Street Fighter Week continues! Ryu might be the most popular character in the franchise, but he’s routinely outclassed as a competitor by similar characters. Is that a problem?
Street Fighter‘s largely-generic karate guy is the most popular and iconic character in the genre. People love his standard-issue toolset and his competitive spirit. However, for being the poster boy for the entire genre, Ryu hasn’t really been a threat in the competitive scene since Super Turbo. Ever since Akuma entered the lore, Capcom has been put in a weird predicament that I don’t think they’ll ever fully solve.
Consumed by the Satsui No Hado, Akuma is essentially an evil version of Ryu. Not actually an Evil Ryu (more on him later), but another fighter who is proficient in the same fighting style. However, he’s basically a better version of Ryu in every way. He can teleport across the screen, as well as toss fireballs from the air at angles that other characters simply can’t deal with. Akuma was so overpowered in his Super Street Fighter II Turbo debut that he was banned from tournament play. Even within the recent Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, Akuma was banned from online play through a post-launch patch.
Though he hasn’t been as overpowered ever since, his fundamental toolset is designed in such a way that Akuma is always a better choice than Ryu. Even when Akuma is burdened with low health to counteract his superior offensive game, it’s never enough to offset the balance.
The problem has only gotten worse over time, as Capcom continues to add Ryu-like characters that are essentially better than Ryu in every way. In Ultra Street Fighter IV, you were better off playing as Oni or Evil Ryu. In Street Fighter V, Akuma would be added as DLC in season 2 and Kage would arrive right after season 3 ended. During last season’s Capcom Cup, not a single Ryu could be found in the top 400. I stopped searching after 400, but presumably it goes even farther than that.
Is it a problem that the face of the game isn’t that good competitively? No and yes. No in the sense that a lot of people love Ryu and will play him no matter what. Also, at a casual level, the differences in their design may not be enough to bridge the skill gap between two players. But when it really comes down to it, if you want to win, you’re almost always better off choosing any fighter of his type other than Ryu. Will we ever see Ryu stand on his own in a game that features the likes of Akuma, Evil Ryu, and Kage? I don’t see how Capcom can do it.