Games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat remain classics for various reasons – their accessible gameplay, their high replay-value, the nostalgic connection many of us still feel, the innovative use of bloody violence and finishing moves – but one factor that can’t be ignored is the power of great characters.
When you think of a fighting game – any one – do you remember just one or two characters, or the entire cast? Did you have a favourite you played as every time, or are you struggling to recall a single name? Chances are, everyone who played Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Soul Blade, Power Stone, or any other classic title will remember at least a few characters from each, as well as their respective storylines.
Heroes and villains alike make up the casts of the best fighting games, and all have the power to be memorable for years to come. Last week, we listed our top 10 fighting game villains of all time – so now, it’s the heroes’ turn!
Join us as we count down our favourites …
10: Sonya Blade
Of all the many female characters from the Mortal Kombat franchise, Sonya Blade remains the most iconic, with a great set of moves, an awesome design, and a solid back-story.
As a member of Earthrealm’s Special Forces, Sonya is smart, tough, well-trained, and never to be underestimated. Known for her hatred of red-eyed villain Kano, Sonya is also fiercely loyal to her friends (including former love-interest, Johnny Cage), and her signature moves include the Leg Grab and the Fire Kiss (or Kiss of Death), in which she blows a flaming kiss towards her opponent, burning them alive.
Visually, Guile is probably one of the Street Fighter series’ most easily-recognisable characters: with that bizarre blonde super-flattop, tight military vest & combat boots, and those dog-tags, his look has remained pretty much the same in every incarnation.
Guile’s an all-American hero (why he was never recruited for G.I. JOE remains a mystery) with a powerful set of moves – who could forget the Sonic Boom or the Flash Kick? Originally, Guile’s storyline gave him plenty of motivation, too – seeking revenge against M. Bison for the murder of his army-buddy Charlie (who would go on to be given life by Chris Klein in the ill-fated Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li movie).
Imagine yourself in the Street Fighter universe. You’re a big, strong guy or girl, with plenty of victories under your belt. You consider yourself a winner, a champion, destined to win the tournament and reign supreme. And then, just as you’re feeling primed to kick some serious booty, a green-skinned man-beast with wild orange hair and fangs leaps out at you. Oh, and on top of all that, he can also electrocute you so hard we’ll all see your skeleton.
That has to be tough, right? Well, plenty of street fighters have faced this exact situation before – and many more will, because we doubt Blanka’s going anywhere. He’s definitely one of the most iconic characters from the series, and his animalistic, electricity-tinged moves are actually fairly easy to pull off, even in the newer games (unlike some!).
7: Johnny Cage
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Johnny Cage is one of the true legends of the fighting game. As Mortal Kombat’s smug, self-obsessed movie-star, Cage has enjoyed a long, exciting tenure with the franchise, and was easily the strongest part of the first (and best) Mortal Kombat movie (played brilliantly by Linden Ashby, who kept his tongue right in his cheek).
Anyone who remembers playing as Johnny Cage in those early days will also remember how awesome it felt to pull off his Split Kick – that iconic eye-watering move which sees him slam his fist into his enemy’s groin. It was a move unlike any we’d seen in a fighting game before, and has reappeared in multiple entries since (now known as the ‘Nut Punch’ in Mortal Kombat X, or even the ‘Nut Breaker’ when charged … nice).
The Tekken series has its fair share of iconic characters, but when compared with the legendary figures from the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat franchises, only a couple seem strong enough to stand apart. One of these is the awesome Yoshimitsu: as the leader of the Manji Clan, he has a mechanical arm, a sword, and an impressive range of moves (many of them involve spinning, which has been known to leave him too dizzy to continue for a while). He can also restore his own health – provided your opponent doesn’t interrupt with a well-timed kick to the head.
On top of all this, though, Yoshimitsu also looks fantastic – his design truly stands out, especially in the earlier games, and in Tekken 6, a second sword was added to boost his move-set.
5: Paul Phoenix
The second of Tekken’s heroes to make our list, Paul Phoenix clearly tries to outdo Guile in the hair department. His ridiculous free-standing blonde tower gives the character a unique look (basically, it’s as if Ken Masters tried gel for the first time and used the entire tube), and perhaps his most memorable design was the biker-themed style in the classic Tekken 3.
Paul’s moves consist primarily of powerful punches, and while he was never the fastest character, his strength more than made up for his slower movements.
4: Liu Kang
While he’s never been the most visually-appealing character, Liu Kang’s place in the Mortal Kombat franchise remains key – and he rightfully deserves his place in our list. As perhaps the truest, most honourable character in the MK series, Kang even took part in a game despite being a zombie (see MK: Armageddon).
With his famed Bicycle Kick and flame-based attacks, Kang is a formidable character to beat, especially in the earlier games. He was given the lead in the original MK movie, and, along with Johnny Cage, Sonya, and Raiden, is one of the series’ most recognisable characters.
Inspired by the Three Storms from John Carpenter’s brilliant Big Trouble in Little China, Raiden is a thunder god dedicated to defending Earthrealm from the evils of Outworld. Not only is he just brilliant to look at (with that straw hat and those glowing eyes), but Raiden is also more than capable of standing his ground – but then, being able to shoot lightning at anyone giving you a hard time is a fair confidence-booster, we suppose.
Raiden is so powerful, in fact, that he was used as the catalyst for rebooting the MK series in 2011, in which he travelled back to the events of the first three games to change the history of things to come.
Well, that’s it for the good guys from the Mortal Kombat series – now, Street Fighter takes the reins!
Chun-Li is easily one of the most popular, more recognisable characters from the series, with a unique look, iconic moves, and a great revenge-led storyline.
With her blue dress, ‘ox-horn’ hairstyle, flowing ribbons, and spiked bracelets, Chun-Li boasts a great visual design, and her Spinning Bird Kick is perhaps one of the series’ most well-known moves. Chun-Li has been in nearly every Street Fighter game since the immense second instalment, and has also featured heavily in spin-off media, including the brilliant Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (in which she kicks Vega through a brick wall).
It’s an obvious, choice, we know – but Ryu is, without a doubt, one of the most recognisable characters from the Street Fighter series (and probably from the world of video games in general). With his distinctive white-and-red gear, his black belt, and his (no doubt sore) bare feet, Ryu is a simple, eye-catching visual, and also possesses some truly iconic moves.
The Hadouken was always capable of turning the tide of a fight, and proved to be a real pain in two-player games, when your opponent resorted to using them over and over again. Shoryukens (that rising uppercut) may have been tricky to pull off at times, but always caused some real damage, and the tongue-twisting Tatsumaki Senpuukyaku (that well-loved flying spinning kick across the screen) was a force to be reckoned with.
Ryu’s friendship with Ken Masters helps to make him stand out, as does his honourable personality: he’s a true good guy, which helped him take on the leading-man role in various spin-offs (oddly, though, not in the terrible 1994 movie-adaptation, in which Guile took the starring role).
So, there we go: our top 10 fighting game heroes of all time! Are your favourites present and correct, or are there characters you think we’ve unfairly missed out? Let us know!