From the sec­ond you hear the open­ing chord of Ken’s theme in Street Fighter II, your hand grips the joy­stick tighter and your heart pulses, be­cause you are in for a fight. As you twist the stick and hit punch, a scratchy cry of “Yoga fire!” alerts you to a suc­cess­fully per­formed spe­cial move, and a “fwoosh” sig­nals that your op­po­nent has been en­gulfed in flames as planned. That’s the goal of au­dio de­sign in Street Fighter – to pump you up, to keep you in­formed, and to con­vey the cracking of bones as fist meets flesh.

Many of the clas­sic Street Fighter tunes orig­i­nated from Street Fighter II. It’s hard to be­lieve that the game shared sim­i­lar sound hard­ware with its pre­de­ces­sor – the largely for­get­table tunes of the first game em­anated from a YM2151 FM syn­the­sis chip and two MSM5205 ADPCM chips, while the sequel gained an MSM6295 ADPCM chip to re­place the twin chips of the older board.

The com­pos­ing team of Yoko Shi­mo­mura,

Isao Abe and Syun Nishi­gaki did main­tain a tra­di­tion from the first game, in that the mu­sic was ap­pro­pri­ately themed to the lo­ca­tion it rep­re­sented. How­ever, their skill and pro­gram­ming ad­vances en­sured that the hard­ware sang in a way quite un­like what had gone be­fore. The au­dio de­sign also re­tained the best as­pect of the first game, vo­cal sound ef­fects for moves that con­veyed char­ac­ter per­son­al­ity and showed in­ten­sity. When Su­per Street Fighter II ar­rived, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the new CPS2 ar­cade board, the mu­sic was up­graded to take ad­van­tage of the new DL-1425 Qsound chip. This meant rein­vented ar­range­ments of fa­mil­iar themes, along­side new ones for the ad­di­tional char­ac­ters – and this would be­come the model for cre­at­ing Street Fighter game mu­sic mov­ing for­ward. Street Fighter Al­pha took the same ap­proach, re­tain­ing Street Fighter II’S clas­sic themes and adding new ones for its new and re­turn­ing char­ac­ters, and Street Fighter Al­pha 2 did like­wise.

Towards the end of the Nineties, Street Fighter games be­came more ex­per­i­men­tal in their ap­proach to mu­sic. The Street Fighter III se­ries let the old themes go, and lead com­poser Hideki Oku­gawa in­stead used the CPS3’S sound chip to de­liver sam­ple-based tracks in a healthy mix­ture of mu­si­cal styles, from house and rap to jazz. Back on the CPS2, Street Fighter Al­pha 3 also ditched all of the es­tab­lished char­ac­ter themes en­tirely, and went with an al­most in­dus­trial sound – an en­er­getic elec­tronic sound­track filled with grind­ing gui­tar sam­ples. Ul­ti­mately, this new ap­proach lost out to the pre­vi­ously es­tab­lished ap­proach, as Street Fighter IV adopted the old char­ac­ter themes en masse and its sequel Street Fighter V has taken the same ap­proach.

We get the lowdown on sound from the au­dio direc­tor and mu­sic pro­ducer of Street Fighter V, Yuki­nori Kanda.

How im­por­tant is the mu­sic to the Street Fighter se­ries?

In a se­ries like this, which strives to bring out the in­di­vid­u­al­ity and per­son­al­ity of each char­ac­ter, mu­sic is a hugely im­por­tant part. It lets us ex­press the back­ground, feel­ings and mood of each char­ac­ter in a way that play­ers will un­der­stand in­stantly. It’s less about mu­sic that blends in with the game and more about bring­ing out the char­ac­ter. The key is that as soon as you hear the in­tro, the melody, even the tim­bre of a par­tic­u­lar piece, you know ex­actly which char­ac­ter’s mu­sic you’re hear­ing.

Why do you keep the same sig­na­ture tunes for each char­ac­ter with each game? These char­ac­ters are so iconic to play­ers around the world, and their theme mu­sic pieces are clas­sics. Of course, we up­date the mu­sic for each game in line with the game’s style or to be more mod­ern, or in ways that show the growth of the char­ac­ters, but we pre­fer to do that based on the ex­ist­ing melodies by remix­ing them or re­ar­rang­ing them, rather than in­tro­duc­ing new mu­sic. I think this is the best way to show that Ryu is still Ryu, or this is the new Ryu. In say­ing that, part of me does want to give the char­ac­ters new tunes some­times!

In many Street Fighter games, the mu­sic changes when a char­ac­ter is near KO. What do you feel this adds to the game, when in­cluded?

In a word, im­mer­sion. I’m sure all fight­ing game play­ers get that feel­ing as they come to the end of a match where their fo­cus gets height­ened, so the way the mu­sic changes at that time can help them feel the devel­op­ing sit­u­a­tion. It also makes the game more ex­cit­ing, of course. We’ve use this tech­nique since way back in the se­ries, and the de­vel­op­ment of au­dio tech­nol­ogy should let us keep ex­plor­ing new ways of achiev­ing an even bet­ter ef­fect.

» [Ar­cade] Many iconic char­ac­ters were in­tro­duced in Street Fighter II, and many recog­nis­able themes with them. » [Ar­cade] The Al­pha se­ries threw out char­ac­ter themes for a more uni­form sound­track.

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