The Alpha of the genre wears its crown well
“Street Fighter perfection.” That’s what they were calling it in advertisements in 1999. Perfection it is. There are a select few Street Fighter games that we can call perfect, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 is at the top of that list.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 begins and ends with the concepts of Street Fighter II and choices. Alpha 3 — set between 1987’s Street Fighter and 1991’s Street Fighter II — goes backward in storyline to tell the story of the future. Street Fighter II is what it is: A fighting game with simple mechanics and super moves — as of Super Turbo in 1994. But choices? In a Street Fighter game, no less? Unheard of, until Alpha 3.
The mechanics present choices early and frequently. Once you pick your character, you then choose the fighting style from three main choices (four in the Dreamcast version). A‑ISM is straight-up Street Fighter Alpha. It plays just like the previous games in the series and grants access to three bars of multiple super moves. V‑ISM features manual custom combos, first seen in Alpha 2 and removes super moves. X‑ISM is most consistently like Super Street Fighter II Turbo, with access to one bar of super meter and one super move. There are distinct differences and nuances to using each ISM, and advantages and disadvantages in their styles with top characters for each. What works for Alpha 3 the most is the fact that there is so much variety for a single character across all three ISMs. You can make something out of nothing with almost everyone on the roster, even the lower-tier characters.
And the roster is something to behold in this game. The arcade version has a nice roster of who’s who in Street Fighter up to this point but getting it home for the console versions adds even more playable characters. Favorites like Evil Ryu, Shin Akuma and Guile join in the fun and make it an even more rounded cast. Basically, if they were in Super Turbo or mentioned in Street Fighter they’re here with a few new additions like Cody, R. Mika and Karin.
The roster plays nicely as well. The mechanics are easy to understand, especially if you have previous exposure to Street Fighter in any form. It plays beautifully and handles well in all of its various modes.
And a variety of modes there are. While some have to be unlocked — such as Final Battle and Dramatic Battle — the other modes are fun to play and are well-interconnected. One of the best modes available from the outset is World Tour Mode. This is where you should spend most of your time because it’s fantastic. Traveling around the world facing various Street Fighters with specific conditions that utilize the different ISMs is the perfect way to learn how Alpha 3 works. Using World Tour Mode effectively blows the game wide open and is fun to play through with a ton of replay value.
Also adding value is the soundtrack, one of Capcom’s masterpieces. The game is set in the mid-to-late 1980s and it sounds appropriate to that era. Beyond the bangers for multiple characters — Sagat, Balrog and Juli/Juni instantly come to mind — even the narration deserves praise. It’s over the top but it fits perfectly. The soundtrack also works well with the graphics. The sprites are big and colorful as are the detailed and stunning stages. It’s one of Capcom’s better-looking games and is a massive improvement from the rest of the Alpha series. It almost looks like it belongs in an entirely different game series.
A perfect soundtrack, visuals and gameplay experience is what Street Fighter Alpha 3 brings to the table. As usual, it took Capcom to get it right by the count of three, but right is an understatement. Even after nearly 25 years, this is truly Street Fighter perfection.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 Dreamcast version
The Dreamcast version warrants mention because it is significantly different from the PlayStation and Saturn versions. The Dreamcast version is enhanced with the addition of an online mode and later the Japan only Matching Service, which allowed online play as Capcom had with several other fighting game titles such as Vampire Chronicles, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Super Street Fighter II X.
The most notable and useful changes are the secret characters Guile, Evil Ryu and Shin Akuma are already unlocked for use and the additional ISMs and ISM-Plus mechanics available to unlock. The PlayStation version was plagued by a bug that prevented some ISM-Plus items unlocking in World Tour Mode. These were made available for the full experience, and the S‑ISM that CPU-controlled Final M. Bison uses was also made available.
Finally, the Saikyo Dojo mode is available here. This mode pits a weak character against two strong opponents. It imitates the Saikyo character select mode available in the PlayStation version.
Ports of Street Fighter Alpha 3
Street Fighter Alpha 3, Sony PlayStation, 1999
Street Fighter Zero 3, Sega Saturn, 1999 (Japan only)
Street Fighter Alpha 3: Saikyo Dojo, Dreamcast, 1999
Street Fighter Alpha 3: Saikyo-ryu Dojo for Matching Service, Dreamcast, 2000
Street Fighter Zero 3 Upper, Arcade, 2001
Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper, Game Boy Advance, 2003
Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX, PlayStation Portable, 2006
Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, PlayStation 2, 2006
Street Fighter Alpha 3, PlayStation Classic download, 2011
Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, multiple consoles, 2018