Street Fighter: A Japanese Gaming Phenomenon

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If there’s one thing Japan consistently does well, its video games. At the forefront of Japanese gaming almost from day one has been the Osaka based developer, Capcom. Undoubtedly Capcom’s most enduring franchise has to be the Street Fighter series of fighting games. The latest instalment in the saga, Street Fighter V comes to Playstation 4 and PC this year.

So, what is it about this legendary fighter that has given it such longevity here in Japan?

Although the studio enjoyed plenty of early success with their Megaman and Ghosts and Goblins games back in the 80’s heyday of the Famicom (NES) console, there was one game that propelled Capcom from premier Japanese developer to global gaming powerhouse in the early 90’s.

That game was 1991’s Street Fighter II: The World Warrior.

A sequel to a somewhat unremarkable and seldom noticed arcade game from 1988, Street Fighter II was recognised by many as the game that saved Nintendo in Europe and the US. After a promising early start, Nintendo appeared to be losing the 16-bit console battle to their arch-rival Sega. With flagship titles like Sonic the Hedgehog, Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage, Sega had set the early pace in what was to be a long, drawn out battle for the hearts and minds of gamers the world over. Nintendo needed a big hit, and they needed it quickly.

Step up Street Fighter II.

The game’s premise was so beautifully simple. Two combatants, two energy bars, 90 seconds and lots of special moves. One on one fighting games were hardly an original concept, even back in 1991, and yet there was something about Street Fighter II that set it aside from the competition.

Perhaps it was the unique move set of each character, maybe it was the global range of the characters, in the days before diversity even became a serious consideration, but really I think the success lies in just one simple factor. This game was fun, really good fun, to play.

sf-ryu

Even now, a quarter century after its initial release, I still find myself picking up the game from time to time and giving it a play through. Even today, the highest difficulty setting provides an absolutely fiendish challenge.

I’ll be honest, back in the early 90s I wasn’t always a Street Fighter fan. Despite getting the “Special Champion Edition” of Street Fighter II as a Christmas present for my Sega Mega Drive console back in 1993, when it came to fighting games, I was definitely more in favour of Street Fighter II’s American counterpart Mortal Kombat.

Ironically, one of the things I loved about Mortal Kombat was the very dark, mystical and Japanese feel to a lot of the characters (The series’ main character, Scorpion, is an undead Japanese Ninja spectre after all), which was in stark contrast to the very “Americanized” feel of many of Street Fighter II’s protagonists and antagonists.

Yet as I got older, and my gaming experiences became more rounded, I developed an appreciation for the colour, the creativity and the hidden depth that became the Street Fighter series’ main hallmarks. After all, what other game offers the chance to pit a Russian wrestler against an Indian yoga master? Or a master sumo wrestler against a Spanish Ninja?

As the decades rolled past, various updates, prequels and sequels came and went. Amongst my favourites was 1998’s Street Fighter Alpha 3, whose amazingly beautiful visual style, gave the game a look less like a conventional fighting game and more like an anime movie.

The Street Fighter brand has grown beyond just video games. Anime, comic books, action figures and even 2 Hollywood movies. Whilst the latest movie entry, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is an utter abomination that should never have been released, the 1994 Street Fighter movie with Jean Claude Van Damme and the late, great Raul Julia as a brilliantly over the top villain remains something of a guilty pleasure of mine. It definitely sits close to the top of my “so bad, it’s brilliant” movie list.

So what about this year’s instalment, Street Fighter V. Where does it fit into almost 3 decades of lore?

In terms of plot, the story is supposedly sandwiched somewhere between previous titles Street Fighter III and IV. Ryu remains the conflicted hero, Ken his brash, arrogant yet good-natured American counterpart, and M Bison the insane, Emperor Palpatine type main villain of the piece who wants to simultaneously rule over the world and destroy it.

Seriously, video game bad guys really need to get their priorities straight!

The game promises to be a mix of innovative new ideas, blended with nostalgia. Some of the returning characters haven’t been seen in a main series game since 1998. Also, in a rare victory for the consumer, Capcom seems to have listened to its fan base and made some long-overdue adjustments to how the game will be updated moving forward.

Gone are the locked “on-disc DLC” features. Instead, extra characters and in game modes can be unlocked immediately via purchases or, if you are the more patient type, for free, over time via accumulated in game currency. This is the kind of choice consumers have been crying out for and it certainly sets Capcom apart from some of the other, greedier, gaming companies like EA and WB.

With early uptake already pointing to a worldwide success, Street Fighter V is set to be just the latest instalment in a gaming juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing down.

The fight is on!

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Teacher, journalist and now blogger.

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