Review by JIrish
Reviewed: 05/03/03 | Updated: 05/03/03
1 step forward, 2 steps back, and 3 to the side.
What happened? The Fatal Fury series was hitting it’s stride with Fatal Fury Special, which built upon Fatal Fury 2 in a decent fashion to make the game a pretty decent hit and worth noticing amongst the now very numerous fighting games in the video game scene. So now we get the true sequel to Fatal Fury 2 and as it turns out, SNK had been working on some radical changes to the series. It almost didn’t quite work…
With the King of Fighters tournaments now a series under it’s own title, Fatal Fury 3: Road to the Final Victory gives us a plot that doesn’t revolve around a tournament! Fancy that! Instead, we’re back in South Town, where the exiled Geese Howard returns to find out his crime empire has been taken over by a number of other gangs. Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, Joe Higashi and Mai Shiranui are also coming back from KoF ’94, all for their own reasons. In fact, Joe is there because he’s been tipped off by Cheng Sinzan about some scrolls that will grant immortality. The young boys Jin Chunshu and Jin Chonrei, young descendents of an old Chinese dynasty, have commissioned Hong Kong criminal Ryuji Yamazaki to bring the last scroll to them, by any means necessary. Against this backdrop the events of the game unfold as your character searches for the scrolls, fighting the other characters along the way.
The first thing you notice is that the playable cast has shrunk to ten characters from Fatal Fury Special’s 15. Terry, Andy, Joe, Mai and Geese are all back, but Cheng only appears in a non-fighting capacity. Ditto for Billy Kane, and there’s not even as much as a peep out of Kim Kaphwan, Big Bear, Jubei Yamada (though he’s not entirely absent), Tung Fu Rue, Duck King, Axel Hawk, Laurence Blood or Wolfgang Krauser. Some of these guys are missed, a few aren’t, and stylistically, none of them are really “replaced” either. Instead, there are five all-new folks here to make things interesting with some fighting styles that haven’t been seen in the last couple games, and these characters rank from the darn spiffy to the downright lame.
Foremost in this incarnation is probably Bob Wilson, the dreadlocks-bearing Capoeria fighter who was brought to South Town by Richard Meyer (of Fatal Fury 1 fame) to run the Pao Pao Café West. There’s Blue Mary next, a beautiful blonde detective trained in military Sambo and investigating both the scrolls and Geese Howard. Her looks are pretty obviously derived from Dragonball Z’s Android 18, though she was never this… endowed. Also doing some detective work is Hong Kong’s Hon-Fu, a nunchuck-wielding kung fu artist who bears a passing resemblance to Jackie Chan. Cheng sent him to South Town also, but he’s got a vendetta, not to mention a warrant, against Yamazaki, too. Falling under the “haven’t I seen you somewhere before” file is Franco Bash, a retired kick-boxing champ who was blackmailed into getting the scrolls for a rival gang to rescue his son. He looks an awful lot like Mike Haggar from Capcom’s Final Fight series with boxing gloves, which I’m sure did not help to decrease the “SNK copies Capcom” criticisims that have been levied since fans started comparing Ryo (Art of Fighting series) to Street Fighter poster boy Ryu, and what-not.
The last new playable character is Sokaku Mochizuki, a member of a rival clan to Mai’s who is searching for the scrolls for his own dark purposes. I’ll be brutally honest here. I really dislike this guy. He’s probably one of the most out-of-place characters in the entire series, fighting with all kinds of attacks that would be far more at home in the Darkstalkers series from Capcom, such as summoning demons and tiny versions of himself. Not only that, but he looks like he just walked right out of Samurai Shodown, another SNK franchise. And by God, this guy is one of the cheapest non-boss characters I’ve ever seen in an SNK game. Seriously, this guy is annoying at times, and he’s the only real black spot on the roster. Well, that and as a whole, this new group of fighters doesn’t quite “click” like the group in Special. I don’t know what it is, but something seems missing here with this group. This would change over time as the characters grow and develop, but for now, they don’t carry the same level of mystique and excitement as Billy Kane or Wolfgang Krauser.
So we have a mixed bag for a cast, okay. So how does this game play? Well, the 4-button set-up from the last two games is about the same, with light and strong punches and kicks. The super moves and the taunts remain, and some of the former are as annoying to execute as ever. Oh, well. One thing that has changed from past games in a huge way is going back and forth between sections of the stage. This time, instead of going back and forth to follow your opponent, you can duck either into the background (pressing C and D) or the foreground (pressing A and B), and then dart back into the middle either with a quick dash or an attack. No serious fighting occurs in either part, this is more or less strictly a mobility function. The background and foreground can also come into play when finishing off your opponent for the second KO, knocking them either all the way back into the depths of the stage or right at the screen. Past that, we’re still talking the same 2D fighting that has been popular since Street Fighter 2 machines have been gobbling quarters and screaming “Shoryuken!”
However, there is one more noticeable difference in gameplay to be found from past games in the series. This game is just a little easier than past installments. On the same difficulty levels, the game doesn’t seem anywhere near as futile at times. Oh, there are some tough parts to be found for sure, this is SNK we’re talking about here and they just love to make their fighting games really challenging. But they’ve managed to balance it out pretty well this time around so you’re not as overwhelmed when you’re just getting started. Also of note, Terry, Andy and Joe have all picked up new moves to replace some old ones, such as the Power Dunk in place of Terry’s Rising Tackle.
The graphics are showing some of SNK’s lessons and learning paying off, as well. Terry and the other returning characters are all redrawn very nicely, and Mai even gets a new outfit that seems conservative compared to what she’s wearing in the King of Fighters series. Her infamous “bounce” has been toned down a little, too, since Mary seems to be holding that job now. Speaking of Mary, the attempt to make this Android 18 lookalike into a sex symbol doesn’t quite work this time around. Yeah, she jiggles in all the right places and what-not, but she just looks kind of rough. Not “pop you in the jaw for calling her babe” rough, but “something must be lost in translation” rough. The other new characters fare better, though. The backgrounds have improved dramatically, on the other hand, with stand-outs including Hon-Fu’s stage where you go sky high and get a great view of South Town landmarks, the Pao Pao Café West featuring cameos from King of Fighters’ Kyo Kusanagi and Sie Kensou, and the aquarium stage where you face Mai.
All the old characters have had their voices re-recorded as well, to great results. Mai particularly needed this new voice track, as this voice brings her one more step further away from being seen as a Chun Li clone. New characters all sound pretty good, too… except again, Blue Mary. She’s honestly a little squeaky voiced for a tough-as-nails but still sweet and sexy detective. The music doesn’t really do much for me this time, with only one song being really good, that being Bob Wilson’s. A lot of it is just there, and doesn’t make matters very exciting.
The game is also filled with all kinds of cute touches that make it a little more enjoyable. A penguin occasionally runs across Mai’s stage, a monkey will start the music in Terry’s stage by pressing “play” on a boom box, and other such silliness is waiting to be discovered by those willing to look for it. The quotes are a riot, too, and this time it’s not because someone was being lazy in the translation department. It’s actually because SNK was trying to be witty with the dialogue… and the results are kind of oddball. Just read what Terry says after he beats Bob when you play as the former, and you’ll see what I mean.
I guess that we can look back on this game, and the ones that would eventually follow it, and appreciate the seeds that were planted here for what was to come. But the brutal truth is that Fatal Fury 3 doesn’t quite have the same sort of jump in quality that, for example, Street Fighter Alpha was from what had preceded it. It’s not the worst game in the series by any stretch of the imagination, but I would not put this game above Fatal Fury Special whatsoever.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
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