Street Fighter 1987 - 2016: The Evolution of Ryu

25 years after Street Fighter 2 changed video games forever, the world warriors have returned on PlayStation 4 and PC in Street Fighter. Throughout the decades, the spinoffs, the tournaments, and bizarre subtitles, there’s been one constant throughout: Ryu.

The stoic warrior with his signature white gi and red gloves is the heart and soul of Street Fighter, his rising dragon punch and hadouken fireball seemingly the same today as when he first appeared in the series’ lackluster first entry. Like Street Fighter, though, Ryu has changed and evolved over the years.

Street Fighter
The hurricane kick, fireball and dragon punch were there in 1987’s Street Fighter (or Fighting Street if you’re a Turbo Grafx 16 fan), but overall Ryu was an awkward mess. Stiff and difficult to control, his defining characteristic was a truly embarrassing Dukes of Hazard haircut.

Street Fighter 2
In 1991, Ryu became more than just the face of a major Capcom series. He became the face of an arcade revolution, a whole new genre, and the central icon of a competitive community the world over. He also ditched the bad hair to become one of the smoothest controlling characters in any game, the quarter-circle joystick motion for his fireball becoming a standard input for special moves everywhere.

Street Fighter Alpha
While Ryu was tweaked in multiple variations of Street Fighter 2, his next big change came in 1995’s Street Fighter Alpha which strangely enough was about bringing the series back to the past. A prequel to 2, Alpha gave Ryu an elegant, more expressly anime makeover in bright, primary colors. The Super Combo System started in Super Street Fighter 2 also evolved, giving Ryu and his pals three strength levels for a single, special graphical effects-laden super move. The Shinku Hadouken, a giant version of his fireball, makes its first proper appearance here and requires two quarter circle motions to activate. That’s how you know it’s super.

X-Men vs. Street Fighter
Things got a little silly for Ryu in 1996. He already had experience fighting dudes with claws, but Wolverine’s claws actually come out of his body unlike Vega’s wimpy little hand thing. This game, where our man famously shakes hands with Cyclops, kicked off Capcom’s beloved versus series transforming Ryu from martial artist to super-powered hero. His fireball can now fill an entire screen and he can hurricane kick 20 feet into the air.

Street Fighter EX
While 2D Ryu was battling Magneto in 1996, a brand new 3D Ryu was born in the Arika-developed Street Fighter EX. Not necessarily a bad series, EX was Capcom’s attempt to compete with rising stars like Virtua Fighter 2 and Tekken in arcades by translating its iconic fighter in to the third dimension. Ryu’s moves made the leap, but the whole package felt less precise and artful than it did in sprite form. Plus Ryu looked like he was made out of old cardboard boxes glued together at weird angles.

Street Fighter 3
From the absurd and cartoony to the lush and grounded, 1997’s Street Fighter 3 brought Ryu back down to earth after the versus series. Both slower and older in appearance compared to past games, Street Fighter 3’s Ryu is a strategist’s delight. Learning how to leverage his powerful punches and kicks against some of the game’s fast opponents opens up a beginner’s lesson in the game’s difficult parry system. This is also the pinnacle of Ryu sprites, a gorgeously detailed and animated character on the screen. But is his hair supposed to be so blue looking? It was brown in 2!

Street Fighter 4
While Ryu popped up in new versus games like Capcom vs. SNK and RPGs like Namco X Capcom after Street Fighter 3, it was more than a decade before his next major transformation. 2008’s Street Fighter 4 both revitalized the series and gave Ryu his first respectable debut in 3D, with a gorgeous character model benefiting from the game’s signature ink-brush outlines. Ryu’s Street Fighter 2 move set returned in full but was augmented by Focus attacks, a new ability to absorb a strike and counter attack, as well as wildly animated Ultra Combos.

Street Fighter 5
After eight years of Street Fighter 4 variations, Capcom is finally giving us a proper sequel and it sports some fancy changes. Focus Attacks are out, but V-Skills in. These are character-specific moves that can be used at will. Ryu’s signature V-Skill lets him parry an incoming attack. That’s not the most important change for the man, though. 29 years after his first appearance, Ryu gets an unlockable beard in Street Fighter 5. This ain’t no ‘90s goatee either. It is full on lumberjack sex beard. We’ve come so far.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I've been playing games since I turned four in 1986, been writing about them since 1987, and writing about them professionally since 2008. My wife and I live in New York City. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game ever made, Hum's Downward is Heavenward is my favorite album, and I regularly find myself singing "You Won't See Me" by The Beatles in awkward situations.
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