You need to be a fan of a specific type of video game to know who Yoshinori Ono is, but he’s a legend to those who recognise the name. For more than thirty years, he was the beating heart of every single fighting game made by Capcom. Most importantly of all, he’s the man who pushed the Street Fighter franchise to the moon. A video game world without Street Fighter scarcely bears thinking about. Street Fighter II was one of the games that took the hobby from a niche interest into the mainstream when it was released in 1991, and for that, we should all be grateful.
Under Ono’s guidance, Street Fighter went from being “just another video game” to a global brand. The fifth linear version of the game is still popular with players now despite a somewhat shaky release in 2016. The enduring appeal of the second version of the game is such that it’s even a hit at casinos. Should you log into the top casinos on sistersite.co.uk or another casino review website like it, you’ll likely see the official Street Fighter II slot listed as one of its most popular attractions. Whether it’s action figures, movies, animated television series or online slots, Street Fighter is a massively marketable brand. In theory, its success ought to have guaranteed Ono a job at Capcom for life.
If you’ve been following his story for the past few years, you’ll know that Ono isn’t at Capcom anymore. In August 2020, he announced that he was leaving the company for reasons that weren’t made explicitly clear. At the time, there were rumours that he and the company had a major falling out over plans for Street Fighter VI. Insiders said that Ono wanted the game released in 2021 and also wanted to take the franchise in a direction that the company wasn’t interested in. Ono, a company man, didn’t allude to that in his resignation statement. He merely said that he was proud of everything that he’d achieved, and he felt the need to take a break from the FGC (fighting game community) for a while. While he didn’t say that he was considering retiring from the professional as a whole, the tone of the statement was such that nobody expected to hear from him for quite some time.
Based on the news that we’ve heard this week, it sounds like Ono either got bored of being at home with nothing to do or decided that retirement isn’t for him. Less than a year after his glittering Capcom career came to an end, Ono is back in the video game business – and in a very senior role. According to a press release that was issued on April 27th, Yoshinori Ono is now the president and Chief Operating Officer of the Delightworks game studio. The company doesn’t have the profile of Capcom – few companies do – but you may be familiar with some of their products. They’re best known for Fate/Grand Order, a mobile-based RPG game with more than thirty million active players worldwide. As COO, Ono will presumably have some input over the future of that game. There’s a more interesting Delightworks title on the horizon, though, and it seems that as well as not really needing a break from the industry, Ono doesn’t actually feel like he needs a break from fighting games either.
In the near future, Delightworks will release a strangely-named fighting game with the title Melty Blood: Type Lumina. It’s been on the upcoming release schedule for a while, but the addition of Ono to the company will bring additional focus to the game. The title isn’t catchy, and it doesn’t look likely to be a blockbuster release, but there will now be a new spotlight on it because it will be the first fighting game associated with Ono since he departed Capcom. Nobody knows whether the game is too far along in its development for Ono to have input on its design before its released, but it would make sense for Delightworks to consult the world’s best-known fighting video game designer before publishing it. Ono said in his Capcom departure statement that he looked forward to returning to the FGC “when he got the chance.” That chance has arrived far earlier than most people expected it to.
Ono’s role might be a little less hands-on than the one he left last year. He worked in senior roles at Capcom, but he’s never held a role as senior as COO before. The company says his role will be to manage the company with a view to introducing a more “multifaceted” approach. In real terms, that might mean an attempt to move away from being mobile-exclusive and start making video games for consoles. For all the money there is to be made in mobile gaming – which is a lot – there’s still more to be made with ‘regular’ video games. Now that Delightworks has established its reputation, the company’s senior figures might believe that now is the right time to branch out.
It would be wrong to say that Ono’s career has been all about fighting games. He was also a senior figure in the development of smash hits like Dino Crisis 2 and Devil May Cry. He’s got a wealth of experience and a long track record of success. However, he isn’t perfect. We’ve already alluded to the fact that Street Fighter V was poorly received on its release because it was felt to be in an unfinished state when it first reached stores. The blame for that was laid at Ono’s feet. We also don’t know what issues – if any – developed between Capcom and Ono regarding Street Fighter VI. If there was a debate about direction and quality, it might be that Ono was wrong and Capcom was right. Like a sports team bringing in a player who was world-class ten years ago but might now be past their best, Delightworks is taking a risk by bringing in a gaming giant whose peak might have come and gone years ago. On the other hand, Ono will want to prove that he can be a success outside the confines of Capcom. This should be a fascinating move to watch, and we’re interested to see how it plays out.