The 25-year legacy of Street Fighter II, in the words of the experts
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was first released to arcades 25 years ago, on February 6th 1991. It completely changed the games industry.
It's estimated to have raked in $2.3 billion by 1995. (That's $3.5 billion adjusted for inflation -- lots and lots and lots of quarters.) The game brought unprecedented depth and complexity to arcades, presenting players with an array of characters that each had their own distinctive fighting style, with a deep library of special moves and combos.
Street Fighter II set the paradigm for an entire genre. Every subsequent fighting game has felt its influence, whether it followed the established conventions or rebelled against them.
It's difficult to express the full impact this game has had. So we asked for help. We reached out to many developers who drew lessons and inspiration from Street Fighter II, as well as competitive players and commentators and other luminaries of the fighting game community.
We posed a single question to them: What are your earliest memories of Street Fighter II, and what do you think its legacy has been?
Here are the responses we received. Please share your own responses in the comments below!
Yoshinori Ono, current series producer of Street Fighter
Street Fighter II was actually the game that prompted me to join Capcom. Seeing those eight characters on screen and all that was just super exciting for me. At the time, I was actually a college student, and it cost 100 yen per play. That equates to basically a dollar in U.S. currency.
It was already really difficult for me to pay for college tuition, but despite that, I kept just throwing 100-yen coins into the machine over and over again, forgetting all about tuition.
Street Fighter II ended up eating up a lot of my time, and as such, it ended up taking a lot of my college units as well. That was always an influence of Street Fighter II in my life.
"It was already really difficult for me to pay for college tuition, but despite that, I kept just throwing 100-yen coins into the machine over and over again, forgetting all about tuition."
At that time, there were racing games, action games, and shooters, that was all happening in the arcade, and people were competing on having best clear times, or best high score, or whatnot. But with Street Fighter II, it was the very first time I ever saw a game where you had to fight with logic, you had to have strategy. On top of that, your opponent was a human being, so you actually had to have an understanding of what their habits were. You actually had to build strategies around the person that you're playing against. It was actually the very first game that had that.
People can look back at Street Fighter II and say, "That wasn't a very balanced fighting game," and maybe that's true. But, at the same time, it was the seed that ended up creating this environment where you're battling between two people, two minds battling.
It ended up eventually evolving into Street Fighter II Turbo, but Street Fighter II was definitely the bud that eventually evolved into a fully bloomed flower. And that has stayed there; that legacy will always be there.
Yoko Shimomura, composer on Street Fighter II and many other game soundtracks, including Kingdom Hearts and Legend of Mana
My most formative memory would be winning the Best Music Award from a magazine called Gamest and attending its awards ceremony. I hadn't yet experienced the feeling of being number one, so I was very happy to be given an award with the word "best" in it.
The legacy it has left would of course be its fans, don't you think? I'm happy that the game has transcended generations and given birth to many sequels while being deeply loved by its fans. I'm very proud of Street Fighter II.
Junya Christopher Motomura, designer at Arc System Works (Guilty Gear, BlazBlue)
I must have been about 14 when I first touched Street Fighter II at a friend's house, and it immediately captured me. What was unique to SF2 was that the player was given a huge choice in what character you want to fight as, and how to fight. It was more than a game. It was a medium for expressing one's preference, style, and attitude.
And that is exactly what a young teenager like me wanted at that time.
"Street Fighter II was the game that sparked the imagination and passion for game development in me."
At the same time, Street Fighter II was the game that sparked the imagination and passion for game development in me. I couldn't stop thinking about the game, and how I could possibly change or improve it. Without Street Fighter II, I am sure I would have been a different person on a different career path.
I think it was the first game to make people seriously compete against each other. Of course there were many games before SF2 where you could compete against friends, but it must have been the first game that had the depth that was worth investing time and effort into. It made us gamers realize that overcoming your opponent (and yourself) was fun as hell.
Yosuke Hayashi, Team NINJA producer on Dead or Alive
I believe the legacy of all fighting games owes its lineage to Street Fighter II. Dead or Alive is no exception. It is an evolution which grew out from a different branch. However, its inception was rooted in Street Fighter II. I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing the progression of Street Fighter as it leads our fighting game genre into the future!
Michael Murray, game designer, TEKKEN Project Team
Street Fighter really created the VS Fighting genre. Mastering complex inputs that result in rewarding in-game animations/attacks, characters with unique abilities, each from different locations throughout the world, stages with visual themes and music tailored to specific characters and based on certain locales – all of these are elements that would become staple in games that followed.
I’m old enough to remember playing SF2 at a local grocery store, where the cabinet had no instructions or move-lists, and part of the fun was finding a move before your friends, practicing to execute it consistently, and then pummeling your friends until they learn how to adapt. Up until then, most popular games you would play by yourself or co-op, and the only competition among friends was for the highest score. With the formula of learning a game’s system, choosing a character that suits your play style, practicing until you can use the character’s techniques consistently, and then finally competing head-to-head with a friend or someone in your local arcade, you could even say SF2 was an early base for e-sports.
James Goddard, creator of Weaponlord, design director on Killer Instinct (2013), co-lead on SF II Hyper
I will never forget the day my friend called me and said let’s go to Sunnyvale Golfland and play this game they have on test. We walk-in and there is a crowd around Street Fighter II, we had to wait 20 mins to get to play. It was overwhelming, 6 buttons, people talking in whispers about ‘secret moves’ (and gesturing strange motions), it was wild. We stayed for hours until I had no money left. This was January 1991. I lived literally 1 block from Sunnyvale Golfland and I started playing every day. This led me to a job at Capcom within months, Next I was working on the series, and my life was forever changed.
While SFII inspired so many of us to make other fighting games, there is something SFII did that no other game can touch- it founded the FGC (Fighting Game Community). I am lucky to have a unique perspective on this legacy, as I was there. It was started with simple weekly SFII tournaments at Sunnyvale Golfland. Suddenly everywhere there were reports of tournaments nationwide at a bunch of mom & pop arcades. The community grew like wildfire and was so passionate and thirsty for knowledge, groups of players would drive hours or even states to face other people and learn more strategies. (no internet back then folks) I have over the course of my career watched this grass roots movement grow the FGC into international phenomenon it is now and it is amazing how players today are just as competitive, hungry for knowledge and passionate as they were when we all had mullets!
When I think about SFII and everything it has touched in my life. It’s in my blood as a gamer, it inspired my career path; the lifelong friends I have made, and the ever growing FGC community and Tournaments. This was all created by it’s incredible depth and exciting ever changing match-ups. I cannot image what the face of gaming would be if not for SFII.
That’s the legacy of SFII. It's a total game changer. Happy 25th Anniversary!
Mike Zaimont, design director at Lab Zero Games, designer of Skull Girls
My first memory of SF2 is actually playing it in some pizza place in New York in 1991 when I was 10. I was with a group of kids, and my friend picked the green guy that I wanted to pick, so I couldn't pick him. Instead, I chose the girl, and found out that by hitting all the buttons a lot she would kick them bunches and win. I think I won three times in a row, it was glorious!
The impact of Street Fighter II can't be overstated, but it goes much further than financial success. Though people will often point to Karate Champ / Yie Ar Kung Fu / Fighting Street as the beginnings of the fighting game genre, I don't really put them in the same category. They had the concept, the early idea, but SF2 was the first game that executed it well.
The huge sprites, the backgrounds, the parallax floors, the sounds...though video-gamer me wants to talk about how amazing it looked and felt, game-designer me notes that though it was a huge leap forward in terms of presentation. It was an equally large advance in terms of game design, and laid the foundation for many of the concepts that you will find in nearly every fighting game from then on.
"There are games released in recent years that do not handle parts of their character interactions as well as SF2 does"
Fighting Street (Street Fighter one) was HARD to play! SF2 added negative edge (button release) activation for special moves, a much more lenient input parser, and a kara-cancel period on normal attacks, all just to make it easier for players to do special moves. The way blockstun/hitstun/hitstop work, projectiles and projectile interaction, knockdown and wakeup, there are so many places in SF2 where you can see the thought that was put into designing a fighting game that would be as much fun as possible for a wide variety of players. The designers wanted to make players feel cool, and they succeeded. (They even went as far as--in SF2 only--making each button press have a 1/256 chance of randomly executing a special move instead of a normal attack, to get players more excited about playing the game.)
There are some wonderful articles about the development of SF2, things like they couldn't get the knockback from moves to look right procedurally so they went and hand-tweaked the character's backward movement per frame. The dev team studied every aspect of the game, and as a result much about it just feels "right". A lot of the knockoff fighting games created to try and grab a piece of SF2's success didn't do this extra obsessive tinkering, and they ended up being much worse games. It sounds cheesy, but players can really feel the love and dedication that went into making SF2.
SF2 set the standard, and was hugely advanced for its time -- there are games released in recent years that do not handle parts of their character interactions as well as SF2 does. The entire fighting game genre owes its existence to SF2, plain and simple. The fight is everything.
Adam Heart, competitive player, former editor-in chief of Shoryuken, designer of Divekick, lead combat designer on Killer Instinct Season 2 and Season 3 at Iron Galaxy Studios
I first encountered Street Fighter II: The World Warrior at a skating rink during a middle-school class gathering. What could be better that skating in circles with your classmates? How about the most incredible looking video game I’d ever seen? It didn’t hurt that it was also the best playing game I’d ever touched.
And that is what Street Fighter always was to me. An innovator in gameplay mechanics and feel, and a leader in art direction and execution. I hope, going forward, to see Capcom continue making fighting games that inspire a new generation as much as the original games inspired me. Street Fighter created a genre that has shaped the entire course of my life, and for that I will always love it.