Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sampled Fighters (Group TAC/Capcom/Manga)
Where: Street Fighter Alpha When: 1999
Why: Shigeyasu Yamauchi, Joe Romersa, Reiko Yoshida, & Kirk Thornton How: Kazuyuki Ishikawa, Ryûzaburô Ôtomo

Quick Fix...
Capcom declared a megaton bomb for an upcoming announcement, and on the basis of that promise a lot of fans quickly guessed what was coming.
Even before the clues, the Infinite Wars made speculation about the likelihood of a new game [The New Challengers], but even if it was pre-expected, the impact of Street Fighter IV's confirmation could not be squashed!

If you consider the fact that the first two iterations of Street Fighter III came out in 1997, this means it's effectively been ten years since the last major step forward in the Street Fighter franchise! We'll take a closer look at SF4 in the second half, but first...

We've talked a lot in-reference to the tournament aspect of Street Fighter, particularly in regards to the direction of the series from UDON. I thought now might be as good a time as any to examine that aspect a little closer, considering it is the driving force between the entire line of games to this point.

What really brings this to mind is the fact that both comic and celluloid alike have largely overlooked the tournament structure the characters are best known for. To their credit, constraining the diverse and exciting cast of SF characters to a single thematic device or location might not be the best use of them. Never the less, the tournament remains one of the largely unrepresented qualities.

Actually, more to the point, it's the quality of a sport that I feel is the most lacking. To be fair we have seen competition moments like Zangief/Blanka or Honda/Dhalsim in the SFII animated movie, or even Zangief/Shun and Vega/Dan in Sadler's preliminary tournament halfway through the SFA movie.

Street Fighter operates on a delicately balanced logic set that marries elements of the real world to it's own fiction. Within that fiction is a culture of fighting that exists worldwide in a regional context, from which many of the fighters are plucked for Bison's initial machinations. Style-specific leagues are acknowledged for characters like Mika and Zangief, from pro-wrestling; likewise, Ken Masters represents one of the fighters well known for being a champion in his sport.

It's this wider sports league culture that I'd like to see more of, particularly in something like the UDON series, which has the benefit of being a monthly, on-going affair. It would be great to see many of the characters existing more explicitly, or even incidentally, within the confines of large fighting efforts -- which exist from within the source material, if only by reference.

The games, of course, revolve around plot-centric gatherings that detail character motivations, and of course the schemes of big bads like, M. Bison [or, yes, Vega in Japan, if you want to wave the CapcomUSA ownership].

The Alpha movie picks up themes from the Alpha games in the vaguest of senses with the original character, Dr. Sadler, representing Shadaloo in the search for fighter data. It's a plot point from Cammy's story in the Alpha games, and was similarly represented by monitor cyborgs in the Street Fighter II movie.

In Alpha's conclusion, Sadler brings fighters together for his second tournament for the movie, this one held at an isolated fortress in the desert. Here, Sadler is able to mine the energies of fighters with a complicated array of technologies, draining them of life and intellect in the desire for power.

Gathered with the lure of cash, street fighters of varying classes including; Ken, Chun-Li, Guy, Birdie, Sodom, Ryu, Dhalsim, Adon, Rolento, and Dan.

Left to decide their own fate, Dan Hibiki, [having survived a brutal encounter with Vega in the preliminary tournament], makes an open challenge to any of the gathered fighters. It is the Shadaloo street thug, Birdie, who answers the call.

Hibiki immediately opens the account, firing off a gadou-ken energy attack that dissipates centimeters from his hand, leaving the competition bemused.

The incompetent and over-confident fighter is quickly off his feet, wrapped in the choking grip of Birdie's chain attack! The jovial brit punk cackles heartily at the foolhardy struggling of his pathetic opponent. He puts an end to it, tossing Hibiki into the air, only to yank him back earthbound to a hard defeat.

Birdie is taken away to a holding cell by some of Sadler's goons, to await his reward while waiting for a complete list of first-round winners to form. Or at least, that's what he believes, the truth actually being a fate worse than death.

As you can see, it's the fighting/sports culture that so readily brings these characters together. Having familiarized himself with many fighters at the initial, apparently well publicized fight (it's the reason Ken returns to Japan), Sadler is able to have his pick of the punch. Which inexplicably includes Hibki...

The Fix: 5 The Film: 5.5
Winner: Birdie

[Unfortunately, it's this scene that features the most characters from the games, and even then most are reduced to set-dressing or action snippets without dialogue. Birdie proves an unusual inclusion, operating without the trinkets of familiar characterization. Likewise, he really highlights that this is two "OAV" releases spliced together, with the viewer asked to root for him, despite having no prior appearance.]

Sampled Fighters (Group TAC/Capcom/Manga)
Where: Street Fighter Alpha When: 1999
Why: Shigeyasu Yamauchi, Joe Romersa, Reiko Yoshida, & Kirk Thornton How: Kazuya Ichijô, Masao Fuda

Privvy to intelligence derived from Chun-Li's interpol investigations, Ken and the gang decide to investigate further, concerned for Birdie's fate. If you want more discussion about SF4, scroll ahead y'dirty scamp!

MEANWHILE, back at Sadler's desert laboratory; Ken, Ryu and Chun-Li are suspicious about what is unfolding at the tournament. To save his friend facing battle and the lure of the dark hadou, Ken takes it upon himself to challenge a fighter to gain them entry to Sadler's fortress.

The American tragic for Japanese culture, Sodom, is the one to answer the challenge. The two clash in the air, with Ken presumably delivering a swift kick that sees the much larger fighter felled before his sai can even come into play.

The US champ's quick fix victory gives the heroes the access they desire, but what they find is a nightmarish future that could easily be their own. That, however, is a story for another entry!

When one stops to ponder that we're looking forward to a fourth installment twenty years after the first, it's a little bit odd. SF has, of course, maintained a consistent presence through add-on series like the complicated-pseudo-prequel series of Zero/Alpha game; the approach at 3D polygon renders in the EX games; and the classic hyper-kinetic battles with characters from the Marvel and SNK universes in various Versus games.

Even so, perhaps what makes Street Fighter's success with only "three" games to date is that they've endured despite a distinct lack of clarity and forward momentum with their storylines. As the degrees of difference between games and capabilities narrows, story is becoming more and more important to the medium. On reflection, it's almost surprising video games as an entertainment institution were able to get by so long on such thin plots and convoluted storys.
Then, I suppose this is where the video game stops being a child's toy, and grows up to become the mass marketed home entertainment system.

For my money, Street Fighter IV needs to represent progress in as many ways as it needs to remain faithful to what's come before. Time and again SF games have learned the necessity to include the classic characters, the most prominent example being the EX and III entries, which introduced large casts of new characters, who wholely disregarded much of what made the SF characters so great.

SFIV needs to do several things to ensure it's viability as a contender in a current market where even Mortal Kombat has overcome it's past handicaps:

- A new villain
Central to any beat 'em up is a final boss, and for the sake of maintaining a coherrent plot, I think it's important that Bison remain shelved in favour of a new villain. Unlike previous attempts, this will mean both examining the larger context of the story, and recognising how that can translate to a character that is suitable for the Street Fighter logic.

- Clarification
Promotional work has included the tagline "a new beginning", and for this to really be true, it's time for CapcomUSA to take the bull by the horns and establish firm canon. This means clearing dangling threads like Akuma/Ryu's relationship, and other minor details still squabbled about amongst fans.

Some characters I'd
like to see return:

Dan Hibiki
Dee Jay
Karin Kanzuki
Ken Masters
Rainbow Mika
Sakura Kusanago
- Motivations
Everyone loves seeing their favourite characters lumped into massive rosters, but if this is really going to be a new beginning, each cast member needs a good reason for being connected to this new chapter. That might be something as simple as being a stalwart of the fighting circuit (re; sports culture), but it needs to be well considered. If Bison is dead, he needs to stay dead. The characters deserve strong motivations.

- Endings
I would really love to see CG or conventionally animated FMV endings for each character, but I'm going to assume the company that has been reluctant to invest in a nostalgia brand might not have the cash to go there. Then again, the excuse that SF wasn't a viable investment might have been a diversion to delay the game for the twentieth anniversary... Roughly...

Either way, connecting again to the importance of clarity and story, every character should have a solid ending. Nothing is more embittering than playing through a game only to discover there is nothing more than an arcade experience to be had. This is not the reason gaming has gone home to consoles.

Regardless of the outcome, Street Fighter IV is hugely exciting, and I greatly look forward to it. Hopefully it can garner enough attention to warrant more regular sequels in a similar fashion to the Tekken and MK sequels.

If you haven't seen the trailer yet, you need to get yourself on YouTube, or head over to Street Fighter World, where they've got it on the main page in a higher quality format. It's truly awe inspiring, and a true tease for the SF fans!

The Fix: 3 The Film: 5.5
Winner: Ken

[Ken and Ryu are currently being featured in the teaser trailer for Street Fighter IV, which can be found at the new official home of Street Fighter: SF World! As we continue to sponsor the Capcom characters on the weekends, Ken positions himself as a stronger contender for a top spot, lurking behind Guile and Ryu!]

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