The Art of a Fighting Series

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Welcome to the inaugural post in Art of Fighting week! For those who don’t know, all this week I’ll be posting an editorial once a day from Monday through Friday about SNK’s Art of Fighting franchise. Being the first day, I’ll focus on the history of the series as well as my personal experience with the games. So without further ado, let’s play the Art of Fighting series. Kooh-Ken!

SNK was founded in 1978 and for the first ten years of its lifespan enjoyed success with games like Ikari Warriors and Vanguard. In 1990, SNK released the MVS or Multi-Video System. The MVS was an arcade cabinet that held up to six games in it, reducing the cost of new titles for arcade operators, as well as it didn’t take up as much space as six games would’ve taken. A year later, using the power of the MVS, SNK released Fatal Fury or Garou Densetsu in Japan. Fatal Fury was SNK’s first foray into the fighting game genre and it was a success, introducing such characters as Terry Bogard, and Geese Howard as well as the King of Fighters tournament.

aof-qAs a follow up, SNK released a new game the following year titled Art of Fighting or Ryuuko no Ken in Japan. Although a different series of games from the Fatal Fury series, Art of Fighting actually takes place in the same universe, serving as a prequel to Fatal Fury. Fatal Fury takes place in the 1990s whereas Art of Fighting takes place in the late 70s. The game follows the two main characters Ryo and Robert as the look for Ryo’s kidnapped sister, Yuri. While Fatal Fury had its own distinctions in the different fighting planes mechanic, Art of Fighting featured a zoom effect so you could view more of the level, a wall bounce move, and a spirit bar, which limited special moves. Not to mention HUGE character sprites! Two-thirds of the screen!

Art of Fighting 2 (Ryuuko no Ken 2) was released two years after the original and during SNK’s classic fighting era in which the company had great success with Samurai Shodown and Fatal Fury Special. The game continued the story from the first game and introduced the King of Fighters tournament from Fatal Fury to Art of Fighting. It also connected to two series further by including a young Geese Howard as a hidden boss fight. The game is known as one of the hardest games SNK has released and is widely considered to have the hardest enemy AI in a fighting game. A port was made for the Super Famicom in Japan but was never ported to the American Super Nintendo.

Art of Fighting 3: The Path of the Warrior (Ryuuko no Ken Gaiden in Japan) was released in 1996. 1996 was arguably the last year in SNK’s classic fighting era and SNK was starting to transition (or at least trying to) to their new Hyper NeoGeo 64 arcade platform. Art of Fighting 2 was not as successful as the original game was and Art of Fighting 3 tried many new things. The story was changed in focus from the Sakazaki family to Robert Garcia as he traveled to Mexico to find a childhood friend. The gameplay was heavily altered from the previous installments and the game now includes a combo system as well as some 3-D fighter elements such as a sidestep to avoid attacks and ground attacks to fallen opponents. The wall bounce was also removed as was punch and kick sensitive heavy attacks.

There were so many changes made in Art of Fighting 3 that an argument could be made that it wasn’t an Art of Fighting game. The logo has The Path of the Warrior in big print with Art of Fighting 3 in small print underneath it, the story doesn’t move the previous game’s plot at all and with the exception of Robert and Ryo with Yuri making a cameo in the cut scenes, the cast of characters is completely brand new. This plays more like a spin off of Art of Fighting rather than a proper entry in the series. Art of Fighting 3 is now seen as a lost gem in SNK’s collection of fighting games and was the last in the series.

Since the end of the series, the most recognizable characters from the series have moved to the King of Fighters series. For continuity sake, this is supposed to be an altered timeline and is why the Art of Fighting characters are the same age as the Fatal Fury characters as well as the other characters in the game. Ryo has also made appearances in Fatal Fury Special (as a dream match, signaling that the fight never happens in the story arc) and Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition as an older man taking on the persona of his father, Mr. Karate. Art of Fighting characters have also appeared in the Capcom vs SNK crossover titles and older versions of Ryo and Robert appeared in NeoGeo Battle Coliseum.

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I remember playing the SNES port of the first game, which was released a couple of years later. It was one of the games I never owned but I used to rent multiple times every weekend when I would get my allowance. It was not an easy game but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I liked the varied characters and the story aspect, as well as the upgrades via bonus games. Oddly enough, I only played the original arcade game once back in the day. The characters seemed larger than life and the animations blew me away. I had heard of a second game in the franchise but had never seen it back then. Only later did I play it. As for the third game, I had never even heard of it. Honestly, I’m not sure it was even released in the United States.

I personally became the most acquainted with the series when my friend first introduced me to emulators, specifically NeoRAGE. I should say that I became more acquainted with the series when I figured out how to get NeoRAGE to work on my computer. I am a huge fighting game fan and I adore SNK fighters. By this time, I was aware of the third iteration in the series and was really pining for these games that I had missed. When I did play them after so long, I was blown away by how good the sprites were still to this day. How colorful the graphics were. How hard the enemy AI was. I also was surprised by the how different the controls were in each game but I’ll get into that in each game’s individual review. I was especially taken aback by the third game, due to its many changes.

150131-Art_of_Fighting_Anthology_(USA)-1The best way to experience the Art of Fighting games is to pick up Art of Fighting Anthology on the PS2. It contains all the games in the series and you can pick it up used at Gamestop for $5. What are your memories of the Art of Fighting series? Have you even played any of these games? Do you like Ryu’s Hado-Ken or Ryo’s Kooh-Ken more? Comment below and let me know. Look out for the next entry in Art of Fighting week tomorrow with a review of the first game.

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