Between fruitlessly trying to teach myself how to play Street Fighter III and following the Soulcalibur V and Street Fighter X Tekken news coming out of TGS, I’ve had fighting games on the brain lately. And, somewhat inspired by Capcom’s surprise announcement that they’ll be releasing past Street Fighter soundtracks to use in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online, I thought it would be a good time to serve up a selection of my favorite fighting game themes. Following Paul’s lead from our last installment, let’s kick it off with one of the great classics:
“Ryu Stage” – Yoko Shimomura (Street Fighter II)
At the height of their popularity in the 90s, fighting game characters would each have their own unique stage, and along with it, their own theme song that represented their background and personality. If you’re an arcade veteran, hearing any of those themes is sure to drum up powerful emotions on both ends of the spectrum—whether it’s because you spent hours perfecting moves with your first “main,” or because you had to hear the song endlessly since it belonged to that one rival that always shut you down. No matter which way you think of him, Street Fighter’s Ryu has one of the most memorable themes of any fighter, from the adrenaline-pumping bassline to the synth melody that’s always sounded strangely wistful to me—perfect for Ryu’s melodramatic, neverending search for new battles.
“São Paulo” – Hideki Okugawa/Yuki Iwai (Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact)
All the arcades I’ve been to seemed to only have either Street Fighter III: New Generation or 3rd Strike, so I’ve never actually played 2nd Impact, the middle game in the trilogy. But, that hasn’t stopped me from logging some serious hours with the soundtrack, which originally got my attention because it was so weird—a blend of jazz, drum and bass, and even some Brazilian samba. It’s definitely not your typical fighting game music. This track comes from Sean’s stage in Brazil, and a variation of it plays during the bonus stage when he helps you practice parrying.
“Stormy Saxophone 2” – SNK Sound Team (The King of Fighters ’96)
SNK was dropping jazz influence into its King of Fighters soundtracks long before Street Fighter III got the idea. This is probably the most memorable song to me out of the series’s nearly 20-year run. It’s Iori’s theme, and I always like to imagine it’s actually him playing the saxophone. It seems like kind of an antiheroic thing to do on his days off.
“Vanity Paradise” – Takayuki Iwai (Vampire Savior)
This one’s just silly, but I still love it. The third entry in the Darkstalkers/Vampire series went full-on dance/electronica for most of its soundtrack, so it’s just natural that Hsien-ko, the Chinese ghost, would have this Asianized dance track playing in her idyllic garden stage.
“Keep Yourself Alive II” – Daisuke Ishiwatari (Guilty Gear XX)
Gratuitous Queen reference! From the inimitable Daisuke Ishiwatari, who basically made Guilty Gear all by himself.
“Wings of Despair” – Keiki Kobayashi (Soulcalibur III)
“Twilight Dwellers” – Keiki Kobayashi (Soulcalibur IV)
It’s always fun to hear a different take on a favorite song—it might be a cover that casts it in a completely different light, or it could just do enough things differently to give you new appreciation of the original. In this case, Keiki Kobayashi took one of Soulcalibur III‘s songs—a solid track, although admittedly not one of my favorites at the time—and reworked it for the sequel. The result comes off as more majestic and less frantic, with a deliberate, dramatic opening that gives way to an anthemic rendition of the original. It’s an excellent accompaniment to the stage itself, which has you dueling on a raft traveling down a castle’s moonlit moat.
“M. Bison Stage” – Yuzo Koshiro (Street Fighter Tribute Album)
And speaking of alternate versions, I’ll wrap up with one of the best. This is Balrog’s (M. Bison in Japan) stage, remixed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro for this album made to celebrate Street Fighter’s 15 anniversary. To me, Yuzo Koshiro is synonymous with ActRaiser‘s orchestral soundtrack, so it always puts a huge grin on my face knowing that he’s capable of something like this.
What’s your song of choice to have playing as you land that sneaky surprise attack at the start of the round? Let us know in the comments!