Monday, December 31, 2012

KOF Finales: 96

After beating everyone else (seriously, how is this a tournament?), your team is congratulated by the tournament’s sponsor, a woman in a white dress.  The sponsor says she is disappointed in that she was hoping to see the power that was able to “drstroy” Rugal in the last game.
Since, apparently, nobody told the press about a superpowered cyborg brainwashing people in a missile silo, that’s not information any ordinary person should know about.  When asked how she knows Rugal, the sponsor just says it’s not important.  It's never important when the writers can't think of a reason.

She gets right to the point so fast, your team then has to ask her for her name.

That’s her last name, anyway.  Her first name is Chizuru, and she feels it’s necessary to test your skills, because she has so far not been thoroughly satisfied.  She wants your team’s absolute best.  You have to be strong enough to beat her, at least.

I guess beating three bosses of previous SNK fighting games wasn't impressive enough.

Chizuru is a fresh and interesting character.  Her shtick is that when she uses a special attack, she either launches a copy of herself at the opponent to do it, or leaves the copy behind and does the attack herself.  After the attack, the copy disappears.  Part of the challenge, in addition to her powerful attacks and high health, is keeping track of Chizuru herself, which is what makes fighting her so unique.  It’s like a battle of the mind.  She’s the master of fake-outs.

The atmosphere couldn’t be better.  The grandeur stadium is filled with all kinds of small details, par for the course: the giant screen in the background displays an impressive (for the time) looping animation of characters fighting, there’s a giant-headed mascot of Athena, Andy, and Kyo, along with cameramen, lion statues, and not to mention the enormous audience in the stands and the Olympic-like brazier.  It all shows the in-universe popularity of the new, official King of Fighters tournament.

Topping it off is one of my favorite music tracks in the King of Fighters franchise, the guitar-heavy, but still elegant "Fairy".

Better yet, with the vastly improved AI in KOF 96, it’s entirely possible to fight Chizuru fair and square (increased health and damage output notwithstanding), making it King of Fighters’ first genuinely fun boss fight.

Unless you’re playing at level 4 difficulty or higher.

When the difficulty is set to 4 in a version with difficulty select, Chizuru channels Rugal and apparently hires his AI’s sugar-high kid assistant to press the rising upper attack the microsecond you get within her range.  She does this without fail at all times and faster than any human could input the motion required.  Since that move takes off a good third of your health each time, that means she can wipe the floor with you in seconds.  It seems as though the AI hadn’t quite abandoned their cheating ways at the time of KOF 96.  Play at level 3 (if you’re new to the series, there’s no shame in playing on 1 or 2 either).

After beating Chizuru, she tells you everything.  I’m not going to show a screenshot for every plot exposition, so here’s my long-winded explanation:

Chizuru is the keeper of the Yata mirror, one of three sacred treasures that gives one’s bloodline special powers.  In Chizuru’s case, that would be her copying abilities.  Kyo also has a sacred treasure, the Kusanagi sword, and so does Iori with his Yasakani magatama.  All three are required to seal off a malevolent entity known as Orochi, which wants to destroy humanity because humans have wrecked the earth and he's much less merciful than Captain Planet.
Previously, someone weakened the Orochi seal by killing Chizuru’s older sister, Maki, releasing some of its evil power.  Rugal siphoned some of that power in KOF 95, and was destroyed by it due to not being of a bloodline that can control it.
Chizuru organized the ’96 KOF to gather the strongest fighters she could to help her seal off the Orochi power once again and fight the evil cult that supports it.

But before Chizuru can finish, a new character approaches with a huge gust of wind.  She tells your team that there isn’t much time left, and that someone strong is coming.

Before she can tell your team the name of this person, a powerful wind knocks everybody over, and Chizuru asks your team to defeat the incoming enemy.  Apparently you beating her has weakened her too much to do it herself.  Talk about being counterproductive.

What a dark, foreboding, tension-building, ominous silhouette shot.  But your team doesn’t like it, and demands the figure show himself.  With a gust of wind, he does just that.

This is Goenitz, one of the four heavenly kings of Orochi, and the most powerful.  96 isn’t using the sorting algorithm of evil.  They’re throwing out the strongest first.  That’s a nice change of pace compared to your average action game/movie fare.
Goenitz knows you're taking Chizuru's side in defying the orochi, so he gives your team a choice: die fighting or be killed quickly, to which they choose neither.  In the words of Terry Bogard, “Yu ded!”

Brilliant comeback.  That was just short of "No U."

Chizuru was right when she said this was an unreasonable request.  Look at what he did to the stadium!  It’s wrecked!  There’s a giant swirling vortex in the sky and debris is blowing all over the place!  And she expects your team to fight this walking catastrophe!.... Awesome.

Yes, Goenitz is probably my favorite King of Fighters character in the entire franchise.  He’s pivotal to the story despite only being in one canon game, he has supernatural powers he uses effectively, he’s intelligent, and he almost always keeps a calm and coolheaded demeanor, even in battle.  Like Zelda's Ghirahim, he seems to be playing around instead of really trying, which is even more badass when you consider he’s fighting three champions singlehandedly.
And when I say “singlehandedly”, I mean that literally.  Aside from a couple of moves and his kicks, he always only uses one arm to attack.  All he has to do is snap his fingers or flick his wrist or grab you by the neck or summon tornadoes to completely obliterate your team.
And just to show he’s not showing any mercy either, most of his attacks cut his opponents, spilling blood.

And of course, his theme is awesome: dominating, yet angelic.  It’s like a march tune.

Actually fighting Goenitz is a huge challenge.  Everyone who has gone toe-to-toe with him knows that he loves to spam his "Yonokaze" attack with absolute priority.  Yonokaze creates a tornado in any of four areas in front of Goenitz, from right in front of him to the other end of the screen.  The tornadoes block projectiles and take of a chunk of your health if you touch them in any way without guarding, so a direct approach most definitely will not work seven times out of 10.
Because of this, fighting Goenitz requires some unconventional tactics, proper timing, and defensive playing.

Observe his AI behavior, use a few projectiles to see if he reacts fast enough, leg sweep when he dashes over to your location, keep him in one place with a short-ranged special attack if he constantly tries to fight back the instant he gets up, lowering his guard.
It’s a test of skill and strategy, which is why he and so many of King of Fighters’ bosses are so much fun to fight.

Amazingly, this all works despite the fact that Goenitz openly cheats.  He can use super special attacks without having to charge his gauge, but since he’s a gentleman with a sense of fair play, this isn’t something he abuses often, and he charges his gauge even though he doesn’t need to.  With that in mind, his rule-breaking is forgivable.

Unless you play at level 4 difficulty.

At level 4 difficulty, Goenitz plays perfectly, always blocks all of your attacks, abuses the living crud out of his unlimited super move use, and responds with the same inhuman accuracy as the cheating AI from the last two games!  Play at level 3!

Hiring that sugar-high kid was the best decision I ever made!
At level 3, beating him is doable, but it’s probably going to take a few tries before you manage to win.  The satisfaction when you do is an excellent feeling of triumph though.  Unless you play at level 4; then you’ll just be flipping off the screen and asking yourself why you wasted two hours of your life fighting a cheating AI opponent.


After you win, a dying Goenitz tells you that your efforts to seal the Orochi power again are futile, to which Chizuru tells him it’s as good as sealed away.

Your team tells Goenitz that he’s not going to get away, as his words suggested, but Goenitz is not one to flee.

"Huh?  Why am I falling?"

And then Goenitz blows a gust of razor wind in his direction to kill himself (though that's only implied in most endings).
Goenitz may be dead, but the mission is far from over.  Orochi is still unsealed, and the other three heavenly kings are still out there.  The day will come when humanity will need to be defended again in The King of Fighters 97!

King of Fighters 96’s endgame is brilliantly played, partly because it’s not exactly a finale.  Rather, it’s more of a midboss for the real finale that would take place in King of Fighters 97, making the two separate games feel like one single game storyline.  It ends on a cliffhanger and sets up plot elements to pay off later, but still keeps its own sense of memorable conclusion and accomplishment with its two unique boss fights that both bring something new to the table.  That quality would carry on for the rest of the franchise, and is another reason KOF '96 was such a turning point.

Friday, December 28, 2012

King of Fighters Retrospective: 95

The King of Fighters series started off on the wrong foot with 94, but it could only improve from there.  Like its rival series Street Fighter, the first game in the King of Fighters franchise is a clunky, ugly mess with cheating AI that few people really care about or go back to play.  With the release of King of Fighters 95, SNK had another chance to make a genuinely good King of Fighters game.

They didn’t.

It’s 1995, a year since the last King of Fighters tournament, and a new invitation has been sent out to all the fighters that participated in ‘94.  The invitation, which looks exactly like last year’s, somehow corrects itself despite being written, and is signed by a mysterious benefactor known only by his initial, “R.”

Gee guys.  Maybe the person running the tournament whose name starts with an R and has the same invitations as Rugal did last year is actually Rugal himself, and he’s planning to do something evil to the winners again… Oh, we get to fight people?  Never mind.  Let’s go.

All the characters from 94 return except for the American sports team.  Their invitation was stolen by a new team of rivals to other SNK heroes entering: staff-wielding bodyguard Billy Kane from Fatal Fury, ninja Eiji Kisaragi from The Art of Fighting, and new character Iori Yagami.  The three of them met in an alleyway and fought each other, until the impressed Billy suggested they enter the KOF tournament and kick their enemy's asses.  Sadly, nothing indicates they did a brofist afterwards.


Iori has power over purple flames from his own bloodline, like Kyo, who for some reason Iori wants nothing more than to defeat.  After his debut in this game, Iori has gone on to be in every King of Fighters game since, in a series where the character selections rotate and shuffle with each installment.  That’s good for me, because he’s one of my favorite characters.  I love his straightforward attitude, the loose, slinky way he fights, and how he unleashes primal fury when agitated, as especially evidenced in his signature move, the Maiden Masher.
Unfortunately, that’s more portrayed in his Japanese voice acting and artwork than the cutscenes' dialogue.  The somewhat sloppy localization of the earlier King of Fighters games makes Iori occasionally spout really dumb 90s slang nobody uses anymore, and talks like a “dude”.  Thankfully it doesn’t happen often enough to ruin his portrayal as an antisocial, violent, straight-faced anti-hero.

The first thing you might notice about KOF 95 is that it’s a significant step up visually from '94.  It has a more fitting, anime-like stylistic look, for one.  Some characters were given new, better-looking sprites, the frame rate is higher, making for a much more lively atmosphere, and the stages have more depth to them in addition to the usual attention to detail.  The Ikari Warrior’s stage is a particular standout in that regard.

It's a good thing nobody's legs have fallen through those massive gaps on this crappy bridge.

Audio improvements were made as well.  It's all much more clear and the sound effects actually have some punch to them.  This makes the better voice acting noticeably easier to listen to, just perfect for shouting those catchphrases that have lasted for so long through the years.  There isn’t a lot of variety in the voiced dialogue though.  In a series in which the story is told through still images and text, you'd think that wouldn't be an issue, but having less lines and animations disallows the characters to express their personalities.  Once again though, that got better as the series went on.

Disappointingly, though the music was also enhanced, most of the compositions themselves, to me, are forgettable.  But there’s always a song to like in a King of Fighters game.  It's just that the best songs are in the finale.

A more minor, but nonetheless noteworthy addition in '95 is the option to edit your own team instead of having to choose from the default, pre-selected teams, something that has since stayed an option in every KOF game after it.  Using any combination other than the pre-set teams will take out story-specific dialogue and endings though, so it's primarily there for multiplayer bouts.

All of this probably sounds like SNK laid the groundwork for a good fighting game by correcting the problems the previous one had.  I wish I could say that were the case, but the biggest problems seem to have been ignored.

Though not as badly as 94’s unwieldy combat, playing still doesn’t feel smooth or natural.  The cooldown times for every attack and rough-around-the-edges animations still make the fights in 95 feel disjointed and unrefined.  This isn’t helped by the still-small number of special moves, nor by some of the super special moves still requiring some directional command strings that are harder to pull off than they should be.  It's as if the graphics and audio are all SNK worked on for their sequel.

But like 94, I could probably bear it were it not for THE CHEATING AI!

The AI didn't change a bit since the last game!  I know I already touched on this previously, but it bears repeating.  Everything about these AI opponents is completely unfair!  In fact, I’m going over the TV tropes list of the most common sins an AI opponent can commit in a fighting game to detail just how awful and broken these cheating S.O.B.s are.  Just to prove I'm being thorough, I'm going over every single one.

In a fighting game, the computer…

... has unavoidable/unblockable attacks that you can never have.
No, they use the same moves given to players.
... can use moves from impossible positions.
I have seen Ralf and Clark use their grappling move while they were guarding against my attack while I was still in midair!  You can only grapple someone if they’re on the ground!
... can move/attack faster than you.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but I swear the computer opponents have quicker basic attacks.  Someone told me that KOF uses some kind of system that has the computer's attacks take priority over yours, so if you and the computer hit each other at the same time, the computer isn't affected.  I can't confirm if that's true, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is.
... can instantly use moves that require human players to execute a complex command.
I’ve seen the character Heidern constantly and instantly use a move that requires human players to walk backwards for a good 1.5 seconds first!  I’ve heard Guile does the same thing in Street Fighter 2.
... will always know exactly where all invisible characters are — both its and yours.
Not applicable.  There are no invisible abilities.
... can use its special attacks more frequently than you, and its desperation attack with more health than you.
I don’t think that happens.  The AI rarely NEEDS to use their best attacks because they’re so damn perfect regardless.
... can deal more damage when using the same character and the same attacks you use under the same circumstances.
Like the faster attacks, it could be my imagination, but I’m pretty sure they do more damage to me than I do to them.
... can do combos that are impossible for the player.
It’s probably just that though.  This is part of what leads to my belief that their attacks are faster.
... can dizzy/stun the player more often than he is allowed to do the same.
I don’t think so.
... can revive itself after you went through hell to beat it.
Just because Gill did it in Street Fighter 3 doesn’t mean everyone does…
... beats you with one move (usually when it's actually about to lose).
That one probably is my imagination.  Their way of fighting doesn’t seem to actually change when they’re low on health.
... reads your controller inputs and counters you immediately, when a human would have to predict/react.
... is impossible to fake out.

That is by and large the single biggest problem!  You don’t feel like you’re fighting an actual person!  You feel like you’re fighting a robot!  A robot that cheats!  Let me remind you, as I did in the '94 post, that this is all at level one difficulty!

That’s the most there is to say about King of Fighters 95, really.  SNK improved the presentation, but didn’t fix the bigger issues.  That combined with there being only four new characters, makes 95 feel like The King of Fighters series was stagnant.  If they wanted KOF to be the great fighting game it could be, huge changes needed to be made, and to my delight, that's exactly what happened starting with King of Fighters 96.

The King of Fighters 95 is available on the Orochi Saga collection on the Wii, PS2, and PSP, as well as separately on the Virtual Console and Playstation Network.  It also comes with the new Neo Geo X system.

The pieces came into place in '96…

KOF Finales: 95

After beating all the other teams, yours is assaulted with sleeping gas.

This is a very questionable kidnapping method.  First of all, aside from one, maybe two stages, these fights are out in the open with plenty of space for the gas to vent out.  Second of all, there’s also a good chance that you’re in a stage with a lot of people in the background watching.  Is this not attracting public attention?  It’s a really clumsy transition to the final stage.

Anyway, when they wake up, they see the man responsible for the tournament this year is none other than Rugal Bernstein!
Le gasp.
Somewhat understandably, your team is shocked that Rugal is still alive after his ship exploded in his face.
I have a good guess as to how he survived, regarding something revealed later in this finale, but the general reason most people agree on is “because SNK and their fans really like Rugal.

What Rugal says depends on the team you’re using, but I said I wouldn’t go into that, so I’m using what he says to a team of nonspecific characters, which is significantly different.  For most of the default teams, he says he wants revenge for the last game's events.  For everyone else...
I'll make you excessively beefy and violent.  Like that Jax fellow.
But before that, Rugal wants to show he’s capable of controlling others (technically, he isn't), so he sics an old guy on you.

"Flail away?"  Who says that?
That’s right.  He said Kusanagi.  This is Kyo’s dad, Saisyu (misspelled in this game, though his name can be translated either way), who has been brainwashed into obeying Rugal's orders by one of his assistants.  He may not have any cyborg implants like Rugal kind of implied, but he does have the same Kusanagi blood Kyo has, and that gives him serious fire power.

Saisyu fights in pretty much the same way Kyo does.  He has most of Kyo’s moves plus his own dangerous lunging punch attack.  What makes him such a balls-to-the-wall difficult boss is, once again, his absolutely omnipotent AI, which has reached the peak of cheating, since it’s the end of the game.

The place this all goes down in isn’t what I’d call the best fighting stage.  You’re in a missile silo on an elevator going down.  The many machinations throughout it make you feel like you’re in a high-tech facility the Umbrella Corporation would find a bit much, but it doesn’t have the same kind of striking visuals as other King of Fighters stages.
And what is with that glowing holographic display of the globe in the middle?  What practical use does it have on an elevator?  It made some sense having it be on Rugal’s desk in the last game, but I don’t see why something that seems so big and important (it IS the world, after all) is on something you’re only on for a few minutes.

I imagine Rugal has to bend over to touch the thing, assuming it's interactive.
At least the track that plays is able to add some flare while still fitting with the many machinations operating in the background.  It's a sinister, slower tune with a beat boxing computer backing it up.

After finally managing to beat the cheating jerk Saisyu, Rugal takes matters into his own hands and starts filling himself with some kind of evil energy, burning his clothes from the waist-up, revealing a cyborg arm and turning his hair white.  He has now become Omega Rugal!

No questioning morality here.  He's just flat-out evil.

Predictable reference.
I should point out that, like the last game, the teammates and health you lost fighting Saisyu carry over to the fight with Omega Rugal.  I fail to see just how Rugal is establishing his superiority when the people he’s fighting are already halfway beaten.

In stark contrast to KOF '95's anime style, Omega Rugal’s sprite seems to have reverted back to the grainy realism look the last game had, just with more detail.  It looks really out of place and distracting.  He almost looks like he belongs in Killer Instinct.
The Omega symbol on his back that can only be seen in certain motions is a nice touch.

He fights almost identically to the way he did in '94, so it’s not all that exciting for the masochists that played it all the way through.  The best part of the whole thing is the music that plays.  I can think of few better music tracks in any medium to play during a truly final battle like this, and combined with the grunts and thwacks of the fight itself, it makes for an excellent symphony of martial arts action, even if those grunts and thwacks are at your expense.  Presentation is one of the things KOF does best.

Of course, you’re probably not going to hear the music for long, because you’re weakened, he’s ultra-powerful; you’re human, he’s a cheating AI opponent.  Do the math.

Fist+neck=electro choke!

Once you finally decide to cheat again (If they don't play fair, why should you?) and win, Rugal is consumed by his mysterious power and vanishes, ending his life.

Arguably the most infamous line in the series... For the wrong reasons, but that's part of King of Fighters' charm.

The question of just what power Rugal got a hold of is answered in the next game.

As a whole, this finale just seems like a retread.  Omega Rugal is hardly different from regular Rugal and Saisyu is hardly any different from Kyo.  It doesn’t throw anything wholly new at you, but for what it has, it could have been fun had KOF 95 played decently enough.  With Rugal now dead (for real, in the story), SNK had to come up with new bosses to fight.  Be sure to catch the recap for The King of Fighters 96!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

King of Fighters Retrospective: 94

The King of Fighters games all have one common plot point for the sake of fun simplicity.  No matter which game you’re playing, the story (if there is one) is that someone is running the King of Fighters tournament.  In The King of Fighters 94, the very first game, contestants from around the world get a fancy invitation from an unknown host who only refers to himself on the invitations as “R”.  It’s kind of sketchy that the guy doesn’t even give his name, but who cares about details like that?  We get to fight people!

You may have noticed in the opening the words “this year,” even though this is the first King of Fighters game.  That’s because although it’s the first King of Fighters game, it’s not the first King of Fighters tournament to be held.  The King of Fighters tournaments were originally held in the Fatal Fury games, SNK’s other flagship fighting series, from which King of Fighters takes a few plot elements.  The host of this tournament based his on the ones held by Geese Howard and Wolfgang Krauser from Fatal Fury, except made the three-member team rules to give it its own identity.

Speaking of identity, the majority of the characters in 94 are originally from other SNK games.  It was like SNK’s Super Smash Brothers of the time.  It has Ralf and Clark from Ikari Warriors, Athena and Kensou from Psycho Soldier, Ryo, Robert, Takuma, King, and Yuri from The Art of Fighting, and most prominently, Mai, Andy, Terry, and Joe from Fatal Fury.  The Fatal Fury character count would only drastically increase as the series went on.  Original characters were put in alongside old ones, such as Ralf and Clark’s commander Heidern and Kensou & Athena’s drunken master Chin.  Since early SNK games before '94 were much like other arcade games at the time, in that characters had no character, the new characters were a welcome addition to the story and roster.  In other words, there was no continuity to ruin with their informed relationships.

Two particular KOF-original additions are Chang Koehan and Choi Bounge.  The two are criminals caught by Fatal Fury's justice-seeker Kim Kapwhan.  Rather than arresting them, Kim forced the two into his reformation program consisting of training and fighting in KOF.  Kim believes doing so will have them start to respect others, which, over the course of the series, they do become good people.  And believe it or not, that works.

The original teams, made up soley of characters debuting in The King of Fighters '94, are the Japan team and American sports team.  The Japan team consists of the hero, high school student Kyo Kusanagi, and his buddies Benimaru Nikaido and Goro Daimon.  Kyo has the blood of his clan that gives him the ability to shoot flames from his hands.  Goro, the big guy, is a grappling judo master who can shake the earth, and Benimaru, the guy with the Polnareff haircut, is a rock star with lightning powers and quick kick attacks.
How exactly Benimaru has lightning powers is never explained.  Maybe he just scootched all over the carpet for years as part of his training.
Never mind.  There's my answer.
The American sports team doesn’t get as much attention as everyone else in the series, but still has something of a fanbase, presumably because A: they’re clearly American and America rules, and B: they have a very unique theme of American sports.  The leader, Heavy D!, mainly uses conventional boxing, Lucky Glauber utilizes deadly basketballs and slam dunks for a grab, and Brian Battler is a football jersey-wearing muscle-bound powerhouse.  It’s a pity they’re only playable in two games.

Main characters get all the glory.
King of Fighters '94 plays much like the other 2D fighting games out there.  Starting out, it wasn’t all that complicated.  There are 4 buttons: two for a strong and weak punch and two for a strong and weak kick.  Using them in conjunction with quarter and half-circle movements allow you to use special attacks; standard for 90s 2D fighting games.

King of Fighters has a few extra commands compared to Street Fighter 2 though.  Pressing the strong kick and strong punch button at the same time performs a knockdown move.  The knockdown move takes a half-second longer to execute than basic moves, but it knocks your opponent on their back when it connects.  Pressing the two weak attack buttons at the same time lets you dodge, making you invincible for about 75% of a second.
To taunt, you need only press the strong punch button while the control stick is unmoved when you’re at a distance from your opponent.  You can imagine that leads to frustration, but thankfully it was given its own button commands in later games.  Taunting not only makes fun of your opponent, but also decreases their power gauge, which is needed to use super special attacks.
To use the super special attacks, you must first charge the power gauge to its maximum by dealing damage and by holding down both weak attack buttons and the strong punch button at the same time (though that leaves you defenseless).
To win, you need only deplete your opponent’s health bar or have the most health when time runs out.  Whenever one of your team members is beaten, the next one takes their place, and the winner recovers a bit of their health.

It’s simpler than it may sound.  Believe me, it's one of the simpler games in the franchise.  It only got more complicated in subsequent installments.

Like any other arcade fighting game at the time, your team goes around the world to defeat all the other team members (please keep in mind that where you fight them isn’t indicative of their nationality).  When that’s accomplished, you meet the man running the tournament, and it is at that point the intensity reaches its peak.

You can see my own rundown of what happens then here.  There are spoilers, but, as I said in the introduction, there isn’t much to spoil.

KOF 94 is an important game that set the groundwork for the rest of the King of Fighters games… However, that does not make it good.  Sometimes, when I tell someone I love the King of Fighters series, I backpedal and say “I love the King of Fighters games…. Except for the first two... And 12.”

As its own game, King of Fighters 94 is, to put it bluntly, outright garbage.  Just about everything about it is dated and woefully limited by the weak technology of the time.  There’s so much wrong with it, I wasn’t sure where to begin when writing this.

First the graphics.  I know it was the early 90s, but that doesn’t change the fact that the game’s graphics are a pain to look at.  The art style and character sprites seems to try and look realistic and grainy, and it blends poorly with the similarly grainy, and often dark, stages.  There are some stages that stand out and are genuinely pretty, like Britain and Italy, but for the most part, they’re just dull with a brownish, dim look about them.

The animation doesn’t help matters either.  If I didn't know any better, I'd think there are only three or four frames per second for each animation.  It’s all robotic and janky, which really takes you out of the experience.  I can honestly say I’ve seen SNES games that have better animation than this.

The audio is hardly better.  The whole thing sounds muffled, there’s very little voice acting, and what little is there sounds like the characters are dull and bored.  The sound effects are almost laughable too.  The glorious sound of someone being hit should have punch and gravity, but in 94, it often sounds more like someone serving a tennis ball in an echoing room or slapping two cooked steaks together.

King of Fighters 94's only redeeming factor is its soundtrack.  If the chiptune genre of music has taught us anything, it’s that the greatest medleys can be made even on the most inferior technology.

Not even the core gameplay is competently executed.  Special attacks tend to be unbalanced, the bad animation and limited special moves makes the flow of fights feel clunky, and it’s far too easy to jump when trying to walk.

But as bad as a lot of the game is, I could probably bear it were it not for the hideously broken enemy AI!  Even if you’re playing a version with selectable difficulty and set it to 1 (out of 8), the computer will kick your ass up and down the screen!  They’re inhumanly perfect!  They’ll block every attack, dodge every projectile, and execute special moves and react with microsecond timing no human (not even an expert-level player) could ever hope to do!  They outright cheat!

I’ve heard people say that the game is beatable if you utilize a tactic in which you constantly jump kick the computer or some such nonsense, but that’s not fun!  You do not see the main character of a martial arts movie jump around like he’s on a trampoline and kicking like crazy to win every fight!  That’s boring and stale!
94’s AI doesn’t give any room for experimentation or ease you into the game’s combat, and when you consider that all this is on the lowest difficulty, there’s nothing you can call the AI other than broken.

Kim can slip on a banana peel and still look cool.

But that’s King of Fighters 94 for you.  It’s an unrefined mess of a game from before the series actually got good.  If you really want to play it, King of Fighters 94 is available in The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga on the Wii, PS2 and PSP, as well as on the Wii virtual console.  It is also included with a lot of SNK’s early games in the SNK Arcade Classics Collection Volume 1, which is also available on the Wii, PS2, and PSP.

It’s only the first game and already I’ve gotten wordy, but I have only just begun.  The series kept on rolling in ‘95…

Introduction to The King of Fighters Retrospective

I’m not an elite, hardcore tournament-level fighting game enthusiast, but I don’t need to be to love The King of Fighters.  Ever since I got the first compilation release on the Wii, I’ve gradually learned the complex ins and outs of the fighting system, taken a Japanese college course, and done whatever it takes to play every game in the main King of Fighters series.  The characters, sights, sounds, and simple, but fun, storylines have had me playing the same games over and over for at least three years.

I may not have been there since the series’ beginning (I could hardly speak a coherent sentence back in 1994), but even today it's interesting to see how the gameplay and story has evolved over the course of its over decade-long existence.

Some people I know don’t even know about the series’ roots.  Some just picked up and played any recent King of Fighters game and had fun with it, which is good, since that means there’s broader appeal, and they don’t need to play the other games to enjoy them.  But I feel that understanding where the series has come from will let them enjoy the games more, both so that they can pick up on subtle plot elements, see characters only in certain installments and appreciate how much of an improvement the recent games are from the ones before them.

That is why, inspired by the retrospective greats of Noah Antweiler and Matt Williams, I am going to be writing a retrospective over every King of Fighters game in the main series, starting with The King of Fighters 94 and ending with The King of Fighters 13.  I’ll touch on characters, notable changes for each installment after the first, and my thoughts on each one.

I’ll also be detailing the finale of each game to get the latecomers caught up, in my own way.  Although I’ll do a play-by-play of each game’s ending common to almost every team, I promise not to give away any character-specific endings.  You can play the games and see them for yourself, if these retrospectives make you want to.  I’ll happily display your options for getting a copy of each game as well.
Like I said, the stories are relatively simple.  There are only maybe two or three minor plot twists to spoil in the entire series, and even then, you’re just going to learn them in the half hour it takes to get to the end anyway.  Still, for those who would rather experience the plots themselves, the overview of each finale will be on a separate post, to which I will provide a link if you want to read.

There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll start with the very first.  It all began in 94…

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Shonen Otaku First Annual Christmas Blog

Chances are, the first question you're going to ask is "What did you get?!"  Well, to get to the point, here are my game/anime gifts this year and my reactions.

Hmmm.... Okay.  Kool.  I'm all for fighting games, and even though they took the gore that MAKES Mortal Kombat what it is, it can still be fun.  I mean.... Platinum hit, right?

Is it just mandatory for me to have every Lego game now?  Well whatever.  I like 'em.  Lego Batman 2 is supposed to be a big improvement over the first, and I really liked that one.  From what I heard from the opening cutscene of the 3DS version's demo, the voice acting is actually pulled off very well, and they got someone who's practically Mark Hamill's twin brother for the Joker.  Maybe I should do an article on these games sometime.

The sister who gave this to me wasn't sure I'd like it because I'm the SHONEN OTAKU!  But she was unsure when she got me the second Professor Layton game, and I liked that.  I've never played a Harvest Moon title, so if this is only a small improvement over previous games, I won't tell the difference.


I have seen the series on Toonzaki (go now!), but Toonzaki doesn't do full-length movies.  That makes this all the more awesome!

This one was given to me by my friend, Destructoid's own PhilKenSebben.  Judging by the hints he dropped when he gave me the code for it, I thought it was Shank 2, but then on Christmas eve his words suggested to me that it might be Knights of the Old Republic 2.  Nope.  I was right the first time.  Thanks Phil.

And then...... This happened.

"I can't believe they were able to find a copy of Capcom vs. SNK 2!  At a Gamestop!  Ha.  I know what they'll never find.  The rarest Wii game there is."

That was a joke!  I said I wanted that halfway as a joke!......... I feel so spoiled.  I don't even like the Funimation dub of One Piece, but I love Shonen, rare stuff, and a lot of other Shonen Jump games, including Jump Ultimate Stars, which is made by the same people as the One Piece games: Ganbarion.  The CD is in pretty good condition too.

Well, I've had a good Christmas, when all's said and done.  How's yours?