Back in the early 90s, you couldn’t walk by an arcade without hearing that intro theme music to Street Fighter II. Street Fighter II was revolutionary for a number of reasons. It became the blueprint that every 2D fighting game has followed ever since. It introduced a new layer of video game controls and complexity. It had what would become some of the most iconic sounds in all of video games (hadoken!). What it doesn’t get as much credit for is that it was one of the first games to introduce a new level of complexity in music while being as catchy and timeless as any of the best video game soundtracks ever.
Game music composer Isao Abe really knocked it out of the park with this one. Game music in the late 8-bit/early 16-bit era was still very sparse. The melodies were great, but technology limited composers to how complex their music could be in terms of the number of instruments a composer could use, the types of sounds available and the number of notes that could be played at once.
However, Street Fighter II was running on the beefy Capcom CPS-1 board, which allowed for the music to be more complex. The very first song I remember striking me as something I’d never heard before in a video game was Dhalsim’s theme. The music no longer was a series of beeps and bloops; it sounded like East Indian music. Through the excellent use of more advanced instruments and expert composition, Isao Abe was really able to capture the international feel of the game. When you went to E. Honda’s stage, that music clearly conveyed the fact that you were brawling in a Japanese bath house.
Besides fitting the locations, the music fit the action on the screen. If the Guile theme song doesn’t get you pumped to Sonic Boom your opponent in the chest (or something else), I don’t know what will. The theme that always got me going was Ryu’s theme song, which was absolutely classic. It was the perfect music for a Ryu vs. Ken showdown.
Maybe the most impressive aspect of the music was that in spite of it’s complexities, it was catchy as hell. Every kid who played video games in the early 90s can still hum all of those themes by heart right now. Even now, Capcom goes back to those original themes and reworking them for new games, including Super Street Fighter IV, because those original compositions still stand as iconic and amazing.
If you’re hardcore enough to read my blog, odds are I don’t need to introduce these tracks to you. However, feel free to sample some choice cuts from the Street Fighter II soundtrack below:
There are also no shortage of fan-made remixes on YouTube and OCRemix. In fact, the OCRemix community did all the music for Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Check those out for different interpretations of these classics.