ETHNIC RETCONS IN VIDEO GAMES
*NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED*
*THESE ARE PURELY MY OPINIONS/TAKES ON WORKS OF VIDEO GAME DEVELOPERS*
Retcon (retroactive continuity) is an element in fictional works where facts or details are altered in the timeline. Originating from comic books, retcons have been also applied to other forms of media such as TV Shows, Films and of course, Video Games. In the case of Video Games, retcon of the character’s ethnic background/nationality is done possibly to boost the character’s appeal, include diversity in the roster or just due to technicalities to be addressed by the developers. Here are some video game characters that underwent “ethnic retcon”:
SUB ZERO (Asian to Eurasian)
From the very first Mortal Kombat up to Mortal Kombat II, the ice-wielding assassins, the Sub-Zero brothers, were portrayed as being Chinese. However, in real life, the actor who portrayed the Sub Zero brothers is a Caucasian, Daniel Pesina. But because he wore a mask during the development, his actual appearance was cleverly concealed. In the younger Sub-Zero’s ending in Mortal Kombat II, his face was finally revealed. But the developers didn’t use Pesina’s face; instead, they used an unknown Asian actor’s face to be the actual appearance of the younger Sub-Zero.
By Mortal Kombat 3, the developers decided to finally unmask the younger Sub-Zero during his battles. The actor hired to play the character was the talented John Turk, who is a Caucasian. With the obvious change in the character’s appearance, the developers decided that both Sub-Zero brothers are Eurasian (half White, half Asian). It was included in the older Sub-Zero’s storyline in Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero that their mother was a white American while their father is a Chinese member of the Lin Kuei clan. Hence, it was accepted in the gaming community that the Sub-Zero brothers are of Eurasian ancestry. In my opinion, this acceptance has been attributed to the marvelous portrayal of John Turk in the Mortal Kombat series.
KANO (White American to Anglo-Australian)
The notorious Kano was introduced as a criminal and mercenary in the very first Mortal Kombat. He was described as a White American residing in Japan. The actor who portrayed Kano during the Mortal Kombat development was Richard Divizio, an American actor of Italian ancestry. Divizio would continue his incredible portrayal of Kano until Mortal Kombat 3, which was released in early 1995.
By mid 1995, a motion picture film inspired from the first 2 Mortal Kombat games was released. In the film, Kano was portrayed by English actor Trevor Goddard. Throughout the film, Goddard delivered his lines in an Australian accent. With the film’s massive success among MK fans and Goddard’s memorable performance as Kano, Kano’s nationality was altered as being Australian. In succeeding Mortal Kombat installments, Kano’s appearance was noticeably changed to reflect Goddard’s appearance from the 1995 film. In the 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat, Kano now even speaks with an Australian accent!!
KIM DRAGON (Chinese to Korean)
During the rise of Versus Fighting Video Games in the 90’s, it was almost imperative for developers to include a “Bruce Lee Clone” in their franchise. Yep, the iconic martial artist and actor have various incarnations in video games and other media. In the World Heroes series developed by ADK, Kim Dragon was introduced to fill in the trope, complete with Bruce Lee’s looks and his iconic Dragon Kick special move. Kim Dragon was a martial arts actor from China, however, his fame was leveled among that of singers. To prove that he is also a great fighter as well, he enters the World Heroes tournament.
However, there is one technicality that had to be addressed: “Kim” is not a Chinese surname; it is Korean. To address this technicality, Dragon was immediately retconned in the succeeding installment, World Heroes 2, to being a Korean. To prove this, his stage was set in a Korean bus station (complete with a South Korean flag).
BIRDIE (Caucasian to Black)
The very first Street Fighter game was released in 1987 and it also introduced Birdie, a blonde-haired Caucasian professional wrestler turned brawler from the streets of London.
Birdie’s next appearance would be in Street Fighter Alpha (1995) and behold, he would retain his brawler theme but his race was switched from being Caucasian to Black! In my opinion, the switch was made in order to make Birdie have a major impact in terms of his appearance which was lacking back in his original design. Besides, the series really needed diversity as the White and Asian characters dominated the roster as the series progressed.
JULI (German to Native American)
Juli was introduced in Street Fighter Alpha 3 as one of M. Bison’s Enhanced Soldiers A.K.A. The Dolls. The Dolls’ names were based on their country’s name for months. Juli was initially a German girl kidnapped by M. Bison (“Juli” is German for July) and was brainwashed to become one of his assassin soldiers.
In T. Hawk’s story mode in Street Fighter Alpha 3, he was searching for missing people of his Native American tribe. T. Hawk encounters Juli, whom he calls “Julia” saying that she was a member of the tribe who had gone missing. There were varying stories that T. Hawk was actually searching for Noembulu, the obvious Native American member of The Dolls and NOT Juli. However, this has been settled in T. Hawk’s prologue in Super Street Fighter IV where it was revealed that Juli’s real name is Julia; she was a member of T. Hawk’s tribe and was his darling but has mysteriously disappeared. In T. Hawk’s epilogue, Juli has been released from the brainwashing and was rescued by an elderly couple. However, she ended up in an amnesiac status unable to recognize T. Hawk.
SETSUKA (Black-haired & Hazel eyed to Blonde-haired & Blue Eyed)
The story of Soul Series’ Setsuka is probably one of the vaguest plots in Video game history. She was simply introduced as a non-Japanese orphan girl living in Japan who ran away from home and was adopted by a Japanese swordsman and was taught the art of the Iai Sword. ??? Like if she’s a non-Japanese, how did she arrive in Japan in the first place at a young age?! Additionally, her real name was not revealed as “Setsuka” was the name given to her by the swordsman who adopted her. Nevertheless, it was obviously implied that she’s of Caucasian ancestry and there’s no denying that. In Soul Calibur III, she appeared with glossy black hair and hazel eyes.
By Soul Calibur IV, Setsuka had an almost unrecognizable comeback.. this time, her hair was styled differently and was blonde instead of black! Another noticeable change is that her Hazel eyes are now Blue! Since the Soul Series’ plot was set in the 1500’s, hair dyeing might have already been practiced but colored contact lenses are surely not yet available!!! But anyways, despite the inconsistencies of Setsuka’s background and drastic changes in her design, it looks like we’ll never know her true details. Sadly, Soul Calibur IV was her last appearance and has not appeared in the latest edition, Soul Calibur V (which was set 17 years apart in the story).
TINA ARMSTRONG (Brunette to Blonde)
Tina Armstrong is the resident wrestler diva of the Dead or Alive Series. With her good looks, killer body and badass wrestling moves, she is one of the most recognized and most iconic characters from the series. She was introduced as an All-American brunette in the first Dead or Alive installment, being the daughter of the famed pro-wrestler Bass Armstrong.
However, upon the release of Dead or Alive 2, Tina was suddenly changed to a blonde. Noticeably, her practical wrestling gear were completely replaced by skimpy stage outfits. This has been best explained in her storyline that she eventually wanted to be in the entertainment business (model/actress/singer) instead of a being a pro-wrestler. Many fans speculate that Tina dyed her hair blonde to look “feistier and more outgoing.” To clear up on the hair issue, the developers say that Tina was brunette in the first game due to platform graphics limitation. Her true hair color is blonde as evidenced by a flashback scene during her childhood. By Dead or Alive 2 and succeeding installments, Tina has been blonde and it really fits in with her bubbly and outspoken personality. Plus, her distinct Southern accent gives us the Tina Armstrong gamers love and adore 😉