Teenage me would have been all over that design. I mean he's got long dreads and tattoos! How cool is that? Then when he goes into Beast Mode his tattoos glow and his hair becomes big and red. That is crazy! Clearly this is going to be a popular character with guys that like rampaging all over opponents. When I first saw him I had two thoughts cross my mind and that you might not expect. The first was that this character was in response to Gigas, one of the new fighters in Tekken 7. Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono was friends with Tekken series producer Katsuhiro Harada. Was this a jab at the new fighter?
When I saw the hoses sticking out of Gigas all I could think was how distracting they were. The dreadlocks on Necalli seemed a little bit distracting as well. They were very thick and lumpy yet they bounced all over the place as he moved. The yellow eyes, red and black braids in Necalli's hair mirrored the color scheme of Gigas as well. Of course it could also be a coincidence.
The second thing I thought of was who this character was designed to appeal to. Was he designed for Japanese players? Young audiences? Older fans? Perhaps he was designed to appeal to players in the West. However I had a feeling he was designed to appeal to Chinese audiences.
The reason I say this is because in Chinese manhua, comic books, the characters are often very over-the-top. They tended to combine many contrasting elements into the designs of a fighter, you know like, masks, tattoos, super powers, dreadlocks... Some of the more memorable designs from Japan and the US usually focused on a few defining elements. In China the characters can sometimes be overloaded with multiple cues. Such was the case for Sean from the Street Fighter series. The Chinese comics featuring the character took great artistic liberties with him. He was a sidekick character that looked similar to his game counterpart. He was young with short hair early on in the comics. Many issues later artists then made an "evil" version of the character that was slightly older with long braids. This version was decapitated and came back as a cyborg with metallic braids. I can't make this stuff up! I wondered if Necalli's various elements, the braids, the tattoos and transformation were combined in order to make him appealing to Chinese players.
The next thing that I thought of after that was his costume and ability to transform. The tribal costume and hair color shift made me think of two distinct franchises. The first was the obvious one… Dragon Ball. The glowing red hair was very reminiscent of Gojita and the ability to manhandle opponents came from Broly. The colors on the clothing may also have been inspired by these fighters.
However the shredded clothing and leg bands were a staple for jungle fighters, for "noble savages" like Cham Cham and Tam Tam from the Samurai Spirits series. When I saw Necalli's hair I actually thought of Cham Cham. Characters from the jungle were often presented in a type of pre-Columbian native wear. Perhaps with a loin cloth or some sort of animal skin as the costume. The designers at SNK and Capcom didn't invent the trope. These images were as old as pulp comics in the US and stories from the "exotic" locations from around the world printed in Victorian newspapers. The Japanese were instrumental in making the jungle fighter uniquely animé.
What I looked at next were the moves that Necalli was given. It consisted of mostly slashing attacks, stomps and throws. To make a crude comparison he slashed with the ferocity of Wolverine.
Anyone that has been playing fighting games for a few years could point at many other characters that slashed at opponents as well. Some were dressed in plain clothes such as Tiger from Martial Masters, some were dressed in regal uniforms such as Vold Ignitio from Fighting Layer. There were also those that were cool guys like Iori, Freeman and Tsukikage respectively from the King of Fighters, Garou: Mark of the Wolves and King of Combat. Each of these characters also slashed at opponents with their bare hands.
The template for the long haired slasher was older than Street Fighter itself. The hero Rei from Hokuto No Ken / Fist of the North Star, could cut his opponents to shreds using his fingers. The series debuted in 1983 and was highly influential on the artists at Capcom and their designs for Street Fighter, Final Fight, Street Fighter II and a few other arcade hits from many other studios.
What concerned me about Necalli wasn't as much his design as it was his moves and how this character would effect the balance of the series. Necalli had a design that was very much boss-like. The fact that he could transform into a more powerful character with long flowing hair, glowing eyes and neon tattoos pretty much cemented the qualifications for a boss character, see Gill from Street Fighter III as an example. If he weren't a boss then he certainly was a sub-boss with those attributes.
The thing was that we had seen the long haired, brightly colored, overpowered boss so many times in fighting games that it was starting to become predictable. In games from SNK, Capcom, Sega, Namco and various other studios there had been at least one boss character that fit the bill. He was humanoid but not necessarily a human. A demon or alien was the most popular type of long haired, omnipotent boss.
When you want to show how powerful the boss is then you have him manhandle his opponent with ease. With one hand if possible, and in the case of some bosses no hands are needed!
Even though Necalli is a playable character the idea that he can transform into a more powerful being concerned me greatly. Not because of what it did to the canon of the game but because what it did to the core mechanics of the game itself. A character with more than one style had been done before and done well, see the kung-fu master Gen. Players could with between his forms with the press of a button. But in Street Fighter IV and now V we have seen a shift in the game balance. One that requires the character to build a special meter in order to unlock the full potential of an attack or a library of moves.
It started with having to continuously pour oil on yourself for Hakan. Now we have Birdie that has to keep eating and drinking junk food in order to receive the benefits of a "V-Meter." It might be a "buff" or "armor" or some other bonus that the character earns once they fill the meter. I mean where does it end? Should Ryu be able to reach into his pocket and break some boards to get his armor started? Or should Chun-Li eat some dumplings to make her kicks more powerful? What if Akuma does 10 ShunGokuSatsu's in a row, will that allow him to become Shin Gouki?
Will the game will suffer because players are forced to fill the special in order to play the character at their full potential? What if Necalli only had one form and full access to his abilities from the get-go? Would the character be more or less interesting? Would the game be more balanced?
I'd rather enjoy the game rather than focus on who can fill a special meter the fastest. Ultimately what concerns me is how the designers at Capcom are missing the lessons of the shows and titles that they are influenced by just so they can get a cool looking character in the game.
Dragon Ball was a highly influential series. It completely rethought the way that super-powered characters were supposed to fight. The fact that Son Goku could transform into a Super Saiyan was revolutionary. He was already a powerful character but then he could become 100 times more powerful. His hair would even turn to gold just to highlight how powerful he had become. This visual went on to influence every aspect of the entertainment industry. It was certainly not missed by the developers working on Sonic the Hedgehog.
But what many people forget was that it took a generation for Son Goku to grow up. There were many memorable adventures with his friends, and countless battles before he reached the point and was able to become Super. Once the proverbial super genie was let out of the bottle then it became a gimmick that was used again and again within the span of a few years.
Once Son Goku could become Super, then his opponents had to become more powerful as well. It got to the point where Son Goku kept on evolving, his hair and costume becoming even more outlandish. Goku would outclass all of his robotic and alien opponents and soon could only fight gods. This formula became stale after a while. All of Son Goku's friends were so pitifully outclassed that there was little reason for them to be in the comics or cartoons. They either had to evolve or simply be written out of the plot. After 20+ plus years the creators went back to the drawing board and "rebooted" the franchise to the timeline where he could only turn Super Saiyan and even then it was barely enough to keep pace with his rivals. In doing so his supporting cast was able to return as well and join him on his adventures.
When I see what the team at Capcom is doing to Street Fighter I wonder if they missed the part where characters can only become so powerful before audiences begin to lose interest in them. Gouki was a fantastic character. He had the features of a lion. He was evil incarnate and had the attacks to prove it. But then came Shin Gouki, a more powerful incarnation. Audiences accepted the change, seeing it as a sort of Super Saiyan version of the character. Then there was Oni, and even more powerful version. I began to wonder what was the next transformation after that. Would he fuse with his back-from-the-dead brother to become Goukita? Would he become a god too?
Perhaps it would take another 20 years or another Necalli before the team realized that putting overpowered characters in a lineup was a flawed design approach. If they kept on that path then Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li and the rest would have to become boss-like characters as well or be replaced by Necalli-like figures. Or perhaps I was over-analyzing his introduction and Necalli was designed to be the extreme character, the Blanka or Dhalsim for this version of the game. The studio says they have at least three more new characters yet to debut, so we'll have to wait and see where Necalli fits in. I'd like to hear what audiences think of the characters revealed so far.