Monday, December 28, 2015

The Middle Eastern fighter, building a legacy, final part.

"Rashid of the Turbulent Wind, remember the name well." That was the promise made in the official character reveal. Was Rashid the great savior of Street Fighter V or was he another half-cooked idea rushed into the game? I mean on the surface level was he that far removed from those Arab characters that came before him? Visually he had a few things in common with characters like Siba and Shaeen, respectively from Virtua Fighter and Tekken. He had the same facial hair, sported the same baggy pants, sash belt, sandals and keffiyeh. He was not off to a great start.



Yet at the same time there was something different about the character. He was not fat and bloated like Avu, Maherl or Karnov. He did not have curly-toed boots or shiny pants. He did not fight with a scimitar. His costume was more unique than the earlier 2D Arab characters. To make him more in tune with his Street Fighter co-stars he was assigned a primary color for his costume. All Street Fighter characters could be identified with a few primary colors. Ken wore red, Chun-Li wore blue, Guile wore green, etc. White was the color that had been associated with Ryu, the main character in the series, since it debuted 30 years ago. Was it risky to assign the new guy the same color or was this a practical decision? Traditional clothing in the Middle East was often white because it reflected the sun and kept people cool. Rashid's costume, like that of Ryu's was supposed to look traditional. And just like Ryu's there was something special about the costume that made it non-traditional at the same time. In the case of Ryu his gi had torn sleeves and ragged pants. A traditional karate practitioner would never allow his uniform to become as worn and faded as Ryu's. They would have instead purchased a new uniform. Ryu lived like a hermit and didn't have much in the sense of material possessions, especially not a second gi. Rashid's costume had a traditional cut at first glance but upon further inspection there were some differences. He didn't wear a thawb, the traditional long robe with long sleeves. He wore pants and his shirt had open armholes. Bare arms were not usually seen in Arab fashion, even mid-length sleeves were seen more often than short sleeves, or no sleeves. This was a practical choice, it provided the fighter a range of motion, it also showed off his muscles which just happened to be interlaced with dark rubber straps. The costume as it turned out was wired with all sorts of hidden technology.

 

This was one of the unique elements of the character. Rashid was using technology to enhance his fighting skills. Specifically his costume was packed with devices that allowed him to project powerful gusts of wind. He wore a power source or generator for these devices like a backpack. His ranged attacks appeared like small tornadoes that he could direct to throw his opponents off balance and more powerful blasts that could knock them down. The suit even allowed him to use super attacks that created enormous vortexes that would suck an opponent high into the air and send them flying. The costume also allowed him to be blasted across the screen for powerful diving kicks or to slip under an opponents attack. These things worked within the context of Street Fighter. Not every character had the martial arts training that allowed them to tap into their "chi" and summon the fireball-like energy blasts. For example the Dictator relied on steroids and science to give him "Psycho" powers to dominate the greatest martial artists. Magic attacks, psychic attacks and metaphysical attacks were all possible in the Street Fighter universe. Rashid was using technology to balance out his opponents special abilities.



Was this reliance on technology something that made the character less interesting? Not really. His special attacks only counted for a small portion of the moves he could perform. Without the technology Rashid was still a good fighter. His punches, kicks and throws were somewhat acrobatic but looked like they carried some force, they looked believable. But you certainly needed to be more than a good fighter if you wanted to hang with the best. Technology could be seen as a cheap device to level the playing field in canon as well as by audiences. Yet technology had also been a part of Street Fighter continuity for a long time. Two characters actually had special attacks that consisted of the weapons they hid in their uniforms. Audiences may remember Crimson Viper from Street Fighter IV, the hit from 2008. The secret agent hid rockets in her boots and struck with electrified punching gloves. Her design and weapons were based on a character called Beatrice that DIMPS, the developers behind Street Fighter IV, had featured in The Rumble Fish 2, a game from 2005. Yet before Beatrice and C. Viper there was another character that used a high tech uniform. Her name was Area and she appeared in Street Fighter EX 3, a game from 2000. The girl was the daughter of a genius inventor and entered the Street Fighter EX tournament in order to test out his devices. She had rocket powered inline skates so she could run over opponents. Her main weapon was a bionic arm attachment which allowed her to trade blows with even the biggest heavy-hitters like Zangief and Darun Mister.

 

When Rashid debuted the thing that caught the attention of most Street Fighter fans was his eyepiece. Rashid was using a green, sunglasses-like, display over one eye. Perhaps it was used to find weakness in opponents or to control his gadgets. Most fans of anime saw this as a shout-out to the scanners worn by the aliens in Dragon Ball Z. The devices could tell bad guys how powerful their opponents were and even point out their weaknesses. Every character had a battle ranking, a power index, and the most powerful in canon could not even be measured by the device. Similar technology had been featured in the Street Fighter II anime movie and Alpha animated film as well.

 

The big question remains, is Rashid a good character design or a bad one? He does break a lot of new ground. He is unlike the 2D or 3D characters that came before him. I would say he was more progressive than even Pullum Purna and Darun Mister from the Street Fighter EX games. Rashid doesn't fight with a scimitar, his costume is not dated to the fantasy stories of Arabia and he doesn't breathe fire, swell into a balloon or summon genies. It's a great start for any Middle Eastern character. He uses technology instead of magic as the source of his special "Turbulent Wind" attacks. While they can sometimes come off as cheesy the moves have to be taken in context. Street Fighter has always featured impossible attacks but the more recent entries have gone out of their way to make these attacks very cartoonish and over-the-top. This is something that the developers of Street Fighter have to be very careful of. Because they are adding a few seconds of intro animations and voices to the moves the audience is now paying even more attention to the intent of the developers. The way in which developers show off the personality of a fighter can be interpreted a number of different ways. What a Japanese developer thinks is funny might be offensive to another culture. Are we supposed to be in awe of a character or are we supposed to think the moves are silly? The way Capcom shows us these things can tell us if the character is supposed to be taken serious or funny.


Even the voice actors that Capcom hires has a lot to say about how they really feel about the different nationalities. Did the studio really think that masked Mexican wrestlers really sounded high-pitched and crazy like El Fuerte? Or in this version, do they really think that Arab characters sound like Rashid? Did they just tell a random voice actor to do their best Middle Eastern impersonation when they recorded him? I believe that Rashid is a very good design, not a great design but certainly one of better ones going all the way back to Street Fighter IV. Rashid seems to have more effort and planning into his look, moves and purpose than many of the other new or returning characters. He is presented in pre-game cinemas as confident rather than arrogant in his abilities. He is a positive reflection of a culture. He could never be mistaken for a joke character like F.A.N.G., Rufus or Hakan. At the same time he was not a parody of a fighting art, like El Fuerte was for lucha libre or R. Mika was to female wrestling. Rashid could have used some more work on his costume, color selection, headdress and overall appearance but what was released was not bad. He may not be what the Arab youth idealize but he came out much better than I could have predicted. What are your thoughts on the character and other Middle Eastern fighters? Is there something the designers at Capcom should work harder on? I'd like to hear all about it.

4 comments:

  1. My "ranking" is similar to yours, Rashid is a good just shy of great character design.

    Since I've read your articles for years I've been aware of SF's open shoulder cuts and noticed as such on Rashid immediately. The black bands add some nice contrast to his white clothing without being overtly distracting. The athletic sandals certainly make sense for such a mobile character who makes his home in a sandy environment. The Middle East is known to be beset by strong winds, so Rashid having the power to control them is appropriate and avoids the more common fire-breathing Middle Easterner stereotype.

    I'm going to have to wait to see how he's handled in story mode to comment on his personality. While it's certainly nice to see a lighthearted jokester in Rashid over the more stereotypical (maybe outdated) gruff or overly serious Middle Eastern archtype, I feel it may slightly undercut Rashid's story. He's meant to be a heroic character, looking for a missing friend who has been kidnapped by Bison, but he seems to joke around in too many of his quotes to make this seem like a serious goal for him.

    I can't agree on the technology. While many great SF characters have used outside weaponry to enhance their fighting (Vega's claw (sorry, American name user here), Rolento's baton and knives and grenades), I find hi-tech goes too far. C. Viper and Area are bad SF designs and I feel it's that it makes it seem like any two-bit device can make you compete with the worlds best goes against the series. Rashid's isn't awful, certainly better intergrated and a much stronger base costume, but I could have done without.

    All that said, as I said I think Rashid is good. He's probably better representative of a modern Middle Eastern youth than the old stereotypes, has some great cues, and is designed to be a heroic figure. If he's a popular character and makes return in a future SF game, he's strong enough that taking/changing his few bad choices and emphasizing the good could make him great yet. Good series Mex.

    I do have one last thought. What do you think of Rashid's freerunning/parkour based fighting style? I certainly think it's an interesting choice. It's very popular now and his whole design certainly enforces it. What say you?

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    1. LaughingDragon, we'll have to wait and see how he plays out in the story mode. I don't have much faith in Ono these days to deliver a cohesive Street Fighter. It's like one in three characters has worked for, been brainwashed by or knows someone in Shadlowlaw/Shadaloo. Talk about stretching a plot way past its prime. Rashid is a good character design wise, could have been better but good compared to the other figures Capcom added to the series. I like the tumbling and acrobatic moves he has but wonder if this was a hold over from Black Cobra.

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  2. Great series! I also agree with your overall assessment of Rashid. However, I also agree with LaughingDragon in that the high-tech gadgetry never seems to fit quiet right in Street Fighter. I'm not sure why this is. At least they didn't go over the top with it. When I first saw his backpack and "Dragon-Ball" scanner I thought he was a wealthy inventor not unlike Area's father. Why can't his wind-based attacks be depicted as an exaggerated extension of his martial arts rather than be technological or mystical? Perhaps something like Joe from Fatal Fury and his tornado uppercut. Would this be an improvement? I'm not sure. The high-tech stuff isn't a big issue, I just find it personally odd for Street Fighter. Perhaps, I'll get used to it.
    I really like how he is portrayed as a (mostly) serious, heroic character. But in terms of story, I too have little faith in Ono. As long as he isn't depicted as being silly than I think it will be OK.
    My main concern with regards to Rashid is his color scheme. It does indeed make sense to assign him the color white. But in the Street Fighter universe, white should be reserved for the protagonist, Ryu. I found it bothersome to have another male character that shares the same main color as Ryu. I didn't understand what bothered me at first about him. But that was it. What color should they have gone with instead? Light blue? Grey?

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    1. Humayoun Ibrahim, Thanks you for the comment. Gadgets are aways an odd fit for Street Fighters, so far the producers have yet to convince me that they belong in the series. Other weapons like Eagle's sticks and Rolento's knives work because they are still close combat weapons with an actual martial arts pedigree. As soon as you add electrified gloves and rocket boots then I think you lose the tradition of the original designers. I also agree that Ryu is the hero and the one that is supposed to have the white color associated with him. Another light color would have worked better for Rashid. Imagine him dressed up in khakis, sort of like a Middle-East Rolento, would he have worked better then?

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