Go for broke! On-site report from Street Fighter Alpha 3’s “Ultimate Zero 12” Japanese tournament

By on March 31, 2017 at 1:00 pm
ultimate zero 12 poster banner

“Let’s go Justin!”

Go to a public place, shout this in the middle of a crowd, and note people’s reactions. Most people will ignore you–or give you a strange look–but there is always someone who gets it. Though, there is a chance that there is someone else in that crowd for whom those words have special significance.

Evo Moment #37’s significance can’t be overstated. It inspired a new generation of fighting game players, and to this day, remains one of most iconic moments in competitive gaming. When we discuss famous FGC-related media, this is no doubt the most relevant one, globally. However: did you know that another famous FGC video had a similar influence on the Japanese FGC? Years before Daigo Umehara parried his way across cyberspace, he was V-ism Demon Flipping a young Alex Valle on Japanese national television.

Umehara mentioned in passing, on his show BeastTV, how this broadcast had a strong influence on Street Fighter Alpha 3’s lifespan. According to multi-time Evolution champion (2005, 2007 CvS2, B5 Alpha 3, 2006 GGXX Slash) and winner of the 2nd official Alpha 3 national tournament (in 1999) D44|BAS, this broadcast had a similar effect to the parry video, though on a smaller scale and specific to Japan. From the time it aired in 1998, it helped cement Alpha 3 as a high-impact title in the Japanese arcade gaming scene, and was no doubt important for media visibility for fighting games going into the golden era of the early 2000s.

Over the years there were several Alpha 3 National tournaments held, but as Capcom released more titles they stopped holding official events for the game. That’s when events like the “Ultimate Zero” series stepped in and continued to run national-scale events for the game. [Reminder for those unaware: the Street Fighter Alpha series is called Street Fighter Zero in Japan. – Editor] I decided to attend the Ultimate Zero 12 tournament on March 19, 2017.

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-Ultimate Zero 12-

The tournament was held at Try Amusement Tower, a popular arcade in Akihabara. Try is a 6-floor arcade (floors 2-8), with each respective floor housing a variety of music games, UFO catchers, classics, and fighting games.

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The strongest Alpha 3 players from all over Japan gathered on the 8th floor of this arcade, where the Ultimate Zero 12 tournament was held! Ultimate Zero 12 ran a singles event and a 3v3 team tournament. The format is traditional Japanese style, FT1, single elimination. Bas mentioned that by his estimation, the average age of participants at this event was over 35 years old.

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The Ultimate Zero tournament series is a grassroots event that started in 2001. This year’s event–the 12th installment–ended a 6-year hiatus the event took after 2011.

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19 years after its initial release (1998), Alpha 3 continues to maintain a small community of players in certain arcades. In Eastern Japan (Tokyo Area), Alpha 3 is still played at a high level at Big-One in Saitama, as well as the tournament venue, Try Amusement Tower. In Western Japan, A-cho in Kyoto and Monte 50 in Osaka still have gatherings regularly. In addition to many top players from these areas, this event boasted strong representation from various regions all over Japan.

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Fortunately for the foreign audience, this event was streamed live thanks to Twitch Japan staff and K8.

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Alpha 3 exists in a strange space amongst core SF players because of the way the game developed, and of course, its infamous V-ism infinites. Thanks to a system exploit referred to as “crouch canceling,” these infinites are possible, and the V-ism gauge has a large influence on in-game decision-making. Beyond that, it also has strong influence on character strength and tiers.

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While this style of combat has something of a mixed reception amongst SF players, there was a unique sense of discovery and creativity that came with Alpha 3. Combine that with the art style and the music, and it is no wonder why this game garnered such a following. You can see in the above photo, artist Urushika drew support art for the various players from around the country who attended. This game was a high-impact title in the late ’90s, and this tournament pays homage to those heady days.

-The Tournament-

The singles tournament had over 74 entrants, and some great exchanges throughout the bracket.

Amamiya made clever use of Juli’s air V-ism activation invulnerability to make Harasho’s DP whiff. This opened the door for Amamiya to steal back the round with a V-ism confirm of his own, and send Harasho–one of the strongest Cammy’s in Japan–back to West Japan in the early rounds!

Catapult had a high-impact performance with his rare X-ism Boxer, upsetting Mukai, a high profile V-Dhalsim player, to qualify for top 4! Using counterhit confirms into dash punch after slide, he erases Mukai’s health in seconds for a big upset.

Aojiru and Fuchi face off in a high-profile East vs. West Japan matchup. Both players were a little nervous, it seems, as the first round had both players “juggling” the round. Despite this, Fuchi recovered, and punched his ticket to top 4!

Things get crazy as Amamiya takes on Gabe, a notable Akuma player. Gabe beats Amamiya’s air V-ism activation, but can’t convert after. After tagging Gabe out of V-ism, Amamiya bets it all after blocking Gabe’s hop-kick.

Takedaru exhibits some awesome patience, use of drills, pressure, and acute decision making against the defending Ultimate Zero 11 champion, Igari. Note how Takedaru uses slide against Igari’s V-ism activations on his way to top 4.

Takedaru forces Amamiya’s hand, and burns him alive after an anti-air LP V-ism activation in the corner. With this match, Takedaru sealed his seat in the Grand Finals.

Fuchi eliminates Catapult in the most Alpha 3 way possible. With this, the Grand Final is decided: Takedaru vs Fuchi.

Amamiya shows nice footsies and reactions to shut Catapult down in the mid-range during this consolation match for 3rd place. Note the jab checks on the rush punches!

In this Grand Final set, we saw Takedaru completely shut down Fuchi’s ground game with limbs and drills, and even neutralized his V-ism activations. Takedaru did such a great job of frustrating Fuchi, slowing the match down, and playing at his pace. After a couple of key anti airs in the second round, Takedaru closes out the tournament.

Singles results:

  1. Takedaru (Dhalsim)
  2. Fuchi (Ryu)
  3. Amamiya (Juli)
  4. Catapult (Boxer)

The 3v3 team tournament had 68 entrants, and the Grand Finals saw Team Soinpo go up against Team @35. Team Soinpo featured Makoto (Zangief), Nishikawaguchi (Dhalsim), and Tabatake (Sakura). The lineup for Team @35 was S (Sakura), Mukai (Dhalsim), and Igari (Ryu). This matchup was interesting because both teams had a lot of Ultimate Zero tournament history. Team @35’s Igari is the defending Ultimate Zero 11 champion (he won singles & teams that year), and his teammate, Mukai, has a 2nd place performace at Ultimate Zero 9 under his belt. Team Soinpo features Nishikawaguchi, who has a singles tournament (Ultimate Zero 2) and 2 team tournament (Ultimate Zero 9 and Ultimate Zero Direction) as wins in his portfolio. Nishikawaguchi’s teammate for those two wins was none other than Makoto. Tabatake also has a singles tournament runner-up performance at Ultimate Zero Direction, and a team tournament win at Ultimate Zero 7. Given their performance histories, this was a great lineup to close out the team tournament for Ultimate Zero’s comeback event.

In the final face-off of the team tournament, Nishikawaguchi Dhalsim, a longtime Alpha 3 Dhalsim player, went up against S, who played anchor for Team @35. Nishikawaguchi has a reputation for being very good with anti-airs, and today was no exception. In the final match against S, he displays awesome movement, patience, air control (some demoralizing airthrows in the first round of his game vs. S). S, on the other hand, also showed some incredible patience and great ground game skills himself, especially when it came to challenging Dhalsim’s limbs in the mid-range. In the end, S ate a counter-hit fierce from Nishikawaguchi and he answered with a bad air tech, giving Nishikawaguchi the window to activate V-ism and snipe Sakura out of the sky, for the win.

Teams results:

  1. Team Soinpo
  2. Team @35

Of course, there was much more to this event than the clips you see here. Feel free to check out the entire event archive on Try Amusement Tower’s Twitch channel, here!

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-The Legacy-

The cool thing about title-centric events like the Ultimate Zero series is that it gives a single game’s scene a platform to express themselves to the fullest. Events like these feel more like celebrations of scene history, relationships, and battles rather than actual tournaments. These players come here from all over the country–but not to seek sponsorship, chase money, or find fame. For them, the chance to fight with old rivals, old friends, or even new challengers is more than enough to sustain them. Here, there is no stage, no prize, and no ceremony. Just two chairs, two cabinets, two hundred yen, and a chance to make history.

alex valle and daigo when young at international sfa3Looking around the venue, it is as if I am looking at ripples in a pond, from a stone that was thrown long ago. The influence of that 1998 broadcast echoes through their cheers and expressions. Through their battles, we can see the living memories these people share: of a golden age inspired by that ground-breaking battle in San Francisco.

A fighting game player from New Orleans, LA, now living in Japan. A sports fan and arcade gaming enthusiast, find him in Mikado on Saturday nights!