The Collection Release
As most of you know, the King of Fighters series started in the early 90s. King of Fighters ’94 made waves in arcades and at home with the Neo Geo, and years later on the PS2 in the form of King of Fighters ’94: Rebout. With this collection, you get the original ’94 through’98 run in one nice package.
When you first load up the disc, you’re treated to a cool cutscene that shows off the game’s history and characters. From there, a main menu allows you to access each of the five games, edit options, take on Challenges, or check out Media that you’ve unlocked by completing the Challenges. Options include the ability to edit the control scheme, change the number of rounds per battle, and edit the difficulty. By default, the global difficulty setting is on level 1 of 8, which might be too easy for seasoned fighters, but I found myself struggling at just level 3 – these are definitely classic fighting games, and they require training and practice to be very good at.
Each game, thankfully (although not surprisingly) features a training mode. It’s not the most robust trainer though, as you simply pick battle conditions and fight against a CPU character that doesn’t fight back but does regenerate health. That’s all fine and good, but a trainer that holds your hand a bit more could have been useful, as pulling off special moves and combos in King of Fighters, and most SNK fighters for that matter, requires some serious skill. Still, even though it wasn’t quite as helpful as I hoped, it did prove helpful as I finally got down one of the flying kick moves for Ryo (from Art of Fighting).
The controls themselves are fine, and you can customize the button placement, it’s just difficult to do special moves and combos with any consistency, at least for me. The response time and the ability to use both the d-pad and left analog stick is great, but that doesn’t make the harder moves any easier to do. It would have been quite handy to have been able to assign special moves to other button presses – like maybe R2+X is a special move, rather than half circle left, half circle right, P, P, K which is close to what some of those moves get to being.
I only mention the difficulty of executing the special moves and combos because I think it can be a limiting factor in how enjoyable and accessible this game can be for most gamers. Frankly, fighting games these days are easier to control and it’s no secret that SNK’s fighters are great, but tough, too, largely due to the harsh criteria for pulling of special moves and combos.
Speaking of challenging, this collection also includes a Challenges mode. These Challenges are split into different tiers based on difficulty. You can view the details of a Challenge and see what unlocked media you will get in exchange for completing the challenge. I like that taking on a Challenge is as easy as pressing on it; the required environment is loaded up and away you go. If you fail the challenge, it’s just as easy to retry it for another crack. Challenges include things like winning a match without being able to see the health meters or the clock, or winning a match without using your power meter, for example.
As you might imagine, the games themselves don’t differ a whole heck of a lot from ’94 to ’98. The gameplay is very similar, however the roster of characters goes through some expansion and change, and there are noticeable differences to the graphics, too. As far as gameplay changes, there are several, but they aren’t huge changes so much as they are refinements or just simple changes. In KoF ’94, for example, players must choose a team of three fighters from about eight different countries. Then, you take this team into battle against another player or the CPU in a ‘last man standing’ type of battle. The same battle type is used throughout this collection, with’95 giving you a little more freedom of selection and then in ’96, you’re free to choose any combination of three fighters to take into battle.
I noticed a change in the difficulty between ’95 and ’96, too. ’94 and’95 were unforgiving, but with ’96 and after, things eased up a bit. How the characters evaded in between years changed too, where at first they just sidestepped, later they would block or be able to evade by rolling, doing cartwheels, and also being able to attack while evading. I believe ’97 and ’98 also introduced the Advanced and Extra style power meters that allowed for various strategies while fighting.
That’s another point about what makes the King of Fighter games so classic is that there is more strategy involved than you might imagine. The AI is neither cowardly nor unrelenting, they’re sharp, and you really have to plan out not only each individual round of battle, but the battle as a whole. I didn’t make this clear earlier, but before each battle, you choose the order in which your three fighters will appear, and you cannot call your allies for a quick punch or kick like in other games (Marvel Vs Street Fighter, etc). It’s kind of like baseball in that respect, in that you need to know who to start and who to send in to close the battle out.
As far as presentation, the games are again similar to one another, but the animations improve as the years go on. KoF ’97 stands out as the least inspired presentation though, as far as the opening screens and the player select menu. However, it has noticeably more fluid and detailed animations that previous iterations, and when comparing ’98 to ’94, the difference is even more clear in how smooth and less pixelated the characters look.
In case you’re wondering, and it’s no shame if you are, the “Orochi Saga” part of the name in this release refers to the story and events in KoF ’95-’97. Before that, in KoF ’94, a very rich and great fighter named Rugal Bernstein was responsible for organizing and running the tournament as he sought to find the best fighters in the world to challenge him. He returned as the final boss in ’95 but with some cybernetic enhancements. In KoF ’96, the mysterious Orochi is revealed, but it’s not until KoF ’97 that players fight Orochi in the final battle. With KoF ’98 Dream Match, the series comes to a head by combining fifty characters together, including hidden characters.
The King of Fighters series is a long running, classic fighting series that SNK is rightly very proud of. As a fan of fighting games, the KoF series holds a place in my heart as being challenging, rewarding, and full of nostalgic value. This collection is a special one in that it’s the first time most of these games have been put on a recent console, and at just $15, you just can’t go wrong.