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Why Is Akuma Such A Big Deal In Fighting Games & Street Fighter?

Back in 1992, video game publication Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) made an elaborate April’s Fool joke involving Street Fighter 2. Basically, the publication made up a secret boss players can fight named Sheng Long who can only appear if you meet insane conditions in your arcade playthrough of the fighting game. Sheng Long is basically Ryu and Ken’s master and fights using a powered-up version of their fireball, hurricane kick, and Shoryukens. It was so widespread and believable at the time that even developers Capcom had to playtest its own game to find out if it was even true.

Fast forward to 1995, and Capcom decided to turn that grandstanding prank a reality through Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (SSF2T). Through the artistry and designs of Noritaka Funamizu and Akira “Akiman” Yasuda, they made a secret character similar in tone to Sheng Long, but evil and more power-hungry. His name: Gouki, or Akuma to the rest of the world. From then until even right now, he is the boss character everyone wanted to play as and is no stranger to being included in the roster for all of Street Fighter. And he is a big deal in not just Capcom’s stable, but in fighting games as a whole. After all, he is the bookend for the Street Fighter 6 Season 1 DLC Pass, out later this week on 22nd May.

Demonic Beginnings

Let’s start with how most players come across this demon of a warrior. Unlocking this secret fight is a lot less complex: all you have to do is not lose a round in your entire SSF2T, with your playtime not exceeding 1,500 seconds total and a score of over 1,200,000. At the final fight with dictator M.Bison, Akuma shadow teleports in and kills him with the trademark Super move Shun Goku Satsu, or Raging Demon to the rest of the world.

Fighting Akuma for the first time was just tough: he had air fireballs, air Hurricane Kick, a super-fast demon teleport that makes him get around the screen lickety-split, and his version of the Shoryuken has multiple hits and stuns opponents easily. And when he has his Super bar ready, he can just activate his trademark Shun Goku Satsu to take out a majority of his opponent’s health when he lands it. His debut appearance and the fight that came with it was a breath of fresh air in fighting games, as many have voted this moment as one of the best entrances in a fighting game.

His design too was very memorable: red flaming hair, the giant-sized monk beads on his neck, black gi with no sleeves, a big nose and red eyes, and the kanji “ten” that means “heaven” at the back. Lore-wise, he is the younger brother of Gouken -Ryu and Ken’s master- who thirsts for power and trains hard to master the Satsui no Hadou to the point where he’ll murder anyone to get there. He has established rivalries with Gen (Street Fighter, Street Fighter Alpha 2) and main character Ryu, with the latter due to his potential to manifest Satsui no Hadou and turn to the “dark side”.

Hell, he didn’t even get a name in his debut game; he only received it in 1995’s Street Fighter Alpha. He even has a “boss” version of himself called Shin Akuma who has amplified versions of his existing moves, challenging players who managed to unlock his secret fights in future Capcom titles.

With all of the characteristic traits I mentioned, not to mention the developer’s intent on framing him as a mysterious and powerful entity, this clearly went over with 2D fighting game fans. Eventually, he was added to other Capcom fighting game joints like X-Men: Children of the Atom in 1995 and even as a cybernetic-augmented boss character called Cyber Akuma/Mech Gouki in Marvel Superheroes vs. Street Fighter. He was also a top pick in the SNK crossover titles, acting as a major boss character in Capcom vs SNK and Capcom vs SNK 2 if players are savvy enough to meet the requirements to face him.

Heck, he was even a Gundam mecha at one point, courtesy of a mecha fighting game called Cyberbots.

 

The mother of all guest-star spots has to be his appearance in Bandai Namco’s 3D fighting game Tekken 7. Not only was he a top pick in tournaments due to his Street Fighter style of fighting incorporated in the Tekken fighting ring, but he’s also part of the Tekken lore as he was tasked to kill his employer’s husband, the amoral Heihachi Mishima and his even worse son Kazuya Mishima.

People do love their anti-heroes, and Akuma fits the bill. Yes, he is inherently evil given how he has no qualms about murdering people with his power. But he only fights those he deems worthy, and isn’t the sort who kills the weak for fun. Most of his victims are those who challenged him in one-on-one fights. Also, he does make an actual living as a fruit vendor, so he can’t be all that bad if he has to sell fruits to make ends meet. And he is also friends with African fighter Elena, because who wouldn’t want to be friends with that bundle of joy?

Much like Ryu, he fights for the thrill of battle, but he goes to the extreme and relies only on himself for help, while also making sure it’s a pure deathmatch. He doesn’t fight sick people too, as he did spare the elderly fighter Gen at one point because he sensed he was ill and in pain prior to the fight. He’s the lone wolf archetype with a deep fighting code; a stark contrast to Street Fighter villainous dictator M. Bison who hosts tournaments to sap people of their fighting power. Akuma is the sort who is fine casually killing off M.Bison and other villains of his ilk because of his warped “might makes right” philosophy.

Speaking of death, no Akuma feature is complete without describing his trademark murder move, Shun Goku Satsu/Raging Demon. He radiates flames, dashes to his opponent, grabs them, then the screen goes black as a flurry of 100 hits annihilates his victim. Even its input is a first in fighting game history. The traditional motion input does not apply when executing the Raging Demon: you have to input Light Punch, Light Punch, Forward, Light Kick, and Heavy Punch in very quick succession.

High-level players mask the move using Akuma’s overhead attack in later versions of the game, but the results are the same: do it up close for massive damage and style points. There are some variations to the input and moves over the years, with even some characters like Street Fighter’s Dan Hibiki and Art of Fighting/The King of Fighters Yuri Sakazaki parodying the Raging Demon.

He did get a new iconic Super move which is basically a giant godlike karate chop to the ground, but there is no way in hell he’s going to switch out his Shun Goku Satsu. It’s just too tied in with his character and playstyle to be switched out.

 

A Tricky Balancing Act

Being such an iconic boss character and a fan favourite, the developers had to make him playable and part of the Street Fighter roster. But given the overpowered nature of a final boss character, how do you make a character like Akuma tournament viable? I’m clearly paraphrasing these next few bits, but I believe the game design commandments for Akuma at Capcom are as follows:

  • Thou shalt not make Akuma suck hard.
  • Thou shalt give Akuma the best moves possible for a Shoto character.
  • Thou shalt make Akuma die in a single mix-up; ergo, give him the lowest health among all characters in the current roster.

He has all the tools that make him a beast on the offensive, but he has to take the most risks as he cannot survive long through defense and attrition alone. Generally, any Akuma rushdown archetype will die quickly from a few command grabs compared to the rest of the cast.

With such a high skill ceiling level required for top play, Akuma is one of the best characters and toughest to master in any Street Fighter game that’s tournament-balanced. That’s why you see high-level players like Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi excel with Akuma: a high-risk high reward shoto-flavoured glass cannon who will assault you non-stop with a barrage of seemingly overpowered moves, with a constitution of a housefly.

Long story short, Akuma (or Gouki) is pretty important in not just Street Fighter lore, but in fighting games in general. He has a neat demonic design, his moves are iconic and memorable, he has a strict fighter’s code even if he’s inherently evil, and he jumps into the fight in the most badass way possible.

In addition, it proves that with good enough tweaks, you can make a boss character viable in a tournament setting without balance issues. I would congratulate Capcom for this ingenious character in fighting game history, but it seems like don’t need it. Given his popularity as a Street Fighter character and his controlled appearances in many games, it’s clear as day that the Raging Demon himself has always been poised for greatness, to the point of being an unofficial Capcom mascot if you think Ryu is too vanilla for you. As the late Scott Hall used to say in the peak of the 90s, bad times don’t last, but bad guys do.

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