Friday, May 22, 2009

Fatal Fury Redux

It's a slow day at work; I'm just waiting for a final meeting and then I'm off to a long Memorial Day weekend, and I'm feeling rambly. So, although I think this is my third or fourth blogpost for today, I'm makin' it anyway.

Fatal Fury. I posted a link about it, I've blogged in the past about how I think it's a sadly under-rated series, perhaps unjustly overshadowed by its competitor Street Fighter and it's own SNK "brother series" King of Fighters. In particular, I think it matches up very well with Street Fighter, and in fact has iterations that closely match iterations of Street Fighter. However, it's not an exact science---Street Fighter 2 came in no fewer than five official arcade versions for example (the Fatal Fury corresponding iteration only came in two) and the titles obscure an "extra" step in the evolution of the series. Let me talk briefly about the various iterations, as I see them.

Phase 1: This is made up of a single game, Fatal Fury itself. Fatal Fury was developed by the same folks who did Street Fighter (the first game) and can be seen in a way as an evolution of that concept, just... by a different company and with different characters. In every way, although it's similar, it's an improvement. However, Capcom was also developing a follow-up to Street Fighter, and Street Fighter 2 overshadowed this game signifcantly. Probably the biggest reason for that is that not only did Street Fighter 2 have all the improvements that Fatal Fury did, but it also had a greatly expanded character selection. And Capcom were always a little better at localization than SNK anyway, so Street Fighter caught on internationally in ways that Fatal Fury couldn't ever hope to.

Phase 2: I consider Phase 2 to be Fatal Fury catching up a bit with where Street Fighter was. Fatal Fury 2 is, then, a nice analogue to Street Fighter 2, and Fatal Fury Special is almost the same thing spiritually as Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition. Or perhaps somewhere between that and Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers, since not only did it make the bosses playable, but it also added about four "new" characters, most of which came from the older title, yet which had to be completely redrawn and designed from scratch. This one, like it's predecessor, enjoyed phenomenal success, especially in Japan arcades, but never really scratched the shine off of Street Fighter 2.

Phase 3: Fatal Fury 3 and Real Bout Fatal Fury, despite belonging to different subseries in title, actually belong together. The sprites were redesigned yet again, and the gameplay experienced considerable tweaking again as well. From a chronological standpoint, it could be argued that these are the counterparts of the Street Fighter Alpha series, but I don't believe they were really quite there yet. The next phase is a better analog for the Alpha games at their best.

Phase 4: Once again, the sprites were all redesigned (well, most of them anyway) from Phase 3, and gameplay again picked up considerable polish. This Phase has Real Bout Fatal Fury Special and Real Bout Fatal Fury 2. (The PS only Real Bout Fatal Fury: Dominated Mind would also count, but I'm ignoring anything other than MVS arcade games and their AEG/NeoCD ports). These two games were really the apex of classic Fatal Fury gameplay; sharp, quick, polished, technical but not too much so, fun, easy to pick up and difficult to master. As well as having, arguably, the best look of the series. In fact, I'd say Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 is my favorite game in the entire Fatal Fury line-up, with the only extremely minor complaint being that I dislike the way they reskinned backgrounds to minimize workload. C'mon, a truly unique background for every fighter isn't too much to ask, is it?

Phase 5: Sadly, this is the last phase, as SNK went bankrupt as work on the sequel was underway, and when they reorganized as SNK Playmore, they focused on the core titles of King of Fighters and Metal Slug only, leaving Fatal Fury in the past. The only game in this phase is Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves, which compares in many ways to Street Fighter 3. This is a very highly polished and well-done game. Although I just called out Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 as my favorite, this one isn't far behind it, and my ranking would probably be atypical for Fatal Fury fans. Sadly, this did not get bundled in the Fatal Fury Battle Archive 2 for the Playstation 2, like it should have been, but happily (for me, anyway) I have a copy of it anyway, because I bought it for the Dreamcast years ago.

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