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The Complete History of Street Fighter: 30+ Years of Gaming‘s Greatest Fighting Franchise

Street Fighter revolutionized gaming when it burst onto the scene over 30 years ago, enthralling a generation of fans with its punishing yet rewarding one-on-one fighting action. What began as a modest 1987 arcade title grew into one of the most celebrated franchises in video game history, smashing records and defining the fighting game genre.

Today, Street Fighter remains at the forefront of gaming, with the hotly anticipated Street Fighter VI set to launch on June 2nd, 2023. As we await SF6 and the series‘ next chapter, let‘s take an in-depth look back at over three decades of Street Fighter greatness. Grab a joystick and join me for a nostalgic trip down memory lane!

Five Fascinating Facts About Street Fighter

Before we dive into the series chronology and break down each installment, here are five quick Street Fighter facts to amaze both casual fans and hardcore devotees:

  • As of January 2023, the Street Fighter games have generated over $18 billion in total revenue, making it one of the highest-grossing media franchises ever.

  • Street Fighter II (1991) is credited with popularizing and cementing fighting games as a major video game genre. Its acclaim and commercial success led to a fighting game explosion in the 90s.

  • At one point, Street Fighter held seven Guinness World Records in the Guinness World Records: Gamer‘s Edition 2008, including "Longest-Running Fighting Video Game Series".

  • The series introduced many landmark innovations over the years, like combo systems, special moves, super combos, super meters, arcade/versus modes, and cross-platform play.

  • An animated Street Fighter film is currently in development at Netflix, with Joey Ansah tapped to direct. Fans hope it fares better than the critically maligned 1994 live-action adaptation starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Now that your appetite has been sufficiently whetted, let‘s explore the games that built this legendary fighting empire.

The Origins: Street Fighter (1987)

While no one could have predicted it at the time, the Street Fighter story began with a modest one-on-one arcade fighting game developed by Capcom and directed by Takashi Nishiyama in 1987.

Called simply Street Fighter, the game put players in control of martial artist Ryu, who fought in a worldwide tournament spanning five global locations. Unlike modern fighting games driven by complex combos, it relied solely on individual attacks via six buttons – three punch buttons and three kick buttons of varying strength.

This inaugural Street Fighter entry went largely overlooked in arcades and received middling reviews criticizing its stiff, repetitive gameplay. However, it laid essential groundwork and introduced two of gaming‘s most iconic characters – the stoic Japanese karate master Ryu and his American rival Ken Masters.

It also featured innovations like pressure-sensitive pads that could detect strength of kicks/punches and allowed two players to compete head-to-head, though only as mirror matches with the same character.

While no smash hit, the first Street Fighter brought beloved characters to life and included foundations that catapulted its explosively popular sequel to god-tier status four years later.

Street Fighter II Triggers a Global Phenomenon (1991)

When Street Fighter II arrived in arcades worldwide in 1991, gamers‘ jaws collectively dropped at the gorgeous new visuals, eclectic character roster, and refined fighting mechanics that took Japan and America by storm.

Beautifully animated characters like Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, Blanka, Dhalsim and more battled across the globe with an expanded movelist including mid-air projectile attacks and lightning-fast combos. Special joystick motions let you pull off Hadoukens, Sonic Booms, Spinning Piledrivers and more to brutal effect.

Thanks to director Akira Nishitani, SFII allowed players to actually choose characters, pitting World Warriors against each other in best 2-out-of-3 matches. With eight playable fighters boasting distinct nationalities, backstories, fighting styles, strengths, and weaknesses, the concept of "character matchups" became a key metagame element.

SFII took Japan and North America by storm, cementing fighting games as a dominant video game genre. By 1993, its massive success in coin-operated arcades had earned it multiple accolades for Game of the Year. SFII is largely credited with popularizing "competitive gaming" and inspiring the vibrant fighting game community (FGC) still active today organizing tournaments worldwide.

As a pop culture icon that made gamers jonesing for their next quarter-fed fix, SFII also produced spinoff merchandise like soundtracks, animated films, a syndicated cartoon show, and even a hilariously campy live action film in 1994 starring Jean Claude Van Damme as Guile and Kylie Minogue as Cammy.

By 1994, SFII‘s widespread appeal led to ports for SNES and Sega Genesis, exposing the fighting phenom to a new generation of gamers without arcade access who gleefully beat up friends and siblings alike.

Ultimately, Street Fighter II went on to sell over 14 million copies over its numerous updated "Turbo" re-releases and remakes. As the 3rd best-selling fighting game ever, its global domination secures its legacy as the godfather of fighting games. SFII inspired countless fighting classics, from Mortal Kombat to Tekken to Dead or Alive to Super Smash Bros.

Street Fighter Goes 3D With New Challengers (1996 – 1997)

Building upon Street Fighter II‘s success, Capcom expanded the series in exciting new ways during the mid 90s period sometimes called Fighting Game Boom. 1994 brought Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game, a bizarre quasi-adaptation for arcades and PlayStation.

More significantly, Capcom partnered with Arika to produce Street Fighter EX in 1996 – the franchise‘s first foray into "2.5D" polygonal 3D graphics combined with traditional 2D gameplay. SFX added several new characters like Doctrine Dark, Pullum, Darun, and Garuda. While a sales disappointment in arcades, the subsequent PS1 port fared much better.

Street Fighter EX2 built positively on its foundations in 1998 by fine-tuning graphics, adding even more new fighters, and introducing tag team battles alongside traditional 1v1 matches. EX2 Plus in 1999 added fan favorite Street Fighter Alpha character Sakura!

While not as earthshatteringly innovative as SFII, the EX series signified Street Fighter easing into the 128-bit era with new characters joining World Warriors in exciting 3D worlds while retaining the classic feel fans cherished.

Street Fighter Alpha Outshines EX Series (1995 – 1998)

As Capcom experimented with polygonal graphics in the EX series, they continued producing gorgeous 2D sprite classics for a new generation. Enter 1995‘s Street Fighter Alpha, known as Street Fighter Zero in Asia.

Serving as both a prequel to SFII and spiritual successor to the 1987 original, SFA depicted younger versions of beloved characters set after Ryu had defeated Sagat in the first World Warrior tournament but before M. Bison began weaponizing Psycho Power.

SFA introduced several newcomers like rash punk skater Birdie, "President of the World" wrestler Zangief, assassin Rolento, and more alongside the core SFII cast. Fighting dynamics expanded using chain combos, counters, air blocking and three super gauge levels fueling Super Combos when full.

Better graphics, tighter controls and more complex mechanics made SFA a 2D fighting jewel that wowed arcade crowds and gained favorable critical reviews. SFA2 in 1996 and SFA3 in 1998 iterated nicely upon each predecessor with even more World Warriors like a playable Sakura and Final Fight‘s Cody. Zangief remains a popular main to this day!

The Alpha series successfully updated Street Fighter for 90s fighter fans who still relished exquisite 2D sprites over blocky 3D models. SFA set the template for sprite-based fighting excellence later seen in SNK‘s King of Fighters and Capcom‘s Marvel/SNK crossovers.

Street Fighter III Attempts Reinvention (1997)

After consecutive Street Fighter sequels and spinoffs consistently banked by offering "more" – more characters, mechanics, graphical spectacle – Capcom shocked gamers by changing direction completely with 1997‘s Street Fighter III.

Headed by Street Fighter II co-designer Akira Yasuda, the oddly numbered SFIII attempted rebuilding the entire franchise formula from ground up. Out went classic characters like Ryu, Chun-Li, Dhalsim – except Ken and Akuma – in favor of an all-new fighter roster led by Alex, Yun Lee, and more.

SFIII introduced the super meter charging up to three levels and letting you unleash massively damaging Critical Arts. New maneuverability options like parrying and dodging supplemented traditional attacks. Most controversially, infinite combos were intentionally allowed if you perfectly timed chained attacks.

This high-risk, high-reward setup severely divided fans, many of whom blasted SFIII for abandoning their old mains. Arcade revenues suffered severely, triggering two follow-ups attempting to correct course.

1998‘s Second Impact added fan favorite Chun-Li back alongside 5 new fighters and gameplay tweaks reigning in infinite combos. 1999‘s Third Strike: Fight for the Future introduced comeback mechanics so skilled players could triumph over stronger ones.

Despite negative fan reactions, the Street Fighter III trilogy showcased incredible 2D animation and fighting complexity appealing to hardcore tournament players. Today, Third Strike remains a popular side tourney draw in the FGC for its fast, technical combat. However, SFIII still gets criticized for killing classic World Warrior momentum.

Street Fighter IV Cements a Legacy (2008)

By 2008, the Street Fighter series sat stagnant following Street Fighter III‘s cold reception and Capcom focusing resources on Versus franchises like Marvel vs Capcom. After a decade away, could Street Fighter reclaim former 90s glory?

Street Fighter IV answered with a thunderous YES, bringing Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and 20 more World Warriors into glorious HD life powered by cel-shaded 3D graphics and the Flexible Cartoon Shader graphics engine. Fighting dynamics blended SFII‘s accessibility with SFIII‘s technical depth for a universally appealing balance of simple and complex.

SFIV utilized Focus Attacks letting players tank an enemy blow and retaliate with increased power. Like Alpha and 3rd Strike, players charged Super meters unleashing devastating Ultra Combos and more.

Equally important, SFIV committed fully to the burgeoning eSports scene exploding thanks to livestreamed matches on Twitch and events like EVO Championship Series. This made fighting games "cool" again to a new digital generation.

Stellar graphics and refined gameplay made SFIV a monster success, selling over 7 million copies across various home console ports. Even better, the title update model ensuring ongoing developer support would define fighting games for the next decade.

Most crucially, Street Fighter IV revived fighting games and the FGC from obscurity back to relevance and financial success. Everything from Mortal Kombat X to Dragonball FighterZ owes great debts to SFIV putting fighters back on the map as competitive spectacle!

Street Fighter V Stumbles Out The Gate (2016)

Riding sky high after SFIV‘s rapturous reception, expectations were through the roof for Street Fighter V in 2016 and…it floundered, unfortunately.

Capcom again utilized Unreal Engine for snazzy 3D visuals modernizing World Warriors like Nash, Laura and Rashid with revamped Critical Arts and V-Triggers buffing characters uniquely.

However, SFV launched with pathetically sparse features and questionable free-to-play monetization emphasizing purchasable DLC characters and costumes. Vanilla SFV included no arcade mode, vs CPU battles or even a proper story!

These baffling omissions incensed fans who expected a fully-featured sequel building upon SFIV‘s copious content. Instead, Capcom adopted a "games as service" model releasing fresh Seasons of DLC fighters to steadily expand incomplete launch offerings.

On the plus side, SFV‘s core fighting felt great with additions like Crush Counters letting skilled players counterattack enemies and combo endlessly. Once loaded with Season 1-5 content, new V-System tools added fight strategy depth back to SFII levels.

However, barebones beginnings and reliance on post-launch patches burnt significant goodwill. Street Fighter V still represents a black mark where Capcom prioritized monetization ahead of fan satisfaction.

Thankfully, lessons seem learned given Street Fighter 6‘s emphasis on robust single-player, character customization via skill upgrades, and free post-launch DLC fighting arenas/commentators. The future shines bright!

Street Fighter VI Aims High in 2023 And Beyond

On June 2nd, 2023, Street Fighter returns once more with SF6, the first series entry built using Epic‘s powerful Unreal 5 engine. After much anticipation, Capcom is ready to launch Ryu, Chun-Li, Luke and friends into next-gen glory.

Vibrant, hyperrealistic aesthetics depicting muscle flexes and clothing wrinkles in gorgeous detail exemplify how far gaming graphics have evolved since chunky SFII sprites. Powerful RE Engine technology brings World Warriors painstakingly to life down to individual sweat drops and pores!

Fighting options have expanded exponentially with each fighter having over 4000 animations, according to Capcom. Offense, defense, mobility all feel smoother and more responsive than ever before.

Returning mechanics like EX specials now function as Overdrives letting players sacrifice some EX gauge to enhance normal attacks. Dynamic precedent ensures no two battles feel identical.

Most excitingly, SF6 introduces the concepts of Fighting Ground, World Tour and Battle Hub revolutionizing single player, online multiplayer and community engagement.

Fighting Ground offers vast customization in offline and online matches, from stage select to soundtrack to commentators. Want funky hip-hop beats instead of sweeping orchestral scores? Do it. Prefer sarcastic, snarky announcers ribbing you over the standard play-by-play? Specify preference pre-match!

World Tour provides a full single-player arcade experienc e pitting you against AI as you travel the globe and engage in a variety of mini-game challenges outside standard fights.

Finally, Battle Hub stands as a lobby area where players can interact, set up tournaments, trade tips, show off hard-earned costumes and socialize pre/post matches with custom avatars.

Street Fighter 6 appears poised to deliver the total package synthesizing 30+ years of franchise evolution into a title casual gamers can enjoy button mashing with friends while veterans will spot high-level mastery perfecting combos frame-by-frame.

And that‘s just the beginning! Ongoing support over multiple Seasons will introduce fresh fighters – fan favorites like Sagat confirmed returning – while new modes, cosmetics and balance tweaks ensure the scene stays dynamic yet fair.

I don‘t know about you, but I‘ve got my fight sticks ready June 2nd. See you online, World Warriors! Hadouken!

The Future of Street Fighter Shines Bright

For over three decades, Street Fighter has enthralled millions of gamers with its compelling characters, deeper-than-Nile fighting systems, and brilliant evolution propelling the entire fighting game genre forward. As we‘ve explored here, the series has enjoyed numerous highs along some understandable lows.

However, when you look at the staggering longevity of Capcom‘s beloved franchise, over 49 million total units sold, and the sheer anticipation accompanying Street Fighter 6‘s upcoming launch, one truth becomes clear – the appeal of World Warriors duking it out will never fade.

As technology progresses, so too will the gameplay, graphics, modes, options, and meta. Yet the spirit of Street Fighter branding challengers with Shoryukens, smack talking friends after perfect KOs, labbing new V-Trigger setups and competing globally to prove martial arts supremacy…that all remains wonderfully consistent and forever compelling.

So whether you mashed buttons back in 1991‘s arcades, got blown away by 2008‘s resurgence or are just now hearing "Ready? Fight!" for the first time, welcome to the street fighting brother/sisterhood. Glory awaits all willing to push their skills to the limit. Just remember, playing fighting games ultimately comes down to fun. Never stop being passionate!

Hadouken your way below to my matching Street Fighter product recommendations and treat yourself to some sweet World Warrior swag!