I love Street Fighter, you love Street Fighter, we all love Street Fighter, because it's great. We've fought many a virtual battle between characters as familiar to us as our own dear family, but as time moves on a new generation of players emerges who might not be so familiar with the Street Fighter cast, having not spent their youth hanging around arcades or unsuccessfully trying to justify the £100 price-tag of an imported SNES version of Street Fighter II to their parents. Now, as Street Fighter V lumbers into view, I think it's worth taking the time to remind those who might have forgotten - and those that never knew - all about the World Warriors. There are approximately 10,000 playable Street Fighter characters these days, so to narrow it down I'm going back to where it all began. No, not Street Fighter 1. Don't be silly. I mean the twelve fighters from Street Fighter II, beginning with the most famous of them all.
Ryu is a Karate Man. He is a man who does karate. Okay, so "does karate" much be selling his dedication to the way of the empty hand a little short, because Ryu has dedicated his entire life to the singular goal of being the best at karate, but that's really all there is to him. There's some vague stuff about honour and compassion in there too, and with this fascinating and nuanced inner life it's easy to see why Ryu became not only the most famous member of the Street Fighter universe but also one of Capcom's main mascots.
As well-travelled as David Attenborough but considerably more likely to punch someone into unconsciousness, Ryu wanders the world searching for opportunities to hone his martial arts skills. Every aspect of his life is focussed towards this end. He lives a simple life with no fixed abode, carrying his meagre possessions in a duffel bag, and it's inconceivable to think that he doesn't fill that same duffel bag with sand and use it as a punchbag every twenty minutes or so. He wears his tattered karate gi at all times, so people always know what he's about, and he always goes barefoot just in case it all kicks off and he doesn't have time to remove his shoes before the violence begins. His dedication to his art is unmatched, and it is for this reason - as well as some other presumed reasons regarding his lack of personal hygiene - that he only has one close friend: fellow Karate Man Ken Masters, his childhood training partner.
One thing that prevents Ryu from being the dullest of all Street Fighter characters is his constant struggle against the Satsui no Hadou, a dark force that threatens to overwhelm him, turning him from a man who desires nothing but karate into a man who desires nothing but karate with the added bonus of someone being killed at the end. Thus far Ryu has managed to contain this terrifying power, but for how long? I wouldn't want to second-guess Capcom, but I'm going to say "until they stop making Street Fighter games," because they can't have Evil Ryu running around the whole time. It'd rather take the edge off Akuma being such a special snowflake.
Ryu's special moves include being able to channel his spiritual essence into a ball of fire - a "fireball," if you will - that he can launch from his hands, and a jumping uppercut. I know that makes the jumping uppercut seem much less impressive by comparison, but trust me, it's pretty good.
After Ryu, Ken is the world's second-best Karate Man. Okay, he's probably behind Akuma too, but third place isn't so bad. Oh, and then there's Gouken, Ryu and Ken's master who turned up in Street Fighter IV having gotten over his unfortunate case of being dead. Ken's really slipping down the rankings here, so let's just say he's probably in the top ten Karate Men in the world.
Though they grew up and learned karate together, Ken is as different from Ryu as can be: while Ryu is serious and focussed, Ken is a carefree and brash sort who lives his life to a level of max-ness that the soft drinks advertisers of the 1990s could only dream of. His demeanour is probably down in part to being extremely wealthy, although not wealthy enough afford a hair stylist who can match the colours of his hair and his eyebrows.
In a game series where it often seems that the only thing that changes between games are the locations in which the fighters beat each other up, Ken is one of the few characters to have undergone any noticeable character development.As the games progressed, he met his wife and had a son, leading to him mellowing somewhat as he aged. He hasn't mellowed enough to stop using karate on people, but when you consider that his peers are still engaged in the same old death-feuds and tumultuous spiritual battles he's a practically at home with his pipe and slippers by comparison.
Ken's special moves are mostly the same as Ryu, including the spinning Hurricane Kick they both share, a move that treats the laws of aerodynamics with the same contempt that Starbucks shows towards tax laws. The other difference is that Ken has so thoroughly mastered the jumping uppercut that his hand sets on fire while he's doing it, marking one of the very few times you'd want your hand to be on fire.
She's fast, nimble and beautiful like almost all fighting game characters, but Chun-Li defies that classification because she's the first fighter that ever fell into it. A young kung-fu master from China, Chun-Li is a kind woman with a strong sense of justice and even stronger thighs, thighs that could crush a car's engine block and which have been the subject of more breathless nerd paeans than Firefly and Sherlock combined. It is no surprise, then, that Chun-Li is a master of kicking things.
Chun-Li is motivated by her desire to see M. Bison, the evil dictator who killed her father, brought to justice. To this end she joined the police force and eventually became a member of Interpol, who have some pretty relaxed rules regarding their officers having a personal interest in the cases they work. You might think that having Chun-Li investigate her father's murderer would lead to worries about such an emotional involvement clouding her judgement and hampering the investigative process, but are you going to tell her that she's off the case? She could kick you in fifty different places before you managed to say "you're too close to this one, officer." The canon of the games does not definitively say that Chun-Li rules Interpol through fear, but the possibility is there if you're willing to read a little deeper.
One aspect of Chun-Li's design that has baffled fans over the years are the big spiked bracelets that she wears. The rest of her outfit is both elegant and practical - you need plenty of freedom of hip movement when you do that much kicking - but the spiked bracelets stand out as being a little incongruous. As an aid to hand-to-hand combat they seem like they'd be more of a hindrance than an asset, so we are left to assume that while Chun-Li may have grown out of her youthful black metal phase, there are some aspects of that period in her life that she cannot bear to part with.
Chun-Li's special moves revolve, as you might expect, around kicking. Sometimes just doing loads of kicks really fast, sometimes spinning-upside through the air in a manner similar to no earthly bird, no matter what the name of the move might suggest. Later, she learned to throw fireballs, because it was the hot new thing all the cool kids were doing.
Zangief is a wrestler, but not just any wrestler: he is the Red Cyclone, pride of Mother Russia / the USSR (depending on the availability of Communism at the time)! He fights to promote the glory of his homeland, in the way only a man wearing naught but a pair of budgie-smugglers and chest hair like a doormat can. Unfortunately this means that poor Zangief is often exploited for political ends, but this also means that in the Street Fighter universe Zangief has cossack-danced with a world leader and frankly if that doesn't prove that videogames are better than real life then nothing will. Hopefully Zangief's storyline in Street Fighter V will see him taking Vladimir Putin to task over his terrible leadership.
Zangief is a big lad, to put it mildly, and he's extremely proud of his muscular body. It's a body that's covered in scars he received while practising his wrestling moves on Siberian bears. These scars tell us little about his success rate in this endeavour: while getting ripped up by bears suggests that he's not great at it, the fact that he isn't dead provides a strong case for the opposite conclusion. I think a lot of these bear fights probably end in draws.
Zangief is unusual for a Russian character conceived in the early Nineties in that he doesn't conform to many of the prevailing stereotypes of the time. He isn't evil, he isn't obsessed with the expansion of Communist influence and he isn't a raging alcoholic, because his body is an extremely large temple, a veritable Angkor Wat of muscle. He's often portrayed as being, if not stupid, then a little naive, and in a way he's a weirdly sweet character.
Zangief's main special move is the spinning piledriver, where he picks up his opponent, stuffs their face right up against his crotch and then sits on them from a great height. For a long time this was the most damaging move in the Street Fighter series, and it is difficult to imagine something worse. His other signature attack is the spinning lariat, which Zangief totally stole from Mike Haggar, the mighty Mayor of Justice, furthering the theory that everyone wants to be Mike Haggar.
The US Air Force projects many qualities. Pride. Military superiority. Absolutely ridiculous haircuts that look like an accident involving a hay bale and a chainsaw. Guile has all these qualities, coupled with a tough, no-nonsense attitude to street fighting. Guile is the very model of a military man, clad in fatigues and wearing both his own dog tags and those of his fallen comrade Charlie. His look is completed by his famous hairdo, a towering plateau of blonde verticality that is apparently held in place by special-order Air Force hairspray. That'd be the "Top Gun" line of haircare products, then, and the quantity of hairspray required to hold Guile's 'do aloft must account for at least a third of the yearly US defence budget. Guile also has the Stars and Stripes tattooed on each bicep, so that no matter which hand he punches you with it's got the power of America behind it.
As with so many Street Fighter characters, Guile has a personal vendetta against M. Bison, who killed his buddy Charlie. Charlie taught Guile both how to fight and the importance of a properly mental haircut, so Guile is understandably consumed with rage towards Bison. He tenaciously hunts Bison across the globe, and in a touching display of international cooperation Chun-Li sometimes helps him out, but Bison is a wily sort and he keeps getting away. So Guile waits, ever vigilant, standing ready for the moment at which Shadaloo can be destroyed. You could say he's a Real American Hero, if that wasn't a registered trademark of GI Joe.
Guile is also Ken's brother-in-law, on account of them being married to sisters. This must make for some incredibly odd dinner-table conversation when the families get together for Christmas or the 4th of July (which we can safely assume is Guile's favourite holiday.)
As for special moves, Guile has less than any other World Warrior with a mere two at his disposal. He can create a small sonic boom by, I dunno, moving his arms really fast, I guess? He can do a somersault kick as well, which is perfect for taking out airborne opponents. God help Guile's little girl if she ever tries to jump into her dad's arms without warning him first.
Sumo wrestling is a proud and ancient Japanese tradition, but as an actual form of combat it is somewhat lacking... unless you're famous sumo and Street Fighter star Edmond Honda. Zangief may be all about promoting the virtues of Mother Russia, but Honda cleaves to no concerns so petty as mere nationalism and instead wishes to show the world the pure, radiant glory of sumo wrestling. So do this, he fights all over the world, slapping and slapping and slapping people while wearing a big sarong until people take sumo seriously. He'd probably have a better shot if he was from a game series that features ring-outs, because in Street Fighter you can't push people out of the arena to win and that's a fairly significant part of sumo wrestling. Still, Honda perseveres, ever striving to promote his sport. He wants sumo to be an Olympic event, and it's hard to argue against its inclusion: it could replace synchronised swimming, for starters. In Street Fighter IV, Honda realises that the only way to effect this change is to become a member of the International Olympic Committee himself. Just let that sink in for a moment. In this fighting game where karate masters and villainous overlords do battle, one of the playable characters' sworn goals is to join the International Olympic Committee.
Being a sumo wrestler, E. Honda is fat... or at least he was, in his earlier appearances. As the games have progressed, he has kept his keg-like shape but has become much more muscular until by Street Fighter IV he is downright ripped. His increased buffness has also coincided with his character becoming ever more goofy, falling deeper into "comic relief" category the bigger his muscles became. Of course, it's a well-known truth that living with giant muscles for long enough eventually draws comedy to a person, a fact which explains Arnold Schwarzenegger's career path from high-octane action flicks to Jingle All the Way.
As mentioned above, slapping is a key part of Honda's battle strategy, and boy he can slap both fast and furious. He can also propel himself forward as a kind of living battering ram, slamming into his opponent head-first and absorbing the impact with his powerful neck muscles. His repeated use of the Sumo Headbutt may go some way to explaining his rather hunched posture.
While it would be cruel to describe Indian World Warrior Dhalsim as "the most famous Street Fighter character that no-one likes", data I have personally gathered seems to suggest that Dhalsim is definitely not held in as high regard as his peers. This seems to be down to Dhalsim being a pain in the arse to fight against thanks to exceptional keep-away tactics. Mastery of yoga allows Dhalsim to stretch his limbs to incredible lengths, allowing him to stay far away from his opponent and yet still punch them in the head. Given this advantage Dhalsim should really be an unbeatable adversary, but his frail body means he can't take much damage before passing out. On the plus side, he can breath fire. Originally, Capcom explained that Dhalsim possessed this power because he was always eating extremely hot curries, although this has since been changed to "a blessing from Angi the fire god" because even Japanese games developers eventually realised that extremely crude ethnic stereotypes don't fly any more. Well, not quite as much as they used to, anyway.
Of all the street fighters, Dhalsim is perhaps the most innately "good," his life dedicated to the betterment of himself and others, fighting for what he believes in despite being a pacifist at heart. Hey, you can't spell pacifist without "fist," can you? And if that fist is on the end of a magically enlongating arm, so much the better. Given that he is such a good guy, it is surprising that Dhalsim is malnourished skeleton of a man with blank, dead eyes, who can breathe fire and who wears a strings of children's skulls around his neck. That does not sound like the description of a "good guy," it sounds like a description of the monster that hid in your childhood closet. Fair play to Capcom for subverting the "beauty equals goodness" trope, then. Dhalsim even managed to find a wife and have a kid looking like he does. It is not mentioned whether he was wearing the child-skull necklace during the conception of his son.
Research suggests that Dhalsim's debut in Street Fighter II did not coincide with a statistically meaningful upwards trend in the numbers of boys aged eight to fourteen taking up yoga. Even though most of them would have known, deep down, that yoga cannot grant the powers depicted in Street Fighter II, you have though there'd have been more than a few who'd have given a go on the minuscule off-chance it would eventually allow them to pester their siblings from across the room.
All of Dhalsim's moves are special, in a way - if you have become jaded enough to accept elongating limbs as "not special" then videogames are unlikely to quench your desire for the extremes of the human experience. His other moves involve spitting fire at various distances, although apparently these flames are only an illusion. That doesn't stop them from inflicting agonising burns, mind you.
Picture the scene: a plane crashes in the dense Amazon rainforest of Brazil. A young boy survives, cast deep into the primeval jungle until years later he emerges as Blanka, the feral beast-man! Except he's not all that feral. Rough around the edges to be sure, and personal grooming is not his top priority, but overall he's a decent sort with a love for nature.
Blanka's most famous and most potent attack is his ability to exude electricity from his green-skinned body: according to ancient Street Fighter lore, this skill was taught to him by the electric eels that raised him in the jungle. It must have been a difficult adjustment for young Blanka as he learned the water-breathing skills necessary to live with his new eel family, but the rewards - both his new-found electric gifts and the nurturing love of Mr. and Mrs. Eel - were well worth the struggle. Spending so long with an animal that you take on its unique skills is an intrinsic part of the natural world that Blanka loves so much, of course. I once spent three years living with a family of hedgehogs and it wasn't long before I too had developed a taste for dog food and healthy infestation of lice.
In one of the most touching scenes in videogaming, at the end of Street Fighter II Blanka is reunited with his long-lost mother, who recognises her son thanks to the anklet he's wearing. It is unrealistic to assume that this is some kind of magic anklet that increased in size as her son grew older, bigger and more beast-like and was not irreparably damaged by the intense environment in which Blanka lived, but it's also unrealistic for someone to live in the jungle so long that they turn into an electric man-beast so no-one will judge you if "magic anklet" becomes your explanation for these events.
Blanka's special moves, aside from his famed lightning attack, mostly consist of curling into a ball and rolling at his opponent, proving that while he may have been raised by electric eels he was cared for at least some of the time by aggressive armadillos.
Kicked out of professional boxing for his disgraceful conduct and for accidentally killing an opponent, Balrog used to be known as Mike Bison but his name was changed before Mike Tyson's lawyers could get their paperwork in order. Balrog is a brutal, amoral character whose primary goal is to get rich as possible, having once tasted the glamorous lifestyle that being the heavyweight champion of the world can bring. A formerly wealthy boxer who had some run-ins with the law and found himself penniless after his career faltered? Man, who knows where Capcom get these crazy plotlines from. With few talents beyond punching things extremely hard - according to some sources Balrog once killed Dhalsim's pet elephant with a single blow, just in case you didn't realise that he's evil - he turned to a life of crime, becoming one of M. Bison's top Shadaloo lieutenants. This is despite Balrog being utterly treacherous, willing to betray his employer at the first sign of personal gain, and possessing a... limited skill set, shall we say. Applications for the job of Merciless Drug Cartel / World Domination Organisation Enforcer must have been fairly sparse.
Balrog may be a dirty boxer, but he's not so dirty that he'll resort to kicking people. All of his moves are punches, with the occasional head-butt mixed in for a bit of flavour. This could have severely limited Balrog's combat options, but he makes up for it in raw power. This may be why he wears his boxing gloves at all times, in order to give his opponents the tiniest sliver of a sporting chance. He may also just be very stupid, a much more likely explanation when considered alongside the other evidence such as repeatedly betraying the powerful ruler of a vast criminal network.
Balrog's special moves are big punches. A big running punch, and a big punch that he launches while standing on the spot. He is not a complex man.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that beholder is Vega. He looks around and sees that everything is ugly besides himself, because he is a pure and flawless Adonis. Yes, Vega the ninjitsu matador is a narcissist of the highest degree, a warped individual who believes that beauty is the only worthwhile quality in this world and who longs to destroy anything he judges to be ugly. He's also a psychopath who's bang into murder, working as a Shadaloo assassin presumably for the thrill of ending lives rather than the money. Vega is already rich, being a Spanish nobleman, and he's also a ninja matador. That's something that bears repeating, as it sheds some light on the sadistic depths of Vega's personality - not content with the usual advantages that the matador has over the bull, he learned the shadow arts of the ninja clans so he could truly dominate his foe. This callous contempt for those he deems to be beneath him is at the very core of Vega's character, unless of course he was fighting against ninja bulls, in which case fair play to him.
The only Street Fighter II character to fight using a weapon, Vega attacks with a triple-bladed claw because he gets turned on by the sight of blood like a vampire with some deep-seated psychosexual issues. He also wears a mask to protect his beautiful face. The obvious way for Vega to protect his face would be to stop getting into street fights, but Vega is a deeply conflicted character, his love for stabbing people to death only matched by his love for looking at himself in any nearby reflective surface. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a mirror on the inside of his mask. One of Vega's other prominent features is the large tattoo of a snake that winds around his torso, further proof that you should never trust anyone with a tattoo of a snake. I'm not saying everyone with a snake tattoo is a vicious murderer, but you would be surprised if they were, would you?
As a graceful acrobat, most of Vega's special moves involve aerial assaults and lighting-fast strikes, although one move lets him down in this regard: the Rolling Crystal Flash, which looks like a half-hearted effort for a kid who really doesn't want to be doing gymnastics in this PE lesson.
Extremely powerful, terrifyingly huge, missing fifty percent of his eyes and one hundred percent of his hair, Sagat is Street Fighter II's penultimate boss. This represents something of a backward step for Sagat, as he was the final boss and undisputed street fighting champion in the original game. His demotion was down to his defeat by Ryu at the conclusion Street Fighter, a battle that gave Sagat an intense rivalry with the young Karate Man and a bitchin' scar across his chest.
Sagat fights using Muay Thai, a martial art over which he has attained such a level of mastery that he is know as the Emperor of Muay Thai. When you're declared the "Emperor" of something you know you've made it, but this title does little to satisfy Sagat as he strives endlessly to become the greatest fighter in the world. Yes, he's another one of those characters, and the Street Fighter universe would be a happier place all around if the characters would set more realistic goals for themselves.
Sagat's rivalry with Ryu is a big part of his character, but as the series has progressed, Sagat's feelings on the subject have matured and changed. Where once he wanted to find Ryu and beat him up because he doesn't like him, Sagat now wants to find Ryu and beat him up because he does like him, or at least respects him. Perhaps Sagat has realised that he and Ryu have so much in common: they're both dedicated to honing their chosen martial art, they both refuse to wear shoes, they can both shoot fire out of their hands. Sagat has the edge in the fireball department, being able to shoot them at varying heights and burning either his opponent's chest or their ankles.
Sagat also says "tiger!" a lot. The guy really likes tigers. It's his little quirk. You travel to the small village where Sagat lives and enter his humble house, and all you will see from wall to wall is porcelain tiger ornaments and knick-knacks, cutesy little trinkets with phrases like "go get 'em, tiger!" and "you're the grrreatest!" written on their bases.
As well as his afore-mentioned Tiger Shot fireballs, Sagat's arsenal of special moves also includes the deadly Tiger Uppercut. As Sagat is about seven feet tall you wouldn't think he'd ever need to jump, but he most definitely can and the Tiger Uppercut makes jumping towards Sagat an experience as fraught with the terror of sudden death as storming the beaches of Normandy.
The Street Fighter series has had many antagonists over the years, but none have reached the same "Main Villain" status as M. Bison. A deadly fighter with strange powers who rules the criminal network Shadaloo, M. Bison is a ruthless killer without a shred of kindness or remorse. You kind of have to be like that if you want to get away with calling your criminal organization "Shadaloo."
Like Sagat, M. Bison has gradually become less and less highly regarded in the hierarchy of Street Fighter villains. In his first appearance at the end of Street Fighter II he was presented as a near-unstoppable, nightmarishly powerful fighter, but as time went on and Bison had his arse kicked by various characters he became a regular playable character who was no more menacing than any other.
Bison is still one of the prime movers behind the games' plots, however, always seeking to further his goals and get his hands on Ryu's body. He wants Ryu so he can claim the Satsui no Hadou and become more powerful, although he'd have to come up with a more appropriate name than "Evil M. Bison" if he ever accomplishes this. The Satsui no Hadou would make him less evil, if anything, because Bison is already filled with an evil energy called Psycho Power. Psycho Power allows Bison to fly, perform telekinesis and make flames erupt from his body, and I know what you're thinking: why would you want to replace the super-sweet Psycho Power with the boring old Satsui no Hadou? Well, that's because Bison's body can't handle the Psycho Power. Just as fresh air and exercise will cause my body to disintegrate, so too will Psycho Power eventually overwhelm Bison. To prevent this, Bison made himself a new body. He created it from his own DNA but gave it the form of a teenage girl, as I'm sure we all would if we had access to a cloning machine. This new body is Cammy, but she breaks free of Bison's control before he can inhabit her feminine form. Between this and Bison's "good side" being removed and creating the character Rose, it seems that M. Bison has some gender identity issues.
M. Bison is portrayed as the mastermind behind most of the nefarious schemes in the Street Fighter universe, but there are some hints that maybe he is not as intelligent as he makes out. His plan to capture Ryu has the obvious flaw that Ryu is really good at knocking people out, and Bison's plan to lure Ryu out only succeeds in drawing the attention of Akuma, who promptly and with minimal effort murders Bison. He has managed to cause a great number of the world's greatest warriors to to dedicate their life to seeing him killed, and his hiring policies could use some work: Balrog and Birdie in particular would not be most people's first choice for orchestrating grand master plans. In Seth and his ilk, Shadaloo even creates robots that gain sentience and declare themselves the true leaders, which is the most basic, rookie mistake an evil organization can make. I'm sure Bison would love us to believe that each event happens is cog in his labyrinthine, ineffable plot, but that's hard to believe when said plot involves him dying more than once.
His motives may be unknowable, but the real puzzle of M. Bison is what does the M in M. Bison stand for? Master? Merriweather? Mmmm? Alas, I suspect it will forever remain a mystery. Oh, man, maybe it stands for Mystery!
M. Bison's special moves are unusual in the sense that they wouldn't seem all that special if he wasn't cloaked in Psycho Power while he was using them. His trademark Psycho Crusher is just Bison hurling himself at his opponent, and the Head Stomp is, well, he jumps up and stomps on people's heads. Not much to that one, folks.
There, now you're all up to speed on the core cast of the Street Fighter games. Next time someone asks you about one of these legendary World Warriors, you'll have a wealth of information to impress them with. Via one of the Street Fighter wikis, I mean. Frankly I wouldn't believe a word of what you've read here today.
A Note From VGJunk: as utterly stupid as this article is, it was a lot of fun to write and so I was thinking I might spin this out into a little book or something with a bunch more characters included and whatnot. If that sounds like something you'd like to see, let me know. Also let me know if you think this article was terrible and writing more of it would be a huge mistake. Thanks in advance, your pal, VGJunk.