Friday, April 18, 2008

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

The Story So Far...
The legend of Ryu's defeat over the Muay Thai champion Sagat has spread across the globe, but for the wandering world warrior the victory has come at a terrible cost.

Working as a bodyguard for drug smugglers; Ryu finds himself despondent after the glory of defeating one of the world's most popular fighters. However, unbenknownst to the world, Ryu is also plagued with doubt, having resorted to a power forbidden by his master, Gouken.

Working in Thailand with fellow street fighter and British thug, Birdie; Ryu is about to become the subject of an anti-narcotics sting launched by Interpol. Over zealous intervention inevitably escalates to violence, and when the battle is done, this night of fighting is destined to change Ryu's life forever...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: ShinkiroARTWORK: CRMKStrength: Birdie 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Chun-Li 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Chun-Li 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Draw 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Chun-Li 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Chun-Li 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Chun-Li 3 (Explosives)

- A skilled student of the Tai Chi style, Chun-Li trained under the martial arts master, Gen, before becoming the Chinese fighting-dynamo of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).

After her father's death, Chun-Li is motivated to hunt and destroy the international crime syndicate, Shadaloo, when she learns it's leader, Bison, may have been responsible for the murder. Her pursuit for justice brings her into the company of US Air Force soldier, Guile, who is also seeking justice for Bison's murder of his best friend, and undercover agent, Charlie. Their

Chun-Li is an incredibly fast and agile fighter, whose greatest asset are her powerful legs. Trademark attacks in her offensive arsenal include the Kikouken chi fireball, spinning side kick aerial attack, and Hyakuretsu Kyaku; better known as the flurrying combo, lightning kicks!

- Hailing from England, the former pro-wrestler turned punk rocker, Birdie, is an undisciplined fighter with aspirations of joining the international crime syndicate, Shadaloo. In an effort to get noticed, this wannabe thug partakes in petty crime on the streets, while using his trademark chain as a weapon in street fights.

Birdie eventually used his reputation to reach the ranks of Shadaloo, but when the temptation of power leads Birdie to devise a plan to use M. Bison's psycho-drive as a means of overthrowing him, a subsequent team-up with Balrog leads to Birdie's undoing, and the alleged collapse of Shadalooo.

The Math: Chun-Li Ranking: Chun-Li (#170)

What Went Down...
In a leaky tugboat off the coast of Thailand; Ryu, Birdie, and a group of smugglers that have acquired their services find themselves sitting ducks as a cruiser and helicopters descend on them for a sting run by the Narcotics Squad of the International Criminal Police Organization -- Interpol!

Keen to get her man, new recruit, Chun-Li, descends from the hovering helicopter onto the tiny vessel. She informs the men on the boat of their situation, but the young woman fails to intimidate her prey. One of the smugglers grabs a knife from the bow and charges -- big mistake!

The smuggler gets a face full of foot for his troubles, and a bloodied nose at no extra charge. The explosive kick shows the smugglers exactly what they're dealing with, leaving the fight in the hands of the burly Brit, Birdie!

Despite her lightning quick attack and proficient legs, Chun-Li finds herself with yet another unintimidated opponent. The world weary Birdie takes a playful position with the Interpol agent, but suffers for it as she hones in on a weakness in the big man's stance!

With a devestating sweep she knocks the punker off his feet, taking full advantage of his lack of lower defense. Off balance, Birdie's ripe for the picking as Chun-Li again launches her fast and furious feet, this time with the devestating combo-hit of the lightning kick!

The gang leader summons Ryu, his hired bodyguard, to come to Birdie's aid, but instead gets a lesson in the honorable etiquette of the fight. Something both he and Birdie share, despite their many differences in life and philosophy.

As it happens, things aren't looking too bad for Birdie, who, despite toppling like an oak, is able to whip his chains out in an offensive maneuver. The big man wraps the danty Interpol officer up in their metal grip, using the vice to launch her into an assault that brings her crashing mercilessly down like a piledriver!

Enthused to hear the spirit of the warrior still inside the Japanese fighter, Birdie pauses to revel in the moment of battle, leaving himself open to sniper fire from the hovering Interpol agents. A trigger happy soldier opens fire, prompting Ryu to throw himself between his friend and the ammunition!

Ryu takes two slugs to the chest, falling limp in an instant.
A grizzly end to the inconclusive fight.

The Hammer...
... So, in a shocking twist, the battle comes to a draw!
It's kinda cheating, but I feel compelled to offer a secondary victory to Chun-Li for her thorough dismantling of the thugs, an event not technically involved in the fight with Birdie, with a very decisive end.

Across the blogosphere a cosmic deity seeks nourishment of a black and white kind! That's right, we're sharing the B&W mayhem as Bahlactus celebrates a full year of Friday Night Fights! Chances are we'll be revisiting the scene of this crime, as well as dipping into the B&W pond for other features that might otherwise be less likely to beat out some of the coloured competition. Yay comics!

Last month we had mixed feelings about the latest in the wave of new additions joining the cast of Street Fighter IV; El Fuerte. [Street Fighter Alpha Vol.1]
The conflict continues as news leaks of not only the eagerly anticipated return of Vega, and the expected but disappointing return of Bison; but also the emergence of a new character that might just be the least inspired yet: the morbidly obese, yellow jumpsuited, Rufus!

While it's still early, I should also note that Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li also began filming since last we spoke, and launched a brand new blogsite that's promised [semi-] regular updates on happenings from the set!
With so much Street Fighter to talk about, I'm thinking we might have to revisit the subject sometime soon to talk more about the movie, because I've been conversing with the gaming fanbase this week, and certainly have plenty to say about SFIV. Suffice to say, I'm excited to hear reports of Michael Clarke Duncan in action as Balrog, apparently "smashing shit up"!

So, what is it that has me so full of discontent?
I think it's fair to say that there's a pretty large portion of the comics fanbase that I don't see eye-to-eye with. I can't seem to talk comics with anyone without prefacing certain agreements with a sturdy "but," and although I find myself quite disheartened with this medium that's been so harsh to me and my endeavours; I can usually bounce back for love of the medium and the positives that flow as freely as any negatives, or disappointments. Afterall, for all the hubub, comics are a mature medium, and by sheer volume there's almost always a solution.

The charm and context of an on-going medium like comics is lost on video games. The gaps of time mean just as many of us have grown with previous systems of gaming, the current market share is returning to a young, new generation of gamers whose concerns are as immature as ours once were, albeit overloaded by the confusion of an established medium.

Street Fighter is a lot like comics. It is comics.
That's why we talk about the manga, comics, series, and movies here.
I get a lot of the same pleasures from games like Street Fighter that I get from the on-going adventures of the many characters featured on the site. I feel a childish joy for the mere sight of the characters, while measuring their exploits with a careful intellectual study, sometimes to my detriment.

Such is the emerging case for Street Fighter IV, which, despite early efforts to promote the cast of the original Street Fighter II (1992), grows increasingly distanced from everything I could romanticise about the series.

Amidst shakey confirmation that Street Fighter IV will abandon sequential standards to set itself shortly after SFII, word from the top comes that each installment in the franchise is intended to stand-alone, removed from it's surrounding chapters. Vague connections, like the carry-over of Sagat's scar earned in the little known first game [Street Fighter #1], should apparently be put down to little more than design choice and easter eggs, leaving any cohesion in the Street Fighter saga to external works by visionaries like Nakahira-san.

Those of you strictly dedicated to American comics will either appreciate the perspective from which I'm describing Street Fighter IV's predicament; or be entirely disinterest. Such is the split of the modern comics readership which, though well balanced, has probably seen a similar injection of youth into the readership over the past decade, leading to a mixed bag of theories and mis/understandings.

Like much of what you would expect from any major comic series; there are certain inherent qualities and ideas that make Street Fighter instantly recognisable. The rich cast of characters are at their best when identified by the building blocks of their design, usually drafted specifically from a martial art, and/or a nation of origin, painting broad strokes upon which life is carefully dabbed.

More often than not the true life of these characters comes from external mediums, highlighting perhaps the one area never quite conquered by the beloved characters of the Street Fighter game series: story.

Though their legend is epic, even the central character, Ryu, fails to find depth in his representation within the games. It is my first criticism of Street Fighter IV that it seems, at least at this point, completely devoid of the kind of story contemporary rivals, (like; Tekken, Mortal Kombat), boast as one of their primary features. Despite having enthusiasm enough to convince an apparently reluctant Capcom to pursue a new anniversary release for the series, project leader Yoshinori Ono and his recruited team seem oblivious to the fundamentals of what's made Street Fighter such an icon of fiction.

The careful detailing of classic characters seems entirely undermined as the team serves up uninspired designs like El Fuerte and the recent Rufus, while each character falls neatly into a vague and underwhelming plot point - amnesia, or a desire to discover a great new cooking technique through fighting... Grim, indeed.

Ono and his team appear at times to be groping around in the dark, shooting wide on any count to gauge a response. After the hysteria of the colouful, but lacking in grounding, Crimson Viper; the team turned in a purer vision of the classic model in Abel, albeit in a particularly bland form. A similar stutter came from the lazily designed El Fuerte, who, despite drawing from the colourful and exciting world of lucha libre, failed to impress from a design standpoint.

This flailing of the creative limbs feels so especially disheartening because of the strong pedigree established by the early games. The makers were smart enough to distance themselves from the infamy of SFIII's cast of freaks, but it almost feels like, at this early stage, we're fixing to do it all over again in a whole new way. Sure, El Fuerte and Abel have managed to bring it back to the broad notion of a good Street Fighter, but it all still feels so lazy, and insincere.

Missing from the design process seems to be perhaps the most obvious saving grace: a larger purpose to this game. Touted as a "New Beginning," there seems to be little defining quality to what is thus far little more than a successful romp into contemporary 3D gaming. While it's nice to leave the bad taste of the blocky Ex series behind us, that doesn't make a game for me, and it flagrantly ignores the advantages of a franchise that allow a strong central concept to provide branching inspiration for more characters.

While the story has always been vague and shifting in the Street Fighter canon, key plot points have been firmly established in the games. The destruction of M. Bison and Shadaloo is the key point of SFII, and the Alpha games [Zero in Japan] further contribute to that with elements surrounding Akuma and the dark hadou. From there we get a sense of progression in SFIII that pits the heroes against another evil organization, this time the cultish Illuminati.

Because Ryu has so successfully been the face of the series, I'd be very tempted to build the larger story around this character. Though potentially an unpopular decision given the milque toast qualities of the indomitable hero, it gives an opportunity to not only include that classic core to this new series, but also build toward a climax in the journey of this hero who has carried the series thus far.

Street Fighter III famously fumbled the ball by attempting to introduce a dominating cast of new characters. The speed of the introduction was almost doomed to fail, particularly as so many of the characters rebelled against the classic mould of characters with strong nationalized and fighting identities.

That said, as someone who fancys himself as a bit of a writer, I can't help but feel loathed at the idea of simply brushing these mistakes aside. Particularly as SFIII contained so many redeeming qualities, even in the most superficial sense. There's much to be salvaged from SFIII, particularly with the opportunity to do with these devices what that game failed to - introduce them organically.

The chronic female shortage could be lessened by the inclusion of the vibrant Capoeira style through Elena; while the powerful Oro offers a wise, sage-like muse well known to the martial arts genre. It seems almost a given that this character's presence be linked to the upper tier, perhaps even as a mentor to the increasingly powerful Ryu, whose battle with the dark hadou was never quite closed out to my satisfaction.

It strikes me that, despite the legend these characters have built within their own universe, there's never been a character intent on harnessing the dark energies of the hadou technique. This power, which has effectively defined Akuma's role in the series as a dark shadow, is a great point from which a new boss can be derived, and as such a lynchpin from which story can be hung.
It makes sense that Ryu's battle with the dark temptation be brought to a head by a fighter competent on his own terms, but intent on building new power through the accumulation of this style. As the unnamed ansatsuken technique used by Ryu, Ken and Akuma originated from Chinese master, Goutetsu, it seems a great opportunity to add that flair from references similar to the inspiration of Lei Fang; one of the more exciting new characters from Tekken 5.

I'm digressing into specific concepts that, you can probably tell, have krept to mind previously, but while I'm uncomfortable with the notion of fan-fiction, I like to think they help emphasise the point. There's so much directing concepts inherent to the material that it's utterly heart breaking to see this series continue without a strong creative direction. Though not obvious, it's even from concepts like this, and the strong sense of the universe that influences these characters, that could easily direct better references for the design and creation of new characters.

Not every character need be tied to the central plot, and I can think of plenty of reasons to include other characters in the game. The thought occurs that even SFIII freaks like the robotic Q character offer opportunities to build potential sequels, with unlikely ties to characters like Zangief, and many other sub-stories of varying significance. It's important to remember that while every character deserves strong motivation and some description of an adventure through the plot of a game, they don't all need to be out to save the world.
The context of Street Fighter, as we have so often noted, is that of a strong underground culture of fighting and the fighting spirit. The philosophy of characters can reasonably be something as simple as seeking to be the best, but for satisfactory treatment, there has to be some sort of developing plot that these characters enter into, even if they just want to be the best.

It's early days. There's still plenty to come from Street Fighter IV, and while I openly express my disappointment, it comes more from a very accepting audience that no longer aspires to great things of this franchise. Many Street Fighter fans are blissfully ignorant to the irony of their enjoyment in seeing references from SF descendents like the SNK fighters, or many other franchises.

Though it threatens to miscast the argument as one of stagnancy, there's a point I feel needs stressing. This is Street Fighter. This is the franchise that put the beat 'em up on the map, and for this game to be making a "new beginning" out of lacklustre visuals and a lazy dismissal of the trademark qualities of Street Fighter, is a travesty. This is the one the other games should be aspiring to, but without recognising everything that makes Street Fighter so identifiable, they run the risk of being homogenized in a sea of mediocrity.

Ono-san's direction right now feels flat and devoid of the supposed enthusiasm that won him the job of overseeing a franchise Capcom considered dead.
His track record is spotty at best, with Fighting Evolution a maligned faux pas of gameplay that introduced the hideously misplaced Ingrid into the SF roster. His designs reek of SNK, and even Capcom's defunct wrestling series, Saturday Night Slam Masters, albeit without the flair or contextual relevance of that game.

We haven't even had the opportunity to touch on the fact that the game has, despite Ono's promise to the contrary, become a total boys club. As slots continue to be filled in the playable roster, one can't help but feel the wrestling overtones of Rufus, and El Fuerte, didn't come at the cost of a return for a stronger female character, like Rainbow Mika. That, however, is a contextual debate for another day, perhaps when we have a clearer indication of what the final cast will look like. After poll results put SFIII's Dudley at the top of the most-wanted list, I hold out hope for less obvious returnees to the series.

Once upon a time negativity was undoubtedly the bane of the online community, but the flipside seems to have emerged as the new super power. The prevelance of Nintendo's family-friendly Wii, as well as the increasing trend to abandon story in video games seems indicative of the growing control a new, young generation has. It's perhaps here that the naivity and ill informed acceptance begins, but this shouldn't be license for the gaming industry to retract even further into itself. As more dollars ride on it, it's an industry already intent on rehashing and avoiding risk at all cost. A process that's potentially gradually feeding it it's own tail. Homogenization seems to be the enemy here, and Street Fighter deserves to hold on to, and market the flair that made it an international cultural phenomenon.

There's sure to be plenty to come, and I'll be watching!

EDIT: And watching I was! If you're a beat 'em up fan and you haven't heard the news, the apparent confirmation of Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe almost certainly puts any of Street Fighter's problems into perspective. You might expect a fight blog like this to be behind such a move, but if you read through the discussion in this entry, you'll probably be able to figure out why the Infinite Wars thinks this is terrible for both parties involved.

To cap off what is arguably a creative surrender from the MK franchise in the year that was supposed to redefine the series with the 'slate wiped clean,' this early render released on Mortal Kombat Online shows several steps back in MK's design approach. What I wouldn't do to get some thoughts from a Dan Didio, or someone else, right now. It's shocking to believe DC would've licensed their properties to something of this nature. I'm baffled, true believers!

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 6.5

With visionaries like Masahiko Nakahira showing exactly how strong and consistent the Street Fighter story and identity can be, it's especially embarassing to see the mistakes of the past repeated. If you want to find out more about Nakahira-san's cohesive version of the Street Fighter saga, and put your best foot forward in the debate about SFIV and it's new characters, you should head over to Amazon! They not only offer fantastic prices and deals, but when you use purchase links provided, you help fund future entries in the Infinite Wars! You'll find this, as well as other reviewed issues in the Amazonian Gift Shoppe, as well!


The Fortress Keeper said...

All I know about Street Fighter is that my wife absolutely scorched my butt whenever she played Chun-Li.

My favorites were Ryu and Guile, but I have to admit I lost track of the franchise after Street Fighter II...

(and the fact that the stupid movie with Van Damme made Guile the main character. Still, Kylie Minogue and Ming-Na were nothing to sneeze at!)

Mike Haseloff said...

Hah! I think a lot of people are probably in a similar boat, particularly the American comics readers with that special aversion to manga. :-p

I'm by no means the world's greatest gamer, but these are as much to me as the superheroes, and not all that different. It's just a shame the quantity, and sometimes quality, isn't always there to support the on-going stories of these characters.

And yeah... Then there's Van Damme... :-p