Why Street Fighter Alpha 3 is the best in the franchise
The Street Fighter franchise has released well over thirty titles, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 still holds the top spot for me.
The Street Fighter franchise has released well over thirty titles between 1987 and 2020, with each game bringing something different to the table. Some revolutionized the gameplay, introduced cool new characters, or provided us with some of the best video game music ever made.
It's no secret that some titles have received a bit too many upgrades (looking at you Street Fighter II), but each new iteration did mix things up quite a bit. With so many Street Fighter games out there, you'd think the task of picking the best would be one of the hardest things imaginable, but instead, it was probably one of the easiest things I've ever done.
Even with around twenty games released after it, Street Fighter Alpha 3 still holds the top spot for me. However, the game is also afflicted with Capcom's need to release multiple versions of it, ranging from an arcade replica to multiple enhanced console versions and one all-encompassing game for PSP. As a result of all these differences, it's pretty hard to settle on a 'perfect' version of the game, so instead, I'll try to stick to the first console version. So here's why I believe Street Fighter Alpha 3 is the best in the franchise.
I've got to start with graphics because Alpha 3's art direction took my breath away the moment I first laid eyes on it. It had a charm that the previous games in the series lacked, and the theme mixed in with its vibrant colors was so full of energy. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, which came out the year after in 1999, definitely had the superior animation, but it was Alpha 3's anime aesthetic that did it for me. Coupled with fluid animations of its own, Alpha 3 included fun interactions between characters, which were a great treat to watch. But most importantly, Alpha 3 isn't just a looker; she also has substance.
Fans of Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior's Dreams and Street Fighter Alpha 2 have complained about the requirement to pick one of three "Fighting Styles" before a match in Alpha 3. In Alpha 2, all you had to do was choose between an auto or manual mode, and these didn't change a character's mechanics the way Alpha 3's fighting styles did. Yet, for me, this was a massive part of the game's identity and one of the things I loved about it because of how they affected the gameplay in a variety of ways.
Named A-ISM, X-ISM, and V-ISM, these fighting styles greatly influence how a character plays during a match. Like whether they can perform aerial blocks, how their Super Combo Gauge fills, the number of Super Combos at their disposal, recovery options, etc. While not every ISM may have the right combination of abilities for those coming from other Street Fighter games, they do seem balanced and have led to some exciting matches.
A-ISM, the "Standard" fighting style, is my personal favorite because it gives players access to all of a character's Super Combos (except Dhalsim). You can also block in the air, recover from attacks on the ground, and perform Alpha Counters. X-ISM is the "Simple" fighting style that mostly focuses on damage output. As a result, players only have access to one Super Combo available at Level 3 of the gauge, with all moves doing more damage than the other ISMs. As a compromise, players lose access to things like air blocking, ground recovery roll, and Alpha Counters.
Then there's the "Variable" mode or V-ISM, which excels at combos. It replaces Super Combos with Custom Combos, allowing players to enter a hyper state that makes it easier to link character's moves together into one long combo stream. Even the player's movement is accelerated while activated. V-ISM does the least damage among all three fighting styles, but has more often than not, left opponents lost in the wake of their mixups. Besides these peculiarities, certain characters also have moves, costumes, or even their BGM changed depending on the ISM chosen.
In the game's arcade mode, certain bosses use what fans have named Shadaloo-ISM due to its appearance. This ISM gives these harder AI-controlled opponents a fighting style of their own. In Street Fighter Alpha Anthology's Hyper Street Fighter Alpha mode, Capcom added some additional ISM variations.
Alpha 3 has more than a few modes across all versions, like Final Battle and Survival Mode, but the most unique to the franchise are Dramatic Battles and World Tour.
The first Dramatic Battle was inspired by the last fight in Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, in which Ryu and Ken face M.Bison in a dramatic battle (couldn't help it). The mode was first introduced in Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors' Dreams but was expanded upon in Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, and even further in Alpha 3.
In its third iteration, Dramatic Battle no longer has players sharing the same health bar. It also forces particular pairs of characters, unlike Alpha Gold 2, that allowed any combination of characters. Additionally, we got "Reverse Dramatic Battles" for those up for a challenge. Here players face two opponents at once in their lonesome, similar to the Juli and Juni fight in Arcade mode.
This mode, in my opinion, is the best included in any Street Fighter game. It's quite similar to SoulCalibur's RPG-like adventure mode that's become a staple of the series (Libra of Souls in SoulCalibur VI).
World Tour is a mode in which players choose a character from the roster and travel the globe, competing in events that have a wide range of objectives and rules to follow. These can be anything from Dramatic Battles and Survival to a combination of both, player handicaps and opponents that are only vulnerable to one form of attack (think throws, Super Combos, or Custom Combos only). These lead to some tense battles, but the fun doesn't end there.
Players move between five areas in the game mode, Asia, U.S.S.R., Europe, Africa, and America. Each one rewards a selection of ISM Pluses, which are handy abilities that provide players with special enhancements to their fighting styles, such as autoblock, extra damage, and infinite guard. These abilities are available for the rest of World Tour Mode, and if saved to a custom character slot, your powered-up fighter can also be used in other modes.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 expanded the Alpha series roster by nine characters in the arcade version and thirteen in the first console iteration. Street Fighter Zero 3 Upper for the Game Boy Advance introduced three more characters, Yun, Maki, and Eagle. Meanwhile, the PSP's Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX (Street Fighter Zero 3 Double Upper) included Capcom Fighting Jam's (Capcom Fighting Evolution), Ingrid. It's certainly not the largest roster we've seen in a fighting game, but it does include versions of costumes that have become iconic.
Music & sound
Alpha 3 has some of the best music and sounds in the franchise, especially the game's commentator, who seems like he's having as much fun as the players themselves. His energy and style compliment the game's music and atmosphere, making him an essential part of the experience. The game's music, voice, and sound have an arcade quality to them, even in the console versions.
The songs maintain the same tempo as Alpha 3's fast-paced action. While Rolento's theme sounds quite similar to the game's main theme, others like Cammy, Sakura, and Vega are great additions. Final M.Bison is also one of the most epic boss songs in a fighting game. The best way to describe Alpha 3's music and commentary is "loud and in your face," which is perfect for getting the adrenaline pumping.
I still play Street Fighter Alpha 3 to this day, which should be a testament to how much fun I have with the game despite how old it is. While I know many won't agree with it being the best Street Fighter game ever made, they'd probably agree that it's a unique entry that did a lot of things right.
The most recent release of Street Fighter Alpha 3 is available as part of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. However, beware, this isn't based on the Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX version but the arcade one, so you'll notice the absence of several characters and modes. Whether the ability to play online makes up for these omissions depends on the player, but it is nice to be able to play the game on modern consoles. If you'd prefer the complete package, then fire up your PSP or PSVita and get Alpha 3 MAX. Street Fighter Alpha Anthology probably has the best balance between content and performance, but then you lose out on World Tour.
So that's it, my reason for picking Street Fighter Alpha 3 over all other games in the franchise and quite possibly the genre. The anime aesthetic, awesome music, and innovative ways to play just make it my fave. As far as runner-ups go, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is a close second (grudgingly), but that's a discussion for another time.