Art of Fighting Anthology Reader Review
The PS2 shows very little sign of throwing in the towel just yet and if gems such as this keep arriving then it needn't make plans anytime soon. Essentially a compilation, Art of Fighting Anthology is a collection of arcade perfect conversions of SNK's early 90's fighting franchise, one of many such series' to emerge and try to capitalise on the success of Street Fighter 2. For the un-initiated, AoF consists of a trilogy of one-on-one fighting games focusing on Ryo 'the invincible dragon' Sakazaki and Robert 'the raging tiger' Garcia, two lifelong rivals and practitioners of Kyoguen Karate.
The first game sees the pait travel across the fictional city of Southtown on a quest to locate Ryo's sister Yuri who has been kidnapped by a figure from the shady underworld. As you'd expect from a Neo Geo arcade game, the character sprites are large and nicely detailed and the combat suitably weighted though admittedly clunky and far from forgiving. In fact, the difficulty is perhaps the most noticeable thing at first and even on the lowest difficulty setting, those brought up on modern fighting games might find themselves overwhelmed by the CPU opponents. To add to the original title's shortcomings, the single player game can only be fought through with the main protagonists Ryo and Robert who both have very similar movesets which severely limits the variety of play on offer. This means that unless you go toe-to-toe with friend in the VS mode, you won't be using the other characters.
The first sequel, Art of Fighting 2, feels more like an upgrade to the original than a full blown successor and unbelievably, the difficulty has been cranked up to an almost obscene level that will test the patience and skills of anyone who plays it. Seriously, the AI is absolutely brutal and anybody with a short fuse will more than likely find themselves seething at how unfair it appears. For those determined to persevere however, there are some notable changes that set AoF2 apart from its predecessor in a postive light. Most importantly, the player is no longer limited to just using Ryo or Robert for the single player mode; Ryuhaku Todoh has been given the boot from the original roster and replaced with Eiji Kisaragi, Temjin and Yuri Sakazaki herself who join Ryo, Robert, Jack Turner, Lee Pai Long, King, Takuma (Formerly Mr. Karate from AoF), Mickey Rogers, John Crawley and Mr Big to form a twelve strong selection of playable characters which give the game a much needed variety boost. There's plenty for SNK aficionado's too such as the first appearance of the legendary Geese Howard and the ability to make the tops of female combatants Yuri and King burst open upon knocking them out which is sure to please the lecherous gamer.
Finally, we reach the real selling point of this anthology. Whereas AoF2 is aesthetically very similar to its predecessor and more a refined experience, than a new one, the third game in the trilogy is the polar opposite. The Path of the Warrior: Art of Fighting 3 retains the conventional one-on-one bouts and special move guage but throws everything else out of the window to improve upon its predecessors in every way and distinguish itself as the superior entry in the series. To begin with, the character roster has received another revamp, this time doing what Street Fighter 3 would do three years later and introduce a lineup of completely new faces. Ryo and Robert return of course and are joined by eight new warriors each with their own fighting style. This roster of ten is rendered beautifully with brand new sprites boasting a greater level of detail and animation than before. Combined with some lush backdrops, its fair to say that the game is among the best looking of any SNK fighter to have graced the Neo Geo. Most importantly however, the combat itself is massively improved, being quicker, smoother and far less punishing than previous iterations of AoF. Victories over AI controlled opponents are no longer a thing of rarity and as a result the overall gameplay is vastly satisfying and far less frustrating while always remaining challenging, striking the perfect balance. Throw in some slightly animated victory cut scenes, a special move guage that is easier, quicker and far less risky to recharge plus a good soundtrack and AoF3 becomes an essential 2D fighter able to hold its own among the best of them.
To conclude, Anthology is worth purchasing soley for the excellent third game which costs a ridiculous amount of money to purchase in its original form. The fact that you can own the whole trilogy with saveable scores and a new colour edit mode all on one disc for a little over a tenner from the right places, makes this remarkable value for money. Additionally, if you plan on spending some time hammering your mates in multiplayer VS mode, you could do far worse. A nice slice of fighting history and a worthy, affordable addition to anybody's PS2 library.
7 / 10