The tangled and bizarre lore of ‘Street Fighter’, explained
The hotly anticipated Street Fighter 6 hits shelves next week, promising the biggest and best incarnation of the classic fighting game franchise to date. Each new Street Fighter game is met with an enormous amount of hype from players, continuing a strong pedigree that stretches back all the way to 1988.
The new entry will continue Street Fighter‘s reputation as an eSport (it’s arguably the original eSport), will be a mainstay of fighting game tournaments for years to come, offers a suite of online options to battle players around the world, and, for the first time, a full single-player ‘World Tour’ RPG mode letting you design a fighter and take them from a lowly scrub to an international champion.
All that’s set against the backdrop of iconic characters like Ryu, Chun-Li, Ken, Guile, and the rest, with a bunch of new challengers joining the party for the first time. There’s a hell of a lot of lore behind these games, so here’s what you should know about the Street Fighter story before you throw your first Hadoken.
Round One! Fight!
The story begins with 1988’s Street Fighter. This relatively bare-bones experience sees the player take control of Ryu or Ken as they battle their way through the first World Warrior tournament. Here, the martial arts pair are talented newbies, though only Ryu manages to make his way to the final and square off with the towering Muay Thai master Sagat. Sagat systematically dismantles Ryu in the climactic match, leaving the young fighter battered and broken on the arena floor.
Sagat is an honorable fighter and offers a hand to help Ryu up. But this condescending move awakens a burning fury in Ryu and he breaks out a powerful Shoryuken dragon punch, catching Sagat completely off guard. The blow knocks Sagat unconscious and gives him a giant chest wound, almost killing him. Ryu is declared the winner of the tournament, though is disturbed by his actions and doesn’t feel like he’s earned his victory. When the injured Sagat awakens, he swears vengeance on Ryu.
Street Fighter Alpha series
Now things start to get a little more complicated. The Street Fighter Alpha series is set in the wake of Street Fighter and builds up to the events of Street Fighter II. Here, many of the key combatants begin their stories. Ryu is still dealing with the aftermath of his victory in the first tournament, with everyone wanting to challenge him to see if he’s really all that. Then a dark figure from Ryu’s past emerges. This is the demonic Akuma, who killed Ryu and Ken’s master Gouken. Akuma has given himself over to the same corruptive evil energy that lingers inside Ryu, known as the Satsui No Hado. The two square off on a deserted island, and though Akuma triumphs, he spares Ryu’s life, tells him to walk the dark road, and promises a rematch.
Meanwhile, the criminal organization Shadaloo begins to expand its operations. They’re run by the tyrannical M. Bison (Vega in Japan), who’s attempting world domination with his sinister Psycho Power. Many fighters have a personal grudge: Interpol agent Chun-Li is out to avenge her father’s death and U.S. Air Force duo Charlie and Guile are on a mission to bring him down. Meanwhile, the mysterious Rose is revealed to be the embodiment of any good that was once in Bison, now in the form of a woman.
We learn that Bison has mastered a form of immortality that lets him shift his soul into new bodies, and Ryu’s growing reputation makes Bison target him as a future vessel for his consciousness.
By the time of Street Fighter Alpha 3, Bison’s plans are coming together nicely. He’s assembled a nightmare weapon known as the Psycho Drive, has killed Charlie, kidnapped and tortured Ryu to infuse him with evil energy, and is on the cusp of world domination. With ‘Evil Ryu’ at his side, Bison squares off against the unlikely team of Ken, Sagat and teenage Ryu fangirl Sakura. Sagat finally gets some payback and beats Ryu back to his senses. The redeemed Ryu then destroys Bison, apparently killing him.
But Bison has a backup plan, with his soul promptly migrating into Rose’s body. Bison lives undercover as a woman for a while, though eventually, Shadaloo scientists create a new cloned body for him. This isn’t quite as powerful as his previous one but still possesses his Psycho Power.
Street Fighter II
Bison is back with his shiny new body and holds another World Warrior tournament, with the secret aim of gathering the greatest fighters in the world in order to brainwash them into his personal soldiers. Bison has also gotten word of Akuma’s existence, hoping that the tournament will cause the mysterious warrior to reveal himself so he can capture him and harness his incredible power.
This proves to be something of an oopsie on Bison’s part. At the end of the tournament, Akuma does indeed appear and breaks out his Raging Demon attack, instantly killing Bison and apparently destroying his soul. Despite being the most iconic Street Fighter game, there’s actually not a lot more to II‘s plot. Capcom has never even officially confirmed who won the second World Warrior tournament, though fans have concluded that Guile, Chun-Li and Cammy are the most likely candidates.
Street Fighter IV
Once again, reports of Bison’s death turned out to be premature. He’s back once again in another cloned body, though in his absence, a new offshoot organization has appeared. This is SIN, led by a genetically engineered being known as Seth who’s the product of dark Shadaloo experimentation. His aim is to hold a fighting tournament that’ll let him record and study the special abilities of the world’s greatest fighters and eventually rule the world.
This culminates in a colossal battle at SIN headquarters. Bison has teamed up with a new warrior named Juri, who has something called the “Feng Shui Engine” in her eye. Bison and Juri track down Seth and Bison defeats him, with Juri finishing him off by crushing the “Tanden Engine” that gives him his powers.
Meanwhile, Ryu and Ken’s master Gouken reveals he wasn’t actually killed by Akuma at all. He and Akuma have a rematch with Ryu’s soul as the prize. Gouken wins, deciding to begin the process of eliminating the lingering darkness that remains in Ryu.
Street Fighter V
You’re not gonna believe this, but Bison is once again trying to take over the world. With Sagat having regained his honor, Bison has replaced him with the poison-happy mad scientist F.A.N.G. as one of his top lieutenants. The pair plan to execute Operation CHAINS, intended to engulf the world in a giant EMP. This will both crank up Bison’s powers to his Alpha days and throw the world into chaos, allowing him to rule with an iron fist.
Two teams of fighters set out to stop him. One is led by Alpha veteran Karin Kanzuki, who enlists hulking punk Birdie, the ninja Ibuki, and wrestler Rainbow Mika to her cause. New character Helen leads the other, having managed to turn Guile’s dead buddy Charlie into a Frankenstein’s monster, and recruiting the extravagant Rashid and the increasingly unhinged Juri.
Meanwhile, Ryu’s dark impulses are returning, and he’s being stalked by a legendary fighter known as Necalli who’s out to devour his soul. Fortunately for Ryu, he defeats Necalli and finally cleanses himself of the evil within him, completing his long journey that began in Street Fighter.
After an incredibly convoluted and confusing series of events, everything converges in an attack on Bison, with the fighters descending on his Shadaloo base to stop Operation CHAINS. The undead Charlie sacrifices himself to defeat Bison and Ryu delivers the final blow. This actually is the no-kidding end of Bison (for now anyway). Shadaloo is destroyed and the brainwashed fighters Bison controlled are freed. But this leaves a power vacuum, and there’s someone ready and waiting to fill it.
Street Fighter III
Bison really is a thing of the past, so enter *drum roll* The Illuminati. Yup, the ancient secret organization that actually runs the world. They’re led by the god-like figure of Gill, who’s obsessed with turning the world into a perfect utopia. And the best way to do that? Hold a fighting tournament!
Cards on the table, we don’t know exactly how a fighting tournament will result in a perfect world, but Gill seems confident it will, so who are we to argue? These games see slightly older versions of the classic cast: Ryu is wiser and more centered, Ken is (badly) training new student Sean, Chun-Li has retired from Interpol to teach martial arts to orphans, and new wrestler character Alex (who’s loosely based on Hulk Hogan) has taken the limelight as his fighting skills quickly grow.
By the time of Third Strike, the story has gotten even weirder, with T-1000-like genetic monster Twelve roaming the world and events being monitored by a mysterious robot detective named Q. We’re now about 25 years on from Third Strike, and very little of this has ever been explained, but Gill is indeed eventually defeated by Alex and his dreams of utopia are squashed (which is apparently a good thing).
Street Fighter 6
All of this brings us up to date with Street Fighter 6. I’ve been busily playing my review copy so know how this plays out, but for the sake of spoilers, I won’t get into exact details. The story largely revolves around the developing nation of Nayshall, which is being lifted out of poverty by an NGO run by obsessive genius JP.
At this point Ryu has embraced zen buddhism and practically perfected his fighting style, Chun-Li is teaching kids martial arts, and Guile is back with the Air Force. Unfortunately, Ken has fallen on hard times, being caught up in a controversy related to Nayshall that’s seen him lose all his money and get divorced. All the while, new fighters emerge hoping to triumph in the latest fighting tournament, though JP has his own ulterior motives for organizing it.
So there you have it, the deeply tangled and very strange story of Street Fighter. There’s a ton of stuff we’ve had to omit to keep it coherent, but we heartily recommend the excellent Street Fighter Wiki if you want to go deep on specific fighters.
Street Fighter 6 lands on PlayStation, Xbox and PC on June 3.