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…


  1. Very good read, looking forward to '96.

  2. This blog was shared by The Official King of Fighters Facebook Page! Always a pleasure to learn other KOF fans exist, especially English-speaking ones.

    I can't wait until you get to '97!

    1. Thank you so much. But... how is speaking English and being a fan special?