Thursday, February 28, 2013

Harvest Moon=Madworld

After beating Lego Batman 2, I have recently shifted my gaming focus to two Wii games: Harvest Moon: Animal Parade and Madworld.


At first glance, one might say that the two are absolutely nothing like each other in any way, shape, or form whatsoever.  After playing both, however, I have begun to notice distinct similarities.

This should fetch me some good money.
This should fetch me some good points.

Awwww.  She gave him a gift.
Awwww.  He "gave" him a gift.
Yum.  Cake.
Yum.  Ninja.
I can grind peppers here.
I can grind jerks here.
She's good with that axe.
He's good with that chainsaw.

Pretty nasty!

A nice, cheerful fairy here to help me restore the land.
A nice cheerful European here to help me horribly murder other players.
No matter who dies, someone will mourn.

Haaaaaa ha ha ha ha!

Friday, February 15, 2013

King of Fighters Retrospective: 2001

As I stated at the conclusion of the last article, SNK apparently went bankrupt following KOF 2000 and had to survive by joining with little-known Korean media company Eolith.

Eolith didn’t exactly have the same kind of recognition as SNK; in fact, it seems Eolith is only known for making KOF 2001 & 2002 along with a few mobile phone games here and there.  Joining such a small-time company with fighting game juggernaut SNK doesn’t seem like the best idea.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say King of Fighters 2001 suffers from Eolith’s involvement (I can’t prove just how much they influenced), but I doubt anyone can deny it’s not one of the best King of Fighters games.

If you guessed the plot is that some jerk is holding a King of Fighters tournament and everyone is stupid enough to enter while an evil organization is still at large, you’ve really been paying attention.

What attracts some of the entrants to the 2001 tournament is the arrival of a new team of NESTS agents.  Kula and her mother Foxy have entered with two of NESTS’ assigned operatives: the Mexican wrestling gal Angel and the polymorphic creation K9999 (pronounced “K four nine”).

There’s some kind of controversy surrounding K9999.  Apparently he shares many similarities with the character Tetsuo in the anime “Akira,” right down to sharing the same voice actor.  Perhaps because of this, K9999 was removed altogether and replaced with a new character in the remake of King of Fighters 2002, making him present in only two games.

I fail to see why he deserves the cold shoulder treatment SNK and their fans seems to give him.  Maybe it’s because he’s not creative, but wouldn’t having a copy of a popular anime character be kind of cool?  I’m just saying, if they had a character that was almost exactly like Jotaro Joestar, I’d be all for him.  I guess we already have Benimaru though.


The returning teams got the shuffle again for 2001.  Most notably, Kyo and Iori both have teams this time (finally!).

The special agents Vanessa, Ramon, and Seth recruited Iori because they were short one member and he’s such a strong contender, and Kyo formed a new Japan team with Benimaru, Shingo, and, returning after a 2-game long break, Goro!

Meanwhile, Lin and Whip (who formally left the Ikari Warriors in 2000) both joined K’ and Maxima, with Whip’s spot on the Ikari Warriors team being filled by another returning character, Heidern!

King swapped back with Yuri on the women’s fighting team, and Kasumi was been replaced with Li, leaving the team with Li, Mai, King, and Hinako.

The Korean team has an interesting case.  Jhung Hoon got into a rather embarrassing accident involving a cardboard Athena standee, so his place is taken by a new character named May Lee, a costumed self-proclaimed justice-enforcer.  Personally, I don’t like her.

My biggest problem with May doesn’t come from her character design or her difficult-to-use stance system, but her lack of characterization.  She appears in this game, returns in KOF 2002, and then is never seen again.  At least the New Faces team from ’97 were memorable thanks to the role they played in that game’s finale.  May just comes and goes.  Seeing as how SNK designed her by Eolith’s orders, she’s probably not coming back either, leaving her a flat, forgettable character in the long run unless they decide to bring her back sometime in the future.

Along with the handful of new characters with new fighting styles, more returning characers' move sets were adjusted.  Kensou got his powers back at the end of the 2000 tournament, and both Heidern and Robert have gone back to the usual quarter-circles for moves instead of having to step back for a second first.

Also Ralf’s Galactica Phantom was made into a regular special move.  God help us all.

For this KOF installment, the super modes were taken out, presumably to make way for the new system.  I hope players said goodbye to the special strikers in 2000, because they do not make a return.  Instead, strikers work on a system of give & take.

In this system, every team starts out with one maximum super stock.  When selecting characters, they can choose up to 3 team members to use as strikers.  For every team member the player uses as a striker, they get one more maximum super stock and more health.  That means you can take the most common strategy the computer uses and have 3 fighters with one striker (like the last 2 games), or fight with one character and have 3 strikers.  In order to choose which striker to use in battle, you have to tilt the control stick in a certain direction when you call for one.

The combat itself was tightened for the 2001 installment.  Combos are a bit easier to make, and the game has a faster pace overall.  It may be difficult to notice for some, since it uses the same control scheme and the changes aren’t to a drastic degree, but it’s there and it builds upon an already invigorating fighting system.

A minor and cosmetic, but important addition to the KOF franchise 2001 introduced was the character-specific win quotes.  If you beat a character with a certain other character in the final round of a match, the winner may say something exclusive to the loser on their victory screen.  The bosses at the end of the game show this off by having a special win quote for each of the pre-set teams.  Like the special character introductions, they’re a great way of adding a touch of characterization and relationship establishment.  It would be more effective if the localization was better though.

After beating the Ikari Warriors

It's perfectly functional and has a good character selection, but what makes KOF 2001 “not one of the best” is mostly due to its presentation.  Since KOF '96, SNK excelled in creating music and artwork.  By those high standards, 2001 is like a kindergartner’s project.

First the stages; It’s not that they’re awful on their own, but after the colorful and dynamic backgrounds of 2000, the stages took a step back and reverted to having washed-out colors, a lack of detail, and repetitive looping animations akin to the earliest games in the series.

The returning details of the tournament being broadcasted is welcome.

That weak artwork is also present in the character art.  Some look decent enough, but many have distracting cartoonish proportions and facial art, and all of them don't have the same shading details as the other games, which I don't think was a stylistic choice.

He's not THAT bad looking.

How do you get Mai's hair color wrong?!
But that’s not nearly as difficult to forgive as the music.  Gone are the epic, rocking, minute-and-a-half-long solos of previous games.  Instead, KOF 2001 has repetitive, looping, synthesized crap.

The music is something in which I feel Eolith was trying to inject their own personal touch.  Maybe it works for them and some other people, but for a King of Fighters game, it sticks out from the other soundtracks like a blemish.  Long-time fans expect better than this.

The only good themes are reserved for the villains.

And speaking of the villains, the game finishes off the NESTS saga with a showdown with the men in charge.  The finale alone honestly makes the game worth playing in my eyes, as it is the best-presented part of the entire thing, as well as simply audaciously awesome.  What happens at the end of King of Fighters 2001 is a perfect example as to why I love the series so much.

Don't bother trying to find a copy for yourself though.  King of Fighters 2001, like 2000, is more or less impossible to find.  There’s a PS2 version of it that’s bundled with 2000, but it’s extremely rare and goes for unreasonable prices you can only expect from scalpers.
The PS2 version has a few notable improvements from the original Neo Geo version.  The stages in the PS2 version look significantly better and less washed-out, and the character art from the Neo Geo version is replaced with better, but still questionable artwork.

Too bad you'll never find a copy!


The NESTS saga already had mixed reactions with its shift in focus I detailed in the ’99 post, so KOF 2001’s shoddy presentation and debatable new characters didn’t really help things.  Still, it could have been far worse, and it wrapped up the NESTS chronicles, meaning the story could move on.

But before that, SNK gave the NESTS chronicles its own sendoff with King of Fighters 2002.  It wouldn’t be fair if the Orochi Saga were the only storyline to get a final farewell.

KOF Finales: 2001

After winning the tournament, the sponsors are gracious enough to give you a victory celebration in their own private blimp.  If Yu-Gi-Oh has taught us anything, it’s that blimps are great for one-on-one fighting.

But there’s something very strange about the blimp.  There’s nobody around but your team.

Suddenly, the front of the blimp detaches and reveals itself to be a rocket as it blasts off into space!

This weapons cartel somehow has technology even further developed than NASA, and they are using it to kidnap four people.  Never mind that the blimp should’ve nosedived if there was a giant hunk of metal weighing it in the front.

Did I mention this finale is audaciously awesome?

Once the ignition starts, your team is greeted by a new face in a familiar getup who wants to see your power for himself.

This is Zero.  The real one.  The one in 2000 was a traitorous clone.
SNK outright admitted they didn’t plan for this.  They pulled the clone factoid out of their arse because they wanted to use a better design for Zero than the one in 2000.

I like to think that the Zero in 2000 was genetically designed from creation to look like Ling, which is why he never took his “disguise” off.  Furthermore, I believe the original Zero wasn’t mentioned by the clone because the clone thought he could kill off the original and take his place.  That’s what I’m going with, anyway.

Since he's actually loyal to NESTS, the original Zero isn’t alone.  He is the only boss in King of Fighters with his own team of strikers.  One is his black lion Glaugan, and the other two…

On the left is our old “friend” Krizalid, apparently saved or cloned or something after ’99.  On the right is Ron, the man Lin and Seth have been searching for.  What we have here is a team-up of NESTS biggest bad guys (not counting the trinity of CEOs shown later).  You just know from that alone that this will be good.

The strikers are what make the fight so memorable.  I read somewhere that SNK was originally planning to have a 3-man boss team like in ’97.  I don’t think that would have been as effective, because it seems fitting for at least one boss to use the striker system exclusive to the NESTS saga, and having Zero take the forefront commanding the others demonstrates his high authority.  That and the last thing I want is to fight that S.O.B. Krizalid again!

A very nice touch is that even though they don’t fight, the strikers get some of their own character intros and win poses.  The best example is fighting Zero with Lin.

Lin: ロン! きさまのじゃきをかんじる! でてまえ!(“Ron!  I can sense your evil!  Show yourself!”)
Ron: ここまでくれたな。。。ぼず。(“You have come this far… Boy.”)

And if you lose with K’, Krizalid jumps in to say “しんぽのないものたちだ.” (“You haven’t improved at all.”)

This Zero has much more of an intimidating and malevolent presence than his clone too.  For example, rather than leaning down and punching the ground to use a black hole attack, this one only needs to hold his hand up to use a more whitish vortex.

His music matches that malevolence.  Ron, Krizalid, and Zero all come off as condescending, and there’s something about his music that says “I am superior to you.”

Even though the original Zero fights almost exactly like his clone, the strikers are a big addition to his arsenal.  Glaugan jump slashes at you at long range and Krizalid typhoon kicks at very short range.  But Ron is Zero’s favorite.  When summoned, Ron strikes you with some kind of invisible force that instantly breaks your guard.

Zero’s favorite tactic is to use Ron the moment before he unleashes his screen-filling super move so you can’t guard against it.

You’d think that means the best strategy is to try and beat Zero to the punch, but no.  The best countermeasure against Zero’s guard breaker is to….. Guard.
Zero’s white hole deals its biggest chunk of damage in the initial two hits.  Those will hit you while Ron is still prepping to strike and you’re (hopefully) still guarding.  That means Ron won’t hit you until the worst is over.

If you charge Zero, Ron will probably miss, but Zero won't.

With his constant use of strikers and special attacks, you’d think that at some point Zero has to run out of super stocks, but no.  He doesn’t have a super bar.  He can just use his strikers and super moves whenever he damn well pleases.

That’s f^%#ing cheating!

Not that cheating helps him.  Funnily enough, even with his unlimited super moves and strikers, I find the original Zero to be a little easier than his clone.  You can chalk that up to his AI, not just for its predictability, but its openings.

For example, right after using his usual sarong swish, he stands in place for about a full second without guarding, the perfect time to use a ranged attack of some kind for a good sucker punch.  That and other exploitations make Original Zero easier to manage than the first one.  He’s still difficult, just not as difficult if you take it slow and know what you're doing.

Finding weaknesses is half the fun with these bosses.

After beating Zero, the ship starts to malfunction (for some reason).  Zero takes his defeat with dignity and allows you to jump onto a nearby space station’s dock while he stays and goes down with the ship.

He's probably got another clone somewhere, considering they seem to be as easy to grow as fungus.

Your team finally arrives at the heart of the organization…. NESTS’ base of operations: a giant colony in the sky the military apparently never noticed.  I greatly question Heidern’s efficiency.

If you don’t have anyone in the NESTS team in your team, you get a little extra scene, in which K9999 and Angel viciously betray their teammates by stabbing Foxy in the back.  She and Kula have outlived their usefulness.

Back inside the colony, your team is greeted by the big trinity of NESTS.  Igniz on the left, Misty on the right, and the man named NESTS himself in the middle.  Supplementary material apparently says NESTS is the CEO of the cartel named after him, yet for some reason it’s Igniz who goes on a villainous rant and calls himself NESTS’ CEO.  All the while, the old guy is just sitting there like a statue.

Igniz tells your team that the superhuman experiments Kula, K9999, K’, and Krizalid are all useless to him now.  As is NESTS, as he believes he has the powers of a god, so he doesn't need them anymore.  With that, Igniz disintegrates NESTS (the guy) in the palm of his hand, and the space colony starts to lower down to earth.

He doesn't even react to any of this!  He didn't get any lines!  Is he asleep?!

I do not understand how beating your team will make him a god.  The game doesn’t make this clear.  From what I can gather, beating your team will prove his power as a god once and for all, and he will use that power to rule the world…. I think.

But that doesn’t make sense.  If he beats your team, all he’s proving is that he’s really good at fighting people.  I already pointed out in the ’99 finale that countries like the U.S. have heavy militia, and he doesn’t imply that he has any kind of army at the ready (though that could be what all those creatures in tanks that are shown are for).

Then again, the military hasn’t exactly proven its competence in the King of Fighters games, so maybe it is important that you win.

You won’t.

You know it’s going to be bad when I say he’s comparable to Krizalid.

You’d think that Igniz’s music would be something pseudo-holy to fit with his god complex, but it’s much more fitting for it to be a hard-hitting heavy metal song to fit with you grinding your teeth whilst getting beat with a whipsword like you’re in an S&M club.

Igniz wasn’t overstating by a whole lot when he said he has the powers of a god, because he is the most overpowered, cheap, heavy-hitting boss ever in a King of Fighters game (though you could make the argument that Krizalid is harder)!

All of his attacks are the pinnacle of damage and blow you across the room.  He casually breaks your guard with one of his most basic attacks.  He constantly air juggles you in the air with the same cheap whipsword special over and over.  He uses his unavoidable super moves constantly and without impunity because like Zero, he has no super meter!  What’s worse, one of these super attacks take off 90% of your health!  Sweet lord almighty!

He’s like if Cell, Nobunaga Oda, the emperor of Brittania, and Deus Ex Machina (the Mirai Nikki one) all combined to form one being of planet-shattering megapower!

I hardly even have any strategies for beating Igniz, other than only fighting with your team's best character.  He is just that brutal!  You’re going to want to spend a lot of the fight crouching and guarding, hoping you get lucky and time him out, with a continue bonus of course!  There are some possible AI exploits, but you'll be fighting him at least 10 times to find any.

Oh god why?!

At least you’ll get to hear Norio Wakamoto’s voice a lot, because like the preceding cutscene, Igniz goes on long speeches when he wins, which is all the damn time.  He probably has the most voiced dialogue in the game.  It’s as if SNK and Eolith were milking Wakamoto for everything they could.
There’s one and only one badass that can handle an SNK boss of this magnitude...

After losing (believe it or not, he can lose), Igniz limps over to his control panel, flabbergasted that he has been defeated.


His panel seems to consist of two hand scanners on either side of him.  Putting his hands on them seems to trigger a destructive mechanism of some sort, for Igniz believes that if he can’t be a god…

Igniz tries to make the entire space colony crash into the earth instead of land softly!  And there’s nothing your team can do about it!

Thankfully though, by some currently-unknown force, the colony safely lands in the ocean, and everyone aboard (except Igniz, supposedly) is saved.

With their bosses dead and their HQ gone, NESTS is no more.

Still, I can’t help but feel we’re forgetting something.


Say what you want about the game itself, but SNK and Eolith knew what they were doing when they were working out the final bosses for 2001.  They put out all the stops and made one of the biggest finales KOF had seen yet, even if the villains weren't fully established and it ended with something of a fizzle.

But the end of one saga marks a fresh start with another.  With NESTS gone, a new evil had to take the stand, leading to my favorite villains in King of Fighters.  We’ll get to them in King of Fighters 2003.