There is no doubt that many Capcom fans like myself were quite disappointed several months ago when we learned Saturn would not see a port of Street Fighter Zero 3. Thus, being a hardcore gamer, I eagerly anticipated the conversion when it was released for Playstation earlier this year. As I expressed in my review, the conversion was much more than I'd come to expect due to the exceptional repore of PSX's 2D fighters. Without a doubt, the game was a fantastic port and a near perfect translation which would satisfy even the most critical gamer. However, with the Dreamcast on the market, possessing a larger RAM capacity and powerful graphics processor; a more accurate, superior version was imminent. Many anticipated the release to include arcade perfect features and net play functions. Others simply migrated to SF3: 3rd Strike. After a long period of intensive playing (amidst this hot July 4th weekend), Bahn has returned to answer all speculated and skeptic questions to date.
We begin with first by taking a look at the game's cover. Why? Well, because I found it to be quite entertaining. Capcom has an established track record for designing dynamic cover art illustrations, particularly for the Street Fighter series. However, the booklet cover is quite, well, unorthodox. Granted, it's not as bad as a number of American box art covers I encountered in my time, but it's defintely going to raise a few eyebrows. The best way to describe it is a psuedo pop art style. The characters all have large black eyes, and look like...um, dolls. To say the least, you'll get a few chuckles out of it. I'd like to vouch for Capcom and say that this is going to win gamers over, but honestly, I was expecting anything more attractive then what we got, let's hope that the American release will be more appealing.
Moving on, the game is powered up and already I can see subtle details altered for the DC version. The font of the SF title while it checks the VMS is now green (on PSX, its a bright orange). Within seconds, the game loads up the new opening sequence which depicts Guile, Evil Ryu and the additional new characters added to the Alpha 3 series. Upon the conclusion of the sequence, more changes, the animated glitter effect is more or less binded in a rectangular shape with a new kanji set of characters superimposed over the Zero 3 logo. Characters you ask? What does it say...? I am no Japanese expert for interpreting symbols, but my best guess suggests it stands for "Special edition". You'll find no load screens present as the game makes transistions with ease...a total arcade experience!
Instead of jumping right into the Arcade Mode (as most players will be doing upon securing their personal copy), I opted to head straight to the World Tour mode. Pressing the start button, I was greeted to a brand new, stylish menu screen listing similar options found on the PSX version. You'll notice that the options which required you to fufill certain conditions on PSX will not be necessary on Dreamcast. All modes have automatically been provided, thus saving you the trouble and allowing you to enjoy the entire package. New to the menu screen is the all new Vs. Dramatic Battle (which allows you to have 2 on 1 matches with 3 players), and Network Mode (sorry, no netplaying option for online competition folks). But, digressing here, let's speak about how awesome this conversion is for the Dreamcast. Because I will be making comparisons to highlight where the DC version excels, I will be designating this version as Street Fighter Zero 3: Special Edition for the duration of this review, whereas the Playstation version will be acknowledged as Zero 3.
I personally find this mode by far, to be one of the best features a fighting game has incorporated since the Tekken Force Mode in Tekken 3. It was a nice incentive to compel gamers to unlock hidden features. Though, unlike the Playstation version, the DC version is no longer designated to unlock any hidden characters (at least, not the ones previously added on Playstation, they're now automatically revealed and playable on the character selection menu). Does this mean there are new features waiting to be unlocked? Very possible. In any event, this mode has now been greatly expanded and has a few new surprises added. The first thing you'll notice is a few minor asthetic changes made on the World Tour map and Setup screens. Personally, I found the Playstation designs a bit more appealing, they seem a tad bland to me on the Dreamcast, but a insignificant gripe to say the least.
The regions, e.g., Asia and Italy are now broken up into several sub-areas labeled A-1, B-2, etc. At times you will be given the option to select which area you will want to engage. Matchups are no longer the dull matches you found present on the PSX version. In fact, they're much more exciting as certain areas will have you battle against two distinct characters (not clones), in a bout appropriately called Dramatic Battle. This of course is much more challgenging, not to mention more appealing as the DC fondly shows off the its 2D hardware capacity. Some of the matchups I played pit me against Sagat and Akuma, Sodom and Rolento, even Dan and Blanka (whom, I actually even lost to! Oh the shame) >_< I found myself quite eager to sit and play this mode for hours (which I did by the way).
Additional aspects added to the enhanced mode were new forms of knockouts. Basically in layman's terms, as in the Playstation version, you are instructed to defeat your opponent(s) either by using a Super Attack, Custom Combo, etc. SFZ3: SE takes it one step further by including Throw Attack (requring specifically that you actually throw the opponent in order to defeat them), Target X (a Dramatic Battle mode which you must defeat a designated character to win while avoiding attacks from the other attacker, a example of this was when I fought Cammy and Bison and was instructed to defeat Cammy. Stun Attack is a deadly match where damage inflicted upon you can result in an automatic Stun (or as expressed in the SF community, dizzy). Because World Tour is now greatly expanded, you'll find that your overall ISM levels will also be greater then the Level you achived in Zero/Alpha 3. I haven't had enough time to confirm if actual characters or new conditions will be unlocked, due to the makeup of the Main Menu, I strongly doubt that new Modes will be opened up, but anything is possible.
The Arcade/Vs Modes
After a series of hours past, I finally took my leave of the new enhanced World Tour Mode and moved onto the Arcade and Versus options. Again, you'll find that load times are now non-existant. It actually took me a bit of adjustment realizing that matches would now be started at the same pace of the arcade counterpart. It's basically like owning the actual arcade board on CD. The characters during the matchup screen in Arcade Mode are no longer lifeless and are fully animated (yay!) Plus, all the special modes (Saikyou, Mazi, L.O. and No Ism) which work in tangent with your selected ISM are also automatically selectable. Each are listed in kanji, but are listed accordingly as I just expressed.
To elaborate on the gaijin factor (games which are fully impossible to enjoy due to the extensive degree of Japanese text) will not hinder your abilities from playing this game, after all, haven't we all been playing Street Fighter for years enough to know how to play. If not, pause the game, you'll find among the options menu to reset, configure or quit your game a brand new option exclusive to DC. Capcom has included a moves listing of every character available in the game. Therefore, if you don't wish to grab the book to check a move, you can simply refer to the on-screen guide. A definite plus and a welcomed feature to any newcomer that is learning the how to play. Versus mode uses the same layout found in Zero/Alpha 3 (I actually wish they'd include the character matchup screens as they did in the Arcade mode, or at least made it an option). The configuration menu can be setup for your joystick (which would be left on Default) or pad. Button assignments allow for x3 Punch or x3 Kick, custom combo activations, throw commands, even taunts (which I have been unable to peform, unless its Start and Jab as in Marvel vs. Capcom). Additional options include Vibration (not included on DC pads at this time), Command (Arcade, Normal, Long).
So what else is new?
If you actually were to put the Playstation and Dreamcast versions together, you'd almost say they were identical, but they're not. Special Edition's graphics are actually larger, and more detailed then its Playstation counterpart. Although some will claim they are the exact same size, take a look at the background details in character faces and even the actual fighting characters themselves, such as Guile for instance and you'll notice that you can clearly make out the features in his face. The characters are actually 30% larger in appearance and the stages appear to be larger as well. Enjoying this on a 27" monitor or larger will easily make this a enjoyable arcade-like experience.
Controls are very responsive and to say the least even manageable with the DC stock pad. Although I actually had the option to use the Arcade Stick, I found this to be too sensitive for my style of playing, added to the fact the stick is not like the actual arcade sticks I am normally accustomed to (besides, home joysticks always make a 'clicking noise' which irritates me). Thankfully, Interact is developing a new 6 button joypad so our salvation is at hand!
The gameplay was certainly addressed and even the most criticial gamer will be hard pressed to find complaints with this conversion. The collision boxes and hit detection is much more accurate. This is due to the restored frames of animation and Capcom's devotion to make this as accurate to the arcade as possible, (I await the feedback from others on characters such as Dhalsim and Sodom for the final verdict). I actually found that using a few characters such as Chun Li and Guile behaved smoother on SFZ3: SE then even the arcade and Playstation respectively could hope to emulate. Because of this, purists should find themselves right at home with plenty to sing praises about.
On a final note regarding restored animation, all background stages are now available through a Stage Select option featured in the Versus Mode. Stages found on the World Tour Mode are also selectable including the missing Karin stage (basically Sakura's stage with a light blue color scheme to it) have been restored. In addition, Karin's opening segement when she battles Sakura among the other special character interaction sequences are all present, thus making this package the ulimate conversion of Street Fighter Zero 3 to date.
Sound effects have never gave my ears a audible experience since I last played Marvel vs. Capcom. The music is just as stellar as it was on Playstation and is definitely quite enjoyable on the Dreamcast, I would've appreciated a sound test feature though, but that's just being picky. Every hit, clang, and powered up effect can be clearly distinguished. Gone are those muffled sounds as found on the Saturn as if you were playing the game underwater. Again, using Guile as a example, you can clearly understand each of his voice samples, and I am sure the gamers that posted on AGSF (alt.games.sf2 for the uninitiated) will be pleased to know that Dee Jay no longer sounds as if he's chewing while he speaks.
All in all, there are a few other small changes, which will be focused on in a future review that make the Dreamcast version stand out. Without a doubt, this conversion will be acclaimed as the best version, albeit the PSX adaption still being a viable option for those desiring a equally exceptional version. Some will surely acknowledge the changes as insignficant, but that is truly a understatement. The Dreamcast version excels where the Playsation left off. With 100% animation intact, no load times, and an abundant variety of features and exclusive improvements, there's no doubt that many Dreamcast owners who are fond of the series will be picking this up once its released, that is, if they don't already own the system at this time.
As a hardcore gamer myself, I personally found this version to be the best Street Fighter to date, though that's quickly changing with my appreciation for Third Strike. Dreamcast has once again proved that 2D conversions can be accomplished with ease, and to think, this is still first generation software. If you have the means and ability to purchase Zero 3, do so now, you certainly will not be disappointed.
Want a sneak peek of the game in action? Check out the 00:28 second movies available in 320x240 and 160x140 resolutions. courtesy of Game Fan, thanks to Hi-fi and ECM for the rights!
· · · Bahn