A Guide to the Street Fighter III Series

In the 90's, the global popularity of 2D games fell faster than anyone in the gaming industry could have dared envisioned just a few years previous. Western arcades frantically ripped out old, 2D machines featuring platformers, and side-scrolling beat-em ups of the time to replace them with newer, more popular machines based around novelty peripherals like guns and linked screened cars. The trend of thought soon became that 3D games were old hat, and to produce a 2D videogame was something akin to profit suicide for money hungry gaming executives.


In the 90's companies raced towards 3D visuals

While the large majority of the gaming world was happy to consume this new domain of 3D, for fans of the aforementioned traditional style of games, or a Capcom, or Sega Saturn owner this was somewhat of an unfortunate trend. While, Sony had banked on (and somewhat been the catalyst of by initially restricting licenses to 3D games for its PlayStation console in the US) 3D visuals becoming the norm, Sega had inadvertently scurried to build a 2D powerhouse of a console only to discover that they had ran up the wrong hill. No matter how Saturn owners may have argued about its dual-CPUs, the truth was that the console just wasn’t suited to rendering three-dimensional graphics. The Saturn did; however, notably outstrip Sony’s grey box in the 2D visual department, a fact that would not go unnoticed by Japanese gaming giant Capcom.


The Playstation's 3D capabilities were unrivalled

Capcom had suffered more than most by the decline of the arcade market. The company’s arcade heritage had been largely the domain of platformers, and fighting games which were notoriously 2D affairs, yet this was considered unfashionable outside of Japan. Around this time, the company began to experience weak sales of its premier fighting series, Street Fighter, and looked for ways to revitalize the flagging franchise. Looking to the West, the company struck a deal which enabled them to license characters from the Marvel universe and particularly the X-men series, which popularity had surged in nineties through its comic and tv series, and thus proceeded to create a multitude of crossover fighting games featuring the comic book heroes, and characters from their own franchises.

The Vs' titles were the lone 2D arcade releases in the mid 90s

Now, while these games had received some critical acclaim from publications such as Famitsu, Official Sega Saturn Magazine and Edge, they failed to really sell in any kind of number that would appease Capcom’s financers. Mostly the lack of sales were down to the fact that arcade owners of the time were reluctant to pay out for perceived aging technology, and the only console which had the capability to run an accurate incarnation happened to be the Saturn, a console about as popular as a Japanese war convention in Korea.


The Saturn struggled with 3D graphics but was a 2D powerhouse

In its native homeland things were slightly rosier for both, Saturn and Capcom. The 2D visuals did not incur the smeared image it had elsewhere, and both company’s enjoyed a fairly successfully period. Yet, Capcom were realistic about the need to change and innovate if they wish to live on more than the crumbs of its loyal user base in Japan. The company experimented with moving the series into the 3D universe with the Street Fighter EX series, co-developed by Arika, but into development the company realized it could not recreate the Street Fighter mechanics successfully as a 3D experience it became obvious that the game’s appeal were rooted in its 2D gameplay. After years of flouting the idea with numerous spin-offs and prequels, the company made the fated decision to finally produce a sequel, with a proper roman numeral to its premier franchise.

Initial promotional material depicted Alex as the new lead

Street Fighter III was released in 1997 for the arcade with the tag – New Generation. Produced for the state of the art CD-ROM-based CPS III hardware, it would feature far more vibrant and elaborate 2D graphics than the CPS II-based Street Fighter Zero games, and a level of incredibly smooth, fluid animation never seen before in any 2D style fighting game. Most controversially, was that it was designed as a direct sequel to the Street Fighter II series (this was still a time when Capcom gave a rat’s arse about SF canon or numerals), yet all of the characters from the previous games game were discarded. The roster was now led by an American grappler, Alex (hence the "New Generation" tag) and a new antagonist named Gill who took over Vega's role as the new boss character. It was a bold decision to replace such a recognizable roster and a refresh the series probably needed. Yet, inevitably Capcom faced some resistance from fans to the lineup which resulted in the restoration of Ryu and Ken, although with a new, mature appearance. 

A completely refreshed lineup backed up by Ryu & Ken

Street Fighter III takes place a significant amount of the time after the previous game in the canon. Shadaloo is gone completely, and has been replaced by the Illuminati run by Gill, a powerful self-proclaimed religious figure who wants to find the strongest and most worthy to join his eventual utopia. Inevitably, this leads to another World Warrior tournament to check out the current world warrior’s fighting potential. The new protagonist Alex, a military guy whose best friend was hospitalized after a match against Gill swears revenge against the illuminati boss ends up defeating Gill.

Alex about to struggle against one of the toughest bosses in gaming history

In the background, Ken is enjoying fatherhood while training his own student Sean who is hilariously the worst fighter in Street Fighter canon. Ryu is still training and comes across an elderly hermit named Oro, who sees something in the Japanese fighter, and believes he might be the only person who can seriously challenge him. I had also heard rumours that the company did consider installing Ryu as the boss figure in the game and in his defeat he would pass the torch to Alex. It is something I would have loved to have seen Capcom base the canon of the Sreet Fighter IV around before they turned it into the dream match clusterfuck it became.
Dudley shows off the game's new "Super Arts" and declares Oro as, "gutter trash"


One quite unknown fact is that Street Fighter III was considered by Capcom for release on the unlikely N64DD, only for development to shift to more familiar Sega Saturn. As there were so few games available for Nintendo’s system it is hard to judge the raw power of the add-on but it does seem a curious rumour and one which is easily found with a quick Google search.
To Capcom’s credit the company had managed to produce some amazing ports of its CPS II games for the 32-bit Saturn by packaging games with the ram expansion cart and I often wondered what a Saturn version of the game would have been like. The video game publications of the time (particularly The UK Official Sega Saturn Magazine) quite clearly believed the game was coming and were still hyping the game for release as the lineup of games for the Saturn began to dry up in 1998. It is hard to imagine it could held a candle to the arcade perfect Dreamcast conversion that was to come.

                            Sega magazines of the time focused on the new killer app for the Saturn


I’ll admit that when I first played Street Fighter III on Dreamcast on one of those demo pods installed in gaming shops around the UK at the time, I wasn’t a huge fan. I had been waiting fervently all summer for Capcom vs SNK, and although Street Fighter III featured stalwarts Ryu and Ken, I didn’t know who Alex and Sean were, and found everything a little alien. Street Fighter Zero 3, which a just been released had the more familiar lineup and seemed immensely more fast and furious and little bit more to my taste than the comparatively turgid Street Fighter III. Like many gamers, I had misjudged the new game because it wasn’t familiar enough, and it wasn’t until I moved to Japan in 2002 and played the final Street Fighter III game that I realized just how much how beautiful a game it was.

Shibuya arcades like this were once a home for Street Fighter fans. Sadly, places like this are no more

This was a time when Capcom had once again climbed to fighting ascendancy in the arcades. 3D brawlers such as Tekken and Dead or Alive had tried to push their way into the market, but in the downtown Shibuya arcades, the hardcore gamers remained strictly 2D. Virtua Fighter 3 felt like something of a disappointment after the greatness of the previous title, and games such as Capcom vs SNK 2, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Garou, Last Blade 2 and Street Fighter III were the games which were garnishing the most playtime. It was at this time that the appeal of Street Fighter III hit me. It was such an intense feeling, people just seemed to be taking this game more seriously and anything I had seen before and the CRT arcade screens really brought our the incredibly fluid animation. Playing was daunting (and still is) but after placing my 100 yen in the machine, I felt apart of something. For the first time, it felt that gamers didn’t want to just win, but wanted to win beautifully and with style. I also started to understand the games’ subtleties and how important things like spacing and zoning were and that fighting games were not simply about just memorizing long combo inputs. Furthermore, when you lost a bout, you knew it wasn’t down to fluky inputs or a lucky attack,  if you lost in Street Fighter III it was simply down to your inferior skills.

Yet, the feature I loved best of all, and something I am still working to master some 13 years later is the ability to "parry" an opponent's attack. Parrying, or "blocking" as it is known in Japan, was a new feature to Street Fighter III. It’s the ability to evade an incoming attack without receiving damage and it performed by making a quick tap forward or down on the stick just before being attacked. It will then make your character smack the incoming attack out of the way, giving them a brief frame advantage over their attacker and allows the player to defend against special moves and even Super Arts (the new term for Super Combos) without sustaining damage. The caveat is the chess mechanic, think you can read your opponent so well as to defend without blocking and risk everything? It also requires precise timing and is incredibly risky and became such an interesting implementation. Also, it requires no meter resource to perform, so is always available to players so is fantastic for turning formerly static or predictable situations into exciting mind games.


Again Alex is given centre stage as he dodges an attack from Ryu


The series first came to Dreamcast in 1999 in the form of Street Fighter III W Impact. The Roman numeral “W” is sometimes used in Japan to signify “double” of something, and that is literally what you got with this game. W Impact features two arcade perfect conversions of Capcom's first two Street Fighter III games, namely New Generation and Giant Attack. The games are very similar in terms of fighting mechanics but a new EX attack was added to the second game. Basically, upgraded versions of special attacks, they consume a portion of the Super Art gauge and are performed by pressing 2 punch or kick buttons which open up new defensive opportunities and combos but at the expense of your Super Art meter. It all helps speed up the overall gameplay, which was an issue that many fans had about New Generation. The parrying system was also tweaked and makes it a little more challenging than in the original.


Alex, Alex, Alex...last seen in the Nairobi desert

The cast from the original Street Fighter III returned, but twin brothers Yun and Yang relatives of Lee from the original Street Fighter, who had identical move set in the previous game were given different move sets, and Urien, Gouki and Hugo (of Final Fight fame) all entered the affray. Similarly to Zero 2, the player will now face a rival character during the course of the single player mode and exchange dialogue before a fight which adds a touch of character to the experience.

Something of a novelty at the time featuring two new games in one

Bonus rounds last seen in Super Street Fighter II X returned in the shape of a "Parry the Ball" mini-game, in which the player can practice his or her parrying skills against a series of basketballs thrown towards the player by Ken’s disciple, Sean. Just as how Zero 2 fleshed out the gameplay features of the first game, 2nd Impact is more of an upgrade than a definitive sequel. I enjoy the music and art style of this game compared to the latter game and it is interesting to see the stepping stones of the series through this compilation. Both game run flawlessly and are as close to an arcade perfect rendition while remaining a Dreamcast console exclusive to this day.

Art work for the final game is just plain, cool! God knows why they changed for US & PAL?

Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, the third and final update to Street Fighter III was released on Dreamcast in June 2000. Once again, we have a game that isn’t about a tournament, but about fighters just wandering around and crossing paths. There is little actual story in all of this, other than how Alex’s travelling around the world leads to a Gouki-style obsession with fighting Ryu. The Illuminati is still active and doing stuff, but there’s no climactic endgame on their part. Just plotting and random fights. All of this is monitored by the mysterious Q. Nobody knows who he is, whether he’s a man, robot, or both.


Chun-Li is back and joined by a 4 new characters


The final game truly feels like the culmination of the initial vision in which the team had for the Street Fighter game. Four further characters were added to the roster in addition to fan favourite, Chun Li, bringing the roster up to a respectable 19 characters. Characters were rebalanced (Sean goes from top-tier to now making Dan Hibiki look tough) and the throw and parry mechanics received a slight overhaul. There is also a "Grade Judge System", which ranks your performance from match to match and awards you points that can later be used to unlock secrets. Animation of newer characters like Elena, Makoto and Remy look mesmerizing and receive a level of fluidity that hast still to be beaten in a 2D game. Playing this in 2015, it does you one wonder what Capcom could have achieved in an aesthetic sense had they continued to pursue their advance of 2D graphics.

Makoto, the girl who looks like a boy (the name is also ambigious), soon became a fan favourite

Visually, 3rd Strike is an overall improvement, but I do I find the backgrounds to be kind of bland compared to the first two games. Also, mystifyingly certain characters share stages in Third Strike, were I wish they had just used their stage from Second Impact instead of sharing a stage. Additionally, for some reason the voiceovers for each and every character were completely re-done and sound spot-on for the most part. However, I must say that I prefer 2nd Impact's voice acting (and music) over 3rd Strike.

The Dreamcast port of Third Strike does have its detractors. Similarly, to how Street Fighter Zero 3 Saikyo Dojo replaced the original title in certain Japanese arcades, 3rd Strike on Dreamcast is running a revised board which corrected a number of things, like unblockable setups and timing issues. There are also claims about input lag but I found it to be nothing more than the delay when using analog shoulder buttons on an original DC pad. When connecting a stick or Ascii FT, then there are no notable issues. Yet, despite the caveat that it is the only version of 3rd Strike which is able to run in the same resolution as the CPS III arcade title it is still considered one of the inferior console ports. Personally, I have a soft spot for the Dreamcast version, not simply because it is on the system I adore, or has the most kick ass covers of all the versions, but as the only version available this was simply the only port of call for the 3rd Strike player from 2000 – 2004 and holds a lot of great memories.

Chun-Li is back and is now at the top of fighting tier

Street Fighter III was intended as a fresh start for Capcom, and the series, but instead of heralding a new beginning the game was largely ignored by the mainstream. These days Capcom have returned to regurgitating revamped versions of Street Fighter II for modern consoles and it leaves us to wonder why the III series, which despite receiving such high critical acclaim met with very poor public perception. Obviously, a deciding factor was the unfamiliar cast which turned off a large number of fans (myself included initially) and the character number is miniscule by what players have come to except from fighting games. Despite the game appearing simple on the service, additions like Parrying meant the learning curve of the game increased exponentially, especially as the series became the domain of the hardcore player and it may not have been quick enough for the adrenalin-charged mainstream audience more familiar with fast 3D games such as Soul Calibur or Tekken. On that note, it also may have been less desirable for continuing with 2D graphics at a time when 3D was in its second generation and had finally more polished presentation. Yet, it pains me to say but the biggest factor for the lack of commercial success was undoubtly due to the lack of port to a Sony or Nintendo console on its (initial) release. This meant considerably less availability compared to prior II and Zero games (sales in Japan  or US never exceeded 100,000 copies) and prevented many new gamers from being able to experience Street Fighter III until that video.

Will we ever see a true follow up to the Street Fighter III canon?

Yet, the lack of commercial success brought about the development of a close knit, hardcore, exclusive group of gamers who took pride in the fact that Street Fighter III had become the domain of a small few. From the gritty, more mature presentation and accompanying soundtrack to the unspectacular but infinitely profound mechanics, it truly was gamers, game. It is a testament to overall balance and depth of the game that Street Fighter III (particularly the 3rd Strike installment) is still considered the fighters choice and a game many have attempted to truly master. It may have never directly altered the fortunes of Capcom’s ailing franchise, but it did prove that with the right vision the company was once again capable of producing something fresh and invigorating. On the whole, the Street Fighter III series offer a collection of truly an engaging fighters, which are easily worthy of just about anyone's private collection, and they are all on Dreamcast!

Comments

  1. As soon as the article was posted, I began reading it bit by bit on my phone at my local game center as I was occupied playing none other than 3rd Strike with a group of players there.
    I gave it thorough read once more before calling it a night because I felt it deserved my undivided attention.

    Given its rather delicate terms of release, I feel the series was destined for commercial failure, yet at the same time the sort martyrdom that it has attained for itself.
    Its inaugural release was at a delicate period. It's respective market was heavily oversaturated at that point. Not only did it have to compete with the latest in state of the art 3D fighting genre and its direct 2D competitors, but also had to find a core audience within its own pedigree (EX series, Alpha series, Capcom Vs. series, Vampire).

    The other issue for the series lack of success in either market (coin-op, consumer) was a result of the hardware that gave it life. CPS3 didn't catch on with operators and rightfully so. The kit is a tedious piece of hardware (Mobo, Cart, Disk Drive, CD) and it didn't help at all that it received very little support from Cap. Half its whole library was just SF III series, 1 brand new IP and 2 iterations of a fighter based on a Manga.
    I agree with you that the series could've had a 2nd shot had it received a prompt home port. Unfortunately there was no console at that point that could've handled the game. It wasn't until SEGA released DC that such prospect could be done. I honestly believe that SFIII series saw release on their console because they wanted it. W Impact was actually ported to DC by SEGA subsidiary Rutabo games, which did a fantastic job!

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