Velociraptor's Top Tiers – a look at the strongest characters and styles throughout the history of Street Fighter 4

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • May 25, 2015 at 5:59 p.m. PDT | Comments: 52

It's been six years since Street Fighter 4 dropped in 2009, and we’ve seen no less than five different versions of the game. With Street Fighter 5 on the horizon, we’re sure to see, not necessarily the death, but certainly the end of a major chapter of the SF4 era.

In this article, I'll be looking back at the five iterations of SF4: Vanilla, Super, Arcade Edition, AE2012 and Ultra, analyzing which specific character(s), and style of character was most favored in each and why. Please keep in mind that this analysis is my personal opinion based on my experiences with the community and the game.

As a final note, we very well may have discovered tech after the fact that would make certain characters even better in previous iterations. I’m looking at how the community handled these characters and not necessarily their true potential. So questions like “What if we had fleshed out Akuma’s vortex potential in Vanilla?” don’t really apply. Hit the jump to get started.
Vanilla: The Era of Brawlers

This was where it all started. For those of you who don't know, we use the term "vanilla" to denote the original version of a game. As with the release of any brand new game, the vanilla version is the most prone to overall imbalance.

Developers can only do so much in the way of preparation, but it's not until the players get their hands on the game, and spend countless hours investigating every nook and cranny, that we truly begin to see tier rankings fall into place. There were many "broken" aspects of this game. Characters like Seth could Ultra while one of their projectiles was on screen, Akuma had an infinite combo, and the game's overall damage output was ridiculous.

Many characters were super powered versions of what they are today, but pound for pound, no one was quite as scary as Sagat. Why? Well check this out for starters:

Click for animated version

He was capable of nearly 700 damage in a practical, meter-less combo in a game where some characters had less than 900 health. With this damage output, you could never count Sagat out. You can see the video where that came from on Bafael's YouTube.

Other characters did indeed rival Sagat’s power, but while some characters had most tools, he had all the tools. An invincible uppercut, fireballs, a ridiculous pressure game, damage output, plus above average health.

People did not have the understanding of the game they do now. Tactics such as option selects were much more rare, and vortex strategies had not been fully developed. At this point, the question was “who can hit with the hardest punch?” and Vanilla Sagat was the answer. The strong fireball game Vanilla offered ushered players to play in a style similar to Super Turbo, and we remember who reigned supreme in that game.
Super: The Era of Charge?

Super Street Fighter 4 is probably the hardest of all the SF4’s in which to name a “best” character. Super saw a lot of potential with a lot of different characters.

I know the image for this section shows Honda’s face, and there’s reason for it, but ultimately, I’m not sure the community ever agreed on a definite top character in Super.

Bison, Guile, Balrog and Honda were all incredibly strong. While damage was nerfed in general from Vanilla to Super, characters like those listed above still had means into big damage combos.

Honda had that from a single jab. What’s more, he had a virtually safe, invincible reversal in EX-Headbutt, Hands into Super was a game changer, as it did 480 damage. Honda was rarely caught without meter as Hundred Hand Slap generated plenty when it was blocked.

Characters like Rufus and Cammy were incredibly strong in Super as well. Much of this was because of their dive kick pressure. Cammy’s instant Cannon Strike led to incredibly devastating combos.

Finally, grappler Abel was very strong in Super as well. His new Ultra, Breathless, was incredibly powerful as it could travel through fireballs, be held, started up very quickly, had a hit of armor while traveling and had quick recovery.

There were a lot of front-runners in Super, no one fighter stood out like Sagat did before or the newcomer, Yun, would in the following edition.
Arcade Edition: The Era of Pressure

This version saw the introduction of four new characters: Oni, Evil Ryu, Yun and Yang. Speculations about the twins, Yun and Yang, were that they’d be overpowered, but it’s debatable that anyone truly realized exactly how strong Yun would end up being.

Up for contention as the strongest character in the Street Fighter 4 series, AE Yun is a name people tend to chuckle at because of how powerful he was. His non-height restricted dive kicks allowed for pressure unlike any other character was capable of. His lunge punch allowed him to get in his opponent’s face virtually for free.

Once he began his pressure, Yun had a myriad of options including dive kick, low attacks, grab and 5-frame, throw invincible command grab, all of which led into a full combo. What’s more, Yun’s combos HURT.

Constant pressure quickly led to a full Super meter, which meant the next successful touch by Yun would lead to Genei Jin. This Super combo allowed Yun to carry his victim to the corner from anywhere while doing insane amounts of damage.

An honorable mention has to go to AE Fei Long. Fei was a power house in his own right, and was the character that ended up winning EVO during the AE era. With correct spacing, Fei could do two Rekkas and remain safe in Arcade Edition.

He was able to easily combo into his sweep, which would lead into a vortex, and unblockables on certain characters. His EX-Tenshin could be almost instantly canceled into for some ridiculous mix ups.

Certainly there were other viable characters in Arcade Edition. C. Viper was nasty and Akuma could never be counted out. Still, Yun's combination of damage, mobility and advantage made him a clear cut winner in this version.
Arcade Edition Version 2012: The Era of Vortex

This was the era of the vortex. The game evolved from being played with strong pressure to scoring a knock down and never letting your opponent back up. This process is known as a vortex. While there were multiple vortex-based characters, no one shined quite as brightly as Akuma.

Akuma’s low health may have been a deterrent at first, but truly, he could have had even less and still been just as scary. The reason for this was Akuma’s potential for damage without rebuttal. One knock down and he had upwards of eight different ways of going about attacking on his opponent’s wake up. If any of these attacks were successful, he scored big damage and another knock down thus restarting the process.

Factor in option selects and it was almost like playing rock paper scissors against an opponent who got two chances to your one. Furthermore, he could run away with his teleport, keep you away with his air fireballs and cancel his three frame uppercut after its third hit.

Other characters, like Cammy or Ibuki, could create strong vortexes, but not to the level of effectiveness to which Akuma could. I give the title of second best to Seth, who, worked in much the same way as Akuma. The difference was that Seth had to take a few more risks in his offense than did Akuma.
Ultra: The Era of Burst Damage

It used to be that the knock down was the cornerstone of offense. Delayed wake up meant a decent nerf to the overpowered vortex of 2012. This mechanic did not do away with the vortex, but certainly gave more options to the defender. Ultra also saw the inclusion of Red Focus, which has seen most of its use as a combo extender.

While knocking down is still good for obvious reasons, it’s now best to get your damage before your opponent has a chance to wake up uppercut or delay their wake up and throw off your attack timing. If you can score big damage from a poke, you’re amongst the strongest in Ultra. This is why I give the title of best character to Evil Ryu.

Evil Ryu is not fancy by any means. His goal is simple: hit you with a poke and deal 300-400 damage, rinse and repeat. His low forward into fireball is a true block string, meaning players have plenty of time to confirm a hit. The combos that follow not only hurt, but carry you right to the corner where your options for defense are limited.

Of the cast, no one has such a reliable poke that leads into such great damage so easily. Add in some other great tools like a three-frame, invincible uppercut, an Ultra that does 501 damage and an instant Super that can be kara’d from a ridiculous distance and you have your strongest character.

As for honorable mentions, Ken, Akuma, Yun and Cammy can all the get the job done in a similar fashion, but just don’t do it quite as well as Evil Ryu. The game also still kind of lends itself to certain vortexes, so Seth and Ibuki can still be somewhat scary.
I know there are plenty of strong characters that I haven’t mentioned that some of you may or may not feel deserve more spotlight. So which characters do you feel are the best in each version? Let us know in the comments below.
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