Art of Fighting 3 Review

Art of Fighting 3 Review

Release: March 12, 1996 | Size: 298megs | Rating 8/10
Author: M.E. Williams


The third and final installment of SNK's "other 2D fighting games series." Maligned and overlooked in 1996 by a gaming press that was too tired of 2D fighting games by that point, Art of Fighting 3 is a visual tour-de-force on the Neo-Geo that is unlike anything else you've ever played.​

SNK's Art of Fighting series has always been a little quirky when compared to other contemporary fighting games of the day. While the first game came out when developers were still trying to suss out what works and what doesn't with 2D fighters, the second and third games came out when the general game plan of 2D fighters were better established. Rather than follow suit with the wave of Street Fighter inspired knock-offs as the 1990's progressed, the Art of Fighting series stuck to its roots of being a little different than anything else on the market.

When Art of Fighting 3 was released in early 1996, arcade goers and critics alike weren't quite sure what to make of it. Critics were quick to pan the game as being too similar to every other 2D fighter on the market. Yet, when Street Fighter Alpha 2 released later that same year, those same critics praised its originality despite it being radically similar to every other iteration of Street Fighter before it; you know, all SIX of them that released in as many years. At the same time, the average arcade consumer wasn't quite sure what to do with the game as the tactics and general muscle memory that could be transferred between most 2D fighting games at the time fell apart. Bafflingly, there was also little love for the visual style of the game. Art of Fighitng 3 was the first 2D fighting game to use motion captured actors (different than the digitized technique used by Midway for Mortal Kombat), leading to an unprecedented amount of animation for the time. The great animation coupled with the series trademark huge sprites make Art of Fighting 3 one of the most gorgeous games on the Neo-Geo.


Art of Fighting 3 has less in common with 2D fighters of yesterday or today, and actually feels more similar to 3D fighters in both animation and gameplay mechanics. Much like the maligned Samurai Shodown 3, Art of Fighting 3 is still haunted by the stigma wrought by bad mid-90's video game journalism. Despite a legacy of being "that other 2D fighting game series on the Neo-Geo", Art of Fighting 3 is one of the most unique games to come out of classic SNK. No, the game is not perfect by any means, but it presents a well designed fighter that was a few years ahead of the curve when it came to originality. Let's see what Art of Fighting 3 has to offer.

When Art of Fighting 3 was released, the big selling point SNK used in marketing and packaging material is the unprecedented amount of animation in the character sprites. Rather than using traditional means of hand-drawn animation, SNK used motion capture technology on a handful of actors and martial arts professionals. Then, the SNK pixel artists painstakingly hand-painted each frame of animation. For example, many moves have upwards of 20 frames of animation from start to finish. Contrast this with the 3-7 frames on average for normal moves in most other 2D fighting games of the day and you can start to imagine just how fluid the animation is for this game. Despite all the work that went into creating one of the most fluid 2D fighters of the day, all that work came with a cost.


There are over 25 frames of animation in Robert's normal kick. Every action in Art of Fighting 3 is filled with this level of detail.​

Despite being released on one of the largest arcade roms of the day, all that animation took up a huge amount of expensive memory real estate. On a 298 mega bit cart (roughly 37 mega bytes), SNK could only fit ten characters. Of those ten characters, series protagonists Robert Garcia and Ryo Sakazaki clearly had the most work put into their sprites. While the other characters look and animate well enough (except Wyler, the boss), Robert and Ryo are definitely a cut above the rest of the cast - which makes the animation look and feel a bit unbalanced overall.

Along with the lavish animation sets, other visual aspects of Art of Fighting 3 are also on point. SNK retained the series staple huge character sprites which allowed the artists to show an unprecedented amount of detail. Like the AOF games before it, Art of Fighting 3 also employs the use of screen scaling techniques to add a dramatic flair to each battle. Sadly, details like real-time character damage were dropped in favor of presenting a more clean, anime inspired look. Colors were also brightened up to fit the anime inspired art direction of the day compared to the other games in the series. Backgrounds are mostly on-point with some being stunning (like the Mexican waterfall stage), to downright boring (like the graveyard). Despite some drawbacks, Art of Fighting 3 is a decidedly handsome game.


The Mexico Waterfall stage is probably the most iconic in the game.​

Art of Fighting 3 is one of the more unique 2D fighting games to come from the 90's arcade era. Despite coming from SNK, who used the Fatal Fury Special mechanics template in more than a few games over the years, the Art of Fighting series has always staid true to the roots laid down in the original. All games in the series have a simple buttons set up with a spirit gauge that dictates special move usage. SNK simplified the buttons a bit for AOF3 by removing the pressure sensitive normals in AOF2 and replacing them with static presses: A punches, B kicks, C is a strong attack and throw, and D taunts.

As I mentioned above, the mechanics in Art of Fighting 3 feel more like a 3D fighter rather than other 2D fighters of the day. All characters have an uncommon amount of command normals for a 2D game: moves where you hold a direction on the control stick and press a button. For example, Ryo has 3-4 different types of punches and kicks depending on the direction you're holding on the controller when you press the button. The tempo and physics of the game, mostly due to the unorthodox amount of animation, make the game feel more like Virtua Fighter than King of Fighters. Thus, every move you make is deliberate and exceedingly unsafe on block. Various normals can pop the opponent into the air that lead to a generous juggle system (like Virtua Fighter), and you can do multiple attacks while the opponent is airborne that push them into the corner. The Art of Fighting games have always been more about slow paced, methodical battles, but Art of Fighting 3 is in a league of its own. If you expect this game to play like any other 2D fighter, you'll sit down your arcade stick within a few minutes in frustration. This is a game about footsies, spacing, and juggles. It doesn't have quite the depth of a modern Virtua Fighter game, but if you approach it more like Sega's series rather than other SNK fighters you'll find a lot of enjoyment out of the unique mechanics.

At the same time, Art of Fighting 3 wouldn't be a 2D fighter without a bevy of special moves. Along with the various normal moves characters have, they all have at least 4 special moves that use a portion of your spirit gauge upon execution. Each special uses a different amount of spirit energy depending on the strength of the move. Thankfully, the spirit gauge is much more forgiving than in prior Art of Fighting games, so special moves require much less spirit energy to use than what came before. When you deplete part of your spirit gauge, simply hold any action button to refill your gauge. Like prior games in the series, though, taunts from the opponent will also deplete your gauge so it's a good idea not to put too much distance between you and your opponent at any time during a match. Every character also has a high-damage super desperation move they can perform when they are about to be KO'ed. When your character begins flashing red you can do their SDM, which requires a large portion of spirit energy. All the SDM's are either unblockable or are hard to block.

It's hard to describe the gameplay tempo through writing as the game plays so radically different from any other 2D fighter. That's why the game is so brilliant - it's a breath of fresh air in a 2D fighting game landscape where even 25 years later most 2D fighters end up feeling the same or too similar to what came before. Art of Fighting 3 is truly unique, and plays fantastically even today - so long as you don't approach it thinking you'll get away with more universal 2D fighting game tactics as they just won't work here.

The general presentation of the game is on point, with a stylized intro and great sound design. I wouldn't say the soundtrack is King of Fighters quality, but much like the Last Blade series, Art of Fighting 3 has a general melody that carries through on all the individual tracks. The music is jazzy, with a bit of traditional Mexican flavor thrown in. Sound effects are great with some notable effects being carried over from prior games in the series. Similarly, characters have a ton of voice samples that are all well acted.

Art of Fighting 3 is weird, unique, quirky, and beautiful. It's unlike any other fighting game before or after it, including the prior games in the series. It has always been a divisive game in the fan community as well, with many people preferring the second entry in the series. That said, if you approach Art of Fighting 3 with an open mind I think you'll find a lot to love here. Personally, this is my favorite game in the series because of how unique it is.

So, aspiring Neo-Geo collector, is this game worth your hard-earned cash? Well, that's tough to answer. A complete Japanese copy of Art of Fighting 3 runs between $450 on the very, very low end to $900 on the high end. This ridiculous range in price doesn't even factor in condition. How much you pay will depend on how you source the game. If you're not yet a savvy Neo buyer, expect to spend $650 at the very least. A US copy? That will run you over a grand, if you can find it. Thankfully, the game is pretty cheap on MVS, and is right around $30 on Neo CD (see notes below on the Neo CD version). Due to the crazy amount of animation and low sales in the arcade, Art of Fighting 3 was never ported to any home console during the 90's. Today, you can pick it up on Hamster's Arcade Archives series for $8 on most digital storefronts. For the more casual AOF fan, this is where I suggest you put your money as this game is not to everyone's tastes.

If you're just getting into collecting, hold off and grab some more sure-fire hits before you take the plunge on Art of Fighting 3. It's a great game to be sure, but if you have little experience with it there is a good chance you'll sell it sooner than later to get some more sought after games in the AES library.

The Neo CD Release Notes:

Not all games in the Neo CD library are arcade perfect (sans loading), and AOF 3 is the worst offender. In order for matches to load completely on the Neo CD's 7mb of RAM, SNK had to remove the sprite scaling feature completely and shrunk the size of the characters down to their scaled out size. Basically, you lose the scaling effect and are stuck with character sprites that are half the size of the arcade release. What's more, it's even missing some frames of animation! There is a neat special edition of the game on Neo CD that comes with a bunch of extra goodies, though, so at least there's that? This is 100% the WORST way to play this game, and I recommend you avoid it like the plague.

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