FROM BRUISING BEATS TO SPIRITED SOUND EFFECTS, STREET FIGHTER’S AUDIO DELIVERS CHARACTER AND FIGHT FEEDBACK
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.