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One unbeatable Street Fighter 2 Zangief expert was the reason the character ended up weak for so long

Capcom's best players couldn't even beat him

Posted by Steven 'Dreamking23' Chavez • July 23, 2020 at 11:32 a.m. PDT • Comments: 44

Zangief has traditionally been known as a "specialist" character throughout the course of Street Fighter's 30-year history. A tough character to play, the Russian wrestler often finds most of his success when piloted by a hardcore, devoted competitor who has put in countless hours to learn every technique and match up.

Back in the Street Fighter 2 series, Zangief was mostly considered low on the tier list for a good portion of his life across the various versions — but it didn't start out this way. In fact, the grappler was actually incredibly strong at first, but one player would be the cause of Gief's heavy nerfs and forever cement him as a specialist-type character.

Game designer Yoshiki Okamoto recently published a video in which he shared some insider information about Street Fighter 2 from back when he used to work on the series. Outside of finally revealing the answer to the age-old question: Who is stronger, Ryu or Ken? Okamoto also delved into some interesting tales about other characters.

When talking about Zangief, Okamoto explained that the character was very powerful at first, but a "Zangief expert" who played at a local arcade would cause Capcom to reconsider the fighter's strength.

"There's an arcade called Chateau EX in Kyobashi," Okamoto started. "There was a player known as the 'Zangief expert.' We had a location test there."

Okamoto notes that location tests — where a build of a game is put into a public place to see how it holds up with the masses — were used to check how the game would perform in an arcade setting. Though he says that location tests are often used to gauge whether a game will be a hit or not, Capcom knew that the Street Fighter 2 series would be, so these tests were mainly used to help better balance the fighters.

"Regardless of how much we balanced Zangief in-house, this one Zangief expert would win all the time," Okamoto said.

Capcom would send employees out to these location tests to take notes on how characters were faring against one another. The calls back to HQ reported that Zangief was strong, explaining that one Zangief player had won 85 times in a row at one point.

Gief's incredible strength made arcade-goers afraid to take him on, and naturally, this meant that Capcom had to continue to tweak him until he was at a regulated point.

As a means to put a stop to these reports, Capcom sent three of their own strongest players to the location test to defeat this unstoppable Zangief expert. It didn't end well, however, as Okamoto says that they received calls from these staffers saying, "We're getting our butts kicked."

"Regardless of how much we balanced Zangief in-house, this one Zangief expert would win all the time,"
— Yoshiki Okamoto.

It was at this point that Okamoto was determined to end the reign of terror. That following day, Zangief was adjusted to be less of a threat, and this continued on for several days until he was no longer winning as much.

What fans got as a result when the game shipped was a version of Zangief that they considered weak. "We had actually adjusted him fairly, but players felt it was an unfair balance," Okamoto recalls.

While you might be thinking that we're just assuming Zangief was nerfed heavily because of this one single player, it's actually more concrete than that. Okamoto flat out says that the Zangief expert is the reason the character ended up being adjusted and considered weak for so long.

"Assuming that player is watching this now... It's your fault Zangief became weaker," Okamoto exclaimed. "But thanks to you, he has become a specialist character throughout the series."

In the past, we've heard rumors that some characters were toned down heavily before launch because an employee at the Capcom offices was beating all of their peers. While in this case it wasn't an employee who ultimately altered the fate of a fighter, it is amazing to learn that a single strong competitor managed to set the 30-year course for one of the most popular world warriors, and essentially influenced the creation of the "specialist" fighting game character archetype that we'd see time and time again.

Zangief wasn't considered low tier for every iteration of Street Fighter 2, despite the alterations. He was actually a powerful contender in the third iteration of the game, Street Fighter II Turbo, and would ultimately end up being not only viable in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix, but would see another Zangief expert — Darryl "Snake Eyez" Lewis — grab the gold at EVO 2010 after defeating a laundry list of Street Fighter 2 legends.

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