Over the next several years, I kept playing different versions of Street Fighter II (Hyper, Arcade). Eventually, I picked up my very own copy of Super Street Fighter II (The New Challengers) for the Sega Genesis. I appreciated being able to play with some newer characters, particularly Dee Jay and Cammy. Even though I enjoyed spending a lot of time with all of the various iterations of Street Fighter II, I eventually grew weary of game's limitations and moved on to other, more interesting fighting games, such as Virtua Fighter 1 & 2, and SoulCalibur.
Then in December of 2000, my interest in Street Fighter was rekindled. I was home from college for the holidays and browsing around the local Media Play store for potential Christmas gifts. My brother and I had spent most of that summer playing the hell out of his new Sega Dreamcast so I decided to hit the games section to see if I could find any possibilities there. I happened across a marked-down copy of Street Fighter Alpha 3. Neither of us had ever owned a PlayStation or Saturn so we weren't very familiar with the Alpha series. I decided to take a gamble anyway.
When he unwrapped the gift on Christmas morning, I explained to him that I had picked it out because of our prior shared enthusiasm for my Genesis copy of Super Street Fighter II. He looked at it approvingly and agreed to give it a shot. Later that day, we fired it up and inadvertently ignited what would become a life-long passion for all things Street Fighter.
Each of us beat the game dozens of times, on various difficulty levels, and with a number of different characters. Every time I came home for a break or a long weekend, we would test our newly developed skills against each other to see who had improved more. Sometimes it was him, sometimes me. Either way, whoever held the slightest advantage never held it for long. At the end of every versus session (after playing enough matches to determine indisputable superiority) we would always close things out with an obligatory round of the brilliant co-op mode, Dramatic Battle.
Dramatic Battle is hands down one of my favorite features from Alpha 3 (honestly, it's one of my favorite features from any fighting game). I feel pretty confident saying that every fighting game would be vastly improved by including it. There are two different options for Dramatic Battle, plain and Versus. In the Versus version, you can have three players face off in a lopsided 2 v 1 match-up. Unfortunately for us, we hardly ever had more than two working controllers at any given time, so we always just stuck with the regular version.
Standard Dramatic Battle is like a shorter version of arcade mode, but with co-op. Two players fight together, 2 v 1, against a series of six AI-controlled opponents. You can pick any two characters from the roster to play as but you always fight against, in order, Adon, Akuma, Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and then M Bison. The opponents in this mode are much tougher than in the regular Arcade mode, but what's cool about it is that you and your teammate each have separate health bars. That means that even if one of you gets knocked out mid-round, the other can continue fighting until either both of you, or the enemy, has finally been defeated. Just like Arcade mode, if you both lose a match, you can continue right where you left off and try again. After defeating M Bison, you are treated to a staff roll (credits) and some victory music.
Dramatic Battle goes a long way towards breathing some additional life into the standard player vs player/player vs AI fighting game. It's a lot of fun to be able to switch things up and form a team with somebody after having pounded on them (or having been pounded on by them) for a while. There's also something satisfying about having a teammate for support/sympathy whilst taking on occasionally frustrating AI opponents (much more so than having to go it alone). Again, it's just a shame that more game developers don't think to add such a fantastic mode to their fighting games.
In case you weren't keeping track, that's a total of 34 different characters. For a (mostly) one-on-one fighting game, that is an incredibly substantial number of fighters! For comparison, the original Marvel Vs Capcom (which came out around the same time) only had sixteen playable characters! And that was a two-on-two fighting game!
What is even crazier is that, not only are there 34 different characters in the game, but each one has their own unique story, mid-story match-up, semifinal match-up, and ending. Some of them even have unique pre-fight interactions as well (a la King of Fighters). Nearly every single character also has their own unique stage and music. The only exceptions, stage-wise, are Evil Ryu, Shin Akuma, and Juni and Juli (and only Juni and Juli share music). Even the successors to the Alpha series, Street Fighter III and IV, had way fewer stages and characters (IV did eventually surpass Alpha 3's character count, but only by the third version).
With 35 different stage themes in the game (including the training theme and an additional unique battle stage theme), you might expect some of the music to be repetitious or forgettable. But every song in the game stands apart. Each one is upbeat, catchy, and/or appropriately dramatic. Many of them, you just can't help bobbing your head along to (my personal favorites are the ones from Sakura's and Dan's stages). I actually enjoyed the music so much that I recorded it all to create my own soundtrack to listen to whenever I wasn't constantly playing the game. Even now, years later, I still enjoy listening to that music from time to time (I even purchased the official version when it finally became available).
I also sought out Street Fighter in other mediums, such as the brilliant Street Fighter II animated movie (by which the Alpha series was inspired), as well as the incredibly well-done Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist web series. (If you aren't familiar with either of those, do yourself a favor and check them out immediately.) Unfortunately, I also discovered the abysmal Legend Of Chun-Li movie, but let's all just pretend that that cinematic abomination never existed, shall we?
For as many great fighting games as I have played since first discovering Street Fighter II all those years ago, none of them have been able to hold my attention like Street Fighter Alpha 3. Considering everything that Alpha 3 offers, the beautiful graphics, great music, exceptional content and features (I didn't even mention the incredible World Tour mode), there's really no other fighting game quite like it. It's still the go-to diversion whenever I'm hanging out with my brother, it's the first game that springs to mind whenever I hear about the latest Street Fighter news (I really wish they would make a Steam version, by the way), and I am always, always down for a couple rounds of Dramatic Battle (just in case anyone's interested).