In the same way that racing games live and die by their garages and shooters on their armories, fighting games must look to their roster of combatants for sustainability. Having quantity is good, but variety and even novelty matter—what good is a fighter if no one likes playing them? With a history as long as Street Fighter’s, building the fifth major entry to the series means reassessing every piece of the franchise’s legacy, and whether or not those pieces can be molded into the new face of Street Fighter.
Peter Rosas, an associate producer for Capcom, told us that when the Street Fighter V team set out to determine its starting lineup, there were quite a few steps they went through to see who made the cut.
“First, we identified the characters that absolutely had to be included in Street Fighter V for it to be properly recognized as Street Fighter V,” said Rosas. “Once that was taken care of, we then looked at those characters and classified which fight styles (quick, grappler, mid-range, etc.) were covered by them.”
These terms can easily fall into the realm of jargon, but for Street Fighter V to feel accessible to all players, you had to have that dichotomy of styles. For the new player, it means each fighter is unique, a new challenge to master with a fighting style all their own.
Old fighters were re-tooled and adjusted to fit this new landscape, a move that might be seen as heresy by some of the Street Fighter faithful; but the end result was that many characters that had languished in obscurity at the bottom of tier lists now feel like brand new combatants. Even Ryu and Ken, the classic mirror match of fighting games, were changed to further entrench them in their strengths within the Shoto class.
“With Ryu and Ken, Ryu has always been considered the slower, simpler Shoto while Ken has always been considered the faster, flashier fighter of the two,” Rosas told us about the two Street Fighter mainstays. “In Street Fighter V, fans will see that although Ryu and Ken may share a few special moves, such as the hadoken and shoryuken, that’s where the similarities end.”
Even within the cast, there’s a challenge of diversity. How do you reinvent the classics? Could older fighters fit into the new goals of Street Fighter V, with its V Systems and focus on faster, aggressive play? In truth, these new systems were a relief for the designers—a way to build upon foundations for characters that were previously underappreciated and underused.
Karin, R. Mika and Birdie all come from the Alpha series of Street Fighter titles, and have only a handful of appearances between them compared to standards like Zangief and Chun-Li. Yet they had something just right: the perfect mix of fan popularity and potential within their kits and styles to shine bright again.
“We chose [the returning characters] based either on popularity or if they would add spice to the overall flow of the game,” said Rosas. “Case in point, a lot of fans over the years have requested the return of Karin, so it was a no brainer to include her. With R. Mika, although she was well liked as a character for her look and what she added to the story, she wasn’t the most widely used in Street Fighter Alpha 3. That sentiment has definitely changed since we’ve unveiled her in Street Fighter V.”
Bringing them into the modern age has given the team a chance to revitalize old kits, and bolster the strengths of their individual characters, crafting fighters that don’t just compete but stand out from the crowd.
“A perfect example is Birdie,” Rosas tells us. “Although he has a lot of similar attacks from his Street Fighter Alpha incarnation, he also has a new chain throw (amongst other moves), which adds an entirely new spacing dimension to the character that was previously lacking.”
Keeping these fighters means losing some classic characters, though. Sagat, Akuma, Yun, Lee and even Blanka have not made reappearances, or even been announced for the first year’s new fighters. It’s those discussions that Rosas says were the most heated among the Street Fighter V team, but the possibility is still open in the future.
It’s not all familiar faces, though, as four members of the starting roster for Street Fighter V are completely new to the series. Where the veteran fighters gave Capcom an opportunity to reinvent the series, the new fighters are a blank slate upon which to write the future for the series.
These fighters opened up new avenues for moves and styles, ones that created new gameplay opportunities and interesting match-ups. Styles like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu were explored for the first time in fighters like Laura, leading to a character that both rounds out the roster and gives the developers new concepts to tool with in fights. With other new concepts, if the team was making an original fighting style, they could go even further and put the character’s personality into every facet of their moveset.
“Of the new characters, F.A.N.G was definitely a favorite of the development team,” said Rosas. “Trying to figure out an original, sinister fighting style that would match the character was quite fun for us.”
Looking at those new additions, there’s also a welcome diversity in appearance among the combatants. Rashid is a Middle Eastern man who employs cyclones for his attacks. Laura’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has some of the most devastating grapples and mix-ups in the game, and she’s able to get in the face of anyone on the roster. “The World Warrior” was the tagline of Street Fighter II, and that rings true in V, with a cast that represents the best fighters of even more nations and locales.
“Fighters come from all backgrounds, genders and races in the real world,” Rosas tells us. “We’ve strived to not only reflect that in Street Fighter V, but in the overall Street Fighter brand as well.”
Looking to the future, Rosas tells us that the team will look to add even more. Popularity plays a factor, as the first batch of new fighters for 2016 shows us, but Rosas says that Capcom is looking beyond just popularity polls.
“I’d say the three qualities [in future fighters] we would be looking at are: is there enough support for the character if they’re returning,” said Rosas. “Do they represent a martial art that has never been present in a Street Fighter game and if so, what country does that style originate from; and lastly, what style [e.g. mid-range, grappler] do they fit into and is there an opportunity there?”
Cutting a long back-history of iconic fighters down, while still leaving room for new faces, might seem insurmountable. But from a reinvigorated set of old fighters to a diverse and exciting batch of new challengers, Capcom has taken strides to craft one of the most compelling rosters in Street Fighter history. Capcom is looking to bring diversity and individuality to the venerated series, to craft a true World Warrior.
Eric Van Allen is a Texas-based writer. You can follow his e-sports and games rumblings @seamoosi on Twitter.