Art of Fighting 2 :: Review by Chris
In contrast to their other major fighting series Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, and King of Fighters SNK only released sequels for the Art of Fighting series on a semiannual basis. As a result, they had plenty of time to ensure 1994's Art of Fighting 2 was a major step forward in concept and realisation from its predecessor. The same was true in many ways for its soundtrack having taken note of what works and what doesn't in a fighting game, returning composer Yasumada Yamada offered a diverse but accessible accompaniment to the game.
The series' main characters, Robert Garcia and Ryo Sakazaki, finally receive their own themes on Art of Fighting 2. Shifting away from the first game's rhythmic sound, Yasumasa Yamada intended "Swing the Horse" to be a truly memorable character anthem. With its punchy melodies and jazzy stylings, it's certainly a charismatic depiction of the Italian stallion. In fact, it even shares a few similarities with the similar free-spirited themes for Terry Bogard. By contrast, Ryo's "Horse & I" is much more percussively driven and heavily textured. Hybridising traditional Japanese instruments with rock and orchestral components, it's also a fine match for the serious Karate master and family man.
SNK also created new themes to depict various new and returning characters of Art of Fighting 2. The themes for the returning characters are especially interesting, since they tend to be more inviting and melodic than their portrayals on Art of Fighting; for instance, Mickey Roger's "Prelude to Glory" is an upbeat, hyper-catchy boxing anthem in the spirit of Apollo Creed, while King's portrayal is also much warmer. Perhaps these shifts were intended to facilitate their transitions from CPU-controlled opponents to playable characters. Other characters retain their dark edge from the original game, for instance John Crawley and Jack Turner, though their themes are more satisfying to listen to on a stand-alone basis. "Mustang Man" is a stylised funk-rock theme that even features a pseudo-improvised synth solo.
Nevertheless, there are a handful of remixes of fan favourites from SNK's catalog. "Old Chinese Man" and "Blue Moon Factory" both return from Art of Fighting and benefit from two years of innovations; in the former, the team combine realistic samples of traditional Japanese instruments with more contemporary touches befitting the rest of the series. A more surprising reprise if Geese Howard's boss theme, in a rare crossover to the Art of Fighting series. SNK preserve the aggressive rock sound of the original, while offering three years worth of synth enhancements. But with this reprise, the gap further narrows between the sounds of Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury.
As with its predecessor, Fatal Fury 2 features plenty of subsidiary tracks to support the gameplay. These span from title calls, to start demos, to bonus stage themes. The majority aren't worth listening to on a stand-alone basis and a few are intolerable notably the 69 seconds of crow Crow squawks in "Initiation to the Super Death Blow". Nevertheless, these themes generally support the scenes well and it's particularly impressive that SNK decided to create unique ending themes for many of the characters making these scenes less of an afterthought. The release ends with the complete voice and sound effects collection from the arcade version.
Art of Fighting 2 is much more refined and memorable than its predecessor, due to a combination of compositional and technological factors. However, it's somewhat unfortunately that SNK decided to shift away from the novel, rhythmically driven sounds of Art of Fighting in favour of the populous Fatal Fury approach. While a solid score, it lacks a truly individual voice.
Overall Score: 7/10