Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fanholes Side Story: Mike's Top Ten Favorite Street Fighter Characters

I love Street Fighter. It is my favorite fighting game franchise in all of its forms. I'm a big fan of the first animated movie, the UDON comics, and the various mangas that the franchise has spawned.

The following is a list of my top ten favorite characters in the Street Fighter universe.

The criteria is largely personal affection for the character, but for some characters, how likely I am to use them in certain games is also a factor.

So here we, go. Round 1, FIGHT!

10. ALEX (First appearance, Street Fighter III: New Generation)

Alex is basically the "Hot Rod" of Street Fighter. He's more or less the “main” character of the Street Fighter III series of games (despite Ryu, Ken, and Chun Li still sticking around). In game canon, the III series takes place several years after Street Fighter II (something like five years, probably, considering how old Ken’s son looks), and Alex is usually portrayed as the face of the “New Generation” of characters.

Alex plays largely like a grappler, but he’s also got a vast array of speedy physical moves. I enjoyed using him in the III series, although I wouldn’t say I was particularly good with him. I’m good with landing throw moves, so getting his Power Bomb and super variants of it off were usually my go-to tactics with him.

Anyhow, I just kinda like him as an affable protagonist, and the way he usually seems to regard someone like Ryu as a mysterious “legend” that he has to aspire to overcome is pretty neat as well. Still waiting for UDON to do a Street Fighter III comic series that would expand on Alex’s backstory and journey a bit more.

9. DHALSIM (First appearance, Street Fighter II)

Dhalsim was my first “favorite” character to use when I first started playing Street Fighter. The fact that his limbs all stretched during any given punch or kick made it seem like you were doing a “special” move without having to do those smelly motions with the joystick or D-Pad.

Of course, once I figured those smelly motions out, I quickly dropped Dhalsim for other characters. And to this day, I kinda suck with him. He requires a lot of patience to use and relies on keeping his opponents (literally) beyond arm’s length. None of this caters to the disposition I’ve settled into as a fighting game player. I need to be attacking constantly, right in the opponent’s face, and you just can’t really do that with Dhalsim to any really effective extent.

All the best Dhalsims I’ve played in the arcade or over X-Box Live stay far, far away from the opponent, poking out their limbs and Yoga Firing from a safe distance, then teleporting away when I close in.

It’s ****ing infuriating sometimes.

I do have a fondness for the character though, portrayed in-fiction as either on some altruistic quest to save his village in India, or as a sort of mysterious guru who guides other characters on their way. He’s badass in that sort of “I’m completely badass but I don’t have to flaunt it because I have inner peace” kind of way.

Oh, and he wears a necklace of DEAD CHILDREN SKULLS. Seriously, official canon states that those skulls around his neck are supposed to be from children who died of a plague in his village. I’m not entirely sure if that makes him creepy or even more badass.

8. ROSE (First appearance, Street Fighter Alpha)

Ah, Rose, my buxom Italian fortune-teller.

Ahem, yes, well. Rose is usually considered the “good half” of M. Bison’s soul, cast off when Bison embraced Psycho Power. Sort of a reverse Kami/Piccolo thing.

She does the whole “guide other characters” thing for the most part in-fiction, whether it be Ryu or Cammy or whomever else. She’s similar to Dhalsim in the respect that she’s effortlessly badass, but she drives home the “I know more than you” feeling a bit more than he does. She's like a much, much cooler and helpful Madame Web.

Rose is one of the few largely-defensive characters in-game that I can play somewhat decently, particularly in Super Street Fighter IV. I’m not the most patient player, but Rose makes it easy on more aggressive types like me with high-priority normal moves. Most of her normal moves involve her scarf slashing out, which usually stuffs any other normal moves that the opponent may attempt and even some specials.

There is a certain sense of satisfaction too when you land her Soul Throw or scarf-snag someone’s outstretched arm with her Illusion Spark Ultra in the SF IV series.

So in whatever case, there’s enough appeal to Rose for me that earns her a spot on this list.

7. ZANGIEF (First appearance, Street Fighter II)

The Red Cyclone. The Siberian Bear Crusher. Oftentimes unfairly cast as a bad guy or dumb lackey in most US-originated Street Fighter fiction. It's Zangief!

For years, Zangief was largely a joke with me. Whenever I’d come up against him in Arcade mode in whatever SF game I was currently playing, I’d immediately think “easy fight”. Zangief was slow and big and easy to hit. It was only when I finally started trying to use him myself that I realized his power. And I realized the satisfaction of getting those 360-degrees throws off successfully and consistently.

Nowadays in the most current game, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Zangief is one of my highest-ranked characters in online play. Once you realize that you only have to get off about three or four of Zangief’s special throws to defeat an opponent, the allure of mastering him becomes apparent. You can literally feel the hope drain from an opponent through your X-Box Live connection when Zangief gets a hold of their character and shouts “FINAL! A-TO-MIC! BUS-TAAAAAH!

And he can do a Shining Finger. What the heck is that about?

In-fiction, he’s usually portrayed as having a rivalry with Guile or Ken (mostly because of a charming, if somewhat-outdated notion that the US and Russia are in direct competition). And him doing the Cossack dance with Gorbachev is timelessly funny.

Zangief is on my short list of characters to use in any given Street Fighter game, so he makes this list as well!

6. AKUMA / ONI (First appearance, Super Street Fighter II Turbo / As Oni, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition)

The self-proclaimed “Master of the Fist”, and he can certainly back that up.

Akuma is basically the ultimate villain in the Street Fighter universe, which is fairly ironic, because he does not consider himself evil and he doesn’t go out of his way to do evil. His sole desire is to meet and crush worthy opponents in combat, and it is almost always combat to the death. He killed both Gouken and M. Bison at certain points in-canon, (They both get better, though) and he usually serves as a cautionary tale for Ryu.

One of Akuma’s goals is usually to push Ryu into becoming like him, and embracing the “Satsui no Hadou” (“The Killing Intent”) so they can have an all-out fight to the death. The Street Fighter Alpha: Generations OVA heavily implies that Akuma is actually Ryu’s father, but most people just ignore that. (That OVA sucks, anyhow.) Like Ken notes in the excellent Ryu Final manga, it doesn't even matters if they have a blood relation. Ryu and Akuma are bound by their mutual dedication to the “Way of the Fist” above all else.

Akuma started off as a more aggressive, combo-intensive Ryu or Ken in the games. He’s been balanced and rebalanced over and over again, to the point that his main failing in most current-day games is a lack of health. My usual reckless style of play doesn’t really allow for many characters that can only take a few hits before they are in danger, so my usage of Akuma has greatly lessened in past years. Still, pulling off a successful Shun Goku Satsu (Otherwise known as the Instant Hell Murder or Raging Demon) on an opponent is one of any Street Fighter game's most satisfying thrills.

Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition introduced Oni, the “Evil Ryu” equivalent to Akuma. Much like Evil Ryu, Oni is a “What If?” character. In this particular case, it’s “what if Akuma surrendered completely to the Satsui no Hadou and became a full-fledged demon?”.

I like Oni a lot. Aside from being awesome-looking and the thrill you get from playing the ultimate version of the ultimate villain in Street Fighter, Oni plays quite differently than Akuma. He definitely has more health and can take more hits, while maintaining (and surpassing in some cases) the damage and priority of Akuma’s old attacks. He is a bit slower, but that plays to my strengths, really. All-in-all, I enjoy playing Oni nowadays much more than playing Akuma.

5. T. HAWK (First appearance, Super Street Fighter II)

James Tiberius Hawk! Naw, it's just Thunder Hawk. Certainly one of the more ...stereotyped characters in the Street Fighter universe. I mean aside from the way he dresses, in the first couple games he appears, his whole goal is to reclaim the land of his tribe, which M. Bison and Shadaloo stole from them. Geez, Capcom. And of course, he shows up in the SF II Animated movie just to get his ass kicked by Ken and nothing more.

Later games would add in a quest for revenge (Bison killed his dad) and the search for his kidnapped lover (now Bison's brainwashed bodyguard, Juli) to T. Hawk's motivations, making him a much more rounded and sympathetic character. And, no lie, he got to beat up Danny Trejo at one point in the UDON comics. Really.

Here's the thing- T. Hawk is probably in the top three characters I am likely to use in whatever SF game he appears in. Once you learn his capabilities and weaknesses, you can play him like a faster, more deceptive Zangief. I'm a master at timing his Condor Dives to land exactly where T. Hawk needs to recover and then grab an unsuspecting opponent for a Mexican Typhoon or Raging Typhoon. And I also love nailing someone with the Raging Slash Ultra in Super Street Fighter IV: AE, because many, many people think that jumping around is the key to avoiding T.Hawk. Not so, sucker!

T. Hawk is currently my highest-ranked character in Super Street Fighter IV: AE. For this reason, above all others, T. Hawk makes the list!

4. DUDLEY (First appearance, Street Fighter III: New Generation)

“Let's gentlemen.”

Dudley's match-opening quote in the Street Fighter III is pretty memorable and fitting. He's one of those characters that is usually treated as something of a joke in-fiction, due to him seeming to be a bit of a dandy. But under that prim and proper first impression is a badass.

Unlike Balrog, who is more of a straight-up brawler, Dudley's a very technical boxer. Dudley's all about taking an opponent down with finesse and looking down on their lack of refinement. Heck, one of his taunts is turning his back on an opponent and tossing a rose at them, which will briefly stun them if it hits. In the Street Fighter III series, the rose did a single pixel of damage, making it by far the most humiliating way in the game to defeat an opponent.

Dudley's usual storyline in games is reacquiring lost possessions his father sold off when their family was financially-ruined. Specifically, his father's beloved car, which shows up a lot in the games and other fiction Dudley appears in. Not too deep of a storyline, compared to others. But hey, we can't all be Ryu or Chun Li. Still, he put in a very nice appearance in the Ryu Final manga, briefly giving the titular character a run for his money. In the end Ryu and Dudley end up having a lot of mutual respect for each other, and Ryu considering you a good rival is about the highest compliment a fighter can get in the Street Fighter universe. Also, Super Street Fighter IV finally had Dudley and Balrog meet-up in a rival battle, which was cool and obviously makes sense.

I can play Dudley pretty decently in any game he's in. He's a bit too technical for me to master, but he is fun to use once you know his capabilities and special moves. I always have fun suckering opponents with Dudley's Cross Counter, where he retaliates instantly after sustaining a single hit to the upper body or head. And his Corkscrew Blow super move is always a joy to connect with. And of course, one of his win stance quotes always perfectly caps the match-

“You...have no dignity.”

(Said with the snootiest delivery possible.)

3. GEN (First appearance, Street Fighter)

Gen first appeared in the original Street Fighter, but I only took notice of him when they brought him back for Street Fighter Alpha 2. I remember being pissed-off, because that game largely pitted Akuma against Gen in rival battles, rather than Akuma versus Ryu. But slowly, I tweaked to the fact that Gen had to be a total super-awesome-badass to be considered a serious rival of Akuma's. And you know, he IS.

In all games and fiction, the most stand-out fact about Gen is this; he's dying. He's on his last legs, suffering from some severe condition or disease (the UDON comics specifically say leukemia, but I think everything else is purposefully-vague). He's often depicted as coughing up blood and suffering moments of frailty and weakness. Once upon a time, he was the most feared assassin in China. He was one of Chun Li's mentors and also had some influence on Yun and Yang. And what is possibly the most notable point about his history- he either defeated Akuma or fought him to a draw in the past (depending on the fiction). Gen's got a death wish, see, and he wants to end his life in battle. And who is the most formidable opponent he could see this accomplished with? Akuma, of course!

The UDON comics had it that Gen defeated Akuma and let him live so they could have a rematch eventually. The game canon states that Gen and Akuma fought to a draw and even survived each other's deadliest attacks- the Zan'ei and the Shun Goku Satsu respectively. NO ONE (aside from Gouken, and really, that's debatable) had ever survived Akuma's Shun Goku Satsu before, so the fact that Gen managed to do it and remain in the fight is a testament to what caliber of martial arts master he is.

Gen's pretty unique in terms of gameplay too, able to switch between “Mantis” and “Crane” styles during combat. Each style gives him access to a completely different set of attacks, from basics all the way up to Supers/Ultras. As you can imagine, he's not a character for the novice. I managed to be pretty decent with him starting in Street Fighter Alpha 3. My strategy was basically using the Mantis style when I was on the left of the screen (my good side), and switching to Crane when I was on the right. Sadly, I've slacked off and haven't used him much in subsequent games, preferring to use more straightforward characters. Still, Gen offers a very unique and rewarding play experience for anyone wanting to master a more technical character.

His Zan'ei and Jyakoha/Ryukoha super moves are always cool to hit with, but in Alpha 3, I always enjoyed landing a Shitenshuu (“Death Point Curse”) super on an opponent. Once you do, they begin losing health and will be spontaneously dizzied if they do not strike Gen within ten seconds. Watching your opponent slowly grow more panicked and prone to making further mistakes as they struggle to land a single blow on your agile Gen is always a treat. And of course, mastering the rhythm of his Gekiro special move and landing all eight kicks on your opponent is the sign of someone who's dedicated to Gen.

So in closing about Gen, I will say this- “You are a BIG FOOL.”

2. RYU (First appearance, Street Fighter)

Hey, it's Ryu! The face of Street Fighter! Probably the prototype for every fighting game protagonist that followed! Ryu's a pretty simple guy, and some might even say pretty vanilla, especially when compared with Ken. And I'm not even ordinarily drawn to the main character of any series. Usually it's some standout supporting character that grabs my interest. But Ryu is just so good-natured, relatable, and goshdarnnit, cool to ignore.

Ryu's basic goal is to be a true warrior, a true martial artist. Whatever that admittedly-nebulous mission statement means, it has sustained his character's journey for oodles of games, comics, and cartoons. Ryu also has a reputation as “the guy to beat” amongst his peers. Whether it is Sagat, Akuma, Bison, Sakura, Ken, or dozens of other characters, Ryu is a focal point in their lives at one point or another. The Ryu Final manga explores this concept more fully, putting forth the notion that win-or-lose, a fighter is always going to come out for the better after having fought Ryu. The fact that he's probably the purest, most dedicated fighter out there is probably the reason. It's also the reason the guy has so many worthy rivals and chief adversaries.

You've got Akuma, who is basically Ryu's “Venom” or “Joker”- a dark opposite who might have more in common with Ryu than he would admit. Then there's Sagat, who I'd characterize as more of a “Vegeta” -type. Sagat's a guy whose pride was destroyed by Ryu, who re-dedicated his life to surpassing Ryu, only to end up gaining a great deal of respect for him in the end. And finally, you've got Ken, Ryu's best buddy and “friendly rival”. Ken's rivalry with Ryu is the one I think most players would they themselves identify with. I mean, who ISN'T super-competitive with their best friend or brother? Sometimes, that can be the most secret, intense, lasting rivalry of all.

Identifying with him is really the whole point of his character and Ryu's main appeal, I think. That “vanilla-ness” that some might see in him? It's only because Ryu is boring old US. Ryu is the fictional extension of the player and the entry point into the world of Street Fighter, as he was designed to be in the first place. We want to see Ryu succeed because WE want to succeed and surpass and better ourselves. It may sound a bit pretentious and maybe even a little obvious, but I think you and I like Ryu because Ryu was created to be liked!

Ryu is also designed to appeal to a player on a strict gameplay level too. In fact, like I said earlier, he's the prototype guy for that! Anyone who has ANY knowledge of fighting games will usually have a basic idea of how to play and win simply by choosing the “Ryu” of the game. More specifically, anytime a new Street Fighter game comes out, the first character I am likely to try out is Ryu. He provides a baseline for the rest of the characters, and allows you to ease into the game.

The Hadoken, Shoryuken, and TatsumakisempuuHurricaneKickyaku are the perfect triumvirate set of moves for a fighting game character, and you'll find most Ryu clones in other games will possess analogues of these moves.

Personally, I'm pretty great with Ryu in whatever game he appears, and he's always in the top five characters I'm likely to pick at any given time. Vanilla, prototypical, standard ...whatever you wanna call Ryu, he's familiar and comforting and calm and steady, and I'll always have a soft spot for him wherever and whenever he appears.

1. SAGAT (First appearance, Street Fighter)

My favorite character in Street Fighter is Sagat.

The “Emperor of Muay Thai” started off as the final boss of the first Street Fighter game. When Street Fighter II came along, he had been bumped to “sub”-boss status below Bison. And frankly, I didn't take much notice of him for long time other than noting “that tall, somewhat-difficult guy right before the REALLY difficult guy”.

In fact, I don't think I tweaked to the fact that Ryu was the one who gave him that scar or even that they had a rivalry at all! Street Fighter II was the first Street Fighter game I had played, so I had no idea that Sagat had been the boss of the first game. The very first time I realized this was at the start of the Street Fighter II animated movie, with the awesome fight between the two in the rain. Still, even after that, Sagat proceeds to do nothing more for the rest of the movie. And of course, his portrayals in the live-action movie and US Street Fighter cartoon painted him as a simple arms dealer or terrorist.

In the Street Fighter Alpha series, Capcom began to paint a more sympathetic side to Sagat. Instead of simple revenge on Ryu, Sagat seems more interested in simply improving himself so he can meet Ryu in a rematch. For Ryu's part, official game canon now states that Ryu LOST to Sagat in that initial fight and was downed. When Sagat went to offer him a hand up, Ryu was briefly consumed by the Satsui no Hadou and “sucker-Shoryuken'd” him, carving the famous scar in Sagat's chest and knocking him unconscious. This “cheap” win is what filled Sagat with hatred and resentment toward Ryu. But when Sagat meets him again in the Alpha series, he slowly realizes that Ryu wasn't in control of himself and hasn't harnessed his potential yet. And thus begins Sagat's “turn”, if you will.

M. Bison offers a brainwashed and Psycho Power-infused Ryu to Sagat to fight in Street Fighter Alpha 3. Sagat is disgusted at this “gift”, and only fights Ryu to get him to break the brainwashing. And Sagat IS the one to finally break through to Ryu- not Ken, not Sakura, but Sagat. I began to really like Sagat at this point, because he was starting to fit that “respected rival” role in fiction that I am often a fan of. Ken is too close to Ryu and Akuma is perhaps too far, but Sagat is just the right distance, I guess. I think it would have been awesome if Ryu and Sagat had to team-up, or as I like to term it- pull a “Rival Fusion” and fight Bison, but alas...that has yet to be done.

The UDON comics portrayal Sagat in a respectable and faithful light, but I think my favorite non-game fiction appearance of Sagat is in the Ryu Final manga. I know I keep mentioning it, but it really does kick ass, and if you haven't read it, you should do yourself a favor and seek it out. There, Ryu and Sagat have a “final” duel of sorts, where things come full-circle. Sagat emerges the victor, but Ryu manages to “re-scar” him in the same place on his chest. Instead of having hatred and vengeance bleed from it, Sagat responds with a nostalgic and prideful smile this time. He considers the score well and truly even now, and Ryu a rival worthy of leaving a mark on him. That is so freakin' cool.

As far as gameplay goes, Sagat is right up there with Ryu insofar as he's always going to be in my top five characters to pick in any given Street Fighter game. He's more defensive and slower than Ryu, but packs more power. In fact, he's almost like the logical extension of Ryu, possessing the same basic principles of single powerful hits that keep the opponent away. If you look at Gouken in SSFIV, his whole gameplay style is based on defense. And Sagat is basically in-between Ryu and Gouken's styles as far as that goes. I think that's absolutely perfect on a thematic level.

In whatever case, I can play Sagat pretty well in whatever game he shows up in. Combine that with my appreciation of how he's developed over the years, and you've got my favorite character in the Street Fighter universe!


Well, that's that. Some other characters that might have made the “top twenty” at least would include Dan, Birdie, Blanka, M. Bison, and Gouken. Cody would be on there too, even if he's a Final Fight character.

If you agree or disagree with any of my choices or points, please leave a comment, and I'll proceed to tell you why YOU ARE A BIG FOOL.

Game Over.