Armchair Dev: MegaMan X9

I’ll be honest, this will be the second article I’ve written on the topic of building a new MegaMan X game. The last one I wrote was a few years back, as a part of my “Sum of Its Parts” series. You’re probably wondering what’s changed since then that would justify me writing another MMX9 proposal – especially when I’ve made it clear that the MMX series is my least favorite iteration of the MegaMan franchise. Well, a few things have changed from that previous article. For starters, I’ve managed to play the remainder of the series – X6, X7, X8 and Command Mission – which has given me various tips and tricks on how not to build a MegaMan game. Second, Capcom has recently been trying to redeem themselves in the eyes of customers and as such, a new MMX game feels way more possible especially with their refreshed approach to game design, remembering the games that brought them to prominence in the first place. Finally, the most important change is that this is a different series: I’m no longer limited to crafting a new game entirely from elements of the games of the past. This time, every aspect of design is subject entirely to my whims. A dangerous prospect from someone who claims to dislike the series, but I promise I’ll be gentle with my assessment – believe me, my editor will make sure of that.

Originally, I planned on doing this article as a sort of conclusion to my upcoming MegaMan X retrospective, which is coming out next month in honor of its 25th anniversary. However, I’ve got a gut feeling that if I wait until then to post this write-up, I’m going to get sniped again. The same way Capcom beat me to the punch last year by announcing MM11 well before my Classic series retrospective got posted – which concluded with a virtual obituary for the series. You know the old adage: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. This time around, I’m going to put it out there well before I assume Capcom will make an official announcement of MMX9 – which I’m assuming will come in December, just like last year.

Of course, on the other hand, it seems a bit presumptuous to write up an article without playing the latest game in the series: the aforementioned MegaMan 11, which came out last month. So, I decided to wait until I’d finished that game before starting this write-up. After all, it’s a good idea to know what direction Capcom is taking the series as a whole in the effort to refresh it for audiences new and old. And don’t you worry, I’ll plan on doing an article about a possible “MegaMan 12”—still need to decide the format – but you’re not going to see that until early next year. I’ve been advised by my editor to point out that X9 should happen before MM12, but let’s be honest – the X fanbase, like most fanbases, is full of zealots that would probably threaten anyone they came across who didn’t make that abundantly clear in the first place. I have few delusions about the size of my audience, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

I’ll be changing up the format a bit from last time. The headers will remain for the most part, but since there’s significantly less for me to micro-manage with a platformer than a fighting game – at least without outright turning this article into a fan fiction – there will be significantly less sub-headers, which should simplify things a fair amount. Also, considering the fact that I’m almost positive that MMX9 is already in development, I’ll be discussing both my own personal preferences and the path I believe Capcom is most likely to take, just to make things a little more interesting.

Story

Let’s start with the game’s storyline… or more specifically, where this new game could end up in the MegaMan X series’ timeline. You’d think it would be as simple as just setting this game after all of the mainline games that came before it, but both the history of the MMX sub-series and the tendency some Japanese publishers (Capcom especially) have of shunting unpopular games to the end of the timeline and setting future releases between them and their more popular predecessors put this certainty in jeopardy. The MMX series left us on a sour note – with two straight disappointing releases, ranging from mediocre to outright bad, capped off with a game that tried to right the course of the series but came up short. To make matters worse, from what I’ve seen, a majority of fans either consider the first or fourth game as the best in the series. That means that, best case scenario, the franchise peaked only halfway through what’s already been released so far. Not exactly the best sign, at least in my opinion.

The X series has a greater emphasis on an ongoing storyline than the original “Classic” MegaMan series, which opted for more episodic adventures akin to Saturday morning cartoons of a bygone era. MM11 opted to expand the storyline by exploring aspects of the franchise’s lore: specifically detailing what led to the end of Dr. Light and Wily’s friendship and the experiment that led to Wily becoming a pariah in the field of robotics. MMX, on the other hand, probably has the shallowest lore out of all of the MegaMan sub-series. Expanding the setting of 21XX would probably be a good idea overall, but that’s Capcom’s decision to make.

It’s also somewhat difficult to determine exactly what is canon within the X series. As far as I can tell, the RPG spinoff Command Mission is the only game that Capcom has outright stated is non-canon. Considering it takes place in 22XX – the same time period the Zero games are supposed to take place – I’m not surprised. The Xtreme spinoff games for the Game Boy Color are generally accepted to take place early in the game’s timeline: the first Xtreme takes place between X2 and X3, while the second takes place between X3 and X4. Maverick Hunter X is just a remake of the first game, but they made some changes to the story – such as the fate of Dr. Cain – so it’s hard to say if Capcom will consider either the SNES original or MHX canon when revisiting the series (or even mix aspects of both games).

To make matters even worse, even the mainline games fall victim to arguments regarding their canonicity. The first five games are safe – after all, X5 was originally meant to wrap up the X series. The remaining three are where arguments flare up. Some claim that because X6 was being made around the time the first Zero game was in development (managing to be released before it) as well as having an ending that seems to tie into MMZ, it’s the true final game in the franchise. Thus, X7 and X8 take place in a non-canon alternate timeline, much like but distinct from Command Mission’s timeline. I’ve seen some argue that X7 & 8 are canon, stating that the Zero and ZX games are non-canon – and then not really going into their opinions about whether or not Legends is still canonical. Then you’ve got a third camp that insists that both X7/X8 and Zero/ZX are canonical somehow: I guess they think that the Elf Wars should take place in future releases within the X series.

I’m not exactly sure which of these theories I follow: I guess I sort of oscillate between the “X5 was the last X game” and “everything mainline is canon” camps, but I outright hate the “Zero/ZX is non-canon” concept. I only bring this up to hammer home the fact that the X series will be difficult to continue in the first place. Every other active MegaMan series? The answer is obvious – MegaMan 12, a ZX3 to wrap up the trilogy, Legends 3 – progression is fairly simple because none of the other sub-series has the problems the X series does. Of course, none of these points are anything new if you’ve been reading my criticisms on the MMX series. Fortunately, in this case, they yield something positive: we actually have a topic worth discussing.

The first clear option is the most obvious: a true X9 – that is, a direct sequel to MegaMan X8. After all, X8 ended on a pretty big cliffhanger – one I’m not afraid to spoil right now, because the game literally came out over a decade ago. While the production of next-generation Reploids with copy-chip abilities would be delayed after it was discovered that they could still go Maverick, Lumine’s last attack on Axl has left him comatose, his forehead gem flickering with an ominous purple spark of energy. I’m not sure if Capcom meant for that to be such a blatant cliffhanger but that’s definitely how it came across back in 2004. This does seem to be the most popular option when it comes to fan demand – which is weird, given how much Axl is despised. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Capcom seems to be coming around to pushing other franchises past their most controversial points: Street Fighter V appears to be pushing towards revisiting the events of SF3 in some form and there’s been speculation that the upcoming Devil May Cry V might actually take place after the extremely unpopular DMC2. Either way, X8 was included in the recently released MegaMan X Legacy Collection 2, so fans at least have a refresher in case Capcom decides to continue from there.

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Subtle, but it’s there.

On the other hand, the least controversial option for a revival might be an interquel. It’s not exactly new territory for the X games: the Xtreme games fill in the gaps between X2 and X4 rather well, whether they’re considered canon or not. Going backward could allow Capcom to revisit the franchise’s less controversial days without nixing existing canon, allowing them to weigh their options about how to continue the franchise while sating the howls of hunger coming from the MMX contingent. In other words, an interquel may be Capcom’s best option of having their cake and eating it too. And it’s not like there aren’t other gaps that could be filled in the X timeline. Several new characters were added to the Maverick Hunters’ base of operation between X4 and X5, so that’s a plausible option – better yet, it could reintroduce these characters to lapsed fans who fell out of the series after the SNES games. Another option could be exploring what happens between X6 and X7: was there some kind of trauma that led X to temporarily retire by the start of X7? Finally, Capcom could do a game that takes place between X7 and X8. After all, Axl seems to be a fully-fledged Maverick Hunter by X8, while X7’s ending seems to put this status in doubt. Finding out how Axl proves himself to the seasoned X and Zero could be interesting to some extent, maybe even redeem the scrappy young Reploid in the eyes of the fanbase. Regardless, if Capcom decides to go this route, they’d technically be giving me something I’ve wanted for a long time: a third “Xtreme” game.

But aside from the clear ringers, are there any other options Capcom might have when they revisit the X series? Capcom could always decide to go with a soft reboot: effectively ignoring some of the more sweeping changes made to the status quo in future titles, while not necessarily undoing them. They could do a traditional X and Zero adventure while Axl is still healing from the injuries he received during X8’s conclusion, put decidedly little emphasis on Maverick Hunter HQ and just bring back Sigma without any explanation yet again. This might be a little harder to swing than it was for the Classic series – which is strictly episodic in nature – but honestly, the running storyline of the X games didn’t really begin to take shape until the fifth game anyway. While jettisoning some of those concepts might not be popular with everyone, it would probably do the best with bringing those aforementioned lapsed fans back into the fold with a story-light adventure clearly cut from the same cloth as the first 3 games.

My final two options don’t really necessitate separate mentions, but they are both clearly the most extreme options of the bunch. Capcom could choose to continue the attempted reboot that started with Maverick Hunter X or just completely reboot the series as a whole. After all, the scrapped first-person shooter “Maverick Hunter” was clearly a separate continuity from the traditional MMX games, so it’s not like it’s a completely foreign concept to Capcom. Meanwhile, Maverick Hunter X (along with its sister title, MegaMan Powered Up) was meant to spawn an entire series of remakes. I mean, it would probably be smarter to re-release MHX in some form before continuing that line of remakes – but whether they decide to do more straight remakes or just create an entirely new continuity from MHX’s modified premise, it could be a good way to refresh the X series as a whole: effectively keeping what worked and changing what didn’t.

So, what do I think Capcom’s going to do with their next game? My gut tells me they’re going to go with option 1 – an X9 that is a direct sequel to MMX8. Now that declaration may come across as arrogant, but fortunately I’ve got a piece of evidence to support my argument. The cover art for this new Legacy Collection’s soundtrack includes X and Zero jamming on guitars, a tambourine-clad Mettool and Alia and Axl singing a duet. The interesting thing is that both Alia and Axl have some slightly tweaked designs. They aren’t quite as radically different as the new MegaMan and Roll designs that popped up before MM11 was officially announced, but it does seem suspect that both of these characters from later games in the series would receive that kind of attention, while X and Zero’s designs don’t look all that different from the PS1 era, though the art style better resembles that of Maverick Hunter X.

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I think it’s funny that Alia’s the one with the mic stand.

As for me, I’m going for option 2. I’ll base my proposal as an interquel – I’ll be contemplating a game that takes place between X4 and X5. Personally, I wasn’t really a fan of how X5 felt almost like a total non-sequitur compared to its predecessor and given the following games’ greater focus on interconnected storylines. I also thought it was weird how many additional members of the Maverick Hunters were given focus from that point on, especially considering how even some of those characters – like Douglas and Lifesaver – fell by the wayside themselves in future titles. They don’t even really seem to get properly introduced within the context of X5: they’re just suddenly there, like they’ve always been there. I liked how the second Xtreme game “introduced” Iris as a Navigator for the Maverick Hunters, so seeing an interquel actually introduce some (if not all) of those new members might be a good pick.

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What a cute character. I’m sure she’s got a good long life in store for her.

I’d also love to see more of an exploration of the Repliforce concept: they were probably my favorite antagonistic force in the X series, but their history wasn’t explored nearly as much as it could’ve been. By X5, The Skiver Spiral Pegasus seems to be their last surviving combatant, but who’s to say there weren’t more before him? There’s a lot that could be explored during that period and it would also allow for a storyline that’s less muddled by some of the more controversial additions to the series, while also providing proper introductions for characters that became prominent from X5 onward. It also doesn’t hurt that X4’s my favorite game in the series, so of course I’d want to continue on from what I’d consider the pinnacle of the MegaMan X series in a new release. As such, I’d want this game to be given the same treatment as the Game Boy’s MegaMan V – an assortment of 8 unique bosses crafted exclusively for this game. Maybe even split the Mavericks into two groups of four, much like the previous Xtreme games (among others).

Gameplay

Now personally, I think that when it comes to the revival of MegaMan, the X series is probably the worst possible direction to go. You’d think this would come down to my personal preferences, but honestly – it’s strictly due to the fact that Capcom’s already brought back the Classic games. MegaMan X was originally built to effectively be a “Super MegaMan”, a game that was meant to update the conventions of the classic 8-bit platformer on the NES for the 16-bit era. In other words, bringing back X would be akin to starting an ice cream parlor that only serves French Vanilla and Vanilla Bean. Both styles have their respective fans and while I’d probably end up buying whatever new X game Capcom produces (as long as it looks as good as MM11 did), the MegaMan franchise is still in critical condition and in the past, the Classic and X series were pretty much never able to coexist without issue. There’s a certain cannibalization inherent among both sub-series: they could play nice with offshoots in different genres (Legends, Battle Network and Star Force) and even some of the more radical departures among 2D platformers (Zero and ZX), but the rise of one always seems to be predicated by the decline of the other.

Maybe Capcom’s learned their lesson about managing to give the same amount of attention to the Classic and X series, but warring fanbases is probably the least of their concerns. Avoiding series fatigue among the mainstream audience could be difficult, considering that’s what led to MegaMan’s decline in the first place. The best solution I can think of would be to emphasize the differences between the two. Bringing X into the third dimension was a clear mistake, so this will be a difficult task. Maybe borrow a few elements from some of MMX’s own successors, but perhaps the best way to handle it would be to play up some of the different gameplay elements found across the first six five X games.

In fact, MegaMan 11 is the major reason that I decided to wait so long to do this write-up: the trailers seemed to imply that in addition to regaining his slide and charge shot from later games, the Blue Bomber was going to be getting some new moves. New moves that might have aped some of X’s trademarks, making differentiating them more difficult. The one that caught my eye the most was using the Power Gear in tandem with the boss weapons – obviously a take on X’s ability to charge them. Fortunately, MM11 made that distinct enough from X’s concept. If I could use some fighting game terminology, the Power Gear-enhanced weapons resemble EX Specials, effectively just more powerful versions of the original weapons. X’s charged weapons, more often than not, were completely different from the standard versions. So that convention can help to differentiate the two, while remaining essentially unaltered.

On that note, the basic maneuvers typically found in the X games can be left unaltered for the most part. There’s enough overlap with a buster charging mechanic to allow it to appear in both games. X’s platforming is far more momentum based, relying upon dash-jumps, clinging to walls to slow descent and combining the two mechanics to scale to new heights with ease. Hopefully, the level design would be modified to actually rely on these abilities, as opposed to just making traditional MegaMan Classic-style stage layouts far more manageable – which is how many of the SNES games worked out.

Of course, the fifth game introduced a few new abilities to both X and Zero’s repertoire, ones that I’d say had mixed success. The duck was probably (aside from Dynamo) the best addition to X5 and fulfilled a long-running request among the fanbase: I’ve seen people begging for a crouch mechanic in NES MegaMan games. It was dropped in X8, but if Capcom wants to set a possible X9 away from MM11, bringing back the duck seems like it would be a simple fix. Given the fact that Classic’s slide allows him to navigate through specific passages and dodge some enemy attacks while X favors a much more momentum-based dash, the duck clearly has value within the X series.

The other major addition that came into play in X5 were the ziplines. I kind of want to like the mechanic, but for the most part, they were just used to navigate spike-lined areas. I do recall a few interesting instances where players had to jump from zipline to zipline to scale a specific area, but more often than not, it was just “don’t touch the spikes for less than a screen length”. I’ve got a gut feeling that this mechanic has some real potential, I just can’t work out how. Maybe use the Zero games for inspiration…

As for more good luck regarding the revival of the X series, MegaMan 11 (at least upon its initial release) has stuck to a single playable character, an absolute godsend for X fans. Later games in the X series – technically starting with X3, but I’d argue it really took shape in X4 – offered players the choice between multiple playable characters. While other series (specifically ZX and especially later releases in the Classic series) would use these mechanics, they were likely used best in the X games. Zero’s melee combat added a new dimension to the MegaMan formula – and one so complex, it served as the premise for yet another spinoff – and no other attempt really managed to be such a game-changer: Bass probably came the closest in Rockman & Forte, boasting aimable rapid fire, X-style dashing and his incredibly overpowered double jump. As a brief aside, Protoman’s playstyle in MM9 & MM10 relied on exclusively possessing the charge shot and slide, so I’m wondering how they’d tweak his playstyle if they decide to bring him back in future installments.

Speaking of, I guess it’s a good time to break down exactly how each character should work in these new games.

X

Let’s start with the Blue Bummer title character himself. X’s playstyle shouldn’t vary too much from the previous games: as per usual, he should start out with the most basic moveset of the three, only to be augmented with armor collected throughout the eight boss Maverick stages. In other words, most of what X’s base form is capable of is what the other playable characters should be capable of. His mobility options consist of the dash, dash-jump, wall-grab and wall climb. Obviously, he should also have a two-level charge shot, just like always. Oh, and since Classic didn’t end up using this in MM11, give X the ability to use his X-Buster while he has a weapon equipped. Give him the duck and zipline if the other characters have them too. Basically, base form X should probably be the benchmark for what any other playable characters should be capable of doing.

As for the armor, I’m a little torn. While I sort of liked the later games’ option of offering X multiple armors, the fact that he needed a full set to utilize any of their parts was unacceptable. Eventually, I decided on a compromise between the way extra components were handled in X3 and X8. All eight Maverick levels will have their own capsules – two apiece for Head, Arm, Body and Leg parts. The first of each type of Capsule the player finds will grant them the base armor. If they find the second one, they have the choice to upgrade them in one of two ways. So, for example: when the player finds the first leg part capsule, they gain the ability to air dash. When they find the second, they’re given the ability to choose between the vertical air dash from X3 or the ability to air-dash out of a dash-jump.

These are just examples, but essentially, there would be greater emphasis on player choice and customization. Each part would look distinct from the rest, allowing players the ability to understand what X is capable of at a glance. Obviously though, the basic parts would allow for X’s standard armor upgrades: the helmet would decrease the amount of ammo used by special weapons; the body armor would halve damage taken and the Buster upgrade would allow X an additional charge level for his buster and the aforementioned ability to charge boss weapons.

The Ultimate Armor would likely return, allowing the player full access to all of these enhanced abilities without choice. On top of that, give it an exclusive Giga Attack, perhaps based on a Street Fighter technique for old time’s sake? I’d also suggest reserving the Ultimate Armor as a hidden power-up in one of the Fortress levels – like in X3 and X5 – as opposed to making it strictly accessible via cheat code: make it both a reward for the players who clearly don’t need it (complete with achievement!) and an extra crutch for less-skilled players.

One last thing: if they decide to do another Street Fighter Easter egg – either with the Ultimate Armor or otherwise – I’d like to throw my support towards Blanka’s rolling attacks.

Zero

Next, we come to my personal favorite: the ultimate creation of [REDACTED], Zero. For Zero, I’m clearly going to be drawing from a number of sources – the PS1-era games, X8 and of course, the MegaMan Zero tetralogy. He’s got all of base form X’s mobility options, as well as the double jump and air-dash he has by default in many of the MMX games where he’s playable. Zero should retain his standard 3-hit combo attack and air-slash from X4-X6 (and the crouching slash from X5-X6), but also gain access to the charge slash from the Zero games, just for the sake of adding something new to his gameplay. Zero’s standard techniques – his own prizes for defeating the Maverick bosses – should be a mixture of old favorites and some original attacks, if at all possible. It’s a little boring cycling through the same techniques with different elements attached to them all the time.

Speaking of which, I was trying to think of a possible power-up for Zero that would effectively fulfill the same “collectable” niche that X’s armor fills. At the same time, I considered implementing the Element Chips from the Zero games, but those seem a little ham-fisted for Zero’s playstyle in the X games, particularly due to his emphasis on techniques rather than using two weapons in tandem. It was at that point that it hit me: Zero’s Weapons (introduced in X8) could fulfill a similar niche. While the Z-Saber itself would be an all-around weapon with the standard properties present for each technique, the optional weapons could be associated with a specific element, change up specific moves (like they did in X8) and maybe finding them could even unlock special techniques of their own that can be used by Zero with any other weapon, but are significantly more useful with their corresponding weapon. Better yet, they could even be prizes for defeating exclusive mini-bosses hidden in specific stages, like how X gained the body armor in the original MegaMan X.

Bonus: Axl

While my pitch doesn’t actually include the newest playable member of the Maverick Hunters, it still seems like it would be worth it to put forth my own ideas about the character. Keep the hover and aimable rapid fire from X8, but Capcom, please, take this one suggestion under advisement. I have a foolproof 3-step plan to fix Axl’s playstyle. Step 1: play MegaMan ZX Advent. Step 2: Just use the boss copy mechanic for Axl’s boss abilities. Step 3: That’s it, there is no step 3.

It’s infuriating that I even have to say this, but considering the fact that Inti Creates came up with a Biometal that was clearly based on Axl (but somehow also wasn’t based on him) in order to point this out to you is obscene. To make matters worse, you actually ended up using this concept for his Action Trigger – he was literally the only character in the game that got legitimate rewards after defeating the game’s major bosses! – in Command Mission. To make matters worse, it’s clear that Axl was always capable of this. He turned into Red in X7 and other Reploids outfitted with his copy chip technology also transformed into Sigma to survive planetary impact in X8. Like, I get that in X7, he was meant to be a replacement for X… but in X8, you just gave him his own set of alternative boss weapons. Just let the kid transform into the Maverick bosses already!

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The worst part is that Model A wasn’t even based on Axl in-universe, it was just a coincidence!

It’s so simple, it’s actually infuriating that this didn’t occur to them back in 2004. And I don’t even like Axl – mainly because he never uses the cool gimmick he has in any meaningful way! Instead, Capcom just allowed him to transform into random standard enemies. Honestly, that could probably be his Armor/Weapon equivalent: special non-boss transformations that improve his mobility or grant him abilities he wouldn’t have otherwise. Like, maybe one of these minor transformations would allow him to travel over spikes without taking damage, but severely hamper his mobility. Or he could transform into a flying enemy but doing so would limit his attack or defense abilities substantially. That way, his traditional transformations remain, but they would be significantly less useless than they were in the first place.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about X9 or “Xtreme 3”, I’ve got my doubts about including any other playable characters outside of X, Zero and yes, even Axl. Much like MM11, a new game should reestablish the existing property in the eyes of fans, new and old. Yet, I guess I’d be in remiss if I didn’t mention Vile from Maverick Hunter X. He had a unique playstyle, having access to three different weapon types at any given moment – taking a small arsenal of weapons into each stage. To make matters more interesting, many of Vile’s weapons are unlocked by defeating multiple bosses, as opposed to just getting a single weapon per boss. While I’ve got no doubt that Vile will likely return as a boss character in any new MMX game, I see two avenues for bringing back this playstyle. The first would be to introduce a brand-new Maverick Hunter character that takes on Vile’s gameplay. I don’t really see that happening just due to the sheer number of reintroductions a new X game would have to contend with in the first place. Personally, I prefer my second idea: a DLC expansion – with unique bosses and levels – from Vile’s perspective. I doubt Capcom would put something like that in the base game, but it could be a smart way to expand on whatever Capcom puts out.

Now when it comes to the method of separating playable characters, I’m a little bit torn. While I think making completely separate playthroughs for each character – the way X4 handled it – was probably for the best overall, I was a fan of some of the tag-team maneuvers from X8. Still, the negatives of allowing players to switch characters on the fly outweigh the positives: while X8 was able to mitigate some of the harm by tying power-ups to a haphazardly-implemented store system instead of finite power-ups, the fact is that the other games that allowed for character swapping within a playthrough seemed to punish players for attempting to branch out. In X5, the player not chosen for the intro stage loses a unique power-up permanently – but even then, Zero got the short end of the stick. Every game aside from X8 tied health upgrades to finite Heart Tanks or other character-exclusive upgrades, so players were stuck with a choice between playing strictly with one character or effectively gimping both to some extent. As such, just go back to X4 method of separate modes for separate characters. Best of all, that would mean extra replay value.

On that note, I’d just go back to the classic health upgrade system from the earlier games: 8 heart tanks, each one hidden in one of the Maverick boss stages. Same goes for the Sub Tanks, though I’d probably use the breakdown from X4: 2 health tanks, 1 weapon tank and an EX tank that increases the default number of lives. On that note, considering how much better Classic handles the shop mechanic, all power-ups in any new X game should probably be limited to collectibles. X8 attempted to mesh the two, but let’s be honest: finding schematics for power-ups that needed to be purchased later harmed both the shop and collectible aspects of the game in equal measure. Besides, if Capcom forces separate playthroughs per character (like X4 and Xtreme 2 did), there’s no need to worry about balancing upgrades anyway.

I guess the important distinction between MegaMan 11 and a new X game is they’re best approached from opposing angles. MM11 was built from the ground up to breathe new life into the Classic series not only due to MegaMan’s hiatus as a whole, but specifically because the latest two games – MegaMans 9 and 10 – were full-on throwbacks, right down to their 8-bit presentation. MegaMan X had the opposite problem with its last two mainline entries: X7 was an extreme departure from the gameplay of previous titles, attempting to reimagine the classic platforming gameplay in the third dimension, while X8 attempted to bridge the classic and more experimental styles into a single game with mixed results. In other words, MMX would benefit from the exact “back to basics” approach that people grew tired of in the Classic games. Although, if there’s one thing I’d want “X9” (or whatever Capcom decides to do with the X series) to carry over from MegaMan 11, it would have to be the length of its stages. Also, it would be nice if stages had different layouts depending on the player character.

Aesthetic

A game’s presentation is a funny thing. In the grand scheme of things, it really shouldn’t have that much importance in game development. But in practice, it both acts as advertisement – being the first things prospective customers recognize about a game – and help to solidify good memories of the game, with gorgeous visuals, catchy music and vivid storylines coming to mind as easily as engrossing gameplay. Keeping that in mind, what style of aesthetics should Capcom explore when reviving a franchise that hasn’t been seen since the mid-2000s?

Graphics

The previous times where I’ve explored the concept of a MegaMan X9, I pointed out that determining the art style would likely be the most controversial decision that Capcom would have to make. While my opinion hasn’t entirely shifted on that, my understanding of the argument has changed since then. It’s clear that going 2.5D – again, using 3D models in a 2D space as games like Maverick Hunter X and MegaMan 11 did – is probably the safest answer at this point. While I’ve no doubt that there are significant contingents of the fanbase demanding a return to both 16-bit (styled after the first three games) and 32-bit (X4-X6), there are now three factions likely to be against either decision to consider.

Obviously, you still have both younger and modern-minded gamers that consider sprites passé to contend with, but the other two couldn’t be any more different from each other. There are gamers that are just outright sick of retro throwbacks in general. After all, when MegaMan 9 launched in 2008, reviving the 8-bit look of the Classic NES games was lauded as original by audiences. But a mere two years later, MegaMan 10 was considered lazy and outdated while using the same art style. Since then, we’ve been inundated with several similar pseudo-retro throwbacks – particularly common among indie games – and as such, there’s been a growing backlash against anything of the type, even games that take inspiration from later generations. On the other side of the coin, you’ve got retro connoisseurs that will turn up their noses at anything that isn’t 100% accurate to whatever hardware the game’s aesthetic is trying to evoke. If a game has too many colors onscreen or too many sprites without flicker or slowdown, then it’s automatically just poseur trash.

While that last demographic likely won’t be pleased by anything that isn’t on a SNES cartridge, the other two will likely look upon any art style aside from a totally hand-drawn 2D game with disdain. And I sincerely doubt that Capcom would put in for a budget large enough to sustain that, even if MegaMan 11 ends up being the highest-selling game in the entire series. The question is, how do they differentiate it from MM11? After all, it did end up kind of resembling Maverick Hunter X more than MegaMan Powered Up. I mean, the promotional artwork for both the Classic and X series didn’t really differ that much from one another in the first place but as I said before, it is absolutely critical for Capcom to differentiate MMX from the Classic series. I’m just not sure how Capcom could go about doing that.

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Seriously, tell me with a straight face that this doesn’t look like a SNES-era X game.

Originally, I considered suggesting going with a darker color scheme overall, but MM11 managed to transition seamlessly between brighter environments and some with color palettes and even background designs that came straight out of the 2D MMX titles.  Maybe they should style the entire game around those alternate outfits from Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. You know, the ones with those glowing details like out of Tron? After all, the original MegaMan’s new look in 11 was clearly inspired by his appearance in the recent Smash Bros. games. The only other option I can think of would be to go for a grittier, less saturated art style. I mean, going realistic probably wouldn’t mesh well with the existing designs – unless they decide to go for the look they went for in that cancelled “Maverick Hunter” reboot.

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…well, maybe it needs a few tweaks.

My own pitch for a third Xtreme game, on the other hand, would be better suited with classic sprites. However, at the risk of catching a bullet through the temple from my esteemed editor, I’d say that emulating the 32-bit sprites of the games that debuted on the original PlayStation would be a more apt choice, given the fact that I’ve set it between the first two games in that style – X4 and X5, respectively. Given the implication that the game would be a spinoff, I think a more retro aesthetic would be appreciated. After all, both episodes of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 suffered from criticism due to using modern designs while Sonic Mania received praise for attempting the same thing with a suitably retro-themed aesthetic. My only real suggestion would be to emulate the 32-bit art style as opposed to outright recycling old graphics. Maintain the familiar look – maybe even try to find a happy medium between the SNES and PS1 designs, if it can be done – but utilize modern conventions, like more fluid animations or an aesthetic that manages to mimic the limited resolutions of old while being far more detailed.

Music

I’ve said it too many times before and I’ll keep saying it forever, it’s impossible to ignore just how important a good soundtrack is for any MegaMan game is: there’s a reason they call it “Rockman” in Japan. MegaMan 11’s soundtrack was subject to intense scrutiny because of the series’ reputation, though I’d say that the game’s musical flaws stemmed from the instrumentation rather than the compositions themselves. If you don’t believe me, try tracking down the “Wily Numbers Instrumental” pre-order bonus tracks sometime – they’re amazing.

Each MegaMan sub-series went for their own unique styles to differentiate themselves from their sister series.  The X series is unique in the sense that it straddled multiple styles across its lifespan. The first game had a diverse soundtrack, but the second and third games went for more of a heavy metal-inspired sound, clearly emboldened by the more mature setting of 21XX. However, the shift to 32-bit with X4 on the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation brought a much more electronic sound to the series: a move considered controversial in retrospect, but frankly, I preferred it. Later games in the series would attempt to bridge the gap between both prominent styles. Personally, I’d like to see a game implement a diverse soundtrack like the original MMX with tracks that emphasize both the hard rock and techno influences from previous games. You’d have tracks that were strictly heavy metal, songs that are strictly electronic and others that utilize both motifs in their composition.

Most of all, I’d love to see an X game’s soundtrack rip off the main concept behind MegaMan 10’s soundtrack: bring back composers from the previous games and put each one of them in charge of one of the Maverick bosses’ stages. This might be a little more difficult than it was in MM10, simply because more of the X games’ soundtracks were composed by multiple people, but it would still be an interesting gimmick to implement into a new game. Best of all, it even ties into my previous concept: farming out the music to different composers would result in a varied soundtrack by default.

Presentation

This is a new sub-header, so I believe an explanation is in order. Effectively, in this context, “presentation” would refer to things like how the game presents its storyline. In the grand scheme of things, this really shouldn’t matter. It’s still fun to speculate on what Capcom should do here. Besides, the main purpose on this article is to find more ways to differentiate a potential new X game from this year’s MegaMan 11 and presentation seems like a safe and easy way to do that.

MM11 handled most of its story like the 8-bit games of old: through classic slideshows (with lovingly hand-drawn art rendered in high definition) and cinematics using the in-game models (with voice acting). While these are the same methods that various X games have employed in the past, it may be for the best to go in a different direction where possible. The latest games in the X series were able to create both pre-rendered and in-game cutscenes with voice acting using 3D models, so that might be something worth emulating in an X9. It would help to create a cohesive aesthetic across the entire game if the cast of characters retains a similar appearance from in-game action to story material.

In “Xtreme 3’s” case, I’d probably want some anime-style cutscenes for pivotal moments – like those found in X4 and the “CD-ROM” version of MMX3 – but would be fine with voice-acted slideshows like the ones found in X5 (and MM11) for plot exposition. It does seem like the least realistic thing I could ask for though: 2D animated cutscenes seem to have gone the way of the dodo – I think the last Capcom game that had them was one of the Street Fighter IV games and that only happened because they partnered with an anime production studio to produce some OVAs. I’ve got my doubts that Capcom would set up a similar deal for X9, but I guess stranger things have happened.

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This is probably the second coolest thing X has ever done.

If there’s one thing I’d like to see in the game, regardless of what Capcom does, would be full dialogue exchanges with the Maverick bosses. I was a little disappointed that we simply got quips in MegaMan 11 similar to the ones present in MM8, but honestly, that probably fit better. So, in the end, it works to our advantage when differentiating the two. MegaMan X has many more examples of full pre-boss battle conversations throughout its existence, especially when they added multiple characters which had their own unique exchanges with each boss. Every mainline game from X4 on as well as Command Mission and Maverick Hunter X had them, with later titles even including full voice acting. Hopefully, Capcom will continue that streak with whatever new games they make in the X series. Obviously, these conversations should be skippable – in fact, it would be nice if Capcom added a “speedrun” setting that would just automatically excise dialogue, preferably as an unlockable bonus after completing the game or just as an option by default.

On that note, I guess I might as well discuss the Maverick bosses themselves. As per usual, I’m going to avoid coming up with any specific ideas for Mavericks – those days are far behind me – but I will give a few comments on design elements I’d like to see in general. For starters, I’d like to see them take on a variety of styles, ranging from the typical “animal head on generic muscular robot body” style typical of the series to designs that are much more evocative of the flora and fauna that serve as the basis for the bosses themselves. It would also be a good idea to make one of the Mavericks a female. There were female Reploid bosses in the Zero and ZX series and people seemed to be dismayed when MM11 didn’t have a female boss. It wouldn’t even be that out of the ordinary for X fans: for years, people apparently believed that Commander Yammark and somehow even Cyber Peacock (which is debunked by his name alone) were female.

Aside from that, I’d love to see a variety of different types of animals represented among this batch of Mavericks. That means at least one bird, one sea creature, one type of plant, one insect and probably either a lizard or amphibian. I’d rather not see a breakdown like MMX3, where the Mavericks were all either insects, sea creatures or mammals. On that note, I want Capcom to revert to the classic naming conventions for the boss Mavericks: the English versions should be literal, while puns should be exclusively reserved for the Japanese names. Seriously, what is “Vanishing Gungaroo” supposed to be mean – is it a reference to the bad camera angles during his boss fight? And I can’t find any explanation for “Commander Yammark”, I’m assuming he was a dragonfly but what does “Yanmaku” mean? If MM11 was able to break conventions and give two Robot Masters distinctly unique names in English and Japanese (as opposed to a mere Crash/Clashman scenario), then X9 can do the same.  I’ve got one final note on the naming front. I would love it if a new X game didn’t recycle any of the previous adjectives from previous games – we’ve got 3 “Flame” Mavericks in English versions already. Bonus points if they manage to get titles that haven’t even been used in any of the other series for boss names.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, this section is meant for various other miscellaneous points I’d like to bring up that don’t necessarily fit into any of the prominent categories or their sub-headers. For example, I believe that this game should probably get the same treatment as MegaMan 11 in terms of its release: a $30 price point with a physical edition on consoles – not to mention a slightly more expensive special edition. While we haven’t seen any confirmation of DLC in MegaMan 11 – aside from the preorder bonus – I completely support any sort of Vile-centered “remix” campaign as post-release content.

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This is the only legitimate reason to like this character.

It would also be interesting if they attempted to recreate the X Challenge mode from the recent Legacy Collections – either as DLC or bonus content. As such, this mode would contain bosses from the new game as well as full-on recreations of classic boss fights. Both MMX8 and Maverick Hunter X would easy to source for classic fights, considering that they also had 2D boss fights relying on 3D models, so they could probably be implemented into the base game with relative ease. Bosses from other classic games would need to be rebuilt from scratch, so they’d probably make more sense as additional post-release content, though weapons from other games would probably be easy enough to recreate for launch. On that note, why limit this mode to just X? Let Zero and Axl in on the action too, if they’re playable in the new game. Aside from that, maybe a new set of challenge stages – perhaps themed as training simulations for the Maverick Hunters?

And with that, my second article in the Armchair Dev series comes to its conclusion. But what do you think? Am I completely offbase for saying that a retro-themed art style would spark a backlash? Would you also rather see a third game in the Xtreme series than a continuation of X8’s storyline? Would you rather see another MegaMan series get a revival? (I know I would.) Feel free to sound off in the comments.

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Sum of Its Parts: 3D Sonic Sequel

I always find it somehow comforting when things come full circle. The first article I wrote for the Sum of Its Parts series – as long as you don’t count what I’ve retroactively folded into this little category – was my attempt at designing a new 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game. When I wrote that article, the Sonic series seemed to have found its footing in the 3D realm but struggled to make headway in the sub-genre in which it originated. My, my, how much has changed in four (almost five) years. 2017’s Sonic Mania was developed by several key figures in the Sonic fan game community and has taken the world by storm, effectively declared as “the best Sonic game since the Genesis era” by a vocal majority of reviewers and fans alike. Meanwhile, Sonic’s 3D renaissance has since fizzled out: while the (criminally underrated) Sonic Lost World was torn apart by a majority of fans, Sega’s following two efforts didn’t fare any better. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric’s poor quality was as memetic as Sonic ’06 and while reactions to Sonic Forces were mixed overall, it was generally considered a letdown in terms of being the long-awaited follow-up to the beloved Sonic Generations.

While Sonic’s future in the realm of 2D has been all but secured – so long as Sega doesn’t decide to cut Christian Whitehead and his collaborators loose without at least giving us Mania 2 – its future in the third dimension has once again fallen into question. Sega’s winning formula has finally gone stale and it’s time to reevaluate the way things are done with their 3D titles. Maybe the best way to look into the Blue Blur’s path forward would be to look back at how they transitioned into the three-dimensional space in the first place.

There are effectively two main schools of thought when it comes to 3D Sonic games: the “Adventure” and “Boost” formulas, both with their respective die-hard (and by extension, irreconcilable) fanbases. While Sega themselves advertised Sonic 3D Blast as one of the fastest thing alive’s first forays into the third dimension, it was more akin to isometric platformers of old, on par with earlier titles like Marble Madness, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll or even earlier Sonic titles like SegaSonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Labyrinth. The Adventure style originated with (what else?) the Sonic Adventure games for the Sega Dreamcast and inspired later titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as well as Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Wii U. This early style of 3D Sonic game relied more on exploration, effectively allowing players to run through expansive levels that were far less linear than the 2D games in the franchise. They would also often rely on multiple playable characters, generally with unique playstyles – though this gimmick would deteriorate in further titles. The Adventure games relied on a free running mechanic which was clumsy at its worst, leading to unfair deaths, but offered the kind of freedom that the 2D Sonics thrived on. In order to compensate for these growing pains, Sega introduced the homing attack – which allows Sonic to home in on nearby enemies – which would become a staple in both future 2D and 3D Sonic games.

The Boost formula is a bit more recent, making its first appearance in 2008’s Sonic Unleashed. This style would also appear in Sonic Colors, Sonic Generations and most recently, Sonic Forces. While the Adventure-style titles focused on trying to recreate all of the elements of past 2D Sonic games in a totally 3D environment, Boost games generally shift between two different perspectives. There are 3D-perspective running segments that are essentially auto-runners where the player’s main input is either choosing to use the Boost mechanic – a metered mechanic which allows Sonic to run faster, surrounded by a blue aura, that can smack enemies out of the way with ease – or aligning Sonic’s path, either manually with the analog stick or using the quick-step to keep him properly aligned with the shoulder buttons. Occasionally, these running segments may be broken up with some obstacles that need to be dodged with jumps, but the bulk of the game’s platforming takes place in 2D segments that take cues from the later Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush titles.

Of course, there were other 3D Sonic games that didn’t adhere to either of these formulas directly. Sonic R could arguably be considered the true first 3D Sonic game, though it was developed by Traveller’s Tales and recontextualized the Sonic gameplay into a racing setting. There was also the Sonic World mini-game present in the Sonic Jam compilation for the Sega Saturn, supposedly built from the remnants of a scrapped fifth-generation 3D Sonic title. Likewise, Christmas NiGHTS contained “Sonic Into Dreams”, which allowed the Blue Blur to run through the game’s levels on foot. Sonic Heroes implemented 3-character teams with various formations based on each member’s attributes and had stage designs that clearly attempted to recreate the conventions of the classic Genesis games in a strictly 3D space to mixed results. Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sonic and the Black Knight – the two releases in what was meant to be at least a trilogy of “storybook” games – are effectively first drafts of the 3D running segments of the Boost games, albeit with their own unique gimmicks to keep things interesting. Finally, there’s Sonic Lost World, which was experimental in its own right. The game was still broken down into 3D and 2D segments like the Boost games before it, but the former now allowed players more freedom to explore. To manage Sonic’s speed, a controversial run button was added, but even that wasn’t nearly fast enough for those speed freaks. On top of that, a new parkour mechanic was added to emphasize the level design, which was said to be inspired by Nintendo’s own Super Mario Galaxy games – but die-hard Sonic fans often compared it to the cancelled Sonic X-Treme, originally planned for the Sega Saturn. New variants of the homing attack were also added to the Fastest Thing Alive’s repertoire, allowing him to attack armored enemies with a kick or outright charge it by holding down the button to deal extra damage.

With all of the pieces in place, I guess it’s time for me to explore exactly what I would personally want out of the next 3D Sonic title. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: while many players just outright associate the Sonic games with “speed”, in reality they rely far more on a related but distinct concept: “momentum”. As such, in order to create a truly satisfying 3D Sonic title, we’re going to have to find a way to recreate the beloved mechanics of 2D titles – new and old, from the 1991 original to Mania – in a 3D space without giving up the same sense of control that one less dimension gives players. I could write an entire diatribe on my distaste for the Boost formula, but let me boil it down to a base concept: for the most part, they seem to be an attempt at recreating the so-called “hold right to win” 2D Sonic titles, focusing more on getting to go fast, without implementing enough of the platforming one should expect in a platformer, relegating that aspect of the game almost entirely to the aforementioned 2D segments. If you can’t – or rather, won’t – bother translating all of the earlier titles’ elements into 3D, then what is the point of moving past 2D in the first place? That isn’t to say that the Boost formula should be completely discarded, but rather that by taking elements from it, as well as other styles that the 3D Sonics have explored in the past, perhaps the Sega’s mascot can finally be properly welcomed to the next level.

…honestly, it was a choice between that line or doing a title drop. I think I went the less cheesy route, but results may vary.

I guess the best place to start would have to be with the game’s storyline. As per usual, I’m not going to go into any specifics, keeping things broad just to avoid stumbling into fanfic territory. One of the key arguments I disagree with coming from the Adventure fanbase is that Sonic needs to go back to doing an outright serious storyline, like the epic stories present in the Dreamcast era. Unfortunately, at this point, these can either come across as pointlessly melodramatic (Sonic ’06), easily mistaken for parody (Unleashed) or illustrate that Sega’s writing staff is no longer up to the task of making a truly serious storyline with any weight behind it (Forces). At the same time, other Sonic stories have attempted to rely on comedy – a difficult objective, especially given the interactive nature of the video game medium.

Attempting to bridge the gap between these two concepts hasn’t really worked all that well in the past – after all, since he first started talking, Sonic’s snappy one-liners have become more and more prominent, which tends to undercut any sense of drama. So, against all logic, I think that Sega should probably attempt to stay the course on blending humor and drama. As much as it pains me to say this, the only advice I can really give is “do it better this time”.

As shaky as that advice comes across, a bad story doesn’t necessarily mean a bad game. Indeed, the primary focus of this article should be on gameplay – just like always. Admittedly, this article will be much more of a challenge than previous ones. Usually, I’d just piece together various base elements of earlier games to present a much better future. This time, I’m going to have to dig a little deeper, specifically focusing on specific mechanics from different games, as opposed to just choosing one game to base the entire engine on.

I guess I’ll start with something simple. 2D segments: yea or nay? Despite my criticism, I’d keep them – with several tweaks. For starters, the majority of the game’s platforming shouldn’t be relegated to them. 2D segments should be significantly rarer in this new Sonic game compared to previous entries. In fact, the gameplay should only revert to the classic style whenever obstacles can’t be properly rendered in a 3D space. The 3D platforming genre has come so far – both during the sixth generation and with the recent renaissance with such games as Super Mario Odyssey and A Hat in Time – that locking any and all platforming challenges to a two-dimensional space seems like an insult to the concept of a 3D Sonic game in the first place.

Likewise, auto-running segments can still remain as set pieces – after all, even the original Sonic Adventure had that bit with the killer whale – but they should likewise remain fairly rare. The majority of the gameplay should be conducted through 3D segments that allow players full control over Sonic the Hedgehog, as opposed to just boosting through what feels like miles and miles of corridors. We’ve actually seen a lot of fan games experiment with this style of concept, with some going even as far as experimenting with full-on open world concepts. If small fan groups can do that, then surely Sega themselves should be able to experiment with more than just simple corridors broken up by the occasional 2D segment.

Another important element to keep in mind would be Sonic’s “moveset” in this new adventure. Personally, I’d ditch the boost mechanic in general: it leads to just mindlessly running through enemies and feels like a slapdash solution to the momentum problem with the 3D Sonics altogether. On the other hand, the run/walk toggling present in Sonic Lost World isn’t a particularly favorable solution either, though it’s definitely a step in the right direction. In my opinion, Sega should just revert to the momentum-based system that they used in Sonic (et al.)’s gameplay from the Adventure games and maybe implement some kind of a braking mechanic, like the spin dash drift in some of the Boost games or even just straight up reverse-engineer the run button from Lost World into a “walk button” or even just a brake. To compensate for the loss of the Boost attack, I’d just suggest bringing back the Spin Dash: if Lost World proved anything, it’s that Sega has finally found a way to balance it out in 3D play as opposed to the uncontrollable iterations found in the Sonic Adventure games and Sonic Heroes.

Keep the homing attack. I’m torn about including the variants found in Lost World: as much as they added strategy to the game, they had a tendency to misfire, so it would probably be for the best to stick to the standard version for now. Aside from that, I’d keep many of the abilities from the Boost games: the stomp and rail grinding still seem like perfect mechanics for a 3D momentum-based platformer. Likewise, bring back the bounce mechanic from Lost World. I’d even consider the double jump from Colors, SLW and Forces as a viable move, just so long as they can be tempered in a way that would both prevent activating it accidentally or cluttering the controls. Likewise, the parkour mechanic could make a return, albeit in a far more limited fashion – stages shouldn’t be built around it but exploiting a hampered version of the mechanic to access risky shortcuts seems like a perfect concept for a Sonic game in general, let alone one in 3D.

This ties in quite nicely with the next segment: stage design. This is one area where the Adventure games truly excelled, even if the gameplay itself wasn’t polished enough to suit them properly. The stages in Boost games generally comprise of three types of segments: 3D corridors, the aforementioned 2D segments and a wider 3D area, generally swarming with enemies. Not exactly exciting stage progression in my eyes. The Adventure games, on the other hand, tended to focus more on open-ended roaming areas that still maintained a sense of linearity – they just lacked the overbearing structure that many modern 3D Sonics tend to revel in. Sonic Heroes, on the other hand, seemed to outright attempt to recreate many of the conventions of the Genesis-era titles in 3D to (admittedly) poor results, though this was mostly a consequence of a Sega’s relative inexperience with 3D platformers in general. Meanwhile, the spherical design of Sonic Lost World’s stages added something that simply wasn’t present in the typical Boost formula games that both preceded and followed it: it allowed for much more freedom of movement as stage designs varied depending on which portion of the level itself Sonic was traversing. I’m not suggesting that spherical levels make a return in the next Sonic game, but emphasizing numerous pathways as opposed to just building straight lines with one fast path to the finish. After all, part of the fun of the 2D Sonic games was exploring the various paths present in each level: while most players tried to find the quickest (which was generally the highest path), others would revel in exploring them, taking in all of the details and quirks that the developers put into each and every level. Having said that, the next 3D Sonic title’s stage design should take far more inspiration from the Adventure titles, Sonic Heroes and Lost World. The best 3D conversions of classic 2D video games focus on the most beloved elements of their predecessors, rather than just trying to recreate them in a superficial manner. This is a problem that has long plagued the Sonic series, ever since it grew beyond the fourth console generation.

Speaking of 2D gameplay, Lost World also managed to retain this element common in the Boost games but with a lot more in the way of variety compared to even top-notch Boost-era games like Colors and Generations. As such, while I’d say that while 2D segments should definitely be present in a new 3D game, Sega should draw inspiration from the ones in Lost World and Colors, as well as the Classic Sonic stages in Generations. That last bit may be something of a cheat, but it is still technically part of a 3D Sonic title. The level design just relied entirely on 2D principles, so they could allow for much more intricate layouts – and that should be the entire point of these segments in the first place. Let me reiterate that Sega should strictly save these for concepts that would be far too difficult to accurately represent and implement in a 3D space. In other words, they should be far rarer compared to most modern 3D Sonic titles.

Boss fights are another fairly important element of the Sonic games at their best. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard for me to choose any particular standout examples from the 3D era of games. I mean, the majority of games in the series had at least a few fights I enjoyed, but these didn’t seem to reflect the entirety of the game. As such, it’s difficult to draw from any particular games for a method to follow – all I could really write up here would be a list of boss battles I particularly enjoyed from previous games. That wouldn’t really do much in terms of building new fights, let alone an underlying concept that could be used to frame them. I guess the best advice I would really have would to draw from the various styles we’ve seen in previous games: the arena-style fights that originated in the Adventure games, the endless runner fights that outright embodied the Boost era, and even the 2D boss fights. Though ideally, if the latter end up returning, they’ll end up better resembling those from games like the Sonic Advance trilogy, the Sonic Rush games and the Classic Sonic fights in Generation and Forces, as opposed to the somewhat lame fare present in Colors.

Aside from that, there are a few miscellaneous suggestions I have. Just like in my last article, I definitely think that the Red Rings should return in any new 3D Sonic. They add a certain element of replayability, at least when it comes to completionists. Likewise, I’d like to relegate any Super transformations to an endgame state – likely a “true” final boss – like previous games, though I’m torn on whether the Chaos Emeralds should just be obtained through the story, relegated to a bonus for collecting all of the aforementioned Red Rings or even hidden in special stages. Hey, that’s what Sonic Heroes and the 3DS version of Sonic Lost World did. Though admittedly, that would probably be a poor choice. What I’d really like to see would be hiding the emeralds in stages themselves, but no 3D game has ever attempted anything like that before – just the first two Sonic games on Game Gear. Aside from that, I’d probably stick to traditional power-ups: shields (both standard and electric), speed shoes, ring boxes and 1-Ups. I don’t particularly have anything against the Wisps, they just kind of felt like they were intended to be the special gimmick in Colors, so cramming them into future titles almost seems to dilute their importance. Maybe they could be brought back in further titles, but it’s probably best to just leave them out until Sonic finds his footing once again instead of trying to rely on gimmicks from popular games. Which brings me to my final point: leave Classic/Mania Sonic out of this game. I honestly feel like trying to shoehorn him back in not only hurts the 3D games, but his own reputation. Treat him as a totally separate entity, exclusive to the 2D games.

The graphics and art style don’t really offer me much to go on. Honestly, the main question just sort of comes down to whether this new game should utilize the standard “Modern Sonic” look or go with unique designs to differentiate them from the mainline series. On the one hand, segmenting the franchise even further seems like it would just backfire. However, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric utilized an entirely new (albeit controversial) set of designs and the backlash against that game didn’t seem to translate to the rest of the series in general. In the end, given the franchise’s need for redemption after Sonic Forces’ tepid response, it’s probably for the best if Sega just goes with the now-traditional look: there’s very little left to protect with regards to Sonic’s reputation at this point, so a new artstyle could dilute any goodwill if the game itself ends up beloved by fans.

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those series that is renowned for its music: even if the gameplay is abysmal, the sound team always seems to put in their all. Tomoya Ohtani has been taking the lead lately when it comes to the Blue Blur’s musical exploits and he’s been doing an excellent job as of late. In the previous Sonic article in this series, I suggested that Richard Jacques be allowed to take the lead, but since then, he’s managed to head the soundtracks for all three games in the Sonic Boom series, so he’s certainly gotten his due – well, to some extent, anyway. Considering their collaborations in the past have been limited, I’d love to see the two of them collaborate on a new Sonic game. That doesn’t necessarily preclude other Sonic composers from joining in the fun but giving Ohtani and Jacques equal billing in a mainline Sonic game just seems like too interesting of a concept to pass up.

I have to admit: this article was probably one of the more difficult ones to write in this series. It seems like the best path for Sonic’s 3D titles may be a full-on reinvention, discarding what have become familiar gameplay concepts in exchange for ones that are both new and evocative of the series’ 2D halcyon days (past and present). However, maybe if Sega were to attempt to bridge the gap between the Adventure and Boost formulas – using aspects from some of their more experimental titles to smooth over particularly incompatible elements – they could find a way to please both fanbases with a single title. That seems like a far less risky experiment than potentially splintering the Fastest Thing Alive’s fanbase across yet another brand-new formula. Regardless of Sega’s decision for future games, it seems that staying on their current course is primed for disaster, so whether they refine the current formula with elements of earlier titles or build something entirely new from scratch, change is necessary for the Blue Blur’s continued longevity.

Top 10 Single-Player Modes in Fighting Games

After finally wrapping up that big retrospective on the Street Fighter franchise, I thought to myself, “what topic should I tackle in my next article on Retronaissance?” And wouldn’t you know it: this article was the first thing that came to mind – another article about fighting games! In all fairness, this listicle is going to focus more on the entire genre as opposed to one series and thankfully, it’ll be much shorter… well, if all goes according to plan. Back in the heyday of fighting games, in those final halcyon days of the western arcade before they became either havens of nostalgia, places for kids to play giant versions of mobile games or Dave & Busters, all it took to keep fans happy was multi-player. Facing off against a seemingly never-ending string of opponents made arcades the perfect breeding ground for the genre’s explosion throughout the 1990s. However, even by that point, gamers were increasingly focusing more and more on home consoles and so fighting games needed to adapt. To make up for the lack of actual human opponents – online play wouldn’t really be feasible through official means until the advent of Xbox Live – developers would often add extra modes, focusing on a lone player experiencing the game.

While it seems that most people believe that 2011’s reboot of Mortal Kombat originated the concept of extensive single-player content in fighting games, the concept existed as early as the fifth generation, by my own recollection. Several older titles had significant content meant for solo play and it only seems reasonable for me to list my favorite modes of all-time. After all, it’s only a listicle – the perfect avenue for me to relax and recuperate from such a long series of retrospectives (and prepare for the next one).

Before we get started, I’ve decided to lay down some ground rules. If you haven’t guessed by now, giving myself criteria to work within is what makes these lists fun for me in the first place – it’s no fun when a single topic dominates an entire list. For starters, these modes should (obviously) focus on single-player play. Cooperative play with additional players as an option doesn’t necessarily disqualify a mode, but entries on this list should be possible to play from start to completion solo.

Second, I’m going to be omitting several “generic” modes: arcade mode is obviously going to be left out, as are standard story modes – be they cinematic like the ones found in Netherrealm Studios or visual novels like the ones found in Arc System Works’ games. I’ll also be leaving out other prevalent modes like Survival, Time Attack and Trial Modes – at least if they follow all of their standard conventions. Besides, it’d be way too hard to track down the best iteration of them, considering just how common they are.

Finally, it should utilize the game’s base mechanics to at least some extent. It doesn’t have to use a traditional match format, but it shouldn’t be completely removed from traditional play. In other words, Mortal Kombat X’s Krypt won’t be making the cut on this list, regardless of how much I ended up liking it. It just seems a bit insulting to consider a mode that is completely divorced from such an integral part of the game itself, as opposed to a mini-game or curiosity. I did consider adding one more rule: only one mode per game, but honestly, it ended up being redundant in the grand scheme of things. With all that being said, let’s start the list with my sole honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Original Character – Darkstalkers 3 (PS)

They say you never forget your first, and that’s certainly the case for me and solo experiences in fighting games. By the time I got my hands on Darkstalkers 3, I’d been well versed in fighting game home conversions – familiar with modes like Arcade and Survival. But when I first saw “Original Character” listed on DS3’s main menu, I was intrigued. Turns out it was simply a mode for building a custom version of an existing character: renaming them, editing their colors and the ability to play through arcade mode to earn experience points to increase their power, life stocks and the amount of Super Meter they begin each match with. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t anything too fancy, but at the time, it blew my mind. Players were only allowed to have 3 custom characters per file, but in those days, I had one of those third-party memory cards with multiple pages on it – and you know I abused the crap out of it in this mode. You can even pit your customized characters against your friends in a versus mode, which honestly, isn’t much different from just playing versus mode in general. Still, it was an interesting concept back in the day and gave me an obsession with customizing existing characters in fighting games and creating characters of my very own.

10. Chaos Tower – Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower

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Yes, this list starts out fairly Darkstalkers-heavy, but don’t worry: this is the last we’ll see of the bronze medal of Capcom’s fighting game franchises on this list. Darkstalkers Chronicle was effectively an enhanced port of the Japan-exclusive Vampire Chronicle for the Dreamcast, with some additional features added to it. Chief among them was “Chaos Tower”, a new single player mode that pit players against a 100-floor tower of opponents, armed with a team of three characters. While they receive no health refills, they do keep their meter between matches – essentially making Chaos Tower survival mode only with more steps.

To make things even more interesting, many rungs on the ladder actually have special objectives: winning a match normally sends the team to one point but specific finishes (like a Perfect victory or using an ES Move to strike the final blow) sends them elsewhere. In fact, some matches even require performing these missions to progress properly. Otherwise, the player is left with various punishments, like having all their kick buttons disabled. There’s also an interrupt save option, which somehow felt revolutionary at the time and was likely added due to being released on the PlayStation Portable. The Chaos Tower isn’t necessarily a mind-blowing twist on the traditional Darkstalkers gameplay, but it is an interesting little diversion when the only other options are the typical Arcade Ladder and local multiplayer.

9. Shadow Lords – Killer Instinct (2013)

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As far as I can tell, Shadow Lords appears to be the crème de la crème of single-player modes in fighting games. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me. Now, prior to writing this article, I had yet to play it. But as I lacked a tenth pick anyway, I decided to let my curiosity get the better of me and give it a whirl to get a feel for what it was. I’m going to be honest: I don’t think it lives up to its hype.

I hate to sound like a downer on such a widely acclaimed mode, but in the end, the basic premise is something I’ve seen many times before – but I’m getting ahead of myself. Players load up a team of three and face off against various threats that spawn across a world map, attempting to prevent the hordes of Gargos from taking over the world by protecting various continents from falling to the Shadow Lord’s (ha ha!) influence. The map itself works on a turn-based mechanic, with various missions appearing for a limited set of turns and each character only being able to perform one per turn. Matches are fought between the player’s characters and various “mimics” sporting unique looks that can actually be unlocked for use in other modes by progressing through the game. Other unlockables include in-mode power-ups, various dossiers and video clips detailing the mode’s story and even the ability to level up both individual characters and the player’s profile with experience points.

Unfortunately, while Shadow Lords does take inspiration from some of my favorite single-player modes of the past, it also seems to take the worst from both free-to-play mobile games and rogue-lites. The former means that players have to choose between grinding endlessly for in-game currency or paying actual money for a much more efficient one. The team’s health also doesn’t replenish regularly, leaving players with the choice of allowing low-health characters sit out a turn, exhausting a small inventory of health items to keep them ready or risking their defeat, which requires an even more expensive item to bring them back into the fray. Which brings us to the rogue-lite’s “contribution” to Shadow Lords: it’s possible to lose a playthrough entirely, forcing players to start back at the beginning – though fortunately, they do keep many of the perks, abilities and items they accrue in previous attempts. Still, the loss of concrete progress, coupled with an almost-predatory currency scheme, has left me with a poor first impression: maybe if I continue playing, I’ll finally understand what the big deal is.

8. Fight Lab – Tekken Tag Tournament 2

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I mentioned earlier that I’d had a fascination with the concept of customizing my own fighting game character – specifically something in line with the Create-A-Wrestler mode found in WWF games like WWF Attitude, WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy – but clearly, the logistics of creating such a mode back in the heyday of sprite-based 2D fighters made it impossible. You’d think that shift to 3D models pretty much across the board would’ve rectified that – but it took until 2012 for a company to come even remotely close to what I wanted. And ironically enough, it was the company that broke my heart several times with “Create-A-Soul”.

Fight Lab places players in command of the latest (and greatest) iteration of the Combot android, a bit player in Tekken 4 who acted as Mokujin’s replacement, fighting with a random choice of another roster member’s moveset. This new version is different, capable of equipping individual attacks taken from most of Tag 2’s gigantic roster on an individual basis, thus creating an original moveset. In order to unlock new attacks to add to Combot’s repertoire, players must complete a set of trials that veer from an outright tutorial to wacky mini-games. At one point, Combot even manages to face off against some opponents garbed in familiar (yet legally distinct) outfits.

Admittedly, when I was coming up with entries for this list, I considered using the Character Edit mode from Street Fighter EX3 instead. It’s more or less the same exact concept as TTT2’s Fight Lab and it came out a decade earlier. In the end, I gave the nod to Fight Lab for two reasons. First, it has a lot more in terms of customization. That applies to Combot’s moveset potential, but most importantly, in terms of the ability to customize Combot’s look. Ace always looks the same – and his design is pretty generic in the first place – but Combot also manages to exploit Tekken’s inherent costume customization to allow for some outlandish looks. The second stems from the feeling of progression: in Character Edit mode, completing trials unlocks currency which can be used to buy new special attacks and only by progressing through a set number of trials can more techniques be unlocked… for purchase. Fight Lab, on the other hand, just outright unlocks moves after completing each stretch of Fight Lab.

Honestly, the only real downside here is that the mode is short but considering that it leaves players with what is essentially a custom character, it’s definitely worth it. Too bad TTT2 performed so poorly: we’ll probably never see anything like this ever again.

7. Abyss Mode – Blazblue Continuum Shift EXTEND/Chronophantasma

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While I said at the beginning of this article that I’d be avoid clichéd modes like Survival, but I didn’t say anything about modes that clearly improved upon tired concepts. Abyss Mode first debuted in the 3DS release of Continuum Shift II but managed to worm its way into the EXTEND release on other platforms, as well as both home conversions of Chronophantasma. It also, somehow, manages to use many of the concepts present in both Shadow Lords and Chaos Tower but presents them in a way I like significantly more.

For starters, it’s essentially a Survival take on the Chaos Tower concept – except players are descending deeper and deeper (fitting given its name). As the player performs better, the depth continues to increase and at certain depths (ranging from 20, 40, 60, 80, every 100 depths, Depth 999 and Depth 666), a boss encounter activates: forcing the player to fight a character using their “Unlimited” form, which is powered up and often given unique moves and abilities. After defeating the boss, the players are given a choice of four rewards, generally consisting of an increase in attack strength, speed, defense or meter build, currency that can be used in the shop, special abilities like healing items and various power-up auras or the ability to skip up or down a certain number of floors.

Originally, Continuum Shift simply consisted of four difficulties – Easy with 100 Floors, Normal with 500, Hard has a depth of 999 and ∞, which actually only has a mere 99,999 levels. The version found in Chronophantasma rebalances things with a total of 11 dungeons: ranging from 100 to 100,000 floors. Players can also unlock special abilities which can be equipped in Abyss Mode, either by leveling up or buying said upgrades in the Shop. Some power-ups are character-exclusive and certain bosses also have special abilities which are inaccessible to the player.

Of course, the next game in the series, Blazblue: Centralfiction has their own twist on the mode, retitling it as “Grim of Abyss Mode”. This iteration focuses more on customizing Grimoires with their own special abilities and leveling them up using character points. I honestly have no opinion on this mode – I’ve yet to play BBCF in any form – but this does sound like it’s on par with its predecessor. Regardless, it’s good to know that the legacy of Abyss mode will likely continue on in some form with later installments.

6. The Challenge Tower – Mortal Kombat (2011)

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When it comes to single-player content in fighting games, I still think that Netherrealm’s 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat is at the top of the heap. They had a cinematic story mode that acted as the genre’s pinnacle for years and didn’t even need to skimp out on the traditional arcade mode in the process. While NRS has experimented with various other modes in their later games, I still think that they managed to knock it out of the park with the Challenge Tower in “Mortal Kombat 9”.

Challenge Tower evokes the classic Mortal Kombat tower aesthetic, consisting of 300 individual challenges, forcing players to use a whopping majority of the cast. These consist of standard fights, side games like Test Your Might (or Sight, or Strike, or Luck…etc.) and even fights with special mechanics and unique opponents. Of course, the PS Vita version had an additional 150 challenges – an unfortunate consequence of Sony’s early strategy to get gamers to adopt their little handheld that couldn’t – bringing the total to 450. I really wish they would’ve brought this mode back in one of their later games, but Netherrealm seems dedicated to innovating with every new release, for better or for worse.

5. Quest Mode – Tobal No. 1

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Ooooh, it’s our first genre-bender! Tobal No. 1 is a lesser-known fighting game – developed by the fine folks at DreamFactory and published by Square (back in the days where they occasionally did stuff besides RPGs) and with character designs from Akira Toriyama – and for me, another bit of nostalgia. After all, like Street Fighter EX+α, it was lent to me by a friend back in grade school.

Tobal No. 1 was one of many 3D fighting games to come out on the original PlayStation and it handled the concept perfectly, even incorporating full freedom of movement. In fact, I want to say that’s part of the reason why Quest Mode was possible in the first place. Rather than the traditional one-on-one fights of Tobal, Quest Mode was a full-on dungeon crawler, recontextualizing the gameplay into something of an action-RPG. As such, players not only fight random NPCs, but also has to contend with traps, navigate the game’s complex labyrinths and even purchase power-ups with crystals found throughout the mode.

While the mode itself is fun, it’s also somewhat brutal. There’s no way to save progress and dying means starting over from the very beginning. On the plus side, defeating specific opponents in this mode unlocks them as playable characters. Of course, the mode also returned with various improvements in Tobal 2, but considering the sequel was only released in Japan, I’m not really familiar with it. It’s kind of a shame, really: Tobal 2 was originally planned for a North American release, but all those involved decided to pass on it as they determined that the first game only sold well due to its pack-in bonus: a demo disc for Final Fantasy VII.

…and people wonder why I’m so bitter.

4. Chronicles of the Sword – Soulcalibur III

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And the hits just keep on coming. Few would argue that the third game in the series, Soulcalibur II – Soul Blade (née Edge) was the first game, you poseurs – was the pinnacle of the franchise, but I think SC3 doesn’t get nearly enough love. Sure, it was a step down, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It introduced popular characters like Zasalamel and Tira, had some pretty awesome designs and some fantastic setpieces. On the other hand, it introduced us to the “Create-A-Soul” character creation tool: an outright forgery that allowed players to simply create outfits for pre-existing movesets and would go on to eating up more and more resources as the series continued.

Fortunately, when Create-A-Soul started out, it was fairly simple. But best of all, it launched alongside Chronicles of the Sword, a real-time strategy/fighting game hybrid with its own unique, self-contained story. Players send a troop of soldiers – consisting of the player’s chosen custom character, as well as several prefabricated ones – across the game map to overtake enemy strongholds or defend their own. Sending soldiers to a territory causes them to attack it and once the settlement’s “health” is whittled down to zero, the player takes control of the characters and fights the soldiers set to protect it in standard combat. If they win, they take over.

Chronicles’ unique gameplay comes across to me like a cross between traditional real-time strategy games, Risk and Fire Emblem, though that last bit may simply just be due to Soulcalibur’s similar medieval setting. Out of everything on this list, I’d say that Chronicles of the Sword is the most unique mode out there. Honestly, I’d love to see someone else – whether it’s just a mode in an existing fighting game or even an entirely separate game – explore this concept again.

3. World Tour Mode – Street Fighter Alpha 3

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As we ascend to the top 3, we’ve finally happened upon the benchmark – the fighting game single-player mode I judge all others against. Out of all the other modes on this list, I probably have the fondest memories of World Tour Mode. Sure, it hid a lot of the PS1 version of Alpha 3’s unlockables behind it, but I actually like unlocking stuff.

World Tour Mode effectively allowed players to choose one character, along with their preferred style and tour the world, fighting various battles – many with their own unique special gimmicks – to level up their characters and unlock various power-ups that could be equipped to properly customize them. Better still, you could even use their personalized characters in various other game modes. In many ways, it is essentially the mode that the previously mentioned Shadow Lords mode completely ripped off, but frankly, I think World Tour mode handled it way better over a decade ahead of time.

Personally, I’ve been hoping ever since the Street Fighter franchise resurfaced, that we’d see a new take on World Tour Mode. Maybe even expand on it in some ways: add a color edit, allow for a much more in-depth level of character customization. Huh, maybe that’s why I liked Street Fighter X Tekken so much…

2. Tekken Force Mode – Tekken 3

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Tekken 3 was a literal masterpiece when it came to extra content in a fighting game home conversion. Not only did the PlayStation 1 add new characters, it also added several new features. While its predecessor Tekken 2 had a host of cheat codes that allowed for things like a first-person wireframe view (resembling the arcade versions of Punch-Out!) and the then-ubiquitous big head mode, Tekken 3 included Tekken Ball Mode – which blended together the standard Tekken gameplay with a mixture of volleyball and dodgeball for something truly unique – as well as a fully-featured Theater Mode that even allowed players to view the cinematics and listen to the soundtracks of the first two games through the magic of disc swapping. It’s a shame that various rights issues have prevented it from being re-released in any legitimate capacity.

My favorite addition – if you haven’t guessed by now – was Tekken Force Mode, which essentially recontextualized the franchise into a traditional beat-‘em-up. Admittedly, compared to the previous two genre-benders I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t much of a shift. Beat-‘em-ups and fighting games had been linked for years: after all, Street Fighter begat Final Fight, which in turn begat Street Fighter II. Regardless, coupling the Tekken cast’s vast array of fighting techniques with a standard multi-plane sidescrolling beat-‘em-up was a genius move.

All of the playable characters were available to use in this mode and characters could mow down various grunts from Heihachi’s Tekken Force (oh, so that’s why it was called that!) before facing down other playable characters as stage bosses. What was really cool about this is that the player’s character selection actually determined the boss characters of each level – a nice touch that Namco didn’t necessarily need to add, but that’s what makes all the difference.

Of course, Tekken 4 also had its own take on Tekken Force Mode, but this was more of an early take on the 3D character action genre that emerged during the PlayStation 2’s heyday. Barely a year removed from the genre’s codifer – the original Devil May Cry – the attempt at trying to meld Tekken’s fixed fighting mechanics with the free-roaming movement typically found in this new genre felt awkward at best. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily bad per se, but it needed significant polish beyond what we saw in the final product and the concept probably would’ve worked better with a free-roaming fighting game like Virtual On, Power Stone or even Namco’s own Soulcalibur (given its “8-Way Run” mechanic).

1. Edge Master Mode – Soul Blade / Mission Battle – Soulcalibur / Weapon Master – Soulcalibur II

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You’re probably wondering if this is a cheat or a three-way tie or something like that. In truth, all three of these modes are more or less the same – just given different names in each of the first three entries in the series. Personally, out of these three, Edge Master Mode is my clear favorite, but to leave the other two unacknowledged just because I felt the need to play favorites with my nostalgia felt unjustified.

Edge Master Mode was a pretty impressive concept when Soul Blade was released on consoles back in late 1996. It’s not unlike World Tour in many ways: players take on the role of one of the game’s characters and travel throughout the game’s world, searching for the blade of legend. In a sense, it’s kind of a story mode, but any and all backstory is told through text-only passages in a book chronicling the player character’s exploits. The focus is clearly on the fights – often including unique objectives. But the aspect of the game that excited me the most was that progressing through the mode often gives the character new weapons with different stats and special abilities. This was absolutely mind-blowing for me when I played it in the late ‘90s and is one of the key reasons I tracked down a copy of the game years later. In fact, it’s one of the few PS1 games I still own.

Soulcalibur had its own take on this mode: Mission Battle. While we lost out on the awesome weapon customization – all you could do was shift between the 1P, 2P and “Edge Master” variants and all three were mechanically identical – Mission Battle expanded on the length of the mode itself. The rewards had changed as well: completing missions granted players in-game currency which could be used to unlock gallery items. Mechanically speaking, Mission Battle feels way more advanced than its predecessor, but the loss of the additional weapons hit me hard back in the late ‘90s. Call it nostalgia blindness, but this one’s still number two in my book because of that.

Finally, we come to Soulcalibur II’s take on it – personally, it’s my least favorite of the bunch. It does attempt to split the difference between its two predecessors, which is a noble effort. Unfortunately, trying to satisfy fans of both modes lead to concessions. The unique weapons return, but they are purchased through an in-game store with currency earned by completing areas, as opposed to being earned through sheer progress. Likewise, while Weapon Master probably has more missions overall than Mission Battle, there are no longer any unique paths for each individual character. SCII does add one unique concept I really enjoyed though: certain stages are menu-based dungeons, where players face off against a gauntlet of enemies while trying to reach its boss. The characters also level up as players progress in the mode, though this mostly just unlocks additional bonus chapters in the mode.

Alas, SCII was where this mode’s line ends. I already told you about Soulcalibur III’s replacement, but Soulcalibur IV had Tower of Lost Souls, which is another Tower mode much like the aforementioned Challenge Tower, hiding several unlockables. SCV decided to focus on a story mode and SCVI appears to be following in its footsteps with two different story modes. I didn’t play much of IV and V, so I’m not really well-versed with their single-player content. Maybe Bandai Namco will consider adding a true successor to these modes as DLC in Soulcalibur VI down the line.

And those are my picks for the best single-player modes in fighting games. But what do you think? Do you agree with my picks? Was I too hard on Shadow Lords? Is there a particularly good fighting game mode you think I missed? Feel free to sound off in the comments. I might consider doing a follow-up article based on unique fighting game multiplayer modes down the line… if I can think of enough of them for a decent-sized list.0

Retrospective: Street Fighter – A New Fight Is On!

The legacy of the Street Fighter franchise is a long and storied one, but after the disappointing reception to the long-anticipated Street Fighter III, the series essentially went dormant for roughly a decade. That’s not to say that the series was completely gone, but it only managed to live on through re-releases, ports and compilations. By this point, Capcom had pretty much abandoned the fighting game genre, focusing mostly on other blockbuster franchises like Resident Evil and the then-fledgling Monster Hunter. Unfortunately, when Capcom gave up on 2D fighters, the genre itself essentially went belly up. While niche companies like SNK Playmore and Arc System Works continued to fight the good fight, other long-standing franchises either went dormant or attempted to step into the third dimension: a sub-genre that already had several established franchises like Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive to name a few. The sixth generation was a truly horrifying time for fans of 2D fighting games.

However, there were still a few figures at Capcom that were championing a full-on revival of the Street Fighter franchise and after the successful re-release of Hyper Fighting on the Xbox 360, Capcom finally gave the greenlight to the first brand-new Street Fighter project in years. Of course, that wasn’t the first attempt at revitalizing the series. Apparently, many members of Capcom’s staff (and in at least one case, an outside company that had worked for Capcom in the past) had campaigned for new Street Fighter games for years, throughout the entire hiatus. While we know very little in terms of pitches, what’s been revealed to the public is kind of interesting, and therefore, worth exploring. So before moving onto the main attraction, let’s take a look at what happened between the death and rebirth of Street Fighter.

Prelude: The Road to Street Fighter IV

Let’s start with a brief recap. While Street Fighter III wasn’t the bona fide success that Capcom expected, its sales did manage to bring about two revisions. Still, by the end of the ‘90s, the gaming landscape had changed. The vibrant arcade scene, itself given new life through Street Fighter II, had begun its final worldwide recession that persists to this day. Likewise, gamers in general were far more enamored with 3D graphics, which were increasingly becoming cheaper and easier to produce. The industry in its entirety had seemed to have outgrown Street Fighter as a concept and as such, Capcom had long considered it a “dead franchise”, deciding to focus instead on their even-more-popular megahit Resident Evil and a host of 3D action titles, including Onimusha (itself, ironically forgotten) and Devil May Cry.

It’s not entirely clear how many pitches Capcom had received regarding the future of the franchise, but thanks to the people over at Unseen64, we do know of at least one project. Backbone Entertainment – the same people behind such games as 1942: Joint Strike, Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 and of course, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – pitched a completely original project to Capcom, attempting to bring Street Fighter into the modern era. Titled “Street Fighter IV Flashback”, the game was meant to be a 3D sequel to the previous Street Fighter games, with an emphasis on 1-on-1 fights and online play. They also planned on including a single-player adventure mode, known as “Ryu’s Journey”: a 3D-action vein in the same vein of such titles as Ninja Gaiden and Capcom’s own Onimusha. This mode would take place during the second World Warrior Tournament, allowing players to relive Street Fighter’s glory days through the eyes of its main protagonist.

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…use your imagination on this one.

In addition to the cast from Champion Edition and Hyper Fighting, Backbone also planned on including Akuma, Sakura, “Killer Bee” (Cammy, while she was still under Bison’s control), as well as two entirely-new characters: the head student at Ibuki’s ninja village and a Chinese bodyguard. Various other Street Fighter characters were planned to appear as NPCs in Ryu’s Journey as well. The game also utilized a “flashback” mechanic, which would allow players to rewind time and correct mistakes. Whether this mechanic was intended for use in the versus mode or strictly within single-player isn’t really made clear, but it seems safe to assume that the latter was the case. Backbone also planned on changing the control scheme to a more simplified one, dubbed “New Millennium” that consisted of four buttons and allowed special moves to be performed much more simply. For example, Ryu could perform a Shoryuken by pressing down and punch simultaneously, while back and punch would perform a Hurricane Kick. This concept would eventually resurface in another Capcom fighting game, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, but on a strictly optional basis.

While Street Fighter IV: Flashback never came to fruition, W. Thomas Grové, one of the people who worked on the pitch, has released various design documents – detailing the game’s overall concept and an outline of the story mode, as well as an art book filled with concept art – via his blog. While the game itself never saw the light of day, it’s an interesting read for anyone curious about the directions Street Fighter could have taken.

Of course, Capcom had a champion for the Street Fighter franchise among their internal staff. Yoshinori Ono had risen through the ranks at Capcom, acting as a producer on games like Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, Chaos Legion, Shadow of Rome and Capcom Fighting Jam. However, his earlier work at Capcom was in sound design, and his first two projects in that field were Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: Third Strike respectively. Before Ono pitched the idea of a new mainline Street Fighter to then-head of R&D Keiji Inafune, there was little support for the franchise in general. However, due to fan demand – affirmed by the success of the Xbox Live Arcade re-release of Street Fighter II’: Hyper Fighting – Inafune agreed to give Ono a small budget to develop a prototype. When he reflected on the process of the game’s development, Ono referred to the game as an “unwanted child”, with his co-workers asking him to work on a project that would make money. Ono also brought up the fact that the game probably would’ve never existed without the persistence of fans and journalists, stating that they have more sway with Capcom than employees, even producers.

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More like 3rD Strike, am I right?

We’ve seen very little of these early prototypes: the most prominent bit of information we’ve seen were an assortment of images taken from what appear to be two completely different builds of the game. What appears to be the earlier of the two seemed to be attempting a direct translation of 3rd Strike’s aesthetic into a 2.5D style. Many elements, particularly the use of a Street Fighter 3 stage as placeholder art for the background; numerous win icons (especially the one labelled “SA” for Super Art) and the Super meters all draw clear inspiration from the arcade classic. Likewise, Ryu’s design appears highly inspired by various pieces of promotional artwork from the game. We do see certain elements that would eventually make it into the final product though: there’s one point where Ryu appears to perform a Shin Shoryuken on the… other Ryu and the camera zooms in, with a cinematic quality not unlike the modern Street Fighters in general.

The second set of images better resembles the final game, albeit in a far rougher state. This time, Ken joins Ryu in the action and numerous mechanics that would appear in the final product (such as the revenge meter) have clearly begun to take shape. The fighting environment appears to be some kind of military hangar with vehicles and servicemen all over the arena. What’s truly fascinating is that, for whatever reason, it looks like certain screenshots are taken from different angles, implying that there may have been a much more dynamic camera planned at this stage in development. The modelling looks far rougher than the earlier prototype, but also significantly more functional: resembling an actual alpha build, compared to the more “proof of concept” look of its predecessor. Admittedly, I’m a fan of this prototype’s lifebars and character portraits and would’ve loved to have seen something like them in the final product.

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I know that the phrase “looks like a PS2 game” gets thrown around a lot, but…

That’s really all of the pre-release information I was able to find in my research for this article. It stands to reason that perhaps there were several more scrapped Street Fighter projects that we’ll never know about, just considering the long gap between the release of Street Fighter EX3 and Street Fighter IV. I wonder if there were any other failed pitches made to the higher-ups at Capcom, let alone concepts that never even made it to a legitimate proposal phase. Without more information, there’s really no reason to speculate further. So, without further ado, let’s move onto the main attraction.

Street Fighter IV

On July 18th, 2008, Street Fighter IV was released to Japanese arcades, ending a near-decade’s hiatus. While it’s clear that Capcom didn’t have any faith in the project internally, they hid it well. Due to the decline of arcades outside of Japan, the arcade release was intended as Japan-exclusive, but by August, what few arcades still existed across North America were importing the machines. By this point, the hardcore fans of the fighting game community had warmed up to Third Strike and the franchise’s long absence had triggered a widespread nostalgia for the franchise, even among casual fans.

Most of Street Fighter IV’s development was handled by Dimps, with internal employees at Capcom providing support and supervision. Dimps was founded on March 6th, 2000 by several ex-SNK and Capcom employees: most prominently Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto – the co-creators of the original Street Fighter. (I told you they’d be back!) Prior to working on Street Fighter IV, Dimps’ most prominent projects were several Sonic the Hedgehog games for handheld consoles, various Dragon Ball licensed titles and two games in The Rumble Fish series: a somewhat-obscure 2.5D fighting game, utilizing cel-shaded graphics. I’d wager that The Rumble Fish games are a pretty clear part of the reason why Capcom hired them to work on SF4, though Nishiyama and Matsumoto’s work on such series as Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and the King of Fighters likely played a pivotal role in this decision. During this period, Capcom would outsource many of their fighting game projects to other companies: Eighting co-developed both Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with Capcom in a similar partnership.

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Not that impressive, but it’s a start.

As the CPS3 was the last arcade hardware Capcom developed, they had to rely on other companies’ hardware to release the game as well. As such, they went with Taito’s Type X2 hardware, which ran on a modified version of the then-current Windows XP operating system. The hardware itself was essentially akin to a PC, running on various Intel processors, with support for such GPUs as cards in the ATI Radeon and Nvidia GeForce series, support for up to 1080p screen resolution, an onboard Realtek HD 7.1 channel sound output, LAN capabilities and utilizing SATA hard drives. The Type X2 was the fourth model in Taito’s Type X line and the first to eschew backward compatibility with its predecessors: the Type X, Type X+ and the Type X7. There was also a variant of the Type X2 – the “Satellite Terminal” – which allowed for online play, but as far as I can tell, Street Fighter IV never utilized this set-up.

 

Capcom has this weird tendency of making prequels and interquels to the least popular games in the series. Much like how Devil May Cry 2 is the chronological end of that series, the Street Fighter III games still remain the latest games in the series. As such, Street Fighter IV was an “interquel” – taking place between Street Fighter II and III. SF4 takes place several months after SF2. S.I.N. – the Shadaloo Intimidation Network – Shadaloo’s weapons division has splintered off from the evil organization, emerging after Bison’s defeat and apparent death in the second World Warrior Tournament. S.I.N. is led by Seth, an artificial clone body intended for M. Bison, who somehow gained sentience and is capable of learning fighters’ technique simply by analyzing their data. Using several techniques from the world warriors, Seth has formed his own deadly style of mixed martial arts. Seth seeks to take over the remainder of Shadaloo and then set his sights on total world domination, much like his template. S.I.N. decides to hold another World Warrior Tournament, seeking to collect more data on the world’s most powerful fighter. However, their man goal is to lure in Ryu and study his Satsui no Hado, believed to be the final component needed to complete their bio-weapon, known simply as “BLECE”: the Boiling Liquid Expanding Cell Explosion.

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He looks like a gender-swapped Dural.

The majority of SF4’s initial roster came from Street Fighter II’: Hyper Fighting, likely owed to the success of its re-release on Xbox 360. Ryu, still shaken from his encounters with Akuma, is trying to overcome the temptations of the Satsui no Hado. Ken still seeks another rematch with his best friend/rival, but feels far less confident than usual, as his wife Eliza is pregnant with their first child. Chun-Li and Guile are trying to take down S.I.N. and discover what really happened to M. Bison after the previous tournament. Likewise, they both seek answers about what happened to Chun-Li’s father and Guile’s comrade-at-arms Charlie Nash, both of whom were supposedly killed by M. Bison. Edmond Honda is still trying to prove the strength of sumo to the entire world, deciding that this new tournament is the perfect stage for his fighting style. Blanka leaves his mother once again, feeling ashamed of his appearance and wants to win the tournament to earn people’s respect. Zangief enters the tournament to prove to his young fans that he’s still worthy of being called Russia’s national hero. Dhalsim enters the tournament to free the flow of water to his village after S.I.N. builds a dam upstream. While Dhalsim abhors combat, he feels compelled to save his village.

Sagat has fallen into a deep depression after losing the second World Warrior Tournament and seeks to reignite his fighting spirit by challenging Ryu to another rematch, finally making the full transition to official good guy. Meanwhile, M. Bison has emerged in a new clone body, seeking to regain control of S.I.N. and reestablish Shadaloo in the process. As such, he rehires Balrog and Vega to infiltrate S.I.N. and keep tabs on the traitorous Seth. Of course, both agents have their own ambitions as well: Balrog seeks to get rich all over again, while Vega wishes to build new bodies for himself, so that he may stay young and beautiful forever.

Of course, there’s no point in making a new Street Fighter game without brand-new characters and much like Super Street Fighter II before it, SF4 expands the roster with four brand-new characters. The most popular of the new characters was easily Crimson Viper. Posing as a member of S.I.N., Viper is actually a CIA agent sent to infiltrate them. She was put in charge of S.I.N.’s “Battle Suit project”, allowing her to enhance her natural combat skills with electrified gloves, powerful shockwaves and burning kicks. When she’s informed that all of her fellow agents have been terminated, she realizes that she alone must finish investigating S.I.N.’s ties to Shadoloo. Next, there’s Abel, a French mixed martial artist, who primarily focuses on Judo. He was found at an abandoned Shadaloo base, suffering from amnesia. He enters the tournament to recover his lost memories. Next comes El Fuerte, a Mexican luchador who constantly attempts to mix his two greatest passions: lucha libre and cooking. Alas, he hasn’t had much luck mixing the two, so he decides to enter this new fighting tournament to discover what these warriors eat. He’s especially intrigued by Zangief, challenging him to see whose style is stronger. Finally, there’s Rufus: a loud-mouthed, obese American fighter, who was inspired to learn Karate and Kung Fu through correspondence courses after seeing several martial arts flicks in his youth. After reading an article praising Ken Masters’ status as America’s best fighter, Rufus is enraged and decides to enter the World Warrior tournament to see who’s the best, once and for all.

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Burning Knuck–oops, wrong game.

The game also had three bosses. Obviously, the game’s main final boss was Seth, the leader of S.I.N. A silver android, resembling Gill and Urien from Street Fighter III, he also has a giant orb resembling a yin-yang in his abdomen: a power generator called the Tanden Engine. He fights using various attacks from other fighters: Dhalsim’s stretchy arms and Yoga Teleport, Guile’s Sonic Boom, Ryu and Ken’s Shoryuken and Zangief’s Spinning Pile Driver. He can also suck in opponents using the Tanden Engine. There are also two secret bosses. Akuma makes an obvious return, though he’s also a time-release unlockable character. But perhaps the most surprising new boss is Gouken, Ryu and Ken’s (supposedly) dead master. While it appeared that he died at the hands of his brother Akuma’s Shun Goku Satsu, he emptied his soul, utilizing a technique known as the “Power of Mu”: a power which relies on nothingness that could possibly even surpass the Satsui no Hado. Gouken’s fighting style is actually substantially different from Ryu, Ken and Akuma’s: he can fire his Hadouken straight-forward or diagonally as an anti-air; he has Akuma’s “Demon Flip”, the Hyakkishu; the Senkugoshoha is a straight-forward palm strike; the Tatsumaki Gorasen is a variant of the Hurricane Kick that moves straight up; and the Kongoshin is a counter that defends high or low, depending on whether punch or kick is used.

Much like its roster, Street Fighter IV’s gameplay went back to basics for the most part. Many of the mechanics found in later games, like Alpha’s Custom Combos and SF3’s parry fell by the wayside. Yoshinori Ono, the game’s producer, made it clear that this game was going to resemble the Street Fighter II games far more than anything else in the series. As such, the game’s mechanics are akin to a slower version of Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Combos are typically performed via “one-frame links” – pressing the buttons with precise timing – like earlier games in the series, as opposed to the simpler chain and target combo mechanics found in later games. However, to dissuade players from using infinite combos like in previous games, Capcom also instituted a system where as combos extend, each individual attack only does a fraction of its standard damage. Super Combos return, though meter remains consistent between rounds instead of resetting, like in Super Turbo.

A few mechanics from other Street Fighter games do make their way into SF4. Personal actions return, performed by pressing heavy punch and heavy kick simultaneously: in fact, players can choose between 10 taunts per character on the player select screen. Third Strike’s method of pressing light punch and kick together to throw also returns, as do throw escapes and EX Specials. This time, the Super Combo gauge is separated into four segments for all characters, and EX moves can be performed by hitting 2 attack buttons while performing a special move at the cost of a single segment. Characters can also perform a dash and quick wake-ups, using similar methods to previous games.

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SF4 was also the first time characters had unique win quotes for the entire roster… in English!

That’s not to say that there aren’t brand new mechanics as well. First and foremost are the Focus Attacks – known as “Saving Attacks” in Japan – which are performed by pressing medium punch and kick together. Similar to EX3’s Surprise Blows, characters can attack immediately to stagger their opponents into a “crumple state” – slowly falling to their knees before falling down in a prone state, which allows for various follow-ups. Focus Attacks can be charged to three different levels: Level 1 which requires no charging and only crumples opponents that are attacking; Level 2 which requires mild charging but crumples an opponent upon a successful hit and Level 3, which requires a full charge and is unblockable. Focus Attacks also have one hit of armor while charging – allowing them to take one hit of recoverable damage without taking hit stun or getting staggered – so they can be used to counter attacks. Focus Attacks also gave rise to various other techniques, including the EX Focus, which costs two bars and allows characters to cancel special moves into Focus Attacks; the Focus Attack Dash Cancel – better known by its acronym FADC – which allows players to cancel Focus Attacks into a dash, often used to extend combos or escape unsafe attacks; and the Dash follow-up, which allows players to dash after performing a Focus Attack, allowing for combo potential while their opponent’s in a crumple state.

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Focus Attacks were also accompanied by a beautiful brush stroke animation.

Street Fighter IV also brought in a brand-new comeback mechanic, known as the Ultra Combo. Right next to the Super bar, there’s a circular meter known as the “Revenge Gauge” which fills as you take damage. Once the gauge gets filled halfway, players gain access to the Ultra Combo, a more-powerful cinematic attack based on each character’s Super Combos: for example, Ken can use his Shinryuken as opposed to his more-traditional Shoryureppa, while Ryu gains access to the “Metsu Hadouken”, which is far more damaging than the standard Shinku Hadouken. The Ultra Combo does more damage based on how much the meter has filled, meaning that players can choose to use it to make a comeback immediately or wait until the meter’s completely full to deal the most possible damage.

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Ultra Combos exploited the 3D graphical style of SF4, often utilizing varied camera angles.

As per usual, Street Fighter IV contains an arcade ladder, consisting of eight one-on-one fights. While the first six fights pit the player against random opponents, the seventh fight is a predetermined “rival battle” and the eighth and final fight pits players against Seth. In the first round, Seth is far more subdued but after defeating him once, he begins to showcase his true power. If certain conditions are met in gameplay, players will be challenged by either Akuma or Gouken for a special hidden boss fight. Regardless, after completing the game, players are rewarded with a credits roll, accompanied by various pieces of artwork.

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I love these little vignettes before rival battles.

The graphics probably represent the biggest departure from the previous mainline games in the series, but it’s not entirely new. Like EX3 before it, Street Fighter IV uses 3D models for both the characters and the backgrounds, while maintaining the traditional 2D gameplay. This was originally going to apply to the gameplay as well: the developers experimented with applying 3D hitboxes in-game, but it lacked the “pixel perfect” precision of previous games, thus they went back to more traditional 2D hitboxes. Ono also stated that the since-forgotten Arc System Works 2.5D fighter Battle Fantasia helped to inspire SF4’s 3D artstyle. Daigo Ikeno, who previously worked on Third Strike, returned as the game’s art director and character design and decided to give the game a more stylized look, favoring a somewhat hand-drawn look over photorealism. The game’s aesthetic had a heavy emphasis on calligraphic, with various ink sprays and smudges accompanying certain attacks, particularly the Focus Attack.

Considering how polygonal the models in the EX games were, this was the first time we saw many of these classic characters rendered properly in 3D. An entire generation had passed since EX3 and the advancements in 3D rendering allowed for much more expressive models, with fully animated faces and limbs. The modelers even went out of their way to retain a subtle animation trick from previous Capcom fighting games: characters’ extremities swell up near the peak of their attacks. It’s a bit less subtle in 3D, which actually caused many less-observant players to notice it for the first time. However, the shift to 3D did have its downsides. Compared to future iterations, the early models from SF4 look kind of chunky, particularly Ryu and Ken, who have gigantic torsos.

Likewise, the shift to 3D means that stages are no longer tied to single characters, opting to go for various world locales, like a cruise ship off the coast of Italy, a snowy rail yard in Russia, a small military airfield in Africa, a drive-in in the United States, a South American jungle and various cities across Asia. These stages do have animation flourishes, but they’re a little weak compared to the 2D pixel art of previous games. Of course, they weren’t really meant to be scrutinized and it’s nice that Dimps and Capcom took the extra effort to add them, in an effort to recreate the vivid backgrounds of yore. I’m not going to say that these new stages are bad, just that they lack the personalization that came with character-specific stages from the past. Considering the fact that Tekken ditched the concept all the way back in the original Tekken Tag Tournament, a shift to 3D meant it was only inevitable for Street Fighter to follow suit.

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Probably my favorite Easter Egg in Street Fighter IV.

Hideyuki Fukasawa acts as the game’s composer. He previously worked on Onimusha 2, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, Monster Hunter Frontier and Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 as well as various anime like You’re Under Arrest: Full Throttle and Intrigue in the Bakumatsu – Irohanihoheto. While previous games in the series focused on specific character themes, Street Fighter IV relies more of stage-centric themes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as these songs tend to focus more on characterizing the stages themselves. My personal favorites are the Volcanic Rim, Drive-In At Night and Pitch-Black Jungle. However, a few characters do receive character themes specifically for the Rival Battle. Aside from the new characters, these end up being remixes of their themes from Street Fighter II. The themes that make it have a variety of styles, ranging from an electronic take on Ken’s theme, a jazzy rendition of Zangief’s theme and a unique rendition of Sagat’s theme, mixing rock with traditional Thai instruments. The new characters each get their own themes: C. Viper’s song veers between a fast-paced mix of heavy metal and techno and a singing choir with lyrics that reinforce that failing her mission means death; Abel’s theme sounds aggressive yet sorrowful, clearly as unsure of itself as the character himself; El Fuerte has an upbeat (if not slightly stereotypical) samba with trumpets and electric guitar taking center stage and Rufus’s theme music is an aggressive rock anthem, constantly punctuated with kiais straight out of a kung-fu film.

Clearly, Fukusawa was aiming for more characterization with his original pieces, instead of going for catchy melodies, and while his original themes aren’t bad, they aren’t quite as memorable as the music from previous games. Another element present in Fukusawa’s soundtrack was that as one combatant reached low health, the music would seamlessly transition to a loop, signifying that the end of the round was approaching. It’s the same basic principle as SF2’s tendency to speed up the music when the round was clearly approaching its end, but Fukusawa managed to pay homage to this old oft-forgotten audio flourish, while utilizing the game’s superior hardware to modernize it. Still, it’s an impressive first effort and Fukusawa would go on to hone his craft in later titles. However, I’d still say that the clear standout would have to be the game’s main theme, a vocal piece by Japanese boy group Exile and rapper Flo Rida called “The Next Door – Indestructible”. Instrumental versions of the song were used for the game’s main menu and character select themes. While the song was originally considered goofy and annoying by many players, the song’s since become a cult classic, especially after it was removed from future releases.

The sound effects were directed by Masayuki Endou, who previously worked on games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, the Capcom vs. SNK games and Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams. His co-director was Makoto Tomozawa, a long-time Capcom employee who I’ve mentioned before in a previous retrospective. The sound effects for the most part opted for higher-fidelity versions of sound effects used in previous games. Perhaps the most noticeable of these would be the traditional “dizzy” sound effect, which was adapted directly from the Street Fighter II games. Street Fighter IV had full Japanese voice acting with a mix of returning and brand-new voice actors portraying various characters. However, the home release brought a first for the Street Fighter franchise: a second set of voice acting, completely in English. For the first time, English-speaking audiences would be able to hear their favorite fighters speak in a game made by Capcom themselves. Best of all, players could unlock the option to mix-and-match different voices, allowing for a much more customizable experience. My favorite part about the game’s sound design is easily the announcer though – who was clearly cut from the same cloth as the announcers found in games like Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. Alas, much like Indestructible, he would be replaced in future installments: some representatives at Capcom USA claimed they were unable to find his contact information, so they couldn’t rehire him.

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The cutscenes in the console releases were considered a big deal at the time.

Speaking of which, Street Fighter IV would be released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 home consoles the following year. Japan received the games on February 12th, 2009, while North America had an official release date of February 18th (though many retailers broke the street date, releasing the game early) and Europe saw their own release on February 20th. With nearly half a year of additional development time, the home console releases offered several new features not found in the original arcade version. In addition to English voice acting, SF4 added 8 new unlockable characters to their roster: Gouken and Seth now had playable versions, while Cammy, Fei Long, Sakura, Dan Hibiki, Gen and Rose were added to the game’s roster. Akuma remained an unlockable character, bringing the grand total of secret characters to nine. The game also added brand-new fully-animated prologues and endings to each character’s arcade mode, as well as in-game cutscenes preceding each rival battle. The game also had a Challenge Mode – similar to the Trial Mode from the EX games – training mode, a gallery, a dedicated offline versus mode, and online battles, handled through the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live services respectively.

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They could’ve easily called this “Street Fighter EX4”.

In another first for the series, Street Fighter IV’s Windows PC port would be overseen by Capcom themselves – as opposed to just outsourcing it to an outside publisher – releasing in all three regions in July 2009. A Polish company, QLoc, would provide quality assurance on this release as one of their earliest projects, building a strong relationship with Capcom early in their career. This version contained all of the additional features found in the console versions, with a few key differences. Online play was handled by the now-defunct Games for Windows Live. Unfortunately, there was no cross-platform play with Xbox players – despite the functionality being present in other Capcom PC ports at the time. To make up for this shortcoming, the PC version featured higher resolutions and added three art-style filters that would change the appearance of the game: Ink, Watercolor and Posterize. With these brand-new additions, this version was considered to be the “definitive version” of Street Fighter IV by Capcom representatives.

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I see you’ve played “one-handed fireball” before.

These three releases would also receive various pieces of downloadable content. The entire roster got alternative outfits – one of the perks of switching to 3D models – which could be purchased through five 5-character packs or in an all-inclusive set with all 25 costumes. There was also a free update known as “Championship Mode”, which allowed players to watch replays of their matches and added a new Ranking system to the game’s online mode, something that would become a genre staple in future games. The PS3 version allowed players to vote on parts of replays that were “funny”, “awesome” or “beautiful”, while the Xbox 360 release allowed players to download replays to their console’s hard drive.

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Seriously, as much as tournament players hated them, I loved the extra graphical flair Ultra Combos had.

The following year, a scaled-down mobile version was released on iOS with simplified controls. This version also replaced the other versions’ 3D models with pre-rendered sprites and used video recordings of the original game to represent Ultra Combos. The game launched with eight playable characters – though the roster would swell to 14 via free updates – and the game allowed for local multiplayer via Bluetooth, as well as achievements through Apple’s Game Center service. This release is no longer available on the Apple app store for (obvious) reasons I’ll explore later.

Despite their apprehension towards the game’s development, Capcom went all-in in terms of marketing the game. For starters, they commissioned Studio 4°C to produce a tie-in prequel anime OVA for the game’s home release, known as Street Fighter IV: The Ties That Bind. This was packed in with the game’s Collectors Editions, including the ones released in North America and Europe. The Collector’s Edition in both Western regions were identical for the most part, with these releases containing a comic book-style mini-strategy guide from Prima, a disc release of The Ties That Bind (DVD for Xbox 360, PS3 owners got it on Blu-Ray) and one of the costume packs in both regions. North America had an exclusive soundtrack CD and there were character figurines: the North American PS3 version had Ryu, the North American X360 version had C. Viper and both versions had both figures in Europe to compensate for the lack of the soundtrack.

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It just looks a bit more… complete, doesn’t it?

Capcom also commissioned UDON entertainment to produce a four-issue comic mini-series, focusing on the new characters and their interactions with the returning cast. Mad Catz also licensed the rights to create a Street Fighter IV-themed arcade stick, as well as “fightpads” (loosely based on the Sega Saturn’s controller) themed around various characters from the game’s roster for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 – and the latter was also compatible with the PC version. Sony’s PlayStation Home service also had a SF4-themed game space, “S.I.N.’s Secret Base from Street Fighter IV”, which included costumes and ornaments in the in-game store. And because it was almost expected at that point, Enterrise licensed the rights to develop a Pachislot machine based on SF4, which came out in October 2011.

Street Fighter IV’s success is a perfect illustration of an old axiom: “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. It was critically acclaimed all over the word: earning Arcadia’s Best Game of 2008 award, among others, as well as several perfect scores from publications like Giant Bomb and PlayStation: The Official Magazine and universal acclaim on review aggregate site Metacritic. The game ended up selling a combined 3.3 million copies on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 – information on the PC version’s sales are scarce. It was also one of most rented video games of 2009, a figure I happily contributed to myself. But perhaps, Street Fighter IV’s greatest contribution was its reinvigoration of the fighting game genre as a whole. Much like its predecessor Street Fighter II, SF4’s success led to the emergence of rival developers, new and old, throwing their own titles into the ring to dethrone the recrowned king of the genre. As such, a brand-new renaissance of (mechanically) 2D fighting games began, nearly a decade after it seemed their time had come to an end.

Super Street Fighter IV

Of course, Capcom couldn’t possibly just stop at one game. While the console release of Street Fighter IV was a significant improvement on the original arcade version, there was still much that Capcom could add to the game. Downloadable content was slowly becoming more and more ubiquitous across the seventh generation of video game consoles, with improvements like onboard hard drives becoming standard features and internet access becoming more and more common in households all over the world. After all, Street Fighter IV had already had bonus content added to the game post-release, both free and paid. Yet, instead Capcom decided to buck this trend and go back to basics again for SF4’s first major update. Released at a budget price of $40 in North America, Super Street Fighter IV was a new standalone expansion that added several new features to its predecessor when it released all over the world on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at the tail end of April 2010, just over a year after the previous game hit consoles.

In fact, the original Street Fighter IV (affectionately referred to as “Vanilla Street Fighter IV” by fans) was intended to receive DLC updates including new characters. However, according to Yoshinori Ono, the amount of content planned to be released for the game swelled to levels that would’ve been too high to sell as downloadable content, so they decided instead to release Super SF4 as a standalone budget release, in an effort to appease owners of the previous version. In addition, players with save data from the previous game gained access to two exclusive “colors”, loosely based on the filters from the PC version as well as both the original SF4 and Super’s opening cinematics and promotional character artwork. The costume DLC from the previous game was also cross-compatible with SSF4, while other costume packs would be released throughout Super’s lifespan in both 5-character packs and all-inclusive bundles.

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I’ll be honest, the effects on Chun-Li are way more noticeable.

Of course, considering the fact that Super Street Fighter IV added a whopping 10 characters to the previous iteration’s 25, I’d have to agree that maybe trying to extend the game via paid downloadable content would’ve been more expensive than just dropping $40 on a new disc. While we don’t know all of Capcom’s original DLC plans, we do know that Dee Jay and Thunder Hawk – the last two new characters from Super SF2 – were planned for release, because unused announcer audio was found on the game’s disc and because Ono admitted that they were in development for the game. Both would appear in Super SF4, along with Adon, Guy and Cody (returning from Alpha 3) and Ibuki, Dudley and Makoto (last seen in Third Strike). All of these characters have pretty simple motivations this time around: Adon wishes to defeat his former master Sagat once and for all and begin a new legacy; Cody’s bored of life in prison and decides to break out, looking for someone worth fighting; Dee Jay just wants to test his fighting skills; Makoto wants to win the tournament’s prize money to renovate her family’s dojo; Guy wants to prevent S.I.N. from flooding his hometown of Metro City with weapons; Dudley simply enters to look for additions to his garden and to take his mind off his father’s car; T. Hawk wishes to save his beloved Julia, who was once again kidnapped by Shadaloo and brainwashed into “Juli”; and Ibuki just wants to sneak out of her clan’s summer training camp to find some handsome guys.

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Truly a match-up with a decade of demand behind it!

Capcom also added two brand-new characters to the roster: Juri Han, a sadistic Taekwondo fighter originally from South Korea who allies with S.I.N. to take down M. Bison after Shadaloo left her orphaned and experimented on her, replacing her left eye with the Feng Shui Engine, a miniature Tandem Engine; and Hakan, a Turkish olive oil tycoon who wrestles using traditional Turkish oil wrestling to showcase just how amazing his product and fighting style truly are, while seeking inspiration for a new oil recipe. Juri managed to become the most popular newcomer in the entire Street Fighter IV series, easily eclipsing even C. Viper and Gouken. As for Hakan, he does have his fans – he’s at least more popular than El Fuerte and Rufus. Every new character, as well as the secret characters from the previous release, were unlocked from the start due to complaints from tournament organizers, who simply wanted to run the games out of the box.

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I miss Hakan.

Super Street Fighter IV’s placement in the Street Fighter timeline is unclear. I can’t entirely tell if it’s supposed to be a sequel to the original – like Third Strike was to the other Street Fighter 3 games – or was meant to replace the original Street Fighter IV in the game’s canon, like Alpha 2 replaced the first Alpha or the various revisions of SF2. Regardless, Super Street Fighter IV gives all of its returning characters brand-new prologues and endings – some seemingly taking place after their storylines in SF4 and others seemingly just being retellings of the previous game’s story. Of course, while the character endings are still fully animated, the prologues became more akin to slideshows, shifting between a few static images: a change that was met with controversy, but not at all surprising, giving SSF4’s large roster.

Super Street Fighter IV also adds in a few new gameplay mechanics. In addition to rebalancing the game’s roster, each character now has two Ultra Combos to choose from, similar to the multiple Super Arts found in the Street Fighter III games. While this offers various brand-new techniques to the returning roster, the newcomers clearly benefit from this new addition the most: their Super Combos and both Ultra Combos are entirely different techniques. In fact, the SF3 characters benefit from this change the most – one of their old Super Arts becomes their Super Combo, while the other two become their Ultra Combos. Target combos also return from Street Fighter III, though few characters on the roster have access to them. Arcade Mode remains relatively unchanged, aside from the addition of two new bonus stages between the third and fifth fights: Car Crusher and Barrel Breaker return from SF2. In fact, Car Crusher’s background resembles the original bonus stage from Final Fight that inspired it, right down to a neat little Easter egg that comes up if you beat it with Cody or Guy. Likewise, a few returning characters – specifically Chun-Li, C. Viper, Cammy, Seth, Guile and Ryu – each get secondary Rival Battles, activated by holding down all three kicks during the “Now! Fight Your Rival!” prompt.

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Never gets old.

All of the game modes from the previous home release return in SSF4. However, there are also some new modes added to the mix as well, specifically for the online mode. Team Battle allows teams of 1-4 players duke it out online, Endless Battle allows for “King of the Hill”-style match-ups with losers being sent to the back of the line, resembling how multiplayer was generally handled in arcades during the halcyon days of Street Fighter II. The Replay functionality has also been enhanced, allowing players to save up to 150 replays and share them with friends online and upload them to an online forum. Players can also search for replays on their own, filtering them by character groups like “III and Turbo”, “Alpha”, “Originals” and “Boss”. Finally, Championship Mode has been reworked into a full-on Tournament Mode, allowing players to hold their own tournaments – a clear nod to the fighting game community who kept Street Fighter alive during Capcom’s hiatus.

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OH! MY CAR

While most of the graphics are completely recycled from the previous game, the main menu and the character select screen underwent a total overhaul, allowing for a much more compact interface to compensate for the larger character roster and increased game options. The new characters and stages fit right in with the returning content, though by this point, some of the older models are beginning to show their age when compared to newer designs. The differences between Chun-Li and Juri are like night and day in-game. Some of the new stages added to SSF4 definitely outshine their predecessors: Solar Eclipse takes place in a beautiful African savannah, while Skyscraper Under Construction delivers on the titular concept, but goes even further by including a couple of Final Fight cameos for good measure.

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Hey look, it’s Hugo!

Likewise, most of the soundtrack from the previous game returns, with brand-new themes for the menus and character select screen. This time around, Capcom decided to use the Volcanic Rim stage theme as SSF4’s leitmotif – a good choice in my opinion, but I still miss Indestructible. Also, every character gets a theme this time around, including the characters that missed out in the previous release. For the most part, they follow a specific formula: all of the characters present in the SF2 games receive a rearrangement of that theme, the Alpha characters got remixes of their Alpha 2 themes (aside from Cody, who got a Final Fight remix) and the Street Fighter III characters retain their themes from Third Strike. The new characters all get Japanese and English voices and SSF4 has a brand-new announcer that would remain for the rest of the series: Jamieson Price, an actor with a distinctive deep voice, who I knew best for playing Iron Tager in Blazblue when he took on the role. Aside from that and some new audio from the returning voice actors, the sound design in Super is identical to its predecessor.

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Makoto’s English voice is perfect, by the way.

 

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition was a launch title for Nintendo’s 3DS portable, releasing late February 2011 in Japan and the following month in all other regions. It was, for the most part, an accurate representation of the original game, scaled down for the road – putting even impressive feats like the SFA on Game Boy Color and Alpha 3 on the Game Boy Advance to shame. It doesn’t hurt that this version was developed internally by the same staff as the console release. In order to compensate both for the 3DS’s less-than-ideal control scheme and the potential casual audience, Capcom included a “Lite” mode, that allowed players to program 4 distinct actions as “buttons” on the touchscreen that could be performed at will: something that more skilled players using charge characters abused relentlessly. 3D Edition also included all of the costumes that had been released for the game up to that point and included various unique features. Players could swap and battle collectable figurines through Nintendo’s StreetPass service, play local matches with friends that didn’t own the game (though they were limited to just using Ryu on the training stage) and even incorporated a brand-new over-the-shoulder camera angle, known as “Dynamic Mode” to take advantage of the 3DS’s stereoscopic 3D. Despite being sold at a severe disadvantage to other versions – one that will become obvious later, if it isn’t already – SSF4: 3D Edition managed to sell a whopping 1.3 million copies, earning a spot on Capcom’s Platinum Titles list.

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I always thought this bonus stage was overrated.

While Super Street Fighter IV did see the traditional drop-off in sales compared its predecessor, it did manage to sell just under 2 million copies – an impressive feat when you consider how little time had passed after the original was released and the fact that many other companies had begun once again flooding the 2D fighting game market with games of their own. Regardless, it was official: Street Fighter was officially back and had become a priority for Capcom, something thought impossible five years prior. And they were just getting started…

Interlude: Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition

The original Super Street Fighter IV had unforeseen consequences for Capcom, specifically when it came to arcades – which were still a major money maker in the Japanese video game industry in 2010. Several arcade owners managed to craft their own cabinets with PS3s and Xbox 360s running the console versions of SF4 and other fighting games to save money – trust me, I saw cabinets for Super SF4 and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at my home arcade. In fact, it’s even been speculated that Super Street Fighter IV wasn’t released on PC because Chinese arcades were infested with cabinets running pirated copies of the game. To counteract this new age of knockoffs, Capcom decided to release Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition in North America and Japan on December 16th, 2010, with a European release soon after on January 25th, 2011.

Arcade Edition didn’t add quite as much to SF4 as its last revision but since this was the game’s second release in arcades, it essentially more than doubled the roster compared to that version. Of course, that’s not to say that AE didn’t add new content. In addition to rebalancing the gameplay, Yun and Yang were added to the base roster as playable characters. Their story involves them being curious about what kind of criminal mastermind could bring the great Chun-Li out of retirement. Likewise, two new secret bosses were added to the game: Evil Ryu – boasting a brand-new design, with red hair and a torn gi, as well as scars and a gaping hole in his chest loosely inspired by the manga Street Fighter III: Ryu Final – and Oni, who is essentially a “what if?” version of Akuma, who has completely succumbed to the Satsui no Hado and forsaken his humanity. These two bosses were also time-unlocked secret characters, much like Akuma was in the original SF4. All four new characters have prologues and endings like the rest of the roster but lack rival battle cutscenes.

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Finally, an Evil Ryu design worth caring about!

The game did eventually make it to home consoles though. Much like the previous release, Arcade Edition’s home version had all of its characters available from the start. Aside from that, all versions are essentially identical. First, it was released as a digital update to the original SSF4 releases for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on June 7th of the same year as the arcade release. There was also a physical release on June 28th, replacing the previous SSF4 physical release. In addition, a PC version developed by QLoc was released on July 5th, finally bringing PC gamers back into the fold. To make up for the lack of cross-compatible DLC (as well as the many costumes that had been released since then), Capcom released an “all-in-one” pack, containing every costume released prior to Arcade Edition’s home release. Sale figures start getting vague with regards to AE, with Capcom claiming that they managed to sell 1.1 million copies across the PS3, 360 and “downloads”, while not including the PC release in the mix. Whether they’re strictly counting physical and digital releases of Arcade Edition alone or if the cheap digital upgrade of the previous version factors into Capcom’s figures is anyone’s guess.

Capcom also released a new mobile version of SF4, christened “Street Fighter IV Volt: Battle Protocol” on June 30th, 2011 for iOS. The game launched with all of the characters from the previous release, as well as Cody, Balrog and Vega. Future updates added characters like Akuma, Makoto, Fei Long, Sakura and Yun. This version also added online play, but aside from these new features and functions, was essentially identical to the previous version in terms of gameplay and visuals.

Arcade Edition was originally considered the final version of Street Fighter IV, with Capcom deciding to release two major updates for the game during its lifespan. The first, labelled “Version 2012” for obvious reasons, rebalanced the game roster, completely overhauling Gouken, Yun, Yang, Evil Ryu, Fei Long and Hakan. The other major patch was “Version 2014” and was a PC exclusive: it moved the game’s online play from Games for Windows Live to the more popular Steamworks platform. As the game was already available for purchase on the Steam store, many customers saw this as a net positive – but players who had bought the game on the GfWL store lost access to any costume DLC purchased on the service. Likewise, the shift to Steamworks led to some major issues with the game’s netcode: originally, the PC version had what was considered the best netcode of all three releases on GfWL, but the move to Steamworks broke various aspects of it, which forces Capcom and QLoc to attempt fixing it. While it’s now on-par with the Windows Live version by most accounts, some still claim that the newer release is plagued with problems.

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Can’t forget the obligatory starburst.

While Capcom claimed to be done with Street Fighter IV after the release of Arcade Edition, it certainly wasn’t done with Street Fighter as a whole. From the 2000s all the way through the early 2010s, long-awaited crossovers between major rivals were becoming more and more common. And now, it was Capcom’s turn to pit Street Fighter against one of its most prominent rivals…

Street Fighter X Tekken

While most Americans would assume that Mortal Kombat would be the perfect competitor for a Street Fighter crossover – MK even managed to undergo a similar 2.5D revival in 2011 – I can understand Capcom’s logic. While Street Fighter has long been considered the most popular 2D fighting game of all-time, Namco’s Tekken franchise was the pinnacle of 3D fighting games. A crossover that would reimagine Tekken characters into the traditional 2D Street Fighter style. This would require Capcom to transpose their wide and varied (yet simple) movesets and techniques that rely on three-dimensional movement into target combos, command normals and special moves. While most fighting game crossovers either stick to games with similar mechanics or franchises with essentially no video game presence, “Cross Tekken” attempted to mash up two completely different video games genres and I was definitely pleased with the results: SFxT might be my favorite Capcom fighting game of the seventh generation.

As with the Street Fighter IV games before it, Street Fighter X Tekken was co-developed by Dimps and Capcom. The game was first revealed at 2010’s San Diego Comic Con, though Yoshinori Ono teased a fighting game even before that year’s EVO, which many (myself included) believed was a new Darkstalkers game. The game’s announcement helped showcase Ono’s bombastic personality, as he and Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada appeared together, with Harada handing out copies of Tekken 6 to the crowd during the Street Fighter panel. The game debuted with a proof of concept trailer, depicting a two-on-two fight between Street Fighter’s Ryu and Chun-Li against Tekken’s Kazuya Mishima and Nina Williams, showcasing the game’s mechanics. The game would eventually release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on March 6, 2012 in North America, with releases in Japan and Europe later in the month. A PC version ported by the fine folks at QLoc would follow shortly on May 11th of the same year, exclusively on Steam in North America but with a retail box release in Asia and Europe – though both releases still relied on Games for Windows Live for their online play.

I’m sure that some of you are wondering why I’ve decided to cover Street Fighter X Tekken when I omitted the earlier X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter from this retrospective. It’s easy enough to justify: while these earlier titles clearly leaned on the other licensed Marvel fighting games from Capcom, SFxT is clearly a product of the Street Fighter mindset. Game producer Ono himself even said that he intended to set Cross Tekken apart from the previous Vs. games. While many of the combatants in the Marvel Vs. games seem to be on friendly terms (he cited Cyclops and Ryu’s handshake in X-Men vs. Street Fighter’s opening as a particularly damning example), Ono wanted to make it clear that the Street Fighter and Tekken characters didn’t get along at all.  Besides, I already covered most of the Tekken franchise in a previous retrospective, so this almost feels like a homecoming for me.

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The sheer contempt.

In terms of storyline, Street Fighter X Tekken appears replace both Super Street Fighter IV and Tekken 6 in terms of storyline. All of the pieces from both games are in play: most notably, Jin Kazama is still the head of the Mishima Zaibatsu. Aside from that, the game goes off in its own direction. A mysterious cube-shaped object, seemingly from outer space, crash-lands in Antarctica. While preliminary research has determined very little about the object, what is known is that when beings come into conflict near the object, it emits a water-like substance that increases their strength. Because of this finding, the object is referred to as “Pandora”. Despite the potential danger surrounding Pandora, both Shadaloo and the Mishima Zaibatsu have gone to war for control of the strange object.

The game’s roster consists mostly of two-character teams of characters from Street Fighter and Tekken respectively. Each team has their own rivals from the opposite franchise, as well as a unique opening animation when both characters are selected together. Ryu worries about the true nature of Pandora, worrying that it may relate to the Satsui no Hadou that plagues him and sets off with Ken to face off with Kazuya Mishima, who wishes to use Pandora to increase the strength of his Devil Gene and has hired Nina Williams to accompany him. Chun-Li and Cammy decide to investigate Pandora due to Shadaloo’s interest in the mysterious object and take on the reluctant pair of Asuka Kazama and Lili, who are seeking the box so they can give it to Lili’s father. Yoshimitsu hires Raven to keep watch over him, as his legendary sword has resonated with Pandora’s energy, and end up fighting against Balrog and Vega, acting on orders from Shadaloo, but both secretly hoping to keep the box for themselves. Dhalsim and Sagat are seeking children that have gone missing from their respective villages, while their rivals Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law are having their usual money troubles and hope that selling off Pandora will make their dreams come true. Julia Chang, spurred on by her environment activism group, decides to make sure that Pandora doesn’t fall into evil hands, hiring the rotund bounty hunter Bob to accompany her; Zangief is also tasked with securing the box for his motherland and teams up with Rufus, who is still fuming over the fact that news of Pandora completely overshadowed his recent martial arts victory. Things only go downhill when Rufus and Bob meet up and Rufus confuses Bob for his supposed rival Ken Masters, believing he’s bulked up to steal his look and sweet moves. Bob’s just curious about how well Rufus can fight. Heihachi and Kuma decide to travel to the Antarctic to foil both Kazuya and the Mishima Zaibatsu’s plans for Pandora. Abel is still seeking answers about his past and hopes to use the box as bait to question Shadaloo for answers. After giving up his mercenary lifestyle, Abel only has one connection that will allow him to get there: the American soldier Guile, who is also tasked with investigating Pandora. Their rival interaction is odd: Abel simply wants to pet Kuma, as he’s never been able to pet a bear before.

While most of the Street Fighter cast are returning faces from the latest release of Super Street Fighter IV, but there are some additional surprises hidden in the roster. For starters, Rolento decides to find and destroy the meteorite to showcase the power of his nation of soldiers. As his troops are spread thin, he enlists Ibuki’s ninja clan for a partner on this mission. The young girl is reluctantly enlisted into the freedom fighter’s army, with a fluctuating rank throughout their journey. Together, they end up fighting against King and Marduk, two enemies-turned-friends, who are investigating a figure found near Pandora that resembles King’s dead master, Armor King. Poison and Hugo seek to exploit the media onslaught surrounding Pandora and decide to burst onto the scene by making a grand entrance in the Antarctic. They end up facing off against Hwoarang and Steve Fox, who had a mixed martials arts match interrupted by an attack on Shadaloo and decide to take their revenge against the criminal organization. The game’s sub-bosses consist of M. Bison and Juri – representing Shadaloo – taking on the Tekken cast and Jin Kazama, flanked by his admirer Ling Xiayou, duking it out with the Street Fighters. The game’s final bosses are Akuma and Ogre from Tekken 3, for the Tekken and Street Fighter cast, respectively. Both of these fierce competitors are drawn to Pandora, by forces that seem almost familiar to them.

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So if I were to look up the word “yandere” in a dictionary…

The PlayStation 3 version also included a few additional bonus characters. Mega Man is a version of the iconic Blue Bomber, based on the infamous North American box art from the first game on NES. He was intended to be a tie-in with the ill-fated MegaMan Universe and Keiji Inafune himself actually endorsed the character before his departure. This version of Mega Man is a treasure hunter – clearly evoking MegaMan Volnutt from the Legends games – sent by his liaison Roll, to investigate Pandora, which she believes is an ancient man-made satellite. Keeping in line with his inspiration, Mega Man fights with a few weapons from the 1987 Classic and boasts a remix of Cutman’s theme for his theme music. Not to be outdone, Namco gets representation in the form of Pac-Man, modelled after his appearance in the then-current Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures design, piloting a battle mech resembling Tekken’s own wooden golem, Mokujin. His appearance is shrouded in mystery. Both characters also appear as secret opponents in the game’s arcade mode. PlayStation’s Japanese mascots, the tiny anthropomorphic cats Toro and Kuro, also appear, aping Ryu and Kazuya’s outfits and movesets respectively. Finally, Cole MacGrath from the Infamous games also appears as a playable character, wielding his powers over electricity and the Amp, a dual-pronged baton which amplifies his attacks.

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Bad Box Art Mega Man will never not be funny to me, I’m sorry.

The gameplay in Street Fighter X Tekken is quite a departure from the Street Fighter IV games in a myriad of obvious ways, opting to pay homage to both series and other Capcom fighting games. For starters, SFxT is a two-on-two tag-team fighting game but tends more towards the tag mechanics found in the Tekken Tag Tournament games, as opposed to Capcom’s “Vs. Series”. Characters don’t jump in and out with attacks, rather they run in and out, allowing tag-ins to extend combos in various cases. Tags can be performed normally by pressing medium punch and kick together, as a cancel at the cost of one bar of meter, or are performed automatically when the point character performs a launcher. Launchers can be performed individually by pressing heavy punch and kick together or are performed automatically at the end of a Boost Combo, which resembles the Chain Combo mechanic from previous Capcom fighting games. When characters take damage, they take both permanent and recoverable damage (much like in Tekken Tag Tournament and the Marvel vs. Capcom games), which can be regained by tagging the character out. The round ends when one character has all their health depleted – again, like in the Tekken Tag games – and the standard match is best-of-three rounds, as opposed to just one round, like in Capcom’s previous tag games.

SFxT’s super bar is referred to as a Cross Meter and consists of three bars, as opposed to SF4’s four-bar setup: EX moves cost a single bar, while Super Arts cost two. Each character has a specific special move that can be charged by holding down the attack button while performing the attack, allowing them to slowly charge it into an EX or even a Super Art without any meter cost. Likewise, the EX versions of said attack can also be charged into a Super Art the same way. Super Arts are performed slightly differently in this game, opting for a more Marvel-style use of the standard special move motions with all three punch or kick buttons. There’s also the brand-new Cross Art, which costs all three bars of meter and is performed by doing a quarter-circle forward motion with medium punch and medium kick. This allows the point character to do a special combo animation which leads to the inactive character tagging in and performing their own Super Art. Players can also choose to perform the Cross Assault for 3 bars by performing a quarter-circle back motion with medium punch and kick, allowing both characters to attack on-screen simultaneously, in a similar fashion to the Cross Fever technique from the original Marvel vs. Capcom. Once the Cross Assault is finished, both characters’ remaining health is split evenly between them.

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I see a bear and I see a tiger, but where’s the damn lion?

Players can also counterattack with a Cross Cancel, at the cost of 1 bar of meter, by pressing forward with heavy punch and kick right after a successful block. The Cross Cancel is mechanically similar to the Alpha Counters from the Street Fighter Alpha games. Finally, there’s the Pandora mechanic, activated by pressing down twice followed by medium punch and medium kick when the player’s team has less than 25% health between both characters. Once Pandora is activated, the point character sacrifices their life to allow their partner to activate Pandora. Upon activation, the character’s skin turns a glowing black, with various white, red and purple flourishes all over their body and their voices become distorted – except for Heihachi, who just turns red, not unlike Makoto’s Tanden Renki. They also gain a big boost in attack strength, have unlimited meter and double their remaining health for the remainder of the round. Unfortunately, there’s also a time limit tied to Pandora: a small meter appears above the character’s life meter and if the Pandora user doesn’t defeat their opponent before time runs out, they automatically lose the round. Characters that activate Pandora can also still be knocked out by depleting their health, so the rewards are balanced with heavy risks.

While Street Fighter X Tekken was still in production, Ono mentioned that one of the hallmarks of the Tekken franchise was its heavy emphasis on customization. While many assumed that this was a tease toward a similar costume customization system for the game, SFxT approached customization from a completely different angle. First and foremost was the Gems mechanic. After selecting a team of characters, players had the option to equip each of their characters with a loadout of three Gems to customize their abilities. There were two types of Gems. First and foremost were the Boost Gems, which would enhance the characters’ abilities after performing certain criteria during a match. Red gems boosted attack strength, yellow increased defense, green increased speed, orange allowed players to replenish a small amount of health and blue increased meter gain. Each individual gem offered a specific boost in their respective categories and had a variety of activation methods, like taking a certain amount of damage or doing a set number of combos. The other type is the Assist Gems, which are significantly less varied. They allow for easier motions for special moves, as well as auto-guard. Clearly meant for novice players, Assist Gems are purple in color, so they’re hard to miss.

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Love that charge mechanic.

That wasn’t the only customization element in Street Fighter X Tekken. In fact, SFxT was the first 2.5D fighting game with a color edit mode, which previously appeared in games like Capcom vs. SNK 2, The King of Fighters XIII and the PlayStation version of Darkstalkers 3. Players could also edit up to three different palettes for each character, allowing them to stand apart from other players. Unfortunately, this meant that each character only had two colors by default. Players could also set and customize two “Quick Combos” to each character, activated by pressing light punch & heavy kick or heavy punch & light kick simultaneously. Much like the assist gems, these were meant strictly for less-skilled players, as quick combos cost meter to perform, likely for the sake of balancing.

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Look, kids! It’s Mech-Zangief (or a reasonable facsimile thereof)!

As per usual, the game’s major single-player draw is the Arcade mode. Players select two characters and fight against 7 sets of opponents. If the player selects one of the game’s default teams, they’re treated to a slideshow cutscene explaining their characters’ backstory. Otherwise, there’s a similar slideshow, explaining Pandora and the game’s backstory. The first 4 fights take place between various other teams, while the fifth is a Rival Battle, which is preceded by a short in-engine cutscene. The sixth fight is a sub-boss fight in the Antarctic: if the lead character is from Street Fighter, they face off against a Pandora-empowered Jin and Xiayou; while Tekken characters duke it out with a similarly enhanced M. Bison and Juri tandem. Then the final match is against a single boss character on scene at the site where Pandora landed: Akuma takes on Tekken-led teams, while Ogre faces off with the cast of Street Fighter. After each fight, the player’s characters interact with one another, discussing their next move. Official teams have short little visual novel-style conversations between one another, while custom teams just use the character’s standard win quotes for their opponent. After that, official teams get a sweet cinematic ending, rendered in 3D as opposed to SF4’s 2D anime style, followed by the credits. Custom teams simply get a generic slideshow ending, with various cinematics sprinkled in. After the credits are done, there’s a brief narrated text epilogue, detailing what happened to the lead character after the ending.

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I still think these cutscenes are among the most beautiful things Capcom produced to this day.

Other game modes include the requisite local Versus mode, as well as Training and “Challenge”, which includes both a tutorial for new players and Trials for more-skilled players. The game also has online play: in fact, this was Capcom’s first major attempt with rollback-based netcode (much like GGPO) and while early instances of the game had various issues, Capcom did eventually improve it to the extent where it was more reliable than the online in the Street Fighter IV games. An even more interesting addition was Pair Play Mode – clearly inspired by the option of the same name from Tekken Tag Tournament – which allows two players to play cooperatively, each controlling a character on the team. This could be used in Arcade Mode, as well as local and online Versus modes. Street Fighter X Tekken also introduced an online training mode, which allowed players to practice combos together, as well as an option in the standard training mode to simulate various levels of lag. However, I’d consider Scramble Mode to be the most impressive addition to the game: essentially a two-on-two variant on the classic Dramatic Battle mode, where all four characters are on-screen simultaneously for the entire match, sharing a single lifebar and Cross Meter, but as per usual, each character has their own set of Gems and Pandora is clearly disabled.

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I guess I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

SFxT’s character designs and art style are in line with those of the Street Fighter IV games. However, there also appears to have been a bit of evolution in the process: I’m not sure why, but somehow, it looks like some of the older models from SF4 have been tightened up slightly in Cross Tekken: Ryu, Chun-Li and Ken look significantly less blocky and “torso-heavy” than the previous games and the rest of the returning cast seems to have been slightly altered as well. Poison, Hugo and Rolento all fit perfectly into this design sensibility as well. The Tekken cast, on the other hand, have some mixed results. The Street Fighter IV style is clearly more cartoony and exaggerated than that of Tekken 6. This generally works pretty well for a lot of the characters – where the only real difference is that they take on a more expressive appearance – but then you’ve got some weird cases. For example, Yoshimitsu’s design was taken from Tekken 3 (likely the most recognizable one) and he pretty much looks exactly like the promotional art from the game, as opposed to a reinterpretation of the classic look. Kuma, on the other hand, was likely the least appealing redesign in the game: slapping Street Fighter IV-esque eyes onto what was clearly once meant as a realistic grizzly bear resulted in a character model that looked more at home in Looney Tunes or an old Disney cartoon! I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad, but it took some adjustment. There is one change the game makes that I absolutely love though. While the Street Fighter IV games used hand-drawn stills to represent each character, SFxT fully renders the characters – including their outfits and colors – on both the character select and versus screen. These models are fully animated and showcase the cast clearly getting ready for a knockdown drag-out fight, helping to further emphasize Ono’s opinion on how to approach this crossover.

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Love the team intros, by the way.

The stage designs, on the other hand, are on point. While some areas are thematically neutral, Capcom also went out of their way to tailor certain fighting arenas to specific aspects from the Street Fighter and Tekken mythos respectively. You get to fight in locales like the Mishima Family Estate, a skate park, the Urban War Zone from Tekken 6, the Mad Gear Gang’s Japanese-themed hideout (guess Sodom took over after all), a blast furnace, a space elevator and even a research facility filled with dinosaurs. If Super Street Fighter IV improved on its predecessor’s stages, then Cross Tekken clearly elevated it into an artform. Not only are there an impressive amount of Tekken, Street Fighter and other Capcom references hidden in stages, but SFxT also introduces multi-tier stages. After finishing a round on certain stages, the winners and losers will jump to a completely different area in the same location: for example, descending from the scaffolding above a skate park into the half-pipe itself. Street Fighter X Tekken also handles victory poses the opposite way the SF4 games did – close-ups on the round victory, followed by the standard camera when the match is complete.

 

Hideyuki Fukusawa returns to handle the game’s composition. This time around, there’s a strict focus on stage-centric themes, with only the bosses having their own theme songs when fighting them in Arcade Mode. Having said that, there are musical references to various games found throughout the game: various songs from the original Final Fight play in Mad Gear Hideout, the Upper Level of Mishima Estate uses a remix of Heihachi’s theme from Tekken 2 and the tutorial theme is a remix of Dan’s theme from Street Fighter Alpha 2 (and by extension, Super Street Fighter IV). For the most part, it seems like Fukusawa is trying to blend the musical styles of later Tekken games with the style he pioneered in Street Fighter’s stages. I honestly enjoy a lot of the tracks in this game, particularly both themes from Blast Furnace, the daytime version of Pitstop 109, the first round from Mad Gear Hideout and Antarctica, not to mention the various rearrangements of classic themes for the bosses.

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I really love the interaction between teammates in Arcade Mode.

Otherwise, the sound design pretty closely resembles that of the Street Fighter IV games. Most of the cast has both Japanese and English voice actors, aside from Ogre and Yoshimitsu, who just use their standard voices; as well as the guest characters on the PlayStation 3 version – Mega Man and Cole speak English, while Pac-Man, Toro and Kuro speak their traditional gibberish. This means that many Tekken characters get English voices for the first time ever, but it also means that Street Fighter X Tekken is the last hurrah for a few members of the cast: starting in Tekken Tag Tournament 2, the majority of the cast would be portrayed by actors speaking each of the characters’ native tongues, not unlike Virtua Fighter. Regardless, it’s interesting to hear (most) of the Tekken cast speaking in English.

There were also a couple of other releases of Street Fighter X Tekken on mobile platforms. First, on September 19th, 2012, a free tie-in version of the game was released on iOS. Utilizing the same control scheme as the previous iOS games, this version launched with a roster of 10 characters: Ryu, Chun-Li, Guile, Dhalsim, Hugo, Kazuya, Nina, Hwoarang, Paul and King, but Heihachi and Rolento were added as a free update. This version also eschewed the tag mechanic – reducing the partner to an assist – much like the PlayStation home ports of the various Marvel vs. Capcom games. The final boss of this version’s arcade mode was also a Pandora-enhanced version of Ryu for Tekken characters and Kazuya for the Street Fighter cast.

The substantially better-known portable release was the PlayStation Vita release, which hit store shelves on October 19th, 2012 in Europe, with releases in North America and Japan on the 23rd and 25th, respectively. This version had the requisite downgraded graphics that accompanied most console-to-Vita ports, but it also came with 12 additional characters. These characters would also be added to all of the other versions as paid downloadable content. Bryan Fury teams up with a unique model from the Jack series, known as Jack-X – pronounced “Jack Cross”, cheeky – to help steal the power of Pandora. Their rivals are Guy and Cody from Final Fight, who are trying to protect the world from Pandora and alleviate boredom, respectively, deciding to team up for the first time in years. Sakura and Blanka are searching for their missing friend Dan Hibiki, who was last seen searching for Pandora months ago. They end up facing off with Lars Alexandersson and Alisa Bosconovitch, who seek to prevent both the Mishima Zaibatsu and Shadaloo from obtaining the box. Christie Monteiro is searching for her friend and teacher Eddy Gordo and enlists detective Lei Wulong to help search for him, after they receive a lead that a man fitting his description has been seen with the Mishima Zaibatsu. They end up battling with Elena and Dudley, who decide to travel to the South Pole after Elena communes with one of Dudley’s trees. The Vita version also included all of the PS3-exclusive characters and even had the option to do cross-play. Any DLC bought in either PlayStation version was also compatible with the other version, allowing players to “crossbuy” content as well – in fact, the physical Vita version came with a voucher for the DLC characters on PS3.

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Here’s what the roster looked like… on non-PlayStation systems.

There were also two sets of DLC costumes for the cast. The first set were Swap costumes, which had the Street Fighter cast dressing up as Tekken characters and vice-versa. A truly interesting concept that I wish more games would use. Some costumes even references characters that weren’t in the game: Kuma dressed up as Rainbow Mika, Heihachi was dressed up as Sodom, Asuka had a Geki costume, Hugo was Ganryu, Dudley cosplays as Tiger Jackson and Rufus had an Angel costume. The other set was simply referred to as “alternates” and they didn’t really have any cohesive theme: Sagat was dressed as a swimmer, Abel gets a Seth-inspired look, M. Bison becomes a zombie, Ogre gets an homage to his true form from Tekken 3, Paul becomes a pirate and Alisa gets an outfit with a style reminiscent of the gothic Lolita style in Japan.

Of course, two major controversies killed any good reputation Street Fighter X Tekken might have had. For starters, dataminers discovered that the data for the 12 DLC characters was present on-disc in the console versions of the game. Capcom claimed that this was intended to save bandwidth when downloading the new characters and that the content on disc was incomplete. Unfortunately, this did little to assuage their customers’ anger. This was only exacerbated by the existence of Gems that were also paid DLC: Gems that were substantially stronger versions of some of the ones found for free in the game. Many fans considered this a “pay-to-win” tactic and it only served to further poison public opinion of the game.

There was one other common criticism of the game upon release: the damage output was so low, that it wasn’t uncommon for rounds to end due to the time limit instead of legitimately defeating an opponent. Generally considered a dishonorable way to win matches, by casual players and professionals alike, this was one problem Capcom was willing to fix. Capcom released a total rebalance of the game the year after it was released, fittingly dubbed “Version 2013”. Various changes were made to the game to improve visibility of various effects, increase damage and prevent time overs. Also, as with Capcom’s previous free updates, the character roster was rebalanced. While many fans acknowledged that “Ver. 2013” was a significant improvement on Street Fighter X Tekken, its reputation had been completely ruined by that point. The game managed to sell roughly 1.8 million units, falling short of Capcom’s 2 million sales projection. As such, the game was considered Capcom’s first fighting game misstep since returning to the genre. A shame considering how much I loved this game, I wish it could’ve gotten a sequel.

There’s still one unanswered question surrounding Street Fighter X Tekken: whatever happened to its sister title, Tekken X Street Fighter? Yes, when the game was first announced, Katsuhiro Harada announced that Bandai Namco would also be developing a crossover game of their own. Aside from a few references in Tekken Tag Tournament 2’s home version, some early models and a promotional image of Ryu and Jin glaring straight forward, backed by their evil alter egos, we’ve seen nothing implying that the game is still in active development. We did see Akuma appear as a guest fighter in Tekken 7 and Harada has stated on numerous occasions that they’re waiting for T7 and Street Fighter V to die down before returning to active development on Tekken X Street Fighter. Who knows what the future will hold: maybe it will end up being a launch title on the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Scarlet, with a PC port in the cards.

Interlude: Ultra Street Fighter IV

If there was one persistent question throughout SFxT’s lifespan, it was “when are you going to add these new characters back into Super Street Fighter IV?” Capcom had already declared that Arcade Edition was the ultimate version of SF4, but the chance to add four new characters that had been developed for a less-popular game was far too tempting for most fans to pass up. It seemed like a no-brainer: demand was consistent, and this new content would otherwise go to waste. So, on July 15th, 2013, at that year’s EVO tournament, Capcom announced that another final update was coming to the Street Fighter IV series. Christened “Ultra Street Fighter IV” – likely named in reference to the Ultra Combo mechanic – this new version included balance tweaks, new mechanics and modes, and new content, including six stages taken from Street Fighter X Tekken and five new characters.

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Because how else were we supposed to get hot Gen-on-Hugo action like this?

That’s right. In addition to the four characters reintroduced in SFxT – Rolento, Hugo, Poison and Elena – Capcom announced that there would also be a fifth character but kept fans in the dark about this new character’s identity until March 16th, 2014. There was rampant speculation over who this new character would be, a fact that Capcom referenced in the character’s reveal trailer. The new character was Decapre, one of Bison’s Dolls and effectively Cammy’s evil twin sister. Let’s just say, Decapre’s reveal failed to live up to the lofty expectations set by the wide gap between the announcement that USF4 was getting a brand-new character and her actual announcement. Some players would eventually warm up to Decapre, but overcoming that initial disappointment took time. It didn’t help that Decapre shared many of her normal attacks with her inspiration, so she essentially came across as a slightly remixed version of Cammy – utilizing charge commands, instead of motions for most of her special moves. It also didn’t help that Decapre had Cammy’s voice actresses in English and Japanese, with the English version affecting a slight Russian accent.

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Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!

Each of the additional characters receives a new backstory in the process. Rolento decides to enter the tournament in order to steal S.I.N.’s weapons technology for his own army; Elena senses that the actions of S.I.N. are causing discord and misery throughout nature and decides to investigate by entering the tournament; Poison has become a wrestling manager since the dissolution of the Mad Gear Gang and decides to enter S.I.N.’s tournament to find some talent worthy of her skill; Hugo just wants to prove that he’s “the big potato” – trust me, it makes more sense in context (but just barely). Decapre’s storyline was a little more complex: having been awoken from stasis by S.I.N. and freed from Bison’s mental control, she’s plagued with flashbacks of her childhood, remembering her “sister” Cammy, which causes her to go berserk with hate. Tasked with killing Seth, it’s clear that Decapre’s not completely focused on her mission, seeking revenge on Cammy. New themes were also composed for these characters: Hugo and Elena had remixes of their Third Strike themes, Rolento had his stage theme from the original Final Fight and Poison and Decapre had brand-new original compositions. Likewise, the game had new music composed from the stages ported from Street Fighter X Tekken and the menu themes also received an overhaul.

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You loved Evil Ryu, you went gaga for Violent Ken, now get ready for Cammy’s Evil Big Sister!

But Ultra was more than just new characters, the update also added various new mechanics to the game. The Red Focus Attack – performed by pressing medium punch, medium kick and light punch simultaneously – can take more hits than the original – effectively possessing “infinite” super armor – and doubles the gain on Revenge Meter but costs two bars of Super Meter. Delayed Standing allows players to alter their character’s recovery, as opposed to simply getting back up. By pressing any two buttons when their character falls victim to a hard knockdown, the character will take some additional frames to get back to their feet, which can affect the timing of their opponent’s strategy. However, the most prominent addition to the game was the Double Ultra mechanic. In addition to the two Ultras from the Super Street Fighter IV games, players have a new option that grants them access to both Ultras, allowing them to more tactics in a match. However, this comes at the cost of both Ultras being less damaging than their standalone counterparts, forcing players to choose between versatility or pure damage potential.

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…just take my word for it when I tell you this is supposed to be a Red Focus Attack.

USF4 also added various new modes and features to the game. First there was Elimination mode, an online variant of team battle that allows players to fight using teams of three characters, similar to the King of Fighters games’ signature playstyle. The online training mode also returns from Street Fighter X Tekken. The standard training mode also received the ability to simulate online lag and save and reload specific gameplay states, in order to better practice in specific situations. Players could also choose to enable fight requests while in Training mode, as opposed to just in Arcade mode like previous versions. An option to save replays of offline local matches was also added to Ultra and the game allowed users to upload replays directly to YouTube at 480p quality, similar to Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition. Another feature added from 3SOE was the ability to configure buttons from the character select screen.

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Double your Ultra, double the fun!

 

However, my personal favorite addition to the game was “Version Select”: players could pit different versions of the cast (ranging from the original SF4 all the way to Ultra) against one another – the dream match of Vanilla Sagat versus Arcade Edition Yun was finally possible. Best of all, owners of Ultra could still play with players that only owned Arcade Edition. Finally, there was OMEGA Mode. Added as DLC in late 2014, OMEGA Mode was an additional option for Version Select that completely changed up the entire cast’s movesets, ranging from modifying existing normals to giving them entirely new special moves. For example, Ken was capable of firing the Reppu Hadouken from his feet; Sagat regains his Tiger Raid from the Alpha games; Dan was given another Art of Fighting-inspired technique, a flurry of punches called the Danretsuken and Decapre’s entire moveset was altered, giving her original normal attacks and several brand-new specials.

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After tapping into his fatal fury, Dan has finally mastered the art of fighting.

Ultra Street Fighter IV was first released in Japanese arcades via the Taito Type X3 hardware on April 18th, 2014, using the NeSICA system for both distribution and online play. These were followed with digital upgrades for players that already owned previous versions of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition on June 3rd for PSN and the 4th on Xbox Live Arcade. A full retail release, which came with several alternate costumes from previous releases, came out on August 5th in North America and August 7th in Japan. Finally, a digital PC release – both an upgrade for owners of Arcade Edition and a standalone release that replaced AE on the storefront – was released on August 8th. Ultra Street Fighter IV was the first game in the series to use Steamworks for its online multiplayer, which is why Arcade Edition received its PC-exclusive Version 2014 update in the first place, thus keeping the cross-compatibility between the two releases on PC. USF4 was also eventually ported to the PlayStation 4 by Other Ocean Interactive and was released on May 26th, 2015 exclusively on the PSN Store as a digital title. The port was based on the PC version, but launched in an embarrassing state with several issues that would eventually be fixed and lead this version to be determined the definitive edition of the game to this day.

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A match-up almost a decade in the m…oh, already used that joke.

And with the true ultimate version of Street Fighter IV came one final mobile version, christened Street Fighter IV: Champion Edition. The game launched on July 12th, 2017 on iOS with a roster of 25 characters – adding Poison, Ibuki and Dudley to Volt’s roster – the game also added Guy, Gouken, Rose, Elena, Juri and Evil Ryu as free updates down the line for a total of 31 characters. Even more impressive, for the first time, Champion Edition was made available on Android devices through the Google Play store. The Android version came out on February 21st, 2018 and included Dan Hibiki as a platform-exclusive character, bringing the roster to 32 characters. Aside from that, the game is both visually and mechanically similar to its predecessors, advertising Bluetooth controller support as a new feature. I’d still rather stick to the real deal, but it’s an interesting curiosity nonetheless.

With that, Street Fighter IV’s long lifespan finally came to an end. It’s hard to believe that Capcom managed to keep making the game feel fresh for six years, especially considering the fast pace of the modern video game industry. In fact, discounting the various nostalgia revisions made to Street Fighter II well after its time, SF4 managed to outlast it. And perhaps, the experiences with Street Fighter II is why Capcom didn’t wait nearly as long to produce the next game in the franchise…

Street Fighter V

On December 6th, 2014, Sony held their PlayStation Experience conference, showcasing many upcoming titles for the PlayStation platforms. Among these titles was Street Fighter V, announced as an exclusive title for the PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. While Street Fighter IV was a return to the classic formula that embedded the franchise (and arguably Capcom itself) into the popular culture, Street Fighter V was meant to be more of an experiment, an effort to discover how the franchise and the entire 2D fighting genre should evolve to stay fresh and relevant. In a sense, SFV took several elements from later games in the franchise – particularly the Alpha series and the SF3 games – and tried to mix them with brand-new elements to create a worthy successor to the series. In the process, many of the traditional elements of the series (and even the entire genre) were deemed archaic – many would argue too many – and left by the wayside in an effort to build a fighting game for the modern era.

While Dimps returned to help co-develop Capcom, their involvement was significantly diminished compared to the previous game. Capcom themselves handled most of the game’s development internally. The game was built in Unreal Engine 4 and Sony financed the game’s development, which is why it was a console exclusive on PS4. One of the most intriguing elements of the game that was announced alongside the game itself was that players on both versions would be able to fight one another online, allowing for true cross-play between the two platforms and a major coup for Capcom, as few games have managed to duplicate this feat since, especially in the fighting genre.

Prior to the game’s release, Capcom held three beta tests for people who had preordered the game, in order to test out their new proprietary rollback netcode, codenamed “Kagemusha”, as well as the Capcom Fighters Network (CFN), a web platform that not only handles SFV’s matchmaking (crossplay or otherwise), but also keeps track of player data and match replays. The first online beta was PS4-exclusive, intended to stress-test the game’s servers and started on July 23rd, 2015. Unfortunately, technical difficulties forced Capcom to pull the servers down early and reschedule the beta, which lasted from August 28th to September 2nd. The second beta was meant to test cross-play, so PC and PS4 owners were able to access it. It ran from October 22nd until October 25th, but PC players only gained access on October 24th. This beta had problems of its own: players reported difficulties with finding matches throughout most of the beta. The third beta was meant to do one last test on the game’s servers and took place between December 18th and 20th. This beta was unique, as participants were also given temporary beta codes to share with their friends. There was also one final beta held on January 30th through the 31st, allowing Capcom one last stress test on their servers. Even after the game launched, Capcom would hold additional betas to test improvements to the netcode and balance changes.

Street Fighter V is another interquel, taking place between Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter III, though clearly closer to the latter. After quelling S.I.N.’s insurrection, Shadaloo has reformed and intends to make another attempt at world domination. Utilizing a plan known only as “Operation C.H.A.I.N.S”, the terrorist organization has launched seven satellites into orbit, known as the “Black Moons”. These satellites are meant to sow fear and despair throughout the world’s populace, acting as an immense power source for Bison’s Psycho Power, which Shadaloo intends to use to render their leader and his forces invincible. Unfortunately, in the process, this widespread miasma of negative emotions has had unforeseen repercussions, reawakening a demonic figure from ancient times. As with Shadaloo’s previous attacks, various figures from the past World Warrior Tournaments have banded together to take out the evil organization once and for all. However, strange unknown forces are also working in the background. Are they friend or foe?

Street Fighter V, like its predecessor, launched with 16 characters. 8 of the game’s characters return from the Street Fighter IV games. Ryu has spent time training with his former master Gouken in an effort to learn the Power of Nothingness and banished the Satsui no Hado from his heart forever. Chun-Li is once again investigating the rise of Shadaloo, attempting to put an end to their evil ambitions once and for all. Cammy is attempting the same, but matters become complicated when she realizes that Shadaloo is once again brainwashing the young women they’d recaptured during the S.I.N. incident back into the mindless killing machines known simply as “the Dolls”. She managed to save Juni during the events of Street Fighter IV, but still wishes to save the rest of her sisters from being exploited. Ken has adjusted to life as a father, but still itches for a fight with his eternal rival. Dhalsim has begun the process of training a successor to learn all that he knows of Yoga but is thrust back into action when he realizes the extent of Shadaloo’s evil. Zangief, on the other hand, simply wants to find a way to push his Muscle Spirit to new heights, communing with other wrestlers and other fighting styles. Vega is still working for Shadaloo and obsessed with beauty. He has his doubts about using brainwashed Dolls in their latest plan, believing that only true beauty fueled by emotion is worth existing. As for Bison, he is overseeing their plan, but his current clone body is beginning to deteriorate, aging at an accelerated rate due to its exposure to Bison’s raw Psycho Power.

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Hadouken, begin again.

While Ryu, Chun-Li and Zangief look essentially identical to their designs from the previous game, the rest of the returning cast has undergone some reinventions: some minor – Cammy has some new straps and pouches over her traditional outfit; M. Bison’s hair has gone gray and Dhalsim sports a turban and a white beard – while others are a bit more radical. Vega is wearing a white dress shirt over his attire, while Ken’s appearance changes more drastically, effectively putting his hair in a top-knot and pulling down his gi top to reveal a new workout shirt. Likewise, Ken, Bison, Dhalsim and Vega’s play styles have been altered from previous games. In fact, Vega’s transformation is perhaps the most drastic of the cast, shifting from using charge attacks to a full-on stance character, able to swap between using his claw and using his bare hands, using traditional motions to perform his special moves.

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SFV has some interesting takes on classic designs.

Four characters also return from the Alpha series. Birdie, having become obese in his inactivity, has finally escaped from Shadaloo’s grasp, unhappy with his low position within the organization. His new employer? Karin Kanzuki, who has since blossomed into a mature young woman, having overtaken her father’s corporation, but still seeks to become stronger and face down her rival. She also continues to sponsor Rainbow Mika, who has emerged as a major female wrestler star, but still wishes to train with her idol, “Master Zangief”. But perhaps the most interesting returning character is one Charlie Nash. Thought dead – they weren’t wrong – he has been resurrected as a Frankensteinesque homunculus by mysterious forces. Driven only by sorrow and anger, he seeks revenge on Bison and Shadaloo with what little time he has left. All four of these returning characters have had their gameplay adjusted significantly, strictly paying homage to their previous incarnations.

Just like it’s predecessor, SFV also adds four brand-new characters, never before seen in the franchise. First, there’s Necalli – the aforementioned evil entity awakened by Shadaloo’s recent activity. A demonic entity sent by undefined gods to devour the souls of strong warriors, he has taken on an appearance resembling his latest victim: an Aztec warrior tasked with ending the beast. Rashid is the laid-back eldest son of a wealthy Middle Eastern family who’s obsessed with the latest technology and internet trends. He’s travelling the world to find a scientist friend of his who was kidnapped to participate in Shadaloo’s latest scheme. He’s also accompanied by his manservant and bodyguard, Azam, an ex-professional wrestler who’s also an old friend of Zangief. Then there’s Laura Matsuda, Sean’s big sister. Unlike her little brother, Laura is a total devotee to her family’s unique Jiu-Jitsu style, wishing to share its strength with the entire world. Aside from that, she’s free-spirited and hyperactive and while she’s a little dense at times, she’s got a good heart. Then finally, there’s the enigmatic figure known simply as F.A.N.G. After Sagat broke away from Shadaloo and went into a self-imposed exile, the Four Kings needed a replacement member. The only survivor of the Nguuhao cartel, F.A.N.G can produce poison from his hands so toxic it can literally melt anything with just a touch, requiring him to use his long sleeves as makeshift gloves. An eccentric man of unknown origin – he’s obsessed with the number two and fiercely loyal to Lord Bison – his wacky attitude is merely a façade for his cold-blooded elitism, believing that only the strong may survive. Overall, I’d say I prefer the new characters introduced in SFV over those from the initial release of the previous game, though reactions in general seem to be mixed.

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Seriously, I love these guys.

The last time Capcom decided to deviate from the Street Fighter II-style of gameplay, they attempted to make the game more complicated – appealing to hardcore players of the franchise. Street Fighter V goes in the opposite direction but keeps the game’s traditional mechanics intact. Since Sony helped foot the bill for development, the game was intended for a console environment as opposed to the traditional arcade set-up that even modern fighting games strive for. Street Fighter V boasted a staggering eight-frame (reduced to roughly 6 frames since then) input lag when the game launched, though this was mainly because the game was built on Unreal Engine 4 – input lag has been an enduring issue for other fighting games built on this engine. This doesn’t necessarily make the game slower by any means, but there is far less time for players to react to their opponent’s attacks.

Street Fighter V also opts to focus more on offense over defense, rewarding players with more aggressive playstyles. For example, the new Crush Counter mechanic: countering an opponent’s attack with specific moves results in an electric flash, which signifies increased damage and sends opponents into a prone state, forcing them to crumple into a prone position or knocking them into a juggle state. Super Combos also return in this game – though this time, they’ve been rechristened as “Critical Arts” and opt for more cinematic flair like the Ultra Combos in SF4. EX Moves also return and cost a single bar of meter. The Super Meter itself consists of three bars this time – just like in SFxT – and meter gain seems to be more generous in this game compared to the SF4 titles.

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This is probably the closest thing we’ll ever see to a Fatality in Street Fighter.

SFV also completely reworks the Revenge Gauge from the previous game into something entirely new. The V-System consists of several new mechanics, each interlinked, to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The Revenge Gauge itself is replaced with the V-Meter, which consists of two to three bars (depending on the character). Taking damage still fills the meter, but it can also be filled by using V-Skills. Pressing medium punch and medium kick simultaneously (sensing a pattern yet?) performs a special technique that varies from character to character. Some are familiar – Ryu has the parry from SF3, while Cammy’s Axel Spin Knuckle is similarly repurposed – while others consist of entirely new moves – Ken runs toward his opponent and does a step quick, Vega spins to dodge an attack and lunges at his opponent with a swipe. Some moves act as additional attacks, others act defensive or allow for evasion, and there are some that defy classification altogether: R. Mika pulls out a microphone and does a promo that slowly charges her meter and increases the damage on her next grab for as long as the buttons are held – if she manages to complete her long-winded rant, she ends up with a full V-Meter and her next grab can literally deplete 100% of any opponent’s health instantly (and that includes a standard throw). Players can also counterattack after a blocked attack using a V-Reversal – which is basically the return of Alpha Counters – for the cost of a bar of V-Meter. Finally, when the V-Meter is completely full, players can hit heavy punch and heavy kick together to activate it. Like the V-Skills themselves, the V-Triggers vary from character to character. Some are quick attacks, while others temporarily boost the character’s abilities until the meter runs out. One notable example is Necalli: his V-Trigger unleashes his full power for the remainder of the round, causing his hair and body to glow with an evil aura and changes the properties of his special moves and Critical Art, increasing their damage.

Overall, I’d say that Street Fighter V’s graphical style is a step forward from its predecessor, but that’s by no means a decisive statement. Building the game from the ground up on the next generation hardware allowed Capcom to improve the overall fidelity of its art style, allowing for more detail on their character models. I’m also a fan of the theming: while Street Fighter IV leaned on a calligraphy-inspired style for all of its characters, SFV goes for straight waves of paint, with different characters being represented with different palettes: sometimes based around the character’s default outfit, but more often their special abilities and attacks. Sometimes, it’s something entirely different: rainbow-tinted streams of water surround Rainbow Mika for certain attacks. These streaks of paint are most noticeable during the final victory poses after a standard match. The character models themselves have a greater attention to detail compared to the previous game – SF4 did launch back in 2008, so Capcom had 8 years to improve their talents – but they also best represent the game’s greatest graphical failing: inconsistency. There are some amazing models in SFV: Ryu’s model is an impressive recreation of his look from the Street Fighter III games, Nash is modelled in a way that makes his grotesque redesign look completely in-line with the rest of the cast and Dhalsim’s stretchiness is exaggerated further than previous games – and SFV’s animations manage to pull that off flawlessly. But on the other hand, there are various issues that crop up constantly. Various characters (Laura, F.A.N.G) suffer from clipping on their base costumes – it wasn’t uncommon for alternative outfits to have these issues in the previous games, but never the default looks. And then, there’s the crème de la crème: Ken’s redesign was a hard pill to swallow for most players in the first place, but the way his new look was modelled in-game became an infamous meme – and things only got worse when players were introduced to his first paid DLC outfit!

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I took this shot from promotional materials and it still has clipping!

Stage design, on the other hand, continues the progression we’ve seen across the Street Fighter IV games. Backgrounds are vibrant and full of life, with several details in the background – and with that, comes a certain level of interactivity. Performing specific moves (generally ones that result in hard knockdowns) will often force some kind of reaction from the stage itself: tripping someone in Apprentice Alley awakens a sleeping dog, who barks for a bit, before gradually spinning around and returning to its nap; knocking someone over in City in Chaos results in a fire hydrant exploding with water. Best of all are the stage knockouts. When a character is knocked out in the corner with a particularly strong attack, it can trigger an animation that either leads to their opponent having an object (like a bowl of noodles) put on their head, knocked into some situation that leaves them helpless (like getting shot out of a cannon) or in some cases, just opens up a new part of the stage. When the game originally launched, only Bustling Side Street had these animations – likely because all of them were showcased early in the game’s development – but while the concept appeared to be scrapped, dataminers uncovered similar animations for other stages. Capcom would eventually go onto implement these in future updates on pretty much every stage that launched with the original game, apart from “The Grid” – the default training stage – for obvious reasons.

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Adorable.

Hideyuki Fukasawa returns for the game’s soundtrack, but this time, he’s joined by a number of other composers. Masahiro Aoki, who previously did fan “doujin” remixes and compositions under the pseudonym “Godspeed”, previously worked with Capcom on Monster Hunter 3 and some of the later Sengoku BASARA games. Keiki Kobayashi previously worked with Namco on their Ace Combat and Soul Calibur series before going freelance in 2014, composing on SFV and Monster Hunter Generations for Capcom.  Takatsugu Wakabayashi mostly worked on anime soundtracks, like Fukasawa before him, most notably composing the theme song for the anime adaptation of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. Finally, there’s Zac Zinger, an accomplished musician and composer who previously worked on the RWBY series among others. These new additions to the sound team, in addition to Fukasawa’s increased experience with Capcom’s fighting games, lead to much richer music all around: each character theme does much more to emphasize their respective character’s personality and other aspects.

Just like SF4 before it, the game had both unique themes for individual stages and characters. This time around, however, each stage (aside from The Grid) has two themes – one for the first round and one for every other round – much like how Street Fighter X Tekken handled its music. All characters returning from Street Fighter IV receive brand-new arrangements of the songs used in that game and in most cases, I’d say I prefer many of SFV’s takes on these classic songs. Birdie and Nash’s themes from Street Fighter Alpha 1 & 2 return, while Karin and R. Mika receive brand new compositions, clearly inspired to some degree by their music from SFA3. Of course, new characters also receive brand-new compositions: Necalli’s sounds intimidating, Rashid and Laura’s represent their Arabic and Brazilian backgrounds respectively and as for F.A.N.G? Easily my favorite piece of music when the game launched, clearly emphasizing the influences kung fu films from the 1960s had on his design.

The sound effects seem to be essentially identical to those from the Street Fighter IV games. Considering Yukinori Kanda was the audio director in both SF4 and SFV, that only makes sense. Likewise, the characters also have the choice between Japanese and English voice acting, though it seems like on the English side of things, the voice actors have really managed to step up their game – delivering great performances that show their growth in the roles. Street Fighter V, like its predecessor, has the option to mix-and-match the different voices, but for once, I decided to keep the game’s audio entirely in English, something I hadn’t done with previous Capcom fighting games.

Perhaps the biggest thorn in Street Fighter V’s side was the lack of meaningful content when the game launched. While Street Fighter IV attempted to recreate the options present in home ports of old, SFV opted for a more streamlined method, creating a game that was first and foremost for the fighting game community – specifically, their burgeoning influence on the eSports scene. Many speculated that Capcom rushed the game out the door to get it straight into the tournament scene as quickly as possible. Yoshinori Ono and Capcom as an entity have since admitted their mistake and have spent a great deal of time and resources trying to rectify their mistake. When the game launched, it came with online and offline multiplayer versus modes, a “Character Story” mode – effectively a short prologue, explaining each character’s backstory before the events of the game – the infamous Survival Mode and Training Mode.

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Top 10 Anime Fights.

The lack of an Arcade Mode – or even a pure “Vs. CPU” mode outside of rigging together matches in Training Mode – was the crux of the most persistent criticism of the game: a lack of any meaningful single-player content at launch. “Character Story” mode consisted of still images, portraying the events leading up to each character’s participation in Street Fighter V’s eventual cinematic Story Mode (more on that later), with fights against what were essentially brain-dead AI opponents breaking up the exposition. Completing a character’s story mode unlocked the ability to purchase an alternate costume in the game’s store, either using in-game currency or actual currency. Survival Mode’s implementation was far more controversial. There were essentially 4 different courses: Easy, which had 10 simple CPU opponents; Normal, which had 30 CPU opponents of varying difficulty levels – with a severe spike near the end; 50 difficult opponents on Hard and an incredible 100 fights in Extreme (née Hell) Mode. The difficulty spikes between modes were bad enough, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. Capcom hid additional colors behind the Easy, Normal and Hard Difficulties – with Extreme earning players a unique User Title – and initially, this was the only way to unlock these extras. Players could also buy various power-ups between rounds, spending their score to buy back health, increasing their Super and V-Meter and even gamble by instilling various disadvantages in exchange for score multipliers. Unfortunately, this mechanic was hampered by its sheer randomness. The rewards would vary from round to round and it was suspiciously common for the game to only pay out the worst possible rollouts near the end of runs. The fact that a player could have a great run completely ruined by the fact that the wrong health upgrade was present prior to the final match was inexcusable.

But perhaps the worst problem with Survival Mode was present throughout the entirety of Street Fighter V itself: even the single-player modes were tied to the game’s online and when the game disconnected from its servers – a regular occurrence in the game’s earlier days – it lost all of the player’s progress in whatever mode they were playing. I’ve heard more stories than I can count of players making it to the final fight in Hard or even Extreme Mode, only to be denied by the game getting knocked offline. Trials also returned from the previous game, as well as Demonstrations that showcase various character techniques being performed by the CPU.

The servers going down throughout the game’s earliest days was just as memeworthy as some of the sketchier character designs. I’ve speculated for quite some time that Capcom wasn’t trying to sell Street Fighter V as a game, it was trying to sell the community itself. That would explain Capcom’s emphasis on crossplay, as well as the barebones single-player. The game’s online mode, on the other hand, offered three distinct options from launch onward. Ranked Matches return, allowing players to fight their way to the top of the leaderboards, to determine who is the best Street Fighter on Earth. Ranking works a little differently this time around: players can rank up by defeating opponents, but losses can cause them to rank down. Ranks are consistent on a player-by-player basis, not changing remotely based on which character the player is using – an omission from the previous game I find severely lacking. Casual Matches allow random people to play online without the worry of going down in rank. Unfortunately, both of these modes forced players to set a default character to always be used: I could understand that in Ranked Mode, but some players use Casual Mode to experiment with unfamiliar characters – having to constantly change them in the Battle Setting menu is kind of a hassle. Finally, there’s the Battle Lounge, where players can join lobbies or set up their own, determining the rulesets (including the ability to start off on the Player Select screen).

Of course, only those first two options allowed players to earn SFV’s in-game currency, known as “Fight Money”. Capcom made a big deal pre-release about players having the ability to earn all mandatory content – namely characters – via their free in-game currency. Winning Ranked and Casual Matches allows players to earn money, as did completing various single-player modes, like Character Story, Survival and Trial Mode. Fight Money could also be earned by levelling up individual characters, which could be accomplished by using them in Ranked or Casual Matches or completing those aforementioned single-player modes. Fight Money could be used to buy DLC characters, the costumes unlocked in Story Mode (which honestly, should’ve just been free), new User Titles, themes for players’ profile pages and various other things. Players could also choose to use real money on these items, though Capcom did originally consider rolling out a second, “premium” (in other words, paid for with actual money) currency known as “Zenny”, which was also intended to be used as prizes in various tournaments, but the concept was eventually scrapped and Capcom decided to just cut out the middleman.

It’s kind of difficult to determine what Capcom’s core demographic for SFV was by looking at its launch content. On the one hand, single-player content was clearly cut in order to apply more time and energy to improving the competitive modes. But the first time players boot up the game, they have to play through a mandatory tutorial, with lessons clearly aimed at brand-new players with no prior experience in the fighting game genre. The game’s constant server outages and its clear reliance on online connectivity only served to further emphasize just how quickly Capcom rushed the game out and only served to leave a bad first impression with many players.

However, much like Street Fighter IV, Capcom went all-in when it came to advertising the game with various pieces of tie-in media. The most prominent connection was a live-action webseries loosely based on the game, known as Street Fighter: Resurrection, which was also a direct sequel to the earlier Assassin’s Fist mini-series. Resurrection lasted for four 8-9-minute episodes, which were posted online throughout March and April 2016. UDON continued releasing their line of Street Fighter comics, with various issues tied into the game itself, most notably The Life and Death(s) of Charlie Nash, which detailed the events leading up to Nash’s revival in SFV proper.

What’s really telling is that the game’s first season of DLC content began just over a month after the game was released. Capcom originally intended to keep each of the six characters’ identities a secret until release, but dataminers were able to sift through the game’s files and unveil just who they were during the last beta test. With that in mind, Capcom decided to split the difference: simply listing each character’s name over their corresponding silhouette, confirming what leaks had already revealed but keeping everything else about them a surprise. Players were able to buy the characters in a Season Pass for $30, which included all six characters and a premium costume for each of them.

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Who could they be?

First came Alex on March 30th, 2016. A character that hadn’t been seen since Street Fighter III (or Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, if you count crossovers), he boasts a slightly modified look which didn’t go over well with the fanbase. As SFV takes place earlier in the series’ canon than his debut title, Alex is a homebody that gets abducted by Shadaloo and is forced to fight his way back to New York. Guile came out the following month, representing a more level-headed outlook on life with a radically different look – a standard military officer uniform (sans sleeves) – but being more in-line with his Street Fighter II playstyle than the SF4 games. To drive this point home, Capcom also included the first of many “Classic Stages”: a recreation of Guile’s Air Force Base from SF2, which could be purchased with Fight Money or actual money and was included as a bonus for Season Pass owners. May brought Ibuki – clad in a schoolgirl uniform – and boasting a slightly different moveset from previous iterations, rendering her kunai as a finite resource (with a special move dedicated to refilling them). This time, her clan has been hired to provide security for Karin Kanzuki’s household.

Balrog came out in June, making Shadaloo’s Four Kings whole once more. He’s wearing a torn-up hoodie, slightly resembling his first alternate outfit in SF4, and fights with a slightly more aggressive take on his traditional charge moves. He’s still as hungry for money as ever, and his protégé Ed only manages to make the Raging Buffalo twice as dangerous. Much like Guile, Balrog also received a recreation of his SF2 stage as bonus downloadable content. Juri returned in July, sporting a new look and a heavily-modified moveset. After the events of the previous game, Juri was knocked unconscious by Bison, who stole her Feng Shui Engine and left her for dead. Before seeking her revenge, she scavenges some old S.I.N. facilities, looking for a replacement eye, but only manages to find an early prototype, rendering her less powerful than before. Finally, in September, another SF3 return capped off the season with a bang. Urien is clad in a fine suit, but with the use of a special code, he can explode into his classic loincloth. In Street Fighter V, Urien oversees the activities of the Illuminati – including the resurrection of one Charlie Nash – and keeps a close eye on Shadaloo’s latest plans for world domination, just to see how it aligns with his organization’s own ambitions.

Season 1 also saw the full release of the main cast’s Battle Outfits, 4 of which were preorder bonuses for various retailers – Ryu for Gamestop, Cammy at Best Buy, Amazon had M. Bison and Chun-Li was available as a digital bonus for both the PlayStation Store and Steam. Capcom also offered variations on existing stages – generally taking place at different times of day – as well as an arena based around the Kanzuki family’s private beach. Capcom also released various other paid costumes and premium stages, including limited-time sets based around that year’s Capcom Pro Tour, Halloween and Christmas.

Capcom also released its cinematic story mode at the same time as Balrog. Officially christened “Street Fighter V: A Shadow Falls”, this mode put an unprecedented emphasis on the events that transpire in the Street Fighter games themselves. Capcom decided to base their first fighting game story mode on those found in Netherrealm Studios’ fighting games – not surprising, given the praise they receive, even Yoshinori Ono seemed impressed with their work. A Shadow Falls focuses mostly on Shadaloo’s implementation of Project C.H.A.I.N.S, though it’s somewhat more complicated than that. There are effectively three factions in the game’s plot: Shadaloo acts as the prime antagonist (obviously); to end their latest plot, Karin Kanzuki unites a group of Street Fighters from all over the world, while the mysterious organization that revived Nash also appears to be involved behind the scenes, allying various figures both good and evil for unknown reasons. There are also various subplots – many of which focusing on resolving character stories, like Cammy trying to rescue her “sisters” from Shadaloo and Rashid searching for his scientist friend who was abducted by Shadaloo – but there are other subplots as well. R. Mika and Ibuki form a rivalry over which of them is more adept at fighting, Guile and Chun-Li are shaken to discover that Nash is still (kind of) alive and Necalli’s threat finally allows Ryu to abandon the Satsui no Hado and tap into the Mu no Ken, the “Power of Nothingness”, and defeat him.

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They did churn out some beautiful cutscenes though.

The Story Mode isn’t particularly amazing, but it is fun to see more character interactions from Capcom themselves. All in all, A Shadow Falls essentially feels like a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at an older audience… and honestly, that’s all it really needed to be. Beating the Story Mode for the first time gives players a whopping 30,000 FM and unlocks an extra difficulty setting – which itself grants players 50,000 FM. This mode also allowed players their first chance to see (and even play as) Juri and Urien, though they were clearly incomplete when the mode first launched. Considering the fact that both the base roster and the first season of DLC were present in this game – and that Capcom apparently originally wanted A Shadow Falls to launch with Street Fighter V itself at some point during development – I’ve always been under the impression that maybe, the first season of DLC characters were originally intended to have been a part of the base game, but Capcom simply held them back as DLC in order to get the game out early enough to gain a foothold in eSports. This theory is mainly based on a gut feeling but considering just how integral some of the DLC characters were to the game’s plot, it just makes me wonder.

 

Two more features were added to Street Fighter V during the game’s first season of post-release content. For starters, Capcom did end up patching in the option to fight CPU-controlled opponents in the game’s versus mode. Sure, it was a short-term solution to the game’s single-player mode problem, but the quick fix did manage to sate some of the more outspoken players. Capcom also added weekly missions, which gave players various objectives to complete in various game modes in exchange for Fight Money. This was Capcom’s first attempt at solving criticisms over the difficulty involved with earning FM through winning online matches and the single-serve rewards achieved by completing the Character Story and Survival modes and arguably their best.

Regardless of the criticism surrounding the game, the first season of DLC characters must have done well, because by November 2016, Capcom announced that a second season of characters was being developed. The following month, during the Capcom Pro Tour finals – held in tandem with Sony’s PlayStation Experience event – Capcom finally played their hand, officially debuting Street Fighter V Season 2 to the general public. They decided to start things off with a bang: Akuma was the first character revealed – effectively beating his guest appearance in Tekken 7’s console debut to the punch – sporting a modified look, with longer hair and a neckbeard which many fans compared to a lion’s mane. His fighting style was also slightly modified but personally, I wish they’d taken more inspiration from Oni instead of just tweaking the traditional shoto moveset like they did with Ken. Capcom also announced that the five remaining characters set for release in Season 2 would be entirely new characters “that had never been playable in a Street Fighter game before”. The online community went rampant with speculation, trying to determine who these characters could possibly be, with only the five silhouettes revealed alongside Akuma to act as clues.

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Who’s that Street Fighter?

Admittedly, Capcom seemed to start with a theme in mind: characters that appeared in Street Fighter V’s story. Kolin came out in February 2017, sporting the same look as her alter ego Helen, who had revived Nash and acted as his handler in the game’s story. As a disciple of Gill, she has access to ice-based attacks, making her the first character in Street Fighter history to rely solely on this style. Her V-Trigger also gave her the ability to force her opponents into a Freeze state, preventing their Stun meter from recovering and freezing them solid when it’s filled. The next character didn’t drop until May and it was Balrog’s pupil/partner-in-crime, Ed – a character I’d long anticipated. Ed fought with a combination of the boxing skills he picked up from his father figure Balrog, and the Psycho Power he inherited as a clone body for Bison. He also used simplified inputs, making him a good choice for new players.

After that, Capcom decided to dust off an old chestnut and incorporate another character from Final Fight into the SF canon: Abigail joined the cast that July. The largest character in Street Fighter history – even dwarfing his compatriot Hugo – Abigail is a dense motorhead, who relies on hitting hard rather than command grabs, which made him a refreshing choice in my eyes (I miss Jack-X). The following month brought us Menat, one of Rose’s students who wields a crystal ball which she can manipulate, placing it in mid-air and recalling it at will to attack opponents on two fronts. She also has some minor control over Soul Power, capable of generating tiny spheres as a part of her V-Trigger. Zeku, Guy’s former Bushinryuu master, came out in October and was the final character of Season 2. Zeku is a stance character, using his own original ninjutsu style in his true aged appearance, while shifting back to his own take on Bushinryuu in a disguised “younger” form.

Season 2 wasn’t bad by any means – I ended up enjoying four out of the six characters – but as more characters were revealed, the sheer unpredictability of “never before playable characters” seemed to wear on many fans of the franchise, myself included. On top of that, many players were reluctant to purchase the Season Pass without knowing exactly who would be present in the game, a lesson Capcom learned all too well. It didn’t help that Season 2 was being released the same year Capcom was preoccupied with another new fighting game: Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, and I think it’s safe to say that both games suffered from Capcom’s inability to advertise both products well – SFV Season 2 and MvCi both suffered due to constant silence from the publisher, which left a vacuum that could easily be filled with criticism and negative rumors. Worst of all, both games effectively split Capcom’s fighting game division’s resources between them, which was bad enough for Season 2, but far more crippling for Infinite.

While Capcom originally intended for Street Fighter V to sell 2 million units in the year of its release, it only managed to move that many copies (and then some) by late 2017. Several fans took this as an indictment of the game, citing that its low quality meant that Capcom would suffer financially due to cutting corners, but the truth is, SFV didn’t need to move a single game to end up being profitable for Capcom. Due to the rise of eSports worldwide, Street Fighter V had positioned itself as one of the premier games in the genre. It seemed that for every person that complained about the game, just as many were entering tournaments dedicated to the game. Some might argue this was due to Capcom consistently adding to the pots at major events – but Warner Bros. managed to do even more for Netherrealm Studios’ games and those didn’t have nearly as many players.

Meanwhile, Street Fighter V managed to get Capcom a lot of mainstream coverage: events related to SFV ended up airing on North American TV on major networks like TBS, ESPN and even Disney XD. This led to a little more scrutiny when it came to things like costume choice – ESPN’s coverage of EVO 2016 forced a player to stop using Mika’s default outfit and the same happened with a Cammy user on Disney XD – but these were minor hiccups in the grand scheme. Street Fighter had finally reached a level of mainstream popularity not seen since SF2 revived arcades. Yet, despite all that, Capcom wasn’t quite satisfied with SFV in its current state…

Epilogue: Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition

Admittedly, over the past few years, Capcom has taken quite a beating in the realm of public relations. Some cite the twin scandals that killed Street Fighter X Tekken as the true beginning of Capcom’s decline from beloved publisher to “Japan’s answer to EA”, while others place their fall from grace with other events. Regardless, Capcom managed to burn through over two decades of goodwill in roughly two years. But in 2017, Capcom attempted a redemption. While Marvel vs Capcom Infinite fell victim to incredibly terrible PR – the “functions” fiasco alone would’ve probably sunk the game – Capcom appeared to focus their efforts on rebuilding their brand with Resident Evil 7. It paid off, big time.

With a success like that under their belt, Capcom decided to rehabilitate Street Fighter V into a far more content-heavy product. On October 5th, 2017, Capcom announced a major update to the game: Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition. While the title clearly allowed Capcom to keep their promise that there would be no “Super Street Fighter V”, it also managed to invoke something entirely different from the last game in the series to bear a subtitle. While Capcom would release an arcade cabinet, using the PC version as a base on the Taito Type X4 hardware, Arcade Edition was intended to reference a feature that was long requested and conspicuously absent for the entirety of SFV’s life: a true arcade ladder. Capcom also planned several new features, including a brand-new UI and tweaked gameplay with new techniques for all existing characters. They also announced that while the new features would be a free update for existing players, they would also release a new budget release of the game – costing the usual $40 – which would include the characters from both the first and second seasons of DLC, bringing the base roster to 28.

The update hit digital fronts and store shelves on January 16th, 2018 – my 30th birthday, happy birthday to me! – and this led many to bring up an old interview. In a 2011 interview with Eurogamer, Capcom’s them-community manager, Seth Killian, was asked about how long fans would have to wait for a new game in the franchise. He claimed that, “If I have anything to say about it, and I do, you will not have to wait ten years for Street Fighter 5”, suggesting the game would arrive before 2019. This led to some jokes that Arcade Edition was the true release of the game, with the previous iterations being just a beta test.

As I said earlier, Capcom named this update “Arcade Edition” due to the addition of a single-player arcade mode, and believe me when I say, it deserves the nod. In fact, to simply referring to it as “arcade mode” is something of a misnomer: “Arcade Modes” is much more accurate. Perhaps in celebration of Street Fighter’s 30th anniversary, Capcom decided to put together six separate arcade ladders of varying lengths, each representing a specific branch of the SF timeline: the original Street Fighter, Street Fighter II, the Alpha games, SF3, SF4 and, of course, SFV itself. Each ladder has a specific length – SF1 only has four opponents, while both the ladders for Alpha and SFV have a whopping 10 opponents – and each game only draws from characters that appeared in their respective games. The courses with more fights also throw in a bonus stage: the return of the Barrel Breaker mini-game, with players facing off against Mad Gear goon Two-P, who will do his best to prevent you from getting a perfect score.

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Can’t beat the classics.

Of course, Capcom had to fudge the rosters in some cases: the Final Fight characters – Abigail, Zeku and Cody – were folded into the SF1 course along with Balrog, who acts as a replacement for “Mike”, while Laura and Kolin represent Sean and Gill respectively in Street Fighter III. Completing each ladder with each character unlocks an ending image, themed around a comic page, but performing other objectives – like completing the mode without continues, facing off with a secret opponent or beating the game on a specific difficult level – unlocks additional images, all of which can be viewed in AE’s new Gallery Mode, along with a music player and the ability to watch both versions’ opening cinematics at will.

But that’s not all Arcade Edition added. Capcom brought back the Team Battle online mode from Ultra Street Fighter IV, allowing players to group into teams of up to five, to duke it out. Arcade Edition also gave every existing character in the game a second V-Trigger, much like how SSF4 added a Second Ultra to the entire roster. This was actually one of the selling points of the update. Dataminers actually discovered the existence of this content prior to release, as well as code suggesting plans for additional V-Skills and Critical Arts for existing characters, which have yet to be implemented in the game itself.

They were even finally able to release Extra Battle, a mode they had revealed back as a part of the game’s first post-launch content roadmap. The original concept had players facing off against non-playable characters, like various Shadaloo goons, in boss battles. AE’s take on the concept was slightly tweaked. Sure, the Shadaloo goons still appeared as rotating opponents offering up Fight Money and experience points, but powered-up versions of standard characters (like Shin Akuma, Shadow Nash and the fan-christened “Viable Ryu” who boasts a Shin Shoryuken as a second Critical Art) also appeared, offering titles as bragging rights. Capcom also released special costumes which had the SF cast cosplaying as characters from other Capcom properties – like Chun-Li as June from Star Gladiator, Rashid as Viewtiful Joe and M. Bison as Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ Astaroth – as prizes in Extra Battle mode. Players needed to unlock four pieces to unlock the costume itself.

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Man, the new Marvel vs. Capcom game looks great!

Fighting these battles costs the player Fight Money, so Capcom decided to… halve the amount of Fight Money earned in the Weekly Missions. In fact, the way Fight Money was earned in Arcade Edition was completely rebalanced. Finishing single-player modes – Survival, Character Story, even Trials – for the first time no longer awards FM, but rather experience. Levelling up characters rewards players with 1000FM per level. It just seems a bit weird that as Capcom adds more and more things to spend Fight Money on, they just seem to make it more and more difficult to earn it in the first place. It just seems a bit counterintuitive to me.

Throughout the end of 2017, Capcom kept teasing a third season of DLC characters. Despite some early fan speculation that Sagat would be the debut character, a shower of cherry blossom petals alongside another trailer for Arcade Edition at the finals of that year’s Red Bull Battle Grounds seemed to imply that Sakura was getting the nod. Finally, Capcom finally revealed its existence at the Capcom Cup finals during that year’s PlayStation Experience in December, just like the previous set. Lo and behold, Sakura was the first character revealed, sporting a long-awaited new outfit that emphasized her maturity. Better still, she would be released on the same day as SFVAE itself. However, clearly having learned from the diminishing returns of the previous season, Capcom expanded on the announcement by revealing the entire roster in one fell swoop: Blanka, Cody and Sagat would all be returning from the Street Fighter IV games with brand-new looks, while Falke and G were brand-new characters.

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This was surprisingly refreshing.

Sakura’s story involves her coming to terms with getting older, trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do with her life – truly a relatable storyline. Blanka came out in February, boasting a slightly more feral appearance and a brand-new command grab. He’s trying to recover from a failed business venture, selling dolls in his own likeness, trying to find buyers for his adorable Blanka-chan dolls. Falke was released in April. Another possible replacement body for Bison, Falke can channel Psycho Power through a staff, even capable of firing off small bullets of the malevolent energy. Falke was rescued by Ed – makes sense considering they almost look like twins – and is now a member of Neo Shadaloo, an organization dedicated to finding and helping the original organization’s victims. Cody returned to the fray in June, sporting a much cleaner look than previous games. He’s paid his debt to society and has even been endorsed by Haggar to become the new mayor of Metro City. While he still has a tendency to get bored, he genuinely wants to protect the people of the city – even if he feels the best way to do that is by punching out street punks. Cody’s style has changed significantly from previous iterations: his moves are far more inspired by Final Fight – his V-Skill resembles his old spin kick from the classic beat-‘em-up – and he replaces his Criminal Upper with the Tornado Sweep, a new tornado-themed projectile. His V-Triggers consist of his trusty knife and Mayor Haggar’s trademark pipe.

When I started writing this retrospective – specifically this specific article – I was expecting Season 3 to be in progress, but at this year’s EVO, Capcom managed to wrap it up by simultaneously releasing the final two characters of the season: G & Sagat. G is a mysterious figure of unknown origins, a man claiming to be “the President of the World”. Sporting a top hat ensemble that makes him look like a cross between Uncle Sam and Abe Lincoln, he has a unique tattoo across his body – it’s shaped like the world’s continents, made of gold and constantly moving. He’s capable of generating attacks with an aura of gold, but as he draws power from the Earth itself, it eventually begins to resemble magma. Sagat returns, with torn attire representing his self-imposed exile and a build that finally manages to find a perfect balance between the leaner look from Street Fighter II and his more muscular design from the Alpha games. He’s also accompanied by – what else? – a tiger. His story is vague, but it seems that perhaps he was being tempted by the Satsui no Hado himself and is striving to fight for a reason truly worthy of a king.

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What a difference 2½ years makes, right?

Arcade Edition also changes up the game’s UI. The original game’s menus were themed on the Earth itself, showcasing a big world map. Arcade Edition, on the other hand, decides to go for more of a film set aesthetic, with a heavy emphasis on gold. I’d say it’s an improvement over the original. The lifebars are adjusted as well: shifting from a vibrant green at full health to a shining gold. Aside from that, the in-game action is nearly identical – the only other change being an increased emphasis on the V-Meter and the addition of roman numerals to signify which V-Trigger each player has chosen.

Much like Super and Ultra Street Fighter IV, SFVAE also changes up some of the game’s music, giving new themes to the main menu, character select, victory and versus screen. The game also gains two new composers: Steven McNair, who composed most of the new menu themes, and Daniel Lindholm who handled Sakura, G and Sagat’s themes. In order to compensate for the variety of Arcade modes, Capcom also commissioned the composers to recreate the character select, versus, results and openings from each game to accompany each game’s course. I literally felt chills run down my spine the first time I heard their arrangement of the Street Fighter Alpha player select – a theme which is easily among my favorites of all time. Aside from that, the sound design is roughly identical.

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Beating palette swaps for fun and profit.

But even the changes made in the initial release of Arcade Edition weren’t enough for Capcom. When Cody came out last June, Capcom also implemented a few new features into the game. For starters, they added Fighting Chance – a raffle mechanic which allows players to unlock various items, including gallery artwork from older games, exclusive colors and even exclusive costumes. Fighting Chance is themed around Menat’s fortune telling and relies on tickets to trade for fortunes. One ticket is given out free to players each week and they can also be obtained by buying them with Fight Money, fighting recurring weekly Extra Battles against the most recent special costume and reaching monthly score targets in Survival Mode’s various difficulties. Speaking of which, Capcom also completely revamped Survival Mode, solving many issues with the old mode. For starters, they added the option to randomize the opponent selection in each course and made every tenth opponent a pseudo-boss character, sporting one of Fighting Chance’s rare colors. There’s also an interrupt save function, which allows players to stop their run in progress and return to it later. Capcom also gave players an assortment of power-up items that could be earned and used at will, in addition to the randomized score upgrades. These ranged from the same mundane health and meter replenishes to combat modifiers like the ability to survive a match-ending attack or the ability to infuse one’s standard attacks with ice, fire and poison. These could be unlocked by finishing a run and the most commonly awarded prizes in Fighting Chance, at least in my experience.

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Silver and gold, silver and gold, everyone wishes for silver and gold!

Even Street Fighter V’s merchandising experienced a new lease on life after Arcade Edition was announced. In fact, they partnered with Enterrise again to develop Street Fighter V: Pachislot Edition, which is exactly what it sounds like. The game released on July 17th, 2018 and as far as I can tell, it’s essentially the same as the previous Street Fighter-themed pachislots… and pretty much every other machine of that variety. I wouldn’t have brought this one up, but there is one interesting thing about this release, something that’s actually present in its trailer. The game clearly uses the models from the game itself, but the animations from the Critical Arts are totally different from what’s in the game. To make matters even more interesting, there are animations for Critical Arts that aren’t even in the game. While there was some speculation that some of these might appear in the game proper at some point, conversation on the subject died quickly without any concrete evidence.

Arcade Edition is the game that Street Fighter V should’ve been at launch, full stop. Both Capcom and Ono realized that releasing the game the way they did back in 2016 was a mistake within the year – even MvCi launched with both an arcade and a cinematic story mode (and little else). Fortunately, Capcom pledged to support SFV until 2020 and so far, they’ve stuck to it. In fact, if they do two more seasons at the current rate, Street Fighter V will have an even bigger roster than USF4. There’s been discussion among fans whether this means that the game will end up with four or five seasons – let alone who they’re expecting to appear as future DLC. After that, who knows what’s in store for the Street Fighter franchise.

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Eh, don’t bother. I’ll probably just end up with more grapes.

Thus concludes my retrospective on the Street Fighter franchise. Admittedly, when I started this, I didn’t expect it would end up getting this long – especially this section – but considering just how important this series was not only to my personal gaming tastes, but the entire landscape of the medium, it’s safe to say that it certainly deserves all the praises I’ve given it. Street Fighter has had its ups and downs, but all in all, a good 31 years. Here’s hoping for 31 more!

A Wishlist Named GOG 2: Electric GOGaloo

I’m going to be completely honest with you: I didn’t want to write this article so soon. That makes it sound like I’m not enthusiastic about this topic – which is most certainly not the case – but honestly, I didn’t want to do a sequel this quickly. I just wanted to branch out and tackle entirely different subjects with regards to PC ports. As I like to do these kinds of articles thrice-yearly, I considered keeping April Fools for PC-to-console ports, December for the console-to-PC wishlist, and cycle out different ideas each August, just to keep things interesting. Last year, I did the original GOG wishlist and while I did want to revisit it down the line, I also worried that I would get stuck in a rut.

Before we get this underway, I might as well come clean about the other ideas I considered around for this month’s PC port list. At first, I considered doing an article on ten PC ports that were so horrible, they deserve to be remade entirely: obviously inspired by my distaste with the abysmal state NIS America’s Ys VIII port finally launched. The problem with that concept is that a majority of the most infamous ports were eventually fixed to at least some degree, and there’s not much information on ports that weren’t absolute disasters, so researching that became next to impossible. After that, I considered doing an article on Japan-exclusive PC ports that I’d like to see hit the platform in the West, either with translations of the original ports or entirely new ones. Unfortunately, at this point, I’ve only managed to come up with 5 games. So, as a bit of a lark, I decided to do a second list of re-releases on GOG. Lo and behold, I managed to come up with over 10 games with little difficulty. Honestly, by this point, I’ve got half of a third list waiting in the wings for me as we speak.

Before we move onto the meat of the article, I’ve got a lot to go over when it comes to PC ports that were announced since my last article on the subject. The only downside is that, so far, technically, only one entry on my existing lists have come to fruition since then. Fortunately, it’s a pretty major one. But I’m getting ahead of myself: let’s tackle these reveals in order. First off, literally days after this year’s April Fools article, Nippon Ichi Software America confirmed my greatest fears: they decided to skip ahead and port Disgaea 5 Complete to PC. Originally, the game was supposed to launch in May, but there were problems (as expected), pushing the release back to a “Summer 2018” window that looks increasingly less and less likely as we’re well into the season with absolutely no updates since the original delay. A week later, Sega dropped a bombshell: the first two Shenmue games were getting a high-definition re-release on Xbox One, PS4 and (you guessed it) PC. It’s due out at the end of the month and while our version has Denuvo, I’m beginning to wonder if a shoddy kill-switch is the price we have to pay to get certain companies’ support. Hopefully, Sega (and others) will consider removing Denuvo after a set period of time – we saw it happen with Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite – but right now, it’s unclear. In May, Arc System Works announced that the original Guilty Gear – my personal favorite of the series – was getting a full re-release on the Nintendo Switch, PS4 and, again, PC. We haven’t really heard any other details since the original announcement, but hopefully we’ll be hearing more information soon. Then, at the end of May, NIS America made another big announcement at Momocon: killer7 is getting a re-release and, as of right now, it’s strictly a PC exclusive. Around that time, XSEED also announced that they were bringing Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity back to PC in English, exclusively on Steam. Not necessarily a PC port, but it is good to see an official English release on its original platform.

Then, there was E3. Devolver Digital was probably going to be my favorite conference of the entire bunch regardless of what they announced. But they brought out the big guns. After a not-so-subtle teaser, they announced an HD re-release of From Software’s cult classic Metal Wolf Chaos on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. This alone would’ve been a major coup, but the best was yet to come. The PC Gaming Show is generally considered a joke among people who pay attention to the various E3 conferences, but this year, there was one name involved that caught my attention: Sega. They debuted a trailer, titled “Best of Japan on PC”, showcasing some of their more recent titles, the previously-announced Shining Resonance Refrain and Shenmue I & II and three new titles: Valkyria Chronicles 4, Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami all had PC ports announced. The word “gigaton” doesn’t describe the magnitude of this announcement: I was literally screaming my head off when it was announced. Yakuza 0 released today and Kiwami is due out in the near future, but Sega has implied that this is only the beginning. Perhaps the resolve of the final hold-out, Atlus, is slowly reaching their limit.

After that, things quieted down again, until just recently. Arc System Works announced that UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] – the most up-to-date version of French Bread’s new fighter – would be coming to Steam later this month. The previous release was one of the games on an earlier wishlist, but it’s nice to see an even-newer version come out. Steven Universe: Save the Light also had a port announced for this month just before the end of the month. Frankly, I’m just bringing that up because I thought it was weird that it didn’t come to PC in the first place. Aside from that, Fighting EX Layer had two of its DLC characters announced, which makes me wonder if the game sold well enough for ARIKA to consider making good on their PC version promise. There was also a weird piece of news someone dug up in a special E3 magazine that implies that not only is Abstraction Games the group handling the Switch version of SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, but there may also be a PC version in development. Nothing’s been said on the matter ever since.

As per usual, the same rules apply to this article as the previous one. To make things more reasonable, I’ve increased my usual “one series per company per list” rule to two. All of the games below are existing PC ports, so there’s no need to separate games by platform and as with the previous list, I’ll be doing a supplementary write-up on just how likely I think it is that GOG could get their hands on these games. I had my doubts the first time around but considering that the entire Jazz Jackrabbit series managed to make it on GOG, I’m feeling a little luckier than I did last year.

Sonic Heroes – Sega

While there certainly isn’t a drought when it comes to Sonic games on PC – Sonic Mania’s “Plus” update launched last month – there are so many older titles that are no longer available. Sonic CD and the games found in the Sonic & Knuckles Collection are technically already present on Steam (with the modern releases being substantially superior to these old ones) and Sonic’s Schoolhouse is… honestly, only tangentially related to the blue blur. But what’s this, the direct sequel to the Sonic Adventure games had a PC port way back when and the game itself has yet to resurface anywhere. Why not make a quick buck and do a straight re-release?

Odds: Even though Sega has still yet to release any of their old games on GOG, I’ve got something resembling a good feeling about this one for two simple reasons. One, it’s a Sonic game and Sega’s Western branches love anything that has to do with Sonic the Hedgehog. And two, aside from their insistence on including Denuvo in all of their games, Sega does seem to be doing their best to court the PC gaming audience. So, I think we have a chance. (4/10)

Last Bronx – Sega

Okay, I went a little obscure on this one, but for me, this was an obvious choice. For whatever reason, throughout the 1990s, Sega seemed to be almost obsessed with creating brand-new 3D fighting game franchises. While many of them would end up with sequels – Virtua Fighter and Virtual On come to mind – other attempts weren’t nearly as successful. Case in point: Last Bronx. It was essentially a weapons-based fighting game that played like a cross between Sega’s own Fighting Vipers and Soul Calibur, taking place in an alternate near-future setting where Tokyo was overrun with gang warfare. The game didn’t exactly take the world by storm, but it did manage to receive home conversions on Sega’s own Saturn home console, as well as PC via the “Sega PC” line.

Odds: Even less likely than Sonic Heroes, because at least that has fan recognition going for it. Honestly, I’d be happy if Sega just released the entire Sega PC line from the ‘90s on GOG. (3/10)

Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster – Interplay/Amazing Studios

I’ve noticed a bit of a renaissance in the full-motion video genre as of late: for some reason, the genre’s made a bit of a comeback on PC gaming. On top of that, a fair amount of older games, back from the FMV game’s heyday, have been reemerging with various re-releases. I’ll be honest, there aren’t that many games of that style that I actually want to play. Among them is Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster – a game that quite literally puts you in control of one of Dr. Frankenstein’s creations, as he struggles to discover his past and figure out the mysteries surrounding the mad doctor’s experiments. My interest in the Frankenstein mythos makes the game intriguing enough on its own, but the fact that Tim Curry portrays the infamous doctor himself intrigues me even more.

Odds: Interplay’s sold off all of their assets and I can’t find any information about the developer itself. However, considering the fact that Nightdive Studios has been working on acquiring and re-releasing various old PC games of similar styles – like Titanic: Adventure Out of Time and D – I think there’s a chance they could stumble upon the rights to this game (and maybe even its sequel). I wouldn’t count on it though. (4/10)

The King of Fighters ’99: Evolution – SNK

My early days with the KoF series were… confusing, to put it mildly, but it wasn’t entirely my fault. When SNK released ’98 on the Dreamcast, they rebranded it as “The King of Fighters ’99: Dream Match Never Ends” – so obviously, I was led to believe that the game was in fact KoF ’99. Unfortunately, when I bought a game labeled “King of Fighters ‘99” for the PlayStation, I was surprised to see that it was the game’s sequel. So, when the game in question was released on the Dreamcast itself, it was saddled with the subtitle “Evolution” to differentiate it from its mislabeled predecessor.

The Dreamcast release added various new features, including newly-rendered backgrounds in 3D and exclusive Striker characters: Seth and Vanessa, who made their official debut in King of Fighters 2000. Though what’s surprising is that the game was also ported to PC – with English, Spanish and Portuguese language options! – by a company called CyberFront. From what I’ve heard, even the worst reviews I could find of the PC version online claim that it’s a perfect conversion of the Dreamcast version, which sounds amazing.

Odds: SNK has released a fair share of games on GOG, but usually have relied on stocking their storefront with emulations handled by DotEmu. However, considering that they’ve been releasing PS2 Classics on PS4 recently, I think it’s become a little more feasible in the grand scheme of things. I think the major hurdle at this point would be reminding SNK of this port’s existence. (5/10)

Breath of Fire IV – Capcom

Just like MegaMan X8, this was one of those odd Capcom PC ports that came out in Japan and Europe, but not North America. Either way, the game’s in English, so there shouldn’t be any issues with selling the game to Americans. Fans have been clamoring for a new Breath of Fire game – well, one that isn’t on smartphones anyway – and considering it was only re-released on the PlayStation 3, the Vita and the PSP via PS1 Classics (all defunct systems at this point), a re-release on a more enduring platform seems like a good way to test the viability of the classic JRPG franchise.

Odds: Capcom’s an odd case when it comes to GOG. They released one really old port on the service (Street Fighter Alpha 2) and a much more recent port two years ago (Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen). Since then, we haven’t seen anything else for them and Capcom has begun to implement Denuvo into their games – but only brand-new titles, not HD re-releases. Maybe there’s still a chance they’ll release more games on GOG, especially considering their recent attempts to win back their audience. I guess time will tell. (4/10)

Mega Man & Mega Man 3 – Capcom/Hi-Tech Expressions

Okay, I’ve already talked about this game at length enough in several other articles – particularly in my MegaMan retrospective – so I’ll keep this brief. These games are bad, but they’re old. And GOG is a place for PC games that are good and/or old. It technically belongs on the service, that’s all there is to it.

Odds: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA There’s absolutely no chance. This game is likely considered an old shame by the people at Capcom’s Western branches that know of its existence and I doubt the Japanese branch even knows about these games. (0/10)

G-Darius – Square Enix (Taito)

I’ll be honest: back when I had my PS1, the majority of my library consisted of titles developed or published by the fine folks at Capcom. However, G-Darius is one of those exceptions that I’ll never forget. The fourth arcade installment in the classic shoot-‘em-up franchise – and the very first to utilize 3D polygonal graphics – G-Darius was also the first horizontal shmup that I actually liked. Up to that point, I was only a fan of vertical shooters like Aero Fighters, 1944 and Raiden. Considering this game was also ported by CyberFront, I anticipate that this was also a good port of a good game.

Odds: Sure, at this point, most of Square Enix’s offerings on GOG are strictly from Eidos’ catalog but branching out seems possible, especially with old ports like this of games with such a niche following. (3/10)

Taito Legends 1 & 2 – Square Enix (Taito)

I guess it’s become a requisite for me to include some kind of a retro compilation on these GOG lists, and this time, the honor goes to the Taito Legends games. Both compilations were also released on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, but based on the information I have, the PC versions were based on the latter. With a total of 68 games across both collections, including such arcade classics as RayForce, Qix, The New Zealand Story, Darius Gaiden, Elevator Action, Operation Wolf, The Legend of Kage, Gun Frontier and many, many more. These PC releases don’t have every game that was present in every release for both collections. There were a few titles that were exclusive to the PS2 version of Legends 2, but others that were only present on the Xbox and PC versions. Also, one game wasn’t present in the Western releases of either collection, but several were left out of the various Japanese releases. Still, these do seem like our best bet for seeing these old Taito games officially playable on PC, unless Square Enix decides to revisit the concept entirely on modern platforms.

Odds: Square Enix seems like they’re a bit more literal when it comes to understanding the PC market. Because of that, I think these games have a better chance of making it to GOG than that old G-Darius port, but barely. (4/10)

Battle Arena Toshinden 1 & 2 – Tamsoft/Playmates Interactive

You didn’t honestly think that I’d be happy with just two fighting games on this list, did you? The original Battle Arena Toshinden holds a special place in my heart: despite the game’s primitive clunkiness, it may very well have been the first game I played on the original PlayStation, through one of those demo kiosks you’d find at stores back in that era. The original game’s PC port was essentially the product of a compromise: Playmates Interactive would release the game on PC, while Takara would publish the Earthworm Jim games in Japan. To signify this agreement, Earthworm Jim appeared as a guest character in the PC release, though he was honestly just a model swap for an existing character. This version appeared to be directly based on the arcade version as opposed to the better-known PS1 release. It used the original Japanese voiceovers, as opposed to the English ones found in the PS1 release, as well as a slightly rearranged soundtrack.

The second game received much more love in its PC port, containing everything from the PS1 version, as well as many other new features, like the ability to save progress on unlocking extra content and full controller customizability, two features the home console version lacked. On top of that, Toshinden 2 was released directly on Windows, while the previous game was compatible with DOS.

Odds: Just like Frankenstein, the main hurdle here is figuring out who owns the rights at this point. Honestly, in the process of researching the second game’s PC release, I found at least three companies that were potential publishers, though Playmates Interactive is the one present on the game’s title screen itself. All the same, GOG still has the rights to sell all of the Earthworm Jim PC ports, so there’s a chance they’d know exactly where to go to figure this one out. Unfortunately, Toshinden doesn’t appear to be a game that’s high in demand. (2/10)

Brain Dead 13 – ReadySoft (Digital Leisure)

This game always felt like a missed opportoonity (no, I’m better than that) opportunity for me. Brain Dead 13 always intrigued me with its various ads in magazines throughout my childhood, yet I never got the chance to play it. Essentially a game in the same vein as Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace – and with an artstyle that clearly tried to ape the work of Don Bluth to boot – Brain Dead 13 may seem like more of a case of style over substance, but that’s not necessarily always a bad thing. It’s funny: generally, I hate quick-time events when they show up in action games, but if they’re the game’s only avenue of interactivity, I’m generally way more forgiving.

Odds: Well, on the one hand, the game did see a re-release on iOS back in 2010, so we do know that someone has the rights to the game in question. Of course, my guess is that if they were going to do re-releases, it would probably be a brand-new remaster – rebuilt from the ground-up – as opposed to just putting the existing DOS, Windows and Macintosh versions up on GOG. Still, you never know: I never would’ve guessed that Toonstruck would ever see the light of day again, and yet, it’s up on GOG. (5/10)

And so ends another wishlist. I went with some pretty esoteric choices this time around, but that just goes to show just how varied PC gaming was back in the halcyon days of the 1990s and early 2000s. PC gaming before Valve’s domination over the landscape was an interesting one, though not always necessarily better – Games for Windows Live was a mistake. Honestly, I had a lot of fun writing this list. I just wish I’d been able to come up with an alternate topic. I think I’ll continue these lists, but ideally I’d like to fold my next GOG list into the December 2019 article. I’m going to keep working on finding a new topic for next year, but I’ve already got another GOG list halfway done as it is.

But Is It Art? – WCW Backstage Assault

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Like I said at the beginning of the year, I’ve been trying to focus on reviving series that had fallen by the wayside. Even though I’ve been focusing on the Street Fighter retrospective for most of the year – just one article to go! – I think I’ve done pretty well revisiting old concepts thus far. This month, I’m feeling a little artistic: I’ve honestly had this article planned for quite some time but never really found the time to focus on it. While my colleague SNES Master KI did his own take on the concept, his article was far more sarcastic than mine. Clearly, when discussing fine art, only solemn stoicism and objectivity will do.

After all, the point of “But Is It Art?” is to legitimately attempt to recontextualize games generally accepted as terrible as truly artistic endeavors. If video games are to ascend to the lofty realm of true art, they must emulate their predecessors in every conceivable way. And if the art world has taught me anything, it’s that bourgeoisie concepts like “gameplay”, “aesthetic” and “quality” have no place in the realm of art. No, true art defies convention – only a barbaric philistine would consider the “Super Mario men” to be the pinnacle of video games. We need to dig deeper: after all, if you judge a game on how well it functions, then you’ll never have a true understanding of art.

If the title of the article didn’t give it away, this subject of this article is WCW Backstage Assault on the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64. While professional wrestling is certainly the lowest of art forms, meta-analysis of such degenerate entertainment is truly art: the 2008 film The Wrestler was nominated for two Academy Awards and won two Golden Globes, as well as the Golden Lion at the 65th Venice International Film Festival, an award I hadn’t heard of before looking it up – which clearly proves its intrinsic worth as a piece of art! If a film, a major motion picture, the pinnacle of what video games have always strived to emulate, could weave such acclaim from such tripe, then surely video games should be able to perfectly recreate this feat, neither exceeding nor falling short of their clear inspiration.

However, while many lesser critics would simply use a beloved game like WWF Wrestlemania 2000, its sequel WWF No Mercy or the SmackDown games for the sake of comparison, simply due to their fun factor, I’ve decided to look at a game considered one of the worst pro wrestling-themed video games of all-time. While most simpletons would dismiss Backstage Assault as nothing more than just a terrible game, only a true genius could realize that the game’s seemingly-horrible overall presentation is nothing more than an allegory for the tumultuous state of its licensor in 2000.

By 2000, the Monday Night War was slowly reaching its conclusion. Despite the financial backing of media mogul Ted Turner, an incredible winning streak of 84 weeks over the then-WWF and several major names still under contract, WCW’s days as the pinnacle of professional wrestling had come to an end. While the company would survive throughout the remainder of the year, it was clearly a shell of its former glory, having attempted several gimmicks in a misguided effort to regain its dwindling viewership.

Ironically, the video games would fair about as well as their inspiration. Through the early days of the fifth-generation, WCW’s video games – at least on the Nintendo 64 – were considered among the best in the business, with publisher THQ utilizing Japanese developer AKI Corporation (now known as Syn Sophia, Inc.) to develop exciting wrestling titles for the brand: WCW vs. nWo World Tour and its beloved sequel, WCW/nWo Revenge. However, by 1999 – the point where the WWF once again eclipsed its rival in popularity – THQ had jumped ship to “the Fed”, releasing WWF Wrestlemania 2000. To make matters worse, THQ also enlisted another Japanese developer, Yuke’s Future Media Creators, to develop a series of games for the PlayStation, which received mediocre titles when THQ still held the WCW license.

By this point, WCW had gone with Electronic Arts as their new publisher. While they lacked their modern-day clout, EA was still considered a fairly major deal at this point, making a name for themselves with quality sports titles like the Madden series and the NBA Live series – I actually liked NBA Live ’97 – as well as original titles like Need for Speed, Theme Park and my personal favorite, SSX. However, the game itself was developed by Kodiak Interactive, a small studio with few games under its belt. Ironically, Kodiak wouldn’t last much longer than WCW itself: both would close shop at different points in 2001.

Ironically, the video game publisher/developer situation actually matched that of WCW at large. A large name (EA) acted as a headliner, while lesser-known talent (Kodiak Interactive) would essentially hold the product together. Meanwhile, their ex-talent (THQ and AKI) moved onto the WWF, where they would achieve popularity and success they would have never seen in WCW. In the end, even the game’s development mirrored that of WCW’s contemporary downfall, truly a brilliant move on everyone’s part. This even bled into the game itself: to pad out the roster, various non-wrestlers like security director Doug Dellinger, managers like Jimmy Hart and Major Gunns and even head writer Vince Russo were added as playable characters, as opposed to showcasing lesser-known talent.

Backstage Assault was unique among other wrestling games not because of any additional features, but due to the lack of an element that is present in pretty much every wrestling-themed video game in existence: the squared circle itself. The game’s action took place exclusively in backstage areas, hence the clever title. Now while many critics reviewing the game at the time of its release deemed this a catastrophic mistake, only a visionary like yours truly could determine the sheer genius behind such a decision. WCW’s in-ring product had declined in quality significantly, with a much broader focus being applied to the soap opera-esque storylines behind the scenes. Of course, it didn’t help that much of the intrigue of WCW by 2000 was focused on real-life issues behind the scenes which the writers would attempt to use as inspiration for storylines, recreate or just outright incorporate into the show itself. Any no-talent developer could create a wrestling game with a wrestling ring, but it took a true master of their craft to eschew the nonsense of depicting wrestling in a wrestling game itself.

On top of that, the plebian press of the early 2000s scolded this game for its poor gameplay. To make matters odder, Kodiak Interactive also developed the previous WCW Mayhem for EA, a game that was released a year earlier but had a far better reception, both with the contemporary press and the nostalgic fans of today. Meanwhile, 2000 saw a one-two punch of quality titles from WWF: the aforementioned No Mercy released on the Nintendo 64, while PlayStation fans in America were finally treated to an excellent wrestling game with the first game in the storied WWF Smackdown series. By this point, the overall perceived quality and popularity of the WCW product had taken a significant nosedive – is it possible that Kodiak Interactive noticed this and sabotaged the quality of their game on purpose? While short-sighted critics might consider such a concept counterintuitive, true art transcends the very boundaries of short-term financial gain. After all, who would value thousands or even millions of dollars over the pursuit of artistic brilliance?

Likewise, let’s discuss Backstage Assault’s unlockable material. While the game’s default offerings are meager, there is a deluge of unlockable content: additional fight locales, alternate costumes for various characters and enough characters to more than double the game’s roster. In that sense, the game truly showcased the major flaw of the original SmackDown: a lack of content. Far more importantly, the game itself once again emulates the WCW product. By this point, the company was focusing on various ridiculous gimmicks, instead of attempting to recreate the quality of professional wrestling that won them fans in the first place. Wrestlers based on rock bands and video game characters, ridiculous stipulations like the infamous “Judy Bagwell on a Pole” and “San Fransisco 49ers” matches and writing plagued by some of the largest egos in the business made WCW impossible for all but the most die-hard fans to watch during its final decline and eventual death.

Perhaps the most eerie similarity between Backstage Assault and its inspiration was what happened after them. Near the end of WCW’s existence, a group of investors led by Eric Bischoff (the man who helped catapult the company to the dizzying heights of its prime years during the mid-to-late 1990s) wanted to purchase the company, attempting to reboot it and salvage the product. Unfortunately, by this point in time, WCW’s parent company, AOL Time Warner had ousted Ted Turner and rearranged their strategies in various ventures. This meant that the guaranteed time slots on Turner’s cable networks – the major selling point of the wrestling promotion in the first place – were at their end. The investors pulled out and AOL Time Warner sold off the company and its intellectual properties to Vince McMahon and the WWF, signifying the end of the Monday Night War. Meanwhile, EA was planning a next-gen sequel for WCW Mayhem, one that was set to debut on the PlayStation 2 and improve substantially on their two previous releases. With the license no longer in existence, EA decided to rebrand the game with a completely different intellectual property: you probably know the final product as “Def Jam Vendetta”. Perhaps the most depressing revelation is that this would’ve meant AKI Corporation would have been able to develop one final WCW-themed video game – THQ had decided to use Yuke’s as their main developer for future games based on the WWF (or the WWE, as it would come to be called). In other words, it seems like the quality of the game and its licensor were equal, inexorably linking the fates of both products.

Now, I’m not delusional enough to claim that Backstage Assault was the final nail in WCW’s coffin, but it perfectly encapsulates the turmoil that was going on behind the scenes in the company in a fashion both allegorical and literal: for years, WCW had been a passion project of Ted Turner, so they were allowed to blow through as much money and resources as they wanted, before the regime change at Time Warner. Most importantly, Backstage Assault succeeds in a way that no other wrestling game that came before or after it has yet to even approach: it essentially acts as a time capsule (intentionally or not) for the state of the company that inspired it. By this point, websites dedicated to scoping out news focusing on behind-the-scenes information about wrestling promotions had begun popping up. Unfortunately, they hadn’t become quite as popular as they would be after 2000. As such, I think it’s safe to say that WCW Backstage Assault was significantly ahead of its time, a true masterwork that provided a brilliant (albeit interactive) look at the turmoil of WCW’s dying days.

But what do you think? Was WCW Backstage Assault a hard-hitting dissection of a professional wrestling promotion during its dying days? Or just a shoddy product that acted as a premonition of the horrible misdeeds one Electronic Arts would be destined to commit in later years? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Retrospective: Street Fighter – Bonus Stage

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With every game in the recent Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection covered in this series of retrospectives, the obvious route for continuing it would be to go straight into the modern releases. However, even when I was outlining this project from the get-go, I knew that I wanted to explore some of the more obscure titles in the Street Fighter franchise. Of course, you’d think I’d have gotten my fill with the first Street Fighter retrospective article – I covered Final Fight, Street Fighter 2010 and even Avenger, an arcade game that predated the original Street Fighter – but there were a couple of games that have still managed to pop into my mind. Games that Capcom outright acknowledged were farmed out to other developers with vastly different results, both mechanically and in their overall reception.

Of course, the games I will be discussing in this retrospective don’t even scratch the surface of the weird licensed material Capcom stuck their fingers into during Street Fighter II’s heyday. Even discounting obvious stuff like the two movies and the two animated series, you had weird things like a pinball machine, whack-a-mole, Tiger Electronics handhelds, various toy lines (including a take on Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots), a truly bizarre comic book from Malibu Comics, several manga in Japan, valentines and even a simulator ride. If you could think of it, Capcom was more than willing to slap Ryu, Ken, Guile, Chun-Li and M. Bison’s faces on it throughout the ‘90s. But I’ve clearly gotten off-track, let’s talk about some games.

Street Fighter: The Movie

Even though I’ve already done an article dedicated to this game a couple years back, there’s still a lot to unpack with Street Fighter: The Movie …The Game. Released in June 1995 – roughly half a year after the film managed a healthy box office (but flopped critically) in theatres – it’s an ultimate exercise in the concepts of recursion and diminishing returns. Every time I look at the game, I know on a visceral level that it should not exist. Every “original” aspect of this game appears to be an attempt at aping Mortal Kombat, aside from that franchise’s trademark gore, trying to maintain the relative family-friendliness of the SF brand. In the end, this game feels like something of a fever dream, even when experiencing it: I swear I saw this game in a random arcade at some point in my life between the ages of 7 and 10, but all things considered, that might just be a memory of a dream.

But before we get into the how and why (and especially the what) of SF:TM, let’s delve into the who. This game is unique among Street Fighter titles, as it’s perhaps the most major entry in the series that was handled by a Western developer. Founded in 1985 in Vernon Hills, IL (a locale that probably means nothing to anyone outside of Chicagoland) by a former NASA software engineer and a biochemist, Incredible Technologies doesn’t seem like the kind of company that would work on video games, but in their early years, they focused on developing pinball hardware, as well as some contract work for Data East. However, what they’re probably best known for is their Golden Tee series, a staple in bars and restaurants to this day. However, their first big arcade hit was 1988’s Capcom Bowling – a personal favorite of mine – which forged a relationship between the Eastern arcade titan and the fledgling company. Throughout the ‘90s, IT would release several arcade titles under the brand name “Strata Games”, but the two most pertinent games in that line-up were Time Killers and BloodStorm, two Mortal Kombat-inspired fighting games that went for a more comic book-inspired look compared to the photorealism of their inspiration. In fact, Street Fighter: The Movie ran on the same proprietary arcade system that ran both of those games along with most of their other games from the period, which speaks for their hardware’s adaptability.

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Clearly, the right people to handle Street Fighter.

The most interesting thing about this game, as with many, would have to be various tidbits of trivia that have come out about the game’s development since its release. For starters, this game was originally pitched as Street Fighter III and included a variety of characters, including Retsu, Lee and a female Geki (all from the original Street Fighter), Gunloc from Saturday Night Slam Masters and even MegaMan. This treatment was scrapped early on in the development process, when they were informed that their project was going to be based on the live-action film instead. On top of that, Sheng Long was even considered as a potential playable character and while Capcom actually considered whether or not this was a good idea, they ended up nixing it. On top of that, they also pitched an entirely original character, Raven: who was to have been played by Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, the fight coordinator and one of the stuntmen from the film. He was said to have been a stance style character, not unlike Gen’s reinvention from the Alpha series, but ended up left out of the game due to time constraints. In fact, several characters were omitted for this very reason: the actors for Dhalsim, Blanka and Dee Jay managed to record footage but were left out due to time constraints, Gregg Rainwater (who portrayed T. Hawk in the film) never showed up and the actor who portrayed original character Sawada in the film was originally intended to be Fei Long in the game itself, to the extent where the actor ends up portraying Fei Long as a cameo in one of the stages.

Considering the game was an “adaptation” of the film, it seems like it’s worth summarizing the events of the film. The main crux of the film involves a civil war in the Southeast Asian country of Shadaloo, between a terrorist general M. Bison and the Allied Nations, led by Colonel William F. Guile, an all-American soldier portrayed by Belgian martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme, along with his assistant Sergeant Cammy and Captain Kenya Sawada. Bison ends up capturing several A.N. relief workers, including Guile’s friend Sergeant Carlos “Charlie” Blanka, and holding them for a ransom of $20 billion US dollars. Guile refuses and vows to track down Bison to save his hostages. Meanwhile, Bison decides to have Charlie transformed into a super soldier by Dhalsim, a captive scientist. The process leaves Blanka disfigured, but Dhalsim alters the mental programming to retain Charlie’s humanity instead of turning him into a mindless pawn.

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The arcade game boasted some pretty impressive captures from the film itself.

Meanwhile, Ryu and Ken are a couple of American con artists attempting to swindle an arms dealer by the name of Viktor Sagat but are forced to fight his cage fight champion Vega when he sees through their ruse. As Sagat was Bison’s primary arms dealer, Guile recruits the pair to help him find Bison in exchange for their freedom. Likewise, news reporter Chun-Li Zhang and her crew, consisting of former sumo wrestler E. Honda and boxer Balrog also get involved, seeking out both Bison and Sagat for killing Chun-Li’s father and ruining their careers respectively. In addition to Sagat and Vega, Bison’s forces also include the good natured but naïve Russian wrestler Zangief and the cash-hungry computer expert Dee Jay (wait, what?).

Honestly, that last bit always confused me. I understand why you’d want to swap Balrog for Zangief within the confines of the film itself – Cold War animosity hadn’t entirely subsided by this point and adding black representation to the heroes just seems like a bonus – but making Dee Jay a villain? What, was there some weird anti-Jamaican sentiment floating around at some point during the mid-90s? I can’t say it bothered me that much, it just manages to stand out as one of the most baffling aspects of an already baffling adaptation. Also, I always wondered: did Capcom openly seek out Van Damme for this live-action adaptation as a way of sticking it to Midway, who originally conceived Mortal Kombat as an adaptation of Bloodsport?

The game’s base roster consists of 14 characters, more than Hyper Fighting and the first Street Fighter Alpha, but slightly less than Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Surprisingly, quite a few characters were cut from SSF2T, despite appearing in the game. Ryu, Ken, Guile, Chun-Li, Cammy, E. Honda, Zangief, Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison all end up “returning” from Super Turbo though. Considering this game was released at around the same time as the original Street Fighter Alpha, which ditched several SF2 mainstays, I have to wonder if that was intended to be a selling point. Of course, most of the characters were portrayed by their actors in the film – though due to time limitations, Van Damme was unable to complete all of the necessary filming, so Incredible Technologies used Mark Stefanich, his stunt double from the film, for the remaining footage – with the exception of the late Raúl Juliá who was on his deathbed and replaced with his stunt double, Darko Tuscan. Juliá’s likeness still appeared in the game, through video and audio clips from the movie itself.

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Bafflingly, this was a legitimate advertisement for the game.

Sawada appeared in the game with a moveset clearly inspired by Fei Long, but the game added a few characters that didn’t appear in the film as well. Here’s some trivia, SF:TM contains Akuma’s first appearance in the main roster of any Street Fighter game, portrayed by Filipino-American martial artist Ernie Reyes Sr. Incredible Technologies originally wanted to make him a hidden character like in Super Turbo, but this was cut due to “a combination of events”. Blade, an elite Shadaloo soldier who fights with knives, was also added to the game as an original character, portrayed by one of the game’s designers, Alan Noon. However, unbeknownst to anyone, Blade is actually Gunloc – yes, they managed to sneak him in after all – who decided to take a break from professional wrestling to help his brother Guile (!!) take out Bison’s forces from the inside. Much like Mortal Kombat’s trademark ninjas, Blade was palette-swapped into three hidden characters, boasting similar designs but completely different movesets: Arkane fights with electricity and his extendable mechanical limbs; Khyber is equipped with a custom flamethrower hidden in his mask, allowing him to “spit fire” and F7 is capable of using all of the other three characters’ attacks.

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Yes, they managed to beat Alpha 2 to the punch, err, kick.

Though the game’s visual style is clearly inspired by Mortal Kombat, the gameplay feels a lot more reminiscent of another popular Western fighting game from the ‘90s: Rare’s Killer Instinct. The game’s combo system definitely feels more like KI than Street Fighter, but there’s also a heavy emphasis on juggle combos in the game. Honestly, this might be one of the more customizable combo systems of the era, perhaps to its own detriment. The only real rule involved is combos are only limited by the player’s skill and timing. It’s honestly kind of liberating in a lot of ways, even by today’s standards. However, there’s clearly still some Street Fighter elements in there, with the gameplay running at a speed that could easily be classified as “Turbo”. The Mortal Kombat influences still manage to seep into the gameplay: a lot of characters’ crouching Heavy Punches and Kicks are very Mortal Kombat-esque uppercuts and sweep kicks, not to mention MK’s trademark flurry of punches by mashing light punch.

Aside from these changes, SF:TM does include many of the elements from contemporary Street Fighter games. Special Moves return, though many characters actually receive entirely brand-new ones, like M. Bison’s “Electric Arc”, which fires off a continuous stream of lightning in front of him that zaps characters who aren’t blocking or Guile’s aptly-named “Handcuffs”, a cheeky reference to the infamous glitch from the original Street Fighter II which disables opponents for a couple seconds using (what else?) a pair of handcuffs. Of course, these aren’t even the craziest moves: Sagat raises his eyepatch and showcases his “Evil Eye” to stun opponents; Zangief can stun opponents with an Airplane Spin and Balrog gains a special command block with the ability to reflect projectiles. Super Combos also return from SSF2T, though this time, performing special moves fills the bar far more quickly than inflicting damage with standard attacks or taking damage. Also, the majority of the cast have at least two in this game, as opposed to Super Turbo’s single Super Combo. This effectively means that the developer was allowed to formulate original Super Combos for official SF characters: E. Honda gets a “Super Hundred Hand Slap”; Ken receives a command grab super known as the “Rengoku Gurama” and Sagat receives the “Tiger Crossfire”, a barrage of both high and low Tiger Shots which, if I’m gonna be honest, feels much more fitting for the character compared to the official Tiger Cannon attack that debuted in the Alpha games.

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Yeah, it’s goofy — but it’s the kind of goofy I love.

SF:TM also added in a few unique mechanics of its own, at least from the standpoint of the game’s release. First off, there are “Interrupt Moves” – otherwise known as “Reversals” – but functionally, they’re identical to the Alpha Counters of its contemporary, Street Fighter Alpha. While blocking, players can perform a specific motion depending on the character, and perform a standard special move as a counterattack, but with a unique green shadow effect. Next, you’ve got “Comeback Moves” (or “Danger Moves”) which feel like they could have been inspired by SNK’s Desperation Moves. They’re effectively unique, more powerful special moves that can only be performed when a character’s health is low enough for “DANGER” to flash on their health bar. Most characters only have one, but they vary from Guile’s powered up Sonic Boom to Cammy tossing grenades. Throws can be escaped with a specific input, but characters can also counter throws into a “counter throw” of their own, which can be further countered with a “Reverse”, which in turn can also be countered one final time with a “Slam Master” technique. Players are also given the option to perform a “Regeneration” move when their Super Combo gauge is full, restoring a portion of their health in the process. As usual, the command varies from character to character.

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Oh look, Fei Long!

The arcade ladder consists of 14 matches, with the player facing off against the entire roster (including a mirror match) and a final fight with a powered-up M. Bison. Of course, the game also boasts a few secret modes, including a “Tag Team” mode, which honestly plays more like the 2-on-2 mode present in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3: players can’t tag their characters at will, the second one just switches in after the first one is defeated. There’s also a special mode that extends combos even further than the game typically does, as well as the secret characters which are unlocked with codes on the character select, just like Akuma was in Super Turbo.

Personally, I think the gameplay is extremely stupid – but “fun stupid”, if that makes any sense. SF:TM game clearly falls into the category of kusoge, but the clear insanity behind this game doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. In fact, I’d almost consider it a precursor to the popular Marvel crossover games, which wouldn’t even start until the following year. It doesn’t hurt that there were some interesting concepts in this game, especially some of those original special moves. It’s just a damn shame that this game never received a true home port – but I’ll touch more on that later.

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Seriously, reflecting fireballs would feel cheap, if it weren’t so hilarious.

The graphics are a mixed bag. Like I said earlier, most of the actors from the Street Fighter movie itself reprised their roles in the game, but Incredible Technologies decided to go one step further and deck out the character’s in more game-accurate outfits, at least to the best of their abilities. Sometimes, this works out fairly well – Cammy’s outfit was on-point – other times, not so much – it looks like they drew Balrog’s hair on in Microsoft Paint! Each character had between 600-800 frames of animation filmed and it shows. If anything, the animation in SF:TM has the exact opposite issue that Mortal Kombat had: a lot of characters look so smooth, they fall into the uncanny valley. The backgrounds, on the other hand, appear to be made mostly by using a combination 3D models to create pre-rendered images and similar live-action images, though there’s a clear preference for the former. On the plus side, Ralph Melgosa – the game’s artist – did an excellent job of representing several key areas from the film. My personal favorites would have to be the Tong Warehouse, based on the cage match where Ryu and Ken fought Vega (surrounded by a crowd that looks like they got lost on the way to Pit Fighter) and the Dungeon, a torture chamber, with various characters in a state of distress. There are various points where looping video clips from the movie and other similar graphics appear on various video screens, with fairly good quality. Similar clips litter the game’s attract mode and Versus screens are home to looping animations of the various characters posing in action shots that were clearly shot for the game. If you aren’t sufficiently nostalgic for the era this game came out in, the game is clearly hideous – and even then, it’s safe to argue that the Mortal Kombat games at the time were much more aesthetically appealing. I will give SF:TM one thing though: I think it’s a really nice touch that when a character is defeated with a Super Combo, their health bar explodes.

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No, I’m being serious.

Likewise, the game’s sound design is generally unappealing. The game’s default soundtrack is painfully forgettable, with the most recognizable song being best described as “generic metal”. I’m not sure what kind of sound Kyle Johnson, the game’s composer, was going for, but it’s not impressive. What’s really sad about it is that he also managed to come up with some good arrangements of SF2 themes using standard MIDI instruments, but they were mainly used in the game’s endings. However, there are special codes to activate each character’s SF2 theme – as well as Fei Long and Blanka’s – in combat, which honestly makes the game that much more enjoyable. The sound effects aren’t really anything to write home about either, particularly the voices. I’m not sure if they actually got the actors from the film to record voiceovers, but any time a character tries to say something in Japanese, my skin crawls. Chun-Li’s constant screams of “Yattai” (obviously a mispronunciation of her win quote “Yatta!” – meaning “I did it!” – from Street Fighter II) is one of the worst sounds I’ve ever heard anywhere, let alone in a video game. Seriously, listening to this would give even the most bitter critic a new appreciation for the English dubs in more modern entries in the series. The sound effects are serviceable for the most part. At times, they sound kind of cartoony, which really doesn’t fit with the game’s aesthetic, but that just ends up being more funny than annoying and adds to the game’s “charm”.

Street Fighter: The Movie was by no means the arcade smash hit that Street Fighter II was, but it’s still a fascinating curiosity. For all of their failings, Incredible Technologies made a game with the best of intentions and it’s clear that they were definitely fans of the series. While it was clearly made as an attempt to capitalize on Mortal Kombat’s popularity eclipsing Street Fighter in the West, it still felt like a worthwhile experiment on Capcom’s part. Honestly, I’d love to see their full pitch for Street Fighter III – the inclusion of characters from the original Street Fighter and Saturday Night Slam Masters clearly shows they knew Capcom’s history. That or a second revision where they could’ve gotten the rest of their planned content into the game. Unfortunately, IT’s adaptation of Street Fighter: The Movie would be lost to the ages: it never received a home port. In its place, Capcom took it upon themselves to adapt the movie themselves…

Interlude: The Console Release

Street Fighter: The Movie – known as “Street Fighter: Real Battle on Film” in Japan, a title so ridiculous, I instantly fell in love with it – was released on the Saturn and PlayStation on August 11, 1995 in Japan, while releasing in North America and Europe later that year. In fact, it was a PlayStation launch title in North America.

Those are probably the nicest words anyone’s ever said about it. Throughout the fifth generation, there was a long-standing argument over which licensed movie tie-in game was the worst, and the two most prominent choices for the top slot were SF: The Movie and The Crow: City of Angels. Ironically, both of those games were actually published in North America and Europe by the same company, Acclaim. Capcom handled publishing duties for Real Battle on Film in their home country of Japan. While there’s no concrete information about the development of this version, it’s generally been inferred that Capcom was disappointed with the arcade version and decided to take matters into their own hand for the home release.

The home console version was a completely different beast from its arcade counterpart. For starters, Blade and his fellow Bison troopers were all removed from the game, replaced with Blanka and Dee Jay, while Akuma was reestablished as a secret character. The gameplay received a complete overhaul, effectively running on a modified version of the SSF2T engine. The game doesn’t feel quite as smooth as that one, but it does add a new mechanic just to differentiate it from its clear inspiration. This game contains “Super Special Moves”, which are functionally identical to the EX Moves found in Street Fighter III and the ES Moves from Darkstalkers. When a character’s super meter is half-full – depicted by the bar turning from yellow to blue – characters can perform a single Super Special move. If they manage to fill their gauge, they can perform an unlimited number of these attacks. It’s a nice addition to the game, but it does little to mask the fact that in every other way, SF:TM’s home console release is just a half-baked knockoff of Super Turbo.

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However, I am in love with this Super Combo.

The game contains four modes. The main attraction is “Movie Battle”, a story mode that puts players in the role of Guile as he fights his way through the events of the film, with a time limit meant to represent Bison’s demand of a $20 billion ransom in three days. This mode has branching paths, which allows for extra replay value and rewards players with a music video of the film’s theme, “Something There” by Japanese pop music duo Chage & Aska. There’s also “Street Battle”, which is effectively an arcade mode, a dedicated “Versus Mode” and “Trial Mode”, where players face off against the entire roster in order to set records based on their high score and the time they take to run through the entire roster. In other words, aside from the Story Mode, it’s effectively the standard for most of Capcom’s fighting game home ports at the time.

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Story Mode did have branching paths, which would add replay value if I were willing to play it again.

SF:TM’s home release used the same digitized character graphics as the arcade original, though they had to be compressed severely and have several frames of animation cut to run on home consoles. Miguel A. Núñez, Jr. portrays Dee Jay in the game, just like in the film, while Blanka’s complex and acrobatic moveset meant that he had to be portrayed by stuntman Kim Repia instead of his actor from the film, Robert Mammone. It’s generally assumed that Blanka and Dee Jay were built from the assets that Incredible Technologies didn’t have time to implement into their version of the game, but somehow, they seem to have had far less effort put into making them game-accurate compared to the rest of the cast. Dee Jay is just wearing a pair of plain of black pants, while Blanka just looks like a run-of-the-mill caveman wearing a pair of camo shorts – his green skin tone is incredibly muted in-game, to the point of being non-existent.

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I can see why these two weren’t prioritized in the arcade game.

The stages, on the other hand, are completely original creations, opting for a combination of digitized graphics taken straight from the film and traditional spritework. Many of them seem to be based on the same locales as the arcade version, but there are some unique stages, like Sagat’s banquet hall and what can only be described as an “illegal weapon stand”. The game also makes use of the CD technology at the time and includes several video clips and still shots from the film at good quality for the time. Though there are other times where aspects of the movie are converted into looping animated sprites that comes across as janky at best and unsettling at worst.

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So Ryu’s EX Shoryuken in this game is just Sakura’s Shou’ouken. Neat.

The game boasts a completely original soundtrack, composed by an unknown individual. I’m not entirely a fan of it, but it’s at least interesting – some of the compositions remind me of some of the original themes from X-Men vs. Street Fighter. Ironically, it sounds like they used the same MIDI instruments from the arcade version to arrange these tracks, which I think is a funny little connection between the two games. The sound effects are standard Capcom fare for the time, so it’s not worth mentioning in vivid detail. The game does boast an entirely new set of voice tracks, performed by unknown Japanese actors, thus mitigating the whole pronunciation issue. Of course, they end up entirely butchering any moves with English names, but from what I can tell, most people who actually remember this game seem to consider it a fair trade.

At best, the nicest thing I can really say about Real Battle on Film is that for roughly two years, it was the closest PlayStation and Saturn owners could get to playing Super Street Fighter II Turbo on their shiny new console. Considering that the first Street Fighter Collection came out in 1997 with not only a relatively authentic port of Super Turbo, but also the original Super and Alpha 2 Gold, the game’s only reason for existing became null and void. I’ve actually seen people on the internet claiming that this game was better than they remember, because a lot of the bad press apparently came from its association with the arcade game, but at least that version was entertaining. As misguided and grandiose as Incredible Technologies’ aspirations were with their version, at least the arcade release didn’t feel like a lazy, cynical cash grab. I’d go so far as to say that it even seems like Capcom themselves didn’t want to make this home conversion in the first place. Whatever effort Capcom put into this clearly fell short of redeeming the original’s fun stupidity into anything that even resembles one of their more mediocre efforts during the golden age of fighting games – and alas, that’s exactly when this came out.

Street Fighter EX

While the games based on Street Fighter’s live-action film were clearly a reaction to Street Fighter’s dwindling popularity in the West and the rise of Mortal Kombat, the genesis of the Street Fighter EX games was clearly related to the rise of 3D fighting games. By the time the first SFEX released on December 19, 1996, heavy hitters like Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Soul Edge and even Dead or Alive had already been established, not to mention several more titles that have since been lost to time. Near the tail end of the fourth generation of video games, audiences had become far more enamored with polygonal 3D models over “outdated” 2D sprites. The fifth generation only served to kick this obsession into overdrive and both the consumer base and various publications considered 2D completely outdated, forcing even well-established series like Super Mario and Castlevania to make the jump into the third dimension. Capcom was no exception to this rule: in addition to creating entirely new franchises, they took popular franchises like Street Fighter and MegaMan into 3D to capitalize on this new trend.

I’ll be honest, this is the only game on this list that I really have vivid memories of from childhood. In fact, my best friend and I actually ended up bonding over this game. He’d recently switched to my school when we were both in sixth grade and we had a tendency of trading PS1 games with one another when we’d first met. I forget what I gave him in return, but I managed to score Tobal No. 1 and Street Fighter EX plus α (more on that later) off of him, at least temporarily before he wanted them back. To this day, he’s still my best friend, so at least I got something out of that temporary trade besides some good memories.

While Capcom sought Western expertise for their movie tie-in, they decided that keeping things closer to home was crucial for bringing a new dimension to Street Fighter. Enter the fine folks at ARIKA. Founded in 1995 by a handful of ex-Capcom employees and named for its founder, Akira Nishitani – one of the men behind Street Fighter II and Final Fight – ARIKA was among the first in a long line of developers that spun-off from Capcom: before there were Inti Creates and PlatinumGames, there was ARIKA. Ironically, Street Fighter EX was the first title ARIKA developed, but they would go on to create a host of other titles, including the Tetris: The Grand Master series, numerous games in Nintendo’s 3D Classics series on the 3DS and the Endless Ocean games on the Wii.

For the longest time, little was known about the development of Street Fighter EX. However, in order to garner attention for their most recent project – more on that later – they actually released footage from various prototypes throughout the game’s development last year. The models started off fairly simply, almost resembling the characters in the original Virtua Fighter with blank textures, but the style would eventually evolve to resemble 1995’s Tekken 2. There was also rampant speculation that Capcom was able to feed ARIKA information based on Star Gladiator, their own internally developed 3D fighting game which had come out a few months prior. However, ARIKA’s vice president Ichiro Mihara insisted that as ARIKA was an independent developer and not a subsidiary of Capcom, that they had to come up with their own solutions for developing a 3D Street Fighter that maintained its 2D roots.

Street Fighter EX was released in arcades on Sony’s ZN-1 hardware, which was essentially built off of the original PlayStation’s hardware. Capcom, like many companies at the time, developed their own variant of this hardware – though they kept the “Sony ZN-1” designation – which was host to both internally developed titles like the aforementioned Star Gladiator and Battle Arena Toshinden 2, as well as Judge Dredd: The Game and NBA Jam Extreme from Acclaim.

 

There really isn’t any known overarching storyline in Street Fighter EX and no concrete evidence for where it would take place in the Street Fighter franchise if it were canon. The closest I ever really came to information on the subject was schoolyard rumors that implied that it was supposed to have taken place between Street Fighter II and III – ironic for reasons that will become apparent later.

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The percentage meter was a nice touch.

Regardless, several characters from SF2 appeared in the game’s base roster – Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile and Zangief – but they were joined by some original characters on the roster, with unique backstories all their own. Hokuto was the heir to the Mizugami family, a family vested in the martial art of Kobjutsu. Upon her 17th birthday, she discovers the existence of her older brother Kairi, who disappeared when she was an infant. She sets off on a journey to find her long-lost brother, not knowing of her curse: if she should ever meet with her brother, the two will fight to the death. Doctrine Dark was once a brave soldier named Holger, serving under Guile until a chance encounter with Rolento that left him physically and emotionally scarred. D. Dark has marked both Rolento and Guile for death, as he blames both of them for his current condition. Pullum Purna is the daughter of a wealthy Saudi Arabian man who seeks revenge for her grandfather, who was found in a hypnotic state after reading a book with the word “Shadaloo” on its cover. Cracker Jack was once a powerful bouncer from Las Vegas who ended up becoming a member of an elite group of bodyguards known as (what else?) the “Crackers”. Eventually, he decided to leave to live life on his own terms, but when a crime organization decides to go after him for unknown reasons, he decides to elude them by becoming a bodyguard once more. But the game’s breakout character was clearly Skullomania: once an average salesman named Saburo Nishikoyama, his superiors forced him to dress like a superhero due to his poor sales. During his performance, he felt an indescribable passion well up inside him and decided to become a crime fighting vigilante for real.

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Say it with me now: “Exprosive”.

 

There were also a few hidden characters, all of which were time-released – added to the playable roster after the machine was left on for a set amount of time, but most of them could also be activated early with a special code in the game’s dipswitch test menu. Akuma was one of the game’s secret characters, though as usual, he could be unlocked with a special code on the character select screen. The rest of the secret characters are totally original. First, there’s Hokuto’s brother Kairi, who has lost his memories on his travels, wandering the world with his only memory being the phrase “you must challenge your limits”. Darun Mister is an Indian wrestler who is acting as Pullum’s bodyguard, but also wishes to face off with Zangief after hearing of his exploits. Blair Dame is the daughter of a wealthy Monegasque family who has decided to travel the world along with her friend Pullum. She’s also Cracker Jack’s client. Finally, there’s Allen Snider, the self-proclaimed greatest living Karate master in the United States who lost his first match to a young Ken Masters in the All-American Martial Arts tournament. Misinterpreting Ken’s advice that he was just “a frog in the well”, Allen decided to develop new techniques based on Ken’s, in order to defeat him and show that he’s the best martial artist in the world. There are also two entirely unplayable bosses in the game: M. Bison and the original character, Garuda – a former hero who lost his way and was overtaken by evil forces, becoming a demon. He wanders endlessly, awakened through the power of negative emotions like the Satsui no Hado.

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Two characters with a short but memorable tenure.

 

Despite making a big deal about bringing Street Fighter into 3D, Street Fighter EX was actually an early attempt at creating a 2.5D game: 3D visuals with traditional 2D gameplay. This was a conscious decision by ARIKA, as most 3D games at the time relied on mechanics like sidesteps to emphasis the third dimension capable in these games, which would leave signature attacks like projectiles – a Street Fighter staple – practically useless, as well as the traditional jumping mechanics. Special Moves and Super Combos also return and much like the Alpha games, the Super Meter can hold up to 3 bars. The special finishes also return, though this time, the traditional “starburst” background animation is associated with special moves: Super Combos get a brand-new animation with a meteor flying through space.

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Again, not lying.

EX does add a few new mechanics. For the cost of one bar of Super Meter, characters can perform a “Guard Break” attack by pressing a punch and a kick of the same strength simultaneously. Successfully hitting this attack on an opponent who is blocking not only breaks their block, but also renders them dizzy for a short time. EX also emphasizes cancels far more than previous Street Fighters. Normal moves can be cancelled into Special Moves, Special Moves can be cancelled into other Special Moves and Super Combos and Super Combos can even be cancelled into each other. In fact, finishing opponents with a chain of Super Combos results in an animation of several asteroids flying across the screen. Also, performing “first attacks”, reversals and combos give players a bonus amount of Super Meter.

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Guard Break: the clear ancestor of the Focus Attack.

Honestly, Akira Nishitani’s Street Fighter experience shines in this game, as ARIKA did a pretty good job recreating SF’s gameplay in 3D, even if it’s not technically true 3D. This extends to the game’s single-player arcade mode, which consists of 10 fights against CPU-controlled opponents, with M. Bison as the final boss. I think one of the most interesting parts is that some of SFEX’s original characters actually feel like replacements for existing mainline Street fighter characters: Cracker Jack is a clear imitation of Balrog; Pullum Purna’s moveset reminds me of Cammy to some degree (her Drill Purrus is a dead ringer for Cammy’s Spiral Arrow) and Allen Snider seems like a more competent Dan – though Ryu and Ken’s Hurricane Kicks now look more like Dan’s Danpuukyaku and act more like Fei Long’s Rekkakens than the original moves.

As I said earlier, the graphics in SFEX remind me a lot of Tekken 2, which came out almost 2 years prior. EX focuses more on aesthetic than creating complex models. Not every character turns out looking as good as their 2D counterparts, but it’s generally pretty easy to tell which characters are supposed to be which. I think the really surprising part is that not all of ARIKA’s original characters are optimized for the 3D modelling process. You’d think they would’ve kept some of the designs simpler to accommodate the limitations of that style. The backgrounds also use the same style as Tekken 2: flat pre-rendered backgrounds on top of flat, three-dimensional fields.

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The addition of instant replays was a nice touch.

The game’s music was composed by three ex-Namco staff members: Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso and Takayuki Aihara. The themes in the game incorporated jazz, rock and electronica elements, creating a smooth sound. Honestly, it’s probably one of the first video game soundtracks I distinctly remember liking. It’s hard to pick my favorite tracks, but I’ll just name a few: Under Tube, Strange Sunset, Amusementive Crime, Stronger and Spinning Bird. The rest of the tracks are stellar as well, so the entire soundtrack is worth a listen. EX’s sound effects sound significantly different from the other games of the CPS2 era, likely due to the different hardware. This also had an effect on the voice acting: all of the voices sound much clear in this game. The interesting part is that all of the characters that were present in the Alpha games retain their voice actors from those titles, while Guile’s voice is provided by the same actor that voiced him in the anime, Street Fighter II V. Despite that, I’d have to say that the obvious standouts for the best voices would be Allen Snider and especially Skullomania – voiced by Osamu Hosoi and Issei Futamata respectively. Their voices just add some much personality to these characters, it’s hard to imagine them without them.

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EX was such a true Street Fighter game, it even had its own revisions.

On March 3rd, 1997, Street Fighter EX plus, an expanded update to the previous game, was released in both Japanese and North American arcades. It featured a revamped user interface, informs players when they receive meter bonuses (albeit with a pretty blatant typo), and replaces the color palettes for every returning character and stage. Also, both the secret characters and the bosses from EX were added to the base roster, with the playable versions of the boss characters being rebalanced for competitive play. However, more time-release characters were added to the game as well. Evil Ryu from Street Fighter Alpha 2 returns in this game, as well as Bloody Hokuto—referred to in the Japanese version as “Hokuto with Seal of Blood Broken” – a more powerful version of the existing character that has fallen victim to her family’s curse, lost to a killing intent instilled by her biological father. There are also two mysterious robots known as the Cycloids: Cycloid-β is a blue featureless 3D model resembling a male, while Cycloid-γ is a wire-frame model. Their backstories are unknown, but it’s heavily implied that they were the creations of Shadaloo who rebelled and escaped. Beta contains an assortment of motion attacks taken from the cast, while Gamma uses charge attacks.

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Multiple rocks.

EX plus would also serve as the basis for the home version — Street Fighter EX plus α – released on the original PlayStation in 1997. Fun fact: a Nintendo 64 release was also planned but cancelled for unknown reasons – a shame, because I would’ve loved to have seen Capcom work around the N64’s unique controller. EX+α reverts to the color palettes from the original SFEX but adds even more additional features. For starters, two more classic characters have been added to the base roster: Dhalsim from Street Fighter II and Sakura from SFA2, which probably explains the “Alpha” in the title. The secret characters from EX plus are still unlockable, but the methods for unlocking them are a lot simpler. The home release also boasts a few new stages, as well as a completely rearranged soundtrack like the PS1’s Tekken home releases. While I always think that arranged soundtracks from this era blow their source material out of the water, I’m actually a fan of both SFEX soundtracks. A shame that they didn’t include the original arcade version in this release, but I guess it wouldn’t have worked with the game’s new stages.

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Sakura fighting Dhalsim in Watch Mode. Yep, managed to cram a lot of stuff into one screenshot.

EX plus α also adds a fair amount of exclusive content to the home version. Each character receives a short, generally nonsensical cutscene as a bonus for completing the game on Arcade mode. The game also adds several modes, ranging from the requisite Versus and Practice modes, as well as Team Battle and Survival. EX+α also adds in a few unique modes of its own: Practice Mode has an “Expert” setting that challenges players to 16 tests, consisting of moves or combos for each character – a clear ancestor of the various “Trials” modes found in many modern fighting games. Completing these challenges earn points, which unlock various special features like the hidden characters and the “Options Plus” Menu. The Barrel Bonus game from Street Fighter II also returns as a hidden bonus in Practice Mode. Finally, there’s “Watch” mode, which allows players to select two CPU-controlled characters to fight each other and choose to watch them while controlling the camera, even able to watch the action from a first-person perspective.

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I could’ve gone for any other ending, but none of them had a wireframe dog in it.

Street Fighter EX was released to generally positive reviews at the time, owing to the fact that it managed to successfully recreate Street Fighter’s hectic action in a 3D space, as well as the console version’s multitude of extras. The game also managed to sell over 400,000 total copies worldwide during its first year on sale, qualifying for Sony’s Platinum and The Best lines of budget re-releases in both Europe and Japan respectively. Clearly, Capcom was also pleased with ARIKA’s efforts, as it didn’t take long for them to commission a sequel.

Street Fighter EX2

All things considered, Street Fighter EX2 was the best possible sequel ARIKA could have made to the original EX. Considered by many to be the best game in the trilogy, ARIKA took the gameplay and the graphics of the previous games and enhanced them to an unparalleled degree. Released in Japanese and North American arcades on May 26, 1998, EX2 continued the previous game’s reputation by wowing arcade-goers with a combination of fast-paced Street Fighter action and contemporary 3D graphics. This time, the action moved to the Sony ZN-2 Hardware, a slightly more advanced version of the ZN-1 with additional RAM, that would eventually be the home to other Capcom hits like Strider 2, Rival Schools, Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein (the sequel to Star Gladiator) and Tech Romancer.

The roster in this game is actually fairly different from its predecessor. Several characters from the previous game were cut in EX2: Akuma, M. Bison, Sakura, Evil Ryu, Bloody Hokuto, the Cycloids, Pullum Purna, Darun Mister, Allen Snider and Blair Dame are all missing in this release. However, EX2 does add a few characters, including Street Fighter mainstays Blanka and Vega, as well as some brand new original characters. Sharon is an A-Class agent for a secret intelligence organization, living a double life as a nun at the monastery she grew up in as an orphan. On one ill-fated mission, a key member of a crime syndicate she was investigating had a rose tattoo, the same one she has on her chest, but was unable to capture him or her target. After being under house arrest for neglecting her duties to both her employer and her monastery, she sets out for more answers. Sharon is unique in the sense that she fights using various firearms, in addition to military combat techniques. The other new character added to the base roster is Hayate, a Japanese swordsman from the traditional village of Kukunochi and the son of the legendary hero who sealed the beast of Orochi. He fights using a katana in his special moves but sticks to hand-to-hand combat for his standard attacks. There’s also the implication that he may have some relation to the monstrous Garuda.

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Welcome back, guys.

Like its predecessor, EX2 contains a few time-release secret characters. Kairi, sporting a brand-new, heavily modified design, and Garuda are among them. Garuda also serves as the game’s final boss. Two new characters also join the fray as hidden characters. Nanase is Kairi and Hokuto’s younger sister, fighting with an extendable staff. She goes on a search for her missing sister after her disappearance, only to discover the truth about Hokuto and their long-lost older brother Kairi, she sets off to prevent the two from meeting in mortal combat. In truth, Nanase doesn’t enjoy her training and wishes she could live life as a normal girl. Finally, there’s Shadowgeist – another vigilante in the same vein as Skullomania, but far more serious. Once just a normal man living under a harsh dictatorship, he decided to enhance his body with cybernetic parts after his wife was murdered and his daughter went missing. He fights against the cruel dictatorship of his country to protect its citizens from becoming victims like his family. When Skullomania encounters this dark hero, he actually believes him to be a supervillain, due to his cold, serious demeanor and imposing costume.

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Here’s Hayate!

The game’s arcade mode is fairly similar to the previous games, containing a standard arcade ladder with 10 fights against CPU-controlled opponents, culminating in a final fight against the demonic Garuda. However, if the player completes certain objectives, they may fight against one of the game’s secret characters for their penultimate fight. All of the mechanics from the previous game return as well, but EX2 adds something new of its own: “Excel Combos”. Short for “Extra Cancel Combos”, they’re effectively EX2’s equivalent of Custom Combos from the Street Fighter Alpha series, allowing characters more freedom when linking basic and special moves. Using an Excel Combo costs only 1 bar of Super Meter and while it only lasts for a few seconds, it can be activated in the middle of a standard combo. As such, if the player has multiple bars, this mechanic can make for some long, devastating combos. There’s also the addition of “Cancel Breaks”, which allow players to cancel a blocked attack into a Guard Break.

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It’s just Custom Combos with prettier effects.

The graphics seem to follow the same basic template as everything else: similar to the previous game, but clearly improved. The models seem a little more advanced, allowing for more complex animations: Ken has a real Hurricane Kick this time around, though Ryu keeps the unique one from the previous game. Likewise, the textures are much more detailed, both on the character models and the stage backgrounds. In fact, some of the backgrounds are animated this time around, as opposed to just being static. Put simply, this game makes its predecessor look like a test run. While the original EX attempted to recreate Street Fighter to the best of their ability, EX2 appears to be going in its own direction, going for much more fantastic designs than its predecessor. This is particularly evident in the stage designs themselves: while the original game had more grounded designs like Tiananmen Square in China, a sewer and an Air Force airfield at sunset, EX2 goes for locales like a natural history museum filled with dinosaur models, a church, a train yard awash in psychedelic colors and the Japan-exclusive Amusementive Crime 2, which just looks like a Lisa Frank-inspired drug trip.

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Apparently, doing three straight Super Combos destroys the entire Solar System.

The composers from the previous game also return, bringing their unique blend of jazz, rock and dance music back with them. While the first game’s soundtrack holds a special nostalgic place in my heart, it’s hard to describe my feelings for the sequel’s compositions: it’s more of the same, but that’s exactly what I wanted. It’s actually hard to choose favorites, but I’ll try to narrow them down. The Infinite Earth, Lost Sea, Flash Train, White Field and Fake World are probably my choices for the top five tracks in the game, but honestly, I’d say they’re all worth listening to. Honorable mention to “Street Fighter EX2”, the song that plays during the game’s introductory cinematic. The sound effects are fairly similar to those of the previous game and many of the returning characters retain their voice actors, with the exception of Ken, who is replaced by Go Yamane, who also plays Blanka in this game. In other words, this game sounds as good as it plays.

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Another game, another string of revisions.

The following year, an enhanced version of EX2, dubbed Street Fighter EX2 Plus was released in Japanese and North American arcades. While the previous EX+ felt like a standard revision, EX2 Plus goes well beyond, almost adding as much to the game as Super Street Fighter II did to the previous version, effectively bordering on being another sequel in its own right. For starters, several characters were added to the roster. M. Bison, Pullum Purna and Darum Mister all return from the original EX, while Sagat makes his 3D debut, alongside two completely brand-new characters. Vulcano Rosso is a mysterious martial artist hailing from Italy, as dangerous as he is flamboyant. He was once the member of a mysterious organization dedicated to taking over all of Europe but left when his lover was murdered by a traitorous member of the group, causing him to swear his revenge. Area is the teenage daughter of a scientific inventor who is a genius in her own right. She’s modified two of his most recent inventions for combat: a pair of rocket skates and a giant mechanical arm, codenamed Cancer. She enters various fighting tournaments to acquire data on strong martial artists, as well as advertise her father’s inventions. However, Hayate was dropped from the game’s roster for unknown reasons. In his place, Nanase was added to the game’s base roster. The game also changes up the HUD – much like the original EX plus – and there are some brand-new stages added to the game as well.

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EX2 Plus brought back one of Street Fighter’s most beloved characters. Also, some guy named Sagat.

Of course, various tweaks were also made to the gameplay experience. First and foremost, there’s the addition of “Meteor Combos”: special Super Combos that require all three bars to perform. While specific character had access to these “Level 3” Supers throughout the EX series, EX2 Plus makes it so that each character on the entire roster has one. The arcade mode has also been significantly tweaked. There are only 7 CPU-controlled opponents this time, with Garuda, Sagat and a powered-up version of M. Bison dubbed “Bison II” acting as the player’s final opponent. However, there are also additional bonus stages between two of the fights. Between the second and third opponents, players are faced with a Cycloid that is impervious to every attack, aside from Excel Combos. Players have either 30 seconds or until their Super Combo Gauge runs out to defeat this opponent. Then, between the fourth match and the fight with Garuda, players are tasked with destroying a falling satellite in 30 seconds. However, while the main body of the satellite is the focus, there are some additional parts that can be destroyed for bonus points. There are also falling meteors that can damage the character if they collide with them, but they can also be destroyed for additional bonus points. Definitely a nice change of pace from the traditional arcade ladder.

 

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Way cooler than beating up some old Honda.

This would carry over to the home version, once again released on the original PlayStation later that same year. Still going under the title “Street Fighter EX2 Plus”, this home port didn’t add quite as much to the arcade version as the previous game, but it’s certainly a healthy release. Kairi, Shadowgeist and Garuda remained hidden characters, but Hayate was added back into the game as an unlockable character as well. Team Battle, Expert Mode and the Barrel Break mini-game also return from EX plus α, but the previous Watch Mode was replaced with “Director Mode”, which allowed players to record a short round against a dummy opponent and manipulate the camera during replays. Also, while EX2 Plus didn’t add any individual character endings, it did allow players to fight against a Cycloid dummy during the credits.

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A true dream match.

While Street Fighter EX2 wasn’t quite as well-known as its predecessor – I certainly never knew about it at the time – it was about as popular with reviewers. Though by this point, the game was considered less unique than its predecessor and the concept had lost a fair amount of its novelty by the second game. Still, in the days when 3D fighting games were considered gorgeous and 2D fighters were considered obsolete, EX2 still managed to impress audiences. As such, Capcom decided to commission ARIKA for another sequel, but first, they were working on a side project of their own…

Interlude: Fighting Layer

This might be the most obscure game I’ve covered throughout this entire retrospective (and that includes Avenger). Released exclusively in Japanese arcades in December 1998 – directly between the original Street Fighter EX2 and EX2 Plus – Fighting Layer was published by Namco, not Capcom. Yet it is still directly linked to the Street Fighter EX sub-franchise: it was developed by ARIKA, likely in an attempt to forge their own fighting game legacy, has similar gameplay to the SFEX games and contains two familiar characters.

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What a cliquey intro.

While Allen Snider and Blair Dame were absent from both iterations of Street Fighter EX2, they were playable fighters in Fighting Layer. While I can understand why Allen Snider was shuffled over to this new project – he wasn’t even ARIKA’s only “shoto-clone” after all – Blair’s absence always struck me as far more confusing. Regardless, it seems like both characters’ absence from the other SFEX games was the price for using them in this original project. However, they’re joined by an original cast of eccentric characters that make Skullomania look like another generic fighter in a karate gi. Of course, Fighting Layer has one of those too: Tetsuo Kato is the game’s protagonist by default, an anti-heroic karateka who cares more about finding powerful opponents than anything else. He tires of life in Japan, travelling to new lands, seeking a worthy challenge.

(Try to bear with me for most of these character backstories: they only appear to exist on ARIKA’s website and are strictly in Japanese – which I don’t speak – so I’m trying to interpret it with Google and Bing’s translators, transcribing them into something coherent and accurate.)

George Jensent is a plainclothes cop who simply travels to where the tournament is taking place in order to investigate it. Many people have speculated that he’s loosely based on Chuck Norris, which is admittedly much more unique than the standard Bruce Lee clone. Hong Gillson is a Taekwondo practitioner seeking to surpass the fighters he’d heard died while visiting the Zeus Islands, the location of the tournament. Lan Yinghua is a young woman who uses a nunchaku as a hair accessory. She’s just travelling to the islands to see if a story her grandmother told her when she was just a little girl is true. Janis Luciani is a psychotic, blood-crazed assassin who fights with knives, either tossing them or slashing her opponents.

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Gotta love these unique stages.

Exodus is a flamboyant and villainous heel wrestler, who wishes to surpass the legendary Clemence Kleiber. Exodus fights with a combination of pro wrestling holds and dirty tricks, like steel chairs and his fiery breath. Shang Fenghuang is a thief who fights with a special pair of claw-tipped gloves using a self-taught style, looking for wealth and riches. Jig Jid Bartol is a Mongolian who fights with a style similar to a sumo wrestler, with stomps so powerful they can move the Earth itself. His goal is simple: he believes that if he fulfills a prophecy, then his people will know prosperity. Sessyu Tsukikage is a mysterious ninja, hellbent on fulfilling his unknown duties. He fights with shurikens, a meteor hammer and various other weapons. Cappricio is the witch doctor of a long-forgotten tribe, seeking to prove the strength of his people. His fighting style is clearly the most bizarre out of the main cast, fighting by planting mushrooms that deal huge damage to characters if they step on them, as well as a command grab where he grabs his opponent by the leg and proceeds to rub them against his back, as if he were toweling off with them. Meanwhile, Allen and Blair’s backstories remain the same from Street Fighter EX: Blair’s a rich girl travelling the world and Allen still seeks to surpass his unnamed rival.

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Seriously, Capriccio has a command grab where he towels off with his opponent. Wacky.

There are also three secret characters in the game that can be unlocked by – you guessed it – time release. Clemence Kleiber is considered among the strongest professional wrestlers in history and he fights strictly with wrestling holds, preferring to showcase his strength in fair combat. Joe Fendi is an ex-professional boxer who was thrown out of the sport after he lost an eye. Enraged by this decision, he seeks a strong fight to prove that he’s still the rightful champion. Then there’s Preston Ajax, a military veteran who was modified into a fighting cyborg. Despite his powerful body, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, haunted by the memories of war in his dreams. Finally, there’s the unplayable final boss: Vold Ignitio. Though he looks like a distinguished nobleman, he fights with the ferocity of a wild animal, literally bouncing from wall to wall and biting his opponent. He even drags them across the floor with his teeth. Vold also boasts a mysterious counter attack: one where he trades places with his opponent, performing their attack on them. This works with any physical attack, even Barrage Blows (the game’s equivalent of Super Combos).

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Still shots really don’t do this game justice.

For the most part, Fighting Layer plays pretty much identically to the original Street Fighter EX, though there are some subtle changes. Guard Breaks no longer require a bar of meter to perform, but in order to get the guard break properties, the move must be held for a short period of time to allow for a full charge. In other words, they’ve essentially become the Focus Attacks from Street Fighter IV. Likewise, the combo system is significantly more freeform in this game, better resembling the Marvel vs. Capcom games than a Street Fighter title (unless you count SF:TM). There’s also an added emphasis on juggling compared to previous games: I wonder if that was an intentional homage to Namco’s own Tekken franchise.

Perhaps the biggest change to the game is the addition of sidestepping. By pressing forward on the joystick and a Heavy attack at the same time, players can move into the foreground (heavy kick) and background (heavy punch), allowing them to dodge their opponent’s attacks, working particularly well on projectiles. There’s also Easy Combination, a technique intended for novice players that essentially performs automatic combos by mashing a single button; Hard Reversals, that allow players to perform a special move on wake-up at the cost of a bar of meter; Just Hit, an almost parry-like technique which can be performed by attacking an opponent at the same time as they’re about to hit the player, and the Super Illusion, which allows players to perform an elaborate dodge and gives them a full meter by pressing all three kicks simultaneously. Unfortunately, that last technique can be used only once per match.

The arcade mode feels like a clear predecessor to the one found in EX2 Plus, but even more experimental. After fighting against two fighters in factory stages, players face off against a Knight who attacks with devastating force in what appears to be a cellar. The next two arenas are determined by whether they win or lose against this bonus fight: victory sends players to a garden and a temple labelled as the “Entrance Hall”, while failure leads to an airplane wreckage in the ocean and an aquarium. After that, players coming from the Entrance Hall have the choice of facing off against one of three animal opponents in a single round match: a Falcon, a Tiger and a Shark – those coming from the Aquarium fight the shark by default, obviously.

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Wait, did you think I was joking?

Whichever animal the player chooses also determines their sub-boss: the falcon leads to Joe Fedri, the Tiger leads to Preston Ajax and the shark leads to Clemence Kleiber. After that, it’s a boss fight against Vold Ignitio who starts with just his psychotic animal instincts, but after beating him in a single round, he becomes far more lucid and gains a lot of new techniques, including that weird teleportation counter I mentioned earlier. In that sense, he kind of reminds me of Seth from SF4 – effectively toying with his opponents before unleashing his true strength. Defeat him and you’re treated to a short ending sequence, rendered in-game and without any dialogue. After that, players are shown the staff roll, with an animation of the player’s character escaping from the island in the background

There are also a few secret fights which can be unlocked under specific criteria. Blair and Allen don’t appear as standard opponents in the arcade ladder, but after completing specific criteria, they can appear as special opponents in the fourth and fifth stages respectively. Tackle both of them and there’s a chance to face off against a secret final boss: a much more powerful version of the Knight from the bonus stage. Armed with nigh-unbreakable defense and new moves such as a tossable lance, it’s truly a challenge meant for the most skilled Fighting Layer players. As with the standard Knight, it’s a single round fight: win or lose, players are granted the staff roll afterwards.

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It’s like fighting Dan in the original Street Fighter Alpha all over again.

I’d have to say that the graphics are about on par with Street Fighter EX2 in this game. The character models are still fairly blocky, not really living up to the graphical fidelity that other Namco System 12 games like Tekken 3 (which came almost two years prior) and Soul Calibur (which came out the same year) showcases. Still, Fighting Layer does offer a few new visual tricks compared to its predecessors. For example, there’s some additional geometry on each of the stages, rendering objects like pillars, walls and even the fish in the aquarium level as 3D models, as opposed to elements on the flat pre-rendered backgrounds. By this point, it also seems as if ARIKA has mastered the intricacies of designing characters that they can recreated as a 3D model. Though I’ve got to say, this game had much more bizarre designs in general. One has to wonder if any of these characters were ideas that Capcom rejected from the EX series in the first place.

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It’s interesting to see a guy use real wrestling moves in a fighting game.

Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso and Takayuki Aihare all return as the game’s composers this time around, offering a similar sound. It’s hard for me to say if I like these tracks as much than the ones present in the EX games themselves, but it’s still quality music. One interesting little diversion from the SFEX titles (and fighting games in general) is that, as opposed to hearing the CPU character’s theme music when fighting in regular battles, the player character’s theme plays the entire time – though the various boss fights and bonus stages have their own unique themes. It’s a unique concept that I’m surprised more fighting games haven’t explored, especially in the modern “post-arcade” era. I guess if I were to name any favorite tracks, I’d have to bring up Allen and Blair’s themes, as well as the music associated with Janis, Cappricio, Shang Fenghuang and the sub-bosses. Having said that, there aren’t really any bad tracks on this soundtrack in general. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that the game’s soundtrack was actually released on CD in Japan back in 1999, making it one of the few physical goods associated with the game. The soundtrack even comes with an arranged version of Tetsuo’s theme, which makes me wonder how the rest of the tracks could’ve sounded in a console release.

Fighting Layer’s sound effects can be summarized in one word: adequate. All of the characters have voice acting, obviously done in Japanese as the game was only intended for release in that country. The real star of the game, however, is the narrator. Voiced by Alex Easley, the game’s narration goes well beyond the call of duty, getting extremely excited for even the most mundane attacks. And that doesn’t even begin to describe just how insane he gets when the player does something that’s actually impressive. Despite the game’s obscurity, I’d honestly have to say that Fighting Layer’s announcer deserves to be recognized at the same levels as the ones from games like Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter Alpha 3.

It’s a shame that Fighting Layer never received any form of a home release. The game isn’t amazing, but it certainly is interesting. It almost seems indicative of a much more experimental ARIKA that was clearly setting out to build its own legacy in the genre that the company’s founder put on the map. Not much is known about the game’s development in general, but I still wonder if a home console release was even considered at any point. All the same, it would be back to business as usual after this odd little spinoff. EX2 Plus was released in Arcades the following year and after that, ARIKA returned to Capcom for one last fighting game collaboration…

Street Fighter EX3

Street Fighter EX3 holds a unique distinction: it was the first major Street Fighter game without an arcade release. A launch title for the PlayStation 2 in both Japan and North America, SFEX3 was meant to be the culmination of all of ARIKA’s work on the series. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t live up to the reputation of the previous games, and to make matters worse, it was the first Street Fighter game released on Sony’s foray into the sixth-generation of consoles. In the end, it just didn’t seem to evolve that much from previous titles, at least not in any meaningful way. In the end, the game was too similar to its PS1-era predecessors mechanically, but also (and perhaps more fatally) in its visuals. Perhaps this was a petty thing to hold against EX3, but audiences had been whipped up into a frenzy about the capabilities of Sony’s long-awaited successor to the original PlayStation and ARIKA’s last Street Fighter effort just didn’t measure up.

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This sure was an intro.

There’s not much of a storyline involved in this game, even compared to the previous games. Speaking of which, the roster is just a greatest hits collection of the cast of EX plus α and EX2 Plus – there are some noticeable omissions from both games though. The base roster consists of Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, Zangief, Dhalsim, Blanka, Vega, Sakura, Hokuto, Doctrine Dark, Cracker Jack, Skullomania, Sharon and Nanase. There’s a new character as well, Ace – but he’s got a unique concept behind him, which I discuss in greater detail later. There are also some characters that can be unlocked through standard gameplay: Sagat, M. Bison, Garuda, Shadowgeist, Kairi, Pullum, Area, Darun and Vulcano Rosso. Finally, there are two other hidden characters, Evil Ryu and “Bison II” from EX2 Plus. Bloody Hokuto also appears, but she’s been relegated to a transformation Super Combo, as opposed to a separate character.

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Not a bad roster.

While the base mechanics of EX3 are fairly similar to previous games in the series, there are quite a few new concepts added to the game as well. For starters, Guard Break has been replaced with Surprise Blow, which is functionally similar except that it no longer costs any meter, but it also doesn’t work on blocking opponents. There’s also the new Momentary Combo, which allows players to easily cancel into a special move from another special move by hitting either punch or kick. Each character has a specific move assigned to both types of buttons and the only real limit on performing a Momentary Combo is that characters cannot perform the same special move twice consecutively. The timing needed to perform a Momentary Combo is strict, rewarding skilled players.

Perhaps the most radical departure from previous games is that EX3 focuses more on 2-on-2 tag team fights, as opposed to the previous game’s emphasis on 1-on-1 combat. This new focus has led to quite a few tag-related mechanics added to the game. First, changing partners can be done by pressing heavy punch and heavy kick simultaneously, but the rules are a bit different compared to Capcom’s Vs. series. For starters, there is a limit to how often a player can switch characters – every time the character’s swap, a gauge near the player’s health bars empties. The gauge displays the words “Stand By” when players are allowed to tag. Also, tags can be prevented by the opponent by hitting the incoming character while they’re switching.

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Nearly as crazy as the Marvel games, that’s for sure.

Then there’s the Critical Parade – an attack much like the “Cross Fever” mechanic from the original Marvel vs. Capcom which allows players to bring out both of their characters for a limited time, with total unlimited access to all their Level 1 Super Combos for the entire duration of the attack. In fact, on the character select screen, players can choose to control both characters simultaneously (Manual), have a CPU-controlled partner (Semi-Auto) or let a friend control the other character for the duration of the match (Manual 2P). There’s also the addition of Meteor Tag Combos, that let specific teams perform a devastating team super combo at the cost of all three bars of the active character’s Super Gauge. Of course, these attacks generally require a specific character on point to pull off, but they’re also spectacular to watch. Finally, there’s “Emotional Flow” – when one teammate is knocked out, the remaining character gains their Super Combo Gauge, meaning that the remaining characters has a whopping 6 bars of meter at their disposal.

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I was gonna use Ryu and Ken as an example, but Pullum bouncing around is hilarious.

The game’s primary single-player mode is “Original Mode” – it wasn’t in arcades, so they couldn’t call it “Arcade Mode”, right? Original Mode is pretty unique as far as a single-player mode could be from a fighting game circa 2000. Players start by selecting a character, then are given the choice between fighting two sets of three opponents with minimal health. After defeating the last character, players are given the option to recruit them. Yes, that’s Original Mode’s main gimmick: players can recruit their opponents and create a team of up to 4 characters. The second opponent is a choice between two tag-teams. From this point on, players can choose to use their teammates or fight alone. The third fight is a 2-on-1 Dramatic Battle fight with the demonic Garuda (though players can choose to fight him 1-on-1), followed by another choice between two tag teams. Then a 2-on-1 tag fight with Sagat, followed a team battle consisting of all 4 characters (arranged in any order, aside from the original character always being saved for last) fighting the final boss, Shin Bison. After that, the player character receives a short text-only ending and then are invited to beat down as many generic thugs as they can during the staff roll.

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I don’t know why, but this always reminded me of Mortal Kombat.

Of course, there’s more to the game than just that. First, there’s Arena Mode – the game’s equivalent to “Versus Mode” – which allows for several options. Tag Battle is a 2-on-2 Tag Match; Dramatic Battle which allows players to fight against the computer 2-on-1 simultaneously or fight a group of 3 CPU-controlled opponents simultaneously; Team Battle mode allows for a team of up to 5 fighters face-off in continuous combat (with each victor receiving a slight health boost) and Multi-Play Mode, which allows players to use the PS2’s Multitap to do Tag or Dramatic Battles with more than 2 players. The game also contains a Practice Mode, which is entirely 2-on-2, but otherwise identical to those found in other fighting games.

Finally, there’s Character Edit Mode, and this is where Ace comes into play. Players can customize two different versions of Ace – imaginatively labelled as “Left Side” and “Right Side” – with various special moves, Super Combos and Meteor Combos that can be purchased in the in-game store using experience points. Experience Points are earned by completing various trials and the more moves purchased, the more Trials the player has access to. Players can assign 3 special moves, 2 Super Combos and 1 Meteor Combo to each Ace at a time. I think the most interesting part of this whole thing is that some of Ace’s moves actually come from missing characters – specifically Blair Dame and Allen Snider. In fact, both characters’ absence feels somewhat weird, especially considering that Blair gets namedropped in Jack’s ending.

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Seriously, the Trials modes of today could’ve learned from EX3.

The graphics in this game are the weakest element of the entire game. While ARIKA’s modelling has never pushed any hardware to its limits, it was at least appealing in its simplicity. EX3’s artstyle, on the other hand, is the thing nightmares are made of. Likely inspired by the PS2’s unprecedented power at the time, ARIKA decided to go for a more photorealistic look with many of the characters this time around. You’d think the awkwardness surrounding the Street Fighter live-action movie would’ve been enough to dissuade them from this decision, but no. This time around, they decided to drag classic Street Fighter characters kicking and screaming to the very nadir of the uncanny valley. Ryu, Chun-Li and Sakura all end up with faces that look like the demon children you’d expect to see in a Japanese horror movie. Equally horrifying is fan favorite Skullomania: the indentations of his face are visible through his mask, but they’re so exaggerated, it looks like his eyes were gouged out and he’s constantly screaming. And if that wasn’t bad enough, SFEX3 actually launched alongside Tekken Tag Tournament, perhaps one of the best-looking PS2 launch titles in North America. In Japan, things were a bit less decisive – Tekken wasn’t a launch title, but it did release later in the same month. Europe got it the worst though: Tekken Tag Tournament was a launch title, while EX3 didn’t release until March 2001. I mean, seriously, just compare these two screenshots:

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Reminder: these games launched the same day in North America.

It’s hard to believe that they came from the same system. I think the most baffling art is that the character profile art – seen on the character select – is in the same surreal style as previous games.

It doesn’t really help that the art design isn’t quite as inspired as previous titles. While previous games had you fighting in crazy locales like an amusement park, a space shuttle launch site and a meat locker, EX3’s stages border more on themes like “forest”, “ravine” and “ancient tomb”. They’re not particularly bad settings by any stretch of the imagination, they just seem a bit phoned in compared to previous games. It doesn’t help that there aren’t nearly as many levels as previous games in the sub-series. Maybe ARIKA focused so much on trying to wow us with the character models, they didn’t really put much effort into the stages.

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Seriously, the imprint of his face is horrifying.

Fortunately, the sound design lives up to previous games – but that’s mainly due to the fact that a lot of the music is recycled from the console soundtracks of the previous games. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any original compositions and they live up to the older tracks. Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso and Takayuki Aihara return, but are joined by newcomer Yasuhisa Watanabe. My favorite tracks in this game are Vega’s theme “Matador”; “Cute Mafia”, Nanase’s theme; “Coldman Rosso”, Vulcano Rosso’s theme and Blanka’s “BIRI-BIRI Red heat”, but the clear winner overall is “Iron Eyes”, Area’s theme.  The sound effects and voice acting are about on par with previous games – in fact, Ken’s voice actor from the original EX (and the Alpha games) returns for EX3.

At the time of the game’s release, Street Fighter EX3 was actually fairly well received, all things considered. It got fairly decent ratings in both Western and Japanese publications and even managed to make it into the top 10 of the Japanese sales charts the week it was released, selling a respectable 207,000 copies. Unfortunately, no other sales records exist for the game: it isn’t listed as one of Capcom’s Platinum Titles on their investor website, even though other externally-developed titles like Ducktales Remastered and DmC Devil May Cry appear – so it’s safe to assume that it didn’t reach the lofty 1 million sales mark.

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Then again, maybe it didn’t cost as much as those games, so maybe it still did well by Capcom’s metrics.

Years after the fact, opinions toward the game would shift, effectively looking at it as a misstep for the franchise, to the extent where it would even color the perception of the entire EX series negatively for some time. This reputation probably wasn’t helped by the fact that Street Fighter EX3 was the last original Street Fighter game for the better part of a decade, effectively ushering in a series hiatus that seemed permanent.

The paths of the three companies involved in these spinoffs diverged significantly. We all know of what happened to Capcom, but Incredible Technologies would go onto achieve relative success with their Golden Tee series, which they still produce to this day, along with Silver Strike, a bowling game in the same vein of Capcom Bowling, as well as various casino games. As for ARIKA, they still manage to find contracting work with other companies, working on projects including Capcom’s MegaMan Network Transmission and Nintendo’s Dr. Luigi.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve decided it was worth discussing these games. Well, in addition to having some fond memories associated with some of them, Capcom apparently recognizes the original characters from both the Movie games and the EX series as parts of the Street Fighter legacy. In addition to giving each character official profiles on Street Fighter V’s Shadaloo C.R.I. website, they were also included in last year’s character popularity poll, with Skullomania ranking in at an impressive 16th place overall. But while the characters from the Street Fighter movie appear to be owned by Capcom, ARIKA still holds the rights to the EX characters, which has made future appearances in Street Fighter games difficult from a legal standpoint.

However, on April Fools’ Day 2017, ARIKA revealed some test footage of what appeared to be a modern version of the Street Fighter EX and Fighting Layer engine – similar to the “Fighting Sampletech demo they produced for the Nintendo 3DS years prior. Dubbed “ARIKA EX”, the footage was met with overwhelming positive reception, leading to ARIKA greenlighting the project. In fact, it’s releasing today under the somewhat awkward title “Fighting EX Layer”, paying tribute to both of their previous fighting game projects. Admittedly, I’m still disappointed that they didn’t go with “Fighting Layer EX”: FLEX would’ve been a perfect acronym. Regardless, FEXL includes the return of such characters as Cracker Jack, Blair Dame, Allen Snider, Shadowgeist, Doctrine Dark, Hayate (by way of his near-identical modern-day descendant, who just so happens to also be named “Hayate”), Nanase (rechristened as “Sanase” after the memories of her previous life were sealed away), both the original Hokuto and her “Bloody” alter-ego (going by her true name “Shirase”), Kairi, Garuda, Darun Mister and of course, fan favorite Skullomania – all sporting new designs. While the game is set to launch exclusively on the PS4, ARIKA has mentioned that they’re considering releasing on additional platforms (including PC!) if the game does well, as well as producing additional characters. Call it an advertisement, but I’m just so excited that this game exists in general and I wish the fine people at ARIKA all the success in the world.

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Seriously, I’m pulling for this to be a success.

With that being said, it will be some time before I wrap up this retrospective with the final article: delving into Street Fighter’s modern era. I originally intended to release this one at the end of July, but the timing just seemed too perfect. Maybe it will show up in August, but I make no promises.

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Any Port in a Storm: A PC Gaming Field Guide

I’ll be honest, I originally meant to write this as a small piece for my own personal sideblog. I kept putting off writing it – mainly because a lot of my attention was focused on Retronaissance and usually I only end up writing stuff on my sideblog when I’m feeling particularly passionate, a feeling that fades quickly. It didn’t help that the concept seemed to fit equally well with both forums: the topic did revolve around topics I’d long since discussed on Retronaissance, but I felt more comfortable discussing it with much less tact than I typically employ on here. It doesn’t help that I feel like I spend enough time talking about PC ports on here in the first place, with my various wishlists – finally figured out the subject of August’s, by the way – providing the bulk of my discussion on the subject. After all, superstition or not, a lot of the games I’ve listed have managed to make their way on PC, in one way or another.  I ended up discussing the topic with other contributors to this blog, who were in favor of me putting it here, but my indecision gave me cold feet, which led me to avoid writing the article altogether. Eventually, the concept began to grow – I thought up various other ideas that I decided to add to the original concept – and by that point, it became clear: Any Port in a Storm had become a perfect candidate for an article on Retronaissance. Just keep in mind that my more refined writing style might fall by the wayside at times.

While I’ll admit that I have pretty much had an on-again, off-again relationship with PC gaming from the time I first got into video games, my love of console-focused games has meant that I’ve had a nearly equally long interest in the concept of PC ports. Even from the beginning, the concept of “bad ports” (Street Fighter II) and “good ports” (the first 3 Mortal Kombat games and X-Men: Children of the Atom) were something I could at least acknowledge, albeit starting with a mere gut feeling as opposed to something I could quantify objectively. PC ports have, by and large, come a long way from the 1990s, but even today, there’s no way to guarantee a port’s quality. Some ports manage to exceed the quality of the original source material, creating a truly definitive version of the game, while others are NIS America’s PC port of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana: disasters at launch that may or may not ever be fixed to the point of working properly.

Of course, these days, it’s much easier to find quality ports in an ever-declining sea of garbage. Resources like the PC Gaming Wiki not only point out which games are quality ports, they also make recommendations for fixes on both older and poorly-made games which makes it a truly indispensable resource for PC gamers, especially those new to the medium. The real problem is still quantifying the quality of the ports themselves. As I said, some great games are maligned with terrible ports to this day, while games ranging from mediocre to outright bad will end up with amazing ports that even manage to fix problems with the original releases themselves, effectively enshrining a piece of kusoge in a fashion befitting a masterpiece.

In the end, I’ve decided to use a much-maligned concept long associated with the ills of gaming journalism for my own purposes: the “four-point scale”, a means of rating games from good to excellent. I’ll keep my criticisms on this scale brief: it’s effectively turned any score below a 9 into a dire insult and had the unfortunate consequence of causing certain people (myself, for example) to seek out games that manage to break the scale, earning scores of 6 and below, whether out of curiosity, bile fascination or some inconsequential way of “sticking it to the man”. You know, by paying some other “the man” to play crappy games. Could that have been their plan all along?

The thing is, when it comes to PC ports, the four-point scale works out perfectly. There is a definite base level of quality that people should expect in their ports, a bar that has risen continuously throughout the years. Better still, the types of ports that would receive 7s and 8s would easily have the most discerning PC gamers turning up their noses in disgust, so the unintended consequence of diluting the perceived quality of these grades would be a feature, not a bug. After all, if you don’t like these ports, well… that’s what good’s for.

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Duke Phillips: the first modern games journalist.

7.0 – Console Parity (or Is It Parody?)

Let’s start with the bottom of the barrel and work our way up, shall we? If there’s one good thing about ports that fall into the 7 score, it’s that these days, they’re rare. Clearly many developers, porting companies and especially publishers have learned that ports of that caliber are no longer acceptable to most consumers. The only real question is, why was they ever considered worthy of release in the first place.

At this point in time, the majority of the ports I’d classify as 7s came out at least a decade ago but considering the fact that so many of them are still available for purchase on Steam and various other digital storefronts, I think it’s still fair to make reference to them. At one point, ports in this style would’ve been considered the cream of the crop, but when you look at the history of PC ports overall, it’s understandable. If we were to consider the history of console games ported to PC like an evolutionary line, then the 7’s closest equivalent would clearly be either the Cro Magnon or the Neanderthal compared to the other scores’ Modern Man. When they first appeared on the scene, they were clearly impressive and best suited for survival, but at this point, they’re clearly too primitive to be considered a quality product.

But enough stalling, what defines a 7 on my little four-point scale? Quite simply, a perfect 1:1 port of the console version. Now you’re probably thinking, “But Icepick! Isn’t that what a port is supposed to be?” To which I say, feh! The problem stems from the hardware itself. Despite my posturing about how most modern consoles are just crippled PCs in the first place, their underlying operating systems are still different from one another. Consoles generally focus most (if not all) of their resources into games, while PCs run various other processes in the background at all times. As such, most console games are designed to take advantage of this focus, effectively pushing the entire platform’s resources into the game itself. Try that on a PC and you end up with a port with ridiculously high minimum specifications. Not to mention the recommended specs needed to play the game properly.

That’s to say nothing of the lack of features that PC gamers have come to take for granted these days. Fully-programmable controls, not to mention mouse and keyboard support – I’m not going to judge, but there are more than a small number of PC gamers who swear by them for literally any type of game – future-proofed support for higher resolutions, graphical filters, adjustable frame rates and the ability to switch between full-screen and windowed mode easily. Quite simply, 7-ranked ports completely lack the scalability associated with PC games, forcing a concrete cut-off on the kind of hardware capable of running the games themselves, drawing a very distinct line in the sand.

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Believe it or not, this was an actual PC port, not an emulator. No, really.

Aside from that, 7 ports are generally good ports. Not simply “good” in the scale from good to excellent, but rather they are proper approximations of the original experience. In the end, they have potential. Fixes, whether official or fan-made, can easily rectify many of the issues involved in these “low-grade” ports. One such example would be Inti Creates’ Azure Striker Gunvolt. When the game was first ported to Steam, it was in an incredibly rough state, but now? It’s on par with the recent Switch release as of an update that came out of the blue last month. This is why they fall at the far end of my four-point scale for PC ports that are acceptable. Clearly, they have their issues, but they are still generally competent to perhaps the most important degree of an PC port: recreating the console game accurately. Having said that, most if not all PC gamers at this point would turn their noses up at a modern port of this caliber. Unless I’m absolutely desperate to play the game in question, I’d be equally dissuaded from picking it up. Buyer beware and all that.

Supplement: 7.5 – Pick Your Poison

Of course, that’s not to say that the spirit of 7-grade ports doesn’t live on to this day. Their modern-day equivalents are clearly superior to true 7s, but they still find themselves slacking against the competition. I’ll just refer to them as “7.5s” to make things simpler: after all, they’re better than a 7, but still not quite on par with an 8.

There are two major differences between 7s and 7.5s. First, while 7s aren’t optimized at all, 7.5s are generally just poorly optimized. Not exactly significant, but it’s a step forward. On top of that, 7.5s also usually include at least a few of those expected features I mentioned earlier. Not all of them make it – generally most companies tend to aim for at least partial keyboard support and windowed mode – but a few core features are still better than none.

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For all its problems, at least MK9’s PC version had keyboard support.

With that being said, 7.5s are generally held to the same standard as their ancestors. Examples of 7.5s that I’m personally familiar with include Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition and Injustice: Gods Among Us – both handled by High Voltage Studios, a company which should set off alarm bells in any knowledgeable PC gamer’s head until proven otherwise. These ports are poorly optimized, effectively requiring specs twice as strong as recommended to run them properly and have their fair share of issues, but all-in-all, they’re effectively reasonable facsimiles of the original console versions. Their Mortal Kombat X port managed to be even worse than those two, to the extent where Warner Bros. had to hire the good people at QLOC to fix it for the XL update.

8.0 – The Bare Minimum

Now I can probably guess what’s going through your mind when you’re looking at this header. “But Icepick! You were saying that 8 were so much better than 7s and 7s were the lowest score you’d consider! How can 8s be ‘the bare minimum’?” Well, I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader. Put simply, to the majority of PC gamers, a port that would score an 8 on this scale is quite literally, the bare minimum of what would be expected in a PC port. 7s are detritus that should, in all honesty, never occur again. 7.5s are outright abominations. But an 8? Well, all but the most discerning PC gamers – which, to be fair, is still probably half of them altogether – would at least consider these ports. The 8 is quite simply a bronze medal, the third-place award – compared to the participant ribbons that I’d associate with 7s and 7.5s. In a perfect world, every company working on a PC port should be aiming for a solid 8.

If there’s any point where the four-point scale metaphor begins to falter, it would have to be on 8. Considering the whole Twilight Princess debacle – for the handful of people reading this who don’t know what I’m talking about, the game scored an 8.8 out of 10 on Gamespot and it started a major backlash – 8s are generally considered bad scores, by the virtue of being lower than a 9. Personally, I tend to gravitate more towards 8s and 9s when it comes to review scores: 10s just often feel too good to be true. Then again, maybe that’s just me. I’m the kind of person who enjoys eating at Taco Bell, because I consider it “Tex-Mex-themed fast food” as opposed to “authentic Mexican cuisine”, which honestly has to be near the top of my personal list of the 10 stupidest opinions in all of human history. A game that scores an 8 has the chance to impress me by surprise, but a perfect score rarely lives up to its own lofty expectations in my eyes. Blame it on my susceptibility to hype backlash and the fact that my tastes don’t often align with critics in general.

Basically, the main thing elevating an 8-grade port over its inferiors is the fact that it feels much more like a PC game. The game is properly optimized to some extent, effectively meaning that current-gen games will run on systems with equivalent specs, as opposed to requiring top-of-the-line components. Keyboard and mouse support is a given and graphical options allow weaker PCs to run the game, while more powerful computers can enhance their experiences with filters and other improvements. Put simply, all of those features that I said were missing from ports I’d score at 7? All present and accounted for in the prototypical 8 port, and with no impact on the quality of the port itself.

Of course, you’re probably thinking “But Icepick! Why is this so low on the scale? This sounds like exactly what you’d want in the first place!” And honestly, that’s a fair assertion. The weakness regarding a port that scores an 8 is admittedly petty, but still relatively practical. 8s generally take all of their assets directly from the console version with no improvements. Now that sounds excellent on the surface, but the problem is that 8 ports aren’t entirely future proof. As time goes on, computers will come out with higher graphical resolutions, improved audio quality and more powerful processors: it’s an inevitability. Remember how great SNES and Genesis games looked at the time? Think about how they look when played at modern resolutions. They either take up a minute fraction of the screen or get blown up to the extent where you can easily count every individual pixel on the screen. A similar fate awaits ports that score an 8 at some undetermined point in the future. It’s nothing personal, they’re just the consequences of the continued march of time. Fortunately, in many cases, enterprising fans have found workarounds that will keep ports of this quality looking good for years to come.

The main example I can think of when it comes to an 8 port would have to be XSEED’s recent PC port of Ys SEVEN. The game was severely hampered by the fact that it was only released on the PlayStation Portable previously. XSEED wanted to keep the various art assets as close to the originals as possible, but due to the small resolution on the game’s textures, the game is locked at a relatively low maximum resolution compared to most games that were released around the same time.

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It’s a little blurry, but this version runs at 60 FPS. And in the end, isn’t that all that matters?

Supplement: Late Ports, Buggy Ports and Both

This section right here? It’s what convinced me to turn this article into more than a simple blogpost. Now it only seems fair to cite my inspirations for this particular aside: NIS America’s disasterpiece of a PC port for Falcom’s exquisite Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. After being delayed multiple times over the course of seven months, when Ys VIII finally launched on PC, the port was an absolute mess. It was so bad, that it was the first Falcom game to not receive a Positive review score on Steam – and it’s not even the first release to come from a company other than fan favorite XSEED. Originally the backlash was so severe, its overall review score was at an unprecedented “Mostly Negative”, but since then it’s settled on “Mixed”.

Why did this happen? Honestly, seeing anything lower than a Mixed score is rare on Steam in general, but why exactly did things drop so low in the first place? To properly understand how this backlash worked, you have to understand the common viewpoint of how PC gamers view two specific types of release issues when it comes to ports. Specifically, ports that launch significantly later than their console counterparts and ports that launch in such a buggy state, that they’re literally unplayable.

When it comes to late ports, PC gamers are generally understanding. I’d liken it to waking up with a dry, scratchy throat or clogged sinuses – unpleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary. Hell, I’ve written a whole series of posts outright begging for ports that couldn’t be anything but late. To misuse some baseball terminology, a late port is effectively like a foul ball: it’s a strike against the game’s reception but not one that will outright dismiss it. It all depends on various factors. For starters, how long the gap between the initial release and the PC port is. I’d say that if it launches within three months of the original – and the time between releases was spent properly optimizing the game and fixing bugs instead of, oh I don’t know, adding in intrusive DRM that actively sabotages the game’s performance at the last minute – it’s generally fine. Don’t think I forgot about what you did to Sonic Mania, Sega. I’ll never forget.

If it takes longer than that to release the game on PC, there are other ways to sweeten the pot. Release the game at a mild discount: most console games are generally sold at a discount after a few months anyway. Failing that, include any DLC that has come out in the base package. Honestly, I welcome late ports when they do this: it’s like getting a “Game of the Year” edition from the start! As long as you’re not selling the base game at the launch price six months after the fact, you should be golden.

Ports that are buggy at launch are a different story. Generally, if they come out at the same time as their console counterparts, bugs are expected but not welcome. Going back to the baseball metaphor, a bug-ridden port is a strike, swing and a miss, pure and simple. Launching in an unplayable state is a far worse blow to a game’s reputation than running late – feel free to add in that overused Miyamoto quote if you need to – but the thing about a buggy release is that, the bugs can be fixed. If the developers behind the port remain vigilant and try to iron out all of the game’s issues, its reputation can rebound. Lowering the price (even temporarily) in conjunction with the overhaul doesn’t hurt either.

Which brings us to the ultimate question: what happens when a late port is unplayable on a significant number of systems? Well, widespread backlash. The only acceptable reason for late ports to begin with is to allow for proper bugfixes. Take that promise away and replace it with a port that doesn’t even work and you’d have to wonder what compelled them to release it in that state to begin with. It’s a complete erosion of any and all good will and it will take time to repair the damage done to a company’s reputation when they decide to release something in such a rough state without a quick release to justify it.

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I forget: is quality job one or job none?

As I mentioned before, Ys VIII’s troubled PC version was what inspired me to think about this in the first place. Since then, NISA’s been slowly but surely improving the quality of the port, but it’s still far from acceptable: only those who decided to sacrifice their hard-earned money and kept their barely functional copies of Ys VIII act as the canary in the coalmine, while most of Falcom’s more discerning PC fanbase are waiting for the all-clear. Me personally? I never played the previous game – Memories of Celceta – and since that’s had a PC port announced for release sometime this summer, I’m content to wait for the all-clear. I have to wonder: is NIS America fixing up this port in an effort to repair their disastrous first effort or did the Japanese games media’s reports on this whole debacle send Falcom back into action, like they did with the game’s initial translation? I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

9.0 – The Gold Standard

Ideally, every PC port should end up with roughly a 9 score. Unfortunately, making a 9-caliber PC port isn’t quite as practical as aiming for an 8, especially with older games. In fact, despite their perceived gulf in quality, the difference from 8s to 9s aren’t nearly as different as 7s (and 7.5s) to 8s.

I’m not going to lie though, this is where things might get a little tricky. While I said that 8s were more akin to bronze medals in the grand scheme of things, I’ve also designated 9s as “the gold standard”. This begs the question: what would count as a silver-class port? I’d argue that in terms of my own personal scale, 8s would act as a silver ranking, compared to 7/7.5’s bronze. However, when talking about the general reception of ports by the PC gaming community at large, 8s would certainly be considered a bronze, while 7s are nothing more than cautionary relics of bygone eras and 7.5s are abominations that have no reason to exist at all. I suppose silver is redundant when considering PC ports, which are generally either categorized as “good” or “bad” in the first place.  7.5s and anything lower would be considered bad, 8s are merely “acceptable” – effectively serving as a border – and 9s would easily make up the bulk of the “good” category.

But what differentiates an 8 from a 9 in the first place? Remember how I mentioned earlier that a 8-scored port is susceptible to becoming outdated in lieu of advances in gaming technology? 9s are essentially future-proofed in that regard. Using higher-quality graphical and audio assets compared to the original console releases, 9s would no longer be tethered to the limitations of the original work. In that sense, ports of this quality wouldn’t even feel like ports, they’d feel like games that were originally designed for the PC in the first place. On top of that, ports of this quality generally allow for specifications not yet possible on a majority of systems, effectively allowing for screen resolutions that are either rare or non-existent when the port is first released. Likewise, these ports would also be capable of running on weaker systems, effectively allowing for the entire experience to be perfectly scaled for a majority of current PCs.

To put it in terms that console gamers may more easily understand, imagine a game that you could play on both models of the PS4, the PS3 and the Vita – each with their own unique framerates, resolutions and other flourishes to allow each version to produce a definitive experience, while allowing the more powerful consoles to showcase their additional power compared to older models. Sure, crossplay makes this sound outright mundane, but imagine if it were possible with a single download, as opposed to multiple unique versions, each designed from the ground up with their distinct platform in mind. Hell, in some cases, you’re able to play recent games using PCs with specs on par with the PlayStation 2. Imagine playing a brand-new PS4 game on a system from 2000!

Put simply, ports I’d categorize as 9s are essentially perfect. You’re probably wonder what separates them from 10s. To be honest, it’s far too difficult for me to discuss what ports that would be categorized as 9s lack compared to one that would score a perfect 10 in my eyes. It’ll be much easier to describe in the context of talking about 10s in general. As for examples, XSEED’s recent Trails of Cold Steel ports were considered an extreme improvement over the original PS3 versions. Likewise, Sega and Platinum’s recent ports of Bayonetta and Vanquish are considered the definitive versions.

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This is the best looking Metal Slug game I’ve ever seen.

Thesis: The GOG Equation

One last quick aside before I discuss my take on what defines a perfect score. Frankly, I’ve been falling more and more in love with Good Old Games since I wrote that wishlist last August. Turns out I’m not alone: after a debacle which has left the future of several games on Steam in question, MangaGamer has partnered with GOG to finally bring various high-profile visual novels to their service.

It’s baffled me just how little support GOG seems to receive from a lot of major publishers. While my main prong of attack has been on focusing on making wishlists for old ports to resurface on their service, I’ve also found it kind of weird that a lot of companies seem to drag their feet on releasing more contemporary titles on the service. The weirdest part is when some companies release a few modern games on GOG, but not their entire library. The most notable example of this I can think of is Capcom who, as of right now, have only released their old PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 from 1997 and 2016’s PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen on GOG so far. To make matters weirder, Dragon’s Dogma was released at about the same time as the Steam release.

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GOG even makes a big deal about every single new release on their service. When’s the last time Valve did anything remotely like this on Steam?

It just strikes me as weird that so many companies refuse to support GOG, which is essentially the second biggest digital marketplace for PC games, simply based on the fact that they’re the only major one that doesn’t sell Steam keys. There’s a significant demographic of PC gamers that refuse to buy games with any form of DRM – and as beneficial as it has been, Steam is still DRM software – that generally buy games from GOG and other DRM-free stores for that reason. Meanwhile, you’ll see games sold at extreme discounts – I’ve seen games sell at 80% off the standard price – regularly on Steam. It doesn’t hurt that GOG boasts about having “crossplay” with various Steamworks games.

It honestly occurred to me at random one day, that there ought to be some sort of equation for determining when a company should just swallow their pride and release their game on GOG – and Humble Store, I guess, but mostly GOG. I think I’ve come up with a fairly reasonable way to look at it. If a publisher decides to sell one of their games with at least a 50% discount on a regular basis (let’s say, every time there’s a major sale), then I think it’s time to consider dropping Steam exclusivity and making the game available on other marketplaces. The same could be said for games that are sold at a 75% or higher discount – that is, a quarter of the standard price – even once. At that point, it just seems like publishers are desperate to make sales in the first place, so selling to the niche-within-a-niche market that buys exclusively on GOG – or even weirder, the people who are willing to buy games a second time on there – seems like a sure bet to make some extra money.

I understand the argument that a lot of people tend to make: that DRM-free sites encourage piracy. But honestly? Steam’s DRM is easy enough to crack and any additional forms of DRM – even the supposed piracy-killer Denuvo – just seem to act more as a challenge for pirates instead of a deterrent, effectively punishing paying customers more than the people cracking the game for free. Couple that with the fact that the EU withheld a study that proved that piracy doesn’t actually hurt media sales (aside from movie tickets) and there’s really no justification to avoid selling stuff on GOG, unless Valve paid for some kind of exclusivity, which would honestly impress me, considering the hands-off approach they’ve seemed to take running Steam for the past five or so years.

The Perfect 10 – An Abstract Concept

I mentioned earlier that I have an innate distrust of perfect scores. Frankly, the idea of perfection just seems like it should be reserved for purely objective observations, quite the opposite from any and all reviews. When it comes to media, my apprehension becomes a little more pronounced. By definition, a perfect game – even a game simply considered the perfect representation of its genre – should be one that can never be surpassed. The ideal game, a game which should sate any gamer for the rest of their days. No game that has scored perfect 10s across the board has come even remotely close to engrossing me to that extent. As such, I don’t really trust the concept in general: no game – not even one that scores a perfect 10 in every publication, past, present and future – can be perfect.

Which begs the question: what differentiates a 9-grade PC port from a perfect 10? Objectively, absolutely nothing. I already pointed out that a PC port that would score a 9.0 is the gold standard, a port that improves upon its source material, effectively creating a definitive release. As the entire concept of a perfect score is even more subjective than the scale it inhabits, it only seems fair that my take on what consists a perfect score should be equally as subjective.

Enough stalling, my criteria for what separates the crème de la crème is actually fairly subjective. Essentially, a perfect 10 PC port would be of a quality so recognizable, that console gamers effectively want that version ported back to consoles down the line. Or, better still, a case where a PC port works out so well, that publishers themselves decide that it’s worth using said PC version as the basis for any and all re-releases down the line. At the very least, the next batch would be based on the PC port.

I understand just how petty and small that comes across, that for a PC port to be considered ideal, its quality must be recognized outside our niche. However, all things considered, I can’t think of a better criterion of quality than acknowledgement from outside our own field. When you think about it, internal rankings all fall victim to some measure of subjectivity. We all play favorites. But the green-eyed pining of console gamers, hissing jealously at our long-awaited prize, a shinier toy than the one they’ve had for so long? That’s an objective measure: only the most short-sighted console gamers – so, again, roughly half – would even bother caring about a PC port unless it was clearly superior to their version. As for the publishers themselves, PC versions may be easier to port back to consoles again down the line (especially these days), but usually they’ll add some attempt at new flourishes from generation to generation. If it’s a straight port of the existing PC version though, that implies that they’ve perfected their craft.

Thus far, I’ve tried giving you an example of what I would consider a perfect example of each of these ports and I don’t intend to fail you on the perfect 10. Ultra Street Fighter IV started with a rocky release – mainly owed to switching their online matchmaking from using the defunct Games for Windows Live service to Steamworks – but eventually managed to become the definitive version, serving as the basis for a subsequent re-release on the PS4 (which itself had unrelated issues with optimization for months). QLOC outdid themselves on USF4 and have essentially earned their place as my pick for the best PC porting studio of all-time. If someone from any company stumbles upon this article and takes one thing away from it, hire QLOC to port your games to PC. You won’t regret it.

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It even has a benchmark, for cryin’ out loud!

So that brings us to the end of this little experiment. I’ll be honest, as much as I claim to have amassed a great deal of knowledge about PC gaming since migrating back to it around the end of the last console generation, I still consider myself a journeyman. It seems like every day, I learn something new about this platform. Ports and original games I missed out on in my early days of PC gaming and during my time on consoles, releases that were once considered abominations being polished to perfection, even new mods for games that I wouldn’t have expected mods on in the first place. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve taken to PC gaming again as much as I have: it’s such a vast environment, it’s pretty much got something for everyone. And for those of you that love my little wishlists: don’t worry, August’s not that far away.

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.