Not to play armchair tactician, but there’s a part of me that feels like it’s wrong for Daigo “The Beast” Umehara to play anyone but Ryu. I’m not about to go doubting his skills or anything -- even if he was in a coma, the guy could play Street Fighter better than I ever could -- but you’d think that a guy who put so much into the franchise as well as embodies the tireless wanderer would have found his soul mate. But in his recent EVO showings, he’s picked guys like Yun and Evil Ryu. And I’m pretty much left saying “Is this it? Has Daigo been corrupted by the power of the Dark Hadou?”
Well, it’s not like he’s turned evil in real life (or has he?!), so he’s free to do as he pleases. But still, the allure of the character is just too great in Street Fighter IV’s latest -- and probably final -- iteration. His damage output is incredible, he has nearly all of the tools Ryu has (and then some), and it only takes one hit for him to get started, i.e. melt an enemy’s life bar down to zero. It’s almost poetic that one EVO had Daigo and his Evil Ryu beaten by John Choi and his normal Ryu, but that didn’t stop The Beast from sticking with the Dark Hadou.
So now I have to wonder: once Street Fighter IV gets phased out and the sequel gains traction, what does that mean for what’s ostensibly the most heinous power in the canon? Frankly, I’m hoping for a lot.
Okay, I can do without Evil Ryu. I get what he stands for, and I appreciate it, but I’ve always thought the original Ryu was -- and always will be -- way cooler. He’s a guy who dropped everything to travel the world in search of good fights and the self-improvement tied to it; his lifestyle isn’t exactly glamorous, but there’s a sense of nobility and romanticism to it. In that sense, even if SF has never had the most detailed canon, there’s still a canon. There are still ideas that get communicated in-universe that anyone can at least get a good understanding of.
But I’d be nuts to pretend like SF’s context and reach out-of-universe didn’t matter. It’s a game that’s inspired untold millions to become world warriors, even if they have to do so with pads and arcade sticks instead of fists and muscles (or the odd fireball). The competitions small and large born from the game -- and its offspring, and its contemporaries -- end up giving birth to stories in their own right. Personal stories, of triumph and defeat, friendships and rivalries, joy and anguish. Fighting games can let anyone become, if only for a little while, Ryu and all his fellow fighters. Nothing’s ever going to change that, even if there’s an angry version of him that’s higher up on the tier list.
In a lot of ways, SF doesn’t need a story. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt for Capcom to add one in -- and BOY is there a lot to work with.
I saw Necalli’s reveal with my brother, and the first thing I said was “Check out that Heavenly Sword hair tech.” I didn’t even know how right I was, because I said that before he popped his V-Trigger. And then red hair went flying everywhere, and now I wonder if most of the game’s budget went toward that. Whatever the case, I think Necalli’s a good first step in introducing some new blood into the SF cast, even if he’s close to being “Violent Blanka”. I don’t intend on playing as him, but he still makes me eager to see the new guys instead of the returning, albeit remixed cast.
Still, what’s got me all amped up isn’t necessarily Necalli, but what he represents. Before his reveal, producer Yoshinori Ono -- as he often does -- teased with partially-covered screenshots, one of which showed off a red and black aura. It led some people to believe that Akuma was on his way back in, (in what capacity, we’ve yet to know). So the implication here is that the new fighter is the owner of a dark and mysterious power, one that corrupts him into the form we know today. Or forms, as it were; reportedly, one has him as a mad berserker, while the other -- his V-Trigger mode -- makes him brilliant and ruthless. You’d think it’d be the other way around though, right? It should, arguably…unless that’s entirely the point.
There’s a joke in The Simpsons where Krusty explains that his addictions and vices have left him a bad place -- that he has to get his fix from moon rocks “just to get up to normal”. So my guess is that Necalli is a lot like that; without the “mysterious energy” flowing through him, he might as well be a slobbering animal…or an idiot. One of the most prominent things we’ve heard out of him so far is “Devour-our-our”, which doesn’t sound like the words of a man with his head on straight. Once he’s powered up, then presumably he can express some sentient thought -- even if that thought is “I’m gonna beat the crap out of you and like it”.
So there are at least two questions that need to be answered right now. One: What is the “mysterious power” Necalli is tapping into? Two: Where did it come from? Asking how or why he can use it is kind of important, but not as much; the wiki explains that the Dark Hadou (or Satsui no Hado, if you prefer) is “a form of ki that is rooted in the darker aspects of the natural human instinct”. On top of that, using it requires the person to “be so consumed with the desire for winning, or else possess such intense rage, that they are willing to murder”. A younger Ryu first used it to put that scar on Sagat’s chest, and Akuma is one of the most notable users -- if not addicts -- to the stuff. But as you can see, it’s clearly had no negative effects on him whatsoever.
Thinking back, I feel like the SF canon has always made a push for these mysterious energies. The Dark Hadou is the obvious one, but there’s also M. Bison’s Psycho Power, Rose’s Soul Power, and the Tanden and Feng Shui Engines from SFIV (belonging to Seth and Juri, respectively). Rose’s is the only one among them that comes close to either being a positive force, or used by a good person -- meaning that in general, the moral of the story is that fighters should use their bodies, minds, and spirit to win instead of banking on outside forces. Sure, you can win with Psycho Power, but at what cost? So you can be doomed to wear a smile so big it’ll tear your cheeks apart?
The counterpoint to all of this is the Power of Nothingness (Mu no Hadou), discussed on occasion in SFIV and used extensively by Ryu’s master, Gouken. Like the name implies, it’s a Zen state where the user can tap into the full power of their heart without any corruptive influences or desires. Apparently, it’s a force that Ken managed to tap into in SFIV’s tie-in movie, and blew off C. Viper’s attacks when even Ryu couldn’t -- because Ken was intent on protecting his family. It’s more than a little interesting that Ken can and has tapped into the power before Ryu did, even with all of the latter’s training. The canonicity of that movie is debatable, but there’s a SFIII manga that depicts more or less the same; Ken’s love for his family allowed him to become so strong that he mopped the floor with Ryu.
I guess the answer lies in the heart of marriage.
Okay, so what does all of this have to do with Necalli? Nothing directly; I can’t imagine the barbaric brawler having a serene state of mind anytime soon, and the other powers are much too specific to apply. So my theory right now goes one of two ways: either Necalli is a brand-new user of the Dark Hadou, or he’s a user of a new power that’s just similar enough to it that any layman would have the right to be confused. Personally, I think it’d be really exciting to see him as a user of an earlier version of it -- a sort of proto-Dark Hadou, if you will. In fact, maybe Necalli is from more than just parts unknown; maybe he’s from some long-bygone era.
Imagine this scenario. Necalli is a warrior from an ancient tribe, one that put plenty of stock in fighting and strength -- not unlike a whole city’s worth of Ryus. But somewhere along the line, their lust for battle became corruptive; as a result, people in droves developed and used a new form of ki -- the proto-Dark Hadou -- to gain an advantage over their opponents. The problem? Use of it became so widespread that it brought more ruin than it did victory, and Necalli’s people ended up wiping themselves out. Necalli is the only survivor, preserved partially because his devotion to -- and corruption by -- the proto-Dark Hadou gave him a body and mind perpetually primed for battle.
I say “partially” because there’s any number of villains that would want to probe him and tap his power for themselves. Shadaloo, S.I.N, and…well, guys like this.
Eagle-eyed fans have noted that some of SFV’s art has teased the return of the Illuminati to the canon, AKA the bunch of baddies whose organization is spearheaded by everyone’s favorite boss, Gill. (Plus the reveal trailer has Nash with the same jewel in his forehead as Gill and Urien, so there’s that.) It’s hard to say what this means for the story right now, but based on my headcanon? The Illuminati found the preserved body of Necalli and want to reverse engineer his body to obtain a new source of power -- especially if the new game is in a post-SF3 world where Gill was presumably killed by a well-placed Shin Shoryuken. But Necalli was too much for them to handle, and he broke free; now the warrior, despite his addled mind, is out to devour-our-our whatever crosses his path.
So potentially, SFV is a manhunt across the globe to find and beat Necalli before he can do any harm. And “harm” in this case means more than just beating up Dan. Remember, his debut trailer had him firing off huge amounts of dark power square into Ken’s face; who says that the guy isn’t radioactive? What if just by moving around -- by being around -- he can infect others with his power and drive them insane? What happens when the whole world runs the risk of becoming a home for fight-happy madmen?
I ask this because I still remember Street Fighter X Tekken -- and with it, Pandora.
I’ve always thought there was a HUGE amount of potential in the Pandora power. Pretty much none of it went tapped, save for some eerily-lavish yet ultimately-wasted promotional vids for the game’s Vita port. I mean, sure, the gameplay and story integration was interesting enough; commit the heinous act of sacrificing your partner’s life just so you can gain more power and win. That’s some heavy stuff. But my understanding of Pandora is that anyone can tap into it whenever the need (such as it is) arises. Even little Jimmy Xbox can gain superhuman abilities without the need for training or skill. It’s a dangerous power on a small scale -- so just imagine what it would be like if people could use that on a larger scale. City-wide, then state-wide, then country-wide, then worldwide -- it’d make for a disaster much bigger and more frightening than any zombie apocalypse, that’s for sure. Presumably, the people infected couldn’t be beaten with a shot to the head or a sufficiently-deep moat.
The way I see it, SFV is a way to make up for past mistakes. There’s plenty of stuff it can do with a straight narrative -- which Capcom’s execs have alluded to, if only in response to the story modes in NetherRealms’ games -- but even if they don’t go as far as a multimillion-dollar campaign, it’s the thematic heft that matters here. All of these powers, Pandora and Necalli’s energy well among them, are shortcuts. They’re ways for a person to gain and use power, and win at any cost. That’s in stark contrast to Ryu, Ken, Gouken, and the entire point of SF as a whole. It’s all about the purity of the fight -- about self-improvement, clear-minded resolve, and a push toward completeness using flung fists as a means of expression.
There’s a right way to approach a fight, and a wrong way. Evil Ryu, Akuma, Bison, Juri, Seth, and (potentially) Necalli are all varying examples of that; they teach the same lesson, which to be fair is kind of a drag, but it’s still a worthwhile lesson nonetheless. (Given some recent news, it might be a more worthwhile lesson than ever.) In order to preserve the heart of battle, it’s up to some of its greatest champions to resolve the situation before everything and everyone -- street fights included -- become twisted versions of their former selves.
In that sense, if Ryu’s going to be the story’s main character (and why wouldn’t he be?), then SFV gives him the chance to have some personal stake in the matter. He knows what the Dark Hadou is like, and I’d bet that as long as he’s in his neutral state, he knows just how wrong it is to tap into that, willingly or otherwise. So in a way, stopping Necalli becomes something of a responsibility -- both to save the innocents from a fate Ryu narrowly avoids every day, and to try and bring back the pure heart of a warrior from ages past. On the other hand, there’s still a dark side to Ryu that Necalli is dragging out; if he’s going to pursue the savage striker, then it means he’ll have to engage in battle -- meaning that there’s an inherent selfishness to his altruism.
In other words? By doing the right thing and providing Necalli with a shot at redemption, Ryu runs the risk of doing the wrong thing. And in the end, he might not be able to come back from the brink.
Plot-wise, there would still be a lot of details that need explanation for my hypothetical headcanon version -- how Necalli is traveling the world chief among them. (Walking and swimming, I guess, however impractical that may be.) And as others have noted, this is one new character, and probably not even the final boss. Are there even more fighters affected by the proto-Dark Hadou? Would anyone really try to chase after him? If there’s the typical “world tournament spearheaded by a shady benefactor” plot, then how would Necalli enter? Or would he just show up whenever and wherever?
If it were up to me, I’d axe the tournament angle completely -- either that, or have a tournament start up, but Necalli wrecks everything on day one and puts himself in the competitors’ crosshairs. Ryu begins his pursuit for the aforementioned reasons, and Ken tags along to help his best bud in his personal quest. Agents and military forces want him contained, so that gives Chun-Li and Cammy a good reason to give chase (and Guile if he returns…which I’m seriously hoping for).
Bison wants to harvest Necalli’s power to beef up his Psycho Power, on the grounds that maybe it’ll keep him forever young and/or take care of those wretched gray hairs he’s got; Vega joins in as a Shadaloo figurehead, but maybe he’ll get invested so he can gain eternal youth and beauty. Nash is a failed experiment by the Illuminati to create a new breed of human, and got thrown in the dumpster -- but in the wake of Necalli’s power, he self-activates and decides to go on the attack. (Speaking of, Nash could get his own redemptive arc, especially if claims that he’s important to the story ring true.) Birdie gets involved to…I don’t know, prove he’s a tough guy. It’d be in character, at least.
The way I see it, there are two things that an expanded SF story can do, especially with this game: it can explore and untangle the mythos with a straight-up story instead of the usual “Character X won the tournament because that’s who you beat Arcade Mode with -- even if that leads to 90% of the game being non-canon”. On top of that, it can explore ideas and themes using the characters it puts in the players’ hands. Honestly, I’d be happy if the actual game focused more on the latter. Would I enjoy learning about the mysteries of Necalli’s corrupted and ruined civilization, and how their obsession gave birth to the Dark Hadou? Yes and no. It’d boost the game’s story, but done poorly it runs the risk of spoiling some of the mysticism of the canon. (See: midichlorians.)
But here’s the thing: SF has endured with a bare-bones story on the strength of its characters -- whether they’re blatant stereotypes or not. People love Ryu. People love Ken. People love Chun-Li, and Cammy, and Bison, and Vega, and Nash, and even Birdie. And even if that love comes from their fighting ability -- the synergy between player and avatar -- that love could be deepened even further. Vanilla SFIV gave every character a prologue, and then gave them all another prologue in Super SFIV. Even if their endings didn’t really matter in the end, there are threads that keep getting woven into the canon. Capcom’s been taking baby steps toward something grander for years.
So isn’t it time for the world warriors to get the endings, and the journey, they deserve?
People in the real world handle crises in different ways -- but in a world where people can shroud themselves in electricity after watching eels do it, all bets are off. Seeing the world warriors act and react in response to a corruptive force -- a power that can make the entire world go mad -- would be an amazing treat (if done well). There’s personal investment for the small-scale emotional moments and epiphanies; there’s a huge level of stakes when even the average postman can turn into a violent berserker. Spectacle, intelligence, heart -- the potential is all there, gift-wrapped and ready to drop into the hands of players expecting “just another fighting game”.
Historical precedents suggest that I’m probably not going to get the SF I envision -- and rest assured, I can envision a whole lot. But even if the worst comes to pass -- if somehow Capcom backs down and throws up a couple of pictures before rolling the credits -- then it wouldn’t be so bad. Disappointing, sure, but it’ll at least be a disappointment on top of a supremely-satisfying game. (I’ve played a whopping two matches so far via the beta…and it was good). And besides, they’ve already laid the groundwork. They’ve given us enough to sink our teeth into, even at this early stage. So do we really need them to give us a story when we can make our own? Maybe not.
Maybe for now -- and for years to come -- the possibilities are all we need.
Man. One of these days, I need to write a revisionist history fanfic of Super Mario Bros. I know just how to work Bowser Jr. into my theoretical and needlessly-ridiculous canon.