Retrospective: Street Fighter – Third Strikeout

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So far, I’ve covered just about every game included in Capcom’s recent Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection – and then some – across three retrospectives. In this write-up, I’ll be discussing the last three games included in this new compilation: the Street Fighter III “trilogy”. Ever since Street Fighter II reinvigorated arcades and essentially created the fighting game scene, fans from all over the world were clamoring for a true successor, the next numbered entry in the Street Fighter franchise. Game development takes time and trying to surpass the extremely popular SF2 was a tall order for Capcom. Unfortunately, in the time that Capcom spent with revisions and spin-offs, various rivals managed to hit the elusive third game long before Capcom. Franchises like Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown and Mortal Kombat managed to receive their third numbered titles throughout 1995 and 1996, essentially outshining Street Fighter in that regard. Even Capcom’s own Darkstalkers managed a third game the same year SFIII finally hit the scene, albeit a few months after. But the question remained: would Street Fighter III live up to the previous games’ reputation?

Of course, before we go into the games themselves, there is one little slight detour that must be discussed: the arcade hardware that all three games in the series was unique, in that it was perhaps Capcom’s most advanced piece of internally developed arcade hardware, yet it was home to a mere handful of games. Still, a full understanding of this hardware is paramount to understanding just how much effort Capcom put into their true successor to their 1991 arcade smash hit.

Prelude: The CP System III

The CP System III – commonly referred to as “CPS3” – was the final proprietary arcade system board that Capcom designed themselves. I think the most impressive thing about the CPS3 is the amount of wasted potential it had. Essentially, this beast was intended to usher in the true next generation of Capcom’s arcade games, and yet, in the end, it fizzled out just as quickly as it burst onto the scene, ending not with a bang but a whimper.

While its predecessor was merely a modified version of its predecessor, the CPS3 was a completely different animal. For starters, to save money on production costs, the CPS3 used CDs to store game data. However, that didn’t mean that the platform didn’t also use cartridges: the CDs themselves were encrypted and could only be run using a security cartridge that contained the game’s BIOS and a Hitachi SH-2 CPU, which used its integrated decryption logic to generate a unique game key which was stored on the board’s battery-backed SRAM when the hardware was turned on. Above all else, the CPS3 was Capcom’s ultimate weapon in the field of anti-piracy, hardware that was far too convoluted to crack at the time. In fact, the security cartridge was so sensitive to tampering, that any attempt would result in the game’s decryption key being erased and the cart itself being rendered completely useless. Unfortunately, due to the battery-based nature of these cartridges, the security carts themselves only have a temporary lifespan, effectively making all but one CPS3 game – more on that later – a ticking time-bomb, effectively killing off any legitimate way of playing these games once and for all. By June 2007, just under 8 years after the last CPS3 game was released, the encryption method was finally cracked by Andreas Naive – one of the two people who successfully reverse-engineered the CPS2 hardware only months earlier – which allowed all of the CPS3’s games to be played through emulation.

Compared to the CPS2, there was much less of an incentive to emulate the CPS3 itself. While its predecessor was home to several Capcom arcade classics, the CP System III could boast a library of six and even that designation feels generous. The first game released on the system was Red Earth (known as Warzard in Japan) in 1996, an RPG/fighting game hybrid taking place in a post-apocalyptic world clearly inspired by medieval fantasy settings. Red Earth is among Capcom’s most obscure fighting games, likely owed to the fact that to this day, it has never been released outside of arcades, but it has managed a few references in other games: Tessa (known as Tabasa in Japan) made playable appearances in Pocket Fighter and SNK vs. Capcom CHAOS, while a handful of other characters were playable in Capcom Fighting Evolution. Next came 1997’s Street Fighter III: New Generation, which would be followed by a revision (2nd Impact) and a sequel (3rd Strike). And then there was Jojo’s Venture, a licensed game based on the popular Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure manga. This game also received an enhanced revision, titled Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Heritage for the Future. So, while the CPS3 technically boasts an already unimpressive library of six games, half of those were expansions of existing titles.

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You expected Jojo, but it was me, Red Earth!

1999 was the CPS3’s last year, with the release of the final Street Fighter III and Jojo games. From there, Capcom decided to move to SEGA’s own NAOMI arcade hardware, itself based on the Dreamcast home console, a platform that Capcom was familiar with. With that, Capcom themselves dropped out of creating their own arcade hardware, opting instead to use other manufacturers’ hardware when releasing arcade games. Personally, I consider the CPS3 itself to be a textbook case of wasted potential. The system itself was significantly stronger than the CPS2, so it would’ve been impressive to see other Capcom franchises make an appearance on the system. Considering how amazing Vampire Savior looked, I have to wonder what a Darkstalkers 4 developed for the CPS3 would have looked like. On top of that, just imagine what could’ve happened if Capcom had branched out to other non-fighting genres: a new Final Fight or 19XX game could have been amazing.

Street Fighter III: New Generation

It only took nearly six years, several revisions and a whole host of spin-offs, but on February 4th, 1997, Capcom finally released the long-awaited sequel to the arcade smash hit Street Fighter II. Street Fighter III was the culmination of years of planning on how to surpass its predecessor, clearly built in a way to make the original game look as outdated as SF2 had made the original Street Fighter look. But the question remained: with the whole world watching, could Street Fighter III deliver on the almost insurmountable amount of hype a direct sequel to Street Fighter II would have placed clearly on its shoulders?

Ironically, the original version of Street Fighter III – subtitled “New Generation” – is the only version of the game I actually played in arcades back in the day. I remember seeing an arcade cabinet with only the word “THREE” written on its marquee. I was curious and decided to approach it. I was shocked to find that the game was actually the third Street Fighter, a game that I honestly had no idea existed at the time. With no hesitation, I pumped in my quarters and went straight to the character select. What awaited me was an almost entirely new cast of characters, which was both confusing and exciting. I decided to pick Necro and play to my heart’s content. I’d end up reaching the final boss, pumping in more quarters after losses, but I just couldn’t beat him. I think I finally ended up giving up the first time he pulled the “Resurrection” trick on me: that kind of thing was too discouraging for any pre-teen to handle. All the same, I had plenty of fun playing the game at the time and to this day, I still have a soft spot for New Generation over its successors.

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Easily tied with the original Darkstalkers for my favorite Player Select screen in Capcom history.

Capcom first announced the existence of Street Fighter III at a meeting in Tokyo on March 27, 1996, nearly a year before the game’s release. The game itself was first revealed to the public at the September 1996 Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association show, with footage from the game incorporated into a PR demo tape for Capcom’s upcoming releases in general. In fact, during the show, Shinji Mikami – a senior planner at Capcom best known for his work on the first Resident Evil – claimed that it would be impossible to port SFIII to contemporary modern consoles, leading to rumors that the game would eventually receive a home release on the then-upcoming Panasonic M2, the scrapped successor to the 3DO. What was really surprising was that the game managed to retain the 2D aesthetic of previous games in the series, despite being released at a point where 3D graphics were becoming more popular. General producer Noritaka Funamizu explained that Capcom believed that 3D graphics weren’t suitable for fighting games and that the company itself lacked the expertise to create high-quality 3D graphics. Despite these “shortcomings”, Street Fighter III boasted extremely elaborate 2D graphics, made possible by the CPS3 hardware. Each character was comprised of anywhere from 700 to 1200 individual frames of animation and the game ran at a steady 60 frames per second. SF3 also showcased one of the CPS3’s most impressive features: the game didn’t need to mirror sprites, like most hardware at the time. This was most prominently depicted with the game’s final boss, Gill – whose body was red on one half, and blue on the other – as well as his assistant Kolin, who boasted an asymmetrical haircut simply to further showcase this functionality. With this new technology, things like eyepatches switching sides were a thing of the past. Despite that, as a general rule – especially in future titles – Capcom would continue to mirror irregular character attributes in-game if they had a direct effect on gameplay.

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It also did a fine job recreating hand-drawn artwork.

There isn’t much in the way of interesting trivia for Street Fighter III, but there is one tidbit I couldn’t possibly omit. While Street Fighter III was as big of a departure from previous games in the series as the original Street Fighter II, it was apparently going to go even further. I haven’t been able to track down any concrete evidence related to this story, but it appears to be “common knowledge”, so it seems like fair game to mention it. In early location tests for the game, neither Ryu nor Ken were present in the game. In fact, the only “shoto”-type character in the game was Sean Matsuda. The details vary on the reactions to this omission: I’ve heard tell that player feedback led to their inclusion, but I’ve also heard that Capcom ended up insisting on the return of the franchise’s two most iconic characters. I do wonder how the game would’ve turned out without them but considering the backlash to the game itself – more on that later – it’s probably for the best that they were brought into the fold. Considering the fact that an incomplete early version of one of the characters from a future revision has been found in New Generation’s code, I’d have to assume they would’ve been included instead.

Street Fighter III’s basic story is about as simple as previous games: Ryu and Ken face off against a new generation (see what I did there?) of street fighters from various locales in the third World Warrior Tournament. This tournament is being held by a mysterious group known simply as “the Illuminati”, a secret society with unknown motivations that have been manipulating world events for over 2000 years. As usual, most of the story revolves around the characters themselves and their motivations. Ryu continues to seek true mastery of his fist, while Ken Masters has spent so much time with his lovely wife Eliza and his young son Mel, that he’s just itching for another fight with his best friend and rival.

Aside from those two familiar faces, the roster is entirely brand-new. The game’s new protagonist is Alex, a young man from America who was orphaned at a young age and was raised by his mentor Tom, who taught him how to fight. Alex uses a combination of wrestling holds and quick but powerful strikes. Alex doesn’t care much for travelling the world but enters the tournament to avenge his mentor who was defeated and severely injured at the hands of the tournament’s organizer. Elena is a Kenyan princess who fights using capoeira and wishes to travel the world to make new friends. Ibuki is a teenage girl who grew up in a hidden ninja village who just wants to live a normal life but is tasked with stealing data from the Illuminati as her final exam to become a fully-fledged ninja, entering the tournament to mask her true intentions. Sean Matsuda is a young fighter from Brazil who caught a glimpse of Ken’s fighting style and seeks to become his pupil.

 

There are also Yun and Yang – the Lee Twins – two Kung Fu experts from Hong Kong who learned under their uncle, Lee from the original Street Fighter. They seek to protect their hometown from anyone who disturbs the peace, including various dealings from the criminal underworld. Both characters have the same exact moves and are essentially palette swaps of one another: Yun is selected with the punch buttons, while kicks choose Yang. Oro is an ancient hermit who seeks a fighter that is worthy to learn his unique fighting style. When fighting, Oro ties one of his arms beneath his tattered robes to prevent him from accidentally killing his opponent. Dudley is a British dandy boxer: effectively the opposite of Balrog, both in terms of personality and fighting style. His motivations are simple: he wishes to retrieve an antique car that was owned by his father and ended up in the possession of the Illuminati’s leader.

Of course, that’s not the worst of the Illuminati’s actions: Necro was once a regular man from Russia named Illia before he was abducted and experimented on in the “G-Project”, which left him with limbs that could stretch like rubber and the ability to generate electrical currents through his body. Together with his girlfriend and fellow test subject Effie, he seeks to take revenge against the Illuminati and regain his freedom. Rounding out the cast is the game’s final boss and the president of the Illuminati, Gill. Boasting flowing blonde hair and a physique akin to the Greek gods, his most prominent feature is his skin: blue on the left side of his body and red on the right. They symbolize his abilities of cryokinesis and pyrokinesis respectively, though he has many other abilities at his disposal. Gill sees himself less as a dictator and more as a benevolent monarch, seeking to lead his chosen people through what he perceived as an inevitable cataclysm.

The single-player arcade mode was par for the course, pitting players against six CPU-controlled characters in traditional arcade-ladder fashion, before a final showdown with Gill himself. If the player could defeat Gill, they would be treated to a traditional slideshow ending, as seen in the SF2 and Alpha games, before being treated to the game’s credits. In that sense, New Generation’s arcade mode was probably the most barebones in the entire franchise: even the original Alpha had eight opponents.

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Although it easily had the best victory screens of the entire franchise.

Street Fighter III’s gameplay felt like a step forward mechanically, compared to both the Street Fighter II and first two Alpha games. This was a game that was clearly built to appeal to more hardcore players of those previous games, the ones that mastered the untold depths hidden in Street Fighter II. By the time SF3 had come into existence, the humble beginnings of the fighting game community (commonly referred to by the acronym “FGC”) had already been planted, starting out even more obscure and insular than it is today. In fact, the predecessor to the EVO Championship Series – known as the Battle at the Bay (or B3, for short) – was held the previous summer, including tournaments for both Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2. While the game’s unfamiliar roster was likely the killing blow to the game’s mainstream popularity, the complex mechanics would eventually lead the game to becoming a cult classic among the most diehard fans of the franchise.

SF3 maintained a lot of gameplay elements from the previous iterations of Street Fighter, opting for a speed and feel clearly inspired by the first two Alpha games, but added various new mechanics to differentiate it from its forerunners. For starters, characters could dash and retreat (“backdash”), a concept introduced in the Darkstalkers series. There was also the introduction of “leap attacks”, short jumping attacks that could be used against crouching opponents. Characters could also be knocked into a “turned-around state” – exactly what it sounds like – with specific moves, leaving them vulnerable to attack momentarily. In some cases, certain attacks could only be performed on opponents in this state: for example, Alex’s Power Bomb command grab becomes a backdrop when performed on an opponent that’s turned around.  However, in spite of these additions to the game’s mobility, air blocking was dropped from the Alpha games.

The Super Combo mechanic also made a comeback, this time referred to as “Super Arts”. SF3 opted for a compromise between the use of a single Super Move in Super Turbo and having access to multiple attacks in the Alpha games. After selecting a character, players had the option to choose one of three Super Arts, each with their own unique motion. The choice of move also had an effect on the size of the meter – that is, how much energy was needed to fill it – and the number of bars that could be stored, ranging from 1 to 3. While this mechanic attempted to balance the strength of the moves themselves, it would eventually play a much larger role in the metagame down the line.

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The special backgrounds that appeared during a Super Art were a nice touch too.

Of course, the most famous – or infamous, depending on your viewpoint (I’m in the latter camp) – change to the gameplay was the addition of the “parry” mechanic, confusingly referred to as “blocking” in the Japanese version. By pressing forward for high and mid attacks or down for low attacks at the exact moment of impact, players could deflect an incoming attack, leaving their opponent open to counterattack. As an added bonus, parrying also negated the typical chip damage incurred by blocking special moves and even Super Arts. The only downside to parrying was the exact timing players needed to pull it off reliably. Though interestingly, hardcore players were generally receptive to the concept: from their perspective, parrying was the best “move” in the entire game and every character had access to it. Therefore, no matter what, the game could never truly be unbalanced. For them, parries were a perfect representation of one’s skill and even a truly dire match-up could achieve victory through sheer skill alone. Of course, the mechanic wasn’t exactly a perfect equalizer: for example, Elena’s neutral stance involved her dancing forward and back, making properly timing parries with her more difficult than a majority of the cast.

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Fun fact: taking all these screenshots actually taught me how to parry.

There were a couple other changes made to the game that were minor compared to everything else. First, there was the addition of the “stun meter”, which visually represented how close each character was to being knocked into a dizzy state. Mechanically, the stun mechanic itself was no different from how it worked in previous games but being able to see how close a character was to becoming stunned could lead to a change in strategy. In fact, the addition of the Stun bar likely led to the addition of Super Arts like Alex’s Stun Gun Headbutt and Ryu’s Denjin Hadouken – moves that focused more on building stun as opposed to dealing direct damage. Secondly, time overs and double KOs were handled differently from previous games. After any match without a definitive winner, “Judgement” would be declared. Three “Judgement Girls” – there are seven in total, but three are chosen at random – appear onscreen and judge the characters on how well they did in the match. It’s not entirely known what determines a winner, but most seem to believe that score and an internal grading system play a pivotal role.

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I think out of everything SFIII added, the Stun Meter was my clear favorite.

While I’ve got mixed opinions on the gameplay, I can’t deny the sheer quality of the game’s graphics. It’s ironic that Capcom was insecure using 2D sprites back when SF3 was first released: they’ve endured as one of the benchmarks that modern fighting games – 2D or otherwise – are compared to, even to this day. In addition to avoiding the various visual shortcuts that most 2D games had to enjoy, SF3’s character sprites managed to achieve more of a hand-drawn look than many of its contemporaries (and even some of its successors). And even after modern games shifted from pure 2D to “2.5D” graphical styles, SF3’s fluid animations are considered among the best in fighting game history.

The backgrounds are also probably among the most gorgeous that Capcom has ever produced as well, with a much wider variety of locales compared to other games in the franchise. In fact, most stages even change between rounds, usually shifting colors to depict a different time of day or a change in weather. A few end up changing their locales entirely: for example, Elena starts on a wooden bridge with a bird’s eye view of a rainforest. At the end of the first round, the bridge collapses, sending both fighters down into the thick of it, with a flowing waterfall in the background. Some stages are outlandish, like Ibuki’s ninja village and Necro’s mysterious train filled to the brim with scientific equipment. But even the realistic ones, like Sean and Dudley’s stages, which take place in major metropolises in their respective home countries, have this unusual perspective about them, the buildings themselves seem to curve in a surrealist fashion. Even a concept as boring as Oro’s cavern manages to look extremely gorgeous.

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Fighting a demigod adjacent to a literal lake of fire. Street Fighter sure had come a long way from fighting some shirtless dude in front of a train yard.

This attention to detail also applies to the game’s introduction and even the game’s endings, all of which resembles hand-drawn art at the game’s original intended resolution, generally only revealing its true nature as pixel art when blown up to ridiculous proportions. My favorite element of the game would have to be the victory screens after each match, showing the defeated character trying to recover while the winner stands above them triumphantly. It’s easily my favorite iteration of this out of every Street Fighter game, maybe even the fighting game genre in general. The HUD itself was also redesigned, effectively shrinking it down to showcase as much of the backgrounds while still displaying the health, super and stun meters in full view.

I’d also probably argue that New Generation is my favorite looking iteration of SF3 period. Everything about the game just has this indescribable polish behind it, much like many first iterations of post-SFII Capcom fighting games. To this day, the character select screen for NG is tied with that of the original Darkstalkers as my favorite in fighting game history. It manages to expand on the theming of the Street Fighter II games – that is, showcasing the world itself – with some interesting faux-3D artwork on the globe itself.

My preference for New Generation over its later revisions also applies to the game’s sound design. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Yuki Iwai and Hideki Okugawa, who previously worked on games like Alien vs. Predator, X-Men: Children of the Atom and the first two Darkstalkers games. That last credit feels all the more relevant: New Generation’s soundtrack sounds much more like it belongs in a Darkstalkers game than Street Fighter. Yet that’s probably what I like so much about it: there’s this smooth, jazzy sound behind all of the songs. I’d have to say that my favorite tracks in this game are both versions of “Jazzy NYC” (the themes for Alex and Sean); Necro’s haunting “Get on a Train”; Dudley’s classy “Leave Alone” and my personal favorite, Elena’s energetic “Tomboy”. I also have to give a shout out to Gill’s theme “The Judgment Day” for capturing just how imposing of a final boss he is.

The sound effects were designed by Satoshi Ise, which sound much harsher than previous games, perhaps owing to the more serious nature of the game itself. On top of that, Street Fighter III’s voice acting was unique compared to previous games in the series: it included both Japanese and English actors. Alex, Dudley, Necro, and Gill all used English voice actors, while the rest of the cast stuck to the traditional Japanese. While by no means the first fighting game to implement anything like this, it was certainly an interesting step forward for the franchise.

I’d like to say that New Generation was a welcome twist on an existing franchise, but unfortunately it lacked the widespread appeal that its predecessor had. It’s kind of ironic in retrospect: for so long, people had been clamoring for a proper sequel to Street Fighter II – one that would further the series to the same extent that the second game had turned a forgotten game into a worldwide phenomenon – yet by trying to recreate the zeitgeist that led to that success in the first place only managed to repulse the very audience they were trying to sate. Alas, to this day, New Generation remains relatively obscure, only managing to appear in the recent 30th Anniversary Collection out of a sense of completionism. All the same, I’m still glad it’s finally been made playable once again, and this time to a far wider audience. Maybe that’s just the exposure it needs to kick off a newfound appreciation for the original Street Fighter III. After all, a man can dream, can’t he?

Street Fighter III 2nd Impact: Giant Attack

Released in October 1997, 2nd Impact was the expansion most people were primed to expect after New Generation was first released. Effectively replacing the original Street Fighter III in the series’ canon, Giant Attack also added brand new characters and mechanics on top of the foundation laid by its predecessor – acting as the Night Warriors to the original game’s Darkstalkers. Or if you want to keep things Street Fighter, the Alpha 2 to New Generation’s Alpha 1. Personally, I think the former comparison is more apt: 2nd Impact even changed the default colors for all of the returning characters — though this wasn’t reflected on the character select screen.

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…not a fan of this one.

I’d say that the main attraction that Second Impact boasts over its predecessor is easily the new additions to the roster, but I’ve always been a sucker for big rosters. For starters, Yun and Yang have been separated into two completely distinct characters with their own unique movesets, and as such, both brothers have their own icon on the character select. We also finally see the addition of Hugo, a member of the Andore clan, best known for their appearance in the original Final Fight. Hugo is a professional wrestler being managed by the femme fatale Poison. He joins the tournament seeking a strong tag team partner. If you haven’t guessed by now, Hugo was originally planned to appear in New Generation, but was cut due to time constraints. Some unfinished sprites and his complete stage were actually found as hidden unused data in New Generation. Next comes Urien, Gill’s younger brother who is bitter that he was overlooked for the position of President of the Illuminati. In-game, he effectively acts as a balanced, playable version of Gill, utilizing power over electricity and metal to attack his opponents. Finally, Akuma also appears as a hidden character – both fought as a secret boss under specific circumstances and playable by inputting a code on the character select screen – still seeking a strong opponent to quench his thirst for battle. Akuma looks mostly unchanged from his previous appearances (his hair is beginning to gray, though) but he’s learned several new attacks since his last appearance. Likewise, Shin Akuma appears as a secret boss in the game, fought by scoring a perfect victory on Akuma or finishing him with a Super Art. Aside from these new additions, the game’s story is identical to New Generation’s, even the endings return completely unchanged.

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Oh look, here they are now.

The arcade mode is slightly expanded, opting for eight opponents instead of the previous game’s seven – but in most cases, most characters still finish with the climactic battle with Gill. However, some characters face off with Gill as their second-to-last opponent before fighting an entirely different character in their final match. Hugo brings this concept well beyond its logical conclusion: his final fight can be against one of four different characters – Gill, Necro, Elena and Ryu – and each character slightly modifies his ending, which involves his final opponent becoming his tag team partner. 2I also brings back Alpha 2’s secret mid-bosses and a bonus stage – not seen since Super Street Fighter II – though instead of the standard “car crusher” or “barrel breaker” stages, it involves parrying basketballs that are being tossed at the player by Sean in various patterns. It’s a pretty interesting concept, effectively providing a tutorial for people who are unfamiliar with the mechanic.

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No, seriously, this article taught me how to parry.

Aside from the standard balance changes associated with revisions to Capcom’s fighting games, Giant Attack adds a few new gameplay mechanics to Street Fighter III, many of which are considered crucial to the game’s evolution. Perhaps the most important was the addition of “EX Moves”, which are essentially powered up versions of a character’s special moves performed at the cost of a segment of Super Meter. The concept itself technically originated in 1994’s Darkstalkers, where “ES Moves” took an entire bar of meter, but 2I decided to take less – when the player has enough meter to perform an EX move, the super bar flashes – likely to encourage players to use them, instead of just saving meter for Super Arts, which generally deal more damage but have a higher risk of being blocked, due to their start-up animations. This had an effect on how players decide their Super Art: bar length and the number of charges one could hold determined just how many EX moves a character could do at a time. 2nd Impact also toys with the concept of Target Combos, which are similar in execution to the Chain Combos from the original Street Fighter Alpha – as well as the Marvel vs. Capcom and Darkstalkers series – except they rely upon specific button combinations that vary depending on the character as opposed to just using the “magic series” for everyone indiscriminately.

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The yellow shadows means it’s working.

2I also added “grap defense” – the ability to escape throws – as well as “personal actions”, which were essentially the taunts from the Alpha games, performed by pressing heavy punch and heavy kick simultaneously. Personal actions did offer various perks though: some of them were actually attacks that could deal inconsequential damage to an opponent and successfully completing the action would give characters a boost, like boosting damage or reducing the stun gauge. Players are also given the ability to swap out their Super Arts when a second player challenges them, allowing for the ability to adjust their strategy based on who they’re facing.

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Here’s a twofer: Akuma doing his taunt.

Not surprisingly, Second Impact recycles much of the artwork from the previous game. The new additions match perfectly with the old, which makes me wonder if more than just Hugo was originally planned for New Generation.  My favorite addition to the game in terms of graphics would have to be the addition of Effie – Necro’s girlfriend and fellow test subject – to the end of his matches: if he wins, she apes his winpose; if he loses, she lies down beside him. It’s a nice cute touch and honestly, I can’t imagine one without the other these days. She also joins the Judgement Girls, bring the group to a total of 8 girls. As usual, Capcom decided to give each of the returning characters a different default palette and adjusted the designs of all of the returning stages. However, the game also added some new stages – and not just for the new characters. Alex, Sean, Ken and Gill all receive completely new stages, while Yun and Yang essentially split their stage from New Generation – Yun takes the bustling Hong Kong cityscape, while Yang takes the indoor segment. Giant Attack is actually unique among the other games in the SF3 trilogy: it’s the only one where each character has their own unique stage. The fresh coat of paint on existing stages is nice, but most of the backgrounds end up losing their transitions in the process. I’m just not sure if that’s a fair tradeoff.

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I feel like about 33% of the reason I miss Necro is because of Effie.

The HUD has changed and though it takes up even less room than the NG version, I’m just not a fan of the close-ups on each character’s eyes. The fact that the Super Meters list which Super Art each character is using and how many bars they can hold is a nice touch though. The new introduction is a little less interesting than that of the first game, focusing on a showdown between Alex and Hugo, while characters new and old face-off in the transitions. It’s definitely more active than the previous game’s intro, but it lacks style. The same could be said for the Player Select screen and the other various menus in the game, they’re certainly more functional than the ones in New Generation, but they’re simplistic and kind of ugly to look at. It’s eerie just how much 2nd Impact has in common with Night Warriors.

Giant Attack is also unique in the sense that it’s the only CPS3 game that supports widescreen play natively – New Generation had this feature dummied out, but it could be hacked in. It’s also the only CPS3 game that can be played after the battery dies in its security cartridge. This is because there’s a default set of decryption keys that are written to dead cartridges. In fact, it’s thought that all CPS3 cartridges set their default decryption keys to those of Second Impact once the battery dies, though this hasn’t been tested on legitimate hardware due to the rarity and fragility of the CPS3 in general.

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Yeah, I wasn’t going to actually try to get a Judgement legitimately. That’s just crazy talk.

My mixed reactions also extend to the sound design. Most of the sound team returns from New Generation, though Hiroaki “X68k” Kondo joins the Sound Effect design and Yuki Iwai is only credited as a composer: Okugawa handled all of the game’s arrangements himself. As such, a lot of music from the previous iteration returns, essentially remixed from the previous versions with clear inspiration from genres like Drum & Bass, Techno and House music. I personally preferred the New Generation tracks, but these new versions get the job done. The soundtrack really shines when it comes to its original tracks though. Sean, Ken and Gill all receive new themes, while Yun and Yang have two completely different arrangements of their theme from New Generation, each signifying the personality of each brother: Yun’s variant sounds much more upbeat and heroic, while Yang’s is laid-back and mystical. I’d probably say that the highlights from this game’s soundtrack would have to be Sean’s new theme “SÃO PAULO”; Urien’s theme “NILE (afro edit)”; “JAZZY-NYC (NY house mix)”, the arrangement of Alex’s theme; Dudley’s arrangement “LEAVE ALONE (UK house mix)”; “GIANT ATTACK”, Shin Akuma’s theme and my personal favorite of the bunch, Hugo’s “BOTTOMS UP”. Some new voice actors join the cast, but this time, they’re all Japanese – even though, by all logic, most of these new characters should be speaking English. I suppose considering how quickly this game came out, it makes sense that Capcom would only be able to find Japanese actors on such short notice.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I didn’t mention any home ports when I was discussing New Generation. That’s because, before the 30th Anniversary Collection came out, there was only one home release for both games – Street Fighter III: Double Impact for the Sega Dreamcast. Originally released in Japan as “Street Fighter III: W Impact” in Japan on December 16, 1999, it was eventually released in the West the following year. Both games are, for the most part, direct ports of the arcade versions – albeit with a few bug fixes in some cases – but they also add in a few new features. Gill can be unlocked as a playable character (with an ending and everything) in both games by beating them, while Shin Akuma is unlocked by defeating him in 2nd Impact. Both games also have dedicated Versus and Training modes, while Second Impact has an additional “Parrying Attack” mode, which lets you play the bonus stage at any time, both in the standard format and a new “Survival” format, that lets you keep going until you miss a set number of parries. It’s also interesting that Double Impact uses the CPS3 CD art for New Generation and Second Impact on the game select screen. It’s another one of those nice little touches that Capcom was prone to during this era.

w-impact

Seriously, this was a nice detail.

It’s impossible to argue that 2nd Impact wasn’t better remembered than its predecessor, but not by much. In the end, both games would be completely overshadowed almost entirely by what was yet to come. Still, Giant Attack took necessary steps forward from the original iteration of SF3 and that’s honestly the best anyone could ask from a revision. As with New Generation, the 30th Anniversary Collection has brought Second Impact back to the forefront. In fact, there’s a small following of people who wanted it to receive online play in that collection, though not nearly on the same scale as the support for Alpha 2. Still, it’s kind of endearing to know that this game still has fans, despite its obscurity.

Street Fighter III 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future

And now we’re at the main event, the game you’ve probably all been waiting for. The game that, let’s face it, 99.9% of Street Fighter fans – and even that feels like an underestimate – think of when they hear those three succulent words: “Street Fighter Three”. 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future is the final release in the Street Fighter III sub-series, but it’s more unique than that. In previous entries – and even this one – I told you about Capcom’s tendency to brand revisions to earlier titles as sequels to the previous games. But Third Strike is unique: it’s a sequel masquerading as a revision! Aside from Arc System Works, I can’t honestly think of any other company, fighting game or otherwise, that have tried to pull this kind of thing on their audience. Released to Japanese arcades on May 12, 1999, for many years this was literally the ultimate Street Fighter, the last new game in the series released in almost a decade. For the die-hard hardcore fans, it was the perfect way to go out.

ts001

Also, it probably had the best opening of the three.

Now compared to the original release and 2nd Impact, there is an abundance of interviews, behind the scenes information about the game’s development and other miscellaneous pieces of trivia floating around about 3rd Strike, likely due to its popularity. For starters, it was only of the earliest games that Yoshinori Ono – the current producer of the Street Fighter series – worked on at Capcom, acting as a Sound Producer for the game. Ironically, it wasn’t the first Street Fighter game he worked on: he was the Sound Manager on Alpha 3, which explains his exquisite taste in characters. Of course, most of the game’s staff returned from Second Impact and Ono was one of only a few additions to the dev team. Also, despite years of rumors regarding a fourth version, the development team viewed Fight for the Future as the culmination of the SFIII series.

Another interesting tidbit is that one of the breakout characters from Third Strike, the spunky tomboy karateka known simply as Makoto, was fully designed during the development of 2nd Impact, but the staff ran out of time to include her as a playable character. In fact, her original character concept was to be Ryu’s younger sister, but that connection was dropped relatively early on. On that note, Chun-Li was added to the game’s roster in order to add another familiar face to the game, to entice players of previous games to give Third Strike a shot. I remember reading somewhere that they also considered adding Dan Hibiki from the Alpha games to the roster, but I saw that info so long ago and can’t find any evidence to corroborate this little factoid – the closest thing to evidence I can find would be the spritework for Dan in the Capcom vs. SNK games which looks like it was modeled after the character sprites in the SF3 games. I know it’s flimsy reasoning, but I’m such a big fan of Dan’s, I just want to believe. One last tidbit, just to make up for my own rampant speculation: originally, when Twelve used his X.C.O.P.Y. Super Art on Hugo, he was going to turn into Abigail from Final Fight instead. Kind of funny in retrospect, wouldn’t you say?

ts000

Better than 2nd Impact, but I still like New Generation’s better.

So, considering the fact that the game takes place after Second Impact (and to a lesser extent, New Generation), it only feels right to explain what exactly about the previous game has been accepted as canon in 3rd Strike. For starters, Ryu was eliminated from the tournament by Oro, who views the “young” (the ancient hermit’s words, not mine) warrior as a suitable disciple to teach his style, which leads to him dropping out of the tournament. Ken, disappointed because he can’t fight Ryu, also drops out of the tournament and tells Sean that he’ll train him only if he’s able to defeat Ryu in combat. Alex – who, if you’ll remember, was originally intended to be the game’s new protagonist – was the winner of the third World Warrior Tournament, toppling Gill in one-on-one combat. Ibuki manages to infiltrate the Illuminati’s headquarters and achieve her quarry: the files about their G-Project, unconcerned by the ninja’s mission because the project is well underway. Necro confronts Gill for the what G-Project did to him but ends up trapped in a warehouse set to explode. Necro only manages to escape with the help of Effie. Finally, Urien challenges Gill for the presidency of the Illuminati and succeeds, only to discover that Gill purposely threw the fight in order to be declared their Emperor – the true leader of the organization.

It’s also assumed that Dudley managed to retrieve his father’s beloved antique car somehow, as that storyline doesn’t resurface in Third Strike. Aside from that, the rest of the returning cast’s motivations haven’t really changed: Elena’s still looking for new friends all over the world, Hugo’s still seeking a strong tag team partner, Akuma still lurks in the shadows seeking a suitable opponent and Yun and Yang still want to protect their hometown from crime and violence. Because the tournament has concluded, Fight for the Future’s storyline focuses much more on the dealings of the Illuminati itself and their goal of creating a new world order.

ts003

Not pictured: Dudley’s antique car.

Of course, there’s a new cast of characters added to the game – five in total. First and foremost, Chun-Li returns from a long absence. After avenging her father’s death, she’s retired from street fighting, focusing her time on police work and teaching martial arts to a group of orphans. One day, a young girl under her care, Li-Fen, is abducted by Urien to be used in one of the Illuminati’s science experiments, prompting Chun-Li to come out of retirement and rescue her young charge. Makoto is a practitioner of Rindo-kan karate, having inherited her late father’s dojo. Unfortunately, it’s seen better days, so Makoto decides to drum up some business by challenging some of the world’s strongest fighters. Remy is a mysterious fighter from France who bears a grudge against all fighters ever since his father disappeared, abandoning him and his late sister. Strangely, Remy’s fighting style resembles that of Guile and Charlie, leading many to speculate that there may have been some connection between them. Twelve is an artificial lifeform, one of the first successful products of the Illuminati’s G-Project. He can shapeshift, transforming his body parts into weapons and even mimic his opponents. His first mission is to track down Necro, his predecessor, and kill him. Finally, there’s Q. Not much is known about Q, aside from the fact that he wears a strange robotic mask and an overcoat that conceals most of his body. To add to his air of mystery, Q only appears as a hidden opponent in Arcade mode – even though he’s a standard playable character.

ts006

Believe it or not, these are two different characters.

Third Strike also manages to expand on the previous game’s single-player arcade mode. For starters, the larger roster allows for a gauntlet of 10 characters. The game also brings in a second bonus stage: the classic “Car Crusher” returns, though this time, players are tasked with demolishing an SUV, pre-rendered using a 3D model. Rival battles also return from Alpha 3, allowing each character a specific opponent in their penultimate fight, with pre-fight dialogue (to a lesser extent than SFA3). Gill also regains his position as the final boss for every character. The game also offers another twist on the traditional formula, which may be one of my favorite twists on the concept in the entirety of fighting games: for the first eight fights in the arcade ladder, players are given the choice between two different opponents. It’s an interesting concept and I wish more games could have explored it, though I am happy to say that 3rd Strike isn’t the only game to explore the idea – stay tuned.

ts004

Seriously, this was a game changer.

Comparatively, the additions that Fight for the Future brings to the general gameplay mechanics is pretty sparse, though considering how solid 2nd Impact’s framework was, there wasn’t really that much to add. There are two major additions to 3S’s gameplay. The first is the addition of the Guard Parry – commonly referred to as the “Red Parry” – which allows players to parry follow-up attacks if they block the first hit of a combo. The timing for this mechanic is much stricter than a standard parry, but it offers a huge frame advantage, allowing for easy reversals. The other major addition is a new grading scale, which ranks a player’s Offense, Defense, Technique (determined by how you defeat your opponent) and “SP Point”, which varies based on whether or not you finish off your opponent with a Special Move, an EX Move or a Super Art. These scores are all tallied up and the player is given a grade, ranging from a lowly E all the way to MSF (which stands for “Master Street Fighter”). Aside from providing bragging rights about just how well one can follow arbitrary criteria, the grading system determines whether Q appears in Arcade Mode and plays a role in the rebalanced Judgement system.

ts002

Eh, the grades, I could take or leave, but the artwork is nice.

Finally, commands for a few standard techniques were changed across the board. For starters, the command for performing throws had changed, no longer requiring players to push a direction and either medium or heavy punch in close contact, opting for a simultaneous press of light punch and kick – much like how Alpha 3 switched it to a far less enduring two punch command. Like, there was also the addition of a universal command for overheads: medium punch and kick. Together with the returning Personal Action command from Second Impact, this allowed Capcom to maximize the versatility of the standard six-button layout and would inspire future titles.

Once again, the graphics are something of a mixed bag compared to previous iterations. The new character sprites mesh well with the old. In particular, Twelve pushes the animation capabilities of the CPS3 hardware with his transformative abilities – I really wish Capcom had made a Darkstalkers game on this hardware. On the other hand, the backgrounds are pretty underwhelming compared to those from the previous two versions of the game. They’re about as detailed as the earlier ones, but I just find them less appealing. They’re all fairly empty, the colors are much less vibrant and the locales themselves just seem to have way less character, both figuratively and literally – many stages are shared between characters, usually with minor variations in color depending on the character. As such, these shared stages are generally less memorable than the ones from previous games. My personal favorites would have to be the return of Suzaku Castle as Ryu’s stage; Makoto’s karate dojo, Necro and Twelve’s take on St. Basil’s Cathedral, Hugo’s room and Elena’s savannah.

ts005

This is apparently supposed to be France.

The menus, on the other hand, are a marked improvement over Second Impact’s. Every character receives brand new artwork, looking even more hand-drawn than those of the previous games. The in-game HUD is my favorite of all three games: it combines the clean look of New Generation with the functionality of Second Impact. I’d also say that the game has the best looking introductory cutscene out of all three games. The endings also have more of a hand-drawn look compared to the previous two games.

I’m definitely in the minority, but I was never particularly fond of Third Strike’s soundtrack. Hideki Okugawa returns from the first two games, collaborating with rapper Infinite, formerly of the Canadian rap duo Ghetto Concept. As such, the game has more of a hip-hop sound compared to the previous two games. Most of the previous games’ compositions are left by the wayside – aside from Jazzy NYC and Crowded Street – in favor of brand new songs. A lot of characters end up sharing themes, even more than in New Generation, though this is likely due to the large roster and the lack of recycled music. In spite of my general distaste for the soundtrack, I do have favorite tracks. Dudley’s new theme “YOU BLOW MY MIND”; Necro and Twelve’s “SNOWLAND”; Q’s theme, which is fittingly titled “Q”; “Jazzy NYC ‘99” used by Alex and Ken; Yun and Yang’s “CROWDED STREET [Third Edit]” and my personal favorite, Makoto’s “Spunky”.

Satoshi Ise returns on sound design, joined by Yoshiki Sandou. Third Strike was actually Sandou’s first project with Capcom and would eventually go on to perform sound design on titles like Devil May Cry 3, MegaMan Powered Up and Resident Evils 5 and 6. Infinite also does the announcer voiceovers in this game, which helps to create a consistent sound. What’s more impressive is that the entire voice cast from the previous two games have been replaced. Most characters retain their spoken languages from 2nd Impact, aside from Urien, who now speaks English. Chun-Li, Makoto and Remy all have Japanese voice actors, while Q and Twelve “speak” English – not that they do much talking in the first place.

3rd Strike also received more home ports than its predecessors. The game was ported to the Dreamcast in 2000 in Japan, North America and Europe. This release added dedicated Versus and Training modes, with a new option to parry train. There’s also the addition of a new “System Direction” mode, which allows players to customize the gameplay by turning various options on and off. For example, players can choose to allow characters access to all three of their Super Arts at a time, block in the air, enable Chain Combos in the ground and the air and even turn off things like Special Moves and Throws. I kind of wish more fighting games had this level of customization. The Dreamcast version also an additional remix of each character’s music, which play during the third round of any match. This release would eventually be ported to the PlayStation 2 in Japan on July 22, 2004. In the west, it was included in the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection alongside a home port of Hyper Street Fighter II. It was released on the PlayStation 2 exclusively in North America on August 31, 2004, with an Xbox release following in Europe and Japan in October 2004 and North America on February 22nd, 2005. Unfortunately, none of these versions are considered “arcade perfect”, specifically because it was based on a later revision than the tournament standard. Many experts on the subject also cite that the console versions are perceivably faster, but it seems like aside from various minor balance adjustments, the general distaste among the most hardcore Third Strike fans is based on something intangible – most of them can only agree that it doesn’t “feel right”.

Of course, considering both the wide gap between Street Fighter releases and the amount of skill required to properly play the game – let alone master it – it only made sense that Third Strike would garner a cult following among the FGC. In fact, the game was a major part of the EVO Championship Series from 2000 – back when it was referred to as “B4” – all the way up to 2009, where it was played alongside the next game in the franchise. It would briefly resurface in 2011 for reasons I’ll get to later, but aside from that the game itself still continues to be played in smaller tournaments to this day. Of course, 3S’s biggest claim to fame is easily “Evo Moment #37”. During a semi-final match at the 2004 EVO tournament, Daigo Umehara managed to make an unexpected comeback against Justin Wong by parrying 15 consecutive hits of a Super Art with just a single pixel of health left, before countering and winning the round and the match. Arguably the most iconic moment in video game competitions, this moment went on to influence the fighting game community to this day.

It was this undying admiration that caused Capcom to re-release the game in the seventh generation. Rechristened Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition, it was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 exclusively via the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade on August 23, 2011 in Japan and North America, with a European release the following day. Iron Galaxy Studios handled this release, effectively taking the PS2 port and reprogramming it to accurately match the arcade revision accepted as the tournament standard – aside from any glitches that locked up the game, of course. In this sense, Online Edition was essentially an “anti-HD Remix”: the original spritework and backgrounds were used (with optional filters), the original aspect ratio was retained and maintaining the original balance was the chief priority in OE.

online-edition

Still considered the definitive home release, even to this day.

Iron Galaxy also added various in-match challenges – simple things like performing a certain number of special moves, combos of various lengths and parrying a set number of times – which would unlock “Vault Points”, which could be used to unlock various bonus features, like artwork and music, new and old. Online Edition also offers players to the option to customize the in-game soundtrack: players could keep the standard soundtrack from the arcade version, use tracks from NG and 2I or an entirely remixed soundtrack recorded specifically for Online Edition. Best of all, you could mix and match between these three options on a stage-by-stage basis. 3rd Strike Online Edition also boasted a Challenge mode, where players would attempt to perform set combos, parry various attacks and even recreate the aforementioned “EVO Moment #37”.

Of course, the major selling point of this release was its online play and it delivered on that promise. Utilizing GGPO’s proprietary brand of rollback netcode – generally considered the gold standard by the fighting game community at large – the online mode offered the option to create lobbies (with a maximum of eight players) and filters for matchmaking, as well as the option to play Ranked or Player matches. Not only did this mode offer replays, but it offered the option to upload them directly to YouTube. 3SOE may very well have been the definitive release of the game, but unfortunately, it’s not available on modern platforms: the recent 30th Anniversary Collection contains a straight emulation of the arcade version with completely different netcode.

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter how successful Third Strike was in its initial arcade release. By 1999, the popularity of arcades outside of Japan had fallen significantly after Street Fighter II breathed new life into them at the beginning of the decade. By this point, home consoles had long since caught up to arcades, both technologically and in terms of saturation. To make matters even more grim, Capcom no longer needed Street Fighter or fighting games in general: the Resident Evil franchise became the company’s chief source of income, with sales regularly in the millions, making nearly as much money as the most popular Street Fighter games on a much more regular basis. The mainstream gaming medium had grown past 2D fighting games: 3D franchises like Virtua Fighter, Tekken and Dead or Alive managed to carve out a sizable niche on home consoles, but even this couldn’t compare to the heyday of the 90s. A few small developers like SNK and Arc System Works continued to make games in that style, to appeal to a small but dedicated fanbase, but Capcom and other large companies seemed to be done with the genre for good.

…Or were they?

With that, I’ve covered the entirety of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection in these retrospectives – from the 1987 original all the way to 1999’s Third Strike – and then some. I was originally planning to go straight into the modern era with the next article, but this trip down memory lane hasn’t quite slaked my nostalgic thirst for Street Fighter. I was planning on doing a “bonus” Retrospective once the main series was done, discussing a few high-profile licensed spin-offs that Capcom farmed out to other developers. But after this latest article, I think I’d rather take a look at these offshoots sooner rather than later. I’m not sure when it will be ready, but keep an eye out.

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