Street Fighter has stood as a cornerstone franchise since the release of the second installment in 1991, but as a fighting game, many fans are unaware of its actual plot. In extreme cases some people may not even know that there was an original game that came out in 1987. It’s hard to blame anyone for that, though, because the story is not what usually draws players into this type of game. Also this in particular might be an example of one of the sloppiest lores in gaming history. With Street Fighter V now out, you might be wondering about that story, so we’ve done a quick wrap-up so you don’t have to read all the literature or risk the headache of trying to understand where the various game editions, retcons, and changes all fall into place.
For most, it all began with Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, which works because that is where the meat of the story stems from. There was an arcade game almost four years earlier that began Ryu’s journey, though. An initial tournament took place with a bunch of fighters no one remembers in a game that played almost nothing like what fans have come to expect. This works, because now Capcom themselves have deemed the title non-canonical, with the only true takeaway being their mascot’s fight with Sagat, where Ryu gave him the infamous scar. Now there is more to it than that, like how Sagat had essentially defeated his opponent but got hit trying to help him up, or how this loss affected the Muay Thai master for years, but in the end, this event would be the only remnant of something long forgotten.
It was after the release of Street Fighter II and its success that the company decided to go back in time and fill in the new gap they had created, using the Street Fighter Alpha series. In an effort not to make things too easy, though, Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Street Fighter Alpha 3 contradict and overwrite the first Alpha game, and the series continued to add characters to bog down the narrative. The Alpha games don’t actually take place in a tournament format like many of the others, but are a series of random fights and encounters over an undetermined period of time. What’s important here are the fights that set characters on their way or explain why they are fighting.
M. Bison is the main antagonist and most of the characters are out to stop him, including Chun-Li, who is seeking revenge for the murder of her father at the hands of the evil dictator. Bison wins their first battle, simply laughing at her. Rose, a lesser known character, who is literally a construct from all of Bison’s good energy that he expelled, defeats him and tries to lock away the villain’s psycho powers, but fails, only to be possessed by him at the end of Alpha 3. Bison is defeated to a greater extent in that game, blown up in his Shadoloo headquarters, and his psycho-drive destroyed. Charlie Nash, who is most closely associated with Guile, sacrifices himself to make sure Bison is held off while the others escape. Nash is now returning in Street Fighter V, but not at all the same.
Ryu and Ken may be considered the main characters, but here their fight was really only with each other. Still affected by his battle with Sagat, Ryu was off his game and lost to Ken, who realized something was wrong and gave his friend and rival the now iconic red headband he wears. Akuma, the other signature villain of the series, fights Gen, Chun-Li’s master, at this time, but it ends with a draw, shaking off each other’s most devastating attacks. And just because we know someone will ask, it looks like Evil Ryu wasn’t canon, but just a fun concept thrown in at the time.
The next game in the series chronologically is Street Fighter II, but before we get to that, remember that later editions of the game, like Super Street Fighter II and Street Fighter II Turbo, overwrote much of the plot from the initial release. Bison is back as the big bad with a new body, because clones, and this is supposed to account for why he looks different as well. This time he is inviting the turmoil, hosting a tournament to recruit new fighters for his criminal organization and draw his enemies in closer for revenge. Most of the other plot points here are all character specific, other than the question that seems to cause a good bit of debate amongst fans: who actually won the tournament? There are a couple of different answers here, the two popular ones being Ryu (confirmed by an art book from Capcom) and Guile (based off of his ending), but the only thing Capcom has been consistent about is that after the fight, Akuma jumps Bison and takes him down in one fierce move—so we guess we could say he won. Fans thought this would change the landscape of the series, but they wouldn’t actually find out what happened next chronologically until Street Fighter IV.
In a way most of that title’s story was moved by personal plots between the characters within another tournament, run by one of Bison’s cloned replacement bodies named Seth, mere months after the events of the last encounter. This enigmatic construct had his sights set on stealing Ryu’s most powerful techniques to further his evil plans, and there was an animated movie released with this that explains that all well.
This would be where Street Fighter V will fall in the timeline, according to producer Yoshinori Ono.
Street Fighter III came out before IV, obviously, but it takes place after IV. It filled in the latest bits of story to date, but even it had multiple iterations. In Street Fighter: 3rd Strike the focus was put on a new set of fighters, having Alex win the tournament, but not entirely by his own merit. Gill is the new big bad who works for the Illuminati—I’m not kidding—and he may have thrown the fight, due to being more interested in the new generation of fighters and seeing how they would perform. This is all supposedly in the wake of Chun-Li taking down the Shadoloo organization, and many of the previous threats being in hiding or neutralized. After the tournament there was more random fighting, but the important part is that Ken and Ryu finally had their long awaited rematch, with Ryu coming out on top.
Once again another gaggle of new characters were added, some with a lot of potential, and others that are mostly forgotten. In a way it’s like how fans of the series try to forget Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight—since it only loosely involved a bionic Ken seeking revenge in space—or Street Fighter EX, where the story is ignored by Capcom and Sakura seemed to be the only character anyone cared about. Only the good parts will be remembered in time. There being some duds in the story shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering how long the franchise has been around and how little was actually planned. Many of the characters began in games just as names or concepts with no clue about where they fit in the grand scheme of things or any idea what they looked like. Some characters were started as jokes, like Dan Hibiki, or as a rumor, like Akuma was by Electronic Gaming Magazine. There are little things like Birdie being white in the first game and dark skinned in each one after that, and nitpicky points, like how the English translations call certain endings and quotes into question. Beyond all that Capcom itself still seems to waffle on the direction the story is heading. To complicate things a bit further, these games take place in the same universe as Final Fight and Rival Schools, sometimes sharing characters. We haven’t even mentioned all of the anime and comics that the story has taken from.
The developers know their narrative is convoluted. Yoshinori Ono, a producer on Street Fighter V, wants to help make something with less gaps and holes, but even he realizes that is tricky; as he says in an interview with Venture Beat, these games “all take place in their own spot on the timeline. It’s not one cohesive straight line.” As the franchise continues to grow, it will become even harder, but that doesn’t mean the fans won’t continue to try and keep up.
Stephen Wilds has written about videogames for Playboy, ZAM and other outlets. He’s on Twitter @StephenWilds.