Street Fighter V is being released this week and I want to celebrate my favorite fighting game franchise by writing about one character: Ryu. One of the original duo that shapde the fighting game world has also been one of my preferred characters to play. He is a character that I can genuinely look up to.
Street Fighter’s History
Without Street Fighter or more specifically, Street Fighter II, fighting games would not be what they are today. The first SF came to the arcade around 1987 and was developed by Capcom. Ryu and his friendly rival, Ken, made their first appearance there as pretty much two different people with same move sets. SF II came out in 1991 and quickly became the most popular fighting game of its time. Many fighting games released after SF II were inspired by it and some have even become long-lasting franchises.
Please note that Street Fighter is not the first fighting game. There are many other predecessors.
I remember playing SF II in the arcade and not knowing what to do. Back then I used Dhalsim because of his long reach. I spammed the punch and kick buttons frequently. Only decades later would I understand more of the craziness of fighting games.
Ryu and Ken’s Roles in the Story and Gameplay
The game developers at Capcom started distinguishing both of the characters in story and in gameplay right around SF II and SF Alpha (this came out after SF II, but is the narrative prequel to SF II).
In terms of gameplay, Ken gets flashier techniques, faster movement, and more powerful Shoryuken moves. Ryu usually stays as the basic, easy-to-pick-up character while having more potent Hadouken. They even belong to a misnomer combat category: Shotokan fighting style. No, it has nothing to do with the real Shotokan Karate. This happened because Capcom USA referred their fighting style as such. You can read more about it on Street Fighter Wikia by clicking here.
Storywise, Ken eventually marries and has a baby boy. He has to balance his family, an inherited family business, and perfecting his martial arts. Ryu on the other hand, has been traveling and dedicating himself to sharpening his skills, all while being targeted by an evil organization named Shadaloo.
Why Ryu is Inspirational
There are some little things I have to preface before the meat of the article. One, I mostly play Gouki/Akuma in the more recent Street Fighter-based games. Ryu is my second most played character. Two, I play the games for fun and not competitively. I did make some effort in understanding how to use my main characters but not as far as more advanced players. Three, these interpretations are based on personal thoughts, knowledge, and memories coupled with the research that I encountered.
Ryu is always learning. Abandoned and orphaned, Gouken took Ryu in and taught him everything he knows. After Gouken’s supposed death, both Ken and Ryu know they need to continue on by themselves. Since then, both pursued their own paths. Ryu traveled around the world, gained many friends, and made some enemies. He is respected by his friends for this trait and has even gained an unofficial student, Sakura Kasugano. Ryu refuses to formally accept Sakura as a student because he knows there is much more to be learned and thus feels unworthy to be a teacher.
Perseverance is one of Ryu’s key traits. He travels around the world looking for chances to better himself and those chances are often difficult and unpredictable. One of his quotes from Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is, “It’s better to conquer a hardship than to conquer nothing at all.”
As mentioned above, Ryu is easy to pick up and play. Though there are those who think that Ryu, Ken, Akuma, and other Shoto characters are boring, that type of characters have become the staple of 2D fighting games. Daigo Umehara, one of the world’s top SF players, is known to use Ryu very effectively.
I interpret his style as staying to the basics and honing it countless times. Ryu reminds me a great deal of wabi-sabi, the minimalism philosophy influenced by Japanese Zen Buddhism–focusing on the essential and simplicity, as well as recognizing the value of natural imperfections. I often try tackling a problem by reducing and identifying its simplest form.
Ryu is in constant struggle with his inner Satsui no Hadou. Satsui no Hadou (殺意の波動 “Surge of Murderous Intent” according to SF Wikia) is the darker side of Ansatsuken, the style of martial arts practiced by Gouki, Gouken, Ken, and Ryu. It is the violent and powerful energy that could lead to a berserk state.
He knows about his tendency to allow Satsui no Hadou to take over. It is shown that he is always learning to not depend on the power for the sake of victory. I see it as a metaphor for a weakness of mind when one is not mentally disciplined and trained enough to resist. In a real world situation, I compare it to me being unable to resists a delectable slice of chocolate raspberry cake.
Ryu often needs help on his journey and with his struggle with Satsui no Hadou. We see him being rescued by his friends Ken, Chun-Li, Rose, Sakura, and even Gouken. He is not perfect and he knows he can rely on them to bring him back to his senses. Asking for help, especially for bigger problems, is a personal struggle. Once in a while, I try to remind myself that it is all right to do so.
Well, are you a fighting game player? If so, what are some of the games or characters that you like?
Sources: Giant Bomb, TV Tropes (Shotoclone), Street Fighter Wikia, Gamasutra (25 Years of SF II Legacy), Kotaku (commenters discussion).
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