There’s a lot going on in the wild world of Street Fighter lore. Government agents are trying to stop a supervillain from world domination, while an Andre the Giant pastiche is trying to find the perfect tag team partner. A ridiculous martial artist in pink keeps trying to prove he’s a legend (despite getting beaten into traction day after day), just as a gruff mechanic beats up an all-powerful cult leader. All the while, a Turkish grappler travels the world in hopes of figuring out the perfect cooking oil.
At the center of it all is Ryu: a wandering martial artist who dedicates his life to fighting anyone and everyone interested in going a few rounds with him. You could be out to kill him or out to give him a friendly spar, and Ryu will fight you all the same. Fighting gives him purpose and helps him find meaning. Ryu has friends, and he is a genuinely good person, but his role as protagonist and hero comes less from altruism and more from bad guys going out of their way to antagonize him.
As one of the faces of one of the biggest fighting game series in the world, Ryu tends to get around. Mind you, I don’t just mean that Ryu is that classic kind of World Warrior who gets into fights in every country. That would be too easy. See, because Capcom loves fighting game crossovers, and because Ryu is almost always one of Street Fighter‘s “ambassadors,” Ryu has crossed paths with many opponents across the multiverse over the years. So if you’ve ever wondered how one man can get on the bad side of characters from the worlds of Street Fighter, Marvel, Tekken, and more, here’s a better look at Ryu’s many multiverse rivalries.
Ah, the classic. Ryu and Ken became like brothers, spending years training under Master Gouken in the art of Ansatsuken. While the two started out with identical fighting styles, the differences between them started to show over time. Ken’s habit of throwing a couple of extra rolls into his throws or adding flames to his non-fireball attacks soon made him the flashier of the two. Ryu, meanwhile, favored substance over style. He incorporated dull, but practical, thrust kicks into his repertoire, and performed the Shin Shoryuken (which hits fewer times than Ken’s Shoryuken variations but hits harder).
While Ken is devoted to his fighting lifestyle, he can’t match Ryu’s dedication. Ken has a business and a family to focus on, so he’s more of a “weekend warrior” in comparison. His rivalry with Ryu keeps him going and pushes him to keep up with his BFF. If the rumors regarding Street Fighter VI‘s roster are true, that obsession may have finally caught up with him…
Street Fighter lore tells us that Ryu kicked Sagat’s ass pretty decisively during their earliest encounter. Actually, Ryu tore Sagat’s chest open with a well-placed Shoryuken. Sagat took that loss hard. Actually, he soon went on such an epic “anger bender” that he somehow ended up becoming the top goon of a terrorist organization. He was so obsessed with getting a rematch against Ryu that he even added a Shoryuken knockoff into his moveset: the Tiger Uppercut.
With the Street Fighter Alpha series, Capcom retconned that story as to make Sagat more sympathetic. In that revised version of events, Sagat wiped the floor with Ryu during their initial match. It was so one-sided that Sagat actually offered Ryu a helping hand just to ensure the fight would continue. At that moment, Ryu was suddenly overcome by his inner darkness: the Satsui no Hado. He sucker-punched Sagat with a Shoryuken that split his chest open and won Ryu the tournament. However, the cost of winning that tournament soon proved to be as great as the rewards. Ryu began to suffer from imposter syndrome and the constant fear of the monster the path he had chosen may turn him into.
Sagat, meanwhile, became driven by hatred and revenge. However, he calmed down a bit when even his own former pupil, Adon, was able to get one over on him. Hate can only get you so far. When M. Bison brainwashed Ryu to be his evil pawn, Sagat turned on Bison and smacked Ryu around until Ryu returned to his normal self. Suddenly, Ryu and Sagat were 1-1 during the encounters, and neither of their victories could easily be considered a clean win. Before long, the two constantly crossed paths in a never-ending attempt to settle things with their fists. The prospect of facing Ryu again seems to be one of the few things that give Sagat joy.
Akuma is the Darth Vader to Ryu’s Luke Skywalker. How literal that comparison is kind of depends on the adaptation. One Street Fighter anime argued that Akuma is Ryu’s father, while another suggested that was all a red herring. Meanwhile, the American comic series strongly implied that Akuma actually killed Ryu’s father in a complicated cycle of endless violence. The Street Fighter III manga, meanwhile, straight up shrugged and asked, “Who gives a shit?”
Throughout most of Street Fighter history, Akuma has completely outclassed Ryu. Akuma wants Ryu to give in to the killer inside of him, which Akuma believes will make Ryu stronger. Akuma wants to forge an opponent who could conceivably kill him in battle, and Ryu has become his personal pet project. As the franchise’s canon grew larger and more complicated, Ryu gets better and gradually conquers the Satsui no Hado inside of him. That puts Ryu closer to Akuma’s level while allowing him to avoid the path Akuma laid out for him to one day reach that point.
The best depiction of the Ryu vs. Akuma rivalry is easily the Street Fighter III: Ryu Final manga. Not only does their fight in that manga involve Ryu allowing himself to get impaled by Akuma’s fist for the sake of strategy, but it actually offers a sense of closure to the entire rivalry. The manga suggests that Ryu’s destiny is to make his opponents better (both as fighters and people) simply by sparring with them. Although Akuma wins the fight, he accepts the idea of Ryu’s true purpose and decides to spare him. Akuma disappears into the night, smoldering and covered in gaping wounds, while saying he looks forward to fighting Ryu’s “children.”
Capcom and SNK have had a handful of crossovers over the years, so it’s no surprise that Ryu has rivals in that universe. On paper, though, Ryu should be facing someone like Terry Bogard (same drifter tendencies) or Ryo Sakazaki (a blatant Ryu knockoff to begin with). Instead, SNK was really intent on pushing Kyo Kusanagi to the forefront of their franchise, so that’s who Ryu got. The protagonist of Street Fighter vs. the protagonist of King of Fighters.
To be fair, the two are linked by their general behavior. Ryu and Kyo are two martial artists who just want to fight in martial arts tournaments. They didn’t choose to be the heroes; the villains chose to make them the heroes. Ryu just wants to mind his business, but then M. Bison shows up to try and turn him into a mind-controlled host body. Kyo just wants to do his thing until Rugal wants to turn him into a statue or he discovers that he’s forced to save the world due to some grudges his ancestors had centuries ago.
Even the SNK vs. Capcom: Chaos comic plays with that idea. Ryu and Kyo just want to have a fight, but next thing you know, Akuma and Mr. Karate show up to kill them for no reason. Before you know it, Ryu and Kyo are stuck trying to save the world through a fighting game version of Battle Royale. Have I mentioned that a lot of fighting game comics have incredible weird narratives?
Other than being another rival to Kyo, Iori doesn’t have a lot in common with Ryu. He’s just an all-around jerk who doesn’t seem to get along with anyone and has a tendency to thrash his own partners. All he wants is to kill Kyo in a one-on-one fight. Well…that, and maybe punch Yashiro in the face a few times.
The main reason he and Ryu cross paths is because they’re the go-to “evil variation” characters in their franchises. Ryu becomes Satsui no Hado Ryu (otherwise known as Evil Ryu), which means that he becomes driven by his killing intent. Iori, on the other hand, becomes Riot of the Blood Iori (otherwise known as Orochi Iori). In that state, Iori’s cursed bloodline manifests into him becoming an uncontrollable beast driven by pure instinct to indiscriminately slash apart everyone in the near vicinity.
As for Ryu’s other King of Fighters rival, the closest thing we ever got to an evil Kyo variant is Kusanagi: a dark-skinned Kyo clone who nobody has ever cared about. Yeah, just keep going with that hunched-over Iori eerily exhaling smoke instead.
Street Fighter X Tekken basically showed us what It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World would look like if it was converted into a fighting game. In that long-awaited crossover title, a mysterious, cosmic box called Pandora has landed in Antarctica and various pairs of fighters have banded together to be the first to track it down. Ryu naturally teams up with Ken. Their rival team is Kazuya Mishima and Nina Williams, though the emphasis is soon clearly on Ryu vs. Kazuya.
Ken and Nina are both shown to be reluctant to take part in the two-on-two fight, and Ken at least understands the danger Kazuya represents as a corporate supervillain. Ryu and Kazuya shut their partners’ concerns down by insisting that they are both strictly interested in fighting strong opponents. Yes, one is a billionaire who had a major hand in World War III and the other is a kind of fighting nomad, but they’re linked by their zest for battle.
There’s also the fact that Kazuya has his own amped-up evil form known as Devil Kazuya. Unlike Ryu, though, he fully embraces the evil inside.
Ken the Eagle
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom featured plenty of promotional art depicting Ken the Eagle and Ryu as the marquee representatives of each property. I can see why. Ryu is Capcom’s main dude from their main fighting series, while Ken the Eagle is the heroic leader from one of Tatsunoko’s top properties. It makes sense that they would hype up the game by showing those two making eye contact and putting up their dukes.
Unfortunately, they don’t do much more than that. Sure, Ken offers Ryu membership to join Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, but they don’t get any cool intros, cinematic showdowns, or even ending cameos. G-Force does G-Force stuff, and Ryu keeps the crossover gimmick going by fighting an Akrid from Lost Planet.
Now we delve into the fascinating world of Marvel. Ryu has appeared in six Marvel crossover games, and none of those games can seem to agree about which Marvel hero is supposed to be Ryu’s counterpart.
That trend began with 1994’s X-Men vs. Street Fighter, where a tag team mechanic had the computer constantly construct specific counterpart pairings (Cammy/Rogue, Bison/Magneto, Zangief/Juggernaut, etc.). Ryu and Cyclops were not only paired up by that system, but the game’s iconic opening image featured the two shaking hands. Said image would also appear in both of their endings. Ryu’s ending even saw him walk away and scour the moon for worthy opponents. What a guy.
What links Ryu and Cyclops? Well, people find them both to be wooden and boring, I guess. Really, Cyclops’ Capcom video game self basically jacked Ryu’s fighting style and traded fireballs for lasers. Actually, in that game, Ryu upgraded his fireballs to lasers in order to keep up. Seems about right.
The two seemed to still be chummy in the sequel, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, where they casually worked together to fight a giant Akuma mech. If anything, then, these two seem to have more of a competitive rivalry than a particularly bitter one.
While Wolverine spent his X-Men vs. Street Fighter ending telling Jubilee that he likes the cut of Ryu’s jib, the two wouldn’t get some quality time together until the badass four-part cinematic trailer for Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The first installment saw Ryu fighting Wolverine on a rooftop alongside a lot of other crazy (but logical) pairings like Chris Redfield vs. the Hulk, Morrigan Aensland vs. Iron Man, and Dante vs. Deadpool. The following cinematics stopped playing up the rivalry aspects and just had characters from both parties battling it out in rad-ass ways.
Once things escalated in the finale, Ryu was shown laid out on the ground, hurt and barely conscious. Soon, though, Wolverine helped Ryu up with a handshake. The two were then shown running into action together as the centerpiece of a kickass shot of the game’s roster.
In-game, the pair often compliment each other’s style, but they are also quite critical of each other. Ryu thinks Wolverine is too much of a wild animal and that his lack of control is a weakness. Wolverine thinks that Ryu is lost because he needs something to fight for other than himself. Interestingly, you could argue that each has something to learn from their warnings to the other.
Despite Marvel vs. Capcom 3 playing up Wolverine as Ryu’s rival, Ryu’s in-game ending hints that Marvel has a more fitting foil waiting for him. That ending sees Ryu and Ken go to Madripoor and take part in an underground fighting tournament. It’s there that Ryu comes across Iron Fist. Mind you, this is the sweet spot in that character’s legacy when he hasn’t shown up in the MCU yet and therefore hasn’t starred in a lame Netflix series.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 would make Iron Fist a playable character. In-game, Iron Fist and Ryu seem to hit it off and exhibit mutual respect for each other. In Iron Fist’s ending, he starts up a new incarnation of the Heroes for Hire that includes Ryu, Chun-Li, and Rival Schools’ Batsu. As for Ryu’s ending, he takes up the Iron Fist mantle and muses that he has finally achieved meaning while smashing Akuma’s face with an “Iron Shoryuken.” It’s an odd relationship, to say the least.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite infamously reduced Marvel’s roster compared to previous entries in the crossover franchise. Disney did not want any non-MCU properties to show up, meaning that heroes and villains from X-Men and Fantastic Four (among others) were off-limits. Cyclops and Wolverine were gone, and Iron Fist wasn’t popular enough to make the cut either.
Due largely to the impact of those changes, the game’s narrative got a little creative. At one point in story mode, Ryu appeared and explained that he was actually part of a scientific expedition. Lots of people misread the situation and joked about how the game was saying Ryu was a scientist, but that wasn’t the case. It turns out that Ryu was accompanying Dr. Bruce Banner for the sake of aiding him with his anger issues.
It made so much sense. Ryu was the guy who conquered the force within that made him want to turn into a demonic killing machine. He’s a drifter who wanders the world, only to be constantly attacked in every direction. Who better to help the Hulk conquer his uncontrollable rage and teach him the finer aspects of teamwork and control? Who better to also keep Hulk under control from time to time when things do go according to plan?
So it turns out that Ryu going on a scientific expedition really isn’t that crazy. Now, that part of the game’s story where Thanos absorbs the Satsui no Hado so he can throw Hadokens at Death? That part was absolutely bonkers.