Yoshinori Ono is more than the Blanka-toting, smiling face of the Street Fighter series – he's its savior. After Street Fighter III: Third Strike in 1999, Capcom was all too happy to abandon the series, which had seen flagging sales. And Ono always felt responsible for having some hand in its demise, having worked on the last game in the series.
He held onto that guilt for years, and after being promoted to the role of producer, pitched a design document for Street Fighter IV. "I was working on Onimusha 4 and during that time I repeatedly submitted my proposal for a new Street Fighter," he told Eurogamer. "The company kept telling me: 'It's a dead franchise. It doesn't make any money. We have series that make money like Resident Evil and Onimusha. Why bother with a dead franchise?'"
"Eventually I was given a small budget to create a prototype," Ono revealed. But it wasn't a result of his "pestering" the management that eventually brought the game to fruition – the journalists and fans "started making a lot of noise and pressuring Capcom," even though Ono admitted he told them to do that. "Journalists and fans have the power to move Capcom - not producers. With so many voices crying out for a Street Fighter game Capcom could no longer ignore it any more and so they gave the green light for a prototype and they asked me to create it. It's a miracle that happened after a decade..."
But as romantic as all of this is, Ono's account of work-life at Capcom is anything but. After taking a step back from the Street Fighter spotlight following a health scare, Ono spoke candidly about his employer – one he accuses of overworking him and failing to recognize his health woes related to overworking.
"Nobody told me to take a rest. When I returned to work, Capcom didn't even acknowledge that I had been in hospital. There was no change in my schedule. I was at home for an entire week before the doctors allowed me to return to work. When I returned to my desk there was a ticket to Rome waiting for me. There's no mercy. Everyone in the company says: 'Ono-san we've been so worried about you.' Then they hand me a timetable and it's completely filled with things to do."
Ono recalled a previous project in his first days at Capcom, when he had a short timetable to retrofit the soundtrack for Street Fighter Alpha to be compatible with a less advanced arcade chipset. "Capcom was very good at squeezing people to the last drop of their blood to get work done."
In regards to what's next, Ono isn't talking – but there's no way he'll leave fighting games behind. "There have been rumours saying Ono is dead or retiring. None of that's true. I want to support the next generation of fighting game. It's my job. It's my calling."