Friday, January 25, 2013

King of Fighters Retrospective: 2000

The year 2000 was a milestone for world history.  It was the start of a new millennium. Lots of long-running franchises used the year to advertise their products, like Pokemon: The Movie 2000 or Beanie Babies 2000.  With such a symbolic and heavily-marketed year, you’d expect SNK to put out all the stops and have another overhaul for The King of Fighters to make the most super spectacular game in human history.

Nah, they just updated the last one.

In K' and Maxima's ending in King of Fighters '99, the two discovered that NESTS had taken K's memories away from him and planned to terminate him when his mission was over.  After cutting themselves off from them, K’ and Maxima have been on the run, and are now suspects in a series of terrorist acts that have taken place since the ’99 KOF tournament.  Heidern and his long-time mercenary friend Ling are ready to capture them, but the invitations to the latest KOF were sent, and include K’ and Maxima, so they come up with another plan.

Rather than capture them right away, Ling sends his boxing secret agent Vanessa to recruit K’ and Maxima, and enter the tournament to investigate (from what I understand).  Still needing one more member, Vanessa invites her Mexican friend Ramon to enter with them, as the man is clearly smitten by her and will do anything to please her.

An interesting fact about Ramon is that, according to SNK, he was made with their South American market in mind.  King of Fighters is apparently massively popular there.  If you’re searching for King of Fighters stuff online, it’s inevitable you’ll run into at least one or two Spanish fan pages or comments.  Hell, just look at this:

Pandering to international audiences is usually a misstep, at least in most situations, but Ramon is a good example of doing it the right way.  He's like the Mexican version of Ralf: likeable, sociable, representative of his home country, and a badass.

Having split up with K’, Benimaru and Shingo are now accompanied by an old friend of Benimaru's named Seth, a huge black dude who also works for Ling, and a Chinese assassin named Lin.  Seth and Lin both have a common goal.

Lin is a member of the Hizoku clan of Chinese assassins/ninjas.  He’s currently looking for Ron, his Hizoku superior who betrayed and murdered most of the Hizoku and then vanished.  Lin's intel says that Ron has a connection to NESTS, so Lin enters the tournament at the behest of Seth to find Ron and learn why he did it (or to just get revenge).  Seth too has been assigned to capture Ron if he shows up.  Remember that, because it will be important later.

Meanwhile, with the other teams, Mai has been forced back to join the Women team because her spot in the Fatal Fury team was taken by Blue Mary.  Yuri has also joined the Women team alongside Mai, and (after much begging) convinced King to take her place on the Art of Fighting team for a pleasant change of pace.
Finally, replacing Li Xianfei is a new character, the overly-polite sumo wrestling rich schoolgirl Hinako.  At this point you may notice the shuffling the Women's team goes through over the course of the series.

Kyo and Iori are playable too, but neither one of them has a team of their own, just like in '99 (although playing with them both on the same team gives players a special ending).

I have to ask: What is wrong with these people?!  Stop going to these tournaments!
It was at least kind of understandable as to why they kept going before, however flimsy the excuses were, but there is no excuse now!  There is an evil organization that they now know is still at large, the tournament sponsor is once again anonymous (I think), and they can’t piece together that maybe they’re using KOF for some evil purpose, just like every KOF tournament before this?!

Oh, we get to fight people?  I’m in.

King of Fighters: Where punching little kids is legal.

Not a lot changed rules-wise from King of Fighters 99.  The only differences are that in KOF 2000 super stocks carry over and taunting has a practical use again.  Taunting converts a super stock into a striker stock.  It’s a subtle way to put something that was mundane and have it serve a function again, even though now you can’t taunt willy-nilly like an arrogant donkey if you want to use your special attacks.  I still taunt anyway out of my nature.

What has changed, as usual, is technological enhancements and experimentation.  Many of the stages have more movement and detail to them than in previous games.  The best examples are the desert stage, which has sand blowing throughout the screen, and the dump stage, which has a bulldozer that tears through the wall after a few rounds.  There’s even a frozen stage in which you can see your character’s breath (if you stand still long enough to see it).

That said, the character sprites and overall presentation feel more like pixel art and less like hand-drawn art, with a shorter range of colors and a lack of outlines that I feel make them weaker than the hand-drawn excellence of ’99.

And the localization still needed work.

Even the soundtrack doesn’t leave an impression.  Most of the tracks feel like slightly modified themes from ’99.  They’re still good, all things considered, but they lack the hard-hitting standout tunes of the previous game.  It’s certainly not as bad as the game that came after it though…

The main draw to King of Fighters 2000, and the biggest reason to play it, is the strikers.  When you select the character on your team to use as a striker, you have the option of choosing at least one alternate, non-playable character specific to that character to act as a striker instead.
These alternate strikers include past KOF participants (Ryuji Yamazaki, Goenitz, & Geese) characters from other SNK games (King Lion from Savage Reign & Fio from Metal Slug), alternate scrapped versions of playable characters, NPCs (Lily Kane and Kaoru) and characters that were just made up (A panda named Baitang & a female Kyo cosplayer named Kyoko).

All of the strikers have their own sprites, voices, and animations, and trying out every one to see what they do is great fun and adds a lot of replay value.  A nice touch is that the characters that are dead by this point in the story fade away like ghosts when they’re done, but the ones that are still alive simply jump back offscreen.  Well played, SNK.

Kick his ass, Fio!

And of course the finale lives up to King of Fighter’s high standards.  You can see how this game ends here.

..... That tickles.

On the whole, I don't consider The King of Fighters 2000 to be one of the strongest games in the series.  While it’s very good, it doesn’t offer a whole lot ’99 didn't outside of the strikers and fixing of the evasive roll.  It’s definitely worth playing if you can, but if you were to skip it, I wouldn’t hold it against you.
If you can play it.

Shermie even has a new outfit.
The King of Fighters 2000 is available nowhere!  The game is impossible to find on any modern-day system!  There’s a PS2 version that comes with 2001, but it’s rare, and even if you can find a copy, it goes for unreasonable, ridiculous prices!
I make it a point to never ever advocate piracy in any way.  That’s why I’m only typing the word “Winkawaks” and leaving it at that.

After KOF 2000 was made, the real-life story of SNK hit its major plot twist, and the company went bankrupt, forcing them to join with Korean media company Eolith.  The results of this team-up became apparent in King of Fighters 2001.  We're more than halfway through this series!  Nothing's going to stop us now!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

KOF Finales: 2000

After beating 6 opponents, something seems to go wrong with Heidern and Ling’s plan.  Things aren't playing out the way Heidern was expecting them to.

We did have a plan, right?

But Ling isn’t worried.  According to him, it's fine.

You rigged the fights?.... Why didn't you tell me?!

Heidern is puzzled by Ling’s words, but before he can react, Ling orders the people in the control room to guide the finals team to some kind of lift, and then activate a generator.  Apparently he had this all set up, but didn’t let Heidern in on it.

Heidern reminds Ling that he’s in charge, but Ling disagrees and says his mission will be realized once the generator is charged and the “Zero Cannon” is prepped.
Heidern is befuddled by what the Zero Cannon, a series of military satellite weapons made to combat NESTS, has to do with anything.

Uhhhh... Guys..... Personal space.

Ling tells Heidern that was indeed the mission….. Officially…

Yes, Ling was apparently conspiring this little scheme from the start, and used his position of power to do so….. Or did he?

Before the story continues, you have to fight one more time.  It could just be another team, but there is also an optional boss.
Much like Iori and Kyo in the last game, having enough battle points lets you fight a different opponent, but unlike KOF 99, it’s actually possible to have enough.
Technically this can happen earlier in the game, but generally doesn’t.

A communications disruption can mean only one thing...

The girl with the icy hair is Kula Diamond, a superhuman assassin made to counteract K’ with her ice abilities.  Though she seems deadly at first, she's actually extremely childish.
Kula has been ordered to kill your team so that she can “crush Zero’s plans.”  At this point, you don’t know how exactly killing your team will do anything or who Zero is, so we rightfully defend ourselves by fighting this little girl.  Hey, we got to punch Bao, right?

Whichever stage you fight Kula in, it freezes over entirely.  It’s strange how she never does it again in subsequent games, but in this case she may have had some help.
On her own, Kula is acrobatic, but not the speediest character.  Her breath attack has great range, and she loves to slide and pirouette around the stage, making her very tricky to pin down.  I guess you could say she’s as slippery as…… ice.

She also has far more health than the average character, which is odd, because in every other game she appears in, she doesn’t have nearly as much!  Do the playable characters just have some kind of plague going around that weakens bosses to their level, or is it just the game designers cheating for balance with inconsistency?

And she seems half-asleep most of the time.

As a striker, Kula has her robotic sister figure Candy (no doubt named after Kula's favorite food), who uses Kula’s pirouette attack.  It can be really annoying when Candy comes out as you’re trying to jump kick Kula, which you’ll want to do to jump over her icy breath attack.

It’s a challenging fight, so don’t be embarrassed if you lose.  The abnormal motions of her moves are sure to trip up most people on their first try.

I love her victory poses.

Kula’s theme here is very different from most of the other tracks in King of Fighters.  It’s calming and cold, but still has a strong rhythm for the battle.  It's the perfect background noise for such a peaceful-looking winter wonderland with a fight going on in it, and that is quite a small niche to fill.

Once you win, the guys in the control room regain control of the system and Kula leaves your team alone.


O.K.  Well then… On with the show.

Before reading the following exposition, I suggest readers try reading the pre-fight explanations with its background music playing.  It’s strange for me to acknowledge cutscene music, but it does a fantastic job of building anticipation and making the scene more exciting.

SGC!  Woooooo!


The project starts with the ceiling opening and the floor lifting your team up into a temple of some sort, where Ling is there waiting for you.
Yes.  There are two Lings: One holding up Heidern and another standing in front of your team with a fancy sarong, whom Heidern is viewing from the control room at gunpoint.  But Heidern knows that this man is not the Ling he knows, and asks for his real name.







Yes, Zero was that disembodied voice from KOF 99, which means this must be the second phase he was referring to… Even though this has nothing to do with the original.

But that leaves the question of where the real Ling is.  Zero just tells Heidern that “he’s resting.”  I don’t know if that's supposed to mean he’s dead or not, but regardless, Zero took the man’s identity and had a clone of him stay with Heidern.

But that brings up the question of why he’s keeping his disguise on even now.  My theory is that he had to have some kind of surgery done to change his appearance, so he can’t simply remove it.  I have another theory too, but I won’t explain that until 2001.

Zero tells Heidern that neutralizing everyone (through wearing them out with the tournament, I imagine) was the fastest way to get the Zero Cannon without resistance, but Heidern doesn’t understand why he didn’t just kill everyone instead, as he probably could.

The Zero Cannon needs fighting spirit in order to work.  As a demonstration, Zero uses it to demolish a big chunk of a nearby city, which is revealed later to be Southtown, Terry’s hometown.  Sadly, they don’t show the explosion.  All they show is the beam coming down, and a black circle appearing on a map to indicate the blast radius.  Budget cut much?

But wait, there’s more!  Zero informs Heidern and your team that there’s a generator under the temple that will absorb your team’s power and send it to the cannon.  Once that’s accomplished, he can use it to take over the world!

And I do mean him and him alone, as Zero says he couldn’t care less about NESTS, so when he says he’s going to rule the world, that includes NESTS.

Methinks he underestimates our military.

Your team doesn’t pay attention to details like that though.  Their plan of action is to fight him and stop the cannon…. Somehow.  Like the Orochi team situation in ’97, this seems counterproductive, but if I didn’t get to fight the villain in a game called King of Fighters, I’d feel pretty cheesed off.

I dared to keep fighting Krizalid until I won!  I'll do anything!

SNK once again shows us their creativity in character creation with Zero: A character who rarely jumps and attacks by whipping his bladed cape-like clothes.  In what other game do you see something like that?

Even though he can throw some lightning-fast punches and kicks, that sarong whip is his primary attack.  It has excellent range and lingers in the air for a good while.  Just touching the blades, even when he’s retracting them, cuts you for a good chunk of health.  He even has a combo super attack for it in which he spins in the air for over 20 hits!

And he’ll have plenty of opportunity to use that move too, because Zero’s super meter charges at an insanely fast rate.  He gets practically a bar and a half for hitting you once with his primary attack, even if you’re guarding!

That super meter doubly acts as a big warning sign to not use strikers.  If Zero has even one super stock, you should not use strikers at all.  The exact moment you do so, Zero uses his black hole super attack, which fills the screen and does heavy damage if you’re not guarding (and you likely won’t be because you just summoned a striker!).  At one point I was able to summon a striker without doing the calling animation, and he was still able to react perfectly before the striker even appeared onscreen!  He had no way of knowing a striker was going to come out!  He reads your button input!

That is f*&!<ing cheating!

Punching the floor always works.

But that’s not the worst of it.  Zero’s cheapest special attack is his shadow strike.  You have to react fast when he says “wakaru” (“understand”) and jump, because if his shadow connects (regardless of whether or not you’re blocking), he delivers a 4-hit combo, ending with a back kick that sends you flying through the air!  This guy knows some good kung-fu.

Less cheap is what may be one of the best special moves ever in a fighting game, and not because it looks cool; just the opposite in fact.  For this attack, Zero kneels down and emanates purple flames right in front of him.

If you’re hit by the flames, he locks you in place as he turns around, and his cape rises up to slash you for heavy damage.  It’s actually probably a reference to Fist of the North Star, in which a man moves so fast, you only see his cape catching up to him and it looks like he didn’t move at all.
Here… well…. Let’s just say SNK nicknamed the move, the “Zero fart.”

*Inappropriate sound effect.*
When you get right down to it though, Zero is one of the easier bosses in the series.  He’s a lot more like traditional game bosses in that you can notice his patterns and timing.  He’ll still beat you at least twice, but he’s nowhere on the level of Goenitz or ‘98’s Omega Rugal.  That’s actually part of what makes fighting him fun though; it’s a nice break from the merciless killing machines players have had to deal with up to this point, but it’s still sufficiently challenging.  Plus the music is once again a great final boss track that sounds like a hymn from the church of Mechonis.

Even when the battle's over, Zero has one more trick up his sleeve.

Where did he pull that from?

Your team says they’ll stop him, but Zero had a backup for that as well.  Even if he dies, his clone has his own button to do it in his stead.

Either way, Zero presses the button.  It seems as though the villain has won in the end…. Except something goes wrong.

Back at HQ, Zero's massage chair vibrates.

And the generator explodes under him.

Luckily the blast isn't fatal, but Zero doesn’t know what’s going on.

If you beat Kula earlier, you get this little scene.

I wouldn't exactly call this "merriment."

These are Kula’s mothers (she has two), Foxy on the left and Diana on the right.  Like Kula, they work for NESTS, and aren’t ecstatic about Zero’s plan, nor about him not telling them about it.  The punishment: obliteration.

Up in space (because there’s plenty of air up there), Kula apparently aims the cannon at Zero, and...

If my plans were screwed over and I was about to be killed by a satellite cannon aimed by a little girl with blue hair, my last words would not be “humph!”

But if Zero is incapacitated, why didn’t the clone take control?

Nice moves, Colonel.

20 units?!  Wow.  There must be tons of debris raining down upon the earth after such a skyward cataclysm.  Did anyone bother to do anything about that?  You may think that because they’re in space, the debris would float in zero gravity, and I’d buy that if it weren’t for the fact that in Kula’s special ending, she falls from the cannon!  And that begs the question of why all the cannons weren't dropping like rocks already, but I'm not physicist.

I don't know, but if this gets any more ridiculous, I'm quitting the force.

Frankly, for as long as it is, not much got done in KOF 2000's finale.  Sure, we learned who Krizalid’s superior was and met a few new characters, but that’s just about all that’s important in the long run.  The zero cannon plot is almost never referenced again and has zero impact (pun intended) on the overall storyline.  We didn’t learn anything about how NESTS operates or even what they do (except that they punish traitors), and even the cataclysmic destruction of Southtown hardly leaves a lasting effect.  It’s like this whole thing is mostly filler.

That said, it’s still good filler.  Zero’s idea was a lot more sensible than Krizalid’s, and it's presented well with SNK’s consistently great artwork and music.  That combined with the originality of Zero’s fighting style makes 2000’s finale memorable enough to stand on its own.  It’s not one of the stronger finales, but it’s pretty good.  I think the next game has a better one though.