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Original Article: Fighting games have never quite been known for their stories, but they certainly have always been interesting, whether that’s the time travel shenanigans on modern Mortal Kombat, the magic shenanigans of Guilty Gear, or the elaborate crotch-kicking contest between the Mishima Family in Tekken, fighting game plots are certainly all over the place, often bending to the needs of the recent character roster.
Street Fighter and its’ timeline are no exception. For a series primarily meant to be about a fighting tournament, you’d think the plot would be pretty straightforward but no, it’s surprisingly complicated and gets pretty strange. So let’s take a look:
Street Fighter I – 1987
No one really talks about Street Fighter 1 and that’s for a good reason: it was kinda bad. The graphics were meh, and the controls were unwieldy. Trying to execute a hadouken in that game is a challenge in and of itself, or perhaps I just hadn’t smashed its pressure-sensitive arcade buttons hard enough.
The plot of the game starts with humble beginnings. Ryu is a young martial artist that enters a World Warriors Tournament held by Sagat, The King of Muay Thai, who wishes to prove he’s the best fighter in the world. Ryu beats each contestant, then fights and beats Sagat. That’s it.
It’s not a lot, but Capcom has retroactively built on the basic plot points. Rather than just win the tournament, apparently Ryu got his ass kicked by Sagat. Unfortunately for him though, the Satsui-No-Hado, the murderous energy within Ryu, ignites, causing him to pull off one last shoryuken that rips a deep gash through Sagat’s chest, knocking him clean out. The scar from this fight would appear on Sagat in every game since.
Also, if you’re wondering where Ken is in all this, the only other playable character in SF1, well apparently Ken’s appearance here is completely non-canon. He didn’t take part in the original Street Fighter tournament. After leaving their master, Ryu went to take on Sagat while Ken won multiple tournaments in the USA, with the promise to meet up later when they both become strong. And that takes us to…
Street Fighter Alpha – 1995
Even though Street Fighter II takes place after SFI in our world, that’s not how it works on the timeline. Following the success of SFII, Capcom released the Street Fighter Alpha series: consisting of Street Fighter Alpha 1, 2, and 3, prequels that take place between the first and second games. In terms of story, they mainly flesh out the plot of SFII, better establishing the motivations of the preexisting cast and adding some new characters.
If that’s not confusing enough, they all have different plotlines in their arcade modes, many of which contradict each other. Furthermore, according to Capcom, Street Fighter Alpha 1 is straight-up not canon, with Alpha 2 replacing the events of that game. Alpha 3 is then a sequel to Alpha 2 which is then followed by SFII. Makes sense right?
Between Alpha 2 and 3, the central plot is mostly about people chasing after each other. After the first Tournament, Ryu returns to his master only to find he’s been killed by Akuma who he’s now trying to find.
Meanwhile, the evil terrorist group Shadaloo, led by the Dictator M. Bison (aka Vega in Japan but that’s another can of worms), wants to capture Ryu to study the hado. Sagat teams up with Bison to have a rematch with Ryu, and Ken also wants to reunite with Ryu for a fight. Meanwhile, agents Charlie Nash and Chun-Li are searching for Bison which results in the former’s death when he’s gunned down by a helicopter.
The climax of Alpha 3 sees Bison brainwash Ryu, only for him to be snapped out of it by Ken, Sakura, and Sagat, allowing him to beat Bison and destroy his body (he gets a new one by SFII). It’s a giant web of drama and that’s not even going into all the side character’s various plots, like former Final Fight villains Rolento and Sodom (his actual name) trying to set up a military utopia.
I joke, but the Alpha series may have some of the better character writing in the series with each character getting some time and several including Vega, Cammy, and even Dan all getting some decent development.
Street Fighter II: The World Warriors – 1991
Street Fighter II is the game that actually made the series a household name but it’s also the one with the least amount of plot. A Second World Warriors Tournament is organized by Shadaloo. Bison is using the tournament to gather data on different fighters to perfect his clone bodies that he can send his consciousness into and further enhance his “Psycho Power”. Also, several of those clone bodies are teenage girls for some reason (Cammy and Decapre being two of them)
Each character has a different arcade ending after they fight Bison but they’re all implied to be canon to some extent: Guile gets revenge for Charlie Nash, Ken gets married, Blanka reunites with his mom and Chun-Li gets back to being a young single girl.
Street Fighter II of course had several updated versions launched which added not only new characters but also the canon winner of the tournament: Akuma. Regardless of who you play as, in the final round of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Akuma will kill Bison with the Raging Demon and take his place as the final boss. It’s hinted that the Tournament finalist was once again Ryu, and that would make sense but it’s never confirmed.
Street Fighter IV – 2008
The next game in the timeline is Street Fighter IV, a game that takes place not long after SFII and clearly pays a lot of homage to it with the entire SFII roster returning.
SFIV is the game that revived the series after a long hiatus in the early 2000s due to the waning popularity of arcades. With Capcom looking the bring the series back to the mainstream it needed to have the iconic SFII roster complete with its original designs and what better way to do that than with a direct sequel?
The plot of IV is likewise pretty straightforward. A new evil organization called S.I.N is holding another Tournament and the fighters have once again signed up. This time, the big bad is Seth, another clone of M. Bison (who has another new body after Akuma blasted him). Seth went rogue and now wants to gather fight data to become to ultimate fighter/lifeform. It very much parallels the plot of SFII but that’s sort of the point, it’s meant to be back to familiar basics.
And at the time, that’s all it needed to be. It was just nice to see everyone back, not to mention voiced and animated with full cutscenes for the first time.
Street Fighter V – 2016
This nostalgia pandering, however, was also one of the reasons players were so annoyed at V when it came out. It took place directly after IV and still had loads of focus on the SFII cast. People were ready to move on and many felt V was too similar to IV in terms of the roster, among its many other issues at launch.
Street Fighter V is meant to be the finale of the Shadaloo plot. It sees Bison finally unfold his plans for World Domination and the final confrontation between him, Ryu, and the rest of the cast, leading to his final demise (at least, for now).
It also starts setting up the plot of SFIII introducing people like Alex and Sean, not to mention adding the majestic G, The President of The World who’s highly implied to be the ever-mysterious Q. They also set up the role of III’s big bad, The Illuminati, acting behind the scenes, waiting for Bison’s time to end so they can take the reigns.
While SFV’s story mode isn’t the best written, with plot points like Necalli going pretty much nowhere, I do like the sense of transition with some characters. A lot of the SFII cast like Ryu, Guile, and Chun-Li all seem to complete their character arcs while characters like Alex and Luke seem ready to get their time in the spotlight.
Street Fighter III – 1997
This is where things get fully overhauled. With Street Fighter III: New Generation, Capcom wanted to give the series a clean slate with only Ryu and Ken returning alongside a completely new set of characters. It’s for this reason that it takes place right at the end of the timeline, to explain why so many characters are gone and why Shadaloo is no longer a threat anymore.
At the time this was a highly unpopular decision. People wanted their old favorites back but I can understand Capcom’s reasoning. They remade SFII several times, followed by bringing back several characters for SF Alpha. You can tell the devs wanted SFIII to be a real sequel in every sense of the word, including a new roster.
To make things more complicated however: there are also three versions of SFIII: New Generation, Double Impact, and Third Strike, and like the Alpha series, Double Impact’s plot replaces the original game’s with Third Strike being a sequel. Because some things really can’t change.
Ryu isn’t even the main character of SFIII but rather a new character: the Hulk Hogan lookalike Alex. He enters another World Warrior Tournament set up by the Illuminati, a globe-spanning cult led by the red and blue-skinned Gill, to avenge his mentor. Alex manages to promptly spank Gill and win the tournament but spares his life.
As before every arcade entry is pretty much canon but that’s not saying much when Dudley was just trying to get a car back, while Elena just showed up to make some friends. Third Strike’s new stories are likewise mostly the characters just shooting the shit now that the tournament is over. Alex challenges Ryu, Ken helps train Sean and Q stands around looking mysterious. Most of the endings are short but pretty cute, showing more of each fighter’s personality.
Street Fighter 6 – 2023
This leads us to Street Fighter 6, the latest game coming out later this week. It’s also the first game in the series to be fully confirmed to be set after SFIII. The old SFII cast is back once again, but this time they’re older, wiser, and moving on with their lives.
This is shown in the new single-player story mode, probably the most involved in the series. You play as a custom-made character learning from the different fighters, showing how their legacy from the past five games has inspired a whole new generation to become world warriors.
Prepare For Battle
So to recap, the chronological order of the Street Fighter timeline is as follows:
- Street Fighter I
- Street Fighter Alpha 2
- Street Fighter Alpha 3
- Street Fighter II (plus updates)
- Street Fighter IV
- Street Fighter V
- Street Fighter III: Double Impact
- Street Fighter III: Third Strike
- Street Fighter 6
It’s a wild timeline with plenty of strange plot points but overall I really enjoy Street Fighter’s story even if it’s just fluff for the arcade mode. It’s easy to write off fighting game stories but they’re important because fighting games live and die by their characters.
When you spend all your time playing as these fantastic characters, you want to learn more about them and the story gives you that context. Even if it’s something as silly as “Blanka, got lost in the Amazon and turned green because he ate too many electric eels”, it’s great the see the warriors behind the glory.
Also, this isn’t even Capcom-only series with a confusing timeline. You can tell Devil May Cry 2 was difficult to write around.