Retrospective: Street Fighter – Easy as 1, 2, …Alpha

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With the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection releasing today, it only seems fitting to reminisce about the series again with another Retrospective of the franchise. There have been a variety of different types of games in the franchise, but today’s topic is my favorite “flavor” out of the entire series. The Street Fighter Alpha trilogy was released throughout the mid-90s, showcasing a new evolution of the series. They were essentially the long-awaited sequels to the Street Fighter II games in everything but name… and their placement in the timeline.

While SFII introduced me to the fighting game genre, the Alpha games were what cemented my love for it. Of course, by that point, I was also branching out, discovering other Japanese 2D fighters – developed by Capcom or other companies – so while SFII has the distinction of holding more of my attention, Alpha introduced various mechanics that I still find satisfying to this day. While they didn’t quite have the lasting power of their predecessors – likely because they weren’t the true “Street Fighter III” audiences were clamoring for – they still enjoy a cult fanbase to this day.

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams

After years of clamoring for a brand-new Street Fighter game, as opposed to the numerous revisions made to Street Fighter II, Capcom finally delivered in Summer 1995, more than a year after Super Street Fighter II Turbo debuted in arcades. Dubbed “Street Fighter ZERO” when it first released on June 5th in Japan, Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams eventually hit North American arcades on June 27th, with Europe seeing the game release exactly a month later.

I can’t really say I’ve got vivid memories of playing the original Street Fighter Alpha. I didn’t even play the game in arcades. By the time I even knew of Alpha’s existence, Alpha 2 had been long out, so I only really went back to play the original when the Street Fighter Alpha Anthology – more on that later – came out on the PlayStation 2. Admittedly, buying Capcom’s Street Fighter 25th Anniversary box on the PlayStation 3 gave me free codes for the Alpha games in Sony’s PS1 Classics line, which gave me a taste of the home ports as well.

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Gotta love that sick intro.

Street Fighter Alpha’s development process has some interesting stories behind it. According to Hideaki Itsuno, one of the game’s planners, Warriors’ Dreams was originally devised as a Super Famicom title fittingly named “Street Fighter Classic”. Due to SF2’s popularity dwarfing that of its predecessor, SF Classic was intended to recreate the events of the first game in a modernized budget title to act as a stopgap until Street Fighter III was ready for release. While SFIII’s development team was comprised of Capcom’s “ace” developers, the SFA staff was comprised mostly of inexperienced newcomers to the company.

Once the CPS2 had been released, the project’s development was moved from the Super Famicom to the CPS1, as Capcom still had a massive backstock of units they needed to move out. As development continued, Street Fighter Alpha became so popular, that it would be moved onto the CPS2 itself. By that point, development for SF3 had moved to the CPS3 and the CPS2 was considered a similar stopgap measure. By that point, the CPS1 build of the game was far along and given the similar specs, both versions of the game were developed in tandem, handled via a hybrid program they developed in-house that could work on both the original CPS and CPS2.

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I still think it’s funny that the only time Adon and Birdie could actually duke it out was in the Alpha games.

That’s not the only interesting story about Alpha’s development. For starters, the inclusion of Guy and Sodom from Final Fight cemented the link between the two franchises. Up to that point, Final Fight and Street Fighter had been long such advertised as occurring in the same universe, but any references both series made to each other felt more like cheeky cameos – like the time Guile and Chun-Li showed up in the backgrounds of a couple of stages in Final Fight 2 – instead of proof positive regarding a legitimate shared universe. Of course, it didn’t help that two years prior, SNK, Capcom’s chief rival in the Japanese market, had achieved something similar by including Art of Fighting’s protagonist Ryo Sakazaki as a playable character and bonus boss in Fatal Fury Special. This connection was further expanded upon when a young Geese Howard appeared as the final boss in Art of Fighting 2 and laid the groundwork for the King of Fighters series.

Speaking of which, the reason Capcom started so many fighting game franchises – Darkstalkers, Saturday Night Slam Masters and the various licensed Marvel games – on the CPS-2 hardware was due to waning Japanese popularity compared to SNK: Itsuno claimed that most Japanese players at the time believed that Capcom only had SF2, while SNK had so many different franchises to their name, like Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown and eventually, The King of Fighters. In fact, an unknown employee created Dan Hibiki as a parody of the Art of Fighting protagonists – effectively pasting Robert Garcia’s head onto recolored Ryu and Ken animations, to take up as little room as possible. Dan was effectively created as a sort of “anti-Akuma”, a character that would be humiliating to lose against.

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Doesn’t mean I don’t love him.

Finally, the game’s art style took on a much more anime-inspired aesthetic compared to previous (and future) Street Fighter titles. This was due in no small part to the popularity of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, which ended up as one of 1994’s top five highest-grossing films in Japan. While the movie itself retold the events of the second Street Fighter game, the opening sequence depicted Ryu winning the first World Warrior tournament with his decisive Shoryuken scarring the chest of the mighty Sagat. Many plot elements and characters designs would be integrated into the series proper and the Alpha games were the most prominent example of this. In fact, a vocal track from the film, titled “Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokorotsuyosa to”, was rearranged as a secret bonus track in the Japanese release of Street Fighter Zero.

As opposed to taking place during the events of the original Street Fighter, Street Fighter Alpha takes place between the first and second game. Unlike the previous two games, there’s no fighting tournament to act as a framing device: most of the canonical fights take place in random locations, which means that after the better part of a decade, we finally have a Street Fighter game that lives up to its name!

Only six characters “return” from the most recent iteration of Street Fighter II: Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Sagat, M. Bison and Akuma. Ryu, Ken and Sagat all fittingly seem to take elements from both their SF1 and SF2 designs: Ryu still has his white headband and his hair color is auburn, falling directly between his red hair from the original game and the dark brown he sported in SF2; Ken has longer hair with a red ribbon tied in it; and Sagat sports a fresh scar and his purple shorts from the original Street Fighter, albeit with a yellow stripe instead of the original white. Other returning characters also sport some significant redesigns. Chun-Li ditches her traditional qipao dress in favor of a form-fitting unitard with a vest and sneakers, while her traditional hairstyle is kept in place with yellow ribbons. M. Bison’s outfit is more or less the same, but this time, he’s much bulkier, sporting a muscular physique far removed from his slimmer SF2 design. Akuma is the character that best resembles his previous iteration, but that was likely due to how new and unfamiliar the design itself was, having only made a handful of appearances in general. The only major design change to Akuma is that he sports new poses in-game, further differentiating him from Ryu and Ken.

Four other characters return from earlier Capcom games. Adon and Birdie return from the original Street Fighter, while Final Fight gets some true representation through Guy and Sodom, one of the playable characters and the stage 2 boss respectively. Adon’s design is only slightly changed from the original Street Fighter, merely exaggerating his slimness. Birdie, on the other hand, probably went through the most radical redesign in the entire franchise. In the original Street Fighter, Birdie was a tall, clean-shaven Caucasian punk with a realistic mohawk. In Alpha, he’s so muscular he makes T. Hawk and Zangief look anorexic, boasting facial hair that I can only describe as “a mustache made of beards” and his mohawk is significantly more ridiculous (with a hole cut through it). Oh, and did I forget to mention? He’s black now – claiming that his pale appearance in the original game was because he was suffering from a cold. Guy’s design is slightly reimagined, more or less the same basic concept but slightly modified. Sodom gets a bit more muscular compared to his design in Final Fight, but he wields a pair of sai instead of the katanas he used in Final Fight.

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Also, now he can literally drag people across the ground.

On top of the returns, we’ve also got three brand-new characters added to the roster. First and foremost, there’s Charlie Nash. That’s right, the man whose death Guile fought to avenge in Street Fighter II is a playable character in Alpha. As such, Charlie’s moveset is similar to Guile’s, with the only real difference being that Nash fights with more style and flair: he throws Sonic Booms with one arm and his Somersault Shell is a front flip from behind instead of backflips like Guile’s Flash Kick. There’s also the Roma fortune teller Rose. Hailing from Italy, Rose can use her Soul Power to fire energy spheres and charge her scarf with energy to reflect projectiles. Finally, there’s the aforementioned Dan Hibiki. Boasting a pink gi, he looks like your standard shoto clone, but he’s actually a weakling. His Gadouken projectile has pathetic range and his Kouryuken jumping uppercut has less height than a Shoryuken. His Dankuu Kyaku, on the other hand, is actually a much more straightforward variation of the Hurricane Kick, extending the attack with additional kicks depending on the strength of the attack.

Despite the lack of an overarching story, each character has their own motivations. Ryu is training to get stronger, while searching for Akuma, the man who killed his sensei. Ken wants to meet up with Ryu again after winning an American Martial Arts tournament to reconnect and spar. Chun-Li and Charlie are both tracking down M. Bison, the head of Shadaloo, a terrorist organization bent on world domination. While Charlie fights out of duty, Chun-Li wishes to avenge the death of her father, who died at Bison’s hands. Meanwhile, Bison himself is searching for the most powerful warriors to create an army. Birdie, a common criminal, seeks to prove his mettle to Bison and join Shadaloo in order to rise to infamy and fortune.

Sagat, still reeling from his defeat during the first World Warrior tournament, is hellbent on finding Ryu and getting a rematch. Adon, on the other hand, is disgusted with the weakness shown by his former master and wishes to defeat Sagat and become the true king of Muay Thai. Rose divines that Doomsday is approaching and searches for the evil power responsible for it. As it turns out, she and Bison are two parts of the same soul: Rose is the incarnation of Bison’s good side. Guy seeks to continue training under the Bushinryu style, seeking mastery. The former Mad Gear member Sodom seeks to rebuild the criminal syndicate, albeit with much more of a Japanese influence this time around. Akuma, as usual, merely seeks strong opponents. Which leaves us with Dan, the son of the martial artist Go Hibiki, the man who cost Sagat an eye and paid for it with his life. Dan seeks to avenge his father by defeating the Muay Thai master in hand-to-hand combat.

The gameplay has changed a fair amount from the Street Fighter II games, while still staying true to its roots. First and foremost, the gameplay feels smoother compared to even Super Turbo. One key difference is the addition of chain combos: the ability to easily “chain” together normal attacks going from light to medium to heavy with less of an emphasis on timing compared to traditional “link” combos. Capcom first experimented with the concept in 1994’s Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors, but the “Marvel Vs.” crossover series would popularize it. The Super Combo mechanic from SSF2T returned with new expansions. Each character now had multiple Super Combos – each character has at least two and they have different motions to prevent confusion. Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Sagat and M. Bison all retain their Super Combos from Super Turbo, while gaining access to new ones. For example, Chun-Li has a short-range multi-hit projectile called the Kikosho; Ryu has an enhanced form of the Hurricane Kick called “Shinkuu Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku” which pulls in his opponent and does multiple hits and M. Bison’s Psycho Crusher gets promoted to a full-on Super Combo, replacing the original special move with a projectile called the “Psycho Shot”. To compensate for these additional Super Combos, it’s easier to fill the meter and the meters themselves have three levels, as opposed to just one, allowing characters to perform up to three Super Combos with a full gauge. On top of that, Super Combos can be further enhanced: by pressing two punch or kick buttons (depending on the motion) instead of one, players can perform a “Level 2” variant of the Super Combo, which costs 2 bars of Super Meter, but deal extra damage. Pressing all three punch or kick buttons with a full 3 bars of Super Meter performs a “Level 3” Super Combo, the most powerful – and oftentimes, the most visually impressive – variant.

SFA adds various other mechanics to the traditional Street Fighter engine. Characters can block attacks in the air now – an ability creatively referred to as “air blocking” – another mechanic lifted directly from Darkstalkers. Players can also counterattack their way out of a block by using an “Alpha Counter”, fittingly referred to as a “Zero Counter” in Japan, at the cost of a single bar of meter. The ability to select between “Normal” and “Turbo” speed returns, though Turbo isn’t quite as fast as it was in previous games. Warriors’ Dreams also adds the option to turn on automatic blocking, which is exactly what it sounds like: the game will automatically block for the player whenever they’re in danger of being hit, just so long as they’re not attacking or moving under their own power. I never really minded the mechanic: it was an obvious crutch for inexperienced players, but it didn’t have any tangible effect on the gameplay itself. Downed characters could also roll on the ground to recover, allowing for more options to escape enemies.

There were also various other additional flourishes added to the game. Taunts could be performed once per fight by hitting the start button: I want to say this was another reference to the Art of Fighting games, where taunting enemies could drain their spirit gauge, but in SFA, they were only good for infuriating your opponent. Also, different win icons were awarded based on how the match ended, whether by a normal attack, a throw (represented with a lasso), a special move, a Super Combo or Chip Damage (represented with a hunk of cheese) – with an additional P added in the top-left corner if a Perfect Victory is achieved.

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I was never really that good with Rose, but damn, if her reflect isn’t cool…

The standard arcade ladder single-player mode returns from Street Fighter II, though this time players are limited to just eight opponents. To make up for this shortcoming, there’s a little more story build-up in the mode itself: different characters face different bosses and there’s a short exchange between the two fighters before the final battle. Players can also fight head-to-head with all of the features expected in a Street Fighter game, including the ability to fight as the same character – though once again, each character is limited to only one alternative palette. The standard palette can be chosen by selecting a character with any punch button, while the alternate is associated with the kick buttons.

There are also a few secrets hidden in the game. M. Bison, Akuma and Dan Hibiki are all secret characters, meaning they don’t appear on the main character select screen. They can be selected by performing specific motions on the character select screen – much like selecting Akuma in SSF2T. While Bison also appears as a boss in some characters’ story modes, Akuma and Dan can be fought as special opponents by completing specific objectives in Arcade Mode. Finally, there’s Dramatic Battle Mode: a nice little Easter Egg that allows two players to play as Ryu and Ken and face off against M. Bison in a two-on-one fight, just like the end of the Street Fighter II animated film.

Street Fighter Alpha was probably the first game in the series to really utilize the graphical capabilities of the CPS2 hardware. Sure, Super Street Fighter II and its successor ran on the hardware, but due to the sheer amount of recycled assets, the new characters were limited to better fit in with the older ones. SFA lacked these limitations and it shows. While not quite as impressively animated as Darkstalkers, Alpha’s animation was leaps and bounds ahead of SF2. There were more frames of animation per attack and the new “cartoony” art style generally associated with CPS2 games were able to better emphasize the enhanced graphical power of the hardware. The only real gripe I have about the game is that most characters recycle the same backgrounds. A minor complaint, I know, but considering the sheer amount of effort that went into Street Fighter II’s stages, it just feels like a letdown. Fortunately, future titles would improve stage variety.

In terms of sound design, this game had a much larger team. Isao “Oyaji” Abe and Syun “Kobekko” Nishigaki returned from Super SF2, but they were joined by Setsuo “purple” Yamamoto, Yuko “pop’n” Kadota, Naoaki “kuru-kuru chance” Iwami and Naoshi “groovy” Mizuta. The sound effects were designed by Hiroaki “X68K” Kondo and “Ryoji” Yamamoto. Alpha was also the first game in series to credit voice actors for the various characters.

All of the returning characters from Street Fighter II effectively have their themes from that game rearranged to better fit the game’s aesthetic. Likewise, Birdie’s theme was based heavily on his theme from the original Street Fighter, while Guy used the Stage 1 theme from Final Fight. Adon and Sodom, on the other hand, were given original themes. The same could be said for the rest of the cast. Out of all of the game’s original compositions, I think Dan’s theme is my favorite, though I’m also fond of Charlie and Rose’s themes. For some reason, I found that the various menu themes from Alpha – from the character select to the victory jingles – are probably my favorites in the entire franchise. The sound effects were much punchier compared to even Super SF2, which seemed to go out of its way to ape the CPS1 games. The voice samples were about on-par with SSF2’s, which makes sense because both games used new samples on the same hardware. Alpha seems to put more emphasis on these samples.

Before I move onto discussing the actual home ports, there’s one version of the game I’d like to discuss. Earlier, I mentioned that Capcom developed Street Fighter Alpha on both the CPS1 and CPS2. While the CPS2 version was the main version released in Arcades, the CPS1 version did also see release… in a far more limited capacity. In a misguided effort to compete with SNK’s NeoGeo AES, Capcom attempted to release the Capcom Play System Changer – or “CPS Changer” – in 1994. Rather than developing cartridges for home use, the CPS Changer plugged directly into the CPS-1 arcade board connectors. In all, only 12 games were released on the system and the last title was Street Fighter Zero. The CPS-1 version of SFZ is pretty much identical to the CPS-2 version, apart from the sound quality. The music had to be reorchestrated using the CPS-1’s inferior sound chip, many of the voice samples had to be compressed and some sound effects were outright replaced. All the same, it’s a pretty interesting curiosity: I hope that it makes its way into the 30th Anniversary Collection somehow, but I doubt it will. I’d honestly just settle for the soundtrack as an extra.

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I took two shots from the CPS Changer version. This is one of them, betcha can’t find the other!

As for more traditional home ports, the game was ported to the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn around the same time, starting at the tail end of 1995 with releases spanning the entire first half of 1996. Both ports were reasonably close to arcade-perfect and came with additional features, including a rearranged soundtrack, a dedicated two-player Versus mode and a Training Mode, a first for a Street Fighter console port. Training Mode is a simple concept that would go onto become a necessity. At its core, it gives players a safe environment to practice their character’s moves and combos. Generally, the opponent character is completely stationary, but in later revisions to the concept, they could also be controlled by another controller or the game’s AI. The PlayStation version came out a month before the Saturn version in Japan and North America, while the Saturn version launched four months ahead of the PlayStation version in Europe. Two years later, a port based on the PlayStation version was released on Windows PC.

Finally, a scaled-down port was developed by Crawfish Interactive on the Game Boy Color. It was apparently released in Europe in 1999, while North America and Japan saw releases in March of 2000 and 2001 respectively. Despite the limited hardware taking its toll on the graphics and sound, the gameplay and roster is accurate to the arcade version – especially when compared to the original Game Boy’s take on Street Fighter II: a port cobbled together from so many different revisions, it’s impossible to categorize it as a legitimate port of any particular version of SF2.

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Looks like a nightmare, plays like Warriors’ Dreams.

In the end, Street Fighter Alpha ended up lost in the annals of fighting game history. This might seem like a sad fate for the next big thing in the Street Fighter franchise, but it still managed to leave a significant impact on the series to this day. Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams may not have been an amazing game that withstood the test of time on its own merits, but neither did Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. Both games did manage to lay an amazing groundwork that future revisions served to refine and perfect. When you consider the fact that SFA was originally conceived as a budget spinoff title to appease the masses until a true Street Fighter III could be completed, the fact that it was able to go from a SNES title all the way to running on Capcom’s most recent arcade hardware is a triumph in and of itself.

Street Fighter Alpha 2

With the original Street Fighter Alpha being a relative success in Japan, it only made sense for Capcom to develop a follow-up. As such, Street Fighter Alpha 2 was released the following year: February 27, 1996 in Japan; the 29th in Europe and finally, March 6th in North America. Probably in response to criticism over Street Fighter II’s numerous revisions, the original Alpha’s follow-up was billed as a sequel instead.

Of course, given the game’s story, calling SFA2 a “sequel” is a bit of a misnomer: Alpha 2 actually replaces the events of the first game – much like each revision of SF2 – as opposed to coming after them. As such, I generally refer to it as a “replacement sequel”, much like Capcom’s Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge which replaced Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors in the series’ canon. Both SFA2 and Night Warriors retell the stories of their predecessors but with additional content and a few retcons.

There isn’t much information on Street Fighter Alpha 2’s development. Due to the success of the original SFA, Capcom decided to develop a “rental version” of the game, thus postponing their original plan to use the game sell out their remaining stock of CPS2 hardware. The only real insight into the game’s planning comes from Shinji Mikami, who claimed that they decided to focus on increasing the damage of normal attacks in order to place a greater emphasis on them over special moves.

All 13 characters from the original Street Fighter Alpha return in Alpha 2 – Akuma, M. Bison and Dan are added to the base roster in the process. On top of that, there are 5 new characters added to the roster: the largest addition to an existing roster in a Street Fighter game at that point. Zangief and Dhalsim return from Street Fighter II, cementing their popularity. Gen returns from the original Street Fighter, while Final Fight’s Stage 4 boss Rolento also joins the fray. Finally, there’s one brand-new character, Sakura Kasugano, a schoolgirl who is a huge fan of Ryu. This brings the roster to a whopping 18 in total.

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A perfect shot, wouldn’t you say?

Most of the returning characters’ storylines are unchanged from Warriors’ Dreams – though Dan Hibiki is now much more of a comedic figure, focusing on using his self-taught “Saikyō-ryū” fighting style to best his father’s killer. Dhalsim tries to raise money for his poor village, while Zangief travels the world, fighting to show the strength of his homeland. Rolento wishes to build his own utopia, which leads him into conflict with Sodom’s goal of rebuilding the Mad Gear Gang. Gen is an assassin who is suffering from leukemia, looking for a worthy opponent so that he may die in combat. Along the way, he encounters Chun-Li, his former student, and provides her with clues about M. Bison’s whereabouts. Finally, Sakura idolizes Ryu after seeing one of his fights and is looking to track him down so that she can train under him (or at least get his autograph).

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It’s fun to count how many people in this background eventually became playable in future Street Fighter games.

Alpha 2 builds on its predecessor in terms of gameplay as well. Most of the previous game’s mechanics return in SFA2, aside from the Chain Combo system – though a few characters can still perform them. To make up for this, characters have the ability to perform “Custom Combos”: by hitting two punch buttons and one kick button (or two kicks and a punch) simultaneously, players can spend at least one and a half levels of super meter to activate a special mode, which allows them to string attacks together more easily for a limited amount of time. As such, standard combos are much more difficult to perform compared to the previous game. Each character now has two different Alpha Counters, performed with the standard motions from the previous game: punch works on standard attacks, while the kick variant performs a low counter. The color palettes for each standard character has also been upped to 4: any single punch for the standard palette, with alternates selected with any single kick button, two punch buttons together and two kicks.

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Ironically, I never really got the hang of Custom Combos until I was grabbing these screens.

The arcade mode is similar to that of the previous game – players face off against 8 different opponents, with the final opponent determined by the selected character. However, SFA2 does add an additional twist to this mode with rival mid-boss battles. By performing a specific set of conditions, the fourth match will be interrupted with the traditional “Here Comes A New Challenger” message and a special CPU-controlled opponent will appear, with a conversation like the ones from the boss fights before the fight begins. Akuma can only be faced in arcade mode as a secret boss by performing specific conditions, but this time around, the boss version of Akuma sports a different color palette from the standard version. He’s now referred to as “Shin Akuma”: this version of Akuma is no longer holding back, showing off his true power. Finally, SFA2 added several new win icons: a cherry for winning with a light attack (a reference to the term “cherry tapping”), an A/Z for winning with an Alpha/Zero Counter, an hourglass for winning by Time Over, special unique icons for winning with a Custom Combo, and the “Ten” symbol for winning with Akuma’s Shun Goku Satsu. The Super Combo finish win icon has also been modified, now resembling a lightning bolt. It also showcases one, two or three stars next to it, determined by which level of Super Combo the character used to finish off their opponent.

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Oh right, here’s that “Psycho Shot” move I was talking about in the Alpha 1 write-up.

Most of the character sprites from Alpha 1 were recycled in the sequel, with the exception of Dan Hibiki, who was redesigned, marking his upgrade to official character. The new characters are drawn in the same style as the previous characters and they all mesh together perfectly. However, the stages were overhauled to the extreme, for the better. I’d argue that some of Capcom’s best stages came from Alpha 2. My personal favorites include Ken, who is throwing a birthday party for his fiancée Eliza attended by a bevy of cameos from other Capcom games, Rolento’s scrolling elevator and Sakura’s house (which was lovingly recreated in Street Fighter V recently). Guy’s stage is an honorable mention, due to the sheer amount of Final Fight cameos present: it’s fun to count just how many ended up as playable characters in future SF games.

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I’d seriously love it if Capcom tried recreating this in Street Fighter V.

A lot of musical compositions and sound effects are also recycled from the original Alpha. Syun Nishigaki and Setsuo Yamamoto return from Alpha 1 as composers, joined by Tatsuro Suzuki. The strange part is that despite running on identical hardware, Alpha 2 completely rearranges the songs from the original Alpha, leading to a fuller, richer sound. I can’t think of a single song where I don’t prefer the Alpha 2 version over the original. On top of that, there are a number of new compositions. Zangief’s theme is a jazzier recreation of his classic SF2 theme, while Rolento uses the Stage 5 theme from Final Fight. Dhalsim’s theme is an original composition, a much more somber, introspective theme. Gen’s theme is also original, though it seems to be at least inspired by his theme from the original Street Fighter, finding a middle ground between Birdie and Adon. Finally, there’s Sakura’s theme, my clear favorite of the bunch: a breezy, energetic song that perfectly represents the young fighter. The voice acting has also been expanded over the original – with new character voices and old characters receiving new voice samples – with no dip in audio quality. Hiroaki Kondo returns from SFA as the sole Sound Designer for Alpha 2, clearly working the CPS2’s Q-Sound system much more effectively than last time.

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I still can’t quite wrap my head around how Charlie’s Flash Kicks work.

Compared to the previous game, Alpha 2 had significantly less secrets than its predecessor. The Japanese version only had an alternate outfit for Chun-Li – her traditional qipao dress from Street Fighter II – which could be accessed through the character select using a simple code: highlight Chun-Li, hold down the Start button for about five seconds, then select her while holding Start. Kind of underwhelming compared to the secrets in the first game. Fortunately, the American and European versions rectified that by adding some additional secrets. First and foremost was the inclusion of Evil Ryu, a “what if” version of the classic hero who has succumbed to the Satsui no Hadou. A palette-swapped version of the main character boasting a grey gi and headband and slightly darker skin, Evil Ryu had all of the original Ryu’s moves and a few tricks from Akuma, including his teleport and the deadly Shun Goku Satsu. There were also EX versions of Dhalsim and Zangief, based on their Champion Edition incarnations. These three new characters were added to the game by Capcom USA, which is why they were missing from the original Japanese release.

As with the previous game, Street Fighter Alpha 2 was ported to the PlayStation and Saturn. The PlayStation version came out a month before the Saturn in Japan – the North American versions released simultaneously on September 30th, 1996; while the European Saturn version launched a month before the PlayStation version – and it shows. Both versions had an arranged soundtrack, plus a versus and training mode, but the Saturn version had an exclusive Survival Mode. On top of that, the Saturn version was also the only version that had the secret characters added to the American release. The PlayStation port was also beginning to show its limitations with 2D software at this point, while the Saturn version was much closer to the original, earning a reputation for excellent 2D fighter ports. As with SFA1, the PlayStation version was eventually ported to Windows PC in late 1997. Impressively, that version is still available today on GOG. Eventually, SFZ and SFZ2’s PC ports would be sold in a two-pack exclusively in Japan.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: the bizarre and truly pointless Super Nintendo version. This version came out after the Saturn and PlayStation versions is pretty much every region, releasing first in November 1996 in North America and the following month elsewhere. The game was only published by Capcom in Japan: by that point, everyone else had moved onto fifth-generation platforms, so Nintendo had to publish it themselves in North America and Europe. The game used the S-DD1 chip to compress the graphics to speed up the SNES’s ability to process the graphics. Unfortunately, the game suffers from load times: that’s right, a Super NES game with perceivable load times.

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Such a weird port.

This wouldn’t be so bad, but the gameplay just doesn’t feel right either. Even just comparing the SFA2 port to the Super Street Fighter II port – a game ported from the same exact hardware – something just feels off about this release. The SFA2 port on the Super Nintendo not only fails to feel like SFA2, it doesn’t even feel like an actual Street Fighter game. The worst part is that I can already think of two other options Capcom could’ve done to release a better product. Why not port the CPS1 version of the original Street Fighter Alpha to Super NES? I mean, at least that way, the original concept for the game could’ve finally come to fruition. What baffles me even more is the fact that they didn’t try releasing 2D fighting games on the Nintendo 64. Most of these games weren’t even exclusive to PlayStation at that point and the N64 itself was lacking in fighting games overall. Hell, I’d even argue that the N64’s weird controller would’ve been perfect for Capcom fighting game ports: 6 face buttons and an actual D-Pad, it could’ve definitely outclassed the PS1 on that front. Instead, we’re left with this abomination. To put things into perspective, the Game Boy Color port of the original Street Fighter Alpha worked better than the SNES Alpha 2 port. That’s embarrassing for Capcom and Nintendo.

Street Fighter Alpha 2 improved on its predecessor’s formula to the point of overshadowing it and managed to keep Street Fighter relevant during a time where Capcom was experimenting with new franchises, both in the fighting genre and out. SFA2 managed to win various awards in video game magazines, in Japan and abroad, being named Gamest’s “Best Game of 1996” and “Best Fighting Game” for the year, as well as earning Top Character with Dan Hibiki. GameFan named it Fighting Game of the Year, while Electronic Gaming Monthly named it the Arcade Game of the Year. The home ports also sold well: the Saturn port sold over 400,000 copies in Japan alone. However, the game’s critical and commercial success proved a double-edged sword. Capcom would end up falling back into old habits with their next release…

Interlude: Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold

I’m not exactly sure why Capcom decided to make a revision to SFA2 – I can’t find any concrete information about its development (or even its release date) online – but if I were to hazard a guess, I think Capcom Japan was intimidated by the additions Capcom USA made to the American and European versions of Alpha 2’s arcade release. That would at least explain why “Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha” was only released in arcades in Asia and parts of Latin America.

Of course, SFA2G makes various additions and balance tweaks to original version of Alpha 2 as it stands and many of them seem to be controversial among the more hardcore members of the Fighting Game Community. It would be insane for me to list every change Gold made over its predecessor, but I’ll try to list some of the major changes. For starters, both Alpha Counters and Custom Combos now cost 1.5 bars of Super Meter and the command to activate Custom Combos have changed to just pressing Heavy Punch and Heavy Kick at the same time. On top of that, Custom Combos are significantly less powerful than they were in the original version.

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It’s weird how much more I like Evil Ryu compared to regular Ryu and Akuma, right?

Some characters have also received some new moves: Dhalsim gets the Yoga Stream super combo, while Guy gets the Bushin Musou Renge – a super combo that costs all three bars of Super Meter. Ryu regains his Fire Hadoken, while Sakura gets the aptly named “Sakura Otoshi”, where she leaps into the air and can bonk opponents in the head as she descends. If the move connects, she can do 3 additional bonks by tapping a punch button with a specific rhythm. Finally, Sagat gets a new super taunt called the Angry Charge, where the game momentarily freezes and Sagat clutches at the scar on his chest as it glows. This seemingly does nothing on its own, but the next time her performs a Tiger Blow, it does extra damage.

Characters have returned to the standard six color palettes from Super Street Fighter II with each attack button associated with a unique palette, Light Punch being the default. Finally, Alpha 2 Gold adds in a little easter egg. If a player finishes off their opponent with a taunt, they’re awarded with Mobi-chan from Side Arms – who previously appeared in some SF2 homes ports as a menu pointer – as a win icon.

Alpha 2 Gold’s real attraction is its bonuses. All of the additional content from the American version of Alpha 2 returns, with Chun-Li’s alternate, Evil Ryu and EX Dhalsim and Zangief all being updated to the six color palettes afforded to the game’s standard characters. However, Gold adds even more. Champion Edition variants of Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li (using her classic outfit, no less), Sagat and M. Bison also join the roster as secret characters. All of these secret characters can be unlocked by pressing the Start button to toggle them on each respective character and the player select even showcases the character before making a selection once they’ve been activated. Sakura also gains a bonus variant, though the only difference compared to the original is that she has six brand-new color palettes. This version of Sakura can be chosen by hitting the Start button on her five times. Dramatic Battle returns as a full mode: 2 players (or 1 player with a CPU-controlled partner) can choose from any character in the roster (aside from the CE variants) and face down a four-opponent arcade ladder, consisting of Adon, Sagat, M. Bison and a final fight with Shin Akuma. In Dramatic Battle, both characters have access to an infinite Super Meter, but share a single health bar. There’s also Survival Mode – a first for an arcade version – as well as a mode where you can face off with Shin Akuma immediately.

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That’s the old Sagat.

While Alpha 2 Gold seems like it should be a rarity due to its limited arcade release, it did receive a home port as a part of the Street Fighter Collection on the Saturn and PlayStation. While Super Street Fighter II and Super Turbo shared a disc, Gold took up a second disc. This version was relatively arcade perfect, about on par with the Alpha 2 ports. Both versions had Survival and a dedicated Versus Mode, but the Saturn version had extra flourishes, like Training Mode. Unfortunately, neither version had Dramatic Battle, but they made up for it with a unique bonus feature all their own. By earning the top score in Arcade mode with either version of M. Bison and inputting the initials “CAM”, Cammy would be unlocked as a secret character in Versus and Training mode by highlighting Bison and pressing the Start button twice. Cammy was taken directly from X-Men vs. Street Fighter, including her voice samples, though her moves were toned down to fit with the more grounded style of traditional Street Fighter games. This iteration of Cammy represents her time working as a mindless agent of Shadaloo, one of M. Bison’s Dolls. The home versions also allowed players to use Shin Akuma by pressing Start five times while highlighting Akuma.

While inconsequential in the long run, I always liked Alpha 2 Gold. I view it the same way as games like Vampire Hunter 2 and Vampire Savior 2: side projects that were made to be experimental and fun, allowing players to do things that normally couldn’t be achieved in the standard editions. It’s not like they superseded the earlier versions, which are generally better known for being the tournament standards for years to come. I just wish that Capcom had considered adding Gold as a little bonus in the 30th Anniversary Collection, simply due to all of the additional modes found in the Arcade version alone. They wouldn’t even need to worry about translating the Japanese text: the Asian version found outside of Japan is entirely in English.

Street Fighter Alpha 3

Street Fighter Alpha 3 is one of those games that, even in retrospect, I can’t believe actually exists. The first two Alpha games were essentially created as filler games, to keep the masses satisfied until Street Fighter III could finally be completed. In 1997, that finally happened: both the original release of SF3 and its first revision were released to arcades. Yet somehow, on June 29th, 1998, Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released to Japanese and North American arcades – with a European release not far behind on September 4th. I’m not sure exactly why Alpha 3 was made: I couldn’t find any information about the game’s development online. My current theory is that it was meant to address some criticisms leveled at SF3 – particularly the roster, but I’ll speak more on that later – but I prefer to believe that it was a send off to the previous Alpha games, simply due to how much they exceeded Capcom’s expectations: starting as little more than a mere spin-off for consoles, but eventually garnering two sequels and a revision.

All 19 characters from the home version of SFA2 Gold return in Alpha 3, with Cammy becoming an official member of the Alpha 3 roster. On top of that, E. Honda, Blanka and Vega return from Street Fighter II as playable characters. Cody Travers from Final Fight also makes his Street Fighter debut, boasting a radical redesign. Going from fresh-faced street fighter to apathetic criminal, Cody was sent up the river for picking fights strictly out of boredom. Karin Kanzuki, a character that originated in the Sakura Ganbare! spinoff manga also makes her video game debut in Alpha 3. We’ve also got Rainbow Mika, a professional wrestler who idolizes Zangief. There are also a few secret characters, generally fought as mid-boss characters: Balrog returns, along with Juni and Juli, two of Bison’s dolls who fight as a team as a boss character (like a reverse Dramatic Battle), but also appear as separate characters when playable. The secret characters feel a bit incomplete, they use M. Bison’s introduction, rival battles, ending and even his profile pictures.

Alpha 3 acts as a true sequel to the events of the first two games. Once again, there’s no tournament, but the main storyline involves Shadaloo’s plot for world domination. M. Bison is preparing his ultimate weapon, the Psycho Drive, which can amplify Bison’s Psycho Power and with the use of a satellite allow him to fire beams of his psychic energy anywhere on the planet. However, Bison’s body is slowly deteriorating after using the device, so he’s seeking a more powerful body that can use this power to its full capacity. His target: the wandering warrior, Ryu. He sends Vega, one of his top henchmen, to brainwash Ryu and collect him. 

Meanwhile, Ryu is dealing with the temptation of the dark power of the Satsui no Hadou, the power he used to defeat Sagat and the same power that Akuma used to kill his sensei. Sagat, Ken and Sakura are all searching for Ryu too, each for their own reasons. Karin, on the other hand, is searching for Sakura, to avenge her first loss in combat. Dan, still overjoyed over defeating Sagat – don’t worry, he threw the fight – decides to found his own dojo to teach his Saikyo style to the masses. Along the way, he declares Sakura as his first student and befriends the Brazilian beastman, Blanka. Blanka lived peacefully in the jungle until he mistakenly climbed into a poacher’s truck and finds himself stranded in the middle of civilization. Adon seeks a new challenge after defeating his former master (Sagat threw a lot of fights in Alpha 2).

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I always loved these backstory screens.

Chun-Li and Charlie – wait, didn’t he die in Alpha 2? – are working together again, to take down Shadaloo once and for all. Zangief fights for a similar goal, viewing Shadaloo as a threat to his beloved home country. Meanwhile, R. Mika is picking fights with the strongest fighters she can find to make a memorable debut as a pro wrestler. Rose feels responsible for Bison’s evil and seeks to stop him once and for all, even at the cost of her own life. Birdie’s achieved his goal of joining Shadaloo, but he tires of life as a mere henchman, seeking to overthrow Bison. Cammy is one of Bison’s mindless Dolls until a choice encounter with Dhalsim that awakens her and allows her to think for herself. After failing to capture Ryu, Vega is sent to track Cammy and report on her status.

Rolento still seeks to build his utopia, seeking strong warriors to help protect it. Meanwhile, Sodom has become obsessed with his Japanophilia, searching for like-minded people to form his new Mad Gear gang. His search takes him to Edmond Honda, a Rikishi who seeks to prove sumo’s supremacy over all other fighting styles. Guy still seeks to perfect his Bushin-ryuu style. Meanwhile, his old friend Cody has fallen on hard times, going from street fighting hero to prisoner. He breaks out of prison out of sheer boredom to seek strong opponents. Gen is still near-death from leukemia, seeking one last strong opponent to give him a warrior’s death. Akuma also seeks a true challenge, a strong warrior worthy of his full power.

While clearly cut from the same mold as its predecessors, Alpha 3 feels like a brand-new game. The largest difference comes from the ISM system. The choice between manual and automatic blocking has been removed, replaced with three different fighting styles. First, there’s the “Standard” A-ISM (Z-ISM in Japan), which is based on the gameplay from the Alpha games. In A-ISM, characters effectively play like they did in Alpha 2, having access to multiple super combos, 3 bars of meter, air blocks, Alpha Counters and taunts, only lacking Custom Combos. Next, there’s the “Simple” X-ISM – based on Super Street Fighter II X (Turbo for us Americans). One bar of super meter, one super combo, less options, but a slightly higher damage output than the other two modes. Finally, there’s “Variable” V-ISM, which includes many of the benefits from A-ISM with a few key differences. V-ISM has a weaker damage output than the other two modes but has a 2-bar meter and replaces super combos with Custom Combos. On top of that, different characters gain and lose techniques based on which mode you choose for them. Each character has six palettes, but the method for selecting them has changed. There are two colors associated with each ISM and they can be selected with a punch or a kick button. I think the coolest thing about the ISM system is that certain characters’ appearances are altered: Chun-Li dons her standard blue dress and Sodom regains his classic katanas from Final Fight in X-ISM. I’m just a little disappointed that they didn’t go further in some cases: it would’ve been cool to see Ryu’s red headband or Cammy sporting her Delta Red design in X-ISM as well.

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Man, these Katana would be a pretty cool V-Trigger. (*HINT HINT*)

A few other minor changes have been made from Alpha 2. For starters, throws are now performed by hitting two punches or two kicks simultaneously and can be performed at any range, regardless of success. A-ISM is still capable of performing Super Combos at three different levels, but instead of hitting multiple attack buttons to determine the level, it’s now determined by the specific attack button pushed: light attacks perform the Level 1, mediums perform Level 2 and Level 3s can be performed with heavy attacks. Personally, I prefer the way Alpha 3 handled it compared to previous games in the series, but that’s just personal preference. Finally, Alpha 3 adds a guard gauge: every time an attack is blocked, the gauge depletes, only recovering after not blocking for a short period of time. If it runs out, the character is subject to a guard break, which leaves them helpless for a split second. Depleting the gauge also shrinks the gauge for the remainder of the round. X-ISM has the largest guard meter by far, but it tends to vary based on character in A-ISM and V-ISM.

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GUARD BREAK!

The standard arcade mode returns as well, with some additional flourishes. After selecting a character and ISM, players are met with an introduction that explains their fighter’s history and motivations. The arcade ladder goes back up to ten, and there are two mandatory rival battles – the fifth and ninth opponents respectively – while every other opponent is determined at random. The rival battles have their usual dialogue exchanges before each match, but there’s also dialogue after defeating them. Finally, the tenth and final opponent for nearly everyone is a powered-up version of M. Bison, boasting an extremely powerful version of his Psycho Crusher as a Super Combo. To make matters even more difficult, he must be defeated on the first try. If not, players receive a bad ending and a game over. A controversial decision, but also a memorable one.

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Seriously, these rival cutscenes blew my mind back in the day.

Like its predecessor, Alpha 3 recycles a lot of graphics from the previous game. The new characters blend in seamlessly with the old, showing the amount of care Capcom put into consistency. By this point, the sprites from the original were about 3 years old – older than the SF2 sprites were when SSF2 was released – and the new characters are no less visually impressive because of it. Most of the characters have unique backgrounds – aside from Karin, who sports a recolored version of Sakura’s stage (at least in the arcade version) – with very little in the way of recycled content. What’s really impressive are the profile pictures, which resembles the hand-drawn promotional artwork to an amazing degree. While Vampire Savior is often heralded as the most beautiful CPS2 game due to its animation, SFA3 is no slouch in the visuals department.

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Like I said, not so good with the Custom Combos.

Street Fighter Alpha 3’s soundtrack was an extreme departure from the previous games in the franchise, ditching all of the iconic music in favor of completely original compositions. The lead composer was Takayuki “Anarchy Takapon” Iwai, best known for his work on Vampire Savior. Other composers that worked on the game were Iwai’s wife Yuki (née Satomura), Isao Abe, Hideki Okugawa and Tetsuya Shibata. Originally, Iwai wanted to implement a new CD-based custom variant of the CPS2 hardware – allowing for a heavy metal soundtrack – but due to budget limitations, he was forced to use the standard MIDI format. This difference of opinion would eventually lead Iwai to leave Capcom and work as an independent composer.

In spite of these limitations, SFA3 has a pretty killer soundtrack – though I personally prefer the one from Alpha 2. Lacking the CD audio, Iwai went for a much more industrial sound, something I never would’ve guessed possible on the CPS2’s hardware. The music in Alpha 3 seems to have been composed to avoid the simple yet catchy melodies associated with Street Fighter up to that point, which just makes the game’s soundtrack that much more memorable. Everything’s been thrown out the window, which led to less of a focus on creating or retaining leitmotifs for each character and focusing instead on capturing the essence of each character. As such, there are some pretty memorable songs in there: I think Akuma’s “Feel the Cool” is my all-time favorite theme for the character. Other favorite songs of mine are Karin’s “Simple Rating”; Dan’s “Perfomance”; Ken’s “Active Red”; Ryu’s “The Road”; R. Mika’s “Prismatic Stars”; “High-Tech”, a theme shared by Juli and Juni, and Sakura’s “Breeze”. But my favorite song in the entire game is easily Cammy’s “Doll Eyes”. It’s a shame that so few of these compositions resurfaced in later games: Karin and R. Mika’s themes in Street Fighter V take inspiration from their Alpha 3 themes, while the NeoGeo Pocket Color crossover SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium uses Akuma, Sakura and Dan’s SFA3 themes as opposed to their more quintessential themes.

Hiroaki Kondo returns as Sound Director, with Takeshi “Moe.T” Kitamura and Satoshi Ise working on Sound Design. A lot of sound effects were clearly recycled from the last two games, but somehow, things sound different. Strikes have a much harsh sound, which just makes them so much more satisfying. Alpha 3 also has a significant number of voice actors, most notably Junko Takeuchi, who would later go onto voice the title character in Naruto. Finally, I’d be in remiss if I didn’t mention the game’s announcer, Greg Irwin. Arguably the most iconic announcer in fighting game history, he even managed to reprise the role in the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

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Cheeky.

Finally, let’s discuss the game’s secrets. The extras in Alpha 3 manage to dwarf even Alpha 2 Gold, but it’s one of those cases where good things only come to those who wait. As the arcade machine is left on, the color of the title screen changes. It starts out colored off-white, but eventually turns red, signifying that the secret characters Balrog, Juni and Juli can be selected with a simple code. Next, the title screen turns green, which means that the first secret ISM, Classic Mode, has been unlocked. Classic is similar to X-ISM, but it lacks a Super Combo meter. Then, the title screen turns Blue which unlocks two more secret ISMs, Mazi Mode and Saikyo Mode. These two modes can be selected in addition to the three regular ISMs: Mazi mode increases attack power significantly at the cost of defense and opponents only need to win a single round to defeat anyone using it, while Saikyo Mode – a play on Dan’s Saikyo-ryu fighting style – weakens attacks, reduces the guard meter and imposes other limitations. Finally, when the title screen turns a lighter shade of blue, players can access Survival, Dramatic Battle and Final Battle Mode. The first two are similar to their Alpha 2 Gold iterations – though Dramatic Battle now gives each character their own separate health meter, Super Meter is no longer unlimited and partners are determined automatically – while Final Battle sends you to the arcade mode’s final boss immediately. There are also special codes that can unlock these extras immediately, but they can only be performed in the game’s test menu.

As good as Alpha 3 was, the game itself was never really considered tournament viable. Even by the standards of Capcom’s output from the mid-to-late ‘90s, there are just too many exploits in V-ISM that makes using anything else useless. This, in turn, has led to Alpha’s current identity crisis: to this day people still argue whether Alpha 2 or 3 is worthy of becoming the true representative of the series in fighting game tournaments. To make matters worse, there’s a significant gap in terms of content when comparing the various revisions of both games, furthering the divide. This is a major part of the reason why Capcom didn’t attempt a re-release back in the seventh generation: Street Fighter II and III have “definitive editions” in Super Turbo and 3rd Strike respectively. Even with the announcement of the 30th Anniversary Collection, people aren’t entirely happy with the online offerings – while Alpha 3 has an online component, many people (myself included) want the same for Alpha 2.

Interlude: SFA3 Home Ports and Revisions

You’re probably wondering why I decided to dedicate an entire sub-heading to all of Street Fighter Alpha 3’s home ports. The fact of the matter is that every single home release for SFA3 adds something, to the extent where I’d consider pretty much all of them as unique revisions – aside from the version present in the 30th Anniversary Collection, which is just a straight port of the original arcade version. In that sense, it almost seems like a disservice to limit my discussion of even the earliest ports to a couple of paragraphs tacked on at the end of my analysis of the arcade version, like I did with the previous two games.

We’ll start with the earliest home port, the PlayStation 1 version. Unlike pretty much every other game in this section, I owned this version back when it was brand-new – in fact, it was the first Alpha game I ever had. Alpha 3 hit the PS1 on December 23th 1998 in Japan, with the North American version releasing on April 30th of the following year and the European version finally seeing release on June 25th of that year. By that point, the PS1’s (admittedly deserved) poor reputation with 2D fighting games had been cemented, so Capcom tried to mitigate some of the problems they had. In order to save space for character animations, they rendered hit sparks by using flat polygons instead of traditional 2D sprites. Unfortunately, the game still didn’t contain every animation from the arcade version and suffered from significant load times between matches. To Capcom’s credit, they did at least include some beautiful images on the load screens.

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A true masterpiece.

What the PS1 version lacked in accuracy, it more than made up for in bonus content. Balrog, Juni and Juli were expanded on – given their own profiles, artwork and endings – and added to the base roster. Fei Long, Dee Jay and T. Hawk, the remaining New Challengers from Super Street Fighter II, were also added to the base roster, though their sprites were recycled from Super Turbo and recolored to better resemble the rest of the Alpha cast as opposed to outright redrawn. Evil Ryu, Guile and Shin Akuma were also added as unlockable characters.  The home port also includes all of the additional modes from the arcade version, though Dramatic Battle is a bit more limited: only Ryu/Ken and Juli/Juni have full campaigns, while every other team is limited to a single match. This version also adds the standard Versus and Training Mode, but that’s not all. Team Battle is an unlockable mode where players choose a team of 3 characters and see who lasts the longest. The main attraction is World Tour Mode, where players can customize a character with ISM ups, enhancements and power-ups that are earned by completing various objectives. In fact, World Tour Mode is among my favorite single-player modes in a fighting game of all time. The Japanese version was also compatible with the PocketStation peripheral, allowing players to increase the strength of their World Tour characters with a set of minigames. Obviously, because it was never released outside of Japan, this functionality was removed from international releases.

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I only recently realized that Fei Long, Dee Jay and T. Hawk were simply recolored from their SSF2 sprites. Kind of impressive, honestly.

What most people didn’t know is that there was also a Japanese-exclusive Saturn port. Released on August 6th, 1999, it had the exact same extra content as the PlayStation version. However, due to the Saturn’s 4MB RAM expansion pack, the game contained much more sprites and faster load times. On top of that, Evil Ryu and Guile were added to the base roster. Dramatic Battle was also expanded to include campaigns for every combination of characters and even the ability to fight through an entire arcade mode-length campaign, a feature unique to the Saturn version. Furthermore, the Saturn version also added a new “Reverse Dramatic Battle”, which allowed players to fight against a pair of CPU-controlled characters at the same time. It’s just a shame that this version didn’t get a wider release: it was released near the end of the Saturn’s Japanese run and it’s among the rarest games on the system. I didn’t even know about this version’s existence until a few years ago and I know I’m not alone on that.

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Here’s one last shot from the PlayStation version. Tracking down the Saturn version just isn’t worth the hassle.

That isn’t to say that Sega left Westerners out in the dark. On July 8th, 1999 – exactly one month before the Saturn version – Street Fighter Zero 3: Saikyō-ryū Dōjō was released on the Dreamcast in Japan. It would be released internationally the following year as Street Fighter Alpha 3: Saikyo Dojo in North America and Europe. The Dreamcast version retained more of the animation from the arcade version, but also includes all of the bonus content from the PlayStation version, while adding Guile and Evil Ryu to the base roster. The game also had shorter load times than the Saturn version, but the gameplay itself is said to be less accurate to the arcade version. World Tour mode was modified from the PlayStation version, changing up the progression and the interface by allowing players to customize their own “I-ISM” with various traits and ISM ups to fully customize their characters. The Dreamcast version also added “Saikyo Mode”, where players use a weak character to fight against a downloadable AI character with several enhancements taken from World Tour mode to prove their strength. Players could also “compete” online by uploading their high scores.

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This is the same World Tour screen from the Dreamcast version. Totally different, right?

On February 15, 2001, the game was re-released as Street Fighter Zero 3: Saikyō-ryū Dōjō for Matching Service on their mail order service. This version of the game would add true online play. Capcom would also use the Dreamcast version as the basis for SFA3’s sole arcade revision. That same year, Street Fighter Zero 3 Upper (rendered as Street Fighter ZERO 3↑) was released on Sega’s NAOMI Hardware – itself based directly on the Dreamcast – with a few balance changes and the additional characters from the console versions, as well as adding the ability to upload any customized characters by inserting a VMU into a memory card slot on the cabinet itself.

But wait, there’s more! Rounding out the “Alpha ports on Nintendo hardware clearly not powerful enough to run them” trilogy is Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper on the Game Boy Advance, developed once again by our good friends at Crawfish Interactive, released in Japan, Europe and North America in 2002. As with their previous effort on the Game Boy Color, Alpha 3 Upper is surprisingly playable, even managing to find a reasonable way to allow for all 6 attack buttons on the GBA’s 4-button layout – pressing the two strengths of punch or kick mapped to the GBA’s buttons simultaneously performs the third. Better still, there aren’t any noticeable load times. Even more impressive is the fact that it retained more character animations than the PlayStation version, though many stages were just outright omitted. The sound took the worst hit: in addition to being heavily compressed, most of the game’s music and sound effects were removed and there were even cases where voice samples were either pitched up or down and used on other characters.

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Crawfish knocks it out of the park again.

That’s not to say that this version didn’t still have extras: all of the bonus features from the arcade version return, as do the extra characters from the console releases – though Guile and Evil Ryu are unlockable once again. However, this version also adds its own unique unlockable characters to the mix: Eagle from the original Street Fighter, Maki from Final Fight 2 and Yun from Street Fighter 3 all enter the fray in this version. Of course, they were all lifted directly from Capcom vs. SNK 2 – not to mention Yun’s presence had to be explained via time travel shenanigans – but it’s impressive that they were able to add even more content. The ISM Plus power-ups from World Tour mode also return and can be toggled on or off in the options menu after being unlocked. With these additions on top of a recognizable facsimile of the original game, this game is miles above the previous Nintendo releases in the Alpha series.

After that, things stayed relatively silent on the Alpha 3 front until 2006 when Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX – or Street Fighter Zero 3 Double Upper, as it was known in Japan – was released on the PlayStation Portable. In terms of content, this release is essentially the most complete version of SFA3. Even the characters introduced in the GBA version return, with additional flourishes like storylines in the arcade mode. On top of that, Ingrid from Capcom Fighting Evolution is added to the roster, ushering her into the Street Fighter universe in a decision still contested to this day.

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Just because I have to show Ingrid doesn’t mean I had to play as her.

MAX also brings back every mode from the previous console releases of Alpha 3 – even Reverse Dramatic Battle from the Saturn version – but adds a few of its own. Variable Battle allows players to do a two-on-one tag match against a single opponent. There’s also 100 Kumite mode, which pits players against 100 opponents in single-round matches. This version also includes the ability to fight against other players using the PSP’s built-in local Wi-Fi connectivity. Unfortunately, the game does suffer from a few control issues, but these stem more from the PSP itself than anything else, particularly earlier models. Still, most fans of the series who don’t care about arcade-perfect conversions have been requesting a re-release for SFA3 MAX for years, mainly because in terms of content, it can’t be beat.

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Seriously, look at all these modes!

2006 was a banner year for the Street Fighter Alpha series. A few months after SFA3 MAX was released, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology was released on the PS2. This collection was the full package: containing arcade-perfect ports of the original SFA, Alpha 2, Alpha 2 Gold and Alpha 3. On top of that, each of these games have a dedicated Versus, Survival and Dramatic Battle modes. In addition, Cammy was added to the Anthology’s port of Gold, playable in all modes and even receiving a unique storyline and ending in Arcade Mode. Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix – better known as Pocket Fighter in both Japan and its Western home release – a CPS2-era comedic crossover featuring super-deformed characters from Street Fighter, Darkstalkers and even Red Earth, was also included to round out the collection. Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper was also included as a secret bonus game, unlocked by completing the standard SFA3’s story mode.

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Cammy and Chun-Li beating up M. Bison in SFA2 Gold’s Dramatic Battle mode. Truly breathtaking.

There was also a secret options menu that would allow players to access specific revisions of each game and even allowing them to create their own custom revisions by enabling and disabling certain features. The Japanese release – titled Street Fighter Zero: Fighters’ Generation – did have a few extra games, including the original Japanese arcade versions of both Zero 2 and Zero 2 Alpha by default and “arranged” versions of the two were also unlockable games in that version. However, these extra versions were the ones available by default in the Western release, it didn’t really have a detrimental impact on the content in both versions.

The Anthology did have one extra hidden game though. By completing every game’s arcade mode (including Super Gem Fighter and SFA3 Upper), Hyper Street Fighter Alpha could be unlocked. This game effectively recreated the gimmick of Hyper SF2: allowing players to choose between every iteration of each character across the entire Alpha series and pitting them head-to-head. Of course, this game was limited to just a 2-player versus and training mode, but it was still an incredible concept. The game’s interface was mostly based on Alpha 3, but with several additional features. Brand new ISMs were added to the game and its soundtrack spanned not only the entire SFA trilogy, but also earlier games, like Street Fighter II and Final Fight.

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Yes, that’s Alpha 1 Dan beating up Blanka. Yes, this is a legitimate screenshot.

After that, there were no Street Fighter Alpha releases until the 30th Anniversary Collection, which just contains 3 perfect emulations of the CPS2 games, with online play added to Alpha 3. There was one little tidbit that I found interesting. Apparently, Capcom originally wanted to make an enhanced re-release of Alpha 3, until David Sirlin convinced them to remake Super Street Fighter II Turbo instead. As if I didn’t have enough of a grudge against the guy. Although, considering just how HD Remix turned out, maybe Alpha 3 dodged a bullet.

Thus concludes the history of Street Fighter Alpha series, unless Yoshihiro Ono decides to revive the series with a fourth game. I’m honestly surprised at just how long this segment of my retrospective turned out. I guess I was even more passionate about these games than I thought. Next time, I’ll be recounting the long-awaited Street Fighter III games and the effects they had on the franchise as a whole, both in the short and long-term.

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