The Rhythm of Street Fighter II

This was sent to us a couple of weeks ago. We have had a lot of changes around here recently and I didn’t have a chance to read this until now. This is a very good article and I (Eric Lee Lewis) felt compelled to post this. Thanks to anxietyofninfluence for this amazing article. 

Hey, Empty Wallet Gamer! I recently put together some thoughts on fighting game combos. I’m no professional writer or anything, and I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you’d want to publish anyway, but I thought I’d submit it and see what happened. Cheers, and keep up the good work!

As most of you know, Street Fighter II popularized a certain brand of fighting game combos. In a basic Street Fighter II combo, you start out with some light attacks, throw in a medium attack or two, and finish off with a strong attack. In a successful combo, these moves are performed in succession, one after another, without break.

Here, Ryu attempts to perform a one-hit combo on Ken.

This idea strikes me as particularly musical. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’d say it resembles a melody built with the diatonic scale.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing essentially musical about an SFII combo. However, they both share similar pacing: they both start out small and gradually build up to a finish. The comparison is interesting to consider.

In a song, the tonic provides the basis for what you hear. A song’s key is named after its tonic; for instance, if a song’s key is C Major, it will use C as its tonic. The tonic sets the tone.

The tonic of a Street Fighter II combo is your light attack. Your light attacks start a combo and are the easiest hits to string together. That’s because they’re fast and don’t knock the enemy far back. Because they fill out so much of the combo and set the groundwork for all of your other moves, they make a nice tonic.

A song’s dominant, on the other hand, creates instability in response to a tonic. It’s normally used for the crescendo of a melody, providing the most exciting or satisfying moment.

In an SFII combo, the dominant is your strong attack. This is the height of your combo, the finisher, the real damage-causer. In the same sense that a tonic leads to a dominant, the light attacks build up to a strong attack.

Now, the diatonic scale contains more notes than just the tonic and dominant. Similarly, SFII contains medium attacks. Any good melody contains more than just a tonic and a dominant, and any good combo will make use of medium hits between the weak and strong ones.

Street Fighter II’s special attacks are often used as bridges; they can be useful in stringing together combos in the way that bridges string together different portions of a song.

The elegance of a thoroughly-considered and well-performed combo can be musical in its own right, I’d say. Well, maybe that’s going a bit far. But music and combos do share the same basic sense of pacing, at any rate.