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I’ve been playing a lot of Street Fighter lately. SFV just had a sale on Steam which gave me an excuse to practice with some other new players, and it’s been a blast. I’ve been getting a lot better too! After only a week I’m hitting my combos fairly often and I’m making far fewer mechanical errors. I also just received some new parts for my arcade stick, which are making the controls feel much more responsive.

In December I participated in the second Street Fighter 6 beta. I spent the whole weekend getting my ass kicked and still has a great time. The game feels great to play. The new mechanics are fun too; it seems like they’ll encourage a lot of depth while still offering beginners a simple surface level gameplan. It looks gorgeous as well; I was worried about the choice to use RE Engine and a more realistic artstyle, since a large part of Street Fighter’s visual identity comes from its stylized characters and animations.

Turns out I was worried about nothing. The game looks incredible, and there’s plenty of stylization in the special moves, costumes, and world to keep me happy. I love the big impactful flourishes that appear when you perform a Drive Impact and the brilliant energy your character takes on as they perform a Drive Rush or Parry. Capcom’s typical animation quality is on full display too; the higher fidelity means small details like characters shifting their weight or bracing themselves against the ground have a great deal more physicality than before. It’s pretty incredible just how good it looks.

The game releases on June 2nd, so while I wait I wanted to talk about Street Fighter’s excellent character designs.

The Challenge Link to heading

Fighting games have a unique challenge in that they don’t have many opportunities to flesh out their characters beyond the stage of combat. Modern fighting games offer stories and other single-player content, but the majority of a player’s time is still spent doing battle where the game’s focus lies almost entirely on gameplay. I know some people - even fighting game pros - don’t care much for the lore in fighting games, but I’m willing to bet that the series which survived the 90s did so not just because they were fun, but because they offered a compelling cast. This, I think, is something Street Fighter does exceptionally well.

Terry Bogard from Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 next to Ray McDougal from Fighter's History

This isn’t an easy task. Take a look at Terry, left, and Ray, right. Which do you think made it out of the 90s?

Dan Link to heading

Dan performs a kiai towards the camera, as though he were throwing a fireball.

Image from the Street Fighter Wiki

The quintessential joke character! Originally a jab at rival fighting game company SNK, Dan has come a long way from his origin in Street Fighter Alpha and stands nearly toe-to-toe with the rest of the SFV cast. However despite his improvements, Dan’s characteristic inexperience still shows through his moveset.

Dan is the opposite of Ryu: Clumsy, inexperienced, and boastful. His strikes have an awkward quality to them, as though he’s trying to mimic the moves of other fighters without learning them properly. This results in some pretty funny animations. For example, he’s one of the few characters to throw a fireball one-handed, and they dissipate as a result.

Some of Dan’s striking moves cause him to reach awkwardly because he’s striking with a back limb or not twisting his body correctly. When his standing heavy kick connects with an opponent, it results in an awkward smack with no follow-through. When it misses, the force of his kick sends Dan into a clumsy spin.

His back-throw is also great; Dan always seems to have underestimated his opponent’s weight and barely makes the throw after two attempts. I love how exhausted he looks after performing the throw, too.

A more subtle design note lies in Dan’s mechanical design. He typically has poor frame data or damage or both. In SF4, he shares many moves with Ken and Ryu, but the joke is that the moves which are good for Ken and Ryu are bad for Dan, and vice versa. In Street Fighter V he’s more playable, and instead his awkwardness comes from his animations and moveset. Both his V-Skills are designed around taunting, and those skills build V-Meter for the opponent which no other V-Skill in the game does.

I love Dan because even if you know nothing about him, you can immediately tell from the way he carries himself and throws punches and kicks that he’s not a serious fighter at all.

Marisa Link to heading

The character I’m most looking forward to in SF6 is Marisa. She’s a huge bruiser style character who just beats the crap out of the opponent. She’s a jewelry-maker from Italy, an amusingly dainty profession for someone with such a fearsome stature. She also exemplifies Street Fighter’s trend of highly efficient character design.

Marisa throws an advancing punch at Luke.

Image from the Street Fighter Wiki

Marisa poses the same challenge as Zangief and Sagat: She’s large and represents a sport with simple attire. For characters like this, it can be difficult to make them distinct. Modern combat sports have sparse and utilitarian uniforms designed to offer a wide range of motion. They aren’t meant to be flashy, and altering them too much could affect legibility. It’s also easier to customize clothing than bare skin, and big characters are often designed with limited clothing to show off their brawn. Sagat stands apart with his shaved head, eyepatch and scar which are tied to his backstory, but Zangief is - chest hair aside - a very normal looking wrestler from the 80s.

Sagat faces down Zangief in Street Fighter V.

Iconic today, but these two really had to work for that recognition.

Marisa is implied to practice Pankration, which has parallels to modern-day MMA, and her visual design reflects that. However, some very careful tweaks to the MMA uniform make her design shine where it could easily fail.

Marisa wears the gear one would expect of an MMA fighter: Compression shorts and shirt, plus kickboxing gloves and ankle wraps. However, she also wears a pleated skirt evocative of the pteruges worn by ancient Greek soldiers. Her hair is shaped like a late Corinthian helmet, a style made immortal in film and video games. The black body and gold trim on her clothes is reminiscent of the distinctive red-figure pottery of ancient Greece. Finally, her sword-shaped necklace offers insight into her profession as a jewelry-maker and further reinforces her ancient ancestry.

Marisa posed next to a model of a hoplite wearing a Corinthian helmet.

Marisa, left. Source: Street Fighter Wiki. Athenian hoplite, right, by Tilemahos Efthimiadis. Source: Wikimedia Commons

These additions are all simple, but make Marisa feel more connected to her heritage - important for a World Warrior - and communicate to a player a sense of strength and regality. Simple but effective, my favourite kind of design.

Conclusion Link to heading

There is no conclusion, really. I just really love the visual design of Street Fighter. It’s an element of the games which has always excited me and I want to share that excitement with everyone else. If you want to watch me be bad at Street Fighter or other fighting games, I sometimes stream them on my Twitch channel, and I’ll definitely be streaming SF6 when it comes out.

Until next time!