Friday, October 26, 2012

Epic Gaming Moments: King of Fighters 97

The King of Fighters series has never been anything short of epic shonen action since KOF 96.  Thanks to its colorful character designs, soundtrack, and dynamic backgrounds, every fight is a memorable one, and that goes doubly so for the climax of each game (excluding 12).  You could choose the closing fights of almost any King of Fighters game, and it would count as an epic gaming moment, but I’m only sharing my favorite: the climax to King of Fighters 97, one of the most epic of King of Fighters finales.  Not that it's major for a fighting game, but.... spoilers.

The beginning of the end begins at the end.  You’ve beaten all the challengers and have been declared the King of Fighters.
For some reason I always imagined a buck-toothed Asian stereotype saying this.  Does that make me evil?
However, Iori (who is now spectating after killing his teammates last year) starts feeling strange.  His half-orochi blood is being stirred by some nearby force, and he can’t control it, so he outright assaults the champion team in a wild rage.

That is unless you have Iori in your team, in which case it’s team Ikari’s Leona (the other half-blood) who goes crazy.

The fight that follows is the first part of KOF 97’s endgame.  Both Orochi Iori and Orochi Leona are pretty much the same fighters as their normal, less-crazy counterparts, only hunched over and much faster.  That speed puts you on the edge and requires you to up your fighting tempo, creating a hyped-up high-speed brawl that will probably take at least 2 of your teammates to win.
Someone can probably come up with a better caption than me for this picture.
Making it more epic is the background and music.  The background is a red filter over the previous stage with time standing still, and the music is a guitar-heavy, fast-paced song that encompasses the feeling of danger, rage, and conflict all at the same time.

After rightfully defending yourself, the source of Iori and Leona’s unrest are revealed to be the New Faces team, who have been using the fighting energy produced by the King of Fighters tournament (it’s kind of like Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s ener-D) to finish what Goenitz started in the last game and revive the world-destroying entity Orochi.  However, they need a little more power, and fight you to get it.

Now, since fighting gives Orochi his power, you’d think you should just run and not fight…..  You’d be extremely boring.

So you fight the new Orochi team in probably the most epic (pardon my overuse of the word) battle in the King of Fighters series.  There are a large number of reasons its so epic.
First, it’s unexpected.  Previously, the New Faces team was dance battlers on par with most of the other characters in the game in terms of strength.  Suddenly, they’re all using devastating elemental powers.  The fight reaches all new extremities for the series, with firey explosions, lightning balls, and hand blasts somehow sucked out of the earth.  They’re not so harmless now.  Their victory poses show off their revealed powers too.  Chris holds out one of his flames, Shermie raises her hand and catches a bolt of lightning, and Yashiro hunches over and shakes the earth like a Dragon Ball Z character.  They’re certainly skilled in the art of intimidation.

It’s worth mentioning this new team is comprised of evil counterparts of the main characters, the Japan team.  Chris, like Kyo, is fast and uses fire.  Shermie, like Benimaru, is tall, thin, and uses lightning.  Yashiro, like Goro, is bulky and uses grappling moves and earth.  They also have the honor of being the only team of bosses in the series (unless you count the boss team in the previous game, but they didn’t get an introduction).

The explosive fighting all takes place on one of the best stages in the game: the Orochi altar.  It starts out as a simple radial pattern with a big purple fire in the middle of it, but once Shermie comes up to fight, the mountains in the background become covered in clouds, and as the fight goes on, the pillars are demolished by bolts of lightning, emphasizing the power at hand.  But the destruction comes to a new high when Yashiro comes up.  The altar starts shaking under the fighters’ feet, the hole in the middle becomes filled with bubbling lava, and the mountains in the background get their own lava flow.  It’s a good thing you fight on a 2D plane, because it’d be easy for Yashiro to throw you in the lava pit if he could.

At last, to top off this battle...  The icing on the cake… The music: Rhythmic Hallucination.  A simple, catchy tune with heavy beats to, once again, emphasize the Orochi team’s power.  It seems to be a combination of a chant and rock ballad, which, considering the Orochi team members are both worshippers and a rock band, so it’s a perfect fit.

After sustaining god knows how many third degree burns and shattered bones, the Orochi team reveals that the fight gave their god the energy he needs, and Orochi uses Chris as a vessel to be reborn and grow a few feet taller.  The final battle of the Orochi saga begins, as your team takes on an otherworldly entity!
He doesn't exactly live up to his god status when a bunch of martial artists can beat him.
Sadly, the fight with Orochi isn’t as impactful as the last 2, nor is it as difficult.  What makes Orochi a challenge is his ultra-powerful projectiles and super moves.  He’s not a great hand-to-hand fighter, though he did somehow learn Rugal’s genocide cutter.  By far the worst attack he has is one move in which he calls some kind of holy force from the sky to obliterate your entire life bar if you’re not guard-

Here's a recap with funny commentary: 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Epic Gaming Moments: Trauma Team

Welcome to a new feature of the Shonen Otaku Corner I shall appropriately name Shonen Otaku’s Epic Game Moments.  An uncreative title, to be sure, but an honest one.  In these posts, I will recall some of my favorite, epic, conflict-ridden moments in gaming and describe what it is about them that makes them so effective.  With me being a shonen otaku, you can expect more action than emotional drama.  And speaking of action, my very first epic game moment is one of the mind.

Before I get started, I should warn that since a lot of the moments are climaxes, there are going to be spoilers, so read at your own risk.  The size of the word "spoilers" on each of these posts will be proportionate to how big of a spoiler you will get if you read on.

Today’s epic game moment is brought to us by Trauma Team.

In the forensic investigator Naomi Kimishima’s second-to-last mission, she finds the address of the bombing murderer she is tracking.  Immediately, ignoring suggestions from her assistant, she goes to the known arson’s house without any kind of backup or protection.

Once she goes in, the door is locked behind her, and in the small beach house there is a table with 4 phones strapped to bombs.  A nearby radio (Or tape recorder.  It isn’t clear.) turns on, and the bomber talks to her.

I'd like to play a game.
The bomber says Naomi has 10 minutes to disable the bombs by simply calling the phones they're attached to, and that she needs to use clues, given to her by the room and the bomber, to figure out what their numbers are.  The clues in the room are smeared in washed-off blood on the wall, smeared on a mirror, and fingerprinted on a phone.

You’ve got to admire the amount of effort that must’ve gone into this.  Not only did the bomber have to somehow rig the deactivation to the phones, but he had to find 4 different phones, request specific numbers of differing area codes for each one, and pray that nobody else in the world was using that number.  And how did he smear all that blood on the wall?  Whose blood is it?  There wasn’t any blood on the floor, and containers of blood aren’t easy to come by.  From that we can assume it was his blood, but with that much out of his system, he should’ve fainted or died!

What makes the scene especially mentally invigorating is the puzzles themselves, the music, and the fact that up until this point, your character hasn’t been in danger whilst you've been in control.
The puzzles test knowledge, observation, mathematics and problem-solving.
You only have 10 minutes to do them, not counting dialogue breaks, but if you honestly run out of time, you need to see Dr. Cunningham.  Even though you have plenty of time, the music makes it seem as though time is ticking.  Its metronomic repetition is decent for helping you focus when you’re having to think during deduction sections, but against the clock, in the only section in which you can actually die, it comes off as more tense.

After the 4 puzzles are solved, the door unlocks, but Naomi thinks its too easy and looks inside a familiar-looking teddy bear.
Oh my god!  JC, a bomb!
This, of course, leads to the ever-classic and gripping wire-cutting scene not unlike the bomb disabling in the original Trauma Center.  There’s a lot of tension on the player to get this right, because if they don’t, they’ll have to go through the room all over again (and you may not have written the numbers down).  Once you cut it, the game gives you a moment to close your eyes in hope and be met with congratulatory silence or an explosion that engulfs the screen.  It’s the final showdown with the mad bomber, and it’s epic.

Is that what you think?  Naomi, I think you need a lesson from the book of Joe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Clock Tower: The Scariest Game Ever Made

On a Halloween-themed episode of the Jimquisition, Destructoid’s Jim Sterling brought up an interesting point regarding horror games, and I think he was right on the money.  However, I was somewhat disturbed that he only gave a passing mention to the game Clock Tower, because it deserves more credit than that.  Clock Tower (that’s the original SNES game, not the first one released in America on the PS1) is the scariest game I have ever seen.  It’s not like today’s games with proper controls, extensive voice acting, and fun gameplay.  After all, it’s an SNES game, but, as Jim explained, it’s the distinct lack of those features that make it so effective.  I have felt more true terror watching someone else play Clock Tower than I have felt actually playing the Resident Evil remake and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.  To summarize, these are 4 things Clock Tower has going for it that makes it so much scarier than games today.

1. Gritty graphics

Jim already covered this trait with his brief look at the Friday the 13th game, and the same concept applies to Clock Tower.  The graphics are gritty, dark, and not pleasing to look at.  Through the game, you discover the dead bodies of all your friends who are killed in different ways.  The 16 bit SNES is able to portray them with a degree of photorealism, but the pixilation of the old images creates an unsettling and unfamiliar atmosphere that puts them somewhere on the slope down the uncanny valley.  The dead bodies you find all get close-ups that are absolutely horrifying, and I can only imagine how scary they must’ve looked to gamers back in the day the game was made.  This is the big factor in what makes the original Clock Tower scarier than its PS1 sequel, which is full of bright colors and goofy-looking polygons.  The graphics only add to the bizarre and unnatural imagery found throughout the game’s setting.

At least there weren't any plagas in this one.

2. You’re in control and defenseless

In Clock Tower, you do not play as a S.T.A.R.S. member prepared for combat situations nor a space man with badass buzz saw launchers.  You are a teenage girl with no weapons and almost no means of defense.  All your friends are dead, and there’s a creepy child with a giant pair of hedge clippers in the house that can come out at any time and cut you in half (though the game never shows that).  You can’t fight him.  All you can do is run.  Run and panic.  That and pray you don’t get cornered in a room with only one door, because then the odds of escape are even slimmer.  You can tussle with the freak and possibly knock him down temporarily or hide from him, but it’s usually not a good idea.  And unlike a slasher film, where you know the crazed murderer will be defeated somehow in the end, the heat is on in Clock Tower, because whether or not you get that ending is entirely determined by you: the player, and unless you cheat and look things up online, you don’t have any idea how it will end.  It is that tension that demonstrates the emotional potential of games as an interactive storytelling medium.

3. Silence

In games these days, we usually hear something at nearly all times.  Maybe a side character talking, zombies groaning, the echo of our own footsteps, and the sounds of lightning from the weather.  But in Clock Tower, there is next to nothing.  There are only a few sound effects, no music to distract from the isolation except for fear music when being chased (raising the tension further), and no voice acting to give the player a familiar human voice.  It is nothing but the cold sound of silence ringing in your ear along with footsteps and your character's beating heart until the scare chord plays to shock you even more than whatever it’s accompanying, breaking the silence and telling you it’s a good time to be afraid.
Regarded as one of the game's best moments.

4. Scissorman

As a playable slasher movie, Clock Tower has one of the most effective slasher villains I’ve ever seen.  The main enemy of Clock Tower is Bobby Barrows, also known as Scissorman.  He’s a strange, deformed little boy who wanders the mansion the characters moved into with a giant pair of scissors (that I might as well call hedge clippers), giving him the moniker “Scissorman.”  His schtick is pretty simple.  He can come from anywhere at any time and just walks toward you, snapping his scissors together the entire time.  You’d think that since he merely walks, you can outrun him, but he moves surprisingly fast, and it’s not helped by the main character not being very athletic herself.  To make matters worse, it’s possible to trip while running, no doubt leading to players shouting obscenities while their heart races and the sound of scissors comes ever closer.

Much of this montage demonstrates just what I mean by "anywhere".  He more or less teleports!

Even further adding to fear is the fact that Scissorman is actually a small child, activating some kind of primal fear we have about children not having a proper conscience.

I think I know why the front yard looks so neat.

All of this contributes to why Clock Tower is the scariest game I have ever seen.  Even the great horror titles of the last generation haven’t matched its horrific brilliance and subtleties.  With any luck, the game will receive a Virtual Console release, and underwear manufacturers will profit from it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Conduit 2 Review

The first Conduit on the Wii was ambitious, but ultimately fell short of a good game due to numerous problems both in its design and its presentation.  There are still many fans of the first game nonetheless, and as a result, Sega took another dip into making a truly great sci-fi action Wii game.  As any good game sequel should, Conduit 2 continues the story set by the last game, completely abolishes all of the complaints about the first Conduit, and plays to its strengths, making a far more substantial sci-fi adventure.

The story takes place literally moments after the first game, in which Michael Ford and his alien friend (inside an ancient wonder-machine) go through a conduit after the evil manipulator John Adams, who is actually of an ancient alien race called the progenitors, which have manipulated different countries for centuries.  Adams’ goal is revealed to be to take the power of the other progenitors for himself and take over the world with it and his army of humans and cloned aliens from the last game.  To prevent that from happening, Ford has to get to them first, and thus the chase is on.
The story is fairly well done.  The plot moves at an even pace, with humorous exposition from dialogue between Ford and his spherical friend Prometheus to fill the player in on what’s happening.  However, this game does not fill you in on events from the previous game.  If you don’t know what happened in The Conduit, you’re going to be a bit lost.

This is the very first thing you see after the brief recap of the first game's last moment.  Lost?
In fact, the entire game’s story isn’t very self-contained.  Plot threads and characters from the last game are used and resolved here, but Conduit 2 creates more to be resolved in future games.  Whether or not that’s a bad thing depends on how long you want the overlying story of the Conduit games to go on for.  I don’t have a problem with that, but I do have a problem with how it handles the finale.  Even though the story is of standard length for an action game at 6 hours, it feels like it cuts itself off.  After you find a few of the progenitors, the final boss fight just seems to come out of the blue, as if they just ran out of time and got straight to it with no buildup.  It’s a fun boss battle, but also abrupt and a little too easy.

Harder than that thing though.
What elevates the writing in Conduit 2 is its ones liners.  If you like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Campbell one-liners and think they’d be ironically entertaining if spoken by a man who thinks he’s cooler than he is, then you might as well go get Conduit 2 right now because they are seemingly omnipresent.  Michael Ford practically says one-liners like it’s some kind of other language, and all the game’s equippable loadout upgrades have some kind of snarky comment annotation at the end of each of them; for example, the annotation for a healing grenade says “Because we couldn’t teach bullets to love.”
Even the achievements are able to present themselves as one-liners.  At one point Michael has to take the “soul” of a progenitor before Adams can, and as soon as I snagged it with the ASE, a little check box window came up that read, “Your soul is mine”.  The plot itself isn’t great, but it’s pretty fun for what it is, and the self-aware sense of humor is a nice touch.  If there’s any part of this game’s story I liked more than any other, it’s the ending (not the finale).  I notice other people who have reviewed this game have criticized the ending for being another cliffhanger, but I think it’s probably one of the best cliffhangers ever with one of the most awesome and iconic images ever seen in a game since mecha-Hitler from Wolfenstein 3D.  You’ll just have to play it to see it.

In the meantime, it's time to kick ass and chew bubblegum.  And I can't get gumthrough this helmet.
You certainly can’t fault Conduit 2 for its presentation.  The graphics are nothing short of fantastic; High Voltage Software’s Quantum3 engine is in full effect.  The lighting effects, particle effects, character models, and environments of Conduit 2 are all a splendor to look at.  The technical aspects combined with some good art direction makes Conduit 2 the second best looking game with realistic graphics on the Wii, beaten only by Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, and even then it’s a little better than Capcom’s rail shooter in some ways.  One might think that visuals of such high quality would come with a cost, like regular slowdown or glitchy environments, but throughout the entire campaign, I ran into only a few minor graphical hiccups.  The game is able to keep the graphics consistent and smooth even when the action heats up, and Conduit 2 is exactly how a game of this genre should look.  High Voltage Software should pat themselves on the back for their accomplishment.  I have no complaints here.

My body overflows with the almighty power of the Quantum3 engine!
As for the music, there’s not much to say.  It all comes out clearly, and it does what it’s supposed to, but there’s not anything notable.  It’s just… there (not that that’s a bad thing).  The sound effects are great though.  The sound made when you get a headshot on an armored enemy is one that distinguishes itself from other shooters, where a headshot often gives off a “splurtch” when you get a head shot; instead it makes more of a “k-thunk”.  Each individual weapon in the game’s impressive arsenal has its own firing and reload sound effect that all sound exactly as they look like they should.  The voice actors need be given credit too.  All the characters have great actors that display their emotion and tone just right, particularly with Prometheus.  The way he and Ford (voiced by the same guy who does Duke Nukem, no less) talked to each other reminded me of Seargent Cortez and Anya in the FPS classic Timesplitters: Future Perfect.  Even the enemies have great voices, with lots of different lines, threats, and death screams of varying levels of cheese to keep shooting them from becoming monotonous.  Like the graphics, there isn’t really anything for me to complain about audibly.

But the gameplay and controls are the core of and good game, I expected nothing less than perfection from a Wii FPS after Black Ops.  They’re fully customizable with lots of different options and ways to play, including the classic controller and the Wiimotion Plus accessory, which I have heard makes the controls even better.  High Voltage Software thought of everything.  I remember seeing someone play Conduit 2 before it came out and saw that each time they reloaded, the screen went blurry as they did (so as to simulate the character focusing on reloading).  I thought that would horribly annoy me when I played it, but it turns out there’s an option to turn it off.  I also thought it would be awkward to have to thrust the Wiimote forward to perform a melee attack, but it turns out there’s another control style that assigns the melee to the down directional arrow, so that pretty much got rid of the only complaints I could have had about the game’s control setup.
Gameplay in the main missions consist of Half Life 2-esque semi-linear levels in which Ford goes from one point to another, shooting down anything in his way.  That should sound like it’s a tedious game, but like Half-Life 2, Conduit 2 avoids tedium through its variety.  The range of enemies, weapons, settings, and the 3 boss fights makes sure that there’s never a dull moment, and it all flows seamlessly together with very few breaks in the gameplay for cutscenes.  The fun doesn’t end with the story though.  There are also big exploratory maps in which you can use the ASE to track down objects for multiplayer while having to defend yourself from occupying forces.  I found these action-packed scavenger hunts to be a really fun diversion from the main story, but I was somewhat saddened when I got almost everything in a short time.  More on that later.

This brings us to what most people were looking forward to in Conduit 2: the multiplayer.  The multiplayer in the game is decent, but nowhere close to being as good as the Wii version of Call of Duty Black Ops.  Black Ops has more modes, loadout customization, loadout slots, and weapons (including different grenades and equipment).  Black Ops also has killstreaks, the major factor that makes every match an unpredictable one.  But even if Conduit 2 wasn’t going to match Black Ops’ content, they could have at least matched their features.  In Conduit 2’s multiplayer, you can only voice chat with people you share those stupid, cumbersome, arbitrary friend codes with.  Why?  Both Call of Duty: Black Ops and Monster Hunter Tri allowed for voice chat with strangers.  What’s stopping Conduit 2?  The two big things Conduit 2 has going for it that Black Ops doesn’t have are its character image customization (of which there is not as much as I’d like) and weapon variety.

Human detected.  Prepare termination procedure.
The different weapons you can use in Conduit 2 are all very unique in their own way and utilize some sort of secondary fire (much like in Dead Space) for good measure.  The secondary fire button of the conventional weapons is usually just iron sight/scope aiming, but for the more complex ones, there’s an extra layer of strategy.  For example, the hive cannon ordinarily shoots bees in a rather erratic spread shot fashion wherever you aim it, much like a machine gun when not looking down the sights.  However, its secondary fire shoots out a pheromone ball that can stick to any surface, including a player.  Once the pheromone is in place, shooting the hive cannon will have the shots home in on it in a stream of bees for more efficiency and accuracy.  To name another example, there is an interesting weapon called the dark star.  It shoots semi-automatic energy shots that “tag” anyone they hit.  If someone dies while tagged (assuming the wielder doesn’t), the dark star’s wielder can activate the secondary fire to shoot a big black ball.  When the ball collides with something, it turns into a black hole and slowly moves toward the tagged players’ corpse while sucking in anyone around it.  And that’s not even getting into the weapon that shoots through walls, the weapon that fires an energy bola, and a weapon that catches bullets.  Conduit 2’s were clearly fun to make, and that fun carries onto their use.

It's called the Dark Star.  It..... sucks.
The different game modes in the online play kept me coming back for a while.  There are 4 different categories: team games, free for all games, hardcore team games, and hardcore free for all games.  They’re all fun and have their own unique game modes to play, but I personally prefer being on a team, reviving downed buddies more than I do holding my own.  Plus the maps chosen for team games are usually far bigger than in free for all, allowing for more freedom and tactical approaches.  The online multiplayer kept me busy for a long time, but eventually it wore off.  Now the only game mode I can find anyone playing on is for big team matches.  I really wish more people could stimulate the online community to make things better for everyone else, but I supposed this is somewhat inevitable.
Conduit 2 also has an invasion mode, in which players can team up with a friend or play alone to shoot down waves of enemies in some of the scavenger hunt maps I mentioned earlier.  However, invasion mode seems tacked on, and it’s pretty much just the scavenger hunts in the single player bonus missions, but without the cool items to find, so I don’t see much point in playing it other than to maybe earn some credits for the in-game store.  Black Ops’ zombie mode is a far better and bigger diversion, and if High Voltage Software were to put more effort and creativity into it, I’m sure invasion mode could be fun.  But even if it were that fun, I wouldn’t have anyone to share it with because it doesn’t have online play.  Why?  Black Ops’ zombie mode was online.  What was stopping this from doing the same?  I know I’ve been harping on Call of Duty: Black Ops a lot, but if an game is doing something better, the creators of this one don’t seem to be learning from it.

Invasion mode aside, Conduit 2 only has one shortcoming, and it has nothing to do with the game’s quality.  No, almost everything in it from the graphics to the menu screens are polished to a reflective shine.  Conduit 2 falters in its quantity.  The game leaves me wanting more.  There are only 4 of those fun scavenger hunt maps, three of which are just reused for invasion mode, there are only 4 bosses, and an insubstantial number of multiplayer maps.  If I had my way, I would want Conduit 2 to have more bosses, a longer story (or at least some buildup to the final battle), more of the scavenger hunt bonus maps, more multiplayer maps, more character image customization options, a better invasion mode, free online communication, and maybe a few more vehicle sections.  If Conduit 2 had all of that, the $50 price tag would’ve been more justified and I would probably give it an 8 or even a 9.  As it stands, however, Conduit 2 gets a hearty 7.5 out of 10.  It’s very fun, and I strongly recommend it to any sci-fi gamer.  Now that the game is down in price, it’s a good time to go get it.  I know for sure I'm getting the next one.

Hear that?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Training With The King of Fighters

It wasn’t many years ago when I was still intimidated by most fighting games, despite being a hardcore and seasoned gamer.  I looked at people playing, and it looked like the stereotypical constantly-moving button-mashing you would see on TV representations of games.  All the buttons and the way special moves had to be used with quarter circles and half circles in games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Street Fighter Alpha made them look like they controlled like operating advanced construction machinery.  The only fighters I was used to were the more simplified ones like Naruto Shippuden: Clash of Ninja Revolution 3 and the nunchuck configuration of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom.  I never got any of that advanced move input stuff.  I thought games shouldn’t control that way, and that they scared away anyone who wanted to try them.  I still think I was partially correct, but my line of thinking changed when one of those construction-controlling games came into my possession.

On my birthday one year, my mom got me a little something called The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga on the Wii, and, as you can probably guess, I was really skeptical.  For one thing, the box art is awful.  It doesn’t reflect the colorful art of the game at all.  For another, the games in the collection were from the 90s, so I knew they wouldn’t be exactly cutting edge.  But the biggest scare was that I knew it was going to be one of those advanced construction machinery fighting games I so feared.  On the other hand, companies don’t usually release game compilations unless the games in them are loved, I got it for free, and it was an opportunity for me to try a genre I was unfamiliar with.

In the actual games, there's a lot of color, Mature and Vice are secondary characters, and Kyo looks fairly masculine.

Naturally, I started from the beginning, with King of Fighters 94.  After a little practice in training mode to learn which button does what, I jumped into arcade mode on the lowest difficulty.  Since I was an utter noob, I was only able to fight my opponents using the basic buttons, learning a few simple special projectile moves a few matches later (and spamming them).  After losing around 10 times, I finally made it to the first cutscene, but that’s when things took a turn for the worse.

Outrageous difficulty spike in 3.... 2....

Suddenly, the game was heinously kicking my ass even worse than it was before.  The computers could read my every move, block my every attack, evade any projectile, and perfectly counterattack with their overpowered special moves they seemed to have used with the press of a button rather than a special command.  This was on the LOWEST DIFFICULTY!  After dying about 20 times on the match right after the cutscene, I finally gave in.  Even today with all my accumulated fighting game skill, I can’t beat King of Fighters 94, and not because it’s legitimately hard, but because it is an awful, broken game.  The computers cheat, the difficulty spikes, the combat doesn’t flow well, the graphics hurt my eyes to look at, the sound is muffled, and I now have a burning and seething hatred for Chin Gentsai.  Frustrated, I just looked at someone’s playthrough online to see what the story was and how it ended.  I’d rather do that than sacrifice another 2 hours of my life.
But I didn’t want to stop playing the series with the first game.  In my experience, game series get better with each sequel, so I had hoped King of Fighters 95 would be an improvement… It wasn’t.

Well I wouldn't if you played fair!

Every single one of the same problems from 94 was carried over, aside from a slight graphical improvement.  It was practically the same game, just with a new team added in and an old team removed.  Just like its predecessor, I rage quitted, watched it online, and this time developed a burning hatred for Heidern.  I was willing to give this game series one more chance to stop being an ass.  If all the games were going to be like this, I was going to give up on those kinds of fighting games as a whole.  With that in mind, I moved onto King of Fighters 96, where the game series stopped being an ass.

King of Fighters 96 took me by surprise.  Every problem I had with the previous games had been abolished.  The art style and graphics were vastly improved and looked great.  The computers played fair, the combat felt far tighter, the sound effects were more satisfying, and the music was awesome as all hell.  It was at that point I actually started to learn how to play properly.  Since the computer wasn’t being an unbeatable cheater, I was given chances early on to look at my character’s movesets and try them out.  At first, I only knew how to properly make quarter circles in both directions, meaning there was a lot of Ryu En Bus and Powaa Weivs being thrown.  Still, I was able to use such moves tactfully; they became second nature after a while, and with some perseverance, I got to the final boss for the first time.  I think it was around that point I realized how intensely I was playing.  All those people I saw playing fighting games, rapidly pressing different buttons and making circle movements with the controllers I was now a part of, and I was having fun with it.   There was a sense of finesse in the way the fights played out, and the great music and art design made each match as much fun to watch as it was to play so long as I didn’t rely of cheap tactics.  King of Fighters 96 was the game that introduced me to my first SNK final boss, and one of the biggest badasses I have ever faced in a game: Goenitz.  Using my experience, practice, special quarter circle moves, and careful footwork (necessary considering his spam attack), I was able to beat Goenitz on my second try.  Cue the Rocky theme.

I call it the ebugam!

After 96, I moved on and beat King of Fighters 97 and 98 (both on the lowest difficulty, natch), and over time went back to play all 3 regularly because they were fun and I wanted to know more about the characters by viewing the team endings.  Since the games consist of match after match, I was given more than enough time to practice playing, and eventually learned how to properly use attacks utilizing the half circle.  After about a year of going back to play the games every once in a while, I finally learned how to input commands for the super special attacks that required two quarter circles or a quarter circle followed by a half circle, driven by my desire to unlock Goenitz as a playable character, because in the collection, you need to beat a special time attack challenge to unlock him.

Goenitz gives the term "overpowered" a whole new meaning.

With that, I had fully learned how to play the King of Fighters games.  I’ve played through the games with a number of different teams, slowly upping the difficulty and utilizing all my experience to win.  I may not be a hardcore fighting game elitist (honestly those guys tend to ruin the fun), but I do know the ins and outs of the King of Fighters games, and I’ve adapted better to fighting games like it.  Since then, I’ve gotten Super Street Fighter 4: 3D Edition, Dead or Alive Dimensions, and Capcom vs. SNK 2.  Needless to say, I’m no longer a pushover.

If there’s anything I learned from the experience, it’s 2 things.  First, as cliché as it sounds, practice makes perfect, and second, there is no shame in playing on an easy difficulty if you’re new to something.  As long as you’re having fun, that’s what matters.  And even on the lowest difficulty, it can get fairly challenging.  If you beat one of the King of Fighters games on any difficulty, I classify you as “skilled”.

At least Rugal can't get any stronger, right?

Oh..... sh