Oozing up from the depths of the VGJunk archives, it's the return of the Fighters of the World series, where I take a look at some of the fighting game characters that hail from a particular country to see what common threads and lazy ethnic stereotypes bind them together. Today it's the turn of Germany, so some of these themes may be a bit... delicate. Not all of them, though, so let's get into it wth the first contender.
Von Kaiser, Punch-Out!!
Punch-Out is always a good place to start these articles, because as I've mentioned many times before the game's characters are almost all solely defined by hyper-exaggerated national clichés. Also, because it came out before Street Fighter II - a game that surely helped crystallise the notions of what kind of fighters each country produces, from Brazilian beastmen to Indian mystics - you perhaps get a look at what kind of fighters could have been offered up if it wasn't for Capcom's arcade monolith. In Von Kaiser's case, however, we're immediately presented with the strongest running theme of all in the ranks of the German fighters, and that's militarism.
It's played up much more in the Wii reboot, but Von Kaiser's always been a military man. Unusually, he's aesthetically more akin to someone from the First rather than the Second World War, as denoted by his giant moustache. Most Nazis didn't have moustaches, except, you know, that one. His dialogue from the Wii game also mentions German precision, so that's another German stereotype right off the bat. The "German efficiency" thing is a factor in some of these characters, but not as many as you might expect given that it's a quality of "German-ness" that can be evoked in a character much less controversially than the whole "war" thing. I reckon that's probably because it was assumed that cold and calculating fighting game characters weren't going to sell games, especially during the fighting game boom of over-the-top, in-your-face and occasionally legally dubious SFII clones.
Did I mention that he's called Von Kaiser, by the way? Because as German-sounding names that a German person would never have go, it's a pretty good one. I don't have confirmation that "Von" isn't actually his first name, but in my heart I believe that his first name is actually Otto or Fritz or something, just to really hammer the point home.
Hugo Andore, Street Fighter
On to the Street Fighter series itself now, by way of Final Fight, with Hugo Andore. Moving from Germany to Metro City as a young man, Hugo's entire family joined the Mad Gear gang because the family that terrorises innocents and kidnaps women together stays together. Hugo is also a professional wrestler, which should come as no surprise when you realise he's based on Andre the Giant, although that does make it a bit odd that he's German as Andre the Giant was French. I think this is the power of the stereotypes coming through: French fighters are almost always lithe, graceful types, which Hugo most definitely is not.
Hugo went on to appear in Street Fighter III, where he continued to be extremely large but with a new face that resembles a half-melted Halloween mask of his old face. He also really likes potatoes, but I don't think that's a German thing. In fact, Hugo is one of the least typically "German" (in the videogame character sense) of all the fighters included here.
Rolento, Street Fighter
Another Street Fighter character who started out in Final Fight, Rolento takes us right back into the category of military Germans even if he does look like he's dressed for a commando raid on a banana farm. Rolento is apparently only of German heritage, having been born in the USA, but that's good enough for me. Like Hugo, old grenade-nipples here graduated from the Metro City school of being pummelled by vigilantes, and a few too many mayoral piledrivers gave him the bright idea of creating a utopian nation built around being in the army. Makes sense to me, if you ask any squaddie what being in the army is like they'll tell your it's a veritable Elysian garden of delights. Rolento really likes armies, always trying to drum up recruits for what will assuredly be a paradise on Earth so long as you like cold showers, five AM wake-up calls and long walks on the beach (in full combat gear). Alright, maybe I'm being a bit harsh on Rolento's plans: he does refuse to use M. Bison's brainwashing machine in Street Fighter Alpha 3, realising that no country can be a utopia if the citizens don't possess free will. When you stack him up against the villains of the Street Fighter series, that makes Rolento seem like a goddamn saint, although the next character might disagree with that appraisal.
Doctrine Dark, Street Fighter EX
Doctrine Dark: military code-name or astonishingly cruel parents? We may never know, because Doctrine's mind has completely snapped, just in case you thought the guy in the gas mask with the mad, staring eyes was a well-balanced individual. Doctrine's condition is down to Rolento, who once upon a time was leading a rival unit of troops to Doctrine's. The two groups go into a playful scuffle which soon descended into an all-out battle to the death. In perhaps the ultimate example of "it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt," Doctrine is left with terrible injuries that force him to dress like a scuba diver for the rest of his life. He doesn't blame these injuries on Rolento so much as he does on Guile, who he thinks should have trained him better. That's a bit of a let off for Rolento, frankly.
So, another soldier, but a much more modern one - in videogames, Germans are militaristic no matter the time period, it seems. Doctrine's definitely not one for efficiency, mind you. Engaging troops that are on your side in combat rates pretty low on the efficiency-o-meter.
Victor von Gerdenheim, Darkstalkers
One minor trend amongst German fighters (and for a horror fan such as myself, a much more welcome sight) is the Frankenstein's monster. I mean, it's possible that bits of him came from soldiers but that's not his main thing. German in the sense that it's his place of manufacture rather than the country of his birth, Victor was - like the monster in the original novel - put together by a mad scientist in Germany, the classic "reanimated corpse jigsaw" look given a fresh new twist via the creative excess of Japanese arcade character design. As such he's most like Hugo on the character front: strong, not too smart and not really evil, per se. It would be pure conjecture on my part to say that some Frankensteinian visual elements seeped into Hugo's SFIII redesign, intentionally or not, but his head does look like something you'd dig out of a gravesite.
Back to Victor, and as well as having the electrical powers that Frankensteins sometimes do in videogames, he can also stretch and expand his limbs when he attacks. Keep this in mind, because it's going to come up again.
Marco, Kaiser Knuckle
Marco is the star of Taito's arcade fighter Kaiser Knuckle, or he's the star to me, anyway. He's a strangely loveable off-brand Frankenstein with a head swathed in bandages, presumably for the well-being of anyone who might otherwise get a look at his face, and shoes that have burst open to reveal his toes as though he were a cartoon hobo. There are few surprises about his fighting style, with lots of powerful strikes and grapples that use his size to his advantage, but Marco can also do this:
As well as being utterly revolting and terribly unhygienic, this move shows that, like Victor, Marco can stretch his limbs to attack. At first I thought this might have been a case of Taito going a bit too hard on the homage after playing Darkstalkers, but apparently both Kaiser Knuckle and the first Darkstalkers were released in July of 1994. That doesn't leave any time for "inspiration" to pass between the games, so we must assume that two different companies coincidentally released fighting games featuring stretchy-armed German Frankensteins in the same month. I have a theory, however - elongating limbs are not a marks of a monster but are, in fact, a deeply German trait.
Helmut, Street Combat
I assume Helmut is supposed to be German, anyway. His name is Helmut and his head is shaped like German soldier's, erm, helmet, so I think it's a fair assumption to make. Helmut wasn't always a somewhat Nazi-looking cyborg, because Street Combat is actually the Super Famicom anime tie-in game Ranma 1/2: Chunai Gekitouhen only with all the sprites edited into completely different characters that don't require a licensing fee to use. Helmut was originally a skateboard-riding beach bum / high-school principal. Did whoever reworked the sprites have a special chart that showed what the exact opposite of each character was? I'm going to assume yes, they did, because otherwise how would you get from Hawaiian-shirt-wearing party dude to robotic death machine?
Helmut also has an extendable limb attack, if you're willing to accept the generous description of a medieval mace as a "limb."
Brocken, World Heroes
Brocken looks more like a Nazi than any character on this list so far, to the point that you might feel a bit uncomfortable choosing to play as him. Even if it's usually played down, it's understandable (if not particularly appropriate) that German characters sometimes had these Nazi overtones, particularly in Japanese-developed games. The Second War War was the most important period of the last century, after all, and through a combination of geographical distance and a lack of education on the horrors perpetrated by the Axis powers (both German and Japanese) Nazism is far less taboo in Japan than it is in the West.
Brocken himself is a cyber-soldier with, you guessed it, extendable limbs, like some kind of Nazi Inspector Gadget. That's at least four German fighters who can stretch their body parts, so I'm going to have to declare that a theme, and we're zeroing in on what would be the most German fighting game character of all time - a military Frankenstein with stretchy body parts. Honestly, that sounds pretty cool to me, sans the Nazi overtones.
One final note about Brocken: according to the SNK wiki, he was created for the Third Reich by time-travelling scientist Doctor Brown, a sentence that could also describe the most appalling Back to the Future sequel imaginable.
Hans, Human Killing Machine
All of these characters so far (with the possible exception of Helmut) have been of Japanese design, but Hans here is a British take on the German stereotype, courtesy of U.S. Gold's Street Fighter "sequel" Human Killing Machine. It's a sequel to the home computer port of the original Street Fighter in the sense that U.S. Gold promoted it that way despite it having nothing to do with Street Fighter, that is. Anyway, I'm amazed it's taken us this long to see a character in lederhosen, but it's no surprise that it comes from a British designer - I think even more so than war-related stuff the British mind turns to lederhosen, sausages and getting beaten at football when it thinks of the Germans, or at least my generation does. Bonus points for giving Hans the classic "German porn moustache," too.
Siegfried, Soul Calibur
Siegfried is big, blonde - I was expecting a higher percentage of blonde characters, you know - and, for a master knight who gets possessed by a demon sword on the regular, kind of boring. He's fun to play as, at least, and he still possesses the military theme of German fighters in a much less potentially offensive manner.
Z.W.E.I., Soul Calibur
Z.W.E.I... sorry, I had to stop for a moment because typing his name out like that is so aggravating. Z.W.E.I., on the other hand, does not look like he belongs to any particular theme, unless you count "potential Final Fantasy XVI lead character" as a theme. It's patently ridiculous to describe a game filled with sentient swords, undead pirates and kung-fu fighters with Elvis hairdos as having a "jump the shark" moment, but if Soul Calibur did possess such a thing then I think Z.W.E.I. would be it. He wears tight leather trousers and fights by summoning a werewolf ghost, so "Turbogoth" would have been a much better name for him, and far less annoying to type.
Wolfgang Krauser, Fatal Fury
At first glance, Wolfgang Krauser might appear to have none of the common German features - he's not a soldier, he can't elongate his limbs - but then you realise that he's got a nice bushy moustache and I think I'm going to accept that as part of the German "canon", if you will. It's not the unequivocal porn 'tashe that Hans is sporting, but give it time and I'm sure it could get there with some tender loving care. He'll be roaming Bavaria, offering to fix the plumbing of lonely hausfraus in no time.
Unfortunately, any fond feelings I may have towards Krauser are completely eradicated once I remember that he has a special move called "Blitz Ball" and I find myself unable to dissociate him from the bitter memories of Final Fantasy X's underwater minigame of the same name. I didn't even need Wakka's ultimate weapon, I was never going to use him as one of my main party members.
Wacker, Tough Guy
We've seen a few characters with a Nazi influence, but Taiwanese developer Panda Entertainment decided that they weren't going to pussyfoot around the issue in their DOS fighting game Tough Guy and so they included Wacker, a full-on, undeniable Nazi. For all the horrible things I've seen in videogames over the years, the overblown violence and cheap sexual titillation, a pixel sprite of a character giving a Nazi salute still has the power to shock. That's not even the half of it, either: check out Wacker's projectile attack.
Wow. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to say that being able to control a playable character who can throw giant energy swastikas around is somewhat beyond the pale. Wacker is an evil character and one of the game's bosses, but still, I'm definitely not comfortable with this and I think "playable Nazi" is a good place to draw this article to a close.
In summary, then: the Germans of the fighting game world are mostly soldiers and often very large. Sometimes their largeness is due to them being stitched together from the reanimated corpses of the dead. A higher percentage of them than you might think can extend their limbs, a trait which I can't think of a way to tie to their Germanness with the possible exception that some Japanese franchise, probably a manga, starred a German character with stretchy body parts who influenced videogame designers. Every German I've ever met has been a thoroughly pleasant and sensible individual, so hopefully they won't be offended by the stereotypes on display here - merely puzzled that, according to videogame designers, there are apparently no women in Germany.