Fatal Fury: King of Fighters
The fighting and shmup games were the most popular genres among both the hardcore and the mainstream gamers in the 90’s. The fighting game genre can be traced way back to the 80’s but it is Capcom’s Street Fighter 2 where the storm really began. Street Fighter 2 was on a completely different scale and blew everything that came before it. Nobody thought a video game could reach this kind of amazing quality. Many companies where getting on the hype train and started to develop their next big fighter to crush the success of Capcom’s darling, many tried, very few came close. Unfortunately the genre’s popularity has dwindled to microscopic proportions mostly developed by hardcore fans for hardcore fans, it’s a small but a very loyal market and fills the void appropriately.
Takashi Nishiyama was the man who created the very first Street Fighter when he was working at Capcom. The goal according to him was to make a game with really deep characters so they wrote a lot of detail for each character everything from what kind of foods they like to what family structure they belong to. None of that made into the game but Nishiyama wanted to make something cinematic and believed all that work helped to deepen the characters.
At the time Capcom had three development studios with the head of the studio the sole visionary of the entire project. This didn’t sit well with Nishiyama who worked on concepts and ideas but wanted others to have the freedom to flesh out those ideas to give the work a much needed fresh and unique spin. This didn’t sit well with Capcom’s higher ups and soon after the release of Street Fighter Nishiyama’s disagreement with his supervisor led him to leave Capcom and become head of development at SNK where he had a complete freedom to work exactly how he wanted helping SNK to become Capcom’s biggest competitor. Very few made polished fighting games the way SNK did even though Capcom’s giant towering success was impossible to bring down.
The first major project Nishiyama did was working on the Neo-Geo arcade system and was the first person to propose the idea for both the arcade and the home console systems. Arcade machines were very expensive at the time with no guarantee the arcade owners will make a return on their investment. Changing games was also a really painfully delicate process requiring the owners to tinker with the mother boards which could take a few hours of work. Piracy was also a difficult issue to handle and even led some companies to make self destructive machines if they detected something is wrong with the original game, like Capcom’s own CPS-3 machine.
Neo-Geo tackled all these problems in a very efficient way. First it was more like a home console than a bulky arcade machine, it worked with cartridges and was as easy to change games as on an actual home console, some systems even had as many as four cartridge slots saving time on switching games. The Neo-Geo was a really powerful machine and with every year it seemed like it was getting more and more powerful, when Super Nintendo and Genesis games held 24 Megabits at most, the Neo-Geo games started at around 32 megabits and went all the way to the 700-800 megs. This was insanely huge and helped Neo-Geo be an exciting attraction with every year as each game looked, sounded, and played better than previous year enticing returning players to see what awesome new games they can try. The games cost only about $500 which is huge compared to the home consoles but are three times cheaper than most other arcade systems. The high quality of games and the cheap price helped to fight piracy and contributed to SNK’s success. There were two main versions of the system, the MVS which is the arcade system and the AES system and was a home console version. In the following years SNK released a few more consoles but none reached the incredible popularity as the AES system.
Nishiyama’s desire to make a movie style martial arts fighting game with a story and deep characters led to the creation of some of the most interesting games in the genre. Nishiyama considers Fatal Fury as his Street Fighter 2 and had many ideas he couldn’t make work in the original Street Fighter including the character depth and a story driven game. And that is where things begin to roll in the first game in the series, a story that will span all through the entire series. Released in 1991, Fatal Fury: King of Fighters is known in Japan as Legend of the Hungry Wolf: The Battle of Destiny and will set SNK on a new path.
In Southtown a city somewhere in America two men studied under the martial arts master Tung Fu Rue. The name of these two men were Jeff Bogard and Geese Howard. Geese had very brutal ambitions and intended to use the skills he learned to gain power over the city’s criminal business for his own gain. A rivalry start to grow between Geese and Jeff but their master continued to impart his knowledge to both. Things fell into disaster when the master chose Jeff to be his successor, jealousy and resentment ate at Geese’s mind. Shortly after he started to gain power he confronted Jeff and killed him. The incident had a witness, Jeff’s older son Terry Bogard also known as the Hungry Wolf. Tung Fu Rue took him in and started to train him the skills he once imparted on his two students just a few years before. Jeff had another son Andy Bogard who was sent to Japan to train under a different master. At the same time somewhere in Thailand a Japanese born young man, Joe Higashi, was training in the arts of Muay Thai. Now ten years later the three men heard about the fighting competition sponsored by Geese they decide to sign up in the hopes of defeating all his fighters and taking revenge.
Story was very important to SNK and their early games followed strict narrative rules even if it means limiting what the player could do or which characters can be selected. In the first Art of Fighting a single player game had only one of two characters to choose otherwise the story just didn’t work. Same thing happened in first Fatal Fury, you can only select one out of three characters because story wise it wouldn’t make sense to select the other fighters. SNK pretty quickly stopped doing that with their later games and opened the entire roster of fighters to choose from even in the single player modes.
As you begin the game you get to choose one of three fighters, Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, and Joe Higashi and then select your first opponent to fight against. And things continue from there. The focus on the story prevails even during the game and between the matches you’re shown what Geese is saying about you as he gets more and more angry as you get closer to winning the tournament.
Characters are one of the most important aspects of any fighting game. The game can be very fun to play but it is the characters and their visual aesthetics what attracts the gamers. SNK fighting games always had some of the most best character designs of any fighting game, unfortunately Fatal Fury is not one of them. Besides very few personas none of the characters are all that interesting to look at.
Characters and animation is one of the most important aspects of a fighting game second only to gameplay and even if the gameplay is generic the characters and visual aesthetic is what gives the game its real identity and it is also the first thing that attracts gamers into putting more quarters into the arcade machine or run to the store and buy one of the console ports. Unfortunately most of the characters in this first Fatal Fury game in the series lack the visual eye pleasing attractive bright smooth clean-cut designs the kind that made Street Fighter 2 characters favorable among gamers. The three player characters, the final boss, and perhaps one more character had engaging likable designs while the rest felt like an afterthought almost as if they weren’t important enough and cast aside like worthless incompetent and completely pointless.
With later games SNK will change their visual style and will push the limits of 2D graphics in games to the limit. However their games were also full of really unbelievable amount of details and unexpected surprises in their fighting games. Fatal Fury had a lot of these wondrous details in each character’s stages as the morning will turn to dusk and the dusk will turn to night after each round. This might not sound that neat but unlike today’s 3D games where you can just adjust the lighting and change from day to night just by changing the color a light and with today’s physically based shading changing the lighting is a snap, however in older 2D games the artists had to recolor each stage from scratch to fit each time of the day and since each stage has at least three different color schemes it means there are three different color renditions for every stage.
In Tun Fu Rue’s stage the first round starts at an early evening with lightning flashing in the sky way in the distance and in the 2nd and 3rd rounds the characters will be fighting under a heavy rain. The Capoeira master’s Richard Myer stage has light railings on the ceiling where he can hang of and do his special rotating kicks which can be hard to avoid because of Richard’s long legs. In Hwa Jai’s stage when he has less than 75% of health one of the spectators will thrown him a bottle and he will leap up grabbing the bottle then drink it and become berserk, all in the middle of a fight. That spectator, it turns out, under Geese’s employ. Billy Kane fights with a red cane and if you brake it or if he throws it at you but fails to catch it back then after one of the spectators will throw him a new cane. Billy Kane’s stage also has this truck on either side of the stage and if he kicks you in that direction you’ll actually land on the truck and bounce off it as the truck shaking off and tries to straighten itself. It’s these cool details that set the game apart from the rest.
Oh but the fun doesn’t stop here. If another player joins in then instead of interrupting the fight and having a player vs. player battle the 2nd player will actually join you in a 2 against 1 co-op battle. This evolutionary gameplay idea was unfortunately never used again and even never tried by anyone else. The tag team gameplay might have spawned of off Fatal Fury but with tag team you switch between characters on the fly while in Fatal Fury you two players controller their characters at the same time. It seems that not even Fatal Fury knew what to do with this because once you defeat the enemy the game forces the players to fight against each other and the whoever wins will sadly continue to progress through the game the game alone unless the 2nd player throws in another quarter into the machine. Perhaps that was the real intention.
With only one button for punching, one button for kicking, and one button for grabbing and throwing your enemies, the gameplay appears to be deceptively simple but this three button setup provide for a lot of complexity and a great volume of attacks and special moves to execute. The characters can also fight on a different depth plane. One character might escape another’s attack by jumping into further back it to the background plane. This is something that was done only in Fatal Fury and if felt like there is a sense of depth to the environment while the characters hop from plane to plane dogging their opponents while at the same time trying to find the best opening to hit that one winning kick and end the round.
There are also bonus stages like in Street Fighter 2, the first Street Fighter had bonus stages too, however in Fatal Fury it is disappointing to see the same stage repeating without any sort of variety. The bonus stages themselves are an arm wrestling game against an a digitized opponent the player just needs to mash the A button repeatedly and hope for the best. It’s fun the first time but some variety would have been good for the player to chill after a long series of fights.
Fatal Fury: King of Fighters could not stand on equal grounds with Street Fighter 2’s visual fidelity, catchy upbeat music, great characters and gameplay, and it is not even one of SNK’s better games but it was a beginning, their first steps on the road to becoming the king of fighting games as each new game would get better on all aspects with polished graphics, sound, controls, gameplay with an unmatched comprehensive experience.
Fatal Fury 2
Released only a year after the first game, Fatal Fury 2 started to show the direction SNK will be going for in production and design quality. The game is much bigger this time around with a bigger and more interesting character roster with improved and additional gameplay elements from the original released only a year before.
This time around SNK dropped the story limiting character choices from the original and decided to have all the fighters available for the choosing right from the start. There are 8 characters to choose from instead of 3, and each one has an appropriate fighting style and a distinct personality. The new characters will turn up to be some of SNKs most popular characters like the Tae-Kwon-Do practitioner Kim Kaphwan and the fan favorite the kunoichi, a female ninja, Mai Shiranui.
The gorgeous knock out red ninja, Mai Shiranui will become SNKs most memorable and most popular character of all time. Being SNKs first female fighter she was give a very special attention by the designers and made her a conspicuously eye catching seductive full of sex appeal and is one of the most well recognized fictional women in history. People who never even played the games know who Mai Shiranui is and can instantly pinpoint who she is. Her design is a combination of two previously completely different incomplete work in progress characters for Fatal Fury 2, one was a male ninja and the other a female Japanese pop idol.
"the character wears a revealing outfit that accentuates her buttocks and displays large amounts of cleavage” Entertainment Software Rating Board.
The inspiration for her great assets comes from two pop idols Fumie Hosokawa and Ai Iijima, one inspired the breasts the other the ass respectively. Her sexuality and jiggling is keeping true to the stories and legends of kunoichi, the female ninjas as they used their sexuality to accomplish dangerous life threatening missions.
“One day, Mai's designer asked me if they could add some more animation for Mai's resting pose (aka 'neutral' pose, when the player is not taking any action). I thought we still had a little extra memory left (in fact, we did not) so I quickly said "Go ahead." When the designer came back with that 'swaying bosom', it was so amazing that it left us awestruck, jaws agape. By the way, we had to censor that animation for the overseas console release.” The King of Fighters '94 development staff interview, All About KOF'94.
Dimmed too sexual for her own good she was also a character who will get the most flack and will be censored countless times for the international and some console releases. Nevertheless She remains a strong woman and the leader of an all female team from the King of Fighters crossover games. She one of SNKs most iconic mascots and she is truly one of a kind.
Every fight in the first game took place in single location but in Fatal Fury 2 the player travels around the world to defeat his opponents. It’s a larger game in both scale and technicality as well as a more variant background graphics and cultural designs.
The visuals now are more colorful and vibrant with really a much higher contrast between the lighter and the darker tones of the image. It still has the same art style as the first game but added color depth made the designs really pop up from the screen compared the darker and lacking style of the prequel. In addition to new characters there are also a lot of moves and actions for each fighter however animation has not improved from the prequel and the lack of frames makes everything look jerky. There is just too much stuff going on and not enough frames to do it.
The time of day changes between the round are still kept but the backgrounds have a lot more detail so much in fact that they some of them even look as if they took precedence over characters. Many stages are fought on a moving platform with a scrolling background images in the back showing off the wonderful drawn detailed art SNKs artists are so well known for. Cheng Sinzan’s stage is in Hong Kong and is full of dazzling nightlights almost like an eastern looking Las Vegas. Mai Shiranui’s level is on a raft floating in a river with some old drowned city and a giant drowned ancient statue scrolls by. Jubei Yamada’s stage has wall screens between the game’s 2d fighting planes and if you jump from plane to plane while the screen is in the way then the screen will shatter in our path. If you get on the plane behind the screens then the characters will be obscured by them. It’s a pretty neat thing and really shows off the creativity SNK puts in their games as well as makes the environment appear like a real place where the characters are battling.
Another fun little thing is when the first round begins Yamada takes of his footwear, kicking one backwards and another towards the screen. Once again, it’s a neat little trick to see as one of his shoes flies towards the screen and gets bigger. He will even take out an apple and eat it in a bite or two in the middle of a fight. In Terry bogard’s level the characters fight on a train with a detailed drawing of the Mt. Rushmore scrolling in the back. Andy Bogard’s stage is in Venice on a boat floating on a river as you see the entire city scrolls by with some buy on a bicycle watching the fight as he rides along. Kim Kaphwan has a someone riding a motorcycle between the two fighting planes and if one of the characters jumps between the planes the driver will fall and crash the bike.
The bonus stages are more exciting but as disappointing as the first game. The first bonus stage has a stone pillar the player has to destroy, once a pillar is destroyed another one is dropped and this continues until the time runs out. The 2nd bonus stage is exactly the same only instead of pillars they drop a pack of stones but it’s exactly the same thing as the other bonus stage.
The characters can now quickly step back of the back direction is quickly tapped twice. The can even crawl forward if the player holds diagonally forward and down, a feature never seen in a fighting game before. There are additional special evasion and desperation attack moves. Evasion moves just like they sound let you evade the other player’s attack if you time it correctly. Then the character’s lifebar is 25% or less it will start flashing red to indicate that a desperation attack can be executed, this is a very strong attack that can devastate the other fighter and drain a lot of his life and tip the balance of the fight.
There are also a few unelectable boss characters some old like Billy Kane and some new like Axel Hawk, a boxer who looks like one of the characters from Punch Out. On his stage the fighters battle in a boxing ring surrounded by flashy electrified ring side ropes. Laurence is a Spanish bullfighter and the fight against him is in an arena with a lot of raging bulls funning from right to left as they leave dust under their feet. It gives the game a really bombastic design and showed off stuff you cannot do on any other console at the time. Finally there is epic fight against Wolfgang Krauser a tall giant German fighter with purple hair. His level is in a lobby of a giant castle with a live orchestra on both sides of the two spiraling staircases playing Dies Irae from Mozart’s Requiem – Sequentia. Perhaps this is the part that inspired Takashi Masada, or probably not.
Fatal Fury Special
Almost a year later SNK released Fatal Fury Special as an updated version to Fatal Fury 2. Fatal Fury Special is to Fatal Fury 2 what Street Fighter 2 Turbo is to Street Fighter 2 as the gameplay in Special is a little bit faster. All the characters from Fatal Fury 1 and 2 are available for selection right from the start including the bosses from both games.
In Mai Shiranui’s stage has flag poles this time around. She had them in Fatal Fury 2 but this time the are between the fight planes and she can bounce of them and do an air attack. Duck King has a really cool stage. It begins with an epileptic flash of lights before it reveals that the characters are fighting on a rock concert stage with laser beams, a matrix of tvs playing in the background, smoke machines and dancing fans. It’s one of the most impressive stages in the game, these days it’s nothing amazing but it was really amazing to see back then.
Geese returns from the first game with a vengeance with his own introduction before the player it pit against him. He’s pretty much the same as in the first game just a little more agile and faster but he is not the last boss, this honor is still left to Wolfgang Krauser and his stage is just as impressive as in Fatal Fury 2. Actually it is the same but there wasn’t any need to change it either. If the player fills a special condition the after defeating Krauser he will be challenged by Ryo Sakazaki, one of the protagonists from the Art of Fighting. It’s a cool little surprise but doesn’t add much to the game except maybe a nice looking background with splashing waves against a rock.
The game feels bigger, more refined, and makes Fatal Fury 2 obsolete but it’s an otherwise the same game just with a bigger selection of fighters and some additional great looking backgrounds. Even the endings are the same as in Fatal Fury 2. There’s a lot of skill and fast paced strategy necessary to succeed and it’s still a very fun game to play today but other than a few neat quirks it doesn’t have much life span compared to other fighting games or even the sequels.
Fatal Fury 3: Road to the Final Victory
WARNING: It’s a fighting game so the story has nothing really awesome going for it but if you still prefer to be surprised by playing the game yourself then be aware that I spoil the ending.
After Fatal Fury Special SNK was working hard on the next installment in the series with a longer development time than previous games so far with new gameplay innovation and visual upgrade, once again pushing the Neo-Geo and fighting games to the next generation.
Fighting games are all about two characters beating the hell out of each other in a tournament style brawler till the last man standing. The fights in Fatal Fury 3 feel a lot more brutal than previous games as each punch flies and smashes into the opponent with a bone crushing sound effect as blood, sweat and spit burst into the air. Gameplay is fast and furious and when punches and kicks meet their opponent it opens even more opportunities to inflict even more and faster attacks. Using every move with speed and accuracy are a real key to success in this new game in the series. Coming back as a series staple is the ability to crawl slowly forward while trying to be careful not to be hit is very intense because you never know what the enemy might do and where the next kick is going to hit you if you aren’t quick on your wits and in a hurry to defend yourself.
This time there is only one plane to fight on however the game a new oversway system which allows the characters to jump into the background or the foreground for a limited time and avoid an incoming attack or do a quick punch or kick dash towards the opponent. Jumping has also been refined a bit and it’s possible now to do wither a long or a short jump depending on how long the player holds the up direction, kind of like in most platform games where the longer you hold the jump button the higher you will jump.
Ever since Mortal Kombat started filling the screens with buckets of digitized blood seeing a fighting game with blood is nothing new and in fact is much more appropriate than a lot of other genres. But unlike Mortal Kombat, SNK went a different way to create a more subtle and realistic depiction of blood spills with less focus on the blood and more on the actual gameplay. SNK already tried their hand at drawing blood in Samurai Showdown/Spirits but that game has razor sharp blades and swords, Fatal Fury 3 only has bare knuckles and when a punch makes the other opponent bleed it has a much brutal and shocking impact on the occurring explosive battle displaying on the screen.
The game also ranks the player on how well he fights and gives a score at the end of each round. Fight fast and quick with no health lost and you might get a high ranking for the current match. Come alive out of a fight with barely any life left and no smart tactics and you might get a very low rank. High ranking is a great motive to try harder and learn to fight better and unlock a few additional surprises because the ranking system is closely tied to the game’s central plot.
Like any other video game in the fighting genre defeating one opponent moves the player to the next and repeats until the final boss battle at the conclusion of which the game ends. However in Fatal Fury 3 SNK had a few surprises up its sleeve. As the player defeats his opponents and moving from one stage to the next to fight his next opponent standing in his way to victory the player can be interrupted and challenged to a one round duel by a new unknown character which is later revealed to be Yamazaki. As it turns out this is the final boss, the real final boss of the game and he keeps a close eye on the rankings you get for each round because he won’t show up unless you earn a high enough rank from your previous battles. But that’s not all, there are actually more surprises to come. You see, once you defeat Yamazaki the true villain appears, Jin Chonshu, some 2000 year old sorcerer who seeks a scroll that will grant him immortality he only appears if you get an even higher ranking. And if you thought that was the end then if your ranking is even higher the game finds another way to pull the rug right under you and another boss appears, Jin Chonshu’s older brother, Jin Chonrie. After seeing his brother defeated (perhaps even dead) Jin Chonrie gets absolutely enraged and looses his marbles and the real final battle begins after of which the player is treated to the true ending as the long and hard battle is finally over.
The character roster is smaller this time around compared to Fatal Fury Special with only 10 characters to choose from. Some of them are returning characters such as the fan favorite Terry and Mai along with Joe, Andy, Blue Mary, and even Geese is a selectable character which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the new fighters. There are a few cool details here too like when the first round starts the game will have some kind of short presentation such as Franco Bash sitting in a chair waiting for the match to start with his trainer massaging his back and then tapping him notifying about the beginning of the round and as Franco stands up his trainer kicks the chair but hurts his own leg. Some of these animations depend if the fighter is the player or not because if Franco is the player then he will just drink something from a small bottle and thrown it away. Blue Mary will have her jacket on and as soon as the round starts takes it off and throws it while he dog catches it and runs away.
The backgrounds are even more impressive than before with some of them having a lot if really detailed drawings. Joe’s stage looks like an Amazonian village (although it says National Park) with a lot of greens and exotic animals like a crocodile and a huge turtle as well as huts and statue heads and there are even some greenery in the foreground as well. Mai’s stage is in some kind of underwater park (it says East Side Park) with a huge glass wall in the background with some old structure and a lot of sea life swimming about with sharks, penguins, whales, and other types of fish. Hon Fu’s stage is very interesting and takes place on a rising platform with at first only some building can be seen but as the fight continues the platform goes higher and the entire city is revealed with some really cool details it makes one of the best stages in any fighting game thus far. When moving between the stages the player is shown moving on a map and the player’s graphic changes depending on which character he chose. If it’s Blue Mary you’ll see traveling on her bike, if it’s Geese you’ll see him driving his car and if it’s Franco then you’ll see him running from stage to stage.
Character designs have been improved too and taken many level ahead with what can be done with 2D games. Animations are a lot more smooth and fluid compared to previous games with every move has all the necessary frames that removes some of the noticeable jerkiness from previous games. The details and the coloring on the characters has also gotten better by using much more lush and vibrant attractive color schemes creating a much more pretty look than how things were done in the older games in the series so far.
Fatal Fury 3 changed the formula from how things previously played but it was a risk SNK felt was important to take to keep the series fresh but still familiar to older games alike. This was one of the games that pushed 2D visual aesthetics further but it’s not where things will stop and in a few years SNK will eventually take a few more steps into an even more impressive graphical fidelity but it will take several games to get there.