So you’ve decided you’re going to pick up a fighting game, which is great, the more, the merrier. You’ve got the game picked out, you’ve got your $300 fight stick and you’re ready to start throwing hands. But you think to yourself, “I don’t know the first thing about playing a fighting game”. So you pull your phone out and jump into a Facebook group or Reddit or Discord and start asking for advice. Something along the lines of “what is the best way to learn this game?” and you start getting all kinds of answers: “Just play whatever character you think is cool” or “just play the main character” and “play a shoto they’re easy to pick up and the best to learn fundamentals with”. Now you’re thoroughly confused, “what in god’s name is a shoto?” How are they easy? Why are they particularly adept at teaching fundamentals? Well, you’re going to learn today friend.
What is a Shoto?
You could spend hours debating what makes a shoto a shoto but here, where I am the law, we’re going to define shotos by using three rules, commandments if you will.
- Thou shalt have a horizontal space controlling projectile, fireball or otherwise
- Thou shalt have an invincible and/or high priority rising uppercut attack
- Thou shalt have a forward or upward moving projectile invincible or reflecting attack
These three commandments were made precedent by the two original shoto characters, Ryu and Ken from Capcom’s Street Fighter series, who wielded the Hadouken, Shoryuken and Tatsumaki that established the move set for the archetype. The name shoto originated from Ken and Ryu as well, since they are both practitioners of a fictionalized version of Shotokan karate called Ansatsuken, or “Assassin’s Fist”. The name of the archetype has since branched outside of Street Fighter.
The design of a shoto is centered around balance. Their normal attacks have good range and speed to play footsies with, their specials allow them to hold their own in projectile combat and having access to at least one low and overhead attack helps open up defenders at close range. Essentially, shotos have the tools to deal with any and all situations you may find yourself in in a fight without having any glaring, exploitable weaknesses. This well-rounded game plan is what makes shotos particularly adept at teaching newcomers the fundamentals of fighting games. When you learn to play a shoto, you learn how to win using a mixture of attacks, throws and projectiles, the universal fundamentals of the game and the basic strategies of zoning, grappling and rushdown, which are the three major archetypes of fighting games (with shotos being the 4th), making the transition to playing other characters much easier. A shotos strategy can change on the fly depending on what type of character you’re going up against. Projectile-less character? Throw fireballs, space with your long range normals and anti-air their jump-ins. If they have better projectiles than you do? Shotos have the mobility to weave through the bullet hell and fire their own projectiles back, slowly pushing your opponent into the corner where they can’t escape your attacks. A turtle who just walks back and forth, poking and blocking everything? Use your throw, lows and overheads to make them pay.
Who is a Shoto?
Starting with the franchise of origin, Street Fighter, there are at least 7 characters who fit the shoto archetype: Ryu, Ken, Akuma, Sakura, Dan, Sean and Gouken. But in the years since Street Fighter II popularized both the archetype and fighting games as a genre, many homages and imitators alike have popped up in other titles and franchises; these characters are referred to as “shotoclones”. Examples include:
Ky Kiske and Sol Badguy from the Guilty Gear series, Jago from Killer Instinct, Captain America, Spider-Man and Cyclops from the Capcom made Marvel fighting games, Terry Bogard in Fatal Fury, Ryo Sakazaki of Art of Fighting fame, Mario and Dr. Mario in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, Lucario from Project M/+ and Superman and Wonder Woman in Injustice.
Shotos have been and always will be rampant in fighting games. After all, they represent the core game mechanics of all fighters and the spirit and love of competition and the camaraderie it brings to a diverse, global community. I’ll continue to cover the other most common character archetypes in fighting games in future posts.