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I’ve played as many women in fighting games, but the girl who always sticks in my mind is Nakoruru from Samurai Shodown. Despite her innocent appearance, she is one of the most vicious fighters I’d ever faced in battle.
I first faced her in the arcades with my brother. We plunked down several quarters to try and take her down with various characters. She somehow managed to find every single way to counter our attacks with her ground slices, flying blade moves and her evil falcon.
Of course, the real reason she was difficult to beat was because the computer was nearly impossible to defeat. It was an arcade game, with computer characters who automatically throw you whenever you get close to them. Samurai Shodown was intended to force kids to plunk down all their hard-earned money in the machine.
In spite of all this, Nakoruru is still one of the most appealing female characters in fighting game history. Rather than wearing skin-tight body suits or dresses that show off a girl’s thighs, Nakoruru wears a comfortable white samurai outfit, with baggy pants and a robe.
She was also designed to set people off their guard. There’s nothing more innocent in a fighting game than a girl wearing a big red ribbon in her hair. Once they actually start fighting her though, they’ll discover that she is one of the deadliest fighters with a sword.
Nakoruru uses plenty of surprising blade slides with her kodachi to counter nearly every attack. Her Rei Mutsube attack flies up to strike characters who are trying a jump attack. Her Annu Mutsube ground slice hits people who try to charge in. She can even jump on her falcon, Mamaharu, to dive in a flaming stab attack.
Unless players are willing to block her moves, Nakoruru is one of the most powerful characters in the entire game. In fact, she’s still one of the only female warriors who people could rightfully crown as the ultimate fighter.
Nakoruru also has one of the most epic storylines in a fighting game. In fact, she is one of the first characters who was modeled pretty accurately to resemble a Japanese tribal warrior from ancient times. Like Prince Ashitaka from the anime film Princess Mononoke, Nakoruru’s character was inspired by the descendents of the Ainu tribe.
Although the first game simply portrayed her as the defender of mother nature, Samurai Shodown 2 literally transformed her into a martyr.
The few people who actually managed to defeat the final boss with Nakoruru were treated to a dramatic scene where she saved all of nature from obliteration. In a final prayer, she sacrifices her body in order to save the entire forest.
People who played as Galford were also treated to the tragic love story between him and Nakoruru. Right before she dies, Galford cries out to her from a mountainside. In a stunning flash of light, Nakoruru’s spirit confesses that she knew how much he loved her and that she had to save the forest first.
After Samurai Shodown 2, the legend of Nakoruru went through more confounding twists and turns. For the third game, they decided to set up an entirely different story based on the new Bust fighting system. This was supposed to be based on Nakoruru’s evil side, which dealt with her suppressed feelings of anger and frustration. After all, it’s hard to take on such a daunting role as the defender of nature.
With every new game, though, her character grew in complexity. By the sixth game, everyone had pretty much forgotten whether this was the resurrected version of Nakoruru or if she was still in some sort of spirit form.
In spite of all the confusion in her storyline, she’s become one of the staple characters in the SNK franchise. Her simple character design is so disarming that it ends up making everyone feel guilty when they finally defeat her.
Every visual representation of her in anime and manga is like a scene from Jesus Christ Superstar. Even in the obscure manga where someone used a chain attack to rip her clothes off and choke her, everyone will inevitably feel guilty for beating her up and looking at her topless body. She is a one-of-a-kind hero who isn’t afraid to die and suffer for what she believes in.
Nakoruru is more than just eye candy—she’s the fighting game equivalent of a spiritual goddess. SNK still has yet to recreate a fighter as powerful and sensible as Nakoruru.
What are your favorite memories of Nakoruru and other fighting game girls? Feel free to write them in the comments below.