As we get closer and closer to the release of Street Fighter V, we figured we’d cast a spotlight on one of the game’s stars. Someone who’s been there since the day Street Fighter II broke out as an arcade phenomenon. In Japan, he’s known as Balrog, and in the competitive gaming community he’s known as Claw, but I’m gonna go ahead and call him by his American name, Vega.
As one of M. Bison’s top executives in the criminal organization Shadaloo, Vega started off as an unplayable boss character. Fans couldn’t control him until the updated version, Street Fighter II: Champion Edition. Of the original twelve of that game, Vega is arguably the most dynamic and has so much spark to him that they could easily hand him his own spinoff if they wanted, outside the fact that he’s kind of an evil jerk.
Thinking about it, the dude is essentially Evil Spanish Batman. Studied as a ninja? Check. Wears a mask? Check. High society during the day? Check. Enacting violence at those he blames for the death of his mother at night? Check. Member of a super team? Check. Known for climbing walls? Check. Would love to shatter Two-Face’s jaw? Check.
Coincidentally, Vega almost was a dark knight. When they were sketching up characters for Street Fighter II, one of the designs was of an armored knight with a sword. While that certainly looked pretty cool, it was a bit too anachronistic and didn’t fit with the game’s style. They reworked it a bunch and mixed it with the design for the first game’s character Geki, a masked ninja with a single claw.
They also added yodeling. Because.
Vega’s backstory is basically a vigilante superhero origin gone wrong. His mother married an ugly man who was a total piece of shit. The husband felt that she didn’t respect him for anything other than his money, so he murdered her. Vega came out of this with the wrong lesson learned by deciding that UGLY PEOPLE ARE BAD AND MUST DIE.
You were so close, man. So close.
Vega grew up training both as a matador and as a ninja. Meanwhile, I recently figured out how to tie a tie correctly. Vega used his skills to go around slaughtering those he felt deserved it. In other words, ugly people. He turned his bloodlust into a job and became a highly-paid assassin, which not only made him very rich, but also got the attention of the mysterious M. Bison of Shadaloo. Vega became a member of his inner circle, along with Balrog and Sagat.
As mentioned, his first appearance was in Street Fighter II, where he and the rest of the Shadaloo crew featured a good amount of variety in terms of boss fights. Vega stuck out, not just for his speedy antics that rivaled Chun-Li, but because of how his battleground was an extension of himself. Choosing to fight in front of a cage, Vega could climb onto it and dive down onto his enemies, whether to cut them up or just suplex them mid-air.
When finally playable with the release of Champion Edition, Vega’s ending showed him taking over Shadaloo and then committing worldwide genocide on all ugly people. That’s…a little extreme, but at least the guy’s able to see his goals through. Later updates like Super Street Fighter II: Turbo changed it so that Vega celebrated his tournament victory, talked up his handsomeness, and then went home and returned to a life of hunting down people.
Vega appeared in the infamous Malibu Street Fighter II comic, but really didn’t do much. While Balrog and Sagat got to go beat up Ken and brutally scalp him, Vega was just kind of there.
He did have a decent enough role in the Street Fighter II manga by Masaomi Kanzaki. Vega was credited with the murder of Chun-Li’s father (Bison got credit for taking out Gouken and Charlie, so it was okay to throw him that bone). As part of the tournament, Chun-Li and Vega faced off and the battle for revenge got really silly as Vega cut open Chun-Li’s top so one of her boobs was out. So Chun-Li had to fight Vega while enduring the handicap of using a hand to cover her nipple.
That wasn’t as weird as the third volume, though. See, since Street Fighter II was still very new and the lore was very limited (and nobody wanted to touch the Street Fighter 1 crew), they decided to write a story about the fact that Champion Edition allowed two people to play as the same character. Seriously, allowing two people to play as Blanka was a revolutionary concept at one point. With no explanation given, Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, and the Shadaloo folks had to fight their evil(er) doubles. Being on Vega’s side caused Chun-Li to kind of admire him and see some nobility in his actions despite the whole thing about Vega killing her father.
1994 saw the release of the live-action Street Fighter film in the US. The movie is well-known for getting a lot of the characters wrong. Chun-Li, Honda, and Balrog are a news crew, Dhalsim is a scientist, Ryu and Ken are swindlers, Dee Jay is an evil tech guy, and Guile is about as American as Haley’s Comet. Luckily, they got Vega completely right. Although Jay Tavare was little more than a henchman, he still had the look, the accessories, and the cage-fighting gimmick.
The movie was spun off into the Saturday morning cartoon, and while it lasted a whole two seasons, Vega was in it very, very little. He mostly existed to pester Blanka in a rivalry that writes itself.
His scant appearances made plenty of sense when you think about it. In terms of the show’s bad guys, everyone else fit into what’s acceptable in a kid’s cartoon. Balrog used blunt force. Sagat threw energy blasts. Zangief grabbed people. Bison did telekinesis stuff. Vega? He had a claw. He was never going to stab or slice anyone with that claw ever.
Not that he didn’t get some use out of that weapon elsewhere. Japan’s animated series Street Fighter II V had Vega show up. In an attempt to win over Chun-Li, Vega tricked Ken into taking part in a cage match. Considered one of the high points of the series, the two had a rather brutal fight filled with Ken getting stabbed and slashed up an awful lot. By the end of it, Vega jumped down from the ceiling while Ken countered with a Shoryuken and the rest was history.
That fight doesn’t exactly hold up due to the repeated animation and the fact that it’s told in snippets, meaning that even if you find footage of the entire fight pasted together, you’re still going to have to contend with several commercial break cliffhanger shots.
On the other hand, Vega’s appearance in Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is some seriously good stuff. Here, he’s sent by Bison to go take care of Chun-Li. It’s a scene mainly remembered for its very blatant fanservice. Vega stalks Chun-Li as she takes a shower and by the time he makes his move, she’s clad in only a shirt and underwear. Regardless, it’s still completely awesome and actually does hold up. While not the bloodbath of the Ken fight, it’s completely slick and makes Vega look like a creepy slasher villain before Chun-Li steps it up and throws a couch at him, allowing her to turn the tide.
Vega’s last major appearance for a couple years would take place in Super Street Fighter II: Cammy Gaiden, a manga by Masahiko Nakahira from 1994. Other than focusing more on Cammy, her Delta Red teammates, and Vega himself, I really can’t tell you that much about it. I flipped through it in a bookstore two decades ago and unfortunately that’s a story that Udon decided not to re-release when giving that treatment to Nakahira’s other Street Fighter stories.
With Capcom focusing more on the Street Fighter Alpha series, Street Fighter III, and the Marvel games, Vega fell to the wayside for a while. He only appeared in the occasional ending, such as having him in the background when Bison recruits Sagat into Shadaloo. A more notable example is X-Men vs. Street Fighter, where Vega, Balrog, and Sagat end up becoming followers of Magneto after he snuffs out Bison.
I mean, sure, Magneto’s still a megalomaniac, but the fact that he’s now flanked by three humans is actually rather progressive. Good on you, Magnus! Good on you.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 had such a plump roster, mainly due to the intent to bring in all the Super Street Fighter II folks who hadn’t returned yet. Vega was reintroduced, joining the likes of Balrog, Guile, Dee Jay, Fei Long, Blanka, and others. He still played the same and all, but now not only could you knock his claw off in mid-battle, but you could also knock off his facemask. So that was cool.
Vega’s role in the story is actually canon and is a bit of a bigger role than expected. Bison has his army of mind-controlled women (Dolls), led by Cammy, Bison’s clone. Even though Cammy is completing missions for Bison and all, he wants Vega to bring her in in fear that she’s going to become too strong. In his quest to hunt Cammy, Vega finds himself a bit confused because he feels rather smitten with her.
When Bison dies, all the Dolls go into comatose states and would have died if not for Vega’s intervention. After all, the guy loves beautiful people. Allowing them to die would have been such a waste. His ending shows that while rescuing Cammy, he is very aware that she could become a vessel for Bison’s soul (the reason she was created to begin with), but thought that is a possibility too interesting to pass up.
That doesn’t happen, as Bison possesses Rose’s body instead, but Vega still keeps being noble for once in his pathetic life by secretly delivering Cammy’s body to the military group Delta Red. They end up adopting her as one of their own and attempt to help her with her newfound amnesia.
Speaking of Cammy and Vega, Cammy got her own spinoff game called Cannon Spike, a shooter featuring various Capcom characters like Charlie Nash, Mega Man, BB Hood, and Arthur. Vega appeared in there under the name “Fallen Balrog,” and got a total goth makeover, making him look more like Marilyn Manson than anything else. I don’t think we ever got an explanation for what was up with him, but it’s not like the game had much in terms of lore anyway.
For several years, Capcom and SNK made various crossover games, and Vega appeared in all of them. Capcom’s efforts reused his sprites from Alpha 3 with an added move or two, as well as some extra animations. The various games played up the different SNK characters who could be seen as counterparts to Vega. There’s Billy Kane, who acts as Geese Howard’s trusted assassin, much like Vega is to Bison. Ryuji Yamazaki, another assassin who is defined by his suave nature conflicted with his intense bloodlust. Benimaru Nikaido, a fellow handsome and vain womanizer (Vega even throws him a rose before their matches out of respect).
Then there’s Choi Bounge, an ugly, short man in a fedora who acts as a rival to Vega due to his criminal background, acrobatics, and use of Freddy Krueger claws. The completely batshit SNK vs. Capcom: Chaos manga from Hong Kong features a fight between the two where Choi actually kills Vega in an upset. That’s pretty much like Glass Joe punching out Super Macho Man.
Vega’s ending in the SNK vs. Capcom: Chaos game was pretty neat. Vega dominates the world and rather than go for “ugly people genocide” like in Champion Edition, he simply wants the world to worship him. To help on that front, he replaces the Statue of Liberty with a giant statue of himself.
Vega’s been a pretty big antagonist in the Udon Street Fighter comic series, first appearing in Street Fighter #2. He’s sent by Bison to track down and apprehend Ryu. This leads to him having some major rivalries with the likes of E. Honda and Ken Masters. ESPECIALLY Ken Masters, who proceeds to give Vega the tiniest scar and it drives him completely mad.
They end up becoming archenemies throughout the series, with three fights under their belts. First time Vega forfeits due to minor face damage. Second time, Vega has Ken near death, but Guile makes the save. Then the third time, they meet up in the World Warrior tournament and Ken gets a clear win. Vega does make a post-fight lunge at him, but Honda’s there to crush him.
Outside of all the fighting, there is a whole thing about Vega briefly taking over Shadaloo in Bison’s absence, but finding it too much work to care about. He wants to just go back to hosting violent cage matches. He also helps deprogram Cammy, both because of his respect for her beauty and because he sometimes just likes messing with Bison.
After the tournament stuff, things get rather curious due to the comics’ attempts to stray away from video game canon. With Bison totally dead, Vega and Balrog split up Shadaloo’s assets and supposedly become legitimate businessmen, but they’re really working for Gill and Urien’s Secret Society (the villains of Street Fighter III). Vega is depicted as working under what appears to be M. Bison, but the comic goes out of its way to not show his face.
The latest issue unveils that mystery and the answer is so bizarre that I don’t even want to spoil it.
While Vega was used faithfully in the comic, the same couldn’t be said for the 2009 movie Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Played by Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas, he appeared briefly in an attempt to assassinate Chun-Li. I mean, no big deal, we got that in the animated movie, right? Well, in this version, Vega looks like somebody in a terrible Halloween costume. The fight itself, which is Vega’s only real scene, lasts under a minute and looks ridiculous.
The worst part, though? When Chun-Li knocks his mask off, she remarks how ugly he is. That is just… What?! That’s like “stitching Deadpool’s mouth shut” level of missing the point.
Anyway, back to video games. Vega would return in Street Fighter IV, along with all his other Shadaloo buddies. He’s still the same egomaniac we know and love, and there’s not much new to talk about. Still messing with Chun-Li and all that while updating his style and animations to the 3D generation.
His appearance in Street Fighter X Tekken at least gives him something to do. The game’s story is essentially It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, featuring characters from Street Fighter and Tekken pairing up to locate some magical box in the arctic called Pandora. Vega is tossed into a partnership with his associate Balrog, and the game plays up the natural dynamic between the two. Sure, they’re both Shadaloo executives, but they have to absolutely HATE each other on principle.
Vega has no time for Balrog’s brutish ugliness and Balrog has no time for Vega’s pretty boy behavior. Then you factor in Balrog basically being a human bull in the way he fights with Vega being a matador and you have the perfect rivalry.
Their rival team is Yoshimitsu and Raven. They mainly fight it out based on how everyone but Balrog is a ninja of some sort.
As for their ending, Balrog and Vega finally decide they’ve had enough and fight each other, all while being possessed by Pandora’s energies. The post-credits epilogue shows the winner based on which character you first selected. Whoever wins slaughters the loser and keeps the warpath going.
In 2014, the Evolution Championship Series tournament debuted a short fan-film called Matador that acts as a live-action origin story. Put together by Vahe Gabuchian and Brett D. Bayonne, it’s a pretty great piece, though M. Bison’s cameo leaves a bit to be desired.
Speaking of Evo, Street Fighter enthusiast Jamie Lee Curtis went to the 2015 tournament along with her children. To keep a low profile, she hid her identity by cosplaying as Vega the entire time. Brilliant.
And now here we are with Street Fighter V. As the game supposedly takes place during the final days of Shadaloo, Vega remains a high-ranking member, second only to Bison and newcomer FANG. While his role is up in the air right now, he’s sure to be just as scummy and self-serving as ever.
Plus he’s wearing that ridiculous pirate shirt that Jerry Seinfeld got made fun of for having. Guy deserves to get punched in the face.
Gavin Jasper feels bad if Vega ever absentmindedly uses the bathroom while forgetting to remove his claw first. Follow Gavin on Twitter!