I'm referring to only fighter's here: The building on fire stage in LB2, the airport tarmac (round 2) & park stage (round 3 onwards) in KOF 99, the water temple(?), Mexican(?) market & train yard stage in AOF 3, the stage with cherry blossom petals dropping to the ground in LB 1, beach stage in WW7, a stage in KOF 96 were there's an angled view of a grand Asian styled building with reflections of it in puddles on the ground and a number of stages in the Samurai Spirits series.
THIS. I was about to post the same stage... it's just astonishing. Reminds me of Mark Ferrari's landscapes (the inventor of the "color cycling" palette trick, and background artist for Loom, Monkey Island and many other Lucasfilm games).
I totally agree with this. The backgrounds in LB 1/2 are a work of art, and they blend perfectly with the character sprites and the music/sound effects. I have to mention Samurai Shodown also. Especially SS4 with the castle that can be seen in all the backgrounds and tie the game together with the map in between every match in single player.
Once you can assume a decent roster depth, I'm genuinely more interested in the stages than characters .... I know that's kind of difficult for a team fighter like kof, but it probably remains the one shortfall for me of 2002, which wasn't really fixed in UM imho ...
Being that they're kind of the between years ones 95+97+99 I think are well worth a nod in this regard.
But yeah, discounting non fighters like metal slug, everything last blade is really just one of the finest productions at this kind of res ever (especially for it's time - hitting the right kind of anime feel), it's kind of boring to say, but you'd do it a disservice not to mention, and they all complement/contrast each other well... garou's nice too, but not quite as complementry, and for some reason lacking a bit of that ng ambition, though there's plenty of low key charm.