Fighting games, thanks to their large diverse rosters can afford to have some interesting outliers in the cast. Characters that are total weirdos, overwhelmingly cool, or just plain funny. Such characters provide a nice contrast for the more “normal” characters who have the coveted iconic status.

Pushing the poster-children to the side, today we shift focus to characters who tend to be a bit overshadowed by the Kens, Sols, and Scorpions of the genre. But even overshadowed and side-lined they manage to be at least as cool, creative, and memorable as the main cast. Let’s take a look at ten such characters.

Ten of the coolest fighting video game characters of all time

Zappa – Guilty Gear

Release year:1998 – 2021
Species:Ghost-ridden human
Appearances:Most of the series, starting with Guilty Gear XX
Developer:Arc System Works

Frank Zappa is undoubtedly one of the most unique characters to come out of the Guilty Gear series, which is quite an accomplishment in a series full of immediately recognizable weirdoes populating its roster.

Zappa, in addition to being named after Frank Zappa and dressing like a JoJo villain is also possessed by a number of spirits, including S-ko, inspired by Sadako from The Ring.

Zappa – Guilty Gear

If that extraordinary styling wasn’t enough, playing Zappa can look utterly chaotic. He barely ever stands upright, attacks are mostly performed by the ghosts occupying his body, and there are cascading attack options based on which ghost has been invoked. Playing against Zappa can be very confusing but playing AS him can be very entertaining. Either way, Zappa is delightfully weird and memorable.

Key features
  • A man possessed by multiple spirits, including one very vengeful and especially possessive
  • Interesting gameplay based on mixing up moves and confusing the opponents
  • A series of fast-paced, intense fighting games with an easily recognizable art style
  • Unholy number of rock and metal music references in soundtracks, names, and designs

Voldo – SoulCalibur

Release year:1995 – 2018
Appearances:Every instalment
Developer:Bandai Namco Studios, Dimps Corporation

Voldo is hard to summarize. He’s a devoted servant of an Italian weapons merchant. That’s easy. But he’s also blinded, gagged, and his choice of clothing is clearly very deliberate.

His weapons of choice are katars, and during combat he moves like nobody else in the entire game, slithering around, performing gymnastics or dance-like motions. Like Zappa, he can be very confusing, but also unforgettable.

Voldo – SoulCalibur

His story involves being stuck in his employer’s vault of treasures to guard it, as well as seeking the Soul Edge to add to his master’s collection. There are also signs that prolonged isolations in the vault and the influence of Soul Edge itself have him going insane. Voldo isn’t an iconic member of the roster, but if you’ve encountered him once, you won’t soon forget about him, for better or worse.

Key features
  • Probably the weirdest SoulCalibur character
  • Uniquely short-range weapon
  • A long-running series of fighting games focused on melee duels
  • The arenas are 3D, so if you aren’t careful, you can easily get shoved off the edge

Riptor – Killer Instinct

Release year:1994 (KI), 2013
Species:Cyborg dinosaur
Appearances:Killer Instinct 1994 and 2013
Developer:Rare (KI 2013), Double Helix Games, Iron Galaxy (KI 2013)

How could Riptor not make this list? She is a cybernetically and genetically enhanced, fire-breathing raptor with some human DNA spliced in.

The original and the reboot versions differ a bit, but the core idea remains. If you can’t see the appeal of playing a science fiction raptor with weirdly human muscles (in 1994) or glowing, nifty cyberlimbs (2013) there’s little we can do to convince you.

Riptor – Killer Instinct

If cyberdinosaur somehow isn’t good enough for you, how about Rash from Battletoads, sporting his best The Rock muscles? Or a elderly blue werewolf? Or a dude made of living fire? Killer Instincts roster is very entertainingly weird, but Riptor is weird, cool, and a dinosaur, a perfect mix. The series was rebooted in 2013, so if you’re not into retro games, check out the fresher version.

Key features
  • We can’t stress it enough: it’s a gene-modded cyber-raptor
  • Two versions: classic from 1994 and a rebooted one from 2013
  • A series stuffed with odd characters… and Rash from Battletoads
  • You can slap a finisher at the end of a combo for extra hurt

Kuma – Tekken

Release year:1994 – 2018
Species:Bear (Ussuri brown bear)
Appearances:Tekken 1 & 2, Kuma II: Tekken 3 onwards
Developer:Bandai Namco Studios, Namco

Kuma and his son, Kuma II are bears. Not cybernetic bears, not alternate dimension werebears. They are just… Japanese brown bears, with a higher-than-usual intelligence.

Both father and son were the bodyguards of Heihachi Mishima, and their high intelligence allowed to them train in martial arts, learn sign language, and have a good shot and becoming the CEO of a giant corporation.

Kuma – Tekken

Kumas are by no means serious characters, but bears are awesome, and even Roger, a genetically modified kangaroo, has nothing on him: Kumas are all natural. In a series filled with very competent fighters representing many different martial art styles, a big ol’ bear absolutely stands out. But don’t be fooled by Kuma’s cuddly appearance – he will punch your face in if you aren’t careful.

Key features
  • A martial artist bear predating Kung Fu Panda
  • Kuma and Kuma II are close allies of the big man Heihachi Mishima
  • Excellent, long-running series focused on unarmed martial arts combat
  • Fights take place on 3D arenas, giving you a chance to outmaneuver your opponents

Trejo – Def Jam

Release year:2004
Appearances:Def Jam Fight For NY, Def Jam Fight for NY: The Takeover
Developer:AKI Corporation, EA Canada

Def Jam was so packed with rap celebrities that it was essentially Kameo Kombat. But among the musicians, one character stand out: Trejo. Yes. Danny Trejo, the Machete himself, is in Def Jam, ready to throw down with the others.

The game has a story for him, but it’s honestly unimportant compared to the fact that you can for some reason beat up Ludacris as Danny Trejo like it’s a normal thing to do.

Trejo – Def Jam

Def Jam: Fight for NY itself turned out to be pretty good, although it’s now memorable mostly because of its ridiculous number of cameos rather than any gameplay qualities it had. It even had a story mode allowing you to create a unique character trying to be somebody of note in New York underground. Your fighter can even customize their appearance with clothes mid-game!

Key features
  • You can play as Danny Trejo, what more could you want?
  • Rap celebrity-studded roster
  • An unexpectedly solid game in its own right
  • A dedicated story mode

K’ – The King of Fighters

Release year:1999 – 2022
Appearances:Most of the series, starting with TKOF ‘99
Developer:SNK, Eolith, BrezzaSoft, Noise Factory

K’ isn’t an animal, not is he extravagantly dressed. He isn’t even a recognizable cameo. But he is, in fact, very cool.

His clothing is simple but stylish, and his cold demeanor is accentuated by the inevitable shades. The effect fades when he starts talking because he’s a bit of a jerk with an attitude, but his appearance and the fire-infused fighting style reminiscent of Bruce Lee, still make him pretty cool.

K’ – The King of Fighters

It doesn’t hurt that he has an interesting backstory and is on the side of the good guys, even if he’s reluctant to become involved. K’ might not exactly be iconic member of the roster, but he’s been in the series for years, and for good reason. Whether this reason are shades, his cool, fiery fighting style, or his backstory, is up to everyone to decide for themselves. We just know he has a place on this list.

Key features
  • His very name is like a dismissive text message
  • His fighting style uses some of the Jeet Kune Do developed by Bruce Lee
  • Old-school 2D/2.5D fighting game with almost thirty years of history
  • Large roster collected over the years

Erron Black – Mortal Kombat

Release year:2015 (MK X), 2019 (MK 11)
Appearances:MK X, MK 11
Developer:NetherRealm Studios

Erron Black is a 19th-century cowboy who received longevity from Shang Tsung in return for killing an Earthrealm champion.

Since then, Erron’s been wandering the Outrealm looking for trouble and a reason to unholster his guns, with which he had more than a century of practice. Come on, how could you read that premise alone and not think Erron is cooler than Sub-Zero?

Erron Black – Mortal Kombat

He even brings his guns to close-quarters combat, and he is good enough to even use a rifle while there’s a toothy, spike-handed Tarkatan warrior lunging at him. To be fair, in a brutal game like Mortal Kombat it is probably a good idea to keep people at more than an arm’s length. They can’t teleport behind you if you use your rifle to pop them in the head from a hundred paces. In theory.

Key features
  • 19th-century cowboy alive and kicking it with the series’ most famous
  • No, the apparent retcon from MK 11 doesn’t count. But he’s still cool in there too
  • The Mortal Kombat (2011) – Mortal Kombat 11 sequence is a great self-contained reboot
  • MK X and MK 11 allow interesting playstyle customization even for established characters

Zato-1 – Guilty Gear

Release year:1988 – 2021
Appearances:Most of the series
Developer:Arc System Works

Zato-1 might be the edgiest character in Guilty Gear ever since Testament fell of the stage. And even then, they were tied for the position. Who’s Zato-1?

He’s a man who bonded a shadow beast to himself and subsequently rose to lead a powerful assassin’s guild. Like his namesake Zatoichi, Zato-1 is blind, but that doesn’t matter to someone who commands shadows. Even death didn’t stop him for long.

Zato-1 – Guilty Gear

Zato fights by transforming his shadow (thanks to a bonded being called Eddie) into whatever shape is necessary to do the job – blades, beasts, wings to hover on etc. He’s also disciplined, level-headed and ruthlessly efficient. He also has a long-running rivalry with Millia Rage, a woman with amazingly deadly hair. Their rivalry song, Still in the Dark, is a total banger, too. Zato-1 is awesome, and fun to play.

Key features
  • A blind assassin bonded with a shadow-sculpting Forbidden Beast
  • One of the series’ mainstays
  • Milia Rage is a great rival for Zato-1
  • The entire series has amazing music, and many iconic rivalries have their own tunes

Isabelle – Super Smash Bros.

Release year:2018
Species:Dog (Shih Tzu)
Appearances:Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Developer:Bandai Namco, Sora Ltd.

Although Isabelle is technically from Animal Crossing, her famous meeting with the Doomslayer left her with a thirst for blood, and the only way to quench it was to join the ultimate brawl.

Now Isabelle, in her normal life a wholesome and kind secretary, beat the living hell out of other people tossing them off the ledge with the same warm smile she offers people coming to see her in Animal Crossing.

Isabelle – Super Smash Bros.

In a way, Isabelle’s presence in SSBU means she joined that club one isn’t supposed to talk about. Except instead of getting a broken nose and internal bleeding in Super Smash Bros Ultimate the punishment for losing is blasting off into space, you decide which is harsher. SSBU Ultimate has a massive roster, but Isabelle’s friendship with the Doomslayer elevates her above others.

Key features
  • A friendly Animal Crossing secretary who beats people up in Super Smash Bros. as a hobby
  • Doesn’t rip and tear, but can still smash your face in with a hammer
  • SSBU has a huge roster of over 70 fighters
  • A battle of franchises, from Pokemon to Metroid

Yoshimitsu – SoulCalibur, Tekken

Release year:1994 – 2015 (Tekken), 1998 – 2018 (SoulCalibur)
Appearances:Tekken 1 – 7, SoulCalibur I – VI
Developer:Bandai Namco Studios, Namco, Project Soul

Yoshimitsu looks very intimidating: a demonic-looking ninja with a sword that looks like bad news. It’s a good thing, then, that he’s fighting the good fight, seeking to rid the world of the Soul Edge’s evil power.

Yoshimitsu also isn’t just one person, but a line of ninjas devoted to following the ideals of the original one, and to wielding his cursed blade in service of a good cause.

Yoshimitsu – SoulCalibur, Tekken

Yoshimitsu is also unique in that he’s actually a cross-franchise character, appearing in both SoulCalibur and Tekken. In the latter, he’s more of a leader of a Robin Hood-like thief group called the Manji Clan. Of course, at this point, Yoshimitsu is more of a mantle than a person. For all his heroic motivations, though, he brings a sword to a fistfight. Rude, but he’s still pretty damn cool.

Key features
  • Always looks cool and creative
  • A long line of cool ninjas
  • Features heavily in both SoulCalibur and Tekken
  • In Tekken 7 Yoshimitsu looks like a servant of Cthulhu

Final round

That concludes the list of 10 characters you might have omitted on select screens in favor of the iconic fighters, the leading protagonists and antagonists of the games’ stories. Some of the characters here are just as venerable as the classics like Ken or Sub-Zero, they deserve your attention.

Who knows, it might turn out that you like them better, even if they won’t have a huge role in any movie or feature on the game cover.