Some of you may know of an old XBox fighting game known as Kakuto Chojin: Back Alley Brutal. In some gaming forums, you have probably heard the word kakuto ge-mu used to describe fighting games or any games that involve hand-to-hand combat. So what does kakuto specifically mean? In the context of gaming, it just mostly refers to games that involve fighting, but in its native Japanese, it has a wider meaning.
Kakuto: Hand-To-Hand Combat
Kakuto Chojin: Back Alley Brutal
- System: XBox
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- Developer: DreamFactory
- Release Dates: Nov 11, 2002
Beyond its colloquial use in the English speaking gaming community, the literal meaning of kakuto（格闘）simply means hand-to-hand combat. For example, the sports of mixed martial arts in Japanese is sogo kakutogi (総合格闘技). Other martial arts such as amateur wrestling, kickboxing, judo, and karate can be referred to as kakuto. In fact, the K in the K-1 Japanese kickboxing organization actually stands for kakuto. While professional wrestling is seen as sports entertainment (a very fancy way of saying it’s a performance) in the West, the Japanese respect it as a kakuto sport with its emphasis on the competition and techniques as opposed to outlandish storylines and over the top gimmicks.
Kakuto Chojin: Back Alley Brutal trailer
While MMA has progressively gained popularity in the West the past decade through the UFC, the sport always had popularity since its inception in the Land of the Rising Sun circa the late-1980’s/early-1990’s with pre-UFC promotions such as Shooto and Pancrase, which both have origins with Japanese professional wrestling. And in turn, many of the athletes have played a part in influencing the martial arts, or kakuto, in video games.
- System: Arcade
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Sega
- Release Dates: Oct 1986
One easy example of kakuto games are fighting games or taisen kakuto games (対戦格闘ゲーム) in Japanese. If you ever find yourself at let’s say Super Potato (a retro game shop) in Akihabara or at any Book Off all around Japan, just look for the kanji of taisen kakuto games in the parenthesis and you’ll find yourself in the fighting game section. What is arguably the first ever taisen kakuto game is Sega’s Heavyweight Champ way back in the 1970’s.
It was an arcade boxing game where boxing gloves would represent the controls. But if there is one game that planted the seeds for fighting games as we know it, it would be the 1984 karate tournament fighter, Karate Champ. As opposed to using the now standard life bar, Karate Champ would operate under the real rules of karate tournaments where one fit is a point and whoever gets to two points first wins, just like in the original Karate Kid movie.
Karate Champ (Karate Do)
- System: Arcade, Apple II, Commodore 64, NES
- Publisher: Data East
- Developer: Data East
- Release Dates: 1984
Of course, no one can deny that Street Fighter II established the taisen kakuto craze to what it is now. In addition to the first Street Fighter, fighting games such as Karate Fighter only had two selectable characters limited to a player 1 character (such as Ryu) and a player 2 one (Ken). Street Fighter II was the first fighting game to allow players to select more than two characters of various fighting styles from different countries. It allows players to learn all kinds of moves deepening the learning curve. As stated earlier, some pro wrestlers and martial artists are homaged in these games.
In the instance of Street Fighter II, it is instantly obvious that Fei Long is based on Bruce Lee. However, Ryu is loosely based on Mas Oyama, a post-World War II karate master originally from Korea, Sagat is based on a real Muay Thai champ in the 1980’s named Sagat Petchyindee, and in the Japanese version, Balrog is named M. Bison, which is meant to be a spoof of Mike Tyson.
Ultra Street Fighter II
- System: Multiplatform
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Dates: March 1991
Originally, Street Fighter was going to feature a pro wrestler inspired by Tiger Mask, but the character didn’t make the cut. Even so, King, who is inspired by Tiger Mask, would later become a staple character in Namco’s Tekken series. Speaking of Tekken, along with Virtua Fighter, would become the OG 3D fighters in kakuto taisen games. In comparison to Street Fighter that uses fireballs, Tekken and Virtua Fighter take a more realistic approach to its combat by relying more on the actual techniques and ranges of the martial arts as opposed to fireballs.
Ultra Street Fighter II trailer
In the case of Virtua Fighter with characters like Pai and Aoi, they rely a lot on trapping and counter grappling to beat bigger opponents by using their strength against them like in real life Wing Chun and Aikido. With Tae Kwon Do fighters such as Hwoarang from Tekken, many of his moves rely on maintaining distance by using kicks. As for Jin’s kata in Tekken 4 in the CG scenes, they are actual katas taken from Kyokushin karate such as Pinan Sono Yon.
- System: Arcade, PS1
- Publisher: Namco
- Developer: Namco
- Release Dates: 1994
Last, many fighters whether they are 2D or 3D always features a pro wrestler. As stated earlier, King is a homage to Tiger Mask, and El Blaze in Virtua Fighter honors Rey Mysterio, Jr. Speaking of Virtua Fighter, just like how there have been real-life Tiger Masks as a homage to the original anime, in the 1990’s, American wrestler James Rocha assumed the role of Wolf from the game as his gimmick in a Japanese wrestling promotion.
Tekken 7 trailer
In turn, some wrestlers served as the motion capture models for characters in Tekken. For example, Hiroshi Tanahashi, the top babyface in New Japan Pro Wrestling is the motion capture for Lars and much of his costume design, poses and hairstyle take influence from the actual wrestler. The game goes as far as giving Lars the Sling Blade, a signature move of Tanahashi to give the game a more actual kakuto, or fighting experience in a showman sense.
WWF No Mercy
- System: N64
- Publisher: THQ
- Developer: Aki Corp
- Release Dates: Nov 17, 2000
In addition to standard fighting games whether they would be 2D or 3D, there are kakuto games that are sport oriented. As stated earlier, professional wrestling in Japan is considered kakuto in Japan. During the pinnacle of the Monday Night Wars between the late-1990’s and early-2000’s, THQ released critically acclaimed games both representing the WWE (then known as the WWF) and WCW for the Nintendo 64.
Many gamers and wrestling fans embraced these games as true representations of the industry and the wrestlers they portray. Heck, some of the later versions such as WWF No Mercy went as far to have falls count anywhere to the point that you could start from the middle of the ring and go all the way out to the parking lot like the hardcore matches of the Attitude Era. Also praised in the N64 WWF releases is the create-a-wrestler mode that allows players to create not only their own appearance but go as far as choosing what moves they can implement to a minuscule detail.
Virtual Pro Wrestling 2: Oudou Keishou
- System: N64
- Publisher: Aki Corp
- Developer: Asmik Ace Entertainment, Inc.
- Release Dates: Jan 28, 2000
In case you didn’t know, these N64 wrestling games are Western releases of Virtual Pro Wrestling. Just like how the American releases give you wrestlers from WCW and WWF (depending on the release), Virtua Pro Wrestling features Japanese wrestlers (such as Antonio Inoki, Tiger Mask, and Hayabusa) or foreign wrestlers that were primarily popular in Japan (such as Vader and Stan Hansen). While the American counterparts emphasized on hardcore wrestling, Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 emphasizes on the sports aspect to the point it even has MMA rules feature that uses old-school King of Pancrase rules (5 knock down rule, grabbing the ropes allows you to escape a submission).
To emphasize this, the game features MMA fighters of the late-1990’s and early-2000’s such as Don Frye, Bas Rutten, and Rickson Gracie, or hybrids of MMA fighters and pro wrestlers such as Minoru Suzuki and Nobuhiko Takada.
UFC Undisputed 3
- System: PS3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: THQ
- Developer: Yuke’s
- Release Dates: Feb 14, 2012
Of course the pinnacle of kakuto, or combat sports today is the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With its rising popularity the past decade, it was only inevitable that it would finally get a stable gaming series. Prior to the EA release, THQ had the license to release UFC games. Just like in the real life UFC, you need to know striking, takedowns, and submissions in order to come out victorious. In THQ’s third release, Undisputed 3, it even gave players the option to play in the old Pride MMA organization based out of Japan between the mid-1990’s and mid-2000’s. If you play under Pride rules, you had the option to kick and knee your opponent on the ground, which is banned under Western roles in both real life and this game if you choose to fight in the octagon as opposed to a ring.
UFC Undisputed 3 trailer
Featured fighters in the games are excellently presented in conjunction with their real-life counterpart for an authentic kakuto experience. If you chose to create your own fighter, you can even go as far as assigning him his own sponsors such as TapOut, Affliction, and Punishment. However, after THQ went under, EA got the license and just like how the real-life UFC only features Reebok gear, that’s what you get in EA’s UFC. Thankfully, the game gives players the options to play as Bruce Lee or Mike Tyson and finally features women’s MMA, which has since progressed between the releases of Undisputed 3 and the EA games.
- System: Arcade, Master System, NES, Genesis
- Publisher: Taito, Tradewest (NES)
- Developer: Technos Japan
- Release Dates: June 1987
While fighting games are specifically called taisen kakuto games in Japanese, martial arts related games beyond fighting games are called kakuto action (格闘アクション). Of course, you can refer to our Top 10 Beat ‘Em Ups list to get an idea of what some of the best kakuto action games are such as Double Dragon and Final Fight. In such games, the main characters are all respectively martial arts experts who go around town to save it from a gang. Some rely on power, some rely on speed, and some are a combination of the two.
- System: Arcade, Super Nintendo, Sega CD, Game Boy Advance
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Dates: December 1989
Since gaming has changed since the prime of beat ‘em ups, so has the expression of kakuto action. One famous example is Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue, which was initially intended as a Virtua Fighter RPG. In Shenmue, you assume the role of Ryo Hazuki, a martial arts expert. In this game, Ryo meets other characters that are skilled in the martial arts and at times, they will teach him how to do a move.
The NPC will give a demonstration and an explanation on how to do a technique and after, the player has to interpret the movements into the controller in order to use that technique. Through Shenmue, players are getting a very authentic kakuto, or martial arts experience in terms of actual practice in both combat and culture.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Jan 9, 2001 – Jun 26, 2001
Of course, we also cannot that there are plenty of quality kakuto anime out there. One notable example is Grappler Baki, based on the manga by Keisuke Itagaki. It is a pure kakuto series by focusing on the martial arts combat of various styles from kung fu, kickboxing, wrestling, karate, to even sambo. Since the original manga debuted prior to the debut of the UFC, it still represents the old style vs. style of novelty.
Of course, we cannot deny that some taisen kakuto games have their share of anime adaptations and one classic example is the feature based on Street Fighter II. To this day, long time fine praise it for its intense action, which was choreographed by then K-1 promoter Kazuyoshi Ishii and K-1 Legend Andy Hug. As opposed to relying on hadoukens, the movie relies more on straight up kakuto action to get your adrenaline pumping.
Beyond its context in gaming, kakuto in its native tongue has many uses in relation to the martial arts as a whole. If you ever find yourself in Japan, you can probably find yourself discussing either your favorite taisen kakuto games at an arcade in Akihabara or talking about your favorite athletes or matches at any kind of kakuto event by understanding the wider use of kakuto. So what are some of your favorite kakuto related games, anime, or events? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments