A Guide to the Street Fighter Zero Series

The Street Fighter series is one of my most beloved gaming experiences, and probably makes up for 70% of my gaming these days. I just love everything about the series, its easy to play mechanics, the likeable characters, the ever changing plotlines and most of all the style. This is one of the reasons why I never got into the Street Fighter IV, in addition to it being more of a dream match scenario with far too many characters being shoehorned in to make an extra few yen on downloads, the change to a 2.5 polygonal art style left me cold. Obviously, it's a matter of personal preference boiling down to which art style you like, but for me 2D graphic rendering, especially hand-drawn sprites, age much more gracefully while provide a distinct identity and sense of progression between titles that just doesn't seem to be evident with polygonal graphics.


Also, a reason why I have never been a big fan of say, 3D fighters like Tekken is that I find 2D fighters to more intuitive. Maybe intuitive is not quite the right word, but what I mean to say is that they offer a standard which alleviates the problem of having to remap muscle memory for every new game; something I appreciate more as I get older. Every time I pick up a new 3D franchise, it seems I have no idea what button does what, and while that is possibly part of the appeal for most fans, I do not have the time or the fervor for such endeavors. Part of the charm for me is that love that I can play a 2D fighter or Street Fighter game and only need to take notice of a couple of differing mechanics between each series, basically they are the gaming equivalent of a putting on an old pair of comfy slippers.


I know people complain that if 2D’s so great, why hasn’t anyone significantly improved 2D gameplay over the past 30 years? However, if you look closer, it has constantly redeveloped to include Supers, Combo Breakers, Zero Counters, Guard Crushing, Parrying and the entire sub-genre of Cross Over/ Tag team games, and best of all cinematic stage interactions and storylines. 3D games like Virtua Fighter, Tekken , and DOA have improved immensely in terms of physics (mostly in the chest area for DOA) and graphics, but their innovations are largely coming from the advancement in technology or the efforts of 2D beat-em ups. To this end, the Zero series epitomizes Capcom at their best. A time when the company dared to rip up the rule book, completely diverge from the mainstream with an inspired lineup of characters representative of both past and present, and create a gameplay engine which was both inviting for the non- hardcore, yet provide enough depth that it would go on to shape the way 2D fighting games are played for the future. Of course, Capcom, just have they have always have, produced a wide-range of sequels, upgrades and different versions of each Zero game, spanning a number of platforms, each with their own ridiculously long name. For this guide, I adopt the Japanese names for each version as well as for the characters, so Vega is the Dictator, Balrog is the Claw, and M. Bison is the boxer and so on, simply because I have always played the Japanese editions when possible.  Okay, it's showtime !




Street Fighter Zero
With the release of the fifth entry into the Street Fighter II series with Super Street Fighter II X Capcom, at last decided it was time to move away from the aging title and move onto a completely new series. In response to complaints from the fans that felt the game had become stale, the Osaka based company made the decision to completely refresh the game’s mechanics and investigate the plot lines of the SF universe in between SFI & II. SF Zero brought back stalwarts Ryu, Ken, and Sagat as well as heroine Chun-Li (complete with new, more modern appearance) but combined them with lesser known characters from the Street Fighter I universe, Adon and Birdie and also Guy and Sodom from Final Fight (a series which has roots in the SF universe as the intended original sequel for the first game). Finally, two completely new characters were thrown into the fray, Nash a compatriot of Guile with a similar play style and Rose, an Italian psychic with a connection to Vega. This gave the player a total of 10 characters to play off the bat, with a few unlockables such as Vega, who now appears like he did in the 1994 Super Street Fighter animation movie, Gouki the secret shotokan character from SSFIIX, and Dan Hibiki. Dan is an interesting case, essentially a joke character who Capcom created in an effort to lampoon SNK's Art of Fighting franchise which they felt was a rip-off of Street Fighter, Dan's beginnings predate theStreet Fighter Zero series by at least a year, originally appearing in this Sagat sketch for Super Street Fighter II X (ouch!).

A maturer art direction sets the tone for this release

If you are like me, and you find the story and background behind each of the character's motivation for fighting a big part of the appeal of Street Fighter then you will not be disappointed with Zero. Capcom realised fans wanted to be given more background information and so implemented little story sections in between bouts om which characters would often exchange insults or challenge each other. The main plot though, revolves around Ryu who has recently discovered that the only reason he was able to beat Sagat in the original World Warrior Tournament was because he allowed himself to be absorbed by a killing intent known as the dark hadou, uncontrollably performing a Metsu-Shoryuken; all of which went again the teachings of his master Gouken. In turn, Sagat has sworn revenge and immediately set about tracking down the person who scarred him.

 The art style was adapted to depict a younger looking cast

Of course, each character also has their own agenda such as Chun-Li's quest for her missing father while new boy Adon seeks out Sagat to challenge him for the title of God of Muai Thai and Ken well, looking for women. As such, there is no actual tournament but a random series a fights between the Street Fighter cast members. The final opponent depends on the storyline of the player's selected character, although Vega counts for most of the boss battles and of course, Gouki returns as an alternate final boss only after certain in-game requirements are met, as well as new boy Dan. This system, where each player has their own path provides a lot of replay value and I particularly like the spouts between characters before and after certain fights; it adds some depth to the characters as well as giving you a little motivation for the battle even if the confrontations are shallow as, "I'm the strongest! No I am! No I...".

Here Sagat asks Ryu, how he keeps his gi so white?

However, it wasn’t just the new characters that appealed at the time, but the anime style visuals that seemed to elevate the game to new heights. A brave decision by Capcom at the time, Zero completely altered the visual style of the game to mimic an anime cartoon, implementing a graphical style that had until that time only appeared in Capcom’s peculiar Vampire series. This new art style with its vivid colours and disproportionate features really gave the characters the youthful appearance relevant of a prequel to the legendary Street Fighter II.  I love the work by CRMK, especially his early work during this era and recommend any SF fan to hunt out this to see his complete portfolio.

Artwork is simply stunning 

The game also took on board the Air Blocking as well as Chain Combo mechanics from the Vampire series. Super Combos from SFIIX were also adjusted to now include two different varieties per character, all of which had 1-3 levels depending on how many buttons were pressed when inputting the command. The player also has the ability to roll on the ground when they fall after an attack which helps recover more quickly. Finally, a Guard Cancel and Zero Counter system in which you input a backwards Hadoken-like motion on the moment of impact to counter, also add depth to the gameplay and created possibly the most intuitive and fun mechanics of the whole series. The visual influence of the animated Street Fighter movie is obvious with this release but the game also gives you option to play out the 2 on 1 fight from the movie against Vega.

Rose and Adon were two new characters to be added, with varying degrees of popularity

For the Western market the game’s title was unwittingly changed from Zero to....gasp, Alpha - A word which means exactly the same thing, so well done there Capcom USA for another exhibition in futility with your gratuitous translations. Furthermore, as if you weren’t confused enough before by the whole Vega, Bison, Balrog name change bullshit, Nash’s name was changed to the vastly inferior, Charlie. This was because of another fuck up by Capcom USA when they decided to include the name Charlie during Guile’s ending in SF II  completely ignoring the Japanese original.

Unfortunately, the stages look quite bare

SF Zero led the ground works for the rest of the series which would largely go unchanged until the release of Street Fighter III. The game has aged quite well and the mechanics remain well balanced; featuring Dan in possibly his strongest form, with the only really disappointing aspect being the backgrounds which are fairly unimaginative, and well, bare. It doesn’t help that some characters inexplicably share stages with the obvious culprit being the Coliseum stage (as cool as that one is). Still, Zero was revolutionary at the time and has the distinct honor of being the only entry in the series which the PSX version can hold a candle to the Saturn, although the Saturn still has the upper hand with superior visuals,loading times and much better controller.




Street Fighter Zero 2
This time Zangief and Dhalsim from SFII, Rolento from Final Fight, Gen from SF  and one completely new character called Sakura, join the cast for Street Fighter Zero 2. Sakura was given an interesting back story as the girl who became Ryu’s #1 fan after he won the first World Warrior tournament, she begins to study martial arts, mimicking his style, and sets out on the road to find him and gain the honour of challenging him to a fight. She is only the 4th girl in the SF series, after Rose, Cammy and Chu-li. Furthermore, for fans of the original that weren’t impressed by Chuni-li’s new costume in Zero  there is the option to change to her more familiar SF II outfit by holding the Start button when selecting the character.

One of my favourite covers it really epitomises the main themes in Zero 2

The story this time continues with Ryu's quest to control his dark side but this time brings in Gouki as the main adversary as he seeks out an opponent worthy of his own great strength. Capcom have since gone on records to confirm that the plotlines in Zero 2 replace everything from Zero, even the non conflicting ones, so FORGET EVERYTHING from the first game as apparently it never happened (hence the return of Nash despite the outcome of his ending). Basically, just like the first game, Street Fighter Zero 2 takes place several months to a year after Final Fight and Street Fighter . Again, it is not a tournament but a whole set of different agendas.


The story focuses on Ryu and his perpetual struggle against Gouki and the dark hadou


The Zero Counter system was expanded with one additional counter for every character providing more diverse counter measures during combat, and most importantly, to differentiate the series from the Vampire series (the similarity being a criticism of the first game) the unpopular Chain combo was redesigned as the Custom Combo, a devastating attack which once activated enables the player to cancel from any move into any move during a short amount of time to create combos which can cause anything up to 90% damage. This change was as drastic as anything that had ever come before and the opinion o Capcom fans was divided as to the benefits of its inclusion. Personally, I am a big fan of this addition and felt that it added a great deal of variety to the typical Super Combo finishing moves.

New girl Sakura lays into Nash with her Sho-Oh-Ken


Street Fighter Zero 2 features a big improvement in presentation over the original. The stage design is significantly more appealing and helps reveal something about the character you are battling. I particularly find Sakura’s stage which takes place right in her backyard of her house so enchanting with her brother playing videogames in the background. Other stages feature a ton of Capcom cameos from Mayor Haggar, Cody and the Mayor’s Daughter, the villains from the Skull Gang Poison and Hugo, Morrigan from Darkstalkers, and even the CEO of Capcom dressed as a butler. The in-game sprites have also been vastly improved from the first game and even the sprites seem slightly improved with a more striking colour palette. Again, the artwork for the game epitomizes the style of the series and gives itself a distinguished style that has yet to be bettered. Control wise, the game also seems to be a bit tighter for this release and with a slightly more forgiving time than in the original Alpha, especially for the Zero Counters which are a big plus for players who do not wish to play at zenith, god-like levels every Saturday afternoon. Something about the whole game really feels like Capcom finally released the true sequel to that game they released all those moons ago on the Super Nintendo.




Zero 2 completed the lineup with some memorable characters


What this leaves us with is possibly the greatest Street Fighter game of all time. A solid lineup of likeable characters complement a system which has been built on the groundwork laid in the experimental first game to offer a game which is still highly regarded to this day. The Western release,  “Alpha 2” added the Evil Ryu character from Masahiro Nakahira’s Street Fighter Zero comic, who was then added exclusively to the delayed Saturn version of the game in Japan. The Saturn version also has extra gameplay modes not available on other releases and Zero 2 begins a bit of a trend as the Saturn becoming the system of choice for playing Street Fighter games. Especially, as the PSX version suffers badly from missing animation, smaller sprites, a muddied palette and pretty crappy loading times in comparison. The superiority of the Saturn controller again is also something which should not be overlooked. Also, the game’s release on the 16-bit Super Nintendo was a bit of a surprise with it playing exactly as bad as you would expect from a game of this size being squeezed onto a cart. Still, a marvelous technical effort and one of the best looking games on the console.



Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha
In addition to the inclusion of Evil Ryu (previously a SS exclusive), this update contains several tweaks to the gameplay engine and introduces a few new secret EX characters, most noticeably Cammy in her X-Men Vs. Street Fighter guise. A few additional modes were also added to the game including the insanely difficult Gouki mode for Street Fighter masochists. Some fans complain that this version should not be compared to the standard Zero 2 release, and that the balance changes, and changes to the engine damage what was the best Street Fighter game of all time. I think for me post people though, it is the final, most up to date and complete version of Street Fighter Zero 2 and should therefore be viewed as Capcom's ultimate vision for the game. This version was included in the Street Fighter Collection compilation and also later released as a standalone title (the SaturnKore version being possibly the rarest SF title on the system). Again, not one to keep things simple, Capcom made the strange decision to rename the game Street Fighter Zero 2 Dash on home consoles in Japan, and SF Alpha 2 Gold in the West.


Street Fighter Zero
Street Fighter Zero 3 sees the return of old favourites, Blanka, E. Honda, M. Bison (boxer), Balrog (claw) from the Street Fighter II universe, as well as Cammy in her Zero 2’outfit. Cody, from the Final Fight series also joins the fight, although has fallen from grace since his heroics in Metro City and is dressed in a prison outfit complete with handcuffs. Interestingly, we also get see Karin, a rival of Sakura from the Japanese comic, “Sakura Ganbaru!” who adds another dimension to the Japanese school girl from Zero 2 and also some variety to the gameplay with a completely original fighting style Kanzuki-ryū kakutōjutsu, a style she created herself. Finally, three completely new characters were created for the SF Zero 3 universe, R. Mika a big bosomed wrestler who idolizes the Russian Cyclone Zangief, and also Juni and Juli, who like Cammy are brainwashed members of Bison's Elite Guard. Although not present in the original Arcade, Guile, Fei Long, DJ and T. Hawk also return for the home versions along with their own unique stages. What this leaves you with is the biggest line-up ever seen in a Street Fighter game.

Possibly my most favourite Street Fighter cover

The game takes place slightly later in the Zero cannon and revolves around most of the cast hunting down the lord of Shadaloo, Vega for one purpose or another. After the confrontation with Gouki at the end of Zero 2, Ryu has been captured by Vega and subjected to intense psychological conditioning; to which Sagat loudly objects to. Vega, wishing to test out his latest experiment allows Sagat to finally have the rematch he has longed for and while their battle commences, Ryu's friends Ken and Sakura manage to distract Vega. Sagat, urges Ryu to comes to his senses while Vega retreats to the Psycho Drive, which is nuked by USAF officers Nash and Guile, as well as Chun-Li. Therefore, unlike the previous game, SFZ3 is not a remake (with the possible exception of a few fighters' storyline, which seem to blend into Street Fighter Zero 2  a little) but the next tale in the Street Fighter canon.


The lineup is impressive with a large variety of different style fighters


Everything about Zero 3 is bigger and bolder, from the techno/rock soundtrack and the overly excited announcer to the garishly colorful intro screens, everything just screams (literally) STREET FIGHTERRRR! Visually, the game is a definite improvement with the newer characters having the smoother and more realistic animation, than the lineup from Zero. The trademark Street Fighter eye candy is also present; the flashy explosions, fireballs and super moves are all there but for some reason I prefer the more distinct artwork style of Zero 2 opposed to the MSH vs. Street Fighter style artwork (although I do think it works well for that series). The backgrounds are also slightly inferior to the ones depicted in the previous games and seem quite rushed in comparison. Particularly strange is Cammy’s Greece stage which is an odd choice to say the least, not really reflecting the character's personality like in the previous game with its lively animations, and memorable guest appearances.

Nobody blink, Blanka's stage was one of the few to stand out

A few gameplay changes were implemented  such as the throw move now activated by pressing two punch or kick buttons simultaneously as opposed to a fierce button as before, and displaying the early roots of the parry system, the Zero counter is now performed by pressing forward and the same strength punch and kick button. Additionally, you are now asked to choose 1 of types 3 play styles when you select a character called “ISMs”. X-ISM is a style of play that most closely resembles Super Street Fighter II X with one super bar, and no air blocking while The Z (A in the West) in Z-ISM stands for Zero, and is the core style used in the previous two Zero games. Lastly, the V-ISM style represents the Variable/Custom Combo aspect introduced in Zero 2 and as such they have no predetermined Super Moves. Overall, the system added a lot of customization, and essentially gives you three entirely different ways to approach the game. Some fans complained that it made the game overly complicated and diluted the essence of the series, but for me personally, I am always a fan of choice and think that the title made a nice change, and complimented the more focused Zero 2.

WHAT A TERRIBLE FIGHTER! The inclusion of R.Mika polarized opinions from the fans

The best change of all was the addition of a new World Tour mode, which is like a Street Fighter RPG in which you pick a character and go around the world gaining experience points by defeating challengers from each country, which enable your character to level up. Just like in an RPG - the better the fight, the bigger the reward. While your characters level up, they will also be granted access to special ISM-plus abilities, such as Auto guard, Zero cancel, and Damage plus. Once you have earned these skills, you can then augment each ISM with abilities previously unavailable in normal arcade play. For instance, as I explained, X-ism lacks air blocking, but through world tour mode, you can enable an X-ism character to perform air blocking and create a completely different version of your favourite character. Want to create a super-fast Zangief, you can, or a devastatingly powerful Sakura, again, you can! As an added bonus, you can take characters you created in world tour mode to fight in versus mode by importing from your save file and hidden modes and characters can also be unlocked by playing both Arcade and World Tour which gives even more replay value to the game. Quite frankly, the in-depth fighting system makes Zero 3 a technical fighting man's dream.

 Gouki's Shun Goku Zatsu reached its peak during SFZ3

So there you go, Street Fighter Zero 3 is a monumental title one I rate as one of the best of all time. It is reeaally difficult to choose a favourite between this and its predecessor, and although I do enjoy the focused feel and style of Zero 2 I think they are both equally relevant experiences which deserve a place in any fighting fan's collection. Also, if you want the full game including the World Tour Mode (which for me is a big part of Zero 3) then the Saturn version with its 4mb ram cart and superior 2D graphics smacks the PlayStation (which admittedly was a commendable effort) version out of the park. Technically, the sprites in the Saturn version are larger and much crisper, with the PSX version missing major animation, and the load times are unbearable on Sony’s console. Heck, the Saturn version even adds animation not featured in the initial arcade release. Of course, there is the Dreamcast version which we will get to in just a moment...





Street Fighter Zero 3 Upper/Saikyō-ryū Dōjō

With the release of Marvel Vs. Capcom the company decided to retire the aging CPS II board and switch all development to Sega’s low-cost Naomi arcade system. As everyone knows, this lead to a slew of fantastic fighting games such as Capcom Vs SNK, Powerstone and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 to be ported over to the Dreamcast. Capcom also decided to to transfer games from the CPS-II over to the Naomi with one such title being, Street Fighter Zero 3.

The cover for the DC release is certainly unique

The game was given the moniker Upper to distinguish itself from the previous release and received a few changes from the previous game although they weren't always welcomed by fans. The resolution of the game was improved to match the higher resolution of Naomi; however, ultimately this caused problems with the timing as the location of a characters hit box were moved. Also, a few balance changes were also made, and crouch cancelling (important for V-ism) was deemed unnecessary and taken out. A bonus of this release was that the extra characters from the home versions such as M.Bison, Juli, Juni, Dee Jay, Fei Long, T Hawk, Guile and Evil Ryu were added along with ex versions of Vega, M.Bison and Gouki to the roster.

The For Matching Service Edition has one of the most striking covers

It has been questioned whether the DC version is the same as the Naomi, or in fact a conversion of the PlayStation release, but considering the similarities in resolution (for better or worse) and the connection between Naomi and Dreamcast, as well as the ability to use customised characters from your DC if you attached a VMU, that Street Fighter Zero 3: Saikyō-ryū Dōjō (the DC title for the game) while not being an exact port, is the closest home version to the arcade version of Upper outside of the PS2 compilation disc. Interestingly, the DC release also altered the missions in the World Tour mode from that of the Saturn and PSX version giving the game some replay value for veterans, and a Saikyo Dojo mode was added which pitted a very weaker character of the player's choice against two very strong opponents. Street Fighter Zero 3: Saikyō-ryū Dōjō for the DC also added an online ranking mode were players could upload their latest highscores and a "For Matching Service" version was released in Japan exclusively through DreamcastDirect which added online play and fixed some of the display issues such as a lack of scart support in the original J-NTSC version.


 The Naomi version allowed you to connect your DC pad, the question is, why would you?


The game was also ported to the Game Boy Advance, although its lacks several stages and music from the previous arcade and console versions, and various voices and effects were cut due to storage limitations. Still, it is an impressive conversion with Eagle, Maki and Yun, joining the line up from from Capcom vs. SNK 2. A PSP version, including Ingrid, the boss from the dreadful Capcom Fighting Jam was also released to much praise but is also limited due to the control options of the hardware.

Comments

  1. Nice article. Good stuff. Although I cannot agree with Zero 2' Alpha as the definitive version. That release wasn't even necessary. It came to fruition only as a means provide the Japanese arcade market with a more content packed edition over the US release of the standard Alpha 2 (US Alpha 2 Coin-op had more content and additions to its JPN counterpart, Zero 2).

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  2. I agree that it wasn't really necessary but Capcom judged that it was, and so as the final version of the game it should be judged as the ultimate vision for the title. The extra modes are also a nice bonus.

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    1. I just don't see it that way. US Alpha 2 was already good enough. Capcom just saw an opportunity to squeeze more out of that entry before moving onto Alpha/Zero 3. If what you say is true then shouldn't the same be said for the SF2 series with Hyper SF2, or better yet Capcom USA's SF2 HD remix as "Ultimate Vision" for that subseries. Truth is, both games haven't de-throned ST (2X) as the definitive version of SF2. Alpha 2 earned for itself a healthy competitive life. The same cannot be said for its half hearted update. The changes that went about to balance the game was simply rediculous.

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  3. CD ageS - Could you detail some of these changes? It would be useful to include in the article..

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