Episode 388: Ranking the Street Fighter Games Based on Their Mechanics


Street Fighter V is finally coming to a close. While nothing has explicitly been said by Capcom, it’s safe to assume Street Fighter V is in its twilight days. The game will get a last hurrah with a bunch of new characters, like Dan, Rose, Oro and Akira, a bunch of new costumes along with a final tweak to the game’s mechanics. That’s what I got from the Tokyo Game Show panel earlier this October.

That last bit of information, the one regarding the new gameplay mechanic did get me thinking about Street Fighter’s history of always trying something different or adding some new thing into the fighting engine when they have a new numbered entry. I can’t really think of any other fighting game series who does this.

This did get me thinking about which game in the series has the best gameplay mechanics. With so many entries, there are bound to be some that worked like gangbusters while others just fizzled out. So, this week, I decided to take a look back at Capcom’s storied fighting game franchise and rank each game based on their mechanics. I know, it sounds weird but you’ll understand when you look at the list. I’ll also be excluding the first Street Fighter game because, well, it’s basically garbage now. You know I’m right!

Oh, and I’ll be combining all the numbered games and ranking them in one position because, well, there are just too many spinoffs to talk about each and ever one! Also be forewarned this list is going to ruffle more than a few feathers because this is my personal opinion.

#5 Street Fighter III

See? I know a lot of fans a fuming at the fact this is the worst Street Fighter game on my list!

Now, I know a lot of hardcore fans will say the Street Fighter III lineage of games are the best ones Capcom has pumped out. I will admit, there is a lot to like here. The game introduced some interesting game mechanics, like picking what Super Art to use, leading to some limited customization and counterpicking. I also love how this introduced EX moves wherein you can use up some of your Super bar to power up a special attack. It also was the first game in the Street Fighter franchise to introduce dashing. It’s also the only Street Fighter game that has a super jump, which can be useful in the right hands.

The crown jewel of the Street Fighter III fighting engine is undoubtedly the Parry system. This allowed all characters, with a flick of the joystick, to deflect any strike your opponent throws your way. Even multiple attacks from Super Art Combos can be parried under the right hands. This can lead to some extreme comebacks and hype moments. EVO Moment #37, anyone?

However, it’s actually the Parry system, one of the most beloved Street Fighter mechanic, that makes me not like Street Fighter III all that much. The Parry system needs a lot of skill to execute properly, especially in the heat of battle. You will need split second reaction time to do it so the Parry comes out properly or you’ll get hit. This is demonstrably true for multi-hitting attacks. You also can use the Parry to bait out opponents to perform an unsafe move, leading to a full punish.

All of this does make Street Fighter III a joy to watch, especially in the hands of highly skilled players. I am not a highly skilled player. The Parry system has always been very daunting to me and I am constantly amazed when I see people blocking even Gil’s two hit projectile, let alone his Meteor Shower Super Art. The Parry made the gap between playing against someone who plays Street Fighter III competitively just too wide for me.

#4 Street Fighter II

The fighting game that started the fighting game craze is, yes, this low on the tier list.

You might not think Street Fighter II invented a lot of mechanics but then you’ll realize the games pretty much invented most of the conventions other fighting games have used since then! The first Street Fighter may have created special moves but Street Fighter II did so much more by adding additional stuff like throws in the World Warrior and mirror matches in Champion Edition. Even throw breaks were added during Super Street Fighter II Turbo to stop all the crybabies from complaining throws were cheap! These are things we take for granted in a fighting game nowadays but then, I would assume these were revolutionary.

However, the biggest contribution from Street Fighter II would come from Super Street Fighter II Turbo with everyone getting a Super Combo. Oddly enough, this was probably borrowed from Capcom’s biggest competitor, SNK. Super Combos were very damaging attacks which can only be done once you filled up a tiny little bar for your character. You can tell they were just tacked on, though, as the animations were just recycled from other special attacks they had in their repertoire. Kinda lazy if you ask me.

It feels rather tame by today’s standards but the Street Fighter II games did set the standard for what fighting games use even up to now. It became the foundation of what other companies built upon to create their own. However, while the mechanics may have been inventive then, they certainly don’t feel like anything special today.

#3 Street Fighter V

The latest is definitely not the greatest, Capcom!

Capcom really took their idea of developing new gameplay mechanics for each new Street Fighter to a whole new level here. Street Fighter V’s primary mechanics revolves around the V-System. With it, each character in the roster gets a secondary move you can use to fill up a special bar (the V-Skill), a move that’s supposed to get you out of trouble but uses some of the said bar (the V-Reversal) and a move you can only execute when you’ve filled up the special bar completely (the V-Trigger). The idea, from what I understand, was to balance between when to fill up the bar and when to use it up, depending on the circumstance.

A really cool idea on paper. Unfortunately, the V-System was severely unbalanced at Day 1. Some characters, like Karin, Necalli, Cammy and Birdie, got very useful V-Skills and/or V-Triggers. Others, like FANG and Vega, got garbage versions. This definitely led to a lot of players drifting towards the characters who had the perceived advantage based on their V-Skills or V-Triggers and avoiding the ones who didn’t.

Capcom did take its time to try and balance it all out but they never really was fully able to do so. Even adding new V-Skills and V-Triggers didn’t help much because some of the second V-Skills and V-Triggers didn’t add much to making the weaker characters strong enough to get on the level of the top-tiers. Also, Capcom did develop Street Fighter V in the hopes of attracting a newer audience who felt the previous game, Street Fighter IV, was too complex to get into and get good at. Thus, they dumbed Street Fighter V down… a lot. Combos were much easier to execute but led to less variety. There was too much in the way of offense as well, with Capcom even going as far as removing a lot of invincible specials as people were abusing them.

So, why is the Street Fighter V series mid-tier on my list? Well, despite the rocky start, it did get better after subsequent releases. Capcom kept on tweaking the game and adding new stuff to it and, even though the base game still revolves around V-Skills, V-Reversals and V-Triggers, the series did reach a point when each character did get a good V-Skill or V-Trigger at the very least. We did have to wade through a pool of poo before then, though.

#2 Street Fighter IV

Ahh… my first Street Fighter game!

Street Fighter IV was a huge departure from Street Fighter III when it came to mechanics. I’m guessing the folks at Capcom heard all our newbie cries about how difficult it was to Parry consistently! In its place, they added two new mechanics, the Focus system and the Revenge gauge. The Focus system is split into two parts. The first is the Focus Attack, a unique strike every character has which can absorb 1 hit and, depending on how long you hold down the buttons, will deliver a quick strike or an unblockable powerful hit which crumples your opponent, leading to even more damage!

That’s not all you can do with a Focus Attack, though. You can use a Focus Attack in between a combo and then dash to cancel the Focus Attack. Doing so will execute a Focus Attack Dash Cancel or FADC (because FADC is easier to say?). FADCs are very useful as they can either make a move that’s unsafe safe since you use it to get away from your opponent or extend your already damaging combo to add more pain!

One of my favorite additions to Street Fighter IV was the new Revenge gauge. It only fills up when you take damage but, when it’s filled halfway, you can now execute an Ultra Combo! Of course, you can let it rip when it’s only halfway full but, for more damage, you just gotta wait for it to be completely full! You can tell Capcom knew how hype Ultra Combos were because, in Super Street Fighter IV, you had to pick between 2 of them! Later on, in Ultra Street Fighter IV, you didn’t have to pick! You can have them both active, however, they wouldn’t do too much damage! The choices was yours!

Capcom put a ton of time and effort into making each new Street Fighter IV entry super refined. I love the Focus Attack, FADC and Ultra Combo mechanics as they all had their uses. However, the thing they added that irked me was the inclusion of the Red Focus Attack. This is basically a more powerful version of the standard Focus Attack and can be used in all the same instances. However, it can absorb an infinite number of hits and will crumple an opponent instantly without having to charge it up. I just felt adding the Red Focus Attack mechanic was unnecessary and Capcom just wanted to add something but they couldn’t really think of anything fresh.

#1 Street Fighter Alpha/Zero

When it comes to game mechanics, hoo-boy! Street Fighter Alpha/Zero has a lot to distinguish it from the other Street Fighter games! In fact, sometimes, the mechanics even change in-between other Alpha/Zero games!

Let’s go talk about the thing which did stay consistent first, though. One thing the Alpha/Zero series introduced was air blocking. I will admit this is really cheap as it reduces the risk of jumping in by a bit. It’s also rather inconsistent regarding which attack can break through an air block. Ryu and Ken’s Dragon Punch can smash through it if you do it late enough but Nash’s Flash Kick, no matter when you perform it, will never punch through it. Weird.

Now, the Alpha/Zero games never really stayed consistent when it came to game mechanics. The first game did give up multi-tiered Super Combos, which is excellent in so many ways! It also introduced Chain Combos, which is akin to the target combos of specific characters. In the first Alpha/Zero game, every character had a couple of Chain Combos, some more useful than others. Each character also got a Alpha/Zero counter, useful if you have get an opponent off of you while you’re blocking a string of attacks.

Street Fighter Alpha/Zero 2 kept most of the multi-tiered Super Combos but dropped the Chain Combo system. In its place, Alpha/Zero 2. In its place, Capcom put in the Custom Combo system in. When you activate the Custom Combo, your Super Meter will drain out a timer bar will appear. The good thing about Custom Combos is you can link together any attack together which wouldn’t normally work! In the right hands, a simple Custom Combo can drain a significant amount of your opponent’s lifebar!

We then come to the strangest and my favorite version, Street Fighter Alpha/Zero 3! This added a guard meter to every character. The meter depletes as you block hits and recovers over time. If the guard meter drains out, your character becomes Guard Crushed and will be left open for a split second, allowing your opponent to get in a combo. Afterward getting Guard Crushed, your guard meter also becomes smaller. I love this mechanic as you can’t simply block all the time and have to play some defensive offense to allow your meter to fill up again.

This game introduced the ISM system, wherein you have to choose between different game modes or ISMs. Each ISM has their own strengths and weaknesses. Picking X-ISM gives your character more power but less defense. You also only get one big powerful Super Combo meter. V-ISM does less damage and no Super Combos but allows you to perform Custom Combos. A/Z-ISM is your standard Alpha/Zero 2 mode.

I have the most fun playing the Alpha/Zero games and that’s mostly because of the very unique game mechanics. The best thing about it is how straightforward each mechanic is! The ISM system allows for a lot of flexibility, depending on your playstyle, yet still feels balanced. The variety between the mechanics also helps and gives each entry in the Alpha/Zero series their own unique flavor. It feels like your playing a different version and not just something updated when a new game rolls in.

This is why I think the Alpha/Zero games have the best game mechanics in the Street Fighter series… but that’s just me.


What is your favorite fighting game mechanic? Let me know in the comments section below!


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