Despite being the first of an insane number of fighting games to appear on the Neo Geo, SNK’s Fatal Fury series often comes across as the underdog. It never had the popularity of its own spin-off series, The King of Fighters, nor did it have any obvious hooks, like the feudal Japanese setting and weapons-based combat of Samurai Shodown. What it was, however, was just a good, solid fighting game series with its own charm.
Real Bout Fatal Fury Special (which I’ll just refer to as Real Bout Special) was the sixth game in the series, and in many ways, it felt like SNK was trying to recapture the success of the previous Fatal Fury Special, which was extremely popular in Japan. Like Fatal Fury Special, Real Bout Special is a “dream match” game, with no real story or purpose other than to just include everyone’s favorite characters in one game. It brought back characters that last appeared in FFS, including Tung Fu Rue, Blood Lawrence, and the boss, Wolfgang Krauser. The stages are set all around world, instead of just in South Town. It also returned to the dual-plane fighting system last seen in FFS, as opposed to the triple-plane system from the previous two games.
In fact, it’s those multiple planes that really set Fatal Fury apart from other fighting games. Instead of being stuck on a line, like in most 2D fighters, you can dodge into the foreground or background, and even attack across planes. If you’re used to playing other 2D fighters, it takes a little time to figure out how that works into your strategy, and it can be a little confusing sometimes, but it’s an element I always appreciated about it.
Real Bout Special is also what I would call an accessible fighting game. It’s easy to pick up and play, and you can choose just about any character and get a handle on them pretty easily. There are fewer attack buttons, so the controls aren’t overwhelming. I also found it really easy to do combos, which I liked, since that’s often a part of fighting games I have a hard time with. But here, moves linked together easily, and they were fun to pull off. In that regard, it reminded me a lot of Capcom’s Project Justice, which is also an excellent fighting game. But that’s not to say it’s shallow. There are a lot of characters to choose from, and they all have their own moves and style to learn.
As most Neo Geo games, Real Bout Special was also available for the home AES system, as well as the Neo Geo CD. A special version of it was also ported to the PlayStation called Real Bout Fatal Fury Special: Dominated Mind, but only in Japan. However, unless you’re a rich collector, you’ll probably just want to find a copy of Fatal Fury: Battle Archives Volume 2 on the PlayStation 2, which includes all three of the Real Bout games, or download Real Bout Special from the Wii Virtual Console at your convenience.