Street Fighter is one of my favorite things in the entire universe. It isn’t just my favorite video game series of all time, it’s a part of my very consciousness. It’s right up there with X-Men, Cowboy Bebop, Aeon Flux, Indiana Jones, and a handful of other pop culture phenomenon that help define my fandom.
It isn’t just the gameplay that’s made me a fan of the series, it’s the characters. The characters of Street Fighter might not be as flashy as the ones in BlazeBlu and Guilty Gear, and they might not be as hip and diverse as those in King of Fighters, but none of those series have as many characters that “stick” with my mind the way in which Street Fighter’s cast does. Not all of the characters click with the same snap as others, but I’d argue that the Street Fighter cast is the best video game cast of all time, fighting game or otherwise.
So I’m going to get my Street Fighter fanboy game on and do a top ten list of my favorite characters. Hint: Only one Shotokan appears on this list, and it ain’t Ken, Ryu, or Akuma.
Makoto covers a lot of ground that was desperately needed in the Street Fighter series. She’s a traditional martial artist style-wise, sort of like Ken and Ryu, but she’s a little less flashy. She doesn’t toss around fireballs, doesn’t have flaming fists, and the most elaborate thing she does is dash across the screen and hit you. Given how ridiculous Street Fighter 3 got at times (Necro and Oro, for starters.), someone as toned-down as Makoto was downright revolutionary. It’s also pretty awesome to see someone with such a toned-down, comparatively realistic style fighting alongside dudes with stretchy arms and green-furred beastmen. She fills that niche well.
She’s also one of the few female characters in the series that isn’t a super-agile speedster type. It’s an obvious archetype that’s needed in fighting games, but at the same time it starts to suck when every female character jumps around kicking really fast and not being able to take a hit without losing half of her energy bar. Rose and Rainbow Mika beat her to that in the Street Fighter Alpha series, but Makoto finally pulled it off right. Rose was cool and all, but her mystic angle was already done with far more style by Dhalsim. Mika was a neat concept, but she never really felt right while playing her. She came off a little awkward in the end. Makoto’s simple but sophisticated fighting style finally led to a female character who was a bruiser.
I’m sort of cheating by having someone from Street Fighter EX on this list, since EX was made by a non-Capcom company and isn’t officially cannon (To my knowledge, at least.). Regardless, EX was my favorite game in the series to come out between the original Street Fighter 2 and the latest iteration, Street Fighter 4, so I feel the need to shoehorn someone from that series.
A first glance, Skullo might seem like a bad fit for the series. He’s modeled after tokukatsu super heroes, and that sort of campy style might not seem like something that’d fit into the Street Fighter universe. But I’d argue that this makes him perfect when you compare him to other “freaks” like Blanka and Rufus. He’s a joke character, that much is obvious, but he’s he sort of joke that I think works well within the context of the series. Dan is a parody of the King of Fighter/Art of Fighting lineup, so it makes perfect sense for Street Fighter to do a send-up of other kinds of fighting storylines. Given the fact that Skullo is a “normal” guy that one day decided to put on a toku uniform and start kicking ass on the street, he also fits into the same bracket as Sakura. They’re both people who jumped out of obscurity to start beating up people due to wanting to mirror the actions of their heroes. If a little teenaged girl can be a Ryu fangirl and become a World Warrior, so can a salaryman fanboy out over Kamen Rider and become a World Warrior.
As far as Street Fighter logic goes, it makes perfect sense.
If I “kind of cheated” by including Skullomania on my list, then I outright killed every single rule ever by including a character from Rival Schools United by Fate. At the same time, as far as I understand, the two take place in the same universe. Sakura made an appearance in the first Rival School game as Hinata’s buddy, and the two games share so much in terms of gameplay and the way in which each game’s storyline functions, it wouldn’t make sense for them to not be in the same universe. So I consider Rival Schools to be something of a side story in the whole Street Fighterverse.
Kyosuke is awesome since he takes the Guile style of play (tricky projectiles, anti-air attacks, etc.) and adds a good deal of style to the package. Guile was cool and all, but Kyosuke is The Man. He’s the smooth, nonchalant, brainy type that you see so often in anime series, except he’s just as much an up and front asskicker as he is a stand back and think things out sort of guy. He can think and hit things real hard. The Street Fighter series doesn’t really have anyone like that. Maybe Dudley, but his swagger could be more of the “If you speak with a British accent your IQ is 10 points higher” variety.
Kyosuke’s the lone thinking street fighting man in the series. If When they do a Street Fighter 5, they desperately need to include a few grown-up Rival School characters, starting with Kyosuke.
Vega (Balrog in the original Japanese) is the coolest of the four original Street Fighter 2 boss characters. A lot of that mystique has to do with the level in which he fought. The way that steel gate crashed down from the ceiling, sealing you in whilst a crowd of diners watched on, always sent a shiver down my spine. In every other fight there was a sense of openness. You were fighting on the street. People may be surrounding you, but it was an open space that you could run from if the game wasn’t designed to disallow that sort of thing. But with Vega’s level, you were trapped. There was no escape from this flamboyant, pansexual, acrobatic spanish ninja.
Vega was my primary obstacle when it came to beating Street Fighter 2 for the first time. I could make it to Balrog easy enough, and once I defeated Vega I found Sagat and Bison to be comparatively easier, but Vega was my main nemesis. He was all about mind games.He’d crawl up that fence, making you wonder how, exactly, he’d come at you when he made his leap. If you guessed right you could nail him with the right attack, but it was all about outguessing the computer. Being a middle school kid at the time, this was relatively tricky. I wasn’t as savvy as older players who spend way more money playing it in the arcade than I did. For that bratty 8th grader, Vega was hard.
And that’s why he’s on this list. Bison might be the final boss, and Sagat might be the fan favorite out of the Big Four, but Vega is my eternal nemesis due to those early years playing the game.
Despite numerous attempts to create other “big grappler” characters in the Street Fighter series, Zangief still remains pretty unique. Every other character has made some attempt to alleviate the “weakness” that is lack of mobility. Alex was made into a somewhat faster character with leaping grapples and the like. Hugo, Hakan and Birdie were given various iteration of dashing attacks. Zangief has been given ways to compete with the faster competitors, but he still remains “that guy who doesn’t get around all that great.” And despite his lack of mobility, he still kicks ass.
Zangief is an anomaly in the game. He really does play differently than other characters. While other characters may have differing styles, you can use similar tactics with most characters and get the same results. With Zangief, you have to take a completely different mindset. Other players can play the defensive/reactive game, but Zangief lives on that style. It’s all about breaking through projectiles, timing counters right, and finding a way to get inside and smash those tiny little bugs into the ground. I may not be one to actually play Zangief all that often, but I dig how when I do play him I have to change-up my game. Very few characters in Street Fighter force me to do that, and Zangief’s style forces the most radical change in my gameplay. For that, he rocks.