Art of Fighting 3 is a drastic step away from its predecessors. In Japan, it’s known as Ryuuko no Ken Gaiden, portraying it as a sidestory. Instead of focusing on Southtown, Art of Fighting 3 follows Robert Garcia as he searches for an old friend named Freia Lawrence. He’s tracked her down to the fictional town of Glass Hill, Mexico, which serves as the setting for the game. There he finds that Freia has gotten herself mixed up with a man named Wyler, who is ruthlessly searching for her. Apparently, he needs her in order to complete a formula for an elixir that him and Freia’s father created. This elixir has a “Jekyll and Hyde” effect on anybody who consumes it – it turns them into a hulking behemoth, and drives them crazy in the process. The rest of the cast are random other people who have somehow gotten themselves involved in this mess. Ryo Sakazaki (who’s looking for Robert) and Robert Garcia are back for this final installment in the series, but this time they are joined by a completely original cast.
The first two games did pretty well at the arcades, but weren’t exactly major hits. Perhaps because of this, SNK decided to completely reinvent the series. A few things stayed the same though. Desperation moves, taunting, back dashing, dashing, and the ki meter are all still present. All the actions that were possible in Art of Fighting 2 have been retained, but the ability to perform stronger punches and kicks by holding a button down has been ditched. Instead, it has been replaced Art of Fighting 1 style strong attacks by on button C.
In 1996, people were moving on to Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, and the once massively popular fighter genre was rapidly loosing steam in favor of the novelty of 3D games. The only fighters that were selling anywhere near what the genre had been capable of merely a year or two earlier were no longer Capcom’s offerings, but instead 3D fighters like Virtua Fighter and Tekken. Art of Fighting 3 may be described as SNK’s attempt to emulate a 3D fighter using 2D gameplay.
Unlike most 2D fighters, characters can move forward while attacking, allowing for easy combo opportunities. Its combo system is similar to those from 3D fighters, and mostly consists of juggle combos that are executed by simply pushing a few consecutive attack buttons with proper timing. Yes, juggle based combo systems tend to suck in 2D fighters, but SNK was able to pull it off here, and it actually works really well. Similar to the control scheme of many 3D fighters, pushing kick or punch while holding the joystick in a specific direction will sometimes perform a different attack than if the joystick is in neutral. These attacks are a important part of comboing in Art of Fighting 3, and several moves allow for follow up attacks. Also, similar to Virtua Fighter, you can jump and attack your opponent while they’re lying on the ground. Fortunately ,this does little to slow down gameplay, and it’s even possible to rise quickly immediately after a fall or to charge ki while on the ground and to attack while rising. Further revealing its 3D fighter inspirations, you can also side step to evade your opponent’s moves.
Like in other SNK series, you can perform a short jump by briefly tapping up or a standard jump by holding the joystick. If the machine’s internal clock is set to a character’s birthday, they can perform their desperation move regardless of how much health they have. If you finish an opponent with a desperation move while their health is also low enough to perform theirs, you win the entire match regardless of how many rounds you have won. This is referred to as “Ultimate Knock Out”. This was probably just for the sake of novelty, but if you lose a quarter after your first round loss, then that just sucks. Lastly, if you finish the game without losing a round, you will be rewarded with an SD sprite of your character.
While the first two games were pretty impressive for the time, Art of Fighting 3 has arguably the best visuals in any 2D fighting game ever. The level of detail to everything has been infinitely enriched in every respect, except that character’s faces no longer bruise. This game came out around the time that SNK’s graphic artists were using brighter color palettes (witness the change from Fatal Fury 3 to Real Bout Fatal Fury, for example). The world is much less gritty and more colorful.
The movement of all of the sprites is shockingly fluid. It may not have Street Fighter III‘s framerate, but the animations have been rotoscoped, giving them a natural fluidity of movement that is without peer in the fighting game genre. It goes far beyond a simple technological level. Every animation is perfectly implemented within the backgrounds, which makes the presentation that much better. It may lack the high resolution of Guilty Gear, but the level designs are fantastic. Like pretty much any game produced by Hiroshi Matsumoto or Takashi Nishiyama, most levels have deep backgrounds with details visible a great distance away, and each is vividly detailed with an almost distracting amount of things to look at.
From the wind creating ripples in a small puddle at the train station, to the crows flying though the graveyard, to the huge moon visible through the library window, to the fireworks going off above a distant Cinco de Mayo parade – every visual element in Art of Fighting 3 is crafted to perfection. The best stage is the ruins, where there is a huge pool of water in the middle of the background with a large statue of a reclining man in the middle. Surrounding the pool are tremendous stone structures from which water smoothly cascades down. In the marketplace, a tree provides shade for the characters when they move within its shadow, which itself reflects how the tree sways in the breeze. Musicians play in the background and people sitting at tables will tap their feet, pat their thigh, or nod their head in rhythm. This musician/audience theme actually makes their inevitable repetitive motions seem natural – a rare feat in the genre. The music itself is pretty jazzy and relies on a motif repeated throughout many of the songs. It’s very atypical, even for an SNK soundtrack. The soundtrack in the arcade version is pretty weak due to the instrument samples, but the arranged soundtrack is excellent.
Art of Fighting 3 didn’t exactly attract many fans, and was mostly ignored by many fighting game players. This is a shame, because not only is the game gorgeous, but its gameplay feels significantly different from most 2D fighters, enough that it’s definitely worth it. Art of Fighting 3 was ported to Neo Geo CD with the action viewed slightly zoomed out at all times, probably because the huge sprites couldn’t fit in the system’s RAM. It’s also plagued by the console’s infamously long loading times, but is otherwise accurate. It even includes a few additional story scenes for Sinclair and Wyler, mostly in the form of endings. In 2006, the arcade game finally got a real port along rest of the trilogy as part of Art of Fighting Anthology for PlayStation 2.
A private investigator and partner of Lenny Creston, who has been hired by Wyler to find Freia Lawrence. Both he and Lenny seem to have rather poor professional reputations. He fights with tonfas and looks like a police officer.
An impeccably dressed man who has been sent to look for Robert by his employers, Robert’s parents. Having been employed by the Garcia family since Robert’s childhood, he has a friendly attitude toward him. He is one of few characters who’s final match is not against Wyler, instead fighting Robert last. After defeating Robert, he allows him to keep looking for Freia Lawrence.
Kasumi is the only original member of AoF3‘s cast that shows up in other games – she makes an appearance in various King of Fighters titles, as well as SvC Chaos. She is looking for her father, who vanished after he was defeated by Ryo, and she hopes he will lead her to him. Since she’s a foreigner in Mexico, she looks in a Japanese-to-English dictionary to taunt her opponents in English with the phrase “Come back when you grow up” after winning a match. Like her father, she possesses something of a rivalry with the Sakazaki family.
After he was somehow betrayed by his sensei, Eiji from AoF 2, Jin became determined to kill him to get revenge. He decides that defeating Ryo would be a good test of his ability to do so, and goes to Glass Hill to find him. He supposedly has some kind of psychic ability to sense people’s ki energy, and can double jump in the game. However, some dumbass decided that it would be a good idea to only allow him to jump straight up on the second jump. He is among the two characters whose last fight is against Ryo rather than Wyler.
Wang Koh San
Having come to Glass Hill for inspiration for a drawing he plans to enter in a contest (strangest fighter character background ever), he heard about Wyler’s attempt to create a powerful elixir, and decided to attempt to find it himself for his friend Lee Pai Long from AoF 1&2. He has his pet pelican Hoeh-Hoeh in his backpack, and in his ending, you are treated to goofy drawings of his crazy bird interacting with the other characters.
Looking for Freia Lawrence, the daughter of his dead father’s former partner, who possesses information about a formula for some kind of “Jekyll and Hyde” formula that he is attempting to create. It kind of looks like he might have already taken some version of this elixir because he is freaking huge. He is the only character that can’t be thrown, and he also lacks a super. He has no ending in the original arcade/cart version, but one was added for the CD version.
An assistant of Wyler who is secretly looking for somebody to convince him to give up his pursuit of the drug he is attempting to create, which killed his father. She wields a sword and dresses kind of like Jeannie from “I Dream of Jeannie”. Also, she lacks throws. Like Wyler, she only has an ending in the CD version.
Despite not being playable, Freia plays a central part in the story of Art of Fighting 3. She’s a young blond girl who has the unfortunate burden of being the daughter of a mad scientist.