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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Fatal Fury Battle Archives Vol. 1
(SNK Playmore for PS2)

Michael Palisano

Fatal Fury Battle Archives Volume 1 for the Playstation 2 collects four of SNK's classic fighters in one convenient package. While the series has never held the cachet of Samurai Showdown or King of Fighters, Fatal Fury's unique multi-plane battle system and tight gameplay mechanics have held up well. The flawless translations in this compilation accurately mimic the arcade games, though a lack of significant extras is slightly disappointing. Still, this is value-priced disc offers plenty of gameplay for the money.

You can say what you will about the golden age of fighting games from the mid-to-late 90's, but the games themselves have held up remarkably well for titles that were accused of being cookie cutter titles. SNK's fighters are prime examples of series that haven't been accepted the way they should. Long accused of copying Capcom's more popular Street Fighter titles, a closer play reveals that their titles were actually quite innovative for their time. A good place to start correcting this historical error would be to play Fatal Fury Battle Archives for the PS2, which shows the series' progression from somewhat inauspicious beginnings to its apex as an incredibly solid and entertaining fighting game series. Of course, all of that came much later. If you play the games on the disc in the order they were originally released, you'll be able to see how the game evolved over time and the difference and jump in quality between the games is striking. When you begin with first game in the series, you'll see that things started off slowly. The original Fatal Fury wasn't that impressive once you got beyond its plane system. There were only three playable characters in this edition and this hurts its replayability significantly. Despite using an innovative plane system where players could jump back and forth to evade foes or attack them, it hasn't held up as well as the other games have. Fatal Fury is still a difficult title to beat in some regards, but the slower pace and somewhat disappointing presentation hurt the game's appeal over the long term. Players probably won't be impressed by it's somewhat dated graphics. The lack of specials and combos is somewhat surprising in this day and age. The small roster and limited moves lists and lack of depth makes the first Fatal Fury feel slightly dated now, and this isn't helped any by the choppy animation and small roster of fighters. The game itself isn't too bad for its era, providing a somewhat interesting precursor to its later installments and is enjoyable for a short time. Fatal Fury wasn't the greatest game that SNK released on the Neo-Geo hardware, but it was popular and remains surprisingly addictive.

Things improved dramatically with the release of Fatal Fury 2. Not only were the graphics much better, with more detailed characters and animation, but the roster of fighters increased from 3 to more than a dozen playable characters. This added plenty of balance and depth to the gameplay, while making things more challenging. The plane movement system was refined as well, and was less a gimmick and became an integral part of the gameplay. FF2 also added an array of special abilities for each character, which added further depth and replay value to the experience overall. Fatal Fury 2 also ditched many of the cornier elements of the first game and was a much more straightforward title overall. These tweaks made the sequel a much better game than the first, but SNK wasn't finished refining their formula. Fatal Fury Special was a refined version of Fatal Fury 2 which featured even more enhancements. Some of these changes were subtle, such as move balancing, while others, such as the addition of even more characters added yet more depth to make this, according to many players, the best game in the series. It's improvements from the original title were many and dramatic and made this SNK's finest fighter to date. There's some debate as to whether FF2 or FF Special is the definitive version of the franchise, but one thing you need to know is that they are both superb in many ways, each offering plenty of play value and that legendary SNK feel that became synonymous with excellent fighting titles.

Sadly, the package doesn't end on that high of a note, since Fatal Fury 3: Road to Final Victory is often considered a bit of letdown after the excellence of FF2. Things started in the right direction, as SNK gave the series a marked facelift, which resulted in more detailed animations and beautiful backgrounds. Unfortunately, many of the popular characters from the previous games went missing and were instead replaced by less appealing characters. The gameplay itself was nicely refined, and featured a slightly different combo system, that while harder to use and not as intuitive, gave players more flexibility. Again, SNK played with the plane system making it feel less intergral to the gameplay. This made for a more straightforward game but it gave FF3 less of a personality. You still have some cool special moves, but the fights seemed rather bland. Making the strategy of this less important in the third game, something was lost. Overall, the game wasn't as polished as it could have been and felt rather bland compared to its predecessors. While you can appreciate its improvements from a technical standpoint, Fatal Fury 3 just wasn't as enjoyable or fun as it could have been. It's still a solidly entertaining fighter and stands strongly on its own, but it just doesn't live up to what it could have been.

The package itself is fairly decent, and delivers plenty of action at a value price. Each game has been emulated flawlessly, right down to the classic AES boot-up screen and logo. The games load very quickly and there are no pauses between rounds which keeps the arcade-style flow of each title intact. Fatal Fury Battle Archives' sole disappointment lies in its lack of extras. There are no extensive documentaries or artwork to view, instead you get to swap out the colors of your fighters in the somewhat lame character edit mode. It's a pretty threadbare selection, but thankfully the games themselves are solidly entertaining and challenging after all these years. There's little doubt that Fatal Fury never received the acclaim from mainstream gamers that it deserved, instead lingering in the shadow of more popular franchises at the time. Those players who overlooked the games have finally been given a second chance, and as this compilation proves, this was a solid franchise that has stood the test of time. 

- Michael Palisano


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