Street Fighter Alpha 3 is considered by the majority to be the pinnacle of the series, and is very often called the best Street Fighter game in existence. It certainly is the most popular, having been ported to four consoles and two handhelds since the days of the Saturn, and is usually the recipient of the highest scores among Capcom fighters.
My own obsessive collecting of 2d fighters over the last five years can be directly attributed to the day a good friend of mine brought it over for an afternoon. It was the first time I had sat down with a 2d fighter since the old days when I rented Super Street Fighter 2 on the SNES once a month. Things had certainly changed since then. The super combos, the beautiful sprites, the multitude of backgrounds… Alpha 3 showed me that the genre still had a lot to offer. As my collection grew however, the game continuously got less and less play, until I had almost completely forgotten about it. In fact, I started to completely dislike it. I haven’t touched the disc in a very long time.
So, why did I fall out of love with the “best Street Fighter ever?” How did it even claim that title? I’ll give you my reasoning later, in a patented Crappy Analogy Session. For now, let’s take a closer look at the game.
Originally, the Alpha series had the simple goal of taking the basic formula laid out in SF2, and making it faster, deeper, and more extravagant. It took Capcom two games to do it, but eventually they succeeded. Alpha 3 in turn does not worry about introducing anything new. The game is meant to be the closing chapter of the “classic” Street Fighter universe of M. Bison, Ken and Ryu that Street Fighter has focused on for so many years, and as such it is a big, brash smorgasbord of Street Fighter characters, canon and gameplay.
The foundation of either version of Alpha 3 are the Isms. I’ve used the word in the past, though don’t feel ashamed if you are confused. To me the name “Ism” evokes the pretentious and silly fluff that fighting game creators would eventually play around with (see names and concepts such as “Aerial Raves”, “Roman Cancels” and “Act Cadenza”), but actually the concept behind them is deceptively simple.
Rather than being locked into a specific fighting system, Alpha 3’s Isms allow the player choose from one of three styles. For example, X-ism harkens back to the final version of Street Fighter 2; there is no air blocking or guard meter, and you can only perform one powerful super combo at a time, but basic attacks are given some serious kick. A-ism is the classic Alpha setup, with air blocks and the three tiered super meter. V-ism takes the Custom Combo system of Alpha 2 and makes it its own entity. You can’t do any other supers other than CC’s in V-ism, making it the hardest mode to master.
The choices seem daunting at first, but the Isms are one of the few parts of Alpha 3 where it doesn’t feel like Capcom went overboard. They work well because they offer every type of player an appropriate choice. X-ism is perfect for new players most familiar with old style Street Fighter, A-ism is a safe, neutral mode that is time tested and proven, and strong players with a lot of practice can do some silly damage with V-ism combos. The differences between them are straightforward enough so as not to be confusing, and significant enough that most players will probably choose to explore all of them sooner or later.
Where Alpha 3 first starts to turn sour is in the production values. Technically, it doesn’t look or sound any worse than Alpha 2. The problem is mostly due to personal taste. The backgrounds are once again pretty and colorful, but most of them just aren’t as interesting to me (and apparently many other players as well). Whether it is E. Honda’s random Japanese shrine, Sakura’s random Japanese street, or Zangief’s generic Russian factory (once again), I feel like I’ve seen most of this stuff a thousand times before.
Alpha 2 has a BG with a Harrier Jet taking off. Charlie’s stage in A3 is just a hangar with parked jet. Which one do you think is more exciting? If you lump all the SF2 iterations together, this is now the fourth time we’ve seen Sagat fight by a giant Buddha statue. We get it already, Capcom.
There are a few exceptions, such as Cammy’s and Gen’s levels, but overall I’ve never seen such an uninspired batch of stages. It is a lot harder to get psyched up about a fight when the setting is so bland. That is, unless you only play to win, and don’t care about the aesthetics. I can see your point, but please, let me have my fun.
Also, while it might be a minor point, the character portraits have been redone, and damn if some of them don’t look ugly. It actually took me a second to recognize people like Zangief and Adon when I first saw them. I know the series uses anime style, Capcom, but you didn’t have to make it look like crappy anime. Some of the losing portraits from Street Fighter 2 look prettier than these faces. Oh well.
The sound suffers much the same fate. Rather than go with remixing old tunes, Alpha 3 is a giant soundtrack of original tracks that take synthesizer guitar wailing to a level of excess. The polar opposite of SF2, the music in this game is as forgettable as any I’ve heard in a fighting game. Its mostly just background noise to keep the fights from sounding cold and sterile, though good luck remembering any of it after a bout.
And now for the biggest dilemma, the rosters, which is easily the most significant difference between the two versions of Alpha 3. The arcade release is 25 fighters strong, with three hidden characters. The new additions are mostly old SF2 faces, such as Vega, Blanka and Honda, while most of the original characters are welcome as well. Cody makes an appearance to further strengthen the Final Fight presence, while newcomer Karin gives Sakura a nice rivalry. It’s a good sized list that isn’t terribly huge, and just features just about all the important characters. Sure, I could live with ditching Rainbow Mika (an annoying Zangief type wrestler) for Guile, but I’ll live.