Colorwind Reviews Art of Fighting 3: The Path of The Warrior

Art of Fighting 3 (Ryuuko no Ken Gaiden in Japan) is a reaction to the performance of Art of Fighting 2. Although it was released two years after, this release feels like a knee jerk reaction after the second game proved to be less popular. Art of Fighting 3 doesn’t have too much in common with the first two games in the series. The art style is different, the roster is mostly comprised of new characters and the location is nowhere near South Town. Even with all these changes, AoF3 is actually the most accessible fighter in the series and has stood the test of time better than the other titles. However, it’s also the hardest iteration in the series to find. And with all these changes to this title, is it even an Art of Fighting game at all? This is a review of the Arcade version of the game.

The first thing you’ll notice about the game is that the graphic style of the game is quite different. Character models are even smaller now but everything is very clean and pristine. Unfortunately, fighters don’t bruise and bleed anymore because of that. Luckily, there isn’t as much pixilation as there was in the previous game, making it look good even today. It makes it easier to just see the artistry that many SNK games had. Levels especially are really simple yet artistically done. The ruins, cantina, the streets during cinco de mayo, and mansion levels are stand outs. The whole game has this smooth and polished feel to it. Backgrounds are simple yet detailed, none of the characters have any real disheveled look to them except the final boss, and even some stages lack music in order to hear the sound effects, you know, for ambience. Speaking of the music, the soundtrack is different as well from the previous games and I think for the better. It’s more distinct and the horn and electric piano based music is more memorable than the previous games’ music.

Presentation is another aspect that’s greatly improved. The character select screen is animated, everything is quick and on point with less menus cluttering up each screen. Straight lines everywhere, and clean objects. The map has a more open look to it and locations are now recognizable. Cut scenes are in game and have specific animations, making these scenes less robotic. There is no versus screen in two player mode anymore and it’s for the better. I can’t stress this enough. Art of Fighting 3 is just a sleek looking fighter and the presentation is the best it’s ever been in a SNK fighter.

The story of this game is different from the others. This title actually follows Robert Garcia as he travels down to Mexico to look for a childhood friend, Freia, and help her find Wyler, who wants to create a Jekyll and Hyde like potion. The story isn’t too strong and there isn’t as much dialog as before. The story is stronger with Robert than with the other characters but overall the plot is just a means to an end and is the weakest aspect of this game and is lacking compared to the second game and especially to the first game. You will have eight fighters to choose from as well as two boss characters. Robert and Ryo are the only characters returning from previous Art of Fighting titles. Of the other characters, Kasumi Todoh is the only other character who is really noteworthy as she is the daughter of Todo from the first game and appears later in the King of Fighters series. Personally, I do think Karman, Lenny and Sinclair are interesting characters.

The reason Art of Fighting 3 seems so foreign from the other games is the combat. The spirit bar returns and is a staple of the Art of Fighting series. Limiting the ability to spam special moves as always be a key feature in the franchise. However, two things have been done slightly different that change how you treat it. Charging up your spirit bar by holding an attack button is easier now. It refills quicker now, allowing you to use special moves even more than in AoF2 and the original. The game no longer has an emphasis on timing. While you cannot spam special moves, it is way too easy to recharge you spirit bar and still use special moves often. As a means of balancing, special moves don’t take as much damage either. The other thing however, is that taunting now takes even more of the spirit bar than it used to. Actually it’s conditional. Each character’s taunt has a long animation that you can cut off at any time during it by simply moving or attacking. However, the longer you let the taunt animation go, the more energy it takes from the spirit meter. A full taunt can drain half of the meter. Also, you can charge your spirit meter while you’re down.

The controls in Art of Fighting are different as well. The button layout returns to the system in the first game with an exception. You no longer have both hard punch and kick attacks. Now, you have a punch button, a kick button, a hard attack button and a taunt button. The hard attack will be either a kick or a punch, depending on the character. No pressure sensitive attacks, or attacks dependent on the previously pressed button. This simplified control scheme is the best in the series. However, you may think this means limited attacks. On the contrary, there are more than ever. Each direction will warrant a different attack when you press either punch or kick. Also, some attacks are done by pressing punch and kick together. There is also a combo system now in place. Holding forward and pressing punch three times will usually result in a three hit combo. Mixing up directions and button presses will yield different results. It’s not a fully thought out system but it’s fun and fluid. I do mean fluid. Art of Fighting 3 is so smooth in its combat. Easily the smoothest in the series due to the characters being rotoscoped.

Some of the other aspects of the combat don’t work quite as well. Pressing back and hard attack while near an opponent lets you trip the opponent and switch your position of footing. Simply put, this is annoying, does no damage and it just slows down the matches. Also, wall bouncing has been removed. This is a strange omission because Art of Fighting is know for this ability. However, the reverse kicks are present in the game. AoF3 also lets you hit a downed opponent, like in 3D fighting games of the time, like Virtua Fighter and Tekken. It works in a similar way in that your opponent will stay down for some time, giving you an opportunity to attack them. This doesn’t work well in a 2D fighter and it especially doesn’t work in Art of Fighting, as you’ll usually spend the time they are down charging your spirit bar or doing a full taunt to drain theirs. Quick thing to mention. If you do a desperation attack while your enemy is already low on health, it’s considered a Ultimate K.O. and will result in an special animation where they are completely blown away, such as ripped clothing. This was already in the previous two games and only required that you defeat your opponent with a special attack. Why such a high standard now? Weird. Maybe because if you do this on the first round, you automatically win the entire match. Yeah.

Art of Fighting 3: The Path of The Warrior was considered too different from the other Art of Fighting games. Many considered it to be a different game completely with Ryo and Robert making cameos. Even the title screen has the subtitle in larger print than the actual main title. Maybe this was supposed to be a new fighting game called The Path of The Warrior. However, all that aside, what matters most is if the game is good or not. It is a good game. It’s actually a great game. The graphics and presentation are top notch and the combat is solid. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a shame it didn’t do well. I never even heard of this game and I never saw one. Probably because of this, AoF3 was only ported to the NeoGeo, and NeoGeo CD. A real port of the game was finally released on Art of Fighting Anthology for the PS2 and considering that the collection can be bought for only $5, it’s worth a purchase based on this game alone. Art of Fighting 3 is a lost gem, deserving of more attention than it gets. This is the best entry in the series, even if it doesn’t play like the other games in the franchise. If anything, it deserves your time.

Final Verdict: 4 out of 5


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