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Jul052017

« A brief history of Arika and its fighters by Josh "funkdoc" Ballard, part 4 »

(Links to the previous articles can be found here: one, two, three)

Part 4: Street Fighter EX3 and Looking Ahead

Full Disclosure: I am one of the biggest goddamn EX3 truthers in the world. It's one of my absolute favorite fighting games of all time and I could gush about it for days on end. I will try to keep that out of this section, though.

Released in 2000, Street Fighter EX3 was a first-generation PlayStation 2 exclusive. It sold better than you'd expect given the general state of fighting games at this point, since it was the only early PS2 fighter besides Tekken Tag Tournament. It's the only Arika fighter not to receive an arcade release, which has had major effects on its long-term reception compared to that of EX2+.

EX3 has largely vanished from competitive history. Its timing was part of the reason, as the American tournament scene wouldn't move to consoles for a few more years. If a fighting game wasn't in the arcade, it might as well not have existed to the hardcore players throughout the world; Japan remained arcade-focused a lot longer, which is why they have hardly any quality match videos of this game. EX3's new mechanics also make the game play less like Street Fighter than almost anything else in the franchise—Guilty Gear & Marvel players would feel right at home with the advanced combos and setups this game has to offer. It makes sense that SF veterans like Justin Wong & Jeron “Hiro” Grayson strongly prefer EX2+, as this game is more broken than any official Street Fighter before or since.

This game has had its specialists, though. In the early-mid-2000s there were dedicated players in New Jersey (from the website NeoAvalon) and the Dominican Republic (EvilKairi) who devoted countless hours to breaking down this game's combo system and competitive play. Their work has thankfully been preserved on YouTube (search "Evil Kairi" and "InfestedJester"), and ShinjiGohan spent over a decade making videos and bringing the game to major events. The "Street Fighter EX" channel on YouTube also has EX3 match videos—there’s a lot more content than you would think! I actually had a much harder time finding videos for the original EX.

The problem in writing about this game is that a few small isolated scenes that haven't been active in ages don't give you a complete picture of high-level play, so this is likely the least understood game in this series. EX1, though lacking in videos, is much simpler to understand and got some play from arcade SF experts back in the day. The available EX3 videos tend to feature a lot of mistakes in the fundamental aspects of fighting games (e.g., unsafe moves, inefficient meter usage). People back then didn't know some of the strongest mixups, either.

EX3's wackiness lies in its new mechanics. The biggest change is that it's a two-versus-two team game, and tagging doesn't work like it does in the Marvel fighters. Here you can cancel almost anything into a tag which recovers instantly. This means you can continue your combo or blockstring for a bit until you take control of your partner, who can keep the combo or string going even further! To prevent the entire game from being nothing but this, Arika added a meter that must be full before you can tag. The meter takes a decent amount of time to refill but isn't too slow. It's also important to note that you have a window of invincibility after tagging which is smaller than EX2+ Excels' invincibility but still relevant. You can't buffer any inputs during the tag freeze, so this isn't quite as ridiculous as it may sound.

The other mechanic most responsible for the game's creativity and broken tactics is the Momentary Combo. Momentaries are a precursor to Guilty Gear's Force Roman Cancels: by pressing P or K immediately upon a special move's impact, you can cancel it into another special move. You can also momentary cancel special moves into tags or Surprise Blows (explained below). You can even cancel momentary moves into other momentaries, though you must alternate P and K buttons for this. These don't use any meter, and some of them are downright hilarious—some characters with Shoryukens can cancel them into fireballs to stay safe on block! They have a tight window for execution (three frames), so you need to put in training mode work to get the most out of this feature.

There are plenty of other additions which are less game warping. Surprise Blows are the overheads from Fighting Layer, which replace Guard Breaks; many of them can combo from heavy & special attacks, making them useful to link to your partner in tag combos. The Critical Parade allows you to control both characters at once and use unlimited supers until its time runs out. It costs two bars of super meter from both characters and requires a full tag meter, making it far more resource-heavy than Marvel vs. Capcom's Duos. M.Bison and especially Garuda can rack up ludicrous damage from these thanks to an exploit, but they're highly inefficient for most other characters. Emotional Flow is simple: when one character dies, their partner gains all of their super meter and can store six bars instead of three.  Finally, the game has some special double-team supers with certain tag teams. Most of these are merely fun Easter eggs but worth checking out just for that:

Seriously, this might be the most adorable fighting game move ever!

EX3 is an utterly bizarre game and I can't think of anything else quite like it. You'll still see the traditional zoning and footsies, but momentaries can make you feel like the subject in Weird Al's "Everything You Know Is Wrong": left is right, up is down, and unsafe reversals are safe! Sagat can chain three or four Tiger Shots in a row, Guile can cancel Flash Kick into Sonic Boom; the rules of Street Fighter design went out the window with this one. Heck, you can even use a tag to juggle after Zangief's command grabs:

Certain characters gain new pressure and mixups from momentaries while other characters get nothing but unsafe gimmicks out of them. It's a veritable Pandora's Box approach to game design, with Arika seemingly trying any idea they ever had during development. One wonders if the game's console-exclusive status led Arika to treat it as a testing ground, assuming that it wouldn't be touched by serious competitive players.

Though Excels could also lead to astronomical damage, what separates EX3 is the variety of situations you can convert to a dead character. Many teams can dish out 70 percent damage or more from a crouching MK, which isn't something you see often in EX2+. Most important are the tag setups on block, which may be one of the worst things about the game. If your character has a super that keeps the opponent in blockstun for a long time, you can do blockstring to tag then blockstring to super. Your partner can then jump in and mix up between a late jump attack and an empty jump to low MK combo. I enjoy this game's BS when you have to win the neutral game to do it, but it's a whole different story when you don't even need to land a hit. At least it's not the easiest thing to set up properly with most supers.

I would be remiss not mentioning the most innovative aspect of EX3: its create-a-character mode! There is a generic-looking man named Ace who starts out with as bland a moveset as it gets. This game's version of Expert Mode is a series of missions that earn you new moves for him, and you can give him a certain number of special and super moves from your available list. He can also level up his moves by using them a certain number of times, often giving them new properties. He has a multitude of infinite combos from various max-level moves, and other max-level moves are beyond overpowered in other ways. The NeoAvalon crew banned him, which is pretty remarkable when you think about how broken the rest of this game is! He makes for a fun training mode character, at least.

One quick note on version differences: The Japanese version of EX3 was released first and is significantly worse than the others. It suffers from noticeable slowdown when you have more than two characters on the screen.

Strong Characters: Kairi, (Evil) Ryu, Sagat, Garuda, Dhalsim, V.Rosso

Kairi/Ryu/Sagat are all in the same boat. They can cancel their DPs into fireballs to stay safe, and have solid tag and solo combos to go with their neutral game. Evil Ryu is slightly better than the original, mostly because he has an Akuma-style teleport. Kairi has a bunch of other tools beyond traditional shoto stuff: an unusual teleport, an air fireball super that beats DPs, and the best Level 3 super in the game. His giant beam leaves opponents in blockstun long enough for you to grab a sandwich, and it powers him up for a while afterward. It's normally unsafe on block or hit to compensate for this, but using it after a tag takes care of that problem. Considering he has a pseudo-infinite in his power-up mode, I suspect Arika didn't think that through.

 

EvilKairi was one of the early pioneers for this game. You don't see the full extent of Kairi's dirt here but it shows the basics. Video quality will be a recurring issue with this game, unfortunately.

Garuda has the easiest and most infamous of this game's overpowered tactics: the Critical Parade exploit I mentioned earlier. During CP he can chain multiple projectile supers together then charge them all simultaneously. Since the opponent is being hit by three of these at once and you can juggle after it, he gets 100 percent damage from any hit. He's nothing too special outside of that, but you can use a good partner to handle the neutral game and build that meter. The trick works regardless of whether Garuda or his partner is on point! Here's a clip of him scoring a Marvel-esque "Happy Birthday" with this:

Apologies for the video quality again, I know it makes this hard to see!

EX2+/EX3 Dhalsim, much like EX3 in general, is a Bizarro World design. He has his usual space control but is a much more offensive character here—he can use his drills at any point during his jump, and he even has a command grab! The grab works like Anakaris' in Darkstalkers but is much more dangerous since he can juggle off of it. Yoga Blast is a launcher in the EX games and can be used as a predictive anti-air, which becomes scary considering his juggle ability. He can combo into his yoga drill super and land early enough to combo another super or a tag, and the drill super is also great at linking to his partner's juggles.

Rosso's K momentary (command dash) is one of the most fun and powerful ones in the game, as he can pressure and force various mixups from the first hit of his rekka. If the rekka lands he can cancel the second hit with this momentary to juggle off of it. If they weren't knocked into the corner, he can even go into his EX2+ vortex I mentioned in that game's section. This one momentary adds so much to his game and is the reason he's among my favorite characters to play.

More amusingly early-2000s goodness courtesy of the NeoAvalon players. Rosso/Sim is too fun!

Final Verdict: This game definitely isn't for everyone, and hopefully this article explains why. If you hate constant mixups and any stray hit turning into a billion damage, stay away from this one. If you enjoy busted tech that takes skill & ingenuity to use to its potential, on the other hand, you'll be in heaven! I would argue that it's better to think of EX3 as closer to "even nuttier Guilty Gear without airdashing" than "Street Fighter" so as to have more realistic expectations. It's definitely the most experimental game Arika ever released and the company's most loved or hated one as a result. If it had guard cancels it might be my favorite fighter ever, but others have plenty of valid reasons for preferring EX2+.

Looking Ahead: Fighting EX Layer

So, what can we expect from the new game? Arika had more new ideas with each game the company made but I’m not so sure that trend will continue. Fighting games in the modern era have tended to focus on their signature mechanics and not venture too far outside of that, so as to keep things accessible for less experienced players. The presence of esports in the scene has led designers to focus on character balance more than ever before. In short, I wouldn't expect anything remotely close to EX3!

However, Arika's clearly not going back to EX1 either. The available footage has already shown dashing and sidestepping like found in Fighting Layer. There's also something highly similar to Guilty Gear's Roman Cancel, so maybe a bit of the EX3 spirit will survive. It's unusual to see that type of mechanic in a game without airdashing, unless it's a more limited version like SF4's FADCs. The folks at Arika seem to be on the right track if they want to do something that stands out from the crowd!

Sadly for EX2+ fans, we haven't seen Excels and I doubt we will. They run counter to all modern conventions of fighting-game design; they're too powerful and they require too much combo memorization to be friendly to new players. We can probably expect Fighting Layer with a hint of EX3 here.

There is one last important point to make: Arika will need to put a lot more work into balance than they used to if they want any success in the current environment. The older games had other issues I haven't even mentioned yet, such as Chun-Li having the same infinite combo (low MK to HK Lightning Legs) in every EX game. The execution was difficult enough that nobody used it consistently, but that wouldn't slip by modern specialists in a new fighting game. I would argue that every Arika fighter can fairly be considered "kusoge" on some level, though some are a lot harder to break than others.  The main concern for Fighting EX Layer may be whether Arika can balance it without sacrificing all the fun and creativity of their earlier work!

Special Thanks:

 

  • Saotome Kaneda for his knowledge of all these games, especially Fighting Layer
  • mountainmanjed and MelvanaInChains for additional input on Fighting Layer
  • HARD BREAD, Team Sp00ky’s Min, and kilvear for their work on EX2+. Seriously, watch 2 Old 2 Furious!
  • Mike Uyama for a plethora of editing suggestions
  • Everyone keeping the flame alive for these games!

 

Josh Ballard is a longtime veteran of competitive games, ranging from speedruns to the card game Dominion. The fighting game scene was his first love, and he remains a fan of old & obscure fighters. You can find his Twitch stream at twitch.tv/srkfunkdoc, and follow him on Twitter @SRKfunkdoc.

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