Friday, October 19, 2007

Street Fighter III: Third Strike

Platforms: Arcade, Sega Dreamcast,
Sony Playsation 2, Microsoft XBOX
Released: May 12, 1999
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Genre: 2D Versus Fighting

Just the other day, Capcom released a trailer that caused fighting fans throughout the galaxy to cream their pants. A new chapter in their flagship fighting series will come upon us all and I for one cannot wait! There will be lots of hype and speculation to come for over the next year. But until then, we have the glory of its predecessor to enjoy. Street Fighter III: Third Strike is a landmark in the fighting game genre and a successful combination of style and substance while supplying a great amount of depth that is accessible to many gamers.
Back in the nineties arcades were popular and filled with plenty of awesome shooting, racing and fighting games. Arcades haven't changed that much since then; however, there aren't as many to around and now they have dancing games with that annoying pop music blasting out of the speakers. The kids seem to love it so games like DDR will stay for a while. Back in the day, loads of us lined up at the various Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, and Neo Geo arcade machines; blowing our allowance to play some of the most talked-about and controversial games of the time. Parents and politicians were in uproar about videogame violence(sound familiar?) but we were too busy pulling off down-> down-forward-> forward+punch to care. Over time, arcades became less popular and even as 3D games made their way into arcades, most of us dwindled away. Most gamers were not lucky to play Capcom's killer fighting game and sequel to the many Street Fighter IIs, aptly named Street Fighter III. It was a classic many were not aware of but many of us soon learned to appreciate the mechanics and incredible art style of this wonderful fighting game.

Street Fighter III introduced a new generation of fighters led by the new hero Alex with veterans Ken and Ryu returning from the previous games. The game also changed much about the philosophy of the series and brought in several innovations to the fighting genre and displayed, to this day, some of the most luscious and fluid 2d artwork in a videogame. At the time gamers, including myself, were disappointed that everyone was new and different and a lot of our favorites from Street Fighter II were not in the game. Looking back on that, I was was wrong and so was everyone else because the characters introduced into the game are phenomenal. There was an excellent amount of diversity in fighting style and appearance not seen in the previous installments that featured mostly shirtless beefcakes and guys in karate gis. There's still a few fighters in their martial arts uniforms and even a couple guys that fight in thongs, but I assure you that this game has the most diverse roster in the series.

Street Fighter III spawned two sequels: Double Impact and Third Strike, the latter of which I will be covering. Over the course of sequels they added more characters that included familiar favorites like Chun-Li and Akuma and added in a fun bunch of new contenders such as Twelve, Q, Makoto and a French punk rocker Gulie-knockoff named Remy. They give a nod to the classic beat'em up Final Fight by adding in Hugo from the Mad Gear Gang, accompanied by fellow member, and possible transvestite, Poison.

The gameplay features characters battling each other with their respective styles in three round battles. All the fighting is stylized and renders beautifully in high quality fluid animation. We see some elegant takes on karate, boxing and kung-fu from the fighters along with t those who can do graceful capoeira, powerful pro wrestling moves and even some original fighting styles.

When you select your character you can choose what Super Arts that they can do in a match. A Super Art is the main attack of a fighters arsenal and a flashy way to end a fight. When a character attacks, takes damage or parries an attack, their super bar -- located at the bottom their side of the screen -- begins to fill up. When a level of the bar is completely filled, the player can execute a Super Art. A chime also plays when this happens so if you are too focused on the fight you can hear that you are ready unleash a powerful combo attack. Not all Super Arts are based on offense; a couple are defensive counters and one of the characters can replenish their energy.

The super bar can also be used to enhance special attacks by performing EX moves. This is done by doing your desired special attack as normal pressing an additional punch or kick button. When this is successful your character will emanate a yellow flash and quickly attack an opponent for extra damage. The animations for the EX moves are typically enhanced with extra frames added, making for more possibilities to link combos with normal moves and Super Arts.

EX Moves are a great addition but the greatest innovation in Street Fighter III is the ability to do parrying, or offensive blocking. By moving forward or crouching right as an opponent attacks your character, you can deflect their attack and leave the opponent open for a short period of time for you to attack them or evade. This addition to the game is amazing because it greatly enhanced the defensive aspect of the fighting genre beyond blocking and jumping over attacks. Other games have emulated this ability with varied success; nonetheless, Street Fighter III makes it a great asset and manages to carefully balance this feature into the game without hindering the offensive battle. With parrying, it is possible to make a comeback and avoid certain defeat but requires some skill and experience to use it effectively.

The final innovation this game offers is by actually making taunts useful. In previous fighting games, you could press two or three buttons simultaneously to do a taunting animation. The King of Fighters '94 used taunts to lower the desperation gauge of the opposing fighter. Street Fighter III allows fighters to enhance their skills and sometimes humiliate the opponent with a lighthearted attack by performing their personal action by pressing high punch and high kick simultaneously. You can use this to increase offense and/or defense of a character or reduce their stun level from attacks they recently taken. Some characters like Twelve and Sean have their own unique abilities, like turning invisible or throwing a basketball, respectively. Players I have played against and even myself have at times decided to finish the other player off by performing our taunt and successfully doing so always makes are opposing player feel bad!

The game is pretty balanced for the most part but I have gripes with how incredibly powerful, quick and durable Ryu, Ken and Alex are compared to everyone else in the game. Makoto and Chun-Li come close but they have their own faults that keep them balanced enough. To make more proper comparisons, we have characters like Hugo who is viciously powerful but is incredibly slow and predictable, and is big enough to not miss, thus making him fairly balanced. Everyone else has their fair share of weaknesses, but Ryu, Ken and Alex don't seem to possess any. Ryu is specifically dubious in this primarily because the beginning of his Dragon Punch can go through most of the attacks in the game and his Shin Shoryuken can execute when it is clear that there is not a visual collision between characters. Tsk, tsk Ryu and your game-breaking ways of the fist...

I've played this game with every fighter and beat it with a lot of different characters and I still really don't know what's going on. The only thing that I get is that Ryu is out to hone his skills and meet new challenges and that there's this cult called The Illuminati that a bunch of the characters are fighting for their various reasons. The champion boxer Dudley is trying to win his father's car back, a genetically engineered fighter named Necro is trying to win his freedom, and Chun-Li is trying to rescue a kidnapped girl. It's a pretty basic motivation for each character and half of them generically want to be the best fighter. The only major fault of this game is that there is no plot or character development present.

The Illuminati is led by the impressive-looking Gill who happens to be the final challenger of the game. Half of his body is colored red and the other blue and he embodies the powers of fire and ice. Based on which side he attacks from will determine what effects of damage occur. At the time this game was released, this was a rather impressive characteristic that was only capable on the CPS-3 arcade board that the game ran on in arcades. Gill is notorious for being able to easily counter moves and perform all three of his super art attacks in battle, two of which fill up the entire screen and are difficult to evade. The other actually resurrects Gill when you defeat him, causing to replenish is energy. The first time I encountered this, after finally having beat him for the first time, I got extremely angry. Eventually my friends and I figured out how to counter this but that was indeed an unpleasant surprise. It's great when the final boss of a game is a real bastard and Gill certainly gets the job done!

I've talked a lot about the elaborate animation system in this game, and various combo videos on YouTube show that off well; however, I have not commented on the stage design. The levels are beautifully designed, not only artistically, but with various ambient details shown off. In the fields of Japan, we see a various insects fly about and in France, there's all the smoke and flashing lights of Remy's nightclub stage. Then you have Hugo's attic level where objects in the background will move around and shake when somebody hits the ground hard, that's an excellent example of great detail in stage design. What's particularly noticeable is based on the setting of time in the stage will determine how the fighters will be shaded, so your characters will look different based on it being day, evening or night. This is common in most games now, but it was rare to see 2D games do this in the nineties. Overall the level of detail in the locales of Street Fighter III complement the depth of the fighting system and the fluid animations that characters perform.

Capcom choose to take an interesting route when producing the soundtrack for this game. Its an excellent mix of hip-hop, jazz and tribal music with a rap intro. It's very upbeat and relaxing and a good choice because those are types of music are very focused on style and that is something this game shows off very well. Something like rock and roll or techno found in typical videogames isn't going to cut it here. I remember people having a problem with hip-hop in Street Fighter because they felt it didn't fit the series but it's clear that Street Fighter III:Third Strike invents its own style and creates new rules for the fighting game genre.

Street Fighter III is one of the best fighting games ever. I have spent over the past three years playing it religiously and learning all the nuances of the the game and characters. It's really an easy game to get into and there is a lot of depth to explore. Even now, I discover new things about the game I didn't know before. I encounter the same thing when I play Street Fighter II every now and then. Street Fighter is one of the few series that does an excellent job of appealing to both novices and hardcore players. It's very easy to learn to controls and how to play and there's many different ways to master the game. Furthermore, each character is very unique and approaching them and using them is a different gameplay experience all together. When playing this game, I highly suggest spending a good amount of time with each character.

Capcom has created a masterpiece that few games have reached or even surpassed. The game is almost a decade old, yet many modern fighting games have failed to learn to implement the fundamentals of what truly makes Street Fighter III great. In any game, regardless on genre, it should be possible for anyone to pick up and play with the possibility of having a near infinite amount of technique to master. Street Fighter III: Third Strike does this in a very stylish and beautiful way without making any sacrifices. While it is near impossible to find this game in aracdes, you can pick it up on the Playstation 2 or the XBox in the form of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. It's great and you should own it and discover one of the greatest fighters ever.