With the release of Street Fighter V coming on the heels of the twenty-five year anniversary of Street Fighter II: The World Warriors revolutionizing the game industry and just a few months shy of the thirty year anniversary of its less successful predecessor, it seems like a good time for a retrospective on perhaps the series’ most storied contribution to the world of virtual combat: the infamous Dragon Punch.
Among old-schoolers, everyone remembers their first Dragon Punch. In the original Street Fighter, it was somewhat of a secret weapon. It was the first game to use flowing joystick motions combined with timed button presses to execute special moves, but with that game never smashing the mainstream it fell into the realm of esoteric gamer knowledge. The sequel had a handy (but somewhat confusing at the time) special move guide on its arcade cabinets using arrows to indicate the control input, and I remember trying to do them by jerking the stick in the indicated directions one at a time with no success. People must have thought I was having a seizure.
Then I accidentally discovered how to properly throw a fireball when I came out of a crouch and moved the joystick forward to attack in a quarter circle motion and a whole new world opened up to me. The more complicated Dragon Punch input took some practice to master, but the first time I got it too work on cue was one of the most empowering moments I remember from my long life of gaming. Twenty five years, countless rounds won and lost, and some serious thumb calluses from the Super Nintendo’s D-Pad later and it’s still the best option for dealing with any fighting game situation I find myself in. It was and still is the attack to crush all other attacks.
Shoryuken is a conglomeration of the Japanese words for “rising”, “dragon”, and “fist”, but the name was simplified to Dragon Punch for American audiences less appreciative of the Kung-Fu Theater-esque name. The language gap and Western localizations would lead to a lot of overseas discrepancies in the series over the years, not the least of which was the great Sheng Long hoax.
This happened when Ryu’s post-victory quote declaring that you must defeat his Rising Dragon Fist to stand a chance was bastardized into English with “Shoryuken” mistranslated as “Sheng Long”. Who the hell was Sheng Long? According to Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1992 April Fools’ edition, he was Ken and Ryu’s teacher who could be challenged by clearing the game without ever getting hit and without hitting the last boss either.
The rumor spread like wildfire through arcades. I feel genuine pity for any gamers who dedicated themselves to accomplishing this theoretical feat. I feel like somewhere out there somebody actually must have succeeded in this and found big fat nothing as a reward for their dedication. You suck, EGM. You should never, ever take the Shoryuken’s name in vain.
Ryu and Ken’s signature flying uppercut was and is the most perfect attack ever unleashed upon the gaming populace, and the rest of the gaming world has duplicated it in every way possible. At one point, it was so frequently used in arcade games that it became a habit of mine to attempt dragon punches with every character I played. Imagine my surprise when I got a Predator from Capcom’s awesome Alien vs. Predator beat-em-up to perform one. It wasn’t even the right genre!
Within the Street Fighter Universe, other more and more characters began perfecting their own versions. Originally, Sagat developed his Tiger Uppercut for Street Fighter II to defeat Ryu after a Dragon Punch during the first game left that massive scar across his chest, but the appropriation continued well beyond that. More characters took on Ryu and Ken’s fictionalized Shotokan karate style while others developed comparable moves like Cammy’s Cannon Spike kick just to keep up.
Popular culture at large hasn’t overlooked the awesomeness of the Shoryuken either. Dr. Dre’s protege, the Lady of Rage couldn’t resist slipping an “AWYOUKEN!” (what it sounded like they were saying in the older games) into her 90’s rap hit “Afro Puffs” while Deadpool immortalized the it in Marvel Comics by infamously Dragon Punching Kitty Pryde when she dared dismiss the importance of basic Street Fighter knowledge. Nobody (expect Ryu) was surprised when he showed up in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with the move in his arsenal. Sadly, no playable Kitty.
Elsewhere in the gaming sphere, gaming legends like Mega Man, Cloud Strife, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Dante have all adopted the technique for their own use at one time or another and it’s used for zombie slaying purposes in Dead Rising 3. In fact, pretty much any action game featuring real time combat is likely to have either a direct reference to the Shoryuken, or a move that very closely resembles it.
Popular cartoons have seen the likes of Peter Griffin from Family Guy go full Street Fighter, (complete with old-school “AWYOUKEN!”), while the title character from The Amazing World of Gumball and Rumble McSkirmish from Gravity Falls have each used the Dragon Punch as well. It’s a Shoryuken world we live in.
And now it’s 2016 and Street Fighter V is here and incomplete and maybe a little broken with the only fix being the Dragon Punch. Broken how? Well the only real single player challenge shipping with the game is Survival mode, and it is not a friendly way to play. Last week, I offered up some tips for non-pros to help succeed in getting through Normal difficulty with their fighter of choice, but Hard and Hell have been too much for me. In fact, they seem to be too much for just about everyone.
But there is a catch. You can beat the hardest difficulty if you choose Ken and then Dragon Punch everything for one hundred matches straight. No thank you. I can already see the lawsuits rolling through Capcom’s doors from hundreds of gamers who developed carpal tunnel trying to beat their stupid game. So far, it appears that if you choose any other tactic, you’re screwed. If the only way to pass the only single player challenges offered in a retail game release is to pick a specific character with a specific move and then spam that move for an hour and a half straight, your game is broken.
And when even a computer programmed to counter any attack is unable to find a way to counter a particular move, you can imagine what competitive play looks like. Like a basic special attack that costs nothing but a flick of the wrist slicing through meter-consuming EX attacks like butter and capable of doing so before the character’s feet even hit the ground after a jump. That’s what it looks like.
But if there’s going to be one technique to rule them all in a fighting game, I can’t think of a better one than the Dragon Punch; the unstoppable, all-purpose, anti-everything, now flaming, now electrified, combo-finishing, noob-destroying, pro-enraging, often imitated, never duplicated original Rising Dragon Fist. It’s awesome, it’s invincible, it’s iconic.
A quarter century ago, a misunderstood Japanese man in a karate gi declared that you must defeat his Shoryuken to stand a chance. Today, that statement is truer than ever. Combat flowcharts have been built around it, it’s been adapted to film, television, music, comic books, and dozens of other video games; it’s core gamer knowledge. And in fighting games today, you use the Dragon Punch, or you get used by the Dragon Punch.
But rather than rage about how something so overpowered remains so for this long after this many iterations, let’s turn our thoughts from questionable game design and instead celebrate the enduring ubiquitousness of a gaming icon and think that maybe somebody somewhere right this minute is performing his or her very first Dragon Punch and that another twenty five years down the road, they’ll hear somebody shout “SHORYUKEN!” in a movie, TV show, or even out in public and it’ll bring a smile to their face remembering that moment when they mastered the coolest fighting move ever. And that, my friends, is why the Dragon Punch is still OP after all these years.