Street Fighter is still one of the most beloved fighting game franchises. First released in 1987, it didn’t really explode into the mainstream until its sequel in 1991 which caused something of a gaming revolution. Street Fighter was THE game to play at the time and many of the people within the fighting game community will always fondly remember Street Fighter II.
The game was innovative with characters that we hadn’t seen in fighting games at that point and unique mechanics, many of which are still in play today.
Naturally, it is impossible for a game to have lasted this long without a few controversies -- design designs and in particular characters that have caused some sort of uproar or the other. Today we’ll be looking at 5 of the most contentious Street Fighter character and explore why they caused a ruckus.
This might seem like a weird name to be on the list, but hear me out. Ken is ostensibly the poster boy of the Street Fighter franchise and is arguably more popular than his counterpart, Ryu, who is of the more sullen variety. Ken has been a mainstay of the franchise since the very beginning and has appeared in every single game, and that means he is a huge part of many a gamer’s childhoods.
So, when Ken was introduced in Street Fighter V sporting something of a new, more Asian look (picture above), a few fans were upset. This is not the first time a beloved character got a makeover that fans were displeased with. Capcom courted controversy in the early 2010s when they released a new Devil May Cry with beloved protagonist, Dante, sporting a new look which not many people took too kindly to. The reaction to Ken was similar and caused quite a stir. However, Capcom refused to change the look and now people have come to somewhat accept that this is just how Ken looks now.
Oro was a mysterious Street Fighter character introduced in Street Fighter III way back in 1997. Oro was a tad controversial due to his unorthodox playstyle and his blatant use of magic. The enigmatic hermit is also one of the oldest Street Fighter characters at over 100 years old!
According to his lore, he used magic to bind his arm to ensure he fought with only one arm. In Street Fighter V, he is seen holding a Turtle which he challenges himself to keep balanced while fighting. The use of magic was a step too far for some Street Fighter fans as the fantasy setting of the game doesn't really go as far as outright allow magic. Street Fighter does a great job of straddling this line between real martial arts and fantasy, but Oro was so clearly magical that it was problematic in some quarters.
Dhalsim was another one of the OGs of Street Fighter and he first made an appearance in Street Fighter II. Nowadays Sim, as he is fondly called by players, is a high-tier character that is much beloved and he has a moveset that make him really dangerous in the right hands.
So, why was he controversial? Well, as the years went by and people became more and more angry about stereotypes, it became clear to the Street Fighter community that Street Fighter II was guilty of stereotyping several characters. There was the case of Chun Li’s life bar almost being shipped with a shorter than other characters because women are not as strong as men -- which Redditors say is false because they often transition into the other gender and do not feel their strength noticeably increasing or diminishing.
Dhalsim, of course, was seen as a stereotype of Indian people as he was a shaman-like character who was skinny with a sunken look that depicted the poverty experienced by people in India. Street Fighter fans rallied to the aid of the poor Indian people and demanded better representation of such marginalized peoples. For the most part, people would rather not dwell on this, but it is certainly a thing.
Luke’s case is pretty funny considering he hasn’t even been released yet. Luke is set to become Street Fighter V’s final character before the conclusion of the project and the move towards Street Fighter VI. When the character was released he wasn’t considered to be a good character by many members of the FGC. For some, the fact that he is another blonde character did not sit well with a community that prides itself on collecting non-white identity titles.
The other issue gamers seemed to have with Luke was how bland he seemed in comparison to many of the more outlandish characters that are synonymous with Street Fighter. However, his generic nature was a conscious design decision specifically made to appeal to the Street Fighter community's joke that white people are "bland mayonnaises" who "spice food with water." Maybe upon release, opinion on him might change, but for now, it is what it is.
Poison is easily one of the most controversial fighting game characters -- period. First introduced into the Final Fight series as one of the generic villains, she made her way into Street Fighter's roster proper.
However, due to the Street Fighter community's worry about the perception of men hitting a woman, and fears that the violent imagery could cause the Street Fighter fans themselves to unleash physical violence on their own moms and sisters, game developers decided to solve the problem by making her a trans character -- technically a man and thus sidestepping the issue altogether.
Considering the time when Poison was introduced to Street Fighter, this was a big thing and only further fueled the controversy. Elements such as communism (the hat) and BDSM (the sex toy necklace) that were supposed to appease the LGBTQ fans instead caused worry that it was portraying a stereotype of transwomen.
Poison has since come a long way from being reviled to a character that many within the notoriously LGBTQ Street Fighter community rally around. This still has not stopped all controversy, and it is likely that it will never go away.