[**NOTE: Had originally posted this at Eventhubs, but their forums are pretty much dead so I'll be completing this little analysis here instead. Probably should've done that from the start, altho I'm not sure how many of you play fighting games (randomly or regularly :/)**]
[**NOTE 2: This will be something of an ongoing thread; I'll update with more to this post when I have the time. So you can kinda look at this as an "article" of sorts, just spread among a ton of posts. I can't promise when additional parts will be up as I'm pretty busy during weekdays, so for those interested just keep an eye on the thread and share your own thoughts on the topic as well.
Also, I'm aware this is going to be a VERY controversial thread and topic, and I'm ready for that. The opinions expressed here and in future parts are my own, but if others agree with them, that's great. If they don't, that's cool. But most importantly let's talk about it. Let's get a little civil discourse going.**]
Okay, so a disclaimer: I've been playing 3S more or less regularly for the past 2+ years, but first got my hands on the game about a decade ago. At that time, I was like many other disillusioned types, who saw the game on a godly pedestal at least in terms of fighting games, the king whom could not ever be challenged, supremacy reigning eternal. Like others, I felt EVO Moment #37 was among one of the most amazing moments in all of competitive gaming. The game's sprite animation unparalleled, soundtrack sublime, and game design/game mechanics perfection and the pinnacle of 2D fighters...
...and then I actually started investing in the game at a higher level, and boy oh boy, did the flaws show themselves to run deep. That the game continues to get praise to this day over more deserving fighting games is a testament to the power of the Capcom and Street Fighter brand name in the FGC, and the clout the FGC enjoys with casual gamers outside of the scene who are likely only aware of its more immediate elements. But when a game that enjoys a recent re-release with better netcode than its little brother (SFV) can't even maintain a playerbase beyond its initial launch phase, or even a consistent tournament presence post-launch of said port, it's maybe time to take the skeletons out of the closet and dissect what the nature of that game truly is.
[BUT FIRST, SOME HISTORY]
The history of 3S doesn't actually begin with said game, but dates back to New Generation, the first iteration of the game released in arcades in 1996 on the venerable CPS3 arcade hardware. At the time of its release, New Generation was arguably the most visually impressive 2D sprite-based game in the industry; no one had seen animation fidelity quite as robust or smooth, and it alone garnered the game a lot of praise. However, what wasn't so fondly looked upon was the game's lacking cast; a mix of few returners (only Ken and Ryu from past installments would be present here, and they were only added AFTER initial ideas of even axing them out of the lineup!) and new characters with designs not as iconic as the now-classic SFII cast of fighters. In terms of gameplay, New Generation introduced the parry, a mechanic wherein if a player pressed forward on the joystick at the exact moment an attack would otherwise hit them (this isn't *quite* true in terms of the timing but I will explain later), they would be able to deflect the attack while taking zero chip damage, and have a small frame opening to counter-attack with almost any option of their choosing. This added a level of depth and complexity to the 2D fighting formula that was perhaps both underappreciated and too complicated to get a handle on by most of the gaming public. Such was not helped by the game's questionable balance issues or certain bugs that made high-level play a nightmare.
Adding to the mediocre reception was the presence of other, arguably more polished and flashy fighting games in arcades at the same time, some of which being Capcom's own such as the Darkstalker series, Street Fighter Alpha (and its sequel), Xmen vs. Street Fighter and even Street Fighter EX, the franchise's first attempt into the realm of 3D. Combined with the general downslide of arcade gaming in the West that was occurring thanks mainly to the powerful performance of Sony's PlayStation (and to a lesser extent, Nintendo's N64) in the home gaming market, and you have all the makings for a solid, if not spectacular, first impression of the III series that unfortunately did not make much of an impact in arcades.
Capcom would try again a short while later with Second Impact, an update of sorts with more playable characters, new stages, new music, and a further progression of the developing storyline alongside various adjustments to the game mechanics and balance. It was a noticeably better game than New Generation on most all fronts, and did help to improve the III series' reputation among fighting game players and arcade goers, but yet again, it was something of a financial flop. By this time Capcom was losing money on the CPS3 hardware by the boatloads, as other CPS3 games like Red Earth also failed to take off. While some gamers pondered of a possible home port to Sony's PlayStation or Sega's Saturn, the truth of the matter was that neither system was up to the task of doing a home translation of the III games justice, even with expansion modules in tow. PC gaming was consumed by the explosion of FPS games during this time and were never known as havens for arcade-style gaming outside of say the Sharp X68000, which remained a curiosity for the Japanese market exclusively, and whose time had already passed. Other than arcades, there was no other true avenue for the III games to do good business and both New Generation and now Second Impact had failed to make much of a dent with operators and even many of the hardcore arcade goers and fighting game players of the time.
In 1999, Capcom decided to give it one last go in the III franchise with Third Strike, arguably the most remembered and cherished release in the series. Third Strike would be a stylistic overhaul of mammoth proportions, switching up the soundtrack to something more akin to a hiphop/jazz fusion with some drum 'n bass/jungle music thrown in for good measure, and made further overhauls to the various game mechanics, such as the introduction of Red Parries, universal overheads, and a "pathway challenge" system for the Arcade mode which allowed players to choose from two opponents per match on a forking path, eventually culminating with a penultimate match against the player character's rival, and a final battle against series boss Gill. This edition of the game also brought back series favorite Chun-Li, as well as adding several other new characters to the roster such as Q, Twelve and Makoto, bumping the playable roster to 19.
Third Strike would be both the final release in the III series and the last CPS3 game produced for the system, totaling out to a paltry six (6) releases in its commercial run. The hardware was now a certified anchor on Capcom financially and the company at this point eyed the opportunity to move onto other systems such as SEGA's newly released NAOMI arcade board, based upon technology of that company's then-new Dreamcast home game console. And just as well; Third Strike, outside of a small yet dedicated fanbase in parts of Japan, simply failed to resonate with most gamers in other markets, a casualty to the shrinking Western arcade market and scaling back of popularity of fighting games as a whole, particularly those of the 2D variety. The game befell the same fate of 2nd Impact and New Generation financially, even if it was a technically superior game to New Generation and *arguably* better game than Second Impact (again, I will explain later). It was time for Capcom to move on, and they did, leaving the III series behind as their time became occupied with other fighters such as Marvel vs Capcom 2 and the Capcom vs. SNK series....
...and then EVO Moment #37 happened. This iconic moment, which involved fighting game legend Diago Umehara taking on yet another fighting game legend, Justin Wong, in a heated match of Third Strike with the two taking to Ken and Chun-Li, respectively, is perhaps both the most viewed and most venerated single moment in FGC history. Daigo was able to perfectly parry every single hit in Chun-Li's SAII, as well as neutral jump for a setup into Ken's bread-and-butter combo for a hit confirm into his SAIII, WHILE HAVING ONLY A PIXEL OF HEALTH TO HIS NAME! The moment, taking place at EVO 2004, has since cemented itself in the annals of fighting game and competitive gaming history, and to those who likely nary even know anything about fighting games beyond fleeting memories of SFII at the arcade, SNES or Genesis, this single moment is likely the first that comes to mind when they think of fighting games. It's simply that iconic.
The moment itself gave Third Strike a shot in the arm that, along with the continued dedication to the game in years leading up to it thanks mainly to a small-but-closely knit scene in Japan, helped push 3S (and to a lesser degree, Second Impact) to a new place in the zeitgeist of the fighting game (and even gaming in general) pedestal. Coupled with the impending release of Street Fighter IV, a game that many (somewhat overstated) consider the "rebirth of fighting games into the mainstream", and it seemed that after all these years, the III games (Third Strike in particular) was finally getting the overdue respect it deserved. "The God of 2D fighters". "A pinnacle master of its art". "Pure. Perfection".
....except it really isn't ANY of those things. Not exactly, anyhow. Over the years Third Strike has enjoyed a near mythical level of fervor with gamers, many of whom have either never played it whatsoever, or only done so a handful of times at a casual level. Others still are only familiar with the game from watching tournament footage on sites such as Youtube. While this is all well and good, it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to discussing the game's true merits outside of the cloud of its fandom. As someone who has sunk more time into this game than many, I feel it time to delve into what exactly elevates this game to god-like status for so many, and see in what areas what other games do these things better. For the sake of trying to keep this simple, I will be limiting comparisons only to other fighting games that came out before or around the release of Third Strike. That means no comparisons to, say, Tekken 4 or later, Virtua Fighter 4 or later, Guilty Gear XX, or Dead or Alive 3. All games in this comparison will have initial releases on or before the year 2000.
So with that, let's get on with this :/
[NEXT TIME: THE AESTHETIC (OVERALL PRESENTATION, CHARACTER DESIGNS, BACKGROUNDS, ANIMATIONS, MOVELIST CREATIVITY)]