Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Round. 6 (UDON/Capcom/Shinseisha)
Street Fighter Alpha Vol.1 When: 2007
Why: Masahiko Nakahira How: Masahiko Nakahira

The Story so far...
Since his victory against Sagat, Ryu has become a despondent warrior, fearful of his own power and nature as a fighter. Having taken a job as hired muscle on a drug running vessel; Ryu is picked up by Interpol when they intervene in his ship's course, and suffer the horrors of the uncontrollable dark hadou energies Ryu harbors within.

Despite fears that he may again succumb to the dark hadou, Ryu agrees to join a mission to infiltrate the underground fighting scene, where an international criminal organization called "Shadaloo" is recruiting street fighters into their ever growing army of assassins and criminals. Accompanying Chun-Li through the sewers, Ryu finds himself locked in an astral battle against the mysterious fortune-teller, Rose.

Having been warned that his life would be changed by the intervention of two warriors garbed in blood red; Ryu takes Chun-Li to an official fighting arena, where just such an individual is about to fight. His oldest friend and fellow practitioner of the mysterious ansatsuken fighting style of Goutetsu -- Ken Masters; American fighting champion!

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: ShinkiroARTWORK: AkimanStrength: Ken 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Ken 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Ken 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Ken 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Draw 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Ken 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Ken 3 (Explosives)

- The son of a Hong Kong martial artist; Dan Hibiki's life becomes dedicated to a quest of revenge when his father is killed in battle with his Muay Thai fighting rival, Sagat. Against all odds Dan appears to succeed in avenging his father's death by defeating Sagat, unaware that his despondent opponent allowed him to win. Blissfully ignorant; Hibiki goes on to begin promoting his saikyo-ryuu fighting style and forming new rivalries in the martial arts arena.

A thoroughly unremarkable fighter, Hibiki's style is heavily derived from the ansatsuken method practiced by fighters like Ken and Ryu, with some additional inspiration from the Muay Thai fighting style of Sagat.
Dan is capable of limited ki manipulation with attacks such as his self-taught, short ranged, one-handed fireball, the Gadouken. More potent is his dankukyaku aerial attack, which features a triple hitting combination of kicks, easily blocked.

- Born to a wealthy American and his Japanese wife, Ken Masters is placed in the care of martial arts master, Gouken, at a young age. There he befriends and trains with a young Japanese fighter named Ryu, with whom Ken would have a lifelong bond and rivalry. Together the fighters hone their skills in the unnamed Ansatsuken fighting discipline, whilst mastering the energy harnessing attacks of the Hadou technique. When Gouken is murdered by Akuma, master of the dark hadou; Ken joins Ryu in the search for the man responsible, bringing the pair into conflict with the nefarious criminal organization, Shadaloo.

Ken is a supreme athlete, having won many martial arts competitions in his native America. His fighting style is much the same as Ryu's; featuring the Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku hurricane kick, as well as the hadouken and shoryuken energy attacks.

The Math: Ken Masters Ranking: Ken Masters (#53)

What Went Down...
Dan enters the arena to resounding antagonism from the crowd, who are retaliating to the apparent indescretions of previous fights, where Hibiki has been known to cheat to win. I'm not sure if this is really a fair depiction of a character better known for being utterly useless, but given that this is depicted as a finals confrontation, I guess those sorts of explanations are required by some... I digress...

Hibiki is somewhat taken aback by the angellic blonde who enters the ring as his opponent, drastically undermining the fighting quality that no doubt earned Ken a spot in the tournament finals. This tournament is revealed to be Ken's first official outing, leading to further taunts from the over confident Hibiki, who receives a guarantee from his opponent that he'll finish him off with a minimum of time and pain.

Ken's boastful claims appear under threat as the pink-garbed Hibiki launches into his dankukyaku flying kick the second the match starts -- or so it seems!
Ken proves more than ready for a fight, easily blocking the triple threat kick of Dan's assault!

Ken puts on a Masters-class, leaping into a rising knee that puts Dan right in a stunned ready position for Ken's own special kick attack -- the tatsumaki senpuu kyaku! The spinning kick collides for four clean strikes, knocking Dan even sillier than usual!

From the crowd, Ryu can sense an imminent victory in Ken's favour, but Hibiki's arsenal is not yet exhausted! Feeling the pressure, Dan looks to strike-out with a powerful uppercut attack modelled on Ken and Ryu's shoryuken, but before the "koryuken" can be executed, Ken counters it with a devestating fly kick!

Recognising Dan's fighting arsenal as little more than a knock-off of his own, Ken unleashes a devestating combination - the beginning of the end of his show of superiority. Looking to impress Ryu, Ken summons his ki energy for a finisher the likes of which has never been seen -- a multiple hitting shoryuken combo!

The move sends a hush through the crowd as Dan's defeated body hurls through the air, coming to a harsh and bloodied landing. Ryu in particular is left in awe, recognising the move as forbidden by their master, Gouken, for it's connection with the dark hadou.

Ken soaks in his first official tournament win as the crowd erupts into cheer.

The Hammer...
Well, after another tired day, I make the feeble gesture of giving you your expected winner: Ken Masters!

The beginning of the month has been dedicated to a lot of features revolving around boxing and competition fighting [Immortal Iron Fist #11, Daredevil: Man Without Fear #2, Phantom #927], so it seemed like a great opportunity to come back to Street Fighter, which has been a recurring feature on the Infinite Wars. In the recent past, Street Fighter's been a great hits grabber for us, in particular the now infamous Street Fighter Legends #2 review, which features Zangief's accidental groping [of Rainbow Mika]. Mmm, classy!

The significance of Street Fighter II in 1990's mainstream pop culture is undeniable.
Most of you who were alive in the middle of the decade should be familiar with a lot of the icons of the series, even by the abstraction of their commercial value. Comics fans from the era will have had specific confrontations with the Street Fighter stable when they collided with the Marvel Comics super heroes in a series of Versus games, which are still regarded to be among the very best 2D beat 'em up video games!

With Street Fighter IV on the home console horizon, some of you are going to be enjoying the repeating emergence of Street Fighter on the Infinite Wars. On the other hand, there seems to be a real divide between Japanese culture and American comics fans, who may or may not be typified by their rigid preconceptions. For the more accepting of you, I hope each time we dive deeper into the Street Fighter canon, you maybe come to see just how similar the fictional worlds of these and superhero characters can be.

Now, about those video game characters: a lot's been happening with Street Fighter IV since we last talked SF, and I kinda wish I'd jumped on that much sooner, because I've lost a little bit of the wind I had in my sails!

Top 25 Gaming Warriors
#1 Ryu (Capcom)
#2 Dhalsim (Capcom)
#3 Guile(Capcom)
#4 R. Mika (Capcom)
#5 Ken Masters (Capcom)
#6 Sagat (Capcom)
#7 Fei Long (Capcom)
#8 Raiden (Midway)
#9 Noob Saibot (Midway)
#10 Akuma (Capcom)
#11 Sakura (Capcom)
#12 T.Hawk (Capcom)
#13 Jin Kazama (Namco)
#14 Rose (Capcom)
#15 Chun-Li (Capcom)
#16 Vega (Capcom)
#17 Scorpion (Midway)
#18 Birdie (Capcom)
#19 Balrog (Capcom)
#20 Gouken (Capcom)
#21 Sodom (Capcom)
#22 Ganryu (Namco)
#23 Bruce Irvin (Namco)
#24 Dan Hibiki (Capcom)
#25 Zangief (Capcom)
Fortunately a little energizer came in the form of El Fuerte; the latest addition to the returning SFII legends.
First impressions? Well, it's nice to see Capcom following up on Abel with another character steeped in fighting styles. El Fuerte represents the lucha legion of libre wrestlers popularized by American and Asian genres of high risk, high-flying pro wrestling. In the Alpha series of games Rainbow Mika touched upon the style, but never to any thorough extent, so one might expect moves designed to take advantage of the gravity scripts inherent to 3D CG models, along the lines of trademarks from Rey Mysterio, Great Muta, Ultimo Dragon, and other well known pros.

I find myself bouncing back and forth between unbridled excitement, and bitter scepticism.
The reveal of a French mixed martial artist named Abel brought me back to joy after the bitter deviation of a new character like Crimson Viper, whose design and concept was heavily removed from the classic concept of proficient fighters from around the world.

Just as Abel's release was coloured by Crimson Viper, I find El Fuerte reflecting off of Abel. Measuring the characters on a cumulative scale, Abel suffers from the follow-up of an equally uninspired visual, in the surprisingly dull looking Mexican luchador.

Capcom have a history in the wrestling genre with the Slam Masters series, which featured around the same time as Street Fighter II, boasting a more outlandish cast of professional wrestling characters. With such a pedigree behind them, the bland design of El Fuerte is especially disappointing, and given game director Yoshinori Ono's history as co-creator of Fighting Evolution's, Ingrid; one can't help but wonder if the desires of fans and the strengths of the series might be lost on the current creative team.

Love or hate Crimson Viper, it's impossible to deny that there's an investment in the character both in terms of visual, and in the in-game construction of her movements and reality. That said, the character really brings back horrible memories of Street Fighter III, where the bulk of the cast was bumped for characters depicting more outlandish qualities, rather than anything familiar to a nation or established fighting art.

With Abel, upset fans were treated to something more traditional with a character who wears his nation on his sleeve (literally!), and boasts a very traditional martial arts asthetic. That said, the character manages to be a pale comparison of cartooned characters like Ken, Ryu, or Sagat, each steeped in their martial arts history, but heavily developed into individual characters.
Maybe one should be more forgiving. Maybe it would be more just to recognise the potential for evolution in characters like Abel and El Fuerte, but for such a prominent series... I guess there's an expectation for more immediately inspiring results.

Rival beat 'em up franchise, Sega's Virtua Fighter, introduced gamers to fictional lucha libre El Blaze, who comes adorned with Rey Mysterio inspired regalia in what undoubtedly made for a more immediate impact.
I don't want to sound overly negative, because I'm definitely looking forward to Street Fighter IV. At the same time, discourse should never be something frowned upon, even if I'm a little off my game and maybe not quite articulating the historical references to the extent I wish I was.

The big news over the past few days is a countdown hinting at information about the new Mortal Kombat, which, if the case, means the American market is about to be flooded with franchise beat 'em ups! The selection; ranging from Soul Calibur, to Tekken, and now the previously promised eighth Mortal Kombat; promises to give Street Fighter IV a run for it's money, at least in Western markets.

I'm not doing terribly well here, but I want to give a minute to Masahiko Nakahira's work on Street Fighter Alpha, because it somewhat resonates with some of issues regarding the creative course of the games.

Where Yoshiniro Ono might have a slightly confused passion for moving the series forward, Nakahira pays homage to the games and their history through his story which is very nearly an adaptation of the Street Fighter Alpha video game.
You really get an appreciation for Nakahira's attention to detail when you break down something like this fight between Dan and Ken. Certain concessions are made for the sake of the story. Dan's given an implied fighting credibility by his position in the tournament final, which is fairly atypical of his character, but is, as noted, explained away by a spate of cheating. Breaking down the mechanics of the fights and scenes, even away from the trademark moves, really shows an almost slavish attention to the game and it's animated sprites.

Another noted change [for the sake of story] was the development of the shoryuken, a staple of the games, as a move connected to the dark hadou.
Nakahira does well to create a cohesion with otherwise silly concepts, like evil Ryu, developing the unwritten conclusion of the first Street Fighter game, which sees Ryu scarring Sagat with the finishing punch [interpreted in Street Fighter #1], as the first awakening of the dark hadou in Ryu.

Nakahira pays a delightful respect to the first game's boss and subsequent stalwart, Sagat, recasting him as an unbeatable villain in his legendary showdown with Ryu. Unlike frustrated scenes like the SFII animated movie, Sagat dominates the Japanese fighter, defeated by the shoryuken as a last resort, rather than a finishing blow on an embarassing defeat.

Nakahira recalls this kind of strength in his Street Fighter III: Final Ryu, where Sagat's journey continues despite the character's omission from the third official installment - a fact that again points to Nakahira's fantastic understanding of the of the brand. An understanding that seems to have alluded many Capcom teams that have taken over the franchise with the dissolving of the original teams. There's probably more to be said about that, but for now, it's a wrap. Night guys!

EDIT: Once again, I failed to mention that the top twenty five is provided by cumulative rankings determined over two years of Infinite Wars. Take them with a pinch of salt, and understand they only represent a focused interpretation.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 6.5

As always Amazon links are provided for your convenience, just incase you should decide you've found yourself so thoroughly tittilated, you feel like making an impulse purchase. By using the purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars, which is really very nice of you. Mwah, mwah.

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