After the success of Fatal Fury SNK went to work on its sequel and a new fighting series, Art of Fighting. Instead of making a carbon copy of what they did before, SNK tried a few new things with AoF. One of the coolest additions was a graphical scaling effect. In other fighters at the time there were invisible walls that prevented players from being too far away from one another. Not so in Art of Fighting. Instead the camera would scale back, and the sprites would become smaller. The closer players got to one another, the closer the camera would zoom in on the action, and the sprite size would increase accordingly. It was a very cool effect, and showed the power of the MVS hardware. Not only were the sprites massive compared to the other fighters, but as the fights went on you could actually see the characters getting bruised or cut. It was really something to see back in 1992.
Core gameplay was similar to most fighters of the time, with winners declared in best of three matches. Four action buttons were used, one for punch, kick, taunt, and a context-sensitive button which would be used to punch, kick, or throw depending on the position of the player. The taunt move was particularly interesting because players had a spirit meter that would deplete every time they used a special move, or were taunted by the other player. There was a risk/reward system in place. Taunting left you open for attack, but doing so would reduce your rival’s spirit meter, which in turn would lower their overall damage dealt, or prevent them from performing special moves. This was the first game to introduce such a system, and was very well received.
Art of Fighting was also unique for being the first fighting game to feature super moves. Note I said super moves, not special moves. These super moves would be learned by completing bonus rounds. What’s of particular interest is that each of the three bonus rounds unlocked different powers. The first one requires players to cut the top of five bottles off at the same time. Doing so rewards players with an increase in their spirit gauge for the next match. The second bonus round challenges the player to break five blocks of ice. Doing so grants them with an increase in health for the next match. The final, and most important bonus round requires players perform their super move a set number of times. Doing so rewards players with the ability to use the super move from that point forward. This reward system was extremely successful, and made players feel as though they were actually getting stronger as the game progressed.
One of the biggest complaints against Art of Fighting was the fact there were only two selectable characters in the single player mode. Thankfully there were eight in the multiplayer mode, and the reason for limiting the single player mode was because of the heavy focus on story.
The story of Art of Fighting actually ties directly into its sister franchise, although it would take a little while before fans realized that. In the first game players assume the role of Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia. Their mission is to rescue Ryo’s sister Yuri from the evil Mr. Big, no not the same one from Sex and the City. If I remember correctly, Mr. Big kidnapped Yuri because Ryo wouldn’t join him, and also to have control over Yuri and Ryo’s father, Takuma Sakazaki. After Ryo and Robert defeat Mr. Big they’re challenged by Mr. Karate, who would become a core character in the greater SNK universe. It’s revealed that Mr. Karate is none other than Takuma, and was forced to do evil things when his daughter was kidnapped. He also happens to be the creator of Kyokugen Karate, a super extreme style of karate. It’s not until Art of Fighting 2 do we learn that Geese Howard, the main boss from Fatal Fury is directly tied into this series as well. Not only is he figured heavily in the storyline of the sequel as a rising star in South Town’s underworld , but he was actually the final boss, should players perform well enough in the main game. Players also learned that the Art of Fighting series takes place ten years before Fatal Fury and that pretty much all the different characters are intertwined somehow. It was actually Geese who held the first King of Fighters tournament in Art of Fighting 2, while he was still on his quest to become ‘the most powerful’.
Art of Fighting 2 was released in 1994 and is very similar to the original in terms of the combat system. The spirit gauge was replaced with the rage gauge, but worked much the same way. The more rage a player has, the stronger and more effective their special moves are. Bonus stages were reworked, but again, functioned exactly as before. Takuma Sakazaki (Ryo and Yuri’s father), is now a playable character in his non-Mr. Karate persona. Yuri and Eiji Kisaragi are also a playable characters, and would go on to become quite famous for their roles in The King of Fighters.
Development of The King of Fighters ’94 must have coincided with Art of Fighting 2, as both games were released in 1994. While the next article will discuss The King of Fighters ’94 it’s interesting to note that even though KoF features characters from both Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury SNK created a new continuity specifically for the King of Fighters. This was done so that the storylines of both AoF and FF could continue without being affected by whatever happened in KoF. Not only that, but SNK didn’t want to age the Art of Fighting characters to make them playable in King of Fighters.
While Fatal Fury would continue until 1999, Art of Fighting wasn’t so lucky. The last release, Art of Fighting 3: The Path of the Warrior hit the scene in 1996, and featured a story more heavily focused on Robert instead of Ryo and his family. It’s a shame the series was never given quite as popular as Fatal Fury as there are only three entries in the series, where as there are nine in FF. Thankfully these characters would continue on in The King of Fighters.