Street Fighter is one of the longest-running and most successful series of video games in history. The first entry in the series was released during the 1980s, after which its 1991 sequel became one of the very first ‘must-have’ video games in history. “Street Fighter II” was a pop culture sensation that still resonates today, and gave birth to a seemingly endless number of sequels. Officially speaking, there have only been five generations of Street Fighter games, with “Street Fighter V,” released in 2016 as the most recent. As anyone who follows the series already knows, though, if you factor in all the ‘Alpha,’ ‘Turbo,’ ‘Super,’ ‘Champion Edition,’ and crossover games, the real number of connected games is well over twenty.
Throughout almost all of its history, the person in charge of overseeing the production and success of the Street Fighter series has been Capcom’s Yoshinori Ono. It’s not fair to credit him with the success of the series in general – he had nothing to do with the first two games – but he had an increasingly large influence on everything that came after that. He worked in senior roles on “Street Fighter Alpha” and every variant of “Street Fighter III” before picking up the lead role in the production and creation of “Street Fighter IV” and every game from thereon. The way that Street Fighter games have looked and felt since the late 1990s has been primarily down to Ono’s work.
For several months, gaming industry insiders have found it odd that Ono has remained steadfastly silent about “Street Fighter VI.” We’re more than four years on from the release of the last game, and there is a new generation of video game consoles on the horizon. That would be a good reason for a sixth game to be created and released, and there have been predictions that an official announcement about the game entering development would be made at some point within the past twelve months. No such announcement has been made, and now we may have found out why. After 27 years with the company, Yoshinori Ono is resigning from Capcom. That leaves Street Fighter, the series he’s nurtured for the past two decades, in limbo.
Ono hasn’t just curated and expanded the Street Fighter series of games; he’s found ways to experiment with them and expand the entertainment space that they occupy. Because Ono has been willing to think outside the box, we’ve had incredible games like “Marvel vs. Capcom,” featuring battles between superheroes and Street Fighter characters. We’ve had innovative, one-of-a-kind products like the “Street Fighter 2: World Warrior” online slot game, which combines the thrills and spills of a standard free slots with a fully-functional version of the classic video game. Street Fighter is not, by a long stretch, the only video game that’s ever found its way onto online slots websites. It is the most popular one, though, and the best at bridging the gap between orthodox video gaming and the more adult-orientated world of online slots.
Not everything he’s touched has been successful. He was the executive producer of a game called ‘Deep Down’ that was announced in 2013 and went on to spend the next seven years in development Hell. He endured a testing time when “Street Fighter V” was first released in what many players felt was an unfinished state, and further criticism when it was found to be full of money-sapping loot boxes and a never-ending stream of expensive downloadable content. Even some of his more creative ideas, like the ambitious crossover game between Street Fighter and Tekken, failed to hit the mark that was expected of them despite broadly-positive reviews. Even so, he succeeded more than he failed and became the ‘father of Street Fighter’ in the eyes of many fans.
Ono’s resignation has caught a lot of people by surprise. Even after 27 years working for Capcom, he isn’t at the age where he’d be expected to retire, and his lengthy public statement regarding his resignation didn’t give a specific reason for his departure other than the fact that he feels that three decades working for the same company is a long time. Some insiders have speculated that with new consoles coming and a new generation of gaming about to begin, Capcom has taken the decision that Ono is ‘yesterday’s man’ and decided that his services will no longer be required. Some slightly more detailed rumours even go as far as saying that Ono produced a prototype version of “Street Fighter VI” that was received so badly by playtesters that Capcom removed him from the project in favour of someone else, and then invited him to offer his resignation as an alternative to being fired. Neither of those rumours has been substantiated.
Ono’s influence on gaming as a home cannot be understated. Interest in ‘traditional’ fighting games was waning in the late 1990s after the highs of “Street Fighter II” and the first three “Mortal Kombat” games. Ono faced an uphill struggle to persuade Capcom to make the fourth Street Fighter game, but he was ultimately successful, and that success led to the creation of the fifth game and all the tie-in products that have come with it. If it weren’t for the success of that fourth game, the production of new “Mortal Kombat” games might never have happened either, and the one-on-one fighting format might have fallen out of favour with video game developers in general. Ono didn’t single-handedly save fighting games, but he put them back at the top of the agenda for a while.
Without his hand on the tiller, the future of the Street Fighter franchise is uncertain. There’s no better time to launch a new video game than when there are new consoles available to play it on. As there doesn’t appear to be a sixth Street Fighter game on the horizon, it seems that there’s an issue with the series somewhere within Capcom. Whether then means they go back to the drawing board without Ono or call ‘time’ on the series entirely remains to be seen. Ono said in the closing section of his resignation statement that he looks forward to seeing what the ‘new generation’ can do with the Street Fighter intellectual property. We sincerely hope they’re given a chance to do anything with it at all.
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