Published on August 26th, 2019 | by thec0re30
Looking Back At 25 Years Of The King Of Fighters!!
Yesterday, The King Of Fighters celebrated its 25th year of being. As this franchise is very near and dear to my heart, and one of the biggest reasons this site, in particular, came into existence, there was no way I could not revisit this franchise from its humble beginnings.
The King Of Fighters ’94
Released: August 25, 1994
It goes without saying that during the golden age of fighting games SNK was a major surge of energy in the genre. By 1993, SNK had developed three successful in-house franchises and showed no signs of slowing down coming into the next year. Who knew that an idea was brewing within the company that would ultimately change the way developers thought about using their IPs moving forward.
Built from an idea that saw Fatal Fury main protagonist Terry Bogard, and Robert Garcia from the Art Of Fighting teaming up in a side scrolling beat’em up, The King Of Fighters would become a team based cross over mashup that would see many of the fighters from both games taking part in a new 3 on 3 tournament for the ages.
The game would also bring in characters from other SNK titles outside of the genre. Ralph and Clark would be brought over from the vertical war based shooting game Ikari Warriors while Athena and Kensou would make their appearance from the platform side-scrolling shooter Psycho Soldiers.
A new protagonist going by the name of Kyo Kusanagi would also be introduced alongside his teammates Benimaru, and Daimon with additional characters like the Freddie Kruger inspired Choi making their first appearance for what would forever become a major franchise for SNK moving forward.
Teams of three would each be represented by a country and count as one selected character so to speak. Players would then select the order of their team members before the start of the match. Each round would start with the first two players facing each other and as a player was defeated a new round would start with the next team member taking their place. This would go on until an entire team was laid to waste. During this time, team mates would cheer on their comrades in the background and, in some instances, come to their aid if they were put into a dizzy state.
The crossover would feature the meter charging mechanic introduced in the Art of Fighting though instead of giving players access to special moves it could activate a time-sensitive desperation move(DM), a super mechanic that originally was introduced in Fatal Fury 2 when a players life bar went below a certain percentage(it also worked the same in ’94). On the defensive side, ’94 would introduce a dodge mechanic that would allow players to avoid projectiles and incoming attacks.
The end product would result in critical acclaim as the title received positive feedback and a few accolades in the process. This would set the groundwork for the next games in the series which continued to make improvements and increase the game’s popularity overall.
The King Of Fighters ’95
Release Date: July 25, 1995
The success of the first title obviously prompted a second coming and it did so in a big way. ’95 brought with it many improvements. To begin with, character choices were no longer tied down to team representation. This allowed players the freedom to choose any character they liked. The second game would introduce Kyo’s legendary rival Iori who would go on to arguably become the most beloved character of the franchise…outside of Mai of course.
While most of what was introduced in ’94 in terms of mechanics made a comeback, ’95 made some major refinements that certainly helped excel the experience even further. Returning cast members received additional tools giving veterans like Terry Bogard new special moves that became staples for the characters moving forward while the dodge mechanic would now give players an optional follow-up attack.
What made ’95 one of the more memorable experiences came with the amazing backgrounds which included an elaborate elevator stage that transitioned as each new round started. The 2nd entry in the series was certainly an indication that KOF had staying power but it would be the next title that would give the series its true identity for later installments.
The King Of Fighters ’96
Release Date: July 24, 1996
Some major changes would come to the 3rd title in the series — changes that would ultimately shape the way the game would be played moving into the future of the franchise. For the first time, the game would now recognize true combo strings, a new hop mechanic was introduced allowing players to move much quicker than the basic jump, players could now run allowing for more pressure during knockdowns, and a powerful knockdown attack coined body-toss was added. On the defensive end, the dodge mechanic would change with a rolling animation which would help players recover after knockdowns and give them a 3rd option to escape from the treacherous confines of the corner.
These new inclusions would create a fast tempo that constantly kept players on edge as advantages could change at the drop of a hat during game-play. It was here that we would see SNK take major risks in their character development as Kyo’s move set would be completely revamped with a story to explain the reason for his change in style. It was a bold move from SNK that ultimately seemed to work out for them in the end though it did disappoint a few fans of the character…myself included. It was in this title we would see SNK take advantage of their free choice for team building which would ultimately create a secret team comprised of Kyo, his rival Iori, and Chizuru, the mid-boss of the game, for a special ending that would be a canonical easter egg for the next title.
Despite having so many major improvements game-play wise, the overall reception for this title was much lower than the previous release. Some reviews cited a lack of improvement in the game’s visuals as comparisons were being drawn to upgrades driven by Capcom’s new CPS2 arcade hardware. None the less, KOF had now cemented itself as a series and would release another title for the next year.
The King Of Fighters ’97
Release Date: July 28, 1997
The 4th entry is thought among many fans to be a major milestone in the franchise. 97 ties up the main story arc making it one of the best story telling sagas in the history of the genre! The final antagonist of the game was by far one of the most memorable experiences I have personally had and you could not call this a stellar ending to a first chapter without him.
In terms of gameplay, 97 would now give players an option that let you choose between the mechanics created in the previous title and the ones that started with 94. The new option titled advanced would encourage offensive play to build meter. This also introduced max mode, a timed activation that would give the player access to a power-up without the need of charging. With this new power up, players could unlock an even more powerful DM. ’97 would now give certain characters the ability to cancel basic attacks into command attacks making it much easier for players to create simple punishing combos.
Even after several KOF titles later, 97 still enjoys a great deal of fanfare in the nation of China where a competition featuring the game saw a viewership that totaled 500,000 at its peak a feat that, to my knowledge, had not been reached at the time for a live fighting game event. This has lead to a very big argument about which title within the franchise is the most lauded 97 or the next entry that would arrive in the series.
The King Of Fighters ’98
Release Date: July 23, 1998
Many argue that 98 is the definitive King Of Fighters game in the series and for good reason. The mid-point in the series brought back all of its previous contenders and then some. Players had a choice of selecting alternative versions of veteran cast mates bringing back original move sets and animations that had been lost over each new entry.
The biggest addition came with a new team synergy mechanic that would effect the way a team member would, or for a better word would not, support you. For the first time in the history of the franchise, ’98 would receive 2 official updates with the first introducing an additional option that would let players mix and match the defense, movement, and meter options from the two modes that were introduced back in ’97.
In a nutshell, ’98 was closing the chapter of an incredible start for the team based crossover by exhibiting the refined game-play that was constantly cultivated over the last 4 years. Even with SNK having a solid foundation in 98′, the next game in the series would start a new beginning in more ways than one.
The King Of Fighters ’99
Release Date: July 22, 1999
It was apparent that things were starting to change both outside and internally for SNK. The arcades here in the US were slowly being usurped by the home console market and games that took advantage of the new 3D technology were gaining more fanfare by the minute. Still, SNK had no plans on giving up the series releasing KOF ’99 in the summer of that year. The latest entry would introduce a new saga, add new original characters, and make a few changes to the overall gameplay.
Players would now have access to a fourth team member but it wasn’t quite what you might think. The fourth member would essentially act as an assist character known within ’99 as a striker. A striker could be called out at any point during the match but there was a catch: you had only three chances per round to use them.
Meter now gave players some new options that would allow them an offensive or defensive power up outside of just using it for a DM. The offensive power-up coined counter mode, would give players access to distinct cancels that included specials that could cancel into super moves. The defensive power up titled armor mode would grant the player auto-guard on all of their attacks.
’99 would also be the start of a new story arc which introduced K’, a genetically modified clone of Kyo, making him and those who were involved in the facility that created him the new focal point of the next few titles moving forward. Like the story itself, it was no secret that this was an experimental period for the company and while the striker system didn’t quite seem fleshed out, it was apparent that they were taking the series in an interesting direction one that would be fully realized in the next offering.
The King Of Fighters 2000
Release Date: July 26, 2000
The next installment would bring vast improvements and more new characters to the roster. This time around, the striker system felt a lot more polished making it truly feel like a necessary part of the match. The meter mechanic introduced in ’99 would also go through some changes as well. Now, activating the offensive power-up would allow players to cancel certain basic attacks that were not possible normally.
Unfortunately, during this time, SNK as a company was facing financial difficulties which only seemed to worsen as the year moved on. SNK would officially be disbanded a year later as the company filed bankruptcy. All was not lost, however, as SNK’s founder, who left SNK before things went under, would fight to keep the series alive for many more years to come.
The King Of Fighters 2001
Release Date: November 15, 2001
After the inevitable bankruptcy of the original SNK corporation, many of the company IPs went up for auction. A South Korean game developer going by the name of Eolith managed to obtain the license for the King Of Fighters ip and wasted no time in bringing the title back just a month after SNK met its ultimate demise.
2001 maintained much of what started with ’99. Focusing mainly on the strikers assist mechanic, players now had more options for team building than ever before. Choices now gave you the opportunity to decide the number of strikers or playable team mates. With just a press of a direction and the original striker command, you could now have up to 3 character assists at your beckoning call though this would be at the sacrifice of having just one playable character versus the four you could potentially have. The latest title would also introduce a wall bounce mechanic known as wire which would activate by using certain special moves.
This would also conclude the 2nd story arc in the series with a final antagonist who to this day has been said to be one of the hardest boss characters ever created in fighting game history. During this time, SNK’s founder Eikuchi Kawasaki created a new company called Playmore and was able to get back many of the rights for SNK IP‘s which lead to them becoming a publisher for 2001 and the next title.
The King Of Fighters 2002
Release Date: October 10, 2002
As Playmore was continuing to regain the properties from a now disbanded SNK, they managed to release the next game in the series with Eolith as a co-developer. 2002 would be somewhat of a reset for the series as developers did away with the striker system, going back to many of the mechanics that were created in ’97.
The newest game in the series would introduce super cancels which allowed certain special moves to be canceled into DM’s off of a hit confirm. They would also take things one step further and give you the ability to cancel into super DM’s after activating the basic DM as well. Max mode, now going by the name Max activation,would become a free canceling system where basic attacks, command normals, and even certain special moves could be canceled into each other during an allotted time period.
This new ingenious mechanic gave the game an advanced level of execution that was never experienced before in the series and it definitely required some serious dedication to master. For the second time in the franchise, 2002 would get an upgrade titled Unlimited Match which added new changes and more move sets for certain cast members. The update also enjoyed a historic 66 character roster!! This would be the final title with Eolith’s involvement as Playmore would get back the license enabling them to take complete control of the series for the next title.
The King Of Fighters 2003
Release Date: December 12, 2003
Playmore had managed to take back control of most if not all its major IP’s including some titles that were originally owned by companies who had developed games for them in the past. More importantly, they were able to once again take on the moniker of SNK!
Under the newly branded name SNK Playmore, they released The King Of Fighters 2003. The latest title would in many ways signify a new beginning as the game took a bit of a departure from the original formula.
The team elimination format would now be replaced by a new tag team system which meant players could summon their team mates to drop in at any time during the match. This mechanic would allow players to call in team mates through a basic command or an offensive activation. The point character of the team would be assigned as the leader and as such would be privy to a special super known as a leader DM.
This also introduced a special anti-hero who went by the name of Ash making him the main character of a the latest story arc. 2003 would also mark the end of development on the Neo Geo hardware as SNK Playmore would be looking to create its next title on machines that allowed them to push their design choices into a new age of gaming.
The King Of Fighters: Maximum Impact
Release Date: August 12, 2004
It was obvious that a new direction was needed for the company moving forward and it would seem that 3D was the way to go. Noise Factory, an in house developer for SNK and creators of the popular Power Instinct fighting game, would be the main developers behind this title which was considered a spin-off from the original series.
Maximum Impact would do away with team based game play completely sticking to the traditional 2 out of 3 rounds structure synonymous with the genre. The game was designed like many 3D based fighting games allowing for full 3D movement, additional wake-up mechanics, and command combos.
Even with this change, many of the mechanics developed throughout the series were present, and returning veterans still played very similar to their original counterparts. All in all, Maximum Impact certainly wasn’t a jarring experience but the change in art design was glaringly apparent making it off putting to fans of the series.
The King Of Fighters: Neowave
Release Date: July 21, 2005
Another spin-off in the series, Neowave was more of an exploratory title as the company used it as a test bed for development on Sammy’s Atomiswave(hint,hint) arcade hardware. The move to new hardware would now give players an additional button, which came along with a new mechanic called heat mode.
Like max mode, heat mode would increase a player’s offensive strength but with a caveat that would sacrifice their energy as a result. The mode could be activated at any time and would lose its effect if the opposition landed an attack.
In addition to heat mode, players would choose from three special modes before selecting characters. Each mode would offer distinct mechanics like the ability to break the guard of an opponent, canceling a special move into a super, or unlocking a special DM. Neowave would also feature a special move canceling system that would let you cancel specific special moves into any of the other available ones for extra damage.
Outside of an arcade release, Neowave would also land on both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox console with the latter being a compatible online title with the official live service. Despite its interesting system, I think it is safe to say that Neowave would become the most obscure title of the franchise so it was a good thing that SNK Playmore had another title ready to release just a few months later.
The King Of Fighters XI
Release Date: October 26, 2005
Now with a firm understanding of the Atomiswave hardware under their belt, SNK Playmore would finally release the next official game in the series but things would be taking a bit of a turn. For the first time in the series, a numeral would replace what was normally the year of the release and this would be the theme for future titles moving forward.
XI went back to the tag team style of gameplay that started in 2003 keeping most of what was built in terms of mechanics but refining the tag element to make it a lot more engaging. Now players could tag a teammate in right after a basic attack letting you take control of them to continue your offense.
This would lead to some pretty insane combos once players got the hang of the new tag system and would ultimately form the advanced level of play making it one of the more memorable titles in the series. The team leader system created in 2003 would also return while introducing a new mechanic called dream cancel, a powerful super move which could be canceled from a DM.
The King Of Fighters 2006 AKA Maximum Impact 2
Release Date: April 27, 2006
2 years after the first game released, Noise Factory would once again return with a second entry improving on their 3D design a bit from the last game. While most of what was introduced in the first title came back, a defensive parrying system called Saibaki was added.
A year later, an update titled Regulation A would bring back the original team format of 3 vs 3 while adding a few new characters. Unfortunately, the update did not make its way to the states and this was especially disheartening to fans because Regulation A would turn out to be the definitive version of the Maximum Impact franchise receiving the highest praise among those who have a fond memory of the series.
Though another update was planned, it was apparently canceled no doubt making room for a new project. SNK Playmore was looking to once again move in a new direction but no one, not even myself, could have imagined what they had in mind.
The King Of Fighters XII
Release Date: April 10, 2009
Following the success of Street Fighter IV on the new gaming consoles, the genre would soon see a resurgence of many fighting game reboots making a return for a new age while still holding on to key elements of their humble beginnings. This would be a similar mantra for SNK Playmore who saw this as an opportunity to bring their most coveted series back into the fold. The King Of Fighters XII would mark a complete overhaul of the game’s visuals, and when SNK introduced a new trailer to show off their latest title, chills down the spine was not even a close enough description of the excitement that was felt for what many believed would be a defining moment for the series.
For the most part, XII returned the series back to its formative years using many of the mechanics created up to ’98 but it did take a few risks as well. The key feature of this new title would allow players to create a stylish combo or activate a super move after landing a special counter to the opposition. Once again, developers would do the unthinkable by altering the gameplay of KOF favorite Iori to follow the story line that developed in XI.
Unfortunately, the development process created some inherent draw backs and when the game finally arrived on console, it was met with great disappointment as a final antagonist was nowhere to be found and many of the games new features were underwhelming. It was surely not the invigoration that SNK Playmore had hoped for but all was not lost as plans were in the works for another title that almost became the swan song of KOF’s storied history.
The King Of Fighters XIII
Release Date: July 14, 2010
Despite the lukewarm reception of the initial reboot, this did not deter the team from moving forward with the next game in the series. The King Of Fighters XIII would add more characters to the roster bringing back returning favorites while building on the mechanics from KOF 2002.
EX specials would be added along with a special move canceling system, similar to the one created in Neowave, called drive cancels. On top of desperation moves, an even more visually stylistic super move would be introduced known as Neo Max. XIII would ultimately take execution to its breaking point making even the most seasoned veterans of the genre struggle to keep up with the steep requirements that the new HD cancels, a remnant of 2002 max activation cancels, had to offer.
Many fans who were hoping to see a home version come out not long after the Arcades release would learn that porting this title over to console was in serious jeopardy of not happening. The development of XIII had taken a great toll on the team as horror stories of work conditions started to surface some of which were genuinely heartbreaking to hear.
None the less, major gaming publisher Atlus helped to get the title to consoles ensuring fans would get an opportunity to experience a game which became one of my personal favorites in the series. While it received many accolades and a ton of praise from the video game media, it would seem that it was just not enough to bolster sales.
Though the game would receive another port on the PC two years later, no word of an update nor a follow up of any kind was mentioned by the company who now seemed to be focused on their pachinko slot division making many fans wonder if this would be the last of SNK as a video game company.
The King Of Fighters XIV
Release Date: August 23, 2016
In March of 2015, word started to spread about a Chinese joint venture that was looking to purchase a major Japanese gaming company. Though no name was given in this announcement, all fingers pointed to SNK Playmore as the potential acquisition and by August 6, 2015 we learned that a major portion of SNK Playmore would now be owned by Ledo Millenium, a subsidiary of Leyou Technologies.
The companies plan was to bring The King Of Fighters intellectual property to several mediums that would range from anime to movies, and more importantly, video games. Just a month later at the Tokyo Game Show, The King Of Fighters XIV was revealed as a PlayStation 4 exclusive with a small game teaser.
The 14th game in the series would be sporting a new 3D design like Maximum Impact but stuck to the traditional 2D style of gameplay. XIV would base its foundation on ’98 with max mode returning as the major mechanic for much of the game’s exploration. Activating this mode would now give players access to an infinite amount of EX special moves and could instantly activate a Super Desperation Move like with ’98.
Body-toss attacks now had the power to push a character clear across the screen and depending on where the move landed it could be followed up with an additional attack. Players would have access to a whooping 50 character roster at launch with both veteran and original characters to choose from. Initial feedback was somewhat negative for this title as the games art design didn’t quite seem to stand up to the current gen standard.
None the less, the reception after its release was very positive as things had improved greatly in terms of the games content which received major updates and additional characters bringing the total roster to 58 when it was all said and done.
SNK also officially went back to the original name dropping the Playmore not long after the acquisition. As the company has slowly tried to revive itself back into a gaming powerhouse, it is met with great enthusiasm as we await the coming of the next title confirmed to be in development popping the proverbial cork off of the champagne for its 25th anniversary.
SNK’s storied journey with The King Of Fighters franchise, in particular, is truly something of legend. For it to have consistently released every year up until the number change tells me that its game-play is what fans the world over truly adored. Even if looks may kill with the next entry, I can only hope that more will see the beauty of this series for what it truly is — an amazing fighting game team based experience.