Many of my friends know that my favourite Ryu player is not any of the current top SFIV Ryu players but actually John Choi aka the Korean Inferno.
I still get asked sometimes which Ryu player I like/study. And when I respond with Choi, and not the obvious answer of Daigo- by the far most winning Ryu player in SFIV, I get quizzical eyebrows and weird looks. Almost like, huh. What has Choi done in SFIV?
Well, Choi doesn’t really play much SFIV these days, although he was a real contender back at the start of Vanilla SFIV, and will continue to be really strong without actually playing much due to his incredible fundamentals and the character design of Ryu remaining relatively unchanged throughout the Street Fighter series.
But I still enjoy watching Choi matches the most out of any Ryu player and try to watch every Choi video I can find. I know some people will watch his matches and go, why do you like this guy? He just turtles and throws a million fireballs.
But as a Ryu player his gameplay just enthralls me. I want to be just like Choi. Just stay on the ground at all times. And destroy people with fireball after fireball after fireball and then when their will has been ground down and they finally jump out of desperation, to feed them a soul-crushing uppercut to the jaw. I want my Ryu to play just like that, so clean, and just so pure in style.
But guess what? It’s frickin’ hard to throw fireballs like John Choi!
That’s why he’s John fucking Choi, with twenty years of experience of fireballing and uppercutting fools. There’s a real art to his spacing, to where/when he throws his fireballs and how he readjusts his ranges after each fireball. It’s so subtle that it’s really hard to pin down or explain plainly. What he’s doing looks so deceptively simple but is actually incredibly difficult to replicate. That is the magic of Choi.
In this day and age everybody is so experienced with fireball patterns and traps that one or two unsafe fireballs will quickly earn you a phat jump in combo to the face. Or an anti-fireball Ultra or EX move.
When I try to work on my fireball game and try to throw fireballs in the footsie game, I get so discouraged when people read me so easily and I always end up taking so much damage that I am left feeling like it’s simply not worth it, or that it’s just not a viable style for Ryu in SFIV with focus attacks and so many other anti-fireball options.
With the way jump ins work in the game as well, if you compare it with ST, not only are the fireballs better in ST and with more pushback, you have to do your jump in really deep to get any sort of combo off your jumps. But in SFIV with the big hitstun on jump ins you pretty much can get whatever combo you want.
I watch myself play and there’s quite a few matchups where I see myself not throwing much fireballs at all. In matches like Dudley, Rose etc it feels like throwing a fireball is just an opportunity for my opponent to deal damage to me or build meter. I end up almost giving up on throwing fireballs and walking forward instead trying to play aggressive footsies with low forward.
Over time, I lose faith in the style.
And then I watch a Choi match!
This is easily one of my favourite sets of the last few months, and I know that while it’s partially because the opposing character is Guile that Choi can successfully employ such a fireball heavy ST-esque style, it still warms my heart and brings a single manly tear to my eye watching John Choi do his thing.
I occasionally share my love of Choi with other people, and Spoony once shared his experience with me of watching ST matches of Choi from EVO with Seth Killian’s commentary. Basically because of those famous matches, hilariously nowadays when he watches a clutch-ass uppercut he always hears that same booming announcer’s voice in his head exclaiming:
Match taken from Living With John Choi
Edit: And my favourite Choi match from EVO 2012 below.