Game Music Saturdays – Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Original Soundtrack

Street Fighter III Third Strike Soundtrack

 

Even in comparison to the Alpha series, Street Fighter III stood in an odd place. Arcades still flourished in America when the Alpha series came to prominence; that wasn’t the case for 1999’s Street Fighter III: New Generation, which chose exquisite, beautiful hand-drawn animation over the 3D obsession of the day. I’d imagine creating one of the most powerful 2D processing arcade boards in history still doesn’t strike anyone as the best of decisions when the world loved seeing jaggy, pointy polygons jutting out all over the place. Of course, the game aged better than the original Tekken or Virtua Fighter’s graphics, but this costly animation procedure lost Capcom boatloads of money with the series.

At the same time, Capcom enjoyed renewed success with the recently created Resident Evil. RE1 remains a hallmark in video games for creating the “survival horror” action subgenre, and many games followed in its wake. On that note, it was much easier to make than animating, balancing, and creating an entirely new fighting game. Console games started by leeching off their arcade parents, but drew away once the money came calling; easier games make more money, of course (even if RE itself remained rather hardcore in its implementation of limited supplies). It became such a boon that Capcom’s focus shifted from arcades to consoles – a good idea in their mind, certainly, but not a good omen for the Street Fighter series.

Adding a complex mechanics into the series – parrying – also changes the dynamics completely. No longer do projectile attacks controls space; this turns Street Fighter into a close-combat guessing game requiring precise timing. Any and EVERY attack can be parried with enough practice – literally, you need to press forward the moment an attack hits your character to parry. You can’t spam it, either, as it requires the player to put the stick back in neutral position before initiating another. Fireballs and ranged attacks add another wrinkle to the game, as high/low mixups could force a guess parry (can’t parry high and low at the same time). Imagine coming from previous games to Street Fighter III, and you can imagine the issue. Selectable Super Arts (only one of three!) certainly didn’t help.

Thus, we have a perfect storm of  complicated mechanics, bad cultural context, rising costs, long development cycles (Alpha 3 came out after the first two iteration of SFIII; how weird is that?), and a game missing many favorite Street Fighter characters. Envisioning a “new start” for the series, every character from any previous games were taken out (excepting Ryu and Ken) in favor of a whole new cast. From one standpoint, it’s a brilliant move that solidifies the uniqueness of a franchise’s evolution. On the other hand, brand loyalty means some concessions must be made in the marketplace. So it was that Street Fighter III’s two initial installments were generally ignored. Even the 3rd version, 3rd Strike (a fitting name), failed to do any major business anywhere, and was quickly forgotten…by the mainstream. Capcom, as well, retired the franchise due to its under-performance. I’m not counting the EX series; those were Arika developed, and nobody likes them either! Also, they’re not in this collection, probably for that exact reason.

A strange thing happened, though: people starting playing the game, rather than judging it. The first two game were horribly balanced, with some characters standing head and shoulders above others. This remains as true of 3rd Strike, although it took years upon years of high level competition to determine that. People kept playing, and discovering new things, and kept playing the game. Before long, on both sides of the pond, Street Figther III became a stellar tournament level game in its own right. It improved with age, even as the community found some character were, simply put, far and away from the rest (Chun-Li, Yun, Ken in that order, maybe Dudley).

Furthermore, the aesthetics and music aged well. Surely, there’s a weird “drum & bass/trip-hop/jazzy” vibe to the whole affair, though I’m not sure what motivated that shift. Maybe dubstep’s (not brostep!) popularity in the UK, combined with the prominence of acts like The Prodigy, caused it? All in all, it’s a weird but fitting choice for the series that I can’t imagine in any other way. Take Alex (supposedly the new protagonist of Street Fighter, though that idea was abandoned soon after the first game) and Ken’s stage theme, for example:

05 Alex & Ken Stage – Jazzy NYC ’99

Seriously, that’s some funky jazz. There’s a very prominent bass line, but it’s definitely a genre potpourri for anyone who likes the style. Having recently gotten into jazz myself, I can appreciate Hideki Okugawa’s music – it has a improvisational mind to it that’s willing to experiment and bounce around the main part of the song and make some odd choices. For my entertainment, of course! Makoto’s theme gives us yet another mix in a weird vein:

07 Makoto Stage – Spunky

She’s a karate master, right? Then why does this song sound like this? This sounds more like a traditional D&B set music with little synthesized lines and samples interspersed. Take a close listen and you’ll hear all sorts of little details in the mix if you’re paying attention. Ryu’s theme goes with traditional taiko drums and percussion, but sounds nothing like its forefather at all:

08 Ryu Stage – Kobu

Regardless of the audio clipping you’ll find in the mix, that sounds like a modernized Japanese folk song with the slightest hint of modernization. Ibuki’s theme goes for the same down-low vibe to a greater degree with its frequent shakuhachi flutes (It reminds me of Samurai Champloo or Nujabes stuff, in a way). However, not everyone song fits into that mold; take Elena’s theme, for example, and see the African influences, even among all the voice samples:

12 Elena Stage – Beats In My Head (Tribal Dance)

Each song, though fitting to the same mold, accurately represent little snippets of that fighter’s culture. This, in my view, seems entirely more accurate than Alpha’s very similar and nearly indistinguishable songs. This has personality. This has ideas and new ways to embody the same Street Fighter ideas. If 3rd Strike’s a classic, then the music remains part of that formula – even if the game evolved to a point that the developers couldn’t anticipate.

All truly great games don’t “invent” new genres – usually, their sequels make the type better than it was in the first place. Thus it is with Street Fighter (though maybe not IV), and 3rd Strike’s unprecedented later success comes from the quality of the core experience, not from market trends. When a game can find a re-release over a decade later and remain popular (mostly, people in the scene stopped playing due to having played too much!), that’s a sign of true quality I think. Much like Christianity survived for over two thousand years, quality shines over quantity! As Hebrews 13 says:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offeringfor sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Seek the intangible in your video games and music, rather than that which passes away. So it is in life, so it is in video games.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.