Note: Much of the info provided here is taken from Kao Megura's SFA3 FAQ.
Each battle consists of best-of-three round match between you and your opponent. At the start of each round, both player's life and ISM bars are full. The first player to drive the other player's health bar to zero wins the round. The first player to win two total rounds wins the match.
When both player's lose all their health at the same time, nobody wins the round. When timer runs out, the player with more health wins the round. When both players have same amount of health left at the end of the round, nobody wins the round. If there is a 4th round due to this, it's declared a "Final Round" and if nobody wins this round, both players lose.
Air blocking is not available in X-ISM mode. Hold to block attacks. Hold to block low attacks. When you block low attacks, you are vulnerable to overhead and air attacks. You can block in air by holding while in mid air. Some attacks cannot be air blocked. You take no damage from normal moves, and small damage from special moves and Super moves.
In addition to normal attacks there are attacks known as command moves and special moves. Command moves are special combinations of a joystick direction and a particular attack button that produces a different attack than when the button is pressed alone. A special move is a move that requires a more complicated joystick motion and an attack button to perform. For example, Ken and Ryu's fireball attack, called Hadouken, is performed by sliding the joystick in a circular sweeping motion from down to forward, and finished off with any punch button. In this example, the strength of the punch button used happens to dictate the speed at which Ken and Ryu's fireball attack travels across the screen. Special attacks can be blocked like any other attack, but they do what's known as "tick damage." That is, even when blocked, they removed a single hit point from your health bar. Most special moves have a pause associated with them that leave you vulnerable to attack if you miss the opponent, or "whiff".
Not available in X-ISM mode. After being hit or blocking in the air, whether or not you get knocked down, when falling down, press to roll short distance towards the opponent or + to roll further distance towards the opponent depending on how long you held . Most characters are vulnerable to low attacks while rolling.
When you're knocked up into the air, press + to flip upwards and recover further back, press + to flip upwards and recover less further back, or press to not flip at all and recover in same fall trajectory (simply land on your feet). You cannot air recover after being knocked down with certain attacks. Normally, you can be juggled by another of your enemy's attacks when you're knocked into the air. However, once you've flipped, you can try air block (except in X-ISM mode), or air attack to prevent this from happening.
Press or + (some characters can also use ). This can also be done in air. Some characters have 'holding' ground throws, in which you can rap on the buttons to increase the number of times your enemy is squeezed / choked / bitten / etc. You'll know if tapping the buttons is paying off as your character will shine white when an extra hit has been added. If you're not close enough to your opponent, you'll go into a "missed throw" animation that leaves you vulnerable to attacks. Your opponent can reduce the damage he or she takes from a throw by doing a Tech. Hit (+ or when thrown), which also makes them land on their feet. If you miss a throw, you'll still earn SC power, or if you're using V-ISM, you'll earn quite a bit of VC power.
If special or super move was done on the first recovery frame after getting up, getting hit or blocking, a "Reversal" message will appear. You have 1 frame timing window for this to work. When reversal is done after getting up, depending on what special or super move was done, you will be invulnerable to normal attacks. However, whether or not you can get reversal is not 100% consistent (it's not allowed by the game) so the safest thing is to block. This happens on Turbo 1 or Turbo 2 game speed, because game skips frames on those speeds.
Reversal Only moves
Use the following chart to determine when a character can use a particular reversal move.
|Situation||Buffalo Head||X-ISM Tenshou Kyaku||Bad Spray||Yoga Escape||Tengu Walking*|
|When knocked down||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|After hit stun||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|After block stun||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Knocked back in the air||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|After an air block||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Not available in X-ISM mode. The Taunt button is the Start button on the arcade machine, assignable on the Dreamcast, and the select button on most consoles. You can press Taunt while standing or crouching. Birdie, Cody, Charlie, Ken, Ryu, and Evil Ryu all have a second taunt which is done by pressing + Taunt. Birdie has a third taunt which is done by pressing + Taunt. Rose has a random, alternate saying for her taunt, and the following characters have damaging taunts: Akuma, Shin Akuma, Birdie, Chun-Li, Dan (only in X-ISM), Rolento, Sakura, and Sodom. These cause minor damage, but they can kill someone. Dan and Dhalsim have an air taunt which can be done by pressing Taunt while in the air. Dan can also taunt when he's crouching. You can taunt once per round (Dan can taunt infinitely in each round). You can also cancel a normal move into your taunt animation, if that move is normally cancelable. Dan earns small amounts of SC energy from his crouching and standing taunts, as well.
Not available in X-ISM mode. While you're blocking an attack on the ground, press and the same power +. You need to have at least 1 level of your A-ISM gauge or 50% of your V-ISM gauge for this. When you use Alpha Counter, the animation will pause briefly and you'll stop blocking and perform an attack. The attack you use changes depending on what ISM you're using. Alpha Counters are handy if your opponent is aggressive or is trying to kill you via block damage. It deals small damage but can still finish opponent. Because they shorten the length of your Guard gauge, they're best saved for do-or-die situations, because small Guard Power gauge is not a good thing to have.
Not available in V-ISM mode. The command for a SC changes depending on the character. The button used has no purpose in X-ISM; in A-ISM, it affects the level of power used ( / for Level 1, / for Level 2, / for Level 3). Some A-ISM characters have SCs that can only be used at Level 3--in that case, the button used is unimportant. If you have one level of power and use a Medium or Hard attack, you'll still do a Level 1 SC; the same applies to using HP or HK if you have only 2 levels. Super Combos share many traits: they are generally faster and have more priority than normal moves; they can juggle an opponent, and they hit multiple times and usually do lots of damage. In A-ISM, these traits improve depending on the level of SC energy expended (so a Level 3 SC costs more but does more damage, etc. than a Level 1 SC). X-ISM SCs can be considered as "Level 4" SCs; they are generally better than even a Level 3 SC but take a longer amount of time to charge up.
Only available in V-ISM mode. Press the same strength + buttons together. You need to have at least 50% of your VC energy built up in order to use this. When you activate an VC, you are trailed by shadows that mimic your every action, but only the last one (it's colored differently) can actually hit an opponent. What strength punch and kick you use determines the amount of space between each shadow; use + for them to be close together, + to space them further apart, and + for a wide gap between each shadow. Basically, the closer your last shadow is to you, the sooner it attacks after you perform an attack. VCs are very different from the way they were in SFA2. You can't block during an VC, and you can taunt infinitely and use charge moves without charging (i.e. simply tap + for Birdie's Bullhead). You can still juggle an opponent easily with your attacks, and can cancel normal attacks (not special moves, although there's still no delay time after performing one so you can go into another move faster than you could normally). Unlike a SFA2 CC, you can walk wherever you want to or jump without always moving forward. Also, you can throw / air throw during a VC as well. If you're hit while your VC is activated, it ends, and you lose all remaining VC power above 50% (more if you were closer to reaching 50%). If you started with 50%, then you lose it all if you're hit.
When you block an attack, your Guard gauge takes damage. The amount of damage depends on the attack you blocked. Guard gauge restores slightly after about one second has passed since you blocked or took damage. When Guard gauge is empty, Guard crush animation occurs and you are open for an attack for a short time. Every time your Guard gauge is crushed, it will be shortened until it reaches the point where it always flashes "Danger". When Guard gauge is crushed while opponent is in the air, he will drop on the ground first and then enter different Guard crush animation. The amount of time opponent is in Guard crush animation depends on what attack was used to deplete the Guard gauge.
Hit your opponent with an attack while they're in the midst of performing their own attack. When you perform a Counter Hit, the hit sound is much louder, the action pauses for a brief moment and whole screen flashes white for 1 frame. A move that becomes a Counter Hit does more damage than it normally would. Some normal attacks send opponent in the air when they counter hit. or sends opponent in the air if it's a counter hit. Counter hits done on opponent in mid air will knock him down when they normally wouldn't.
If you press any directional button before getting hit, you will reduce damage of that attack by 50%. This can be done repeatedly against multi-hit attacks in order to conserve more life. Furthermore, if you're in the midst of an attack and are hit, you could still cause Damage Reduction and your character will continue the attack instead of going into hitstun. If done right, your character and his corner portrait will flash red.
Guard Protection Blocking
Press to block attack just before it hits you to reduce amount of guard damage you take (50% reduction). The timing window for this block is 2 or 3 frames (mostly 2), depending on the attack. To reduce block damage for any additional blocked attacks that would chain into a combo, you must press just before it's blocked, again. You can also do this in the air. If done right, your character and his corner portrait will flash blue.