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.


  1. Great job dude! I'll really have to check all these out.


  2. It's good to see a fully detailed review of the game. I praise your skills as a critic. Gotta check out the rest of your posts in order to obtain a deeper spectrum of the game's lore and specifications...

  3. omg... this blog is increadible!
    I am long time fan, loving KoF series since childhood and your page helped me wrap up the story and also to get some insight on which part you like more from the others - so I can challange your point of view with my own. I live in Poland where KoF series got not that much fanbase so I had never chance to know which installations of the series were more acclaimed from the others :)

  4. Hi,
    I enjoyed your blog and agree with your opinion about KOF2001.
    I´m a fan of KOF series since kof´94, my favorite versions were 97, 98 and 2000 (I love 99 art and animations although the evade and incomplete strike system ruined the gameplay in that version) and stop playing after KOF 2001 was released. In my opinion this was the start of the fall of KOF series, because it had bad artkwork, weird/rear palette colors, many glitch and bugs, not even mentioning the numerous infinite combo moves that makes it feels like some game not realted to KOF series.
    Anyway your nice blog is a nice read that returned my memory to the old good times...

    1. Yeah, it wasn't all that great, but it wasn't AWFUL. The series picked up again right after it, and it's not as bad as KOF 12. I guess what I'm saying is there's a reason to play it.