Review: Street Fighter Alpha

As I approach the next era of games on my backlog list, I want to first share my thoughts on a few more classic arcade brawlers. In recent months I’ve discussed the first two entries in both the Mortal Kombat and the Street Fighter series. These are two franchises that essentially wrote the book on head-to-head competitive gaming. Back in June, I provided an in-depth look at the fighting classic, Street Fighter II. In that review, I discussed the original game and all of its variants. When you take the time to look back on all of the tweaks and improvements made to that iconic title, you can’t help but wonder just what else Capcom would be able to pull out of their hat when it finally came time to introduce a sequel. Well, I have the answer. Today, I’m going to share my thoughts on the next entry in the Street Fighter series: Street Fighter Alpha.

Now, despite being the next game in the series, Street Fighter Alpha isn’t a sequel to Street Fighter II. In fact, it’s actually the prequel. The events of Street Fighter Alpha take place in the gap between the original Street Fighter and Street Fighter II. Well… sort of. You see, if we’re being technical, everything that happens in Street Alpha is retconned by a revision to the game called Street Fighter Alpha 2. Which of course is followed by Street Fighter Alpha 3 – which is not a revision but an actual sequel. Confused yet? It’s pretty convoluted… So let’s take a moment to break down the different games that can be found under the “Street Fighter Alpha” banner.

Street Fighter Alpha

 

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors Dreams – The original release of Street Fighter Alpha. This version of the game is very much an evolution of everything found in Street Fighter II. It takes the Super Combo system introduced in Street Fighter II Turbo, and improves on it – giving players a three-tier combo gauge. Players can execute special moves as the gauge fills up. Of course, maxing out the gauge results in a much stronger Super Combo. Alternately, players can bypass this complexity and choose to play the game in “automatic mode”. When enabled, this mode automatically blocks a set number of attacks and makes executing Super Combos much easier, but in turn, reduces their power. This functionality is best described as giving rookie players a handicap when going up against a more experienced opponent.

Being a prequel, Street Fighter Alpha features younger versions of a number of returning characters from SFII. However, it also reintroduces a couple of characters from the original SF and even introduces a few new faces as well. Here’s a look at the roster of playable characters:

Returning from Street Fighter II are – Ryu, Ken, Sagat, and Chun-Li

(This game serves as a loose backstory for each of these characters. Giving some insight into the journey that brought them to the World Warrior tournament.)

Returning from Street Fighter are – Adon and Birdie

(Absent from SFII, this game allows a glimpse into what these characters have been up to since they were defeated at the hand of Ryu in the original game.)

New characters:

Guy– A character from the Final Fight series – another brawler-like franchise from Capcom. Guy is young Japanese warrior, trained in the art of ninjitsu.
Sodom – Also from Final Fight. Sodom is an American obsessed with Japanese culture. After being defeated by Guy during the events of the Final Fight series, Sodom travels to Japan in hopes of legitimizing his otaku “stereotype” persona.
Rose – A mysterious, magic-using gyspy. Rose wanders the globe searching for the elusive dictator, M. Bison.
Charlie – An American Air Force operative and best friend of SFII character, Guile. Charlie has been assigned the task of taking down M. Bison.

All of the characters mentioned above are selectable for both a single player and two-player game. The characters of M. Bison and Akuma return again as boss battles in the single player game. However, both of them are also playable via special cheat code. A similar code also exists that allows players to fight as Dan, a comedic character.

 

Street Fighter Alpha 2 – This game is a complete revamp of the original Alpha title. It features better graphics, smoother controls, faster gameplay and a tweaked combo system. This update also improves upon the story elements for each character. It completely retcons and replaces the original Street Fighter Alpha when it comes to the series’ canon.

All of the characters from the first Alpha game have returned, and this time Akuma, Dan, and M. Bison appear as part of the standard roster. It also adds the following characters to the lineup:

From Street Fighter IIZangief and Dhalsim

From Street FighterGen

New characters:

Rolento– A former military leader from a fallen regime. Rolento’s dream is rule a military junta. Rolento is also a character from the Final Fight series
Sakura – A young Japanese schoolgirl who is inspired to follow in the footsteps of her idol Ryu.

When playing in single player mode, the character you select will determine the roster you go up against. The final battle will vary depending on that character’s storyline. For many, myself included, if you have to choose between Alpha or Alpha 2 – this is the game you want to play.

 

Street Fighter Alpha 3 – This is weird entry in the Alpha subseries. This game was actually released several years after the Alpha series originally debuted. In fact, by the time it saw the light of day, Street Fighter III was already in existence. Alpha 3 features improved graphics and a completely revamped combat system. Basically, after selecting a character, the player can choose between one of three “ism” combat styles: A-ism (similar to the Super Combo system seen in the other alpha games), X-ism (a style nearly identical to Street Fighter II Turbo), and finally V-ism (essentially, a wide range of custom combos, but with no super finishing moves).  The whole point of offering these different options is to allow the player to select a play style that feels most natural to them. For the most part, this works well. But it also has the tendency to seem overwhelming to new players.

As far as game lore is concerned, Alpha 3 is the second chapter in the Alpha series – but still a prequel to Street Fighter II. All of the playable characters from both Alpha and Alpha 2 are back. The following characters have also been added to the roster:

From Street Fighter IIE. Honda, Balrog*, Blanca, and Vega

New characters:

Karin– A female martial artist and nemesis of Sakura.
Rainbow Mika – A Japanese female wrestler and fangirl of Zangief.
Cody – One of the characters from the Final Fight series
Juni* and Juli* – Nearly identical characters, both female bodyguards of M. Bison

*In this arcade version these are secret characters that can only be played by performing a special button combo on the character select screen. However, for the initial Playstation release of the game, these characters were made available as part of the standard roster.

As mentioned above, there is a Playstation port of this game. It is nearly identical to the arcade version, but it also includes all of the remaining characters from the SFII roster; Fei Long, Dee Jay, Guile, and T. Hawk

 

Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper – This version of SFA3 is one that’s often overlooked. It’s a rather odd port of the game for the Game Boy Advance. While the port itself is actually pretty well done, the GBA proved to be a rather cumbersome platform for a fighting game as complex as Street Fighter Alpha 3. This version is notable for adding three additional characters:

Yun – A character that was actually not officially introduced to the series until the release of Street Fighter III. His inclusion here is very controversial among fans and is actually considered non-canon.
Maki –
A character from the Final Fight series. Maki is a female ninja warrior. Her inclusion in this game is also considered non-canon.
Eagle –
From the original Street Fighter. While he is a popular character, his addition to this version of the game is also considered non-canon in terms of the SFA3 storyline.

 

Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX –  Finally, we have another portable version of the game – this time for the PSP. In the eyes of many, this version is often thought of as the definitive release of the game since it includes yet another additional character; Ingrid. Ingrid is a character that was originally developed for a completely different fighting game that never saw the light of day (Capcom Fighting Evolution). Like the other characters introduced in the handheld ports, her inclusion is strictly non-canon in terms of the official game storyline.

 

Over the years, the Alpha games have been compiled into two main collections. The first is the Street Fighter Alpha Anthology for PS2. This collection includes original arcade ports for all three games, as well as a home console port of Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper.  Second, the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection compiles arcade-perfect ports of the all three original Alpha titles.

That’s certainly quite a lot of information to digest. So, if you’re interested in playing these games, but still a bit confused as to which version is best for you, allow me to simplify things a little. If you’re the type of gamer that’s interested in playing SFA for the storyline experience, then Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Street Fighter Alpha 3 are the games you’re looking for. If you want to enjoy the games on the big screen, with the largest possible roster of playable characters, the PS2 collection is your best bet. Finally, if your interest lies in playing with the biggest roster of characters – regardless of platform, Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max for PSP is for you.

For my review I spent a lot of time exploring all three of the original arcade versions included in the Anniversary Collection, playing each of them to completion. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have never played either handheld version of the game, so anything mentioned in this review does not apply to those two games.

 

Street Fighter Alpha 2

 

From a lore perspective, the Alpha series is often a big point of contention among fans. While the premise of a prequel to SFII is welcome, all of the various versions and remakes only served to muddy up the timeline. For example, many of the later ports of Alpha 3 included characters that have no official place in the game storyline. But to make matters worse, even some of the in-game dialogue scenes from the arcade version of Alpha 3 seem to contradict events from Alpha 2. So if lore is your cup of tea, these games may be a hard pill to swallow. In the end however, it’s important to remember that the Street Fighter series is really made up competitive fighting games. The storyline is secondary, so maybe it’s best to just let go.

One great thing about these games are the vast number of changes and options they helped introduce into the genre. Having multiple combat schemes, tiered-combos, and other changes really make each entry under the Alpha banner feel unique and refreshing. In fact, I’ll even go as far as saying if it wasn’t for all of the tinkering and experimenting the developers performed during the Alpha days, future titles in the series wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

At the end of the day, the Alpha games are not nearly as iconic as Street Fighter II. But they shouldn’t be dismissed as adding nothing to the series. Quite a number of advancements that later became fighting game staples can have their roots traced back to these three games. With that statement in mind, Street Fighter Alpha is certainly worthy of your attention.

Street Fighter Alpha 3

Difficulty: Medium –  When playing any of these games in single player mode each opponent you face will gradually increase in difficulty. Usually about halfway through the opponent roster the difficulty curve spikes pretty noticably. At this point, it is very beneficial to have a good understanding of the combo system for the particular version you are playing. Conquering the game will take time and practice. But with a little patience, it isn’t too difficult to master the mechanics behind any of these games. Naturally, playing against other players is a completely different story.

Story:  These games, and especially Alpha 2 and Alpha 3 do a great job exploring the backstories of the various characters in the game. The inclusion of characters like Charlie help to tie the events of Alpha and Street Fighter II together in a pretty interesting way.

Originality: These games continue to build off of the concepts and mechanics from earlier titles in the series and improves on them in almost every way. The inclusion of story-driven dialogue, even if it is brief, is a welcome addition.

Soundtrack: Each character has their own unique theme song. Many of the tracks for existing characters are remixes of old themes, but nearly every song is game is catchy and well done.

Fun: The various combat schemes and range of customization really make the Alpha games entertaining. While not as nostalgic as SFII, any of the games under the Alpha banner are a blast to play.

Graphics: The graphics in this entry of the series are decidedly anime-like. Some players find this change of direction to be a turn off. Personally, I think it fits the series pretty well. Each entry in the Alpha line-up continues to improve in this regard, with Alpha 3 being downright stunning.

Playcontrol: These games represent the rare occasion where nearly any console port of the game is just as good as the original arcade version. Even now, playing the Anniversary Collection on modern hardware, everything feels fluid and responsive. My only caveat to this lies in the Switch version. When playing on the Switch, I highly recommend using the pro controller over the Joy Cons. I found the grip of the pro controller to be much for comfortable for this type of game, especially for longer sessions.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: Martial arts violence.

Value: The Street Fighter Alpha series is available as part of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection which retails for anywhere between $20-$40, depending on the system. This nets you all three arcade games along with other entries in the series. The Street Fighter Alpha Anthology can usually be found for around $15 on Amazon, so if you still have a working PS2 and don’t care about the rest of the Street Fighter series, that may be the best option. But honestly speaking, either collection is worth the price tag.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Despite their differences, each of the Alpha games provides a similar experience. While each one is unique in its own way, none of them manage to capture the excitement of Street Fighter II. Even so, any one of these titles provide plenty of enjoyment for fans of the genre.

Originally Available: Arcade, SNES, Playstation

Available on: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Steam, SNES Classic

Other Reviews In This Series:

Street Fighter    –   Street Fighter II   –   Street Fighter Alpha   – Street Fighter III   –   Street Fighter IV   –   Street Fighter V

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