Review: Fatal Fury Battle Archives 2 (PS2)

Fatal Fury Battle Archives 2
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK
Genre: 2-D Fighter
Release Date: 04/10/2008

I can count on one hand the number of video game franchises I consider myself a devoted fan of. We’ve got Pokemon, Persona , Sakura Taisen, Gradius, and games with Terry Bogard in them.

My love for SNK is pretty obvious. Generally when SNK has a new game or a remake anthology out, I’ve snatched up the claim to review it before my staff even realizes a new game is coming. It’s one of the perks of being editor in chief. If you take a look at my avatar artwork, it’s a combination of Terry Bogard and Ash Ketchum. Suffice to say, at least once a week you can hear me going “ARE YOU OKAY?”or “Busta Wolf!” from my game room because I’ve got my old Neo Geo hooked up and am busting out a triple geyser or two.

Of course when Fatal Fury Battle Archives 2 was announced I was excited. Well, as excited as I could be for a fighting game released on a Sony system. Pretty much every dead serious fighting fan knows Sony’s joysticks are the worst out there for the genre. But where else am I going to get three games that used to retail for $250 EACH for 14.99. How can one not pass up that deal. Hell, I had my retail copy in hand had this review half written the same day Bebito announced our review copy from SNK was on its way (They’re a little slow).

For those of you who don’t know this is the 5th through 7th games in the Fatal Fury series. However, the packaging on the game calls this the “FINAL” trilogy in the Fatal Fury series, meaning SNK is probably not going to package Dominated Mind, Wild Ambition, or Mark of the Wolves together as volume three. I can accept this, as Wild Ambition is an awful game, but Dominated Mind was an excellent rehash of Real Bout Special and Mark of the Wolves is easily the best looking SNK game ever made as well as the best game in the Fatal Fury series. It’d be nice to see a new generation of gamers getting to experience, but I shudder at how it would play on the PS2 compared to the Neo Geo or Dreamcast. Maybe SNK should look at porting these games to the 360 or Wii seeing as how much better the older games run on them than the PS2.

But now I’m getting on my soapbox and preaching the hardcore elitist fighting gamer fan boy stuff the majority of my readers don’t care about. So I’ve said my piece, and I’ll get on with the review.

Let’s Review

1. Story
With other fighting compilations, I’d include Modes in with the story section, but as this is a bare bones compilation without any extras other than training mode, there’s no real point.

Real Bout Fatal Fury is the climax of the series, even though it is the midway point of the series. This is because this is the final battle between Terry Bogard and South Town leader Geese Howard. This is also the official death of Geese in SNK canon, as he plummets to his death. However, as Geese does have all three of the secret scrolls, Geese’s later appearances (such as in the other two games in this compilation) are either considered fan service or that through the scrolls, Geese truly did find the secret to immortality and now can never die. Personally, I prefer the latter. Although there is little in the way of scripting or characterization, the game plays off what you already know about the characters and the ending where Geese choose

Real Bout Fatal Fury Special features the return of Fatal Fury Special boss Wolfgang Krauser, along with three other characters not in Real Bout Fatal Fury. There’s not much of a plot here, but the game can’t be considered a straight rehash ala Street Fighter 2 into Street Fighter 2 Turbo. Here begins the real descent of the Fatal Fury series storywise, as this is just your generic “Beat ’em all up until you get to the boss” plot. This is probably a good thing, as the game is not considered canon storywise. It just exists to get some ass kicking in.

Finally we have Real Bout Fatal Fury 2: The Newcomers. Again this is pretty much devoid of plot and not considered canonical for the series. Here we just have two new characters added, neither of who ever amounted to much in the SNK universe, and we have a hidden boss in Alfred who, like Geese in RBFFS, is crazy hard to get to, and was rarely seen again compared to the other SNK bosses who showed up far more frequently in the KoF games. We don’t even have ring quotes here which is a bummer.

So basically you have arguably THE most important story in the entire SNK universe, as it is here the King of Fighters tournament is no longer in the control of Geese and stops being a 1 on 1 competition after his death. Then you have two games absolutely devoid of plot whatsoever. As I have to grade the package as a whole, I have to say I wish we’d have gotten Dominated Mind thrown in as the first archive had four games and it would have helped a great deal in plot (Think Alex from Clockwork Orange vs. Terry). Instead the two dream match games, while fun to play, drag the overall story/plot quality down due to an nigh absolute lack of any. There’s more plot in Street Fighter 2.

Story Rating: BAD

2. Graphics

You know, usually we bash SNK for having pretty poor graphics due to the Neo Geo technology. These three games though? They’re pretty good looking. Sure they’re not going to be on par with games specifically designed for the PS2, but I’m amazed at how well these games hold up visually.
Real Bout Fatal Fury is obviously the worst of the three, but it’s full character designs in the select mode are nice, and although they are jaggie, the in game graphics and cut scenes were pretty god for its day and still look passable for a modern day audience. The ending cinematics are well done too.

RBFFS is bright and colourful. Characters are more fluid and animated, and the character sprites have all been completely redrawn. This is one of the better looking SNK games and I’d certainly say the visuals are on par with Street Fighter III

RB2 has similar graphics but highly improved vs. Screens that have the best headshots I’ve seen in an SNK game. They actually look like anime characters rather than just graphics. In game graphics are still vibrant and well animated.

If you really wanted to prove to a skeptic that SNK could release pretty games, not only ten years ago, but games that still hold up in 2008, then this compilation might help you with that. The latter two games in the compilation look MUCH better than Final Fantasy VII‘s in game graphics (certainly not the cut scenes) and that’s saying something.

Graphics Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE

3. Sound

SNK really does a great job with their sound and limited voice acting. Even the game’s announcer differs from game to game. RBFF’s announcer has a severe Japanese accent slurring his English while RB2’s announcer is a bit spastic.

Musically all of the games are excellent. Each stage’s music is unique and dynamic, and enjoyable. The best of the three is RBFFS as either completely new music or funky remixed tracks for each stage. The music is faster paced and far cheerier than in previous games and it really helps to set a more upbeat and enjoyable playing session.

The quality of the tracks in Fatal Fury Battle Archives 2 really can’t be understated. Within this one disc is not only some of the best music ever heard from the fighting genre, but in all of arcade gaming. If you’re a huge audio buff, just playing this game might inspire you to track down some of the old soundtracks on Ebay.

Sound Rating: UNPARALLELED

4. Control and Gameplay

If you’ve never played a Fatal Fury game, then you might have a bit of trouble getting used to the very different control scheme for this series. Yes, it is a 2-D fighter, but you won’t find three punch buttons and three kick buttons here. Nor will you find straight out 2-D fighting gameplay like you’re used to> Each game plays differently, but the two main things to remember are that you’ve got only a single button each for punching and kicking, and also a little something called “Sway Switching.”

I’m going to focus on sway switching because it’s just not done anymore. Think of the game as not being 2-D for a second. You have a foreground and a background in addition to the middle plane most of the game takes place on. By pressing the O button, you can switch planes and dodge or attack from the new plane. Your character will eventually shift back to the middle plane, but it adds a whole new dynamic to 2-D gaming.

In RBFF you have have “Ring Outs” which means you can throw or push your opponent out of the match area and get an automatic win over them this way. It’s a bit cheap, but the animations for when this happen are always amusing, and it’s a good tactic to use if you’re not used to the games…or SNK’s difficulty settings.

In RBFF, you can do things like a mid-air twist to your jumping attack, special move fakes where you don’t really do them, Guard Cancels, Super Special Moves, and Hidden Abilities. All of these takes pieces of your Power Gauge. Build up your guage by using attacks, special moves, and successfully blocking.

With RBFFS there are a few changes made. Ring outs, as mentioned earlier, are gone, and attack recovery is now severely limited. Combos are bigger and easier to pull off, but most importantly, the three planes for fighting are dropped down to two. Now you can not only move freely between them, but you can attack across planes, which really makes the game flow faster and is more accessible to people new to the series.

With RB2, there is very little changed gameplay wise from RPFFS. You can now recover from a knockdown and shift planes at the same time, and you can counter attack by hitting Square and X at the exact moment an opponent strikes you. It’s very precise but the result is powerful.

Out of the three games, RBFFS remains the best of the three for actual gameplay dynamics and options. Plus I love the damn panda.

Actually playing the games on a PS2 though? Well there is a noticeable decrease in quality from the original Neo Geo versions I have. The Dual Shock 2 just isn’t as responsive as a Neo Geo controller. There’s a degree of lag and the occasional refusal to recognize a combo or Super Special/Break Shot/Hidden Ability. It’s not as bad as some of the KoF ports that hit the PS1 or 2 in years past, but you can really notice it in Real Bout Fatal Fury which makes fighting Geese all the more profanity inducing. Honestly, I’d recommend the Sega Saturn version of RBFF over this port, as it feel almost like it’s a port of the PSX version rather than the Neo Geo game, which as long time SNK fans know is NOT a good comparison to make.

With Real Bout Special and RB2, the controls are more responsive, but it’s still not the quality you’d find on the Neo Geo, but only due to controller issues. If you have one of the Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat fighting controller for the PS2, you’ll notice a dramatic improvement. Even the oversized Street Fighter Arcade stick works wonders.

In all, these three Fatal Fury games have interesting and unique gameplay that sets them apart from all other 2-D fighters, regardless of developers. I was disappointed in the controls for RBFF, but the other two games play pretty well and are some of the best fighters I’ve seen ported over to the PS2. I strongly prefer the Saturn and Neo Geo versions of these games, so if you have the cash and the retro obsession, you might find that a little extra cash equals a stronger gaming experience.

Control and Gameplay Rating: VERY GOOD

5. Replayability

Wow. Three fighters on one disc, each with hidden characters, special hidden endings, and a ton of characters playable from the start that will take you a long time to master. RBSS2 also has EX characters and good old NIGHTMARE GEESE which is a lot of fun. If you’re playing for story, it’s sadly tied to the game with the worst gameplay, and you can only get the true ending by playing with one of the Bogard brothers.

For actual fun and quality gaming, you’ll find yourself going back to RBFFS the most. The selection of characters is the widest (thanks to EX) and the music and graphics are the best overall of the three. RB2 adds some new playable characters and you don’t have to go through the hell that is trying to unlock Geese, but the EX guys are removed.

Overall, there is a lot of replay value in these three games. They’re pretty (for SNK games), well designed and the plane shift makes all three games feeel fresh and original as it’s been a decade since this practice has really seen use.

Replayability Rating: GOOD

6. Balance

We’re talking about games with Geese Howard and Wolfgang Krauser people – THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BALANCE. As with all SNK games I do have to give the caveat of “SNK Boss Syndrome” where the last character in the game (Hidden or normal)’s AI is off the charts in term of power, blocking and just being a cruel son of a bitch. It’s part of the fun of beating the games, as when you see the end credits roll, you know you’ve earned that win, but that doesn’t make the game any less grueling.

All three of these games have characters that are well known for being terrible hard. RB2 has the horror of Yamazaki, Geese AND Krauser. Force that on someone new to fighting gamers and watch them develop a deep seated phobia of ever playing an SNK game again.

Thankfully though RB2 and Real Bout Special aren’t up to the usual level of SNK difficulty. If you’ve played a lot of SNK games, you’ll notice a definite drop in the amount of PAIN you’re used to. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad, but it can’t hurt getting this game into the hands of a more casual audience. The games are still tough though, so don’t think you’ll be knocking out Krauser your first play through with an S rating in each round. Most gamers will be frustrated by how overpowered and unbalanced some characters are.

Balance Rating: POOR

7. Originality

This is an anthology, so obviously these are not truly “original” games. One could probably talk about the plane shifting, but these are the 5th to 7th games in the series after all.

Even back in the mid to late 1990’s when these games came out, they were mostly carbon copies of the earlier SNK games. The graphics and music are some of the best in the series, or out of all SNK games, but there’s just very little variety or originality here. This was the tail end of the fighter genre as we once knew it, where games were just being churned out because they could make money and developers were smelling the end of an era. Fun games but utterly devoid of innovation at this point.

Originality Rating: WORTHLESS

8. Addictiveness

Short and sweet – long time SNK fans will be plowing though this and playing it constantly. Younger gamers who want to see what the fuss is about will probably give it a whirl and either really like it or have disdain for the graphics and difficulty level. People who didn’t care back when these games first came out probably won’t care here either.

Addictiveness Rating: MEDIOCRE

9. Appeal Factor

Here’s the thing: If you’re an SNK fan, you’ll play this a LOT. RB2 has never been on a non Neo Geo home system before, and RBFF is the most significant game in the series story wise, while RBFFS is the best overall game in the series until Mark of the Wolves came out. It’s hard to put the controller down when you’re reliving some classic gaming like these titles.

For non-SNK fanboys, you’ll probably be wondering what all the hype is about or why people rave about the Fatal Fury franchise. They’ll be fun but not foaming at the mouth intense as we make the series out to be. Who knows, maybe the interesting gameplay and simplified controls will hook you where other fighters have left one cold. Fatal Fury games are definitely more open to the casual gamer than King of Fighters.

There’s a lot of Nostalgia here, but also quality gaming at an unheard of price. This makes Fatal Fury Battle Archives 2 a game worthy of trying if you’re SNK or 2-D fighter curious. It’s also a “WHY DON’T YOU HAVE THIS ALREADY?” if you have fond memories of the series or characters.

Appeal Factor: MEDIOCRE

10. Miscellaneous

With most games I’d crow about the lack of extras, but if you keep things in perspective, this compilation is huge. Do you have any idea how much MVS or AES games used to cost? One of these games used to cast as much as a brand new Wii! Now you’re getting them for five bucks EACH. Fifteen dollars for this compilation is insane and I have no idea how SNK is making money of it, but holy hell and thank you very much for this SNK Playmore. Even admitted SNK zealots probably haven’t gotten to touch RB2 that much, and RBFFS is a hard find as well. Looking at my stack of my Neo Geo games really helps me to appreciate the surreality of this anthology and brings back a lot of nostalgia for gaming, SNK, and arcades in general.

So you know what? Highest possible marks here. These are rare hard to find games being re-released at a price we should all be on our hands and knees thanking SNK for being brought back to life like a last minute quarter be slipped into an arcade console. I might prefer these games on the real thing or the Saturn versions, but the fact that millions of gamers have been given a chance to play as the Lone Wolf and smack Geese or Krauser or Alfred with a crack shot or Burning Knuckle or a Power Wave makes me love this compilation far more than my usual highly objective and critical self would. Neo Geo games for five bucks a pop. My how times have changed…

Miscellaneous Rating: UNPARALLELED

The Scores
Story: BAD
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control and Gameplay: VERY GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: POOR
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal Factor: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: UNPARALLELED
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
I won’t deny that I’m a huge fan of the Fatal Fury series. There’s some issues with the ports the more anal SNK fans like myself will take issue with, but other gamers won’t even notice. You’re getting $750 in games for $15 bucks and tax (and shipping for some of you). You can’t pick up both Battle Archives for $30 dollars off Amazon, and unless you totally hating fighting games, there is no reason not to you. You owe it to yourselves to experience one of the biggest franchises in all of classic gaming, along with some of the most popular and memorable characters in the history of this form of entertainment. Like all SNK games, and especially their ports there are some issues that only the ardent fans of the company can overlook. Still, at this price, buying these games is a nice little thank you for the decade and a half of Fatal Fury SNK has given us.

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