The first two Fatal Fury games were really hard to learn because the computer was merciless, but there was really not much impetus to because they were also kind of clunky and the two-plane fighting system was obnoxious. Fatal Fury 3 is also hard to learn because the computer is merciless, but the foreground-background plane system has been revised to be actually worth learning, and if you can get through the brutal learning curve - preferably by enlisting a friend to play with - you'll actually find a lot here to enjoy.
Needless to say, this is by far and away the best of the Fatal Fury series (unless you want to count Mark of the Wolves.) The story is easily the weakest part of it, however - something about little Chinese boys stealing magic scrolls with the help of criminal Ryuji Yamazaki, and also Geese Howard has been inexplicably both revived and made a player character. Since this is a head-to-head fighter, however, none of this really matters all that much. What really matters is the gameplay, roster and aesthetics.
The gameplay is rock solid. Players can move to the foreground or background plane briefly to duck attacks and to counter with a quick attack, but you've also got a counter-move that can be used when your opponent jumps to another plane. Characters also now have Super Specials and a rare attack called the Hidden Art that can be pulled off when the life bar is in a critical state. The game can't be played like Street Fighter, or even The King of Fighters or any other fighting game; it has its own unique quirks and rhythms and basically has to be learned from the ground up.
The roster dumps some of the popular characters from previous games such as Kim Kaphwan, but makes up for it by also cutting a lot of the dead weight. The mix here is about half old characters - the Bogard boys, Joe Higashi, Mai Shiranui, Geese Howard and Bob Wilson - and half new characters who are by and large pretty playable and represent a diversity of styles, from quick boxer Franco Bash to perennial King of Fighters contender Blue Mary. The old characters play something like they did in the previous Fatal Fury games, but a little quicker and with greater range, and tweaks to some of their special moves. None of the characters, however, really plays or feels a whole lot like they do in King of Fighters, so success there may not translate into success here.
The graphics are a cut above previous Fatal Fury games, but still not as impressive as those of KOF or other arcade fighters of the time. The sprites are decently animated but have kind of an old-school look as compared to those of the KOF games, and the character portrait work in this one is just downright ugly at times. The little chibi guys running around the map between fights are an awfully cute touch, though, and the high point overall are the backgrounds, which are well animated and shift significantly between rounds. The music comes from the Neo Geo Music Performance Group and has a very similar sound and vibe to that of the KOF games, and on the whole is really good.
Fatal Fury 3 really caters more to the "hardcore" fighting crowd - you can't just jump into it and be halfway competitive as you can with a Capcom game or even some of the KOF games, you really have to learn the moves, and get used to the rhythm of using the two planes to dodge and counterattack to get anywhere. And unfortunately, SNK's usual through-the-roof difficulty for the computer is a very harsh teacher, probably too harsh for some to ever get anywhere with it. If you can push through the steep learning curve, or find a friend to spar with, and are willing to invest the time and patience to get used to the new system, you'll be rewarded with a fairly deep and very well-crafted fighter, one that is markedly better than previous efforts in the series.
* Gameplay Video