Saturday, April 27, 2013

KOF Finales: 11

I apologize in advance for the poor picture quality.

After beating 6 teams, yours arrives at the site where the finals are to take place, only to find that it has been horribly trashed.  It's not explicitly stated, but there may be injured or dead people in the wreckage.

There’s still one person standing there, who says he has been waiting for you.  I think it’s safe to assume that he’s the one responsible for all this.

But before you can even say “who the hell are you?”  The guy picks a fight.  No chance to talk it out, no explanations, just throw down like WWE Smackdown.

Before you start typing a nitpicky comment, know that my pronouns are correct.  That is a guy.

The reason this guy, Shion, is fighting the King of Fighters champions (or rather, finalists) is simple and explained in a mid-game cutscene.  He promised his superior Magaki that he would singlehandedly energize and awaken Orochi by drawing out the ever-present phlebotinum that is fighting spirit.  It worked in King of Fighters 97, after all.

However, it's important to note that even though they are awakening Orochi and its power, the serpent can't have a physical reincarnation because that only happens once every few thousand years.  Since he was reincarnated in '97, bringing it back to a physical form would require quite a bit of waiting.  Instead, they simply want the energy Orochi emits.

Don’t let Shion's slender, feminine appearance fool you.  He is anything but an easy opponent.

As soon as you saw his attire and the stage, you probably imagined his music would sound something like this.

In a much-appreciated change of tradition, Shion is not cheap.  His speed and special attacks are relatively fair compared to the bosses that came before him.  What makes him difficult is his skill, which is how most fighting game bosses should be.  Using Shion is really tricky, but the computer knows what it’s doing.

He utilizes a stance system of sorts, switching between using his trademarked spear and Wushu with shuriken and kunai.  The spear gives him excellent attack range, but when he’s hit, a bolt of extradimensional lightning zaps the spear away, requiring him to use a special move to get it back from its pocket dimension.

When he’s unarmed, Shion can throw lightning-fast kunai as well as a shuriken attached to a rope he can kick in your direction and knock you down with.  When he reels the rope back in, he stands in place for a bit, swinging it in an arc like he’s taunting.

Maybe he is, but I think it’s more a test to goad people into getting up close and trying to pummel him while he’s taunting.  Doing so is kind of a foolish move, because that spinning shuriken can actually hurt you and send you reeling back if you touch it.

Unarmed, Shion also has the speed and finesse of Momoko.  He’s very good at combos and dodge rolling, and even frequently uses super cancels.  His unarmed super special move in particular racks up a high hit count by whipping you with dual-wielding banners.  Who knew those things were such deadly weapons?

His leader special move isn’t anything to write home about though.  All he does is jump in the air and make chunks of debris fall on your head (which is odd, because there’s no roof outside).  It can’t be blocked and is hard to dodge, but doesn’t do as much damage as Mukai’s Netherworld Agony or Orochi’s holy light (though it does hurt quite a bit).

Shion may not be the hardest KOF boss, but he’s still a hearty challenge, and very fun thanks to his sense of fair play.  Aside from some predictable AI combo patterns, his AI feels more like an actual skilled King of Fighters player instead of a cheap computer opponent that throws overpowered special attacks at you.

However, that is still a weakness, making him relatively easy to beat if you know how to play the game well.  It's a fast and furious battle with the combatants charging into and waling on the other.

Even after all that and Shion is defeated, Orochi still doesn’t respond.  It's a picky one.

Do you have one of those compressed air horns?
Since the KOF participants weren’t actually present for that mid-game cutscene from before, Shion tells your team that now that the seal on Orochi is broken, it will once again manifest itself.

What did Magaki do?  You're the one who lost.  It's just never your fault, is it?
But before he can finish, a blue hand comes out of a hole in the sky next to him and pulls him in like a shepherd’s crook at a bad audition.  The animation of Shion being pulled into the hole is the best cutscene animation in the game, and shows how far King of Fighter’s art has come since the moving still-images of yesteryear.  Granted, most of the animation in KOF 11 is just the camera panning on still images, but the art is so excellent you hardly notice.
Apparently getting pulled into another dimension turns you into Plastic Man.
Since Shion failed to both defeat your team and awaken Orochi, Magaki takes matters into his own hands.  Unlike Mukai, Magaki doesn’t think much of humans and considers them trash, an attitude shared with his boss.

As the camera pans up on his pale, strangely-dressed body, Magaki’s skin turns pink with blue markings on it, all the while imitating Mukai and explaining that he will sacrifice your team to Orochi.

I assume that when he calls your team “sacrificial lambs,” he’s saying he’ll beat them to death.  Since the will to live is a powerful source of fighting spirit, I suppose that would give Orochi a significant boost.  That’s my interpretation, at least.  In KOF 97, the New Faces team killed themselves to finally bring Orochi out, but in KOF 13, that isn’t needed.  Just what Magaki is referring to is kind of vague.

私は死ねん! 死ねんぞ!

A new look means a new stage.  Magaki transports everyone in the vicinity to his own stage in another dimension, and boy what a stage it is.  I think it is the best final stage in King of Fighters history.  It has intimidating statues, symmetry, dark colors that make Magaki’s pink body stand out, and a ball of light in the center for that decorative focus point, like the Orochi seal in 2003.

I think he rented out Ganon's castle.

Even though Magaki clearly showed himself transforming in the last cutscene, his opening animation has his hair spike, shirt dissolve, and skin turn pink.  He can actually do so in 4 different ways, something never seen out of a single character before.  You may see all of them in one play session too, because he is one difficult SNK boss.

Magaki, in case you couldn’t tell, is a manipulator of space and traveler of dimensions.  It’s likely he’s the one who helped Mukai escape and/or teleported your team away in KOF 2003.  However, it’s also possible that was the work of two other members of Those From the Distant Land who show similar abilities.

I stated a few paragraphs back that Shion is a nice change of pace from the SNK bosses that pelt you with special attacks.  Magaki goes right back into tradition by having the most long-distance attacks in King of Fighters history.

Simply put, Magaki does not like being close to you.  He would rather stand on the other side of the screen and shoot several different difficult-to-avoid projectiles that push you back when you guard, furthering the distance between you and him.

His two primary projectiles are small pink spheres and blue fireballs.  The pink spheres are difficult to avoid, because after he shoots them in a straight line, they go through a small dimension hole and come at you from a different direction.  That can be from above him, above you, or even behind you!  And you can bet he’ll use them in rapid succession.

His blue fireballs are even worse.  They’re large, slowly move toward you in a pattern, block all projectiles (save for a few super moves), don’t dissipate when they hit your guard, and phase in and out of transparency!  King of Fighters somehow put Gradius into their gameplay!
Sometimes, if you get within range for it, he can even grab you from a distance by sticking his hand through one of his holes to slam you into the ground and take a chunk out of your health meter.

I see youuuuu!
But it gets better.  Magaki’s leader attack, Universe Distortion, does a ton of damage and fills the entire screen.  It’s almost on the level of Orochi’s overpowered screen-filling super attack.  If you aren’t guarding when he uses it, you’ll likely lost a teammate, and he's really good at timing its use just right.

If you do manage to get close to Magaki, you need to be quick and refrain from using heavy attacks, because the guy fights dirty.  If he doesn’t spam his low hits and leg sweeps, he likely uses a pink explosive attack that blows away anything directly in front of him and reflects projectiles.  All of this, of course, is done in the name of keeping you away from him.
If he doesn’t do that, he’ll either try to teleport away and start spamming the projectiles again, or teleport directly behind you and go for another leg sweep.  Low blow, Magaki!  Because he can fight back so quickly, forming combos is absolutely necessary, making him a good test of skill for arguably the most important element of King of Fighters’ combat.

In spite of the complaints that he is way too hard (to people who find that to be a negative trait, I mean), I think Magaki is awesome as both a boss and a villain.

Like any fun boss, Magaki has flaws that can be exploited for strategy with some observation and thought.  I found the most noteworthy being that if he gets hit, his blue fireballs vanish.  That means doing a running long jump and following up with a heavy kick to his ugly face is the best way to start an assault.  There’s a 50% chance he’ll counter while you’re in the air, but most of the time, he tries to make a blue fireball directly in front of him as you’re jumping.
It reminds me of that moment you see in just about every shonen anime in which the hero dodges everything the villain throws at him as he gets closer until he finally lands a face-shattering punch on the villain.  With Magaki, the player gets to experience that moment of triumph.

There are other rather triumphant ways to land good blows on the guy too.  His blue fire can’t block super special attack projectiles or certain leader moves, like Adelheid’s.  In fact, I simply spammed Adelheid’s leader attack in the challenge to unlock Magaki as a playable character (that still took a few tries though).

All of this only applies to playing the game at level 3 or lower difficulty though.  At level 4, Magaki pulls a Goenitz and makes himself unbeatable by turning on auto-block and cheating like crazy, reading your button input and playing like AI from the first 2 games.  Do not play at level 4!

Along with his proper difficulty, I like Magaki as a character.  His unique, inventive character design that shares similarities with Mukai’s helps, but the way he fights is an even bigger plus.  He’s hardly even trying, doing everything with a pompous, mocking attitude (like Goenitz, another one of my favorites).  When he wins, he even essentially says a very arrogant Japanese way of saying “I have no enemies.”
His movements match his relaxed expression.  He uses his arms more like they’re guns or whips rather than throwing punches like most characters, and he never takes any fighting stance.  He doesn’t even hold his arms up when he walks, which isn't often.  Magaki is the slowest character in the game, which is why he needs to teleport just to move.

The closest thing he has to walking.

Adding to his character is Magaki's distinction of having a specific victory quote for each and every character in the game.  Fittingly, they are all very taunting.

Against K'.
Finally, there's his music.  Magaki may very well have the best final boss music in any King of Fighters game ever, and that is an amazing feat.  Magaki’s Improvised Concerto matches both his regal demeanor and the rapid-fire flashiness of his attacks.  The song has a powerful ensemble of orchestrated instruments that even Yoko Shimomura herself hasn't been able to surpass.

It can take a few tries and a continue bonus, but with some good thinking, raw skill, practice, and playing at level 3 or lower, Magaki can be bested, and when he is, the feeling of victory is invigorating.  I've gotten so good at beating him I can do it without much struggling.  Just don’t do this:

Dodge rolling into him and spamming heavy attacks?  That's the worst tactic you could possible take.

Once Magaki is defeated, the world fades back to the ruined finals site, and Magaki reverts to his (semi) normal-looking form.

Having done all he can, Magaki takes the Mukai route and steps through one of his dimensional rips.  Your team calls him out for being a coward for running away, but he doesn’t care.  Pride isn’t worth life, right?

But before Magaki steps through, he senses Orochi respond for a quick second and comes to a realization.

I believe this unspecified realization of his is that Orochi also responds to hatred, which is something I’ll touch more on when I get to KOF 13.  I think it's responding to either your team’s hatred of Magaki running away or Magaki’s inner rage by being berated for his cowardice.  That or your team’s words are causing Magaki to flash back to his father leaving his mother or something.
Also, it’s a plot point that by responding, Orochi has revealed to Those From the Distant Land where its most responsive point is, kind of like a quick ping on the radar.  That becomes important later.

But just as Magaki exclaims that he has gotten something done, a pole-shaped object goes straight through him, spilling his inhuman blue blood everywhere.  The object goes through so fast, you’ll miss it if you blink, and there's a full second delay in the injury for dramatic effect.

So his body is filled with raspberry-blueberry Faygo!  No wonder those ancient humans wanted them dead.
He's either in shock or hessa firin' his lazor!

I would like to point out that the manual for King of Fighters 13 (the canonical sequel to this game) says that Magaki was killed by Shion’s spear, and at no point is Shion shown throwing the thing.  He probably did, but there’s a possibility he didn’t, if we are to go by exact words.  If he did, then I can just imagine him throwing the spear through the open hole and flipping him off for a moment before running into the white abyss of the pocket dimension.  I guess it’s not enough to send your boss an “I quit” letter.

With Magaki’s death, the dimensional rip closes and the King of Fighters tournament ends.

That’s shown in the Ikari Warrior’s ending, as well as K’s.  The team-specific endings in King of Fighters 11 have a much more coherent order of events than the other games.  If you use the game’s ending viewer to watch the right ones in order, they form a much more cohesive narrative than previous games.  I’ll spare you the trouble and tell you what team endings to watch in what order:

Ash's, Japan, Elizabeth's, Ikari Warriors, Adelheid.  The rest are sub-plots that aren’t necessary to know, but still entertaining.  The endings don’t make it clear who the official winner in the storyline is, but I just assume they never found out because the finals had to be canceled thanks to Shion.

King of Fighters 11 is only an establishing point for the real finale; it's a whole game of buildup, and it does a great job of doing it.  The plot points established pay off in The King of Fighters 13, not in The King of Fighters 12.

Do not buy The King of Fighters 12.  Buy The King of Fighters 13.

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