For many players of a certain age, Blaze Fielding would have been one of the earliest high-profile female characters we got to spend some time with — one who made no secret of her gender, anyway!
She stood out — not only was she an attractive young woman, which obviously appealed to those who appreciate such things, but she was also highly capable of kicking vast amounts of booty on the streets without any need for support from smelly old men. Although, of course, if you had a friend who didn’t mind playing as a smelly old man, she would always welcome the backup.
With the long-awaited Streets of Rage 4 now out for everyone to enjoy — and my Limited Run copy still not here at the time of writing — let’s take a moment to celebrate one of the most ass-kicking ladies of 16-bit gaming.
The Streets of Rage series does actually have a plot, though like most beat ’em ups its early installments tell it wordlessly through environmental progression rather than explicit dialogue sequences. There’s plenty of information about Blaze to be found if you look in various other sources, though — be it the original game’s intro sequence, the manual or supporting information from later games.
Blaze is introduced as one of three former police officers in the original Streets of Rage. Alongside Axel and Adam, she had become dissatisfied with the corruption and/or incompetence displayed by the police force of the game’s setting, and agreed to team up to dish out a bit of vigilante justice after they found that every “official” avenue they might have been able to go down was already in the pocket of the powerful villain Mr. X.
Blaze fights using judo techniques, which would explain why her throws are particularly effective in the games — in Streets of Rage 2 she is even able to pick up and suplex enemies who are considerably larger and heavier than she is. She is, however, unable to do this in Streets of Rage 1 and 3, implying that she may have let her physical strength go a bit between the second and third installments.
She is also a dancing enthusiast, with her particular passion listed in the original Streets of Rage as being the lambada, a Brazilian dance with somewhat sensual implications. This would go some distance to explaining a couple of things: her rather revealing outfit — the white thong she is depicted as wearing in the original Japanese versions is a garment associated with the flowing motions of this dance, though more commonly made visible through spinning, flowing skirts than jump kicks — and her overall level of agility.
Between the events of Streets of Rage and its sequel, Blaze takes up dance instruction as a profession, but is called back into action when Mr. X reveals himself once again. Between the second and third games, Blaze’s activities actually depend somewhat on which version of the game you’re playing; in the Japanese version Bare Knuckle III, she and Axel return to the police force to investigate some interrelated incidents that lead back to Mr. X’s Syndicate, while in Sega of America’s localisation Blaze became a private detective and is tasked with rescuing her old friend, the chief of police.
The changes between the Japanese and American versions of the third game were an attempt to lighten the tone of the Western version, removing references to hot-button issues such as terrorist attacks and replacing them with a more sci-fi inspired narrative.
The reason for this was likely that during the 16-bit era, video games were coming under increasing scrutiny from pressure groups that were concerned about the level of interactive violence youngsters were engaging with; Streets of Rage 3’s 1994 release puts it at the height of these debates, almost immediately prior to the establishment of the Entertainment Software Rating Board that still rates games in North America today.
But I digress. Streets of Rage 4 seemingly regards the Japanese original as the canonical narrative, as Blaze is shown being expelled from the police force at the outset after punching the Commissioner in the face. Since the Commissioner is also the stage 2 boss, she gets to do this a whole lot more times before the end of the game.
Blaze’s look has changed subtly over the years. In the original game, she is clad in a red leather jacket and short skirt; in Streets of Rage 2, she wears a tube top and, bizarrely, what appear to be cloth “elf” shoes, and complements her short skirt with dark-coloured tights. In the Japanese version of Bare Knuckle III, she maintains a similar look to Streets of Rage 2 but replaces the weird shoes with calf-height boots; in the North American release, however, her outfit was made white instead of her iconic red, allegedly because the red clothing was seen as “sexually suggestive”.
While this may sound ridiculous today, given the discussions that were going on around gaming content and age ratings at the time that we’ve already discussed, chances are Sega of America didn’t want to take any more chances than they absolutely had to. As we all know, violence quite bad, sexy women the worst possible thing you can ever expose your children to under any circumstances whatsoever — an outlook that still, regrettably, persists in various forms to this day.
But anyway. Blaze Fielding is awesome, and has been a fixture in the series since day one alongside Axel. She’s a true icon of video gaming — and of female representation in said medium too — and it’s been thoroughly pleasing to see her continually appreciated and celebrated over the years, culminating with her most recent appearance in Streets of Rage 4.
If only we all had a Blaze to help keep our streets safe… I suspect a swift kick up the jacksy would immediately put paid to the helmetless scramble bike-riding reprobates who currently infest our neighbourhood in the middle of the day… but that’s a rant for the local Neighbourhood Watch page, not here.
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