The original Fatal Fury: King of Fighters was released in 1991, early in the Neo Geo’s lifespan, and it’s mainly known for being the first (of very many) fighting games on the system. The series lasted throughout the ’90s, with eight installments on the Neo Geo (and a few more for other platforms), ending with Garou: Mark of the Wolves in 1999.
The first time I saw the original Fatal Fury, it was at a pizza restaurant, and like many people, I instantly thought of it as a Street Fighter II rip-off. I even naïvely thought that Capcom would sue SNK for copying. Still, I was intrigued by the game, and I tended to drop a few quarters into it whenever I got tired of Street Fighter.
Now, I’m not a hardcore fighting game fan. I’m not good at performing combos or other technical maneuvers. Rather, what usually attracts me to a fighting game is the character designs. If the characters are cool and fun to play as, then it doesn’t really matter to me if the game isn’t super deep.
However, I have to admit that I don’t think Fatal Fury has the best character designs. Aside from a few, like Terry Bogard, most of them are a little boring. What attracts me to the series, however, is the fictional city that most of the games take place in, South Town, portrayed vividly through the various stage backgrounds.
This is one area where I feel Fatal Fury surpassed Street Fighter II. The stage backgrounds in the original Fatal Fury are still some of my all-time favorites of any fighting game. In fact, they even answered a question I always had back then about Street Fighter. After finishing a round, how long was the loser knocked out? Did he immediately get back up and keep fighting? Was it a few hours later? The next day? The static backgrounds in SF2 don’t give any indication. Fatal Fury, however, showed the progression of time from round to round. The sun would set, weather would change, and it really made the world feel alive and dynamic.
And the backgrounds, themselves, are beautiful and vibrant. Certain locations keep recurring throughout the series, like Sound Beach and Dream Amusement Park, and it’s interesting to see them from different angles and how they change from game to game. In many ways, South Town is like a character in and of itself, and it adds so much to the personality of the series that the games that don’t take place in it lose a bit of the appeal for me.
In fact, it would be perfect if SNK Playmore would make a beat’em-up in the style of River City Ransom set in the Fatal Fury universe just for the opportunity to explore South Town on my own. Or better yet, how about “Fatal Fury: Shenmue Edition?”
I think my favorite game in the series is still the first one, and I admit it’s purely for nostalgic reasons. I would even say that I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more in recent years than I did back then. And as primitive as the gameplay is, I can still pick it up and have fun with it even now.
And Terry Bogard is one of my favorite fighting game characters. Even if his outward appearance is a little generic, his personality makes up for it.
Another interesting aspect of the Fatal Fury games that I appreciate is that they’re one of the few fighting games that seem to cater a little more to a single-player experience. Some of the games have cutscenes between fights, and sometimes there’s a certain order in which you encounter opponents or areas. The emphasis on story and a sequential, level-like progression make it feel a little more like a single-player action game.
I’ve written a couple of other articles about Fatal Fury before, so please check those out for more of my thoughts on it. For next time, I’ll discuss another popular fighting game series that was originally a spin-off of Fatal Fury…