Today is a very special Design Evolution. We’re keeping it iconic and going with one of the most well-known characters in Fighting Game history. Ryu, the star of Street Fighter and wandering warrior. So let’s get on with this great issue shall we? First we shall go back to the days of Street Fighter 1…
Oh Ryu, look at that glorious red mane, large red gloves, and weird red kung fu slippers. You even had a white bandanna back then. But aside from that, he’s wearing what most would call a standard martial arts gi that could fall under any umbrella. Except maybe like Tae Kwon Do. Seems they really liked the color red on him and wanted to keep it going.
But it’s only appeared in the original and as DLC for Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 so it’s safe to say this look got retconned to hell.
Now, this is the real Ryu everyone remembers because Capcom seems insistent on burying the original Ryu harder than the Vaudevillains. His red hair is now brown (or black depending on lighting), his now smaller gloves are brown, and he ditched shoes altogether. Oh, and his white headband is red now.
And that’s it for this design evolution. From the past to present here’s Ryu! Now you might be wondering why would I do a Design Evolution for a character who only has 2 ½ designs? Well, my curious reader (or just someone I’m forcing to keep reading) it’s because he only has that many designs. Given how long he’s been around, the fact he’s stayed the same is a detriment to the character.
Now there are characters like the entirety of Mario or Samus Aran who have stayed the same throughout their years but both have contextual justification. Mario doesn’t have any sense of time between games and comes off as more just a string of adventures that could all just be a day apart. But at that same time as years have gone on they’ve had more characterization given to them. Like the fact Luigi is always overshadowed and being a coward being added when he was just a palette swap or the one who jumped higher. Samus is on the opposite end of the spectrum with story reasoning and vague timing as the justification. We don’t know how long it’s been between games and it could be implied it isn’t very long. This is on top of wearing an intentionally androgynous combat suit that obscures her appearance. Street Fighter has months to years between games and he has remained the same throughout sans a headband swap.
Character design has multiple uses outside of just being how a character looks. A design shift, no matter how big or small, can be used to convey a number of things. A character’s mental state, their internal growth, an age shift (which usually umbrellas mental state and internal growth shift), their placement in their respective series in comparison to others, or like Ermac and it’s putting them where they wanted to be from the beginning. There are more reasons but for now we’ll just focus examples on the ones listed.
Evolution to show shift in Mental State
In Final Fantasy 7, to the surprise of some, was surprisingly confident and to a degree cocky. He wore the standard SOLDIER uniform and carried himself as such. By Advent Children after everything that happened with Aerith (s), Sephiroth, METEOR, and Geostigma, Cloud has a considerably darker outlook on life. His confidence is more internalized and he’s avoiding acknowledging his friends. He feels he can and should deal with things alone and his design reflects it. His old uniform and sword are gone for new all black attire with a new sword and wolf icon. The wolf rather blatantly referencing that he’s a lone wolf and the overall design shift showing he’s done with the past.
Evolution showing Internal Growth
Dick Grayson was the first, and for many, the best Robin Batman’s ever had. He started out in the questionable red, green, and gold costume and for years he wore it. But eventually, he grew tired of Batman’s Batmanness and struck it out on his own hero. Taking up the name of Nightwing and getting his own costume and style. While Cloud changed his look to avoid the pain of the past, Nightwing did so to get a new future. One he made by himself.
Evolution showing shift in their place in the World
If you’ve been watching any of the Avengers or Marvel Cinematic Universe Films you know who Thor is. The Asgardian God of Thunder clad in greyish armor with the red cape, winged helmet, and hammer. Unworthy Thor, Thor has lost his hammer and was deemed unworthy after well…he began to believe the gods were actually Unworthy and their time had passed. With that said (or at least for the sake of this article because I am not diving into that comic book rabbit hole) Thor is no longer Worthy and as such technically not Thor. I mean he’s called Thor but he’s not “Thor”. If you’re confused then so am I and let’s just move on! Without Mjolnir in his hands, Thor’s changed his outfit to be…well shirtless which I’m sure many of us can appreciate. He’s kept the pants and wears a tattered red cape, also he apparently lost his arm at some point. Visually, and in-universe, he’s gone from revered God to just another fighter. There’s no more flash or flare in his look just what remains of his cape and some pants.
Which all ties back into Ryu…
Ryu has not changed. He is the same at point B as he was at point A. All they did was update the graphics for his look. Now you could say Ryu has had “some” growth shown in alternate costume DLC. But that’s the thing, that’s not actual growth. It’s nice and fun yeah but his default remains unchanged and the DLC very rarely transfer over. There is, however, a single look of Ryu that could turn this all around. One that many fans have come to love and adore since it’s official reveal.
This outfit may look simple but it changes a lot of the blandness that didn’t fit the original Ryu, and not saying that just because of the fanservice. He’s wearing hand wraps instead of bandages, has some visible cuts and signs of having been in a fight, and a full beard. All of which work and fit the idea he’s a wandering warrior. I mean how does someone with no job or income constantly keep himself perfectly clean shaven? I mean unless Ken is supporting him which just raises some unfortunate implications for their relationship. But aside from fitting his like…one out of three character traits, this design fits the idea that he ACTUALLY ages. Hell, I’ve seen more people want this as his new default over the same old, same old we’ve had since Street Fighter 2.
In Ryu’s only appearance so far in Street Fighter vs Darkstalkers it was even used as his look. I’m not saying Ryu has had a bad design. He’s just had a simple, iconic, and painfully unshifting one. Even Goku changed the symbols on his outfit as he grew but Ryu only changed his headband once. When making a character, especially one who’s been around for years, you gotta do something to show that they’ve grown and aren’t just a Function. Sadly, most Street Fighter characters are treated as such. Just movesets and playstyles wrapped in an archetype with the bare minimum of character development or growth given to them. A function with little regard for the package it comes in. Though they admittedly have attempted to an extent to fix that in SFV…with mixed results…But hey, at least after 25 years has finally grown in some way!