Sunday, January 13, 2013

King of Fighters Retrospective: 98

With the Orochi saga having come to an end in The King of Fighters 97, it was time for the series to move toward its next story arc with new villains and heroes to fight and fight with, respectively.  But before that, SNK gave the Orochi saga one last celebratory installment with what is considered one of their most successful games, King of Fighters 98.

For the first time, a King of Fighters game did not have a story.  Instead, KOF 98 focused on the multiplayer potential by having the largest character selection of the time and tweaked, refined combat and graphics.  After saving the world and beating down stupid-rich madmen, KOF 98 is something of a respite.

Good thing Heavy D is wearing sunglasses, because looking directly into Ralf's eyes saps your strength.
With the exceptions of Goenitz, the boss team from ’96, Orochi, Iori and Leona’s wild forms, Kasumi Todoh and Eiji Kisaragi, every character from the Orochi saga is playable.  That includes Saisyu Kusanagi from ’95, who forms a team with the other two badass dads, Takuma Sakazaki and Heidern, who were both also last seen in '95.  Also returning are Mature and Vice from ’96, and the American sports team from the very first King of Fighters game.  Some characters have had new moves added and new outfits as well to update them for the 1998 King of Fighters standards, making for an extremely impressive selection.

The huge character selection is one of the main draws of the game that most people seem to remember, and it’s what makes ‘98 ideal for multiplayer.  But like the other games, some of the best parts of the characters are their personalities, which got even more attention this time around.

King of Fighters 97 had a modest number of special character introductions, but the number in ’98 practically tripled since then.  If two characters have any kind of history with each other (especially if they’re from the same team), chances are they’ll say or do something that nods to the established story.  It’s always brief, but, as stated in the '97 post, even something as small as a friendly gesture can tell players something about each character.

To sweeten the deal, the character-specific themes were brought back with updated reversions after being absent from ’97.  There are even new themes for two of the Orochi team fighters.  Character-specific stages were brought back as well, but only for a couple of the teams.

To the gameplay, ’98 added the advantage system and continue bonus.  Simply put, if you lose a teammate, the advantage system gives you one more maximum super stock holder in advance mode and a shorter charge gauge in extra mode.  Apart from that, it’s the same combat everyone loved from the last two games, but with tweaks and balances here and there to make an even better experience.

King got a new white shirt that carried over to KOF 99.

The continue bonus is the biggest addition, and a staple that would be carried on to every game after ’98.  When you lose and continue, a roulette gives you a random bonus for continuing.  Such bonuses include moving on to the next level, lowering the difficulty, and, the most useful, taking away two-thirds of your opponent’s health.  The bonuses can be refused, but there’s no shame in taking advantage of them, especially when it comes to the final boss.  It’s a great way to keep you playing, and it often has the benefit of saving time.
There are few things more frustrating than just barely losing a match and having to spend another few minutes fighting the same characters all over again, but with many of the continue bonuses, you can win in a very short time and move on with the game, or even skip the level you’re on entirely.  Many of the bonuses are only present in this game too.  Every game after '98 gives 3 voluntary continue bonuses to choose from instead of the roulette.

You may have noticed I mentioned a final boss, even though I stated at the beginning that The King of Fighters 98 has no story.  That is correct; it doesn't have a story, but it does have a memorable finale to end on.

The best way to describe King of Fighters 98 as a whole is that it’s polished.  The character selection is impressive, the graphics are updated and emphasize realistic textures slightly less, the character portraits are mostly spot-on, and everyone’s favorite aspects, like win quotes and character themes, are brought back.  It’s one of the best choices for a fighting game out there, and a must-buy.

King of Fighters 98 is available on the Orochi Saga collection on the PS2, PSP, and Wii.  It is on the Wii's Virtual Console as well.  A remake titled King of Fighters 98: Ultimate Match is available on the Xbox Live Arcade and PS2.  Ultimate Match has the Orochi saga characters that were absent from the original game, as well as more stages, updated menu screens, and selectable arranged tracks (rather than tracks from the Neo Geo version), among a few other details here and there.  With the new characters, Ultimate Match also has multiple final bosses and mid-bosses.  If you just want the original though, there’s a “Neo Geo mode” that lets you play it in its original form.

Alas, it was time for the King of Fighters games to move on.  With the Orochi saga left behind, The King of Fighters started its new storyline in ’99, and with that came big changes.

And now for something completely different.

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