25 Year Later, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike’s Reputation is Better Than Ever

Games Features Street Fighter
25 Year Later, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike’s Reputation is Better Than Ever

Street Fighter III didn’t exactly get off to an auspicious start. Six years after the genre-codifying Street Fighter II set the arcades on fire, its follow-up was met with a dull whimper. In Polygon’s oral history of the game, developer Akira Yasuda explained that the initial version saw “shockingly low sales” and that, at the time, “it felt like we’d created the worst-selling game ever at Capcom. It felt awful.” Similarly, developer Shinichiro Obata told them, “I personally felt that the game was incomplete. You know, there were three versions of Street Fighter III, and I think the first one in particular felt unfinished.”

There were many reasons why the game saw this initially hostile response: the roster was widely hated as only two characters made their return from Street Fighter II (Ryu and Ken), there were changes to core mechanics that frustrated old-heads, it stuck to pixel art in an era where 3D fighting games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter were seen as the future, and came out in the dwindling days of arcades.

However, this negative image wouldn’t stick when it came to the third and final version of the game, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, which was released 25 years ago on May 12th. Although it also wasn’t particularly popular at release, it slowly built up a reputation in the coming decades, eventually gaining a near-mythic status in the scene which has made it a frequent pick for the “greatest fighting game of all time.”

There’s a long list of explanations for why it’s ascended to cult classic status. As for the game itself, while its visuals weren’t celebrated at the time, in retrospect, its pixel art is simply some of the best the genre has ever seen and has held up dramatically better than that of its polygonal peers. Its colorful cast is full of oddball newcomers like the shapeshifting Twelve, the ripped old man Oro, or the enigmatic Q, each with a distinct look that catches the eye. Painstakingly rendered animation conveys their personalities and fighting styles, whether it’s their fierce strikes or walk cycles and post-match celebrations.

Similarly, everything about its audio, from its immaculate hip-hop-influenced soundtrack to announcer lines that oscillate with a DJ scratch, create a cohesive energy that drips with confidence. From the voice line, “Welcome to the world of Street Fighter III,” that greets you at the character select screen, to “Jazzy NYC ’99” and its groovy, high-energy horns, there are countless little touches that create a punchy soundscape.

But of course, this is a fighting game, and the main thing that has convinced so many people to spend years of their lives grinding obscure tech is how it feels to play. Here, the visuals and audio pull their weight as well, with fluidly animated attacks that give every move a unique flavor and some of the most sonically satisfying crunches and crackles you’ll hear from cabinet speakers. Supers are punchy and mercifully quick (something modern fighting games can certainly learn from), making it only mildly frustrating when Chun Li hits you with Houyoku Sen for the gazillionth time.

The cast embodies many distinct playstyles, and while things aren’t remotely balanced at higher levels of play, there is a wide range of options available for those of us who don’t plan on winning Evo, from the fleet-footed Ibuki to the bone-breaking Makoto (who is the coolest character in the game, by the way). Although the “low-tier” characters are genuinely terrible competitively (Twelve, *cough, cough*), they are so wacky and interesting that they still attract more than a few masochistic devotees.

street fighter 3: 3rd strike


And while mechanically, there are some big departures from other Street Fighter games for reasons I’ll get into, it still maintains similar motion inputs, and most standard combos are on the shorter side, meaning it isn’t as hard to jump into as you might expect. At the same time, it also offers a practically infinite skill ceiling, allowing layers and layers of optimized play. There are myriad input tricks, unique combo routes to memorize for different foes, and lots of specific hidden tech, but much of its complexity comes from a single mechanic: parry.

Nothing defines the pace and flow of 3rd Strike more than parry. It is a defensive technique that, if landed, removes all blockstun on an enemy’s attack and allows you to quickly turn the tables on aggression. In addition to being used on the ground, it can also be used in the air, which carries massive implications. While much of Street Fighter II’s cast seeks to control space with fireballs and then uppercut opponents out of the air when they try to jump over these projectiles, the grounded parry can nullify fireballs, and air parry lets you punish foes who try to knock you out of the sky. These factors combine to make this game feel entirely unique from other entries in the series, even compared to installments that incorporate parry like Street Fighter 6. When parries are used by a seasoned pro who can anticipate your next move, it can feel like you’re getting punked on by Donnie Yen’s Ip Man.

Of course, the move also has its drawbacks. Low attacks can only be blocked by a low parry (tapping down), while overheads and mids need to be blocked with a forward parry (tapping forward). Grabs will always beat either. The grounded version of the technique is only active for a maximum of 10 frames (one-sixth of a second), with it being active for less if you hold down the input, are in the air, or are trying to parry an aerial attack. Also, there’s a cooldown. Frequently, if you choose the wrong type of parry or mistime it, you will eat a knuckle sandwich, making it a much riskier option than just blocking.

However, the looming threat of parry means something very important — good players will key in on their opponent’s habits and use this move to them if they’re predictable. While in many fighting games, you can often repeat the same options and create tricky situations for your opponent if they don’t have resources or a move to escape the situation, every character in this game has a get-out-jail-free card as long as they can predict what their foe is going to do, making it essential to fully engage with your foe’s decision making.

One of the things that has kept this title interesting, even for those who have been playing it for years, is that parry introduces complexity and encourages people to mix things up on both offense and defense. It also helps that each deflection comes with a flashy blue particle effect and snappy audio cue that make landing them pure bliss. It’s intensely empowering to abruptly cancel your foe’s move and follow it up with your own, making it the lynchpin of this experience both tactically and emotionally. Altogether, when combined with the fun cast, rewarding moves, endless depth, pixel-perfect look, and cohesive vibe, it all makes for a freeform and frantic experience that holds up masterfully.

But while 3rd Strike is an excellent fighting game from top to bottom, that can be said about many other oldies and recent titles that don’t see much play these days. It wasn’t particularly popular in the arcades when it came out, so what changed? In part, it was a slow process that involved positive word-of-mouth that grew from a relatively small but dedicated tournament scene until it became far more accessible in the last few years due to the advent of the emulator and networking client Fightcade. But there’s also another explanation: a single sequence that disproportionately impacted this game, the genre, and eSports more broadly: Evo Moment #37, also known as the Daigo Parry.

For the uninitiated, it happened at Evolution Championship Series 2004, which is now considered the most prestigious yearly fighting game tournament in the land. Two heavy-weight competitors were facing off, Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong, both of whom had already won Evo titles in the past. The matchup was an immovable object against an unstoppable force. Justin is known for walling out opponents with a defensive playstyle, and his character Chun-Li is the best in the game at accomplishing this, while Daigo is known for aggression, and he used Ken to set up a looping strike/throw offense.

Daigo won the first round after walking down Justin and applying pressure, while in the second, Justin’s defense stuffed out his opponent to bring things to round three. Here, Justin maintained this momentum, clipping Daigo with a pair of crouching medium kicks into super until his adversary was low on health and looked frustrated. However, despite the life deficit, Daigo didn’t give up and kept trading blows until he was on his very last pixel of health. At near full-screen, Justin performed Chun-Li’s Super Art II, Houyoku-sen, which, like all supers, deals chip damage. It was borderline checkmate because even if Daigo blocked the move, his health was so low that guarding this way would kill him.

Thankfully, 3rd Strike has another option that negates chip damage, parry. Daigo parried the first strike of the 15-hit super, a difficult task because the attack can’t be countered after the move starts and requires prediction. Then he parries again and again, deflecting the first seven strikes as the crowd comes alive. There’s a brief pause, and then he parries the seven more in sequence, the audience’s disbelief growing. Daigo’s Ken jumps, air parries the last hit, and lands before delivering a brutal combo culminating in his own super that blasts through Chun-Li’s health and wins him the round as the crowd explodes.

It’s not a stretch to say it’s the most iconic moment in eSports history, in large part because even if you don’t understand the technical details of what happened, that Daigo landed 15 parries in a row, each timed within a fraction of a second, that he needed to do this or his character would die, and that many at the time thought this sequence was borderline impossible to pull off, especially in tournament, the clip is so immediately readable and the crowd so deafening, that it’s hard not to be swept up in the moment. The sequence transcends whether you understand what’s going on underneath the hood because it’s incredibly visually legible. It succinctly showcases how fighting games are an ideal spectator sport because you don’t need to understand their intricacies to see how cool it is to watch these characters and competitors perform heroics and blast each other with fireballs.

The longstanding legacy of the moment can’t be overstated either. It’s one of, if not the most viewed eSports clip online. According to Evo, it has over 100 million views on YouTube across different uploads. In the years since, many have gone out of their way to learn the sequence, both because it’s useful against Chun-Li, one of the best characters in the game, and also because being able to reenact this feat is simply very cool. In a recent interview, Justin Wong talked about how, over the years, people have frequently mentioned to him that seeing this sequence is why they got into fighting games in the first place. He also explained in the past that the Daigo Parry “may have helped save the FGC as many games were dying at the time and it brought some new life to the scene.” Arcades had long been the lifeblood of the space, and with their decline, things looked somewhat grim.

While 3rd Strike wasn’t the only thing being played competitively at the time, as other fighting games were still coming out during this period, like a bunch of Tekkens and Guilty Gears, it’s still the release with the most staying power from this era and is often looked back at fondly for helping keep things alive before Street Fighter IV would fully resuscitate the scene in 2008 and kick off a new wave of interest.

Today, 3rd Strike is still actively played, both casually and at local tournaments, and it will return to the main stage at Evo this year to celebrate the Daigo Parry’s 20th anniversary. The game almost always has the highest player count on Fightcade, an emulator mostly dedicated to older fighting games that allows players to face off online via responsive Rollback Netcode. It frequently hits between 500 and 1,000 concurrent players on that platform, which is higher than games like Street Fighter IV, V, and many current genre entries on Steam. As someone who started with the game on that platform, I found it dramatically more approachable than I expected. There are reams of beginner guides to get up to speed, and very unusually for a fighting game, there’s still a constant stream of new players trying it out for the first time 25 years later, making it surprisingly easy to find other beginners.

Of course, the Daigo Parry isn’t the only reason Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike looms so large over the scene. Its sharp aesthetics and deep systems have aged remarkably well, further feeding into the hype. Thanks to Fightcade’s smooth online play, it still has a sizeable player base of newcomers and seasoned killers alike. And obviously, its design and the well-considered inclusion of the parry are what teed up this classic moment in the first place.

But still, it’s hard to imagine that 3rd Strike would have quite the same gravitas without Evo Moment #37, a sequence that not only perfectly encapsulates the appeal of this particular game but of the entire genre and competitive videogames more broadly. It’s something that could only happen because Daigo sunk untold hours of practice learning the game’s systems, resulting in a jaw-dropping demonstration that summarizes why so many of us fighting game-heads have spent so much time grinding out combos in the training room and sharpening our skills online.

While most of us will never land something quite this impressive, we can still carve out our own accomplishments in these games that mean something similar to us on a personal level. If nothing else, the Daigo Parry opened this door for many, myself included. In the years since, fighting games have improved at onboarding, balancing, online play, and so much more, but there will always be a spot on the genre’s Mount Rushmore for Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, partially thanks to an unforgettable ten-second display of mastery.

Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

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