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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 Sample” tech 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.
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.