If you read virtually anything on Street Fighter III, chances are that the author will tell you just how underrated and under-appreciated it is, and this post is one such piece. Even so, there's no such thing as too much praise for Street Fighter III, if anything it needs all the praise and attention it can get.
The Street Fighter II series put Street Fighter and 2D fighting games on the map, and the Street Fighter Alpha series was an excellent follow up to it that enjoyed tremendous success during the mid and late 90s, with excellent ports for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. The Alpha series was a spin-off prequel of sorts, and so the next true sequel would come much later in the form of Street Fighter III, which was a brave and daring step into a whole new word. The game shook things up on a fundamental gameplay level, revamped the visual and art style of the series, and introduced a whole new cast of road warriors with just a few of the veterans remaining. The Street Fighter III series didn't enjoy nearly the same success as other Street Fighter IPs, because what it did was drastically change a lot of things that defined Street Fighter for a lot of people, in particular Street Fighter II veterans, and drastic change can be a tough thing to sell to loyal avid fans of a particular fighting IP. Just look at how Tekken fans reacted to the misunderstood Tekken 4.
My first encounter with Street Fighter III was when the PlayStation 2 port of Street Fighter III: Third Strike was finally released, and at the time I was really into modern 2D fighting games like Guilty Gear XX and modern SNK fighting games like The King of Fighters 2002, and as soon as I started Street Fighter III: Third Strike I was immediately able to connect with it because it was just as modern and forward looking as the aforementioned games. If anything, fighting fans who are into modern and intuitively complex brawlers like Guilty Gear, The King of Fighters XIII, BlazBlue, and Skullgirls will very likely enjoy Street Fighter III much more than the currently popular Super Street Fighter IV.
Street Fighter III: Third Strike has the aesthetic and aural vibe of a modern edgy and stylish fighting game. The groovy and stylish soundtrack is filled with rich urban grooves that carry varied jazzy, symphonic, and rocking undertones, unlike the more generic arcade style music of most Street Fighter games. Visually the game has a cooler and edgier look to it, it's not anime focused like Street Fighter Alpha, nor does it look goofy like Street Fighter II or Street Fighter IV, but instead it's heavily stylized and mature looking, with character designs exhibiting a lot of unique personality and charm. It helps that the game looks and animates amazingly well, makes you wish that Capcom had stuck with 2D animation instead of static looking 3D fighter models.
Street Fighter III: Third Strike, from a gameplay standpoint, is the smoothest and most methodological game in the entire series. The animation, and combat system, is fluid and near flawless, and each of the zany but awesome characters is ingeniously designed and refreshing, so much so that they mechanically feel very distinct at fundamental level, unlike most Street Fighter games where characters only differ by their special moves. The parry system, a simple idea on paper, but total game changing when implemented. Street Fighter III offers a fast, fluid, effortless, and really intelligent fighting system that doesn't reward memorized 50 hit chains like in Marvel versus Capcom 3, instead it encourages more reactive and instinctive play like any Street Fighter, but at the same time offering much better flow and fluidity, as well as intelligent defensive play with the effective parry system.
Don't get me wrong, I love Super Street Fighter IV, but Street Fighter III offers a truly refreshing and distinct alternative to the tried and tested formula. The only other fighting game that is similar to it is the excellent Mark of the Wolves, which is a game I'll post about at some point.