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The Fighting Game Archetypes

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By bluerelativity   |   
© 2014 - 2020 bluerelativity
I was thinking about designing a cast of characters for an original fighting game (just for fun and exercise, no concrete intents to create one actually).
While I was sketching on a piece of paper, I stopped by, and decided it would have been better to write down a list of archetypical, "must have" characters that every fighting game can't miss.
I thought they could be helpful as reference material for whoever wanted to experiment or exercise with his character design skills.
P.S.: criticism and advices would be HIGHLY accepted, as what I've written here is not set in stone, but just my personal view of the topic. By the way I warmly advice to read the "NOTES" section below first.

1) The Hero
The main character. The front cover guy. Often a loner, seeking his own purpose with the stoicism and the determination typical of a knight errant.
Often a Shoto (or based on one) move-wise he's the most well rounded in the game, possessing all the basics in his arsenal (fireballs, dragon punches etc).
Often has got an "evil side" that comes out to become a different character (often, move-wise, an "enhanced version" of him).
(Examples: Ryu, Kyo, Terry Bogard, Ryo Sakazaki, Cody, Liu Kang, Kazuya in Tekken 2, Jin Kazama in Tekken 3, Mitsurugi in Soul Blade, Siegfried in Soul Calibur, Jago)

2) The Palette Swap
The sparring partner. The eternal rival. The brother. The friend. Whatever you call him, every hero has got his "player 2 version".
As time passed "palette swap" characters moved away from being the shadow of the main character to become unique and well characterized characters, both aesthetically and moveset-wise.
Sometimes a comic relief, sometimes a less serious and wise version of the main character, sometimes even his nemesis (think about Iori Yagami), the Palette Swap often happened to become the fan's favorite and an effective standalone character.
(Ken, Iori, Andy Bogard, Robert Garcia, Guy, Johnny Cage, Hwoarang in Tekken 3, Hwang in Soul Blade)

3) The Femme Fatale
Ok, nowadays there's PLENTY of female characters in fighting games. But since I'm old, I remember the times when we referred to female characters as "the girl", since there was just one of them in mostly each game (Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, World Heroes, Fatal Fury 2).
As time passed, not only more and more females were allowed in fighting games (thanks God), but they were even allowed to play different roles and archetypes.
But back in the days, their only "role" was... well, being female.
(Chun Li, Mai Shiranui, Nina, Sonya Blade, Orchid)

4) The Old Man
The mentor, the master, the teacher, the (sometimes evil) father.
In each fighting game there's an old man (or well, sometimes not that old), mostly linked with the main character by some bond.
He can be a teacher who just wants to test his student's strength, a once beloved mentor now turned evil, or a supernatural wise advisor and ally (yes I'm talking about Raiden here).
(Gouken, Oro, Takuma Sakazaki, Heiachi Mishima, Raiden)

5) The Ninja
Fast but weak, this character has to rely on his/her speed and agility rather than pure strength.
A classic stereotype in most games (not only fighting ones), often depicted as an actual ninja in his/her clothes.
(Ibuki, Guy, Andy Bogard, Mai Shiranui, Taki)

6) The Grappler
Slow and strong. Often depicted as a big, apparently dumb and muscular dude, this character relies on getting near to enemies to grab them and hurt them with devastating throws.
(Zangief, Hugo, R. Mika, Goro Daimon, Clark Still, King (Tekken), Rock)

7) The Hard Hitter
Also called the "Power Character". Ok, there's a lot of debate out there about the name of this archetype.
Let's say that "hard hitting punching character usually big but not as big as a grappler" would have been less sexy than "hard hitter", so I've chosen that name.
Here I'm talking about those characters to some extent opposite to "ninja" characters that relie on their punches rather than on throws.
Despite of being for some time a front cover character, and having a dominant role in the story, Siegfried fully belongs to this category, focusing his combat style on slow and devastating attacks.
P.S.: for more info about why I decided to include the Ninja, the Grappler and the Hard Hitter in my list, go down to the "NOTES" section.
(Balrog, Honda, Ralf Jones, Maxima, Jack-2 and his variants, Paul Phoenix, Siegfried, Astaroth, TJ Combo)

8) The Monster
The beast-man. The cyborg. The freak. Every fighting game has at least an inhuman character.
His twisted persona is often matched by a twisted and inusual fighting style as well, that makes him a pretty unique character.
(Blanka, Yoshimitsu, Voldo, Lizardman, Baraka, Sabrewulf, Riptor and... well, almost the whole KI cast)

9) The Sub-Boss / The Nemesis
Sometimes just a simple lackey of the "true" boss, the Sub-Boss can sometimes happen to be way more influential and important story-wise than him, being the main character's nemesis or sharing some bond with him.
He's fought before the final battle, and sometimes he's even more intimidating than the final boss (just think about Goro).
Sometimes (if we talk about the Nemesis) his moveset could be an enhanced and somewhat "twisted" version of the main character's one.
(Sagat, Billy Kane, Kazuya in Tekken 2, Heiachi in Tekken 3, Nightmare, Goro)

10) The Boss
The true boss. Sometimes overpowered, or armed with special powers so different and unique from the rest of the cast to make the fight seem unfair. In most games, once beaten, he can come back in a more powerful appearance, often being intended as his "true" form.
(M. Bison, Geese Howards, Rugal, Devil/Angel, Ogre, Shang Tsung)

(archetypes that can coincide or are somewhat mixmatched with one of the typologies above)

11) The hero's evil side
Being mostly a sub-boss or even a special, unplayable character, he's the "twisted side" of the hero, his corrupted alter ego.
Sometimes only a "what if" character, he represents the Hero after he has fallen to his dark side.
(Evil Ryu, Devil, Devil Jin, any Orochi possessed character in the Kof series)

12) The anti-hero
To some extent this category could coincide with the "hero palette swap" character.
But sometimes that's not the case. Sometimes because the character has a totally different background from the main character, sometimes because he's morally a neutral, if not evil character.
Guile and Sub-Zero are perfect characters to take as example.
The first has all the features to be the perfect "hero" (being de facto more influential than the main character story wise and even becoming the main protagonist of the game in some canon and non canon stories). He just pays his price for not being so iconic as Ryu, or, well, for having come later to the party.
Sub-Zero, instead, was born as an evil character to became neutral and even "good" in his second incarnation (post Bi-Han, namely, from MK2 on).
But even the evil (let's say opportunistic) Bi Han was charismatic and unique enough to acquire a legion of fans.
He has got a strong and detailed story by his own, he's got a deeply explored personality, and his relationship with Scorpion makes him a perfect anti-hero, being this one not only his "palette swap" character and polar opposite (frost vs ice), but also his nemesis (we can almost say he's like Ken and Sagat in one).
While Ryu kept his SF throne, Sub-Zero and Scorpion de facto replaced the "main character" Liu Kang in terms of popularity, leading a parallel plot on their own that most fans consider way better and more interesting than the main story.
Other examples of anti-hero would be Iori Yagami, Hwoarang and Lei from Tekken, Mitsurugi (after Soul Blade he swaps places with Siegfried, leaving him the "front cover" place from Soul Calibur on) and many others.
P.S.: of course I've always seen Sub-Zero as the anti-hero and Scorpion as his nemesis, but of course my reasoning works also if you swap the two, if you like the Shirai Ryu warror more.

a) Seven of the ten archetypes above mostly refer to the background of the character and his/her role in the story (as well as, to some extent, to his/her physical appearance).
Three others ("Ninja", "Grappler" and "Power") are based to his/her fighting style. Now this may sound confusing, at first, so I'll try to explain my choice better.
All the three categories, while not necessairly linked with the character's features other than his/her techniques, may be useful as starting points.
We're speaking about stereotypes here, after all, so of course a Ninja character could be the starting point to build a slender, skinny and agile individual, as well as a Grappler could be the starting point to create a muscular, huge guy with some affiliation to the wrestling style.
OR, doing the exact opposite, creating an extremely small Power character (with background reasons to explain his/her innatural strength), or an extremely agile big fat dude (well, that wouldn't be that original since we already got two of them around).
What I'm telling here is that those three categories, while not necessairly defining a character's physical appearance and background, may help you as a starting point. Now read the point below.

b) About stereotypes. Let's say that I'm basing this stuff pretty much on empirical observation here. And while there may be exceptions, there will be some "rule of thumb" of fighting games that while not always true, we'll consider as "standard".
A standard fact is that the main character would rarely be a grappler. He would be a balanced and well rounded character, mostly built around a "shoto" stereotype, with zoning game, fireballs, dragon punches etc.
Of course there could be exceptions, but let's say that doesn't matter since I'm trying to build the most generic archetype set up I can, that would reflect the most (if not all) fighting games of the history.
And all this to give you the best tools to start from if you decide to create your own set of characters, giving you a bunch of pretty estabilished rules, that you could use at your favor either following them or rewrite them entirely.
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anonymous's avatar
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Degamer-EXE's avatar
You forgot (and maybe it’s just me)The character based on Bruce Lee.
Dee15gon's avatar
Have you played Dead or Alive? That game is focused on female characters than male characters.
Deathstroke20's avatar

rather focused on oversexualizing them ...

This is a bad example to show that today's fighting games are different.

(+ the bluerelativity meant that, at SF2 and MK1 time, there was just one female character)

Dee15gon's avatar
The original Dead or Alive started off as a normal fighting game (3 ladies & 5 men).
I personally like DOA4 (because they had a Spartan) and DOA5 (because they had the Virtua Fighter characters).
MegaBoltHQ's avatar
You forgot "The Master"
DrEarthwormRobotnik's avatar
Good list, although a (admittedly uncommon) archetype that's missed is the "puppet fighter" like Zato-1/Eddie or Ferra/Torr
Snowdog-zic's avatar
Looks good.
EtheLegendary's avatar
EtheLegendaryHobbyist Traditional Artist
What about the new generation, or apprentice archetypes? Those are a significant role. 
LordSpleach's avatar
You're missing the Bruce Lee Homage.
AndyofIndiana's avatar
AndyofIndianaHobbyist Traditional Artist
Perhaps there should be a fighting game in which these archtypes are split evenly between the genders.
untedbear's avatar
How about the amalgam character? You know, that one character in most fighting games that uses the moves of every other character. Examples of this are Combot (Tekken), Durall (Virtual Fighter), and Edge Master (Soul Calibur)
Dee15gon's avatar
You forgot Unknown and Ogre from Tekken, and Seth from SFIV & SFVCE.
finalmaster24's avatar
You forgot "The Jokes" like Dan Hibiki.
JSHADOWM's avatar
JSHADOWMHobbyist General Artist
"The pallete swap"

fucking wut? he is not a clone since Kof 96 :P
RaikonLance's avatar
If you were to design characters, wouldn't it be better to try and innovate new concepts and roles rather than repeating what has been done over and over again?
Raptors0verlord's avatar
so what where does Sakura and Shingo fill into ? their the kind that look up to the hero or the main character, also the Kung Fu ones, like al these bruce Lee cones on almost all fighting games
bluerelativity's avatar
Hey, thank you for your interest in my list! :)
Well, Sakura actually was included in the "Young Girl" stereotype in the second part of the list…
But your idea of the "wannabe hero" character is indeed interesting... I'm just afraid it doesn't have enough representation. Any other characters other than Sakura and Shingo that come to your mind?
The Bruce Lee clone is interesting as well, though I'd say it falls into the "Racial Stereotype"... you know, Brazilians practice Capoeira, Native Americans want to save their land and Chinese practice Kung Fu and yell like Bruce Lee did :D
Raptors0verlord's avatar
I wouldnt call Bruce Lee clones as Racial since not all of them are from China, Marshal Law and his son from Tekken are from the USA and Kim Dragon from World Heros is Koren , Maxi from Soul Caliber is from Japan , all of them has something in Cammon , but you got the idea , but buttom line that I don't see anything Racial with their theme , take  alook here… , its more like a legacy , not to mention some of these that fight like bruce lee are females , Lai Pei from Virtu Fighter is an example and even Jam from Guilty Gear

as for Shingo and Sakura then I really can't think of other characters like them, i know that they look up to the main character, the only other one I think are similar to them is Tamao Mitsurugi from Advanced V.G. 2and also Shizumaru Hisame from Samurai Showdawn
MythKirby's avatar
MythKirbyStudent Artist
The Final Boss = Ogre 
Akuma: Bitch please. 
Connan-Bell's avatar
Connan-Bell Traditional Artist
Aww, you forgot the "Joke" characters, like Dan, and... uh... crap, there's gotta be more than just him... 
bluerelativity's avatar
Exactly... the "Joke" characters just doesn't have enough representation to be an "official" archetype... except for Dan and maybe some others, but the fact that we both can't remember about anyone else, is enough proof that there aren't so many of them around :)
Plus, there are almost other 5 archetypes I didn't include in my list because I wanted it to be limited to 10, so they would have had priority before the joke character anyway!
Thanks for commenting my list btw!
Connan-Bell's avatar
Connan-Bell Traditional Artist
My pleasure!
anonymous's avatar
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