestion to make the moves more friendly for players to pull off.

Frames were opened up, timing was loosened, and suddenly a window was available in which players could feed the machine additional instructions in that gap after each move to connect the next move to creating combos. It was a huge addition to the game that the first one didn’t have — nor many others — and created a chess-like interpretation of reflexes forcing players to think ahead in more than one way while playing the game.

That’s the recollection from Polygon’s article. According to an excerpt from Edge magazine’s story on Street Fighter II’s creation quoted at Wikipedia, however, Noritaka Funamizu notes it more as a “bug” that showed up while doing a check during the bonus car stage (where you can beat up a car for extra points), believing that adding additional hits was “impossible to make useful inside a game” so it was left in, turning into a feature.

Street Fighter II's story screens added in additional pain for the loser...and ego stroking for the winner as well as a little character for the fighters.

Street Fighter II’s story screens added in additional pain for the loser…and ego stroking for the winner as well as a little character for the fighters, carry-over from Street Fighter’s spoken cuts after each bout but now with a wider range of sayings.

Dhalsim’s extending limbs, Ryu’s tattered uniform, Chun-Li-s traditional dress and blazing speed…the design and artistic direction of Street Fighter II affirmed Capcom’s early ability to create some of the most distinct characters and places in gamedom, a tradition that it has carried on through countless games from Resident Evil to Street Fighter V. And it was one of Street Fighter II’s biggest draws outside of the combat system inspiring everything from comic books to Saturday morning cartoons years later.

Interestingly, the African-American boxer boss in the game was referenced in the Japanese release as “M. Bison” or Mike Bison. Concerned over legal issues on the likeness and his name, Capcom embarked on an interesting solution, rotating the boss names between him, Vega, and the dictator that the West would take his name. (and who was called Vega in Japan). The name changes became permanent ones as Balrog became the boxer, Vega as the Spanish fighter with his clawed weapons, and M. Bison as the psycho crushing dictator of Shadaloo.

 

The stages featured creative backdrops and great music to complement the fights like this one between the beastly Blanka and Guile.

The stages featured creative backdrops and great music to complement the fights like this one between the beastly Blanka and Guile.

Street Righter II kicked off its own “Street Fighter II” series as ideas from fans and new tweaks from the developers filtered into the gameplay. The Champion edition, released in 1992 (and also running on the CPS-1 hardware allowing arcade owners to easily swap out the game’s rom package) introduced two new characters to the roster (playable bosses, a first for the series) and 1v1 duels using the same characters in mirror matches.

A slew of other titles followed over the years for a total (which includes the original) of seven games bearing the Street Fighter II name all the way up to 2008’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix demonstrating the love that Street Fighter II’s mix of characters, balance, and fighting system has among fighting game fans. And that’s not even touching on the countless ports across several generations of home systems since SFII first hit arcades in 1991 such as the “near perfect” SNES version and that of the Japan-only X680000 computer.

There’s no doubt of the impact that SFII has had on fighting games and even other genres outside of it. The series became a multimedia empire for Capcom spreading across comics, anime, cartoons, films, and memorable soundtracks (the Guile theme…it’s everywhere). According to US Gamer’s list of the ten biggest grossing games of all time, SFII and the Champion edition both brought in $2.3 billion by 1995 ($3.6 billion adjusted for 2016). Needless to say, the game that took two years to develop and which Capcom bet the house on was an incredible success.

Today, Street Fighter II and its legacy continue to stand as a milestone in game design, a formula that has continued to pursue a regimen of improvement, practiced implementation, and fan tweaks all the way up on through each major chapter for the series which hasn’t forgotten its arcade roots. Even with the console games of today, Street Fighter always finds its way back to the place where it first started. And there are always challengers willing to take it on.

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