Street Fighter: Timeline and Story Explained
The Street Fighter lore is out of order and filled with retcons and rewrites. Our story guide will help you make sense of it all.
When Street Fighter V hit the scene, it got a lot of flack for being incredibly incomplete. Not for the 16 starter characters, but because the internet stuff was busted, there was no arcade mode, and the “story mode” was a bunch of lengthy and uninteresting cutscenes occasionally broken up by 1-3 matches that were frustratingly simple with no option to change the difficulty. Over time, Capcom finally released a cinematic story mode called “A Shadow Falls” and even later upgraded the game into Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition.
Arcade Edition‘s arcade mode came with a fun little gimmick where you could choose which era you were fighting through. For instance, you chould select Street Fighter II, a campaign which would only include those characters on the Street Fighter V roster who were in Street Fighter II and its revisions. Finishing the game will get you a modernized take on that character’s Street Fighter II ending. That means that the more the character shows up in the series (ie. Ryu and Ken), the more endings there are to unlock. A fun way to play with the series’ history.
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Street Fighter has an overall interesting storyline and great characters, but trying to make sense of the continuity can be a headache at times. Think of it this way: Street Fighter V naturally takes place after Street Fighter IV, but also before Street Fighter III.
Not only do games take place out of order, but upgraded versions of games (ie. Street Fighter III: Second Impact or Super Street Fighter II) are a crapshoot in whether they’re considered a different chapter completely or if they just retcon the original versions of the games.
Street Fighter also crosses over with plenty of other franchises, whether they’re Capcom-owned or not. In terms of actual canon, Street Fighter is in the same shared universe as Rival Schools, Final Fight, and Saturday Night Slam Masters. Final Fight is the biggest example as various characters such as Cody, Guy, Rolento, Hugo, Poison, Maki, and Sodom have become part of the Street Fighter franchise over time. Then again, they never seem to have an impact on the overall plot.
To make it all a little less confusing, here’s a handy dandy guide to the weird world of Street Fighter continuity. I’m only talking about the games here, so I’m not going to argue whether or not certain manga or animated movies are part of Street Fighter canon.
The first game is obviously the most straightforward. You choose either Ryu or Ken to enter a fighting tournament and that’s about it. As the story goes, Ryu wins the tournament, defeating the ominous Muay Thai fighter Sagat. The original version is cut and dry, explaining Sagat’s badass scar in the sequels and why he went on such a mental breakdown.
Years later, Capcom made the final battle a bit more dramatic. Ryu doesn’t simply defeat Sagat by being a better martial artist. Sagat kicks the crap out of the kid. Absolutely destroys him. Sagat, being honorable and a bit egotistical, decides to offer Ryu his hand to help him up. Ryu’s killing intent (the Dark Side of the Force of his martial arts style) suddenly takes over for the first time and he suckerpunches Sagat with one hell of a Shoryuken to the chest. Ryu wins the tournament, albeit cheaply, and in a way that makes him afraid of what he’s becoming.
Sagat, meanwhile, loses his mind and falls into a bad crowd when M. Bison recruits him to join Shadaloo.
STREET FIGHTER ALPHA 2
Street Fighter Alpha came out after Street Fighter II, but was meant to bridge the gap between the first two games. Although Alpha 2 has different endings, it’s still supposed to just be a rewrite of Alpha’s storyline. Unlike the last game, this one isn’t actually a tournament, but just a bunch of instances of people wandering around and getting into fights. It’s mainly two stories that intertwine.
On one hand, you have the aftermath of Ryu’s big win against Sagat. Now everyone wants a piece of him. Ken wants to challenge his old rival. Sagat desperately wants his rematch. Sakura wants to meet her idol. More importantly, Akuma – the man who killed Ryu and Ken’s master Gouken – is interested in Ryu’s journey into darkness. He and Ryu have a showdown on Akuma’s island, but after seeing all he needs to see, Akuma destroys the island with his fist, lets Ryu escape, and tells him to embrace the dark path and seek him out when he’s stronger.
On the other hand, you have the rise of M. Bison, ruler of the Shadaloo criminal syndicate. He’s a big megalomaniac mass murderer and, aptly enough, has enough people out for his blood. US Air Force dude Charlie wants to take him down for the good of mankind. Chun-Li wants to avenge her father’s death. Rose – a gypsy woman who is literally M. Bison’s exorcised goodness in human form – wants to rid the world of his evil.
Bison has his eye on Ryu and is able to hunt him down, beat him up, kidnap him, torture him, and brainwash him while pumping him full of evil energy. The plan is to make Ryu a suitable host body for M. Bison’s soul.
Meanwhile, Sagat’s anger becomes his downfall, causing him to lose to his own former student Adon. Realizing the error of his ways, Sagat throws a fight against Dan Hibiki, Street Fighter’s resident doofus pushover, who was also obsessed with vengeance. In this moment of clarity, Sagat starts to realize that Shadaloo is for the birds.
Worth noting is that although Charlie is able to get the drop on Bison, he’s betrayed by one of his own men and gets shot up by a plane before falling off a cliff. Street Fighter V makes it very apparent that this kills Charlie and his appearance in Street Fighter Alpha 3 is non-canon.
STREET FIGHTER ALPHA 3
Once again, people are getting into random fights. This time there’s an actual endgame in that Bison has a doomsday weapon called the Psycho Drive. It’s a big machine that’s able to both recharge Bison’s power and harness it into an energy source for a giant robot’s bigass laser face. Basically, it’s capable of taking out entire cities and as long as it exists, Bison is nigh-invincible. At some point, the Psycho Drive is destroyed by one of the heroes. Originally, Guile and Charlie got the credit for this, but as I just explained, that’s since been retconned.
M. Bison and his corrupted Ryu fight the team of Ken, Sagat, and Sakura. Sagat defeats Ryu and helps him regain himself. Through willpower, Ryu conquers Bison’s influence and forces all of the negative energies back to Bison, blowing him to smithereens. Ryu and Sagat agree they’ll figure out who’s the best another day. Unbeknownst to them, Bison’s soul survives and possesses the body of Rose. Shadaloo scientists clone him a new body.
SUPER STREET FIGHTER II: TURBO
Or whatever the latest version of that game is.
Bison’s back in charge and he holds a World Warrior tournament, inviting the greatest fighters from around the world. Not only does he plan to use the combatants as brainwashed soldiers in his plan for world domination, but he’s also attempting to draw Akuma out of hiding, so he can experiment on him. This proves to be his undoing.
Despite being the most popular entry in the franchise, little is known about what actually goes down. Who wins the tournament? No clue. All that’s known is that Akuma attacks Bison and seemingly kills him for good with his Raging Demon attack, which literally kills souls.
Personally, I’ve always liked to think that Guile won. His ending, where Guile’s estranged wife and daughter beg him not to kill Bison, makes for a good thematic contrast with Akuma killing Bison without flinching. But that’s just me.
ULTRA STREET FIGHTER IV
Yes, again, Street Fighter IV comes before Street Fighter III. Whatever. Through some retconning, Akuma is shown to be all but worthless. Not only has Bison survived with a new clone body, but it turns out Gouken’s not dead either! Man, the Master of Fist just can’t keep anyone down.
With Bison considered out of the picture, there’s a void in the whole power-mad final boss department. Bison had a bunch of genetically-engineered beings created for the sake of using them as pawns and potentially host bodies. He did this back in the Alpha days with women, but I guess he’s seeing if he can do better with dudes this time. One of the early experiments, Abel, was at some point freed by Charlie and lived on as a mercenary with amnesia. Another one of these dolls became self-aware and rebellious, calling himself Seth.
Seth would lead a Shadaloo division-turned-offshoot called SIN. He puts together a new tournament in hopes of recording the abilities of all the best fighters – especially Ryu – so he can copy their abilities and become powerful enough to rule the world. Many of the players end up at Seth’s headquarters when the final battles go down. Presumably, Bison returns and kills Seth, unleashing the other dolls upon the other fighters.
The Shadaloo henchman Balrog comes across a scared little boy named Ed. Ed is a SIN experiment covered in bandages, though neither he nor Balrog know what makes him so special. Regardless, Balrog abducts him, feeling that he’s probably worth a lot of money to Bison.
As this is all going on, Akuma and Gouken finally meet again and duel over Ryu’s soul. Gouken fights off Akuma and helps Ryu conquer his inner darkness, at least for a little while.
Oh, and at some point, Elena convinces Akuma to take a selfie with her.
STREET FIGHTER V
Shadaloo has replaced Sagat with FANG, a psychotic mad scientist. He comes up with a big plan for world domination called Operation CHAINS where a series of giant satellites called Black Moons will cause a giant EMP across the globe. The fear and chaos in the aftermath will bulk up M. Bison’s powers and Shadaloo will conquer a helpless world. Unfortunately for him, one of the hackers he kidnapped to make this plot happen sabotaged the process. There are a series of keys in the form of chess pieces needed to activate the Black Moons and before being killed by FANG, that hacker had them sent out to various warriors around the world.
From there, there are two main factions out to stop Shadaloo. One is run by the mysterious Russian woman Helen. She has been able to resurrect Charlie into a Frankenstein’s monster with a very limited lifespan. Also on her team are Rashid – a close friend of the murdered hacker – and Shadaloo-hating psychopath Juri Han.
The other faction is led by the wealthy Karin Kanzuki, who employs ex-Shadaloo member Birdie, pro wrestler Rainbow Mika, and ninja student Ibuki. Using her resources, she’s able to bring in various street fighters and help gather the chess pieces. All the while, Ryu declines to show up as he’s too busy dealing with his returning dark impulses and feels that he’d be a danger to the team.
Ryu is stalked by a mythological savage Necalli, who devours the souls of worthy fighters. By finally conquering his inner darkness, Ryu not only cleanses himself of evil, but destroys Necalli.
FANG’s plans are foiled. Charlie sacrifices himself to weaken M. Bison and helps Ryu destroy the villain once and for all (so it seems). All of Bison’s Doll soldiers are no longer mentally controlled. Meanwhile, Cammy is a fugitive from the law for refusing to turn her twin sister Decapre in to the authorities.
Helen tells her higher-up that Shadaloo is destroyed and will no longer be a threat to them. Helen is revealed to be minor Street Fighter III character Kolin and her leader is that game’s final boss Gill.
Also, throughout the last few years, Balrog has been mentoring Ed, adding boxing skills to his developing Psycho Power and precognition abilities. With Shadaloo gone, the two continue to travel together until Ed is warned by the fortune teller Menat that he’s in for rough times ahead. Fearing that Bison’s soul will return to possess him, Ed reluctantly leaves his father figure Balrog behind for the sake of protection. Along with Falke, Ed founds Neo Shadaloo, which appears to be more about liberating Shadaloo experiments than straight-up megalomania.
STREET FIGHTER III: SECOND IMPACT
Shadaloo is gone completely. Now the big, bad organization is the Illuminati. Yes, the “running everything since the dawn of time” organization that shows up in crackpot YouTube comments everywhere. It’s run by Gill, a powerful self-proclaimed religious figure who wants to find the strongest and most worthy to join his eventual utopia. He isn’t as outright evil as M. Bison (who, to be fair, is literally pure evil), but his organization has done a lot of shady stuff that makes him less than a saint. Still, his jealous brother Urien is far more insidious.
Gill holds another World Warrior tournament for the sake of checking out fighters’ potential. The main hero is Alex, a military guy whose best friend was hospitalized after a match against Gill. There was nothing sinister about it or anything. Gill just plain beat the guy in a fair fight, but Alex is a hothead and goes on a mission for vengeance. Alex ends up defeating Gill, which not only gets Gill interested in what Alex has to offer, but it causes Alex to understand why certain people travel the world to fight strong opponents.
During all of this, Ken is enjoying fatherhood while training his own student Sean. Sean is most likely the worst fighter in Street Fighter canon, making Dan Hibiki look unstoppable. Ryu is still training and comes across an elderly hermit named Oro, who feels that after another few decades of solid training, Ryu might be man enough to face him at full strength.
STREET FIGHTER III: THIRD STRIKE
Once again, we have a game that isn’t about a tournament, but about fighters just wandering around and crossing paths. There is little actual story in all of this, other than how Alex’s newfound love for globetrotting leads to an obsession with fighting Ryu. The Illuminati is still active and doing stuff, but there’s no climactic endgame on their part. Just plotting and random fights.
All of this is monitored by the mysterious Q. Nobody knows who he is, whether he’s a man, robot, or both. It’s been almost 20 years since this game’s release and we’re not a step closer to figuring him out. Maybe some eventual Street Fighter V DLC will give us some kind of hint.
Gavin Jasper is still wondering where Joe from the first game ended up. Nobody’s seen him for 30 years. Follow Gavin on Twitter.