Not for the overly nostalgic, Street Fighter III was renowned for its insistence on dumping almost all of the cast from previous games, with only Ryu and Ken being spared the chopping block (and even that was only after extensive market research) in favour of a whole new cast of fighters. (Akuma and Chun-Li would eventually resurface in the 2nd Impact and 3rd Strike revisions, respectively).
Its mechanics are amongst the deepest available in any genre, its animation fluid and sharp to allow the seamless execution of vast combinations of moves and of course, the introduction of the parry system, where one can pat away an incoming offensive attack with a forward push of the joystick to avoid the chip damage that comes with simply blocking a special move and also opens up the opponent for the slightest of moments for an offensive move of one's own. A system that could alter a game in a second, but be both fair, rewarding and incredibly difficult to master to any great degree. This was exhibited most famously, and indeed, dramatically at the Evo Fighting Game Tournament Final 2004, Between Justin Wong (Chun-Li) and Daigo Umehara (Ken). For the 3 people who've not seen this yet:
This is actually included as a challenge in the PSN/XBLA 2011 re-release.
Of course, by the time Street Fighter 3 and its subsequent revisions' release, a lot of its casual followers and some of its diehard had moved on, be it out of the genre or onto other games, and its overall newness-between the cast overhaul and the depth of its mechanics-seemed to only discourage a lot of the SFII competitive scene as opposed to the intended rejuvenation. That's not to state that SF3 didn't have a loyal audience, as it's still played competitively to this day, and will continue to be so, considering it's gotten a re-release on PS3's PSN Store and X-Box's Live Arcade. While not having the broad cultural appeal of its older brother, a sizable portion of SF's fanbase cite the series third entry SFIII: Third Strike as the franchise's peak (and quite often also as the best game ever regardless of genre)which hasn't been near equaled before since. Top praise, indeed.
Released: Street Fighter III Early '97, SFIII: Second Impact Late '97, SFIII: Third Strike '99.
SFIII- Arcade and Sega Dreamcast via Street Fighter III: Double Impact.
SFIII: Second Impact- Arcade and Sega Dreamcast via Street Fighter III: Double Impact.
SFIII: Third Strike- Arcade, Sega Dreamcast, Playstation 2 (Japan Solo only, also USA via the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection with Hyper Street Fighter 2) Original Xbox via the aforementioned Street Fighter Anniversary Collection (All Regions), Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade and PS3 via Playstation Network.