In the story of King of Fighters, there’s very little you can say is ‘important.’ Fighting is important. Grudges are important. A tournament that gets interrupted every single time by several different world-ending megalomanics is important. A human cloning project that may or may not also be connected to the soul of the Phoenix is important. The Orochi, an eight headed serpent and the people whose blood it taints is important.
Oh, and Iori Yagami and Kyo are probably gay and that’s important.
I guess if I explain who Iori Yagami is, we need to first explain who Kyo Kusanagi is. Easy.
Kyo Kusanagi is one of the major characters in King of Fighters, introduced in the first installment. The general wisdom is that Kyo was presented to be a ‘Japanese hero’ to set the new franchise on its path, building out of the technology and world building of the Fatal Fury game that came before it. While Fatal Fury was modelled at least in its crucial moments on an American-style action movie with its big chunky American action heroes and their pet Japanese friend, Kyo was a more classic Japanese style protagonist. Back in 1994, Kyo was introduced to serve the role of your introductory character, a sort of easy hook, which of course was not easy at all, because King of Fighters was a game that regarded ‘approachable’ as someone else’s problem.
Anyway, Kyo was a pretty standard stock character at that point: he was a high school delinquent and inheritor of an 1800 year old Japanese legacy of the Orochi, which meant that he could throw fireballs from his fingertips, and was the last member of a family legacy that was guarding three ancient relics.
Oh and he had a girlfriend? She almost never shows up and if it turns out he made her up it wouldn’t feel like a contradiction of the games’ narrative.
Kyo was in high school in 1994 and he aged up a little into a sort of nebulous generalised ‘graduated’ age and we’re going to ignore the fact that by now he’d be forty if time advanced year by year (though man, imagine if the game had actually aged its characters in real time). This is one of the first little notes of unreality that seeps in the cracks of this story, and these cracks grow and spread over time until we wind up at ‘man, these guys are probably fucking.’
Iori Yagami is the rival of Kyo and he feels like the kind of character a boy like me designs when a boy he likes designs a totally sick character and you want to have an excuse to always be around him, hahah, but not in a gay way, right? Where Kyo has fire powers, Iori has purple fire powers. Where Kyo is a bright hero with a sun motif, Iori has a crescent moon. Where Kyo is bright and friendly and has people who admire him, Iori is dark and edgy and cares about nothing but his band, where he very pointedly never shows you any characters from that band.
Iori Yagami is a character who only makes sense in his universe as a creation in opposition to Kyo.
He also has almost no interests except fighting Kyo at first.
If you read the guidebooks, sure, he has other opinions, he has a band and he’s a musician and – I mean at one point when I was younger, I thought he was a vegan and he loved animals but that’s seemingly not true, any more, or maybe it never was.
Thing is, where Iori has almost nothing going on outside of the experience of the fight, Iori is bleeding personality within the fight. He shouts, he cries, he has a flower motif, he threatens and he has a catchphrase and Iori –
Iori lives in that battle.
Kyo’s stories are about fighting the tournament winning it, defending his family name, saving his father, defeating the villain, confronting whatever the game’s big bad is. Iori’s stories are about getting through all of that so he can fight Kyo. The tournament, the plot, that’s not important. What’s important is Kyo.
Kyo is what Iori fights for. Kyo is what Iori chases. Even as he enters these tournaments, becomes a raging monster, gets haunted by the moon, and confronts a demon god that wants the power in his blood, all of that is the prelude to the confrontation at the end, which is to stand on opposite sides of a train track with Kyo…
and close in…
and face each other.
You know, in a heterosexual way.
This is all a magic trick, of course. There is no King of Fighters Story.
This goes for most fight games – they’re almost always these jumbled messes of generative narrative that’s designed to string together a typically well-constructed gameplay loop. They have been, historically, structured with about the same delicacy and coherence as a game of Let’s Pretend on the playground, with games managing enough characterisation to have characters have unique reactions to specific characters and maybe customised text cards after the fact.
This is a generality, mind you. There are no doubt, some very deeply plotted, cutscene heavy fight games and they’re probably part of the Fate universe, because most things are at this point. That franchise is like the Tommy Westphall thing, which was created by Dwayne McDuffie, who created Static, which means that I think by transitive property, that St Elsewhere is a person of colour or something.
Instead of a story, a coherent plot and narrative with a distinct beginning and conclusion, and with meaningful development of characters over time, what you get instead tends to be to videogame storytelling what the stuff in the corners of the bag are to crisps. Pieces, jumbled up and often in wildly different genres. The larger your cast of characters, the more different genres of story and types of characters you have in this mix. At a certain point, especially in games with a big cast, some of these wind up being ‘the main’ stories that persist over time, and a character’s popularity ensures they keep showing up rather than whether or not the plot makes sense.
King of Fighters has a big cast.
That means it has a lot of plot bits.
And none of them make sense.
The way to think of it is not that each game of King of Fighters is a single chapter in a long, whole narrative. It is rather that the conceptual space of the King of Fighters brand, the franchise. That’s a fairly soulless way to regard it, though so instead what I want to suggest is to instead consider each King of Fighters game is a fanfiction project, and the source material they’re working from is the previous King of Fighters game, which is also, itself, a fanfiction project.
When you view the narrative this way, you’re suddenly not looking at one large, incoherent narrative written by a Dead Author who is ostensibly interested in presenting all the potentials of a world, but instead is a variety of collaborative writing projects between people who are negotiating primarily with one another about the things that don’t invalidate one another. Some of them are political dramas, some of them are romantic narratives, more than a few of them are comedy, and none of them quite agree with one another about what happened and about what didn’t happen.
What that means is that if the story keeps on following the same loop for a character, it’s probably a sign that they don’t have any other idea for what to do with them. If it keeps on coming up and keeps getting iterations, slight tweaks here, slight tweaks there, where this time around, Iori’s gone mad and can only be brought back to his senses by Kyo defeating him (but not killing him), or if this time around he’s here with two sexy queer ladies, or if this time, Kyo and Iori are in a band, then suddenly the King of Fighters world looks a lot less like a coherent, long-form story and much more like an AO3 archive where all the scenes of fucking have been cut out.
Each section of the story is building on the previous sections. None of them can undo the past (though, you know, clone plotlines try). There’s no central, guiding hand on this narrative – after all, ‘SNK’ as an entity is a collective antheap that’s died and been reborn a few times throughout this franchise’s life. That pile of semi-guided growth, building on the previous installments, then, reflects what this collective think of as important.
And uh, they sure seem to think implying Kyo and Iori are gay is important.
Finally, we have Miss X.
Miss X is a character who’s from two different SNK games, Gals Fighters and SNK Heroines. This is the same kind of thing – the meshing of fanfiction in different layers. What I have here is the kind of story that people can make, out of things in the SNK universe that has Iori. And, look, SNK Heroines is not a ‘canon’ installment and even if it was, canon is bullshit. If you’re not aware of it, though, Heroines is a tag-team fight game, where a variety of different SNK characters show up to fight one another.
They’re all women.
Including Terry Bogard.
The text is very clear about this: It isn’t a girl version of Terry or an alternate-universe Terry. It’s a Terry Bogard, who has been turned into a girl, and now they tag-team fight. In a lot of situations that’d be the queerest thing to happen in these otherwise remarkably hetero games. It’s the negative fanfiction space where all the Kyo And Iori Are Gay (And Don’t Handle That Well) comes in.
Anyway, the DLC boss of SNK Heroines is Miss X, who is very, very explicitly, Iori, wearing a dress. We know that because Miss X was the antagonist from Gals Fighter, so it’s a throwback to that (more fanfic building on fanfic). He’s wearing a dress, and claims he’s not Iori, but then that may be because he has to be a girl to play in the tournament that he wants to join. It’s definitely intended as a joke – people see through the disguise easily, and it annoys him.
When you win the game as him, his plot culminates in fighting Kyo, who is also in a dress to fight him, and then things get more complicated. In that story arc, Kyo asks Iori to drop the ‘disguise’ and Iori says it’s not a disguise. Which again: That may be a joke, but it may not.
SNK Heroines brings back Miss X as a DLC boss. When you beat the game as her, you’re treated to his end-of-game victory scene, where he wakes up from the dream that is the game, and sees a screen where he watches Kyo having a victorious victory of victoryship, sweats and gasps.
You know, in a super hetero, extremely cis way.
As a joke.
Iori Yagami wearing a dress isn’t a thing that ‘makes him gay.’ A het, cis, non-queer dude can wear a dress. Iori Yagami thinking that he can effortlessly pass as a woman while doing nothing but wearing a sukeban outfit is obviously meant to be comedy and it doesn’t mean that he has some deep reasonable theory of gender as a social presentation, it probably means the author thinks it’s funny. None of this is proof of anything about any Iori, even the Ioris in other plots within the same game, because again, there is no canon.
But if you’re not looking at this as if it’s a coherent work, this is just a single instance, another leaf on the grand tree of the King of Fighters fanfiction. This is a story in the archive that may well be about how Iori relates not just to Kyo, but to Iori. It even takes on at times the idea of the fix fic – where twenty people make a joke in their fanfiction and one writer takes that joke and goes ‘hey, that’s a crappy joke, here’s a different take that fits alongside yours.’
And hey, maybe that’s not it. Maybe sometimes it just takes a real man to be best girl.