Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams

SFAlphaTitleCapcom has had some serious financial troubles lately and news broke recently that the company was seriously considering a sell-out. That may not be as fatal as you may assume because Nintendo execs were making similar statements before the impressive Mario Kart 8 sales lifted the Wii U to livable ground, but there’s no denying that Capcom’s in trouble.

Why is that? While few want Capcom to go, some argue that Capcom’s woes are about the company’s tendency to allow its franchises to evolve as little as possible. By that logic, EA should be a long-dead company, considering how slowly change comes to its sports brands. The whitewashing of history obscures that Capcom did this back when it was one of the biggest companies in the biz. Personally, I think this ignores the rising budgets that have hurt almost everyone in the console industry and just plain bad luck.

What, you thought this sort of thing is new for Capcom? Well, let’s go back to 1995. No less than five different versions of Street Fighter II had come out. What was the justification for so damn many versions? Just new characters, moves, faster speed, and/or improved endings for a few characters. It was at this point that Capcom finally decided to make an entirely new Street Fighter game. And yet, this ironically stands as probably the greatest example of Capcom’s slowness to change, because Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams is, in many ways, actually a step down from the last installment of the series at the time, Super Street Fighter II Turbo.

Plot: 4 out of 10

The story of Street Fighter is actually pretty bad in many ways yet the characters, brought to life through their bios and endings, can be interesting. Which brings me to the first disappointment: Alpha has 13 characters, three of which are hidden. Super Street Fighter II Turbo has 17, only one of which was hidden. That’s a significant drop. True, some younger fighting games at the same time had fewer characters, but to decrease your number of characters isn’t what I’d call progress.

The Alpha mini-series is set after the crappy, forgotten, little played, original Street Fighter (but that’s another review for another time), but before SFII. So what is done with this concept? Well, six characters — Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, Akuma (hidden), Sagat, and M. Bison (hidden) — are back for this game. Unfortunately, all of these characters’ stories are largely the same as in SFII, save Chun-Li, who doesn’t yet know that Bison killed her father. This makes the Prequel setting seem like a meaningless gimmick. On the other hand, these are fan favorites doing their things, so few gamers minded.

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Well, other then Ken’s long hair. His taste has apparently changed a lot over the years.

Of the seven* new characters, Birdie is just another smart-but-dumb Balrog type of thug, Adon is pretty uninteresting, and Dan is a comic relief character in a game too lacking in the character department to be able to afford to give character space to this kind of niche. Charlie is the buddy of Guile that the latter wants to avenge in SFII, but that’s the central problem with his character: It’s a little hard to get attached to him when we know he’s going to be killed by Bison. Rose is actually a pretty interesting character as a heroic opposite of Bison, though. Yet again, Bison surviving their battle is an obvious thing because he has to be alive in SFII. And Guy and Sodom are incorporated quite well. Especially Sodom, who serves as a hilarious parody of the Americans who vacation in Japan dressed as video game or anime characters and are shocked that they’re being laughed at.

One final minus is that most of the endings are uninspired and predictable. For instance, M. Bison’s ending consists of him standing triumphantly over a beaten Rose and mocking her for even trying to defeat him. Seriously, that’s the whole thing.

*Actually, Guy and Sodom were a good guy and bad guy in Final Fight, so they’re not that new.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

A modest improvement over the last couple incarnations of SFII and there’s little else that you can say. Compared to mid-’90s 3D fighters, there isn’t anything particularly amazing.

Sound: 9 out of 10

Solid remixes of classic songs for returning players’ stages and some nice songs for the new characters literally sound good to me. This is probably what Alpha does best.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

Except for the Chain Combos that feel more Mortal Kombat than Street Fighter in their cheapness and were all but abandoned in forthcoming games, the gameplay is also done well. It’s another round of street fighting as people do the familiar Fireball, Dragon Punch, and Lightning Kick kinds of moves. You might think that characters having more than one Super Combo (very powerful move that can only be used when your Super Meter is full) would be worth more points, since the last SFII had only one per character. But since another Capcom fighter, X-Men: Children of the Atom, also had multiple big moves per character, I should say not.

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Soul Illusion (in which the “illusions” are solid), courtesy of Rose.

One other thing to note here. Of the three characters available only with a code, only M. Bison works like a normal fighter. Akuma is way overpowered, but since the Internet as we know it was in its infancy, you’d likely need to pay even more money for a magazine that had the code. Dan is another matter. He can actually be quite effective if used right. And by “right” I mean “expertly” because his moves are deliberately difficult to use. Two of them have next to no range and the third can be countered with a punch. There’s method to this madness. Dan’s character is that of a comically shitty martial artists, and most SF-inspired anime and comic books portray him as a loser who is still convinced that he’s the baddest ass on the planet. But I’m not sure that Capcom should have taken it this far.

Actually, Dan may show us an underrated, little-considered reason for why this series largely died in the 2000s but has gotten something of a resurgence since then: more focus was on these characters even though to say that fighting games aren’t about story is an understatement bigger than Zangief. I’m not saying a fighting game can’t have story. Look at Mortal Kombat. But you can’t deny that story is no selling point for this genre.

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I’m embarrassed to say this, but the joke of Dan’s pink getup went over my head as a teenager.

Challenge: 4 out of 10

Like most games in this franchise, difficulty is about average most of the way and adjustable in the Saturn version that I’m reviewing. Unfortunately, bonus stages are gone completely. Not only that–there’s only boss. That boss depends entirely on who you’re using. This is a good idea, except the bosses aren’t really more difficult than the opponents that came before them. That really hurts the challenge.

Overall: 6 out of 10

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams is not really a bad game. It’s just not as good as its two direct sequels, nor is it a particularly great standalone game. In fact, those games have caused this one to be largely forgotten. It’s really only for the hardcore fan who has to have everything Street Fighter. If that applies to you, I can recommend this game. Otherwise, don’t bother.

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