Few developers have a history with a series like Yoshinori Ono. A fan of the series from the first time he played it, Ono joined Capcom to work on the sound of the Street Fighter games in the late '90s. Nearly 20 years later, he plays a major role in deciding the direction of each new game in the biggest fighting game franchise in the industry.

I recently sat down with Ono to discuss his career with the Street Fighter franchise and the decisions that have shaped Street Fighter V.

What was the game that made you fall in love with Street Fighter?
Really, I fell in love with and was super excited with Street Fighter I. I started playing that game before I even joined the company. I was in the arcade just banging the buttons super hard. It was just this super thrill like, "What is this game? What is this sense of excitement? What is this stimulus that I’m getting? This is really something special." That’s when I actually came and joined the company. I brought that level of excitement! I had this love for the title, but when I joined the company, it was actually like, "Wow, I feel extremely honored to actually be a part of Street Fighter. This is amazing!" With that feeling – that level of excitement, I felt that I wanted to continue to work on this title for the rest of my life. And here I am after 20 years! 

I came in working on sound. At the time people were working on the music, designers, producers… people working on different things were mixing in the same room. We even had Nishitani-san, the director of Street Fighter II, and a really famous artist Akira Yasuda – ‘Akiman’ is his pen name – and we were all sitting there and working together, and I had the opportunity to sit down and see how they approached the game and how they approached actually creating this game and developing the game. I was really blessed to be able to be in that kind of an environment. That’s what really got my juices going and really fueled my passion. I feel kind of bad for some of the new people because at the time we were a really small team and we were really tight-knit, so I was able to interact with these people on a really high level. We probably had something like a 30-man team working back then, but now it’s like 100 people, so I don’t really have the opportunity that the producers had back then to work with the younger crowd because we’re just so separated. Now it just feels like I’m just getting a ton of reports from other people.

For me, it was Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 3 that pulled me into the series. I poured so many hours into those games.
Actually, looking at Alpha 3, it’s kind of similar to Street Fighter IV today where there’s lots of characters. It didn’t have 44 characters like we do today, but it did have a ton of characters. At the time, that was something that we had never done before. Having been involved with development, I have a lot of painful memories of working on that title, but looking back on it that title did something that was really totally new and never seen before. It’s really quite amazing.

Before we talk about Street Fighter V, I wanted to get into your reinvention of the series through Street Fighter IV. What did you want to accomplish with Street Fighter IV and how did you push the team to achieve those goals?
I worked with the Street Fighter brand for quite some time before working on Street Fighter IV. Looking at Street Fighter III, it’s very well-known that it’s a master class title, it’s a masterpiece in and of itself, but the game got to a point where it was so high level that only masters could really play each other. You had to be an expert to be able to even have a chance at playing that game after a certain point. At the time it was kind of this interesting relationship between the development team and the actual players. 

It was almost like there was a ‘versus’ situation happening between the devs and the players because it was like, "How can I make a game where these people can’t possibly be able to actually play properly? How do I make it harder for these guys that are already at a very high level? How do I make the game even harder for them to play?" It kept getting to that point, and it was just like this crazy thing where I’m trying to make a game that’s too hard for anyone to play. I looked at that and I went, "Okay, this is no good. We can’t do that. This is kind of a problem."

The reason that I felt that way was because games are supposed to be something that you enjoy and have fun between lots and lots of people. That’s a very basic thing. That’s what a game is supposed to be. So when they said Street Fighter III is done and that the Street Fighter brand was done because that was the absolute highest level, that did not sit well with me because games are supposed to be fun and it’s supposed to be played by a lot of people. I wanted to give that feeling where you come back and it’s like you’re playing Street Fighter II on the SNES, so when I came on-board and I talked to the team and I said that we’re making Street Fighter IV, everyone on the dev team was giving me all these proposals that were trying to go beyond Street Fighter III again! It was like, "Oh no, guys. Don’t do that please! Here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to use today’s technology and make Street Fighter II."

We ended up going in that direction, and it really payed off because we were able to bring back a lot of the old timers that were playing Street Fighter II who remembered the game and thought it was an awesome game. At the same time, we also started at a more basic level in the game, and that ended up inviting a lot of new players. Because of that title, we very successfully started with a pretty sizable community.

On the next page, we talk about how Ono's vision for Street Fighter IV influenced Street Fighter V.