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?