The Top 15 Best Fighting Game Storylines: Part 1 (15-11)

March 16th, 2012 by | Tags: , ,

I’ve always been a big fan of the fighting game genre in video games. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters, Soul Calibur, what have you. I can get into nearly any fighter. These days, the games are held under a microscope due to the high-profile competitive nature of tournaments and online gaming. I don’t do tournaments, I don’t play online and I can’t do an infinite combo to save my life. A lot of the time, I mainly care about sitting back and playing it one-player.

I guess it’s the way I grew up. I had Street Fighter 2 for SNES and while it was fun to play against my friends every week or so for an hour or so, there were more hours on lazy afternoons where I had to fly solo. It was about having to play through the game and defeat M. Bison with every single character and see their endings, then try at a harder level. When I rented a new fighter, I had to see every ending. It was the ritual. It was fun.

Behind the gameplay, it’s the characters and the backstory that make it for me. They add the flavor to it all. That’s why I could never bring myself to care about any Virtua Fighter. I know the whole game is deeper than the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, it’s so bland that I can’t bring myself to invest in it. I want one-player campaign modes like in Soul Calibur or the Challenge Tower from the new Mortal Kombat. I want new shit to unlock and I want it to last. I want special introduction animations before matches that happen because both fighters are siblings. And when one of those guys wins, I want them to say something specific about the loser.

As cheesy as they are, I love the characters and storylines in fighting games. Sure, there are only so many ways you can set up “bunch of dudes fight each other one-on-one”, but there’s some creativity and personality in there. It makes me want to play and learn characters who come off as cool, funny and/or dynamic. I don’t care if they aren’t top tier, I never let go of my Venom/Juggernaut/Morrigan team in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or my Chang/Iori/Rock team in Capcom vs. SNK 2.

Recently, I picked up Street Fighter x Tekken and Soul Calibur 5. SFxT is a crossover that features counterparts from different companies playing off each other while they all reenact It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, only with more punching. Soul Calibur 5 has a weak story mode and an arcade mode that has you play several matches before congratulating you and asking if you want to try again. Guess which one I’ve been playing more.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve played a lot of these babies. Some good, some bad, some ugly. While many fighting game storylines don’t really hold up as anything exceptional on their own, there are some aspects that I still think are awesome. Here are fifteen of them.

15) The True Downfall of Orochi
King of Fighters ’97

King of Fighters had a pretty interesting story for the first four games. The initial concept is that it takes some of the preexisting SNK properties (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Ikari Warriors) and creates a new continuity that puts them all in the same time frame so they can all fight while in the same general age range. A tournament is held where teams of three compete against each other. The series’ main character is Kyo Kusanagi, a smarmy teenage rebel with the power to control flames. Introduced in the second game is Iori Yagami, a bloodthirsty emo guy who controls purple flames and inexplicably hates Kyo with a passion.

There’s a whole backstory in there about how centuries ago, their ancestors banded together to defeat an evil god named Orochi and seal him away. Then Iori’s family got jealous about the Kusanagis and their ability to wield fire, so they made a pact with Orochi. They got their power, but at a tremendous price to the bloodline. One of those drawbacks is that people in this tainted bloodline have the tendency to go into “Riot of the Blood” mode. That’s where they lose all sense and become violent, mindless and nigh-unstoppable killers. Iori himself has had experience with it, succumbing to that situation in ’96 before slicing his partners to ribbons.

Throughout the games, the Orochi plot thickens and the characters get involved with the various cult members who are dead set on releasing Orochi to the world. In ’97, the final boss is a worshipper Chris, who uses his body as a host for the all-powerful god. While all the endings depict the selected team as cleaning his clock, it doesn’t do too much good. Orochi merely goes into a sleep and promises to return as soon as ten years. That’s not the most reassuring situation.

Yet if you play through the game as the specific teaming of Kyo, Iori and Chizuru Kagura (a priestess who also has ties to the main plot), you get the true ending. Having just defeated Orochi in-game, Kyo is disturbed to find that it just isn’t enough. He’s a little worn down, but they can’t seem to kill him. The only way to truly win is to seal him away. Orochi refuses to give them that chance and instead summons Iori’s transformation into his Riot of the Blood form, commanding him to finish off Kyo. Having gone primal, the slobbering Iori leaps in the general direction of Kyo, intentionally overshoots it and instead lands right in front of Orochi, where he strangles the god.


It isn’t enough, as Orochi is beginning to overpower him. The spirits of Iori’s ancestors begin to speak to Kyo and guide him to help undo the damage their recklessness has wrought. As Chizuru does her magic thing and a bloody Iori holds Orochi at bay, Kyo dashes over and punches the fuck out of Orochi with a flame-covered fist. A huge explosion happens and the last thing we see is a shot of Kyo’s girlfriend Yuki, audibly promising that she’ll wait for him.

Now that is a climax. Considering the ’98 game is a non-canon dream match with no story, we don’t find out about what’s happened to our hero and anti-hero for two years. While they succeed in sealing away Orochi, an unconscious Kyo lands miles away and was picked up by the new villains, a group called NESTS. Unfortunately, their storyline isn’t nearly as interesting and the one after that with new main character Ash Crimson is an incomprehensible mess.

14) The Life and Times of Dr. Baldhead
Guilty Gear

Trying to explain the story of a game like Guilty Gear would take a while, but the gist of it is that in the future, mankind created these magic cyborgs called “gears” and like with all sentient creations, they waged war with humanity. The games take place long after mankind won the war, dealing with attempted resurrections and all sorts of conspiracies. The first game is pretty straightforward with the plot, involving an androgynous guy named Testiment holding a fighting tournament where the winner will supposedly get whatever he or she wants (he’s lying). The strangest entrant is a man Testament broke out of the insane asylum: a nine-foot-tall weirdo named Dr. Baldhead.

Baldhead was the world’s greatest surgeon and healer until one day a little girl inexplicably died on the operating table. He couldn’t understand how this could happen and the guilt caused him to snap. He became a raving lunatic and killed many, many people. At some point towards the end of the tournament, he receives a vision of the little girl forgiving him for what happened and claiming it was simply her time. Baldhead freaks out and runs off into the night, never to be seen or heard from ever again.

Now Faust, on the other hand, he’s been seen and heard from.

At first, the crazed doctor was going to kill himself, but two things stopped him: 1) the realization that his death would do nothing for the many lives he’s still able to save and 2) the discovery that the dead girl incident may have been a setup. Someone had her operation sabotaged to ruin him. So he started healing people anew, wandering around with the brilliant disguise of a bag on his head. Instead of being a frenzied murderer, his style became more impish, like a reality-bending being from the fifth dimension. A far sillier and more optimistic soul, he plays a bit role in the overall story.

During the branching paths of Guilty Gear XX’s story mode, we see him try to cure Zappa – a possessed victim – of his supernatural situation. He also meets up with the game’s villain I-no, who makes him admit that despite his change, there’s a part of him that still enjoys the act of bleeding his enemies. The most interesting path shows him face the assassin Venom, who admits that while he had nothing to do with it, his assassin guild did give the order to have that girl killed. It was a fellow doctor who hired them, but he was a puppet for an even bigger conspiracy.

As Venom willingly spills the beans, the two become surrounded by an army of robot drones. This bit is cool, as Faust is completely dedicated to fighting them off. Not just for the answers he’s been looking for, but because he feels that this situation makes Venom another patient that he must save from death.

A nice touch in all of this is that they never explicitly say that Faust and Baldhead are the same guy, even though it’s completely definite. Despite his immense height, unique weapon, fighting stance, medical prowess, allusions to his violent past, a silhouette of him having a bald head underneath the bag and even Venom calling him “Dr. Ba—” before being cut off, the games never outright say it.

13) Rugal and Akuma Crash the Party
Capcom vs. SNK 2

The actual story of Capcom vs. SNK 2 is very simple. Ken Masters and his SNK counterpart Robert Garcia (who isn’t even in the game) join together to hold a fighting tournament. That’s it. It’s just that two of the most powerful warriors from the two companies, Akuma and Rugal Bernstein, are using this get-together as an excuse to finally cross paths. How you factor into this depends on how well you play through the game.

The worst ending shows your team in Osaka, Japan, being celebrated for winning the tournament. As the announcer goes over how great you were, the camera pans up and we see on a nearby tower either the foot of Akuma or Rugal as said character ominously watches on. If you play through the game better, you instead see Akuma or Rugal as they wait for the other. They grow bored and challenge you. Even if you defeat the boss, they act disgusted at your skills and lose interest once their other-company rival shows up. The two bosses showdown and there’s a massive explosion from their battle. The winner is up in the air, but presumably a lot of people die.

Now, if you completely kick ass on your way through the game, you get your work cut out for you. During the celebration for winning the tournament, the skies darken and lightning strikes repeatedly. The focus turns to the nearby rooftop where Akuma and Rugal finally prepare for their big fight. There’s a huge explosion and we’re left with one winner. Obviously, there are two possibilities in there. If Akuma wins, a dying Rugal shoves his fist into Akuma’s midsection. Rugal has the power to transfer energy, so he transfers his power into Akuma. Whether it’s out of admiration or punishment is up to you. Akuma becomes Shin Akuma and… well, he’s really just a harder and faster Akuma with a different back tattoo and color scheme. Nothing so special.

On the other hand, if Rugal wins, everything takes a turn for the badass. Deeming Akuma unworthy, he holds him up in the air, impaling him with his fist as he absorbs his Dark Hadou powers. Akuma’s limp arm lifelessly swings past Rugal’s face as his remaining eye begins to glow. When the match starts, Rugal still has Akuma in hand and discards him like a piece of trash. Depending on the country you’re playing in, he’s either God Rugal or Ultimate Rugal and he’s probably going to kick your ass. If he does, he has a winpose where he tears off a piece of his shirt to reveal Akuma’s kanji symbol is now burning out of his chest.

If you win, Rugal’s fate is sealed from his inability to control his newfound power. It’s not so much his body rejecting Akuma as it is Akuma rejecting Rugal. He morphs and Akuma takes over completely, even to the point of physical appearance. Plus now he has that swanky red suit! Beats the black karate gi any day.

12) Your Killer Instincts Bear Fruit
Killer Instinct 2

Killer Instinct never had the best story. It’s a bunch of zany character designs shoved together under the banner of some kind of Big Brother/Skynet evil corporation scheme in the form of a fighting tournament. At least they got a little bit more creative in the sequel, where the surviving crew got blasted back in time.

Fighting games have had Fatalities for years, but they never really did anything outside of a few seconds of amusing animation. Killer Instinct 2 went and incorporated the Fatality system into the game’s story, meaning there were repercussions. For instance, the game had a Conan the Barbarian knockoff named Tusk who was the champion in a gladiator arena. Playing through the game normally, it says that he remains a competitor, but has a hard time keeping up due to the younger, stronger opposition.

Yet if you happened to kill TJ Combo during the game, it instead talks up how Tusk goes on to become to be an undefeated legend, remembered through history.

Some characters had as many as four possible endings, such as Black Orchid. Her default ending has the final boss Gargos reveal that she and Tibetan ninja Jago are actually twin siblings. Then in a final attempt on her life, Gargos possesses the body of Sabrewulf and makes a lunge at her. Jago appears and cuts him down. The fates of Jago and Sabrewulf end up becoming instrumental in Orchid’s fate. With them both dead, she laments over the loss of the brother she never knew. With only Jago dead, she’s slaughtered by Sabrewulf. With only Sabrewulf dead, she and Jago return to the present as an unstoppable fighting team.

It was a neat gimmick that for some reason they decided to take out when they ported it over to the Nintendo 64. Oh well.

11) Terry Bogard vs. Geese Howard
Fatal Fury

One of the things I dig about fighting game storylines is the idea that it’s so open-ended in terms of what the cast is allowed to do. It’s like how cool it was to have Toad as playable in Super Mario Brothers 2. He went from being the guy to tell you the princess was in another castle to being just as capable of saving the world as the main heroes. Fighting games are like that. The villain doesn’t HAVE to be taken out by the main hero. It can be the comic relief or the secondary hero or the evil henchman. It’s like being able to watch Return of the Jedi and getting to see Palpatine defeated by Han Solo, Princess Leia or even Boba Fett.

The downside is that you usually get a really strong supporting cast and a boring-as-hell main protagonist whose only characteristic is that he’s meant to win the tournament. The best example would be Liu Kang, who was the most generic dude in the original Mortal Kombat games. Fatal Fury is the opposite, as its supporting cast is mainly dirt boring and the main players are the cool ones. Especially the main hero, Terry Bogard, who is like a cross between Boxcar Willie and Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse. Even though the entire series is explicitly a straightforward story about him being the singular hero, it’s okay because Terry Bogard kind of rules.

As a kid, Terry watched his martial artist father Jeff Bogard get killed on the streets in broad daylight by his former training partner Geese Howard. Geese runs South Town like a kingpin and is under no threat of the law. Terry and his brother Andy are both sent by Jeff’s master Tung Fu Rue to go off and train so that they can one day get their revenge on Geese. Andy goes and trains with ninjas for a while and Terry wanders town to town and gets in a lot of fights.

Years later, they both return to South Town. Geese has been holding his own fighting tournament for his own amusement for quite a while and the brothers enter. Terry plows through the contest and is granted an audience with Geese, who isn’t too thrilled with the boy’s success. They fight in Geese’s penthouse, ending with Terry knocking Geese out the window, to his supposed death. Eventually, it’s revealed that Geese survived the fall.

In a later game, the two fight again on a rooftop with the same result, only slightly different. Terry knocks Geese off the edge, but then grabs him by the wrist to save him. Disgusted, Geese slaps the hand away and laughs his ass off while falling to his death. This time he actually dies and in some of the endings, they show Terry as hanging out with a little blond kid without really ever explaining who he is.

Then came Garou: Mark of the Wolves, a sequel taking place ten years after the Fatal Fury series where the only returning character is Terry, albeit in a new look. The boy is finally revealed to be Rock Howard, the estranged, bastard son of Geese. Terry chose to raise Rock and train him to fight, giving him a “nature vs. nurture” gimmick and a fighting style that mixes Terry’s attacks with Geese’s. While not much is known about his mother, her bloodline has some shady stuff going on, as shown with the game’s final boss, her brother Kain.

Kain ends up recruiting Rock to his own ends, using information on his mother as bait. Rock expects Terry to resist his decision to follow this lead, but when he doesn’t and supports his decision with a smile, Rock feels guilty. Unfortunately, this story is never continued due to the sad lack of a sequel to a great game.

That’s enough for today. Tomorrow I’ll talk about a white sheep in a black sheep family, the perils of immortality and moral rehabilitation in the form of repeated kicks to the ribs.

Part 2!
Part 3!

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16 comments to “The Top 15 Best Fighting Game Storylines: Part 1 (15-11)”

  1. Now this is a list I can get behind!

  2. So I’m not the only one who loves fighting game story-lines!

  3. yes! As a person who loves all the storyline stuff mentioned above (match-up specific winquotes/character intros etc), and mostly plays fighting games alooooone (I loathe the fighting game ‘scene’) with no real care for who is the ‘top tier’ characters (much respect to Gavok for picking Chang in cvs2), I am excited to read all of this list!

    Hey! Come on, come on!

  4. I agree on KOF 97’s–they’ve really never done as well the the subsequent 2 storylines after this.

    I’d also say Blazblue has a really cool storyline (which actually makes every character’s ending canon and yet not at the same time) even though it’s very close to Guilty Gear level density.

  5. [hopes that Gavok has played the Blazblue games]

  6. Wait, weren’t BlazBlue and Guilty Gear made by the same company?

  7. I’m curious if you’ve ever played Mugen Mods? That seems to be something you may or may not enjoy from a fighting game standpoint.

  8. @gary: Many, many years ago.

  9. @MegaSpiderMan: Yes, Arc System Works. They’re also responsible for the hilariously unbalanced Hokuto no Ken, as well as developing Sengoku Basara X for Capcom and Persona 4: Arena for Atlus.

  10. The Akuma/Rugal confrontation, I remember being completely terrified.

    The camera angles, the drawings of demonic Akuma and Rugal (particularly Rugal), and the music all contributed to the effect of me actually me afraid to fight one of these guys.

  11. Y’know, the NESTS angle from KoF99-2001 always reminded me of a bad fighting game version of Spider-Man’s Clone Saga.

  12. I was tempted to dispute ranking Terry’s storyline so low, but A) you agree that Terry himself is awesome, and B) some of the stuff in Part 2 is great, so I can’t find a real reason to complain.

  13. “Y’know, the NESTS angle from KoF99-2001 always reminded me of a bad fighting game version of Spider-Man’s Clone Saga.”

    Ha! It’s like K’ is the Kaine of King of Fighters.

  14. I always saw K’ as being more like Poochy from the Simpsons.

  15. I’d like K’ so much more if he acted like Poochy, instead of just being a miserable prick. And he should go the whole hog and wear a thong with his chaps.

    He really is too ‘cool’ in a contrived way (a problem I also have with post-orochi saga Kyo), and having the nonsensical phrase ‘a beast of prey’ written on his jacket makes him seem like a sex offender (dunno about everywhere else, but ‘beast’ has horrible conotations here in Scotland).

    Sorry, could go on about KoF forever.

  16. KOF ’97 didn’t end the Orochi storyline. Ash Crimson’s role in the later part of the series was to prevent Orochi from awakening. That’s it.
    Well, and NESTS was/is a plot device to enable the return of Rugal Bernstein to the series (which in and of itself is another tie to Orochi.)