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« A brief history of Arika and its fighters by Josh "funkdoc" Ballard, part 2 »

Part 2: Street Fighter EX2 Plus

As with the original EX, "Plus" is the later revision; the original version is just called EX2.  The first version came out in 1998 with the following year bringing us EX2+. Western audiences had largely moved on from Street Fighter by this point, and EX's trademark ugly graphics didn't help its cause. That's especially apparent when you compare it to 3-D contemporaries like Virtua Fighter III & Tekken III. It's much less well-remembered by casual gamers than the first EX, but has become the most enduring EX game in the competitive scene. Old-school havens like a-cho and Next Level still run regular events for it!

EX2+ has a much larger cast of characters than EX+, including some more classic favorites like Sagat. It also removed many EX1 characters like Akuma and Blair. The original version of EX2 had removed even more EX1 characters before they returned in EX2+.

EX2 kept the unique subsystems from the first game while adding the ability to cancel special & super moves into Guard Breaks. EX2+ gave everyone a Level 3 super—officially called Meteor Combo—as only a couple characters had one before.

The key addition to EX2 that gives it so much life even today is the Excel Combo. Excels are another version of Custom Combos, which were all the rage with Capcom at that time. This particular take is closer to Capcom vs. SNK 2's A-Groove than the Alpha series' Custom Combos; Excels have similar startup invincibility and allow you to move around freely. You can even block during Excels! Much like in CvS2, you always have to beware the random Excel activation during footsies.

Where Excels stand out is that they only cost one bar of meter. Their damage potential as anti-air is huge thanks to the EX series' esoteric juggle system. Whenever you hit someone out of the air, they have a period of "air hitstun" where you can follow up with more moves. Once this "hitstun" runs out the enemy cannot be hit out of the air anymore. It's easiest to think of it like an anime fighter, except the combo just ends at the point where you could air tech.

If you see someone jump, you can easily Excel on reaction with a standing jab chain into a move that knocks down (to make future juggling less awkward) and continue the combo from there. If you end the Excel with a jab, you can often link a couple more normals into another Excel! There is a bit of a cooldown period after an Excel ends before you can activate another one, which makes these loops tricky.

The most unique element of Excels is their approach to damage scaling. Using the same move more than once during the Excel reduces its damage, so the system rewards variety in your combos. It's an interesting precursor to ideas like Skullgirls' infinite prevention.

Though a universal mechanic, Excels tend to benefit zoning characters the most. In EX1 you generally couldn't convert anti-air into 30-plus-percent combos or mixups on knockdown, but now you can get both! Excels are also a strong reversal option that's safe on block—they're only vulnerable to an Excel activation from your opponent. EX2+ has the best character balance of any game in the series as a result.

High-level play is much more varied than in the original EX even with Excels dominating the game. You'll see rushdown, projectile zoning, okizeme, other mixups, footsies and some good characters who combine a bunch of these elements. The general ground game is somewhat like CvS2's thanks to Excels, but EX's slower normals and unusual character designs mean you won't see anything nearly as defensive as Justin Wong vs. Steve H.

EX2+ added far more characters to the roster than EX+ did, though it strangely removed one of the new characters in EX2 (Hayate). The PlayStation port of EX2+ added Hayate back in along with the Expert Mode from the first game. This version also has Maniac Mode, which is Expert Mode turned up to 11: only one mission for each character, but most are worthy of combo videos! The game even includes replays showing a solution for each Maniac mission.

Strong Characters: Area, Doctrine Dark, Vulcano Rosso

Area is exactly the sort of character Excels are made for. She has a couple moves that send her mechanical arm at the opponent, and you can stop its travel at any time. This makes for tremendous space control but she naturally has terrible anti-air and damage potential without the arm. With Excels she becomes a terror as long as she has one bar; opponents are often forced to eat the chip damage and frame advantage from her arm. Her jumping down+HP is a highly ambiguous crossup as well.

Apollo showing Area’s stuff at 2 Old 2 Furious.

Doctrine Dark is the sort of hybrid character I was referring to earlier. He has an interesting long-range game between his explosive and his two wire moves, and he can convert the wires into a lot of damage thanks to Excels and his "vortex." By ending juggles with a forward-jumping HP, he can plant an explosive on the opponent then jump over them with varied timing. If it lands you can combo into wire then repeat the mixup. When the opponent has no meter he can also pressure with repeated cr.MK -> explosive strings. He is another one of the characters who benefits most from Excels since they cover his core weakness (fast, reactive anti-air).  

D. Dark going on a nice little winning streak at a-cho.

Rosso is the game's definitive rushdown/mixup character. He is amazing at converting Excels into big damage after they run out, as he can combo into his MP projectile then link off of it. He can plant projectiles over downed opponents then command dash through them as they get up, creating an Arc System Works-style okizeme game. He also has a practical infinite combo vs certain characters (mostly big bodies with a couple odd exceptions). Here’s some Japanese footage from a 26-win streak with him:

Other characters (e.g. Dhalsim) are worth mentioning as well. I want to keep this at a reasonable length, but this merely scratches the surface. There are plenty of good characters to choose from here!

Final Verdict: The vast majority of players consider EX2+ to be Arika’s peak among these games, and it's easy to see why: good character balance and variety in play styles make for a game with real staying power. If you hate custom combos, however, this game will likely leave you a bit cold. That's why my favorite EX game isn't this one, but another which we'll discuss later!

Josh Ballard is a longtime veteran of competitive games, ranging from speedruns to the card game Dominion. The fighting game scene was his first love, and he remains a fan of old & obscure fighters. You can find his Twitch stream at, and follow him on Twitter @SRKfunkdoc.


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