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Back in 1992, Street Fighter II was the new kid on the block, and other arcade developers were scrambling for ways to attract the public away from Capcom's fighting machine. After Mortal Kombat was released that year to obscene popularity at American arcades, developers realized that to compete with Street Fighter II, you had to offer people something different. SNK's Art of Fighting, well... didn't exactly reinvent the wheel. But hey, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Instead, SNK opted to make Art of Fighting stand out by giving it visuals that far surpass those of Street Fighter II and several innovative advanced techniques, a few of which would become standardized in the genre shortly thereafter. Couple these innovations and great visuals with SNK caliber mechanics, and you have a series that actually stands up where most SFII clones are forgettable.
Regardless of any gameplay changes from game to game, Art of Fighting maintains certain consistencies in its graphics throughout the series. For starters, the character sprites are absolutely huge, much larger than any other fighting game. In order to keep everything in frame, the screen zooms out when characters back away from each other to make more of the playing field accessible, and zooms in when they are close. This effect that would later show up in several other SNK fighters like Samurai Shodown and Kizuna Encounter. Art of Fighting's amazing graphics should come as no surprise, as the men in charge of the series were Hiroshi Matsumoto (AoF 1&2) and Takashi Nishiyama (AoF 3), who together ran the design teams behind King of Fighters, the later Fatal Fury games, and the original Street Fighter.
Art of Fighting takes its fair share of crap from fighter fans for its "mediocre" character designs. They really aren't bad at all, but most of them are not up to the normally high quality standards for SNK fighting game characters. Several of them are fairly generic, but at least a few of them are pretty cool. The second game has pretty much the same cast as the first, with only a few original characters, but the cast is almost completely different for the third. The series stars the Sakazaki's and their family friend Robert Garcia, who each practice a fictional martial art style called Kyokugenryu Karate.
Art of Fighting takes place within the same continuity as plenty of other SNK games, with the first two games in the series even being set in Fatal Fury's Southtown. From a chronological standpoint, it's a prequel to the events in the original Fatal Fury, taking place more than ten years earlier. The three games are set at periods from the tail end of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1980s, and Fatal Fury's Geese Howard infamously makes an appearance in Art of Fighting 2 as a non-playable secret boss character. This continuity is somewhat ruined by the King of Fighters series, where Ryo and Robert appear to be the same age as Terry and Andy Bogard.
Like many Neo Geo games, all three Art of Fighting games were compiled into a single collection for the PlayStation 2. The Japanese version, released in 2006, contained online play over a matchmaking network. In 2007, it received a budget release in America, although the online option was removed. All three games are practically arcade perfect (barring the resolution differences that only the most discerning of arcade fanatics care about), and include both the original and arrange soundtracks. This is undoubtedly the most convenient way to play these games.
The first champion of the King of Fighters tournament, and the main character of Art of Fighting. Orphaned at the age of ten when his father disappeared, he has lived with his sister Yuri ever since. After being abandoned, he was also taken care of by his friend/rival Robert Garcia. He seems to share some kind of romantic tension with King. One of the most frequently recurring SNK characters, Ryo would later become a regular in King of Fighters and appear in several other SNK games such as Fatal Fury Special. In later games, like the 3D wrestler Buriki-One, he takes on the persona of Mr. Karate.
Robert is like Ken to Ryo's Ryu. The sole heir to his family's multi-billion dollar fortune, Robert was sent by his father, and Takuma's best friend, to learn Kyokugenyru Karate at an early age. This is where he met and befriended the Sakazaki family. After Takuma disappeared, he took care of Ryo and the two have shared a friendship/rivalry ever since. By the time that the games take place, he has developed a romantic interest in Yuri, which Ryo and Takuma disapprove of. Robert has since become a regular in King of Fighters.
Father to Kasumi from AoF 3 and the creator of Todo style karate, Ryuhaku has a long standing rivalry with Takuma and considers his Kyokugenryu school to be a financial threat to his own. After he is defeated by Ryo, he goes into hiding, and has since then made eight separate cameos in other SNK fighters. He's the only character that wasn't brought back for Art of Fighting 2, but surprisingly shows up in Capcom vs SNK 2.
A member of Mr. Big's crime family, who looks like a generic biker character. Leads a Southtown based group of thugs called Neo Black Cats. As his ending from Art of Fighting 2 reveals, his goal for Neo Black Cats is to turn it into a dance group.
Lee Pai Long
A kung-fu master, expert in Chinese medicine, and current director of Southtown's prison. Formerly a foe of Takuma's, the two have long since been friends. He is a "sennin", a Chinese word for someone who obtains immortality via alchemy. It is revealed in his ending for Art of Fighting 2 that he would become famous for finding the cure for hemorrhoids. He's a blatant Vega clone with similar claws, but a bit more stylish.
As a young girl, King grew up in Thailand and dressed as a man to enter kickboxing tournaments. This issue of gender conflict continued when she moved back to America to work at Mr. Big's restaurant. In the first game, her gender is initially stated to be male, but if she's defeated in the proper manner, her shirt tears open and her true identity is revealed. She also employs two female twins named Sally and Elizabeth as waitresses. King has since become a regular in King of Fighters, and the twins can be seen in several backgrounds in that series.
A boxer whose career was destroyed when he accidentally killed an opponent in the ring. He has dreadlocks in the first game and a shorter style in the second. He works for Mr. Big in AoF, but is attempting to get his boxing career going again in the second game. He eventually gets an opportunity to do so, fighting the title bout in his ending.
A martial arts instructor for the military who looks like an amalgamation of Jean Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Goes by the nickname "Killing Machine", but prefers to be called "Hell Bent For Leather" in America (uhh...listen to more Judas Priest if you don't get it). During his AoF 2 ending, the military attempts to recruit him to rescue the president's pet canary Tweeter (I couldn't make this up if I tried). He refuses, saying "Hasta la vista!", which probably backs up the theory that he's partially based on Arnold.
Video games' original pimp. After Takuma left his crime family, he kidnapped Yuri, which provokes the events of the first Art of Fighting. Later, he showed up in as a member of the Boss Team in King of Fighters '96. He can't jump or crouch in the original game, and has a super move that only the CPU can perform.
Mr. Karate / Takuma Sakazaki
Creator of Kyokugenryu Karate, and both father and sensei to Ryo and Yuri. Mr. Karate wears a wicked looking Tengu mask in the original game, and fights maskless in the second. He also has a huge "X" shaped scar on his chest. He would later become a regular in King of Fighters and make appearances in a few other SNK games, most memorably appearing as part of the awesome Old Man team in KoF '98. Takuma is most likely based on the famous martial artist Masutatsu Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin-kai (Kyokugen, Takuma's style, is obviously a play on it)
Ryo's sister, and Mr. Karate's daughter. A practitioner of her family's Kyokugenryu Karate, she joins the King of Fighters tournament to show Ryo how well she can fight. Yuri is SNK's Capcom style character, having a moveset very much like Ken and Ryu (and many, many, many other Capcom characters). She has been in almost every King of Fighters game ever made, SNK Gals Fighters, and a few other SNK games. However, in the Art of Fighting series, she's only playable in the second game, despite appearing in all three.
A ninja who is out to kick the crap out of Ryo and his family. He is a descendant of Zantetsu from Last Blade and wields the Nagare and Kage twin ninja daggers like his ancestor. While he only appears in the second Art of Fighting, he's also playable in King of Fighters '95 and XI. Like Todo, he makes cameos in the backgrounds of several other King of Fighters games.
A Mongolian wrestler and general nice guy. He works as a dock worker at the Southtown port to raise money for a school in Mongolia that he hopes to open. Exclusive to Art of Fighting 2.
Geese Howard is the main antagonist of Fatal Fury, but he makes an appearance in Art of Fighting 2 as a secret boss character. He is much younger in this appearance, sporting long hair, different clothing and a different moveset than his older version in Fatal Fury. Young Geese is also the boss of King of Fighters Neowave.
Art of Fighting / Ryūko no Ken (龍虎の拳) - Neo Geo, Neo Geo CD, Genesis, SNES, PC Engine Arcade CD, PlayStation 2, Wii, PlayStation 3
After Takuma leaves Mr. Big's crime family, and Ryo refuses to join up with him, Mr. Big kidnaps Ryo's sister Yuri. This being a video game, rather than doing something logical like calling the cops, Ryo and his friend Robert set out to kick the living crap out of Mr. Big. The entire game involves the duo fighting their way through local thugs to obtain information about his location. After defeating Mr. Big and Mr. Karate, the game infamously ends with a cliffhanger where Yuri is about to tell Ryo that Mr. Karate is their father.
Art of Fighting must have seemed pretty complex when it first hit the arcades. Instead of just kicking, punching, and comboing, you could dash in toward your opponent to punish their mistakes, back dash to get away from them quickly - and when your health bar got really low, you could perform a devastating super. These supers were referred to as "desperation moves", coining a term that has since become standard fighter jargon for any super that can only be executed when your health is low.
The controls are quite simplistic. A punches, B kicks, C throws, and D taunts. Pushing C while you are not in position to throw will execute a "strong" attack. Whether the strong attack is a kick or punch is determined by which of the two buttons you most recently used. Also, A & C executes an uppercut, and B & C executes a kick to the shins. Certain characters can perform a flying attack by jumping against the wall and pushing C. Strangely, a few characters lack the ability to throw.
Perhaps the strangest part of Art of Fighting's gameplay is the limited use of special moves. You have a meter below your health bar for your "ki", and performing a special or desperation move will deplete a portion of it. The bar changes colors when it gets lower, from yellow to green to red, which determines how powerful the special move is. Specials and desperation moves cannot be performed without at least a small amount of ki, and while it will gradually replenish itself, you can speed up its recovery by holding down A or B. This system prevents people from constantly spamming the same special moves, while not being too limiting at the same time.
Something else that differentiates Art of Fightings from other fighters is the way taunting works. Performing a taunt will deplete a portion of your opponent's ki meter, making it an important part of gameplay, since it limits your opponents special abilities. Additionally, you can diffuse a opponent's fireball by kicking or punching the exact front portion of it. The timing to do so is absurdly precise, so don't expect to do this consistently. This ability to diffuse fireballs is retained in each of the sequels.
Art of Fighting has pretty good music, as would be expected from any SNK game. Visually, it's also fantastic, and SNK obviously put a great deal of effort into giving the game an identity. For instance, the characters fall in different directions after losing a round, depending on what move they are defeated with, and where they are hit. Their faces also get bruised a lot after taking hits. But where it really stands out graphically is in the background designs. Everything from the light reflecting on the freshly wet pavement in the alley in Mickey's level, to the flickering light above the pool table and the bizarre graffiti stating "BRAIN" in Jack's level, or the garden with its muddy pool in Ryuhaku's stage - they all look amazing. Best of all are the endless neon lights in Lee's background, and the city scape lit up at night in King's level, which both create a fantastic visual effect.
The events of Art of Fighting are a bit difficult to take seriously, with the whole Star Wars-esque "I am your father!" deal being more goofy than anything else. Somehow, the game actually becomes that much more memorable for it. SNK's designers must have shared this view because they often referenced these events elsewhere in SNK games. King of Fighters '97 for example, directly parodies Art of Fighting in its ending.
The biggest complaint with Art of Fighting is that you can only control two characters in story mode - Ryo and Robert. The others are available exclusively in two player mode, and Mr. Big and Mr. Karate are only available after they have been reached in the story. Also, in story mode, Ryo and Robert each have a special that they do not have immediate access to, and it must be "learned" by completing a challenge between fights.
As would be expected with any moderately popular arcade fighter in 1992, Art of Fighting was ported to all of the home consoles. The Neo Geo CD version is exactly the same as the arcade, though with the same horrible load times that the console is infamous for. Takara was responsible for the SNES and Genesis ports. The SNES version plays pretty well, and contains a much appreciated Player 1 Vs. CPU mode, wherein Mr. Karate and Mr. Big are playable without a cheat. It also reveals that Mr. Karate is Yuri and Ryo's father, rather than ending with a cliffhanger. The sprites have been shrunken down a bit, but the scaling has been kept in, even though it doesn't zoom in quite as much as the arcade version. The Genesis version has the zooming removed and the colors reduced, but otherwise plays reasonably well. The PC Engine CD version - ported by Hudson - requires an Arcade card and looks the most accurate to the arcade version. Since the PC Engine hardware doesn't support scaling, there's some strange graphical trickery used to emulate the same effect. It's like they slightly resize the sprites, which isn't exactly smooth, and it distorts the proportions of the characters. But it's still mighty impressive considering the weak hardware. There's also redbook audio music (the same as the Neo Geo CD version), along with voices for the intro and ending, and cute super deformed character sprites on some of the loading screens. In 2006, the game was ported to PlayStation 2 as part of Art of Fighting Anthology, which compiles the entire trilogy together.
Art of Fighting 2 / Ryūko no Ken 2 (龍虎の拳) - Neo Geo, Neo Geo CD, Super Famicom, PlayStation 2, Wii, PlayStation 3
Taking place a year after the original game, Art of Fighting 2 tells the tales of both the first King of Fighters tournament and the corrupt police commissioner Geese Howard's rise to power as crime boss of Southtown. It's revealed that Mr. Big was working for Geese during the events of the original. Geese had threatened the lives of Takuma's children to force him to work for him. This led to Takuma disappearing and taking on the Mr. Karate identity. Geese asked Takuma to kill martial artist Jeff Bogard and Takuma refused. While Geese was on a business trip, Mr. Big kidnapped Yuri to persuade Takuma, leading to the events of the first game. Geese later kills Jeff Bogard himself, which leads to the events of Fatal Fury. A much younger Geese actually appears in-game as a non-playable boss character, with a different outfit and moveset than his other appearances.
Art of Fighting 2 plays almost exactly like the original, but it's a bit more refined and generally improved in virtually every aspect. Todo is gone, but everybody else is back, along with a few more playable characters like Yuri, Kisaragi and Temjin. Unlike the original, all of them are available in single player mode. However, the controls have been very slightly modified. A and B still punch and kick respectively, but if you hold A or B, as opposed to just quickly tapping them, it will result in a more powerful punch or kick. This idea was later implemented in each of SNK's fighters for Neo Geo Pocket Color. Otherwise, the basic actions and the commands are the same. Ever the cutting edge fighter series, there were a couple of cutting edge techniques brought into the series. A few characters have been given air throws and you can even recover from a throw by pushing A, B, or C immediately after being thrown.
The graphics this time around are even better. There is way more going on in each background and everything looks huge. The fights are set against large planes, boats, and traffic, with large groups of spectators in the immediate background. This approach establishes a sense of scale that gives the levels a sense of enormity - it makes everything big seem that much bigger and everything small seem that much smaller. Especially noteworthy is the presence of Geese's suited thugs watching over the proceedings of the tournament in the background of a few levels. King's shirt will still explode if she is defeated with a fireball, but this time so will everyone else's!
SNK fighters are known for having bosses so absurdly difficult that the phrase "SNK Boss Syndrome" has been coined to describe nigh-impossible video game bosses. Well, Art of Fighting 2 has easily one of the most difficult single player modes in a fighting game ever. Nearly all of the opponents are unrelenting, blocking all of your attacks and effortlessly countering your every move. It's like suffering through SNK Boss Syndrome for the entire game. When you have a huge amount of trouble just getting past the first CPU opponent, it can get a bit discouraging.
Its difficulty in single player mode might make it too unfriendly for most people to get into, but Art of Fighting 2 really excels in versus mode. With the challenge balanced out by playing against a human opponent, its refinements to the original game make for excellent two player matches. Its innovations were becoming standardized in 1994 and were no longer as original, but with everybody available in 1 player mode, a larger character roster, improvements to the control setup, and a few beneficial gameplay changes Art of Fighting 2 serves as an ultimate refinement of the original.
Among the "ordinary" 16-bit platforms, Art of Fighting 2 was only ported to the SNES. This version is nothing short of a disaster, with horribly inaccurate visuals, atrocious controls, and slaughtered game physics. Needless to say, this port is best avoided, although there is a code that lets you play as Geese. Like the original, in 2006 the arcade version was ported with the rest of the trilogy as part of Art of Fighting Anthology for PlayStation 2.
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