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!

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