It’s hard to believe that the Street Fighter franchise is already 30 years old. That’s probably a lot older than most people reading this post now! In that span of three decades, Capcom’s flagship fighter has gone through several changes and numerous ups and downs. It’s kind of hard to believe but, even after the series’ long storied history, we’re only in the fifth entry so far. Then again, Capcom has been cheating the fighting game community for as long as they’ve been making the games! We may be only in Street Fighter V as of the time of this writing but we’ve had more than five Street Fighter games so far!
How is this possible? Well, leave it to crafty Capcom to milk something popular for all its worth. We may only have five numbered Street Fighter games but we have more than 15 Street Fighter games. This is because most of the numbered entries spun off with their own series of games. You can say that each numbered entry became their own series of games in itself and every Street Fighter fan has their favorite. Some people like the classics like Street Fighter II and III, specifically Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Some people prefer the modern entries like Street Fighter IV and IV.
Personally, while I think Capcom did a pretty good job with each entry in the Street Fighter series as the games do hold up even til now (with the exception being the first game), my favorite is the someone forgotten Alpha/Zero series.
A lot of why the Alpha/Zero series is my favorite has to do with the time it was released and my history with the Street Fighter games. I remember seeing Street Fighter II at the arcades for the first time during my sophomore year in high school. I was immediately drawn to it thanks to its beautiful graphics, boisterous soundtrack and, probably the thing that made me want to play it in the first place, very clear voices. Yes, this was a time when actually hearing a distinct human voice from a video game was rare. Anyway, fast forward three years and five “updates” later, I was so ready for Street Fighter III. The Street Fighter series was at its peak of popularity in the ’90s but Capcom still refused to add a “3” to the series.
Around this time as well, the Street Fighter film came out. No, I’m not talking about the incredibly cheesy American live-action version starring Jean Claude Van Damne and the late Raul Julia. I’m talking about Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie from Japan, which is much more awesome than the American version. Sure, the pacing was terrible with a lot of slow parts (we really didn’t need that 3-minute long scene of M. Bison arriving into Shadaloo headquarters), not all the Street Fighters got proper screen time (Akuma just chilling in India was just weird) and the English voice acting was terrible (even Bryan Cranston as Fei Long couldn’t save it). Even with all those problems, it was a remarkable film for its time for the mere fact that it took the source material seriously and the animation, even to this day, is gorgeous!
It was around this time when Capcom released Street Fighter Zero in my area. You may know this as Street Fighter Alpha as it was known in Western territories. Why Capcom decided to change the name, I have no idea. Seems like they just like to do that since they’ve done it with M. Bison/Vega, Charlie/Nash and Akuma/Gouki. It’s just their thing. Anyway, I remember the first time I saw Street Fighter Zero in my local arcade; it was mesmerizing! The graphics looked close to the anime movie! Also, there were some added game mechanics that threw a lot of people off, such as character specific “dial-a-combos”, Alpha/Zero Counters, different levels of Super Combos and, my personal favorite, the ability to block attacks in the air!
The roster for the first Street Fighter Alpha was small. The game only had 10 characters, 13 if you included the hidden ones. Compared to Super Street Fighter II Turbo, this seemed like a downgrade as that game had 16 fighters, 17 if you unlocked the (incredibly broken) Akuma as a hidden character. But there were some characters in the first Alpha series that I found amusing. It was the first game to show that the Street Fighter games shared the same universe with the Final Fight series as Alpha had both Guy and Sodom/Katana from the first Final Fight game. It also had some characters from the very first Street Fighter game with Adon and Birdie! It also featured two new characters that were immediately selectable, Rose and Charlie, who just so happened to be the man Guile wants to avenge in Street Fighter II!
Oddly, enough, my favorite character in the first Zero game was Dan, a hidden character with seemingly pitiful versions of Ryu and Ken’s attacks. Why? Because he was fun to play as and I could actually beat other players with him! Maybe it was character unfamiliarity or because I knew that you can pierce through an air block as long as you do a Shoryuken or a strike while on the ground. Maybe it was because they were afraid that I would use the taunt button endlessly, even in combos, and they had no idea that it was useless. Either way, I actually won a lot with Dan of all people!
Eventually, Street Fighter Zero 2 came along, which added more characters, such as the perky Sakura and the stance switching Gen from the first Street Fighter. They also recruited Rolento from Final Fight. This game also brought in Zangief and Dhalsim from Street Fighter II. This is my favorite game in the Alpha/Zero series. They added the new Custom Combo system, a system where you can chain a flurry of attacks together. I really wish I got more mileage from this system because I never got good at using it effectively. Still, I was almost unbeatable in Zero 2 in my local arcade! While I still used Dan at times, I switched to using Birdie because I liked the fact he had two command grabs and his Bull Revenger is a great Super against projectile throwers, which is something I used to face against a lot since they were so afraid of the command grabs. However, the biggest reason why I switched to Birdie was because his light Bull Head is great! It could be used to take out jumpers, can use as an uncounterable attack at the right range and builds good meter.
Soon after that, Street Fighter III finally arrived. While it was good, something just felt off about it. The roster was once again reduced to 10 and, besides Ryu and Ken, they were all newcomers! It did look gorgeous and everything animated beautifully but, around this time, I already accepted that Alpha/Zero was the sequel I wanted! Street Fighter III added the Parry system, which became essential to getting really good at the game and, sadly, something I wasn’t. I just couldn’t get the hang of parrying multiple attacks and preemptively parry attacks. It seemed like the better the guy can parry attacks, the bigger the chances that person has to win.
Around the time Street Fighter III was making the rounds, Capcom also released Zero 3. This is my personal favorite when it came to presentation and personality. Capcom sure added a lot to the game to make it appealing to watch. They brought back a slew of characters like Vega/Claw, Blanka and E. Honda from Street Fighter II as well as new characters like Karin and R. Mika, who apparently started the trend of Capcom adding blonde characters to their fighting games. Zero 3 added stuff like character specific intros and a very excitable announcer. The story felt much more action packed. While Zero 1 and 2 were more personal stories for the characters as the final boss was character specific, Zero 3 had everyone gunning for M. Bison, who was incredibly cheap here in his Shin Bison form. Everything just looked slick. Gameplay-wise, Zero 3 felt a little alien to me as everyone had air throws. Throws were now executed by pressing two punch or kick buttons. The biggest change would be the ISM selects, which I didn’t like! The only change in the game mechanics was the Guard meter, which prevented turtlers from blocking forever.
You may think that the Zero/Alpha series is my favorite because I was good at it. Well, you’d be partially right. But the biggest reason why the Zero/Alpha games are my favorite Street Fighter series is because it’s a game that came out at the right time. I was so ready for an upgrade to Street Fighter II and Zero felt like an improvement. This was also a time when I was big on anime and the cartoony look of the Zero series was just what I was looking for.
The Zero/Alpha games were flashy and a whole lot of fun to play and I do feel they get overshadowed by the legacy of the Street Fighter II series of games of how it launched the fighting game craze and Street Fighter III’s more technical gameplay. While I do love most of the games in the Street Fighter series and it’s 30 years worth of games, the Street Fighter Alpha/Zero series will always be a nostalgic favorite of mine.
What’s your favorite Street Fighter series? Let me know in the comments section below!